The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 1

Executive that does not act.

How could your paralytic National Executive be put ‘in action,’ in any measure, by such a Twentieth of June as this? Quite contrariwise: a large sympathy for Majesty so insulted arises every where; expresses itself in Addresses, Petitions ‘Petition of the Twenty Thousand inhabitants of Paris,’ and such like, among all Constitutional persons; a decided rallying round the Throne.

Of which rallying it was thought King Louis might have made something. However, he does make nothing of it, or attempt to make; for indeed his views are lifted beyond domestic sympathy and rallying, over to Coblentz mainly: neither in itself is the same sympathy worth much. It is sympathy of men who believe still that the Constitution can march. Wherefore the old discord and ferment, of Feuillant sympathy for Royalty, and Jacobin sympathy for Fatherland, acting against each other from within; with terror of Coblentz and Brunswick acting from without:— this discord and ferment must hold on its course, till a catastrophe do ripen and come. One would think, especially as Brunswick is near marching, such catastrophe cannot now be distant. Busy, ye Twenty-five French Millions; ye foreign Potentates, minatory Emigrants, German drill-serjeants; each do what his hand findeth! Thou, O Reader, at such safe distance, wilt see what they make of it among them.

Consider therefore this pitiable Twentieth of June as a futility; no catastrophe, rather a catastasis, or heightening. Do not its Black Breeches wave there, in the Historical Imagination, like a melancholy flag of distress; soliciting help, which no mortal can give? Soliciting pity, which thou wert hard-hearted not to give freely, to one and all! Other such flags, or what are called Occurrences, and black or bright symbolic Phenomena; will flit through the Historical Imagination: these, one after one, let us note, with extreme brevity.

The first phenomenon is that of Lafayette at the Bar of the Assembly; after a week and day. Promptly, on hearing of this scandalous Twentieth of June, Lafayette has quitted his Command on the North Frontier, in better or worse order; and got hither, on the 28th, to repress the Jacobins: not by Letter now; but by oral Petition, and weight of character, face to face. The august Assembly finds the step questionable; invites him meanwhile to the honours of the sitting. (Moniteur, Seance du 28 Juin 1792.) Other honour, or advantage, there unhappily came almost none; the Galleries all growling; fiery Isnard glooming; sharp Guadet not wanting in sarcasms.

And out of doors, when the sitting is over, Sieur Resson, keeper of the Patriot Cafe in these regions, hears in the street a hurly-burly; steps forth to look, he and his Patriot customers: it is Lafayette’s carriage, with a tumultuous escort of blue Grenadiers, Cannoneers, even Officers of the Line, hurrahing and capering round it. They make a pause opposite Sieur Resson’s door; wag their plumes at him; nay shake their fists, bellowing A bas les Jacobins; but happily pass on without onslaught. They pass on, to plant a Mai before the General’s door, and bully considerably. All which the Sieur Resson cannot but report with sorrow, that night, in the Mother Society. (Debats des Jacobins Hist. Parl. xv. 235.) But what no Sieur Resson nor Mother Society can do more than guess is this, That a council of rank Feuillants, your unabolished Staff of the Guard and who else has status and weight, is in these very moments privily deliberating at the General’s: Can we not put down the Jacobins by force? Next day, a Review shall be held, in the Tuileries Garden, of such as will turn out, and try. Alas, says Toulongeon, hardly a hundred turned out. Put it off till tomorrow, then, to give better warning. On the morrow, which is Saturday, there turn out ‘some thirty;’ and depart shrugging their shoulders! (Toulongeon, ii. 180. See also Dampmartin, ii. 161.) Lafayette promptly takes carriage again; returns musing on my things.

The dust of Paris is hardly off his wheels, the summer Sunday is still young, when Cordeliers in deputation pluck up that Mai of his: before sunset, Patriots have burnt him in effigy. Louder doubt and louder rises, in Section, in National Assembly, as to the legality of such unbidden Anti-jacobin visit on the part of a General: doubt swelling and spreading all over France, for six weeks or so: with endless talk about usurping soldiers, about English Monk, nay about Cromwell: O thou Paris Grandison–Cromwell! — What boots it? King Louis himself looked coldly on the enterprize: colossal Hero of two Worlds, having weighed himself in the balance, finds that he is become a gossamer Colossus, only some thirty turning out.

