The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 4

Subterranean.

But judge if there was comfort in this to the Sections all sitting permanent; deliberating how a National Executive could be put in action!

High rises the response, not of cackling terror, but of crowing counter-defiance, and Vive la Nation; young Valour streaming towards the Frontiers; Patrie en Danger mutely beckoning on the Pont Neuf. Sections are busy, in their permanent Deep; and down, lower still, works unlimited Patriotism, seeking salvation in plot. Insurrection, you would say, becomes once more the sacredest of duties? Committee, self-chosen, is sitting at the Sign of the Golden Sun: Journalist Carra, Camille Desmoulins, Alsatian Westermann friend of Danton, American Fournier of Martinique; — a Committee not unknown to Mayor Petion, who, as an official person, must sleep with one eye open. Not unknown to Procureur Manuel; least of all to Procureur–Substitute Danton! He, wrapped in darkness, being also official, bears it on his giant shoulder; cloudy invisible Atlas of the whole.

Much is invisible; the very Jacobins have their reticences. Insurrection is to be: but when? This only we can discern, that such Federes as are not yet gone to Soissons, as indeed are not inclined to go yet, “for reasons,” says the Jacobin President, “which it may be interesting not to state,” have got a Central Committee sitting close by, under the roof of the Mother Society herself. Also, what in such ferment and danger of effervescence is surely proper, the Forty-eight Sections have got their Central Committee; intended ‘for prompt communication.’ To which Central Committee the Municipality, anxious to have it at hand, could not refuse an Apartment in the Hotel-de-Ville.

Singular City! For overhead of all this, there is the customary baking and brewing; Labour hammers and grinds. Frilled promenaders saunter under the trees; white-muslin promenaderess, in green parasol, leaning on your arm. Dogs dance, and shoeblacks polish, on that Pont Neuf itself, where Fatherland is in danger. So much goes its course; and yet the course of all things is nigh altering and ending.

Look at that Tuileries and Tuileries Garden. Silent all as Sahara; none entering save by ticket! They shut their Gates, after the Day of the Black Breeches; a thing they had the liberty to do. However, the National Assembly grumbled something about Terrace of the Feuillants, how said Terrace lay contiguous to the back entrance to their Salle, and was partly National Property; and so now National Justice has stretched a Tricolor Riband athwart, by way of boundary-line, respected with splenetic strictness by all Patriots. It hangs there that Tricolor boundary-line; carries ‘satirical inscriptions on cards,’ generally in verse; and all beyond this is called Coblentz, and remains vacant; silent, as a fateful Golgotha; sunshine and umbrage alternating on it in vain. Fateful Circuit; what hope can dwell in it? Mysterious Tickets of Entry introduce themselves; speak of Insurrection very imminent. Rivarol’s Staff of Genius had better purchase blunderbusses; Grenadier bonnets, red Swiss uniforms may be useful. Insurrection will come; but likewise will it not be met? Staved off, one may hope, till Brunswick arrive?

But consider withal if the Bourne-stones and Portable chairs remain silent; if the Herald’s College of Bill–Stickers sleep! Louvet’s Sentinel warns gratis on all walls; Sulleau is busy: People’s-Friend Marat and King’s-Friend Royou croak and counter-croak. For the man Marat, though long hidden since that Champ-de-Mars Massacre, is still alive. He has lain, who knows in what Cellars; perhaps in Legendre’s; fed by a steak of Legendre’s killing: but, since April, the bull-frog voice of him sounds again; hoarsest of earthly cries. For the present, black terror haunts him: O brave Barbaroux wilt thou not smuggle me to Marseilles, ‘disguised as a jockey?’ (Barbaroux, p. 60.) In Palais–Royal and all public places, as we read, there is sharp activity; private individuals haranguing that Valour may enlist; haranguing that the Executive may be put in action. Royalist journals ought to be solemnly burnt: argument thereupon; debates which generally end in single-stick, coups de cannes. (Newspapers, Narratives and Documents Hist. Parl. xv. 240; xvi. 399.) Or think of this; the hour midnight; place Salle de Manege; august Assembly just adjourning: ‘Citizens of both sexes enter in a rush exclaiming, Vengeance: they are poisoning our Brothers;’ — baking brayed-glass among their bread at Soissons! Vergniaud has to speak soothing words, How Commissioners are already sent to investigate this brayed-glass, and do what is needful therein: till the rush of Citizens ‘makes profound silence:’ and goes home to its bed.

Such is Paris; the heart of a France like to it. Preternatural suspicion, doubt, disquietude, nameless anticipation, from shore to shore:— and those blackbrowed Marseillese, marching, dusty, unwearied, through the midst of it; not doubtful they. Marching to the grim music of their hearts, they consume continually the long road, these three weeks and more; heralded by Terror and Rumour. The Brest Federes arrive on the 26th; through hurrahing streets. Determined men are these also, bearing or not bearing the Sacred Pikes of Chateau–Vieux; and on the whole decidedly disinclined for Soissons as yet. Surely the Marseillese Brethren do draw nigher all days.

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