In a like sense, and with a like issue, works our Department–Directory here at Paris; who, on the 6th of July, take upon them to suspend Mayor Petion and Procureur Manuel from all civic functions, for their conduct, replete, as is alleged, with omissions and commissions, on that delicate Twentieth of June. Virtuous Petion sees himself a kind of martyr, or pseudo-martyr, threatened with several things; drawls out due heroical lamentation; to which Patriot Paris and Patriot Legislative duly respond. King Louis and Mayor Petion have already had an interview on that business of the Twentieth; an interview and dialogue, distinguished by frankness on both sides; ending on King Louis’s side with the words, “Taisez-vous, Hold your peace.”

For the rest, this of suspending our Mayor does seem a mistimed measure. By ill chance, it came out precisely on the day of that famous Baiser de l’amourette, or miraculous reconciliatory Delilah–Kiss, which we spoke of long ago. Which Delilah–Kiss was thereby quite hindered of effect. For now his Majesty has to write, almost that same night, asking a reconciled Assembly for advice! The reconciled Assembly will not advise; will not interfere. The King confirms the suspension; then perhaps, but not till then will the Assembly interfere, the noise of Patriot Paris getting loud. Whereby your Delilah–Kiss, such was the destiny of Parliament First, becomes a Philistine Battle!

Nay there goes a word that as many as Thirty of our chief Patriot Senators are to be clapped in prison, by mittimus and indictment of Feuillant Justices, Juges de Paix; who here in Paris were well capable of such a thing. It was but in May last that Juge de Paix Lariviere, on complaint of Bertrand–Moleville touching that Austrian Committee, made bold to launch his mittimus against three heads of the Mountain, Deputies Bazire, Chabot, Merlin, the Cordelier Trio; summoning them to appear before him, and shew where that Austrian Committee was, or else suffer the consequences. Which mittimus the Trio, on their side, made bold to fling in the fire: and valiantly pleaded privilege of Parliament. So that, for his zeal without knowledge, poor Justice Lariviere now sits in the prison of Orleans, waiting trial from the Haute Cour there. Whose example, may it not deter other rash Justices; and so this word of the Thirty arrestments continue a word merely?

But on the whole, though Lafayette weighed so light, and has had his Mai plucked up, Official Feuillantism falters not a whit; but carries its head high, strong in the letter of the Law. Feuillants all of these men: a Feuillant Directory; founding on high character, and such like; with Duke de la Rochefoucault for President, — a thing which may prove dangerous for him! Dim now is the once bright Anglomania of these admired Noblemen. Duke de Liancourt offers, out of Normandy where he is Lord–Lieutenant, not only to receive his Majesty, thinking of flight thither, but to lend him money to enormous amounts. Sire, it is not a Revolt, it is a Revolution; and truly no rose-water one! Worthier Noblemen were not in France nor in Europe than those two: but the Time is crooked, quick-shifting, perverse; what straightest course will lead to any goal, in it?

Another phasis which we note, in these early July days, is that of certain thin streaks of Federate National Volunteers wending from various points towards Paris, to hold a new Federation–Festival, or Feast of Pikes, on the Fourteenth there. So has the National Assembly wished it, so has the Nation willed it. In this way, perhaps, may we still have our Patriot Camp in spite of Veto. For cannot these Federes, having celebrated their Feast of Pikes, march on to Soissons; and, there being drilled and regimented, rush to the Frontiers, or whither we like? Thus were the one Veto cunningly eluded!

As indeed the other Veto, about Priests, is also like to be eluded; and without much cunning. For Provincial Assemblies, in Calvados as one instance, are proceeding on their own strength to judge and banish Antinational Priests. Or still worse without Provincial Assembly, a desperate People, as at Bourdeaux, can ‘hang two of them on the Lanterne,’ on the way towards judgment. (Hist. Parl. xvi. 259.) Pity for the spoken Veto, when it cannot become an acted one!

It is true, some ghost of a War-minister, or Home-minister, for the time being, ghost whom we do not name, does write to Municipalities and King’s Commanders, that they shall, by all conceivable methods, obstruct this Federation, and even turn back the Federes by force of arms: a message which scatters mere doubt, paralysis and confusion; irritates the poor Legislature; reduces the Federes as we see, to thin streaks. But being questioned, this ghost and the other ghosts, What it is then that they propose to do for saving the country? — they answer, That they cannot tell; that indeed they for their part have, this morning, resigned in a body; and do now merely respectfully take leave of the helm altogether. With which words they rapidly walk out of the Hall, sortent brusquement de la salle, the ‘Galleries cheering loudly,’ the poor Legislature sitting ‘for a good while in silence!’ (Moniteur, Seance du Juillet 1792.) Thus do Cabinet-ministers themselves, in extreme cases, strike work; one of the strangest omens. Other complete Cabinet-ministry there will not be; only fragments, and these changeful, which never get completed; spectral Apparitions that cannot so much as appear! King Louis writes that he now views this Federation Feast with approval; and will himself have the pleasure to take part in the same.

And so these thin streaks of Federes wend Parisward through a paralytic France. Thin grim streaks; not thick joyful ranks, as of old to the first Feast of Pikes! No: these poor Federates march now towards Austria and Austrian Committee, towards jeopardy and forlorn hope; men of hard fortune and temper, not rich in the world’s goods. Municipalities, paralyzed by War-ministers are shy of affording cash: it may be, your poor Federates cannot arm themselves, cannot march, till the Daughter–Society of the place open her pocket, and subscribe. There will not have arrived, at the set day, Three thousand of them in all. And yet, thin and feeble as these streaks of Federates seem, they are the only thing one discerns moving with any clearness of aim, in this strange scene. Angry buz and simmer; uneasy tossing and moaning of a huge France, all enchanted, spell-bound by unmarching Constitution, into frightful conscious and unconscious Magnetic-sleep; which frightful Magnetic-sleep must now issue soon in one of two things: Death or Madness! The Federes carry mostly in their pocket some earnest cry and Petition, to have the ‘National Executive put in action;’ or as a step towards that, to have the King’s Decheance, King’s Forfeiture, or at least his Suspension, pronounced. They shall be welcome to the Legislative, to the Mother of Patriotism; and Paris will provide for their lodging.

Decheance, indeed: and, what next? A France spell-free, a Revolution saved; and any thing, and all things next! so answer grimly Danton and the unlimited Patriots, down deep in their subterranean region of Plot, whither they have now dived. Decheance, answers Brissot with the limited: And if next the little Prince Royal were crowned, and some Regency of Girondins and recalled Patriot Ministry set over him? Alas, poor Brissot; looking, as indeed poor man does always, on the nearest morrow as his peaceable promised land; deciding what must reach to the world’s end, yet with an insight that reaches not beyond his own nose! Wiser are the unlimited subterranean Patriots, who with light for the hour itself, leave the rest to the gods.

Or were it not, as we now stand, the probablest issue of all, that Brunswick, in Coblentz, just gathering his huge limbs towards him to rise, might arrive first; and stop both Decheance, and theorizing on it? Brunswick is on the eve of marching; with Eighty Thousand, they say; fell Prussians, Hessians, feller Emigrants: a General of the Great Frederick, with such an Army. And our Armies? And our Generals? As for Lafayette, on whose late visit a Committee is sitting and all France is jarring and censuring, he seems readier to fight us than fight Brunswick. Luckner and Lafayette pretend to be interchanging corps, and are making movements; which Patriotism cannot understand. This only is very clear, that their corps go marching and shuttling, in the interior of the country; much nearer Paris than formerly! Luckner has ordered Dumouriez down to him, down from Maulde, and the Fortified Camp there. Which order the many-counselled Dumouriez, with the Austrians hanging close on him, he busy meanwhile training a few thousands to stand fire and be soldiers, declares that, come of it what will, he cannot obey. (Dumouriez, ii. 1, 5.) Will a poor Legislative, therefore, sanction Dumouriez; who applies to it, ‘not knowing whether there is any War-ministry?’ Or sanction Luckner and these Lafayette movements?

The poor Legislative knows not what to do. It decrees, however, that the Staff of the Paris Guard, and indeed all such Staffs, for they are Feuillants mostly, shall be broken and replaced. It decrees earnestly in what manner one can declare that the Country is in Danger. And finally, on the 11th of July, the morrow of that day when the Ministry struck work, it decrees that the Country be, with all despatch, declared in Danger. Whereupon let the King sanction; let the Municipality take measures: if such Declaration will do service, it need not fail.

In Danger, truly, if ever Country was! Arise, O Country; or be trodden down to ignominious ruin! Nay, are not the chances a hundred to one that no rising of the Country will save it; Brunswick, the Emigrants, and Feudal Europe drawing nigh?

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