The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 7

The Swiss.

Unhappy Friends, the tocsin does yield, has yielded! Lo ye, how with the first sun-rays its Ocean-tide, of pikes and fusils, flows glittering from the far East; — immeasurable; born of the Night! They march there, the grim host; Saint–Antoine on this side of the River; Saint–Marceau on that, the blackbrowed Marseillese in the van. With hum, and grim murmur, far-heard; like the Ocean-tide, as we say: drawn up, as if by Luna and Influences, from the great Deep of Waters, they roll gleaming on; no King, Canute or Louis, can bid them roll back. Wide-eddying side-currents, of onlookers, roll hither and thither, unarmed, not voiceless; they, the steel host, roll on. New–Commandant Santerre, indeed, has taken seat at the Townhall; rests there, in his half-way-house. Alsatian Westermann, with flashing sabre, does not rest; nor the Sections, nor the Marseillese, nor Demoiselle Theroigne; but roll continually on.

And now, where are Mandat’s Squadrons that were to charge? Not a Squadron of them stirs: or they stir in the wrong direction, out of the way; their officers glad that they will even do that. It is to this hour uncertain whether the Squadron on the Pont Neuf made the shadow of resistance, or did not make the shadow: enough, the blackbrowed Marseillese, and Saint–Marceau following them, do cross without let; do cross, in sure hope now of Saint–Antoine and the rest; do billow on, towards the Tuileries, where their errand is. The Tuileries, at sound of them, rustles responsive: the red Swiss look to their priming; Courtiers in black draw their blunderbusses, rapiers, poniards, some have even fire-shovels; every man his weapon of war.

Judge if, in these circumstances, Syndic Roederer felt easy! Will the kind Heavens open no middle-course of refuge for a poor Syndic who halts between two? If indeed his Majesty would consent to go over to the Assembly! His Majesty, above all her Majesty, cannot agree to that. Did her Majesty answer the proposal with a “Fi donc;” did she say even, she would be nailed to the walls sooner? Apparently not. It is written also that she offered the King a pistol; saying, Now or else never was the time to shew himself. Close eye-witnesses did not see it, nor do we. That saw only that she was queenlike, quiet; that she argued not, upbraided not, with the Inexorable; but, like Caesar in the Capitol, wrapped her mantle, as it beseems Queens and Sons of Adam to do. But thou, O Louis! of what stuff art thou at all? Is there no stroke in thee, then, for Life and Crown? The silliest hunted deer dies not so. Art thou the languidest of all mortals; or the mildest-minded? Thou art the worst-starred.

The tide advances; Syndic Roederer’s and all men’s straits grow straiter and straiter. Fremescent clangor comes from the armed Nationals in the Court; far and wide is the infinite hubbub of tongues. What counsel? And the tide is now nigh! Messengers, forerunners speak hastily through the outer Grates; hold parley sitting astride the walls. Syndic Roederer goes out and comes in. Cannoneers ask him: Are we to fire against the people? King’s Ministers ask him: Shall the King’s House be forced? Syndic Roederer has a hard game to play. He speaks to the Cannoneers with eloquence, with fervour; such fervour as a man can, who has to blow hot and cold in one breath. Hot and cold, O Roederer? We, for our part, cannot live and die! The Cannoneers, by way of answer, fling down their linstocks. — Think of this answer, O King Louis, and King’s Ministers: and take a poor Syndic’s safe middle-course, towards the Salle de Manege. King Louis sits, his hands leant on knees, body bent forward; gazes for a space fixedly on Syndic Roederer; then answers, looking over his shoulder to the Queen: Marchons! They march; King Louis, Queen, Sister Elizabeth, the two royal children and governess: these, with Syndic Roederer, and Officials of the Department; amid a double rank of National Guards. The men with blunderbusses, the steady red Swiss gaze mournfully, reproachfully; but hear only these words from Syndic Roederer: “The King is going to the Assembly; make way.” It has struck eight, on all clocks, some minutes ago: the King has left the Tuileries — for ever.

O ye stanch Swiss, ye gallant gentlemen in black, for what a cause are ye to spend and be spent! Look out from the western windows, ye may see King Louis placidly hold on his way; the poor little Prince Royal ‘sportfully kicking the fallen leaves.’ Fremescent multitude on the Terrace of the Feuillants whirls parallel to him; one man in it, very noisy, with a long pole: will they not obstruct the outer Staircase, and back-entrance of the Salle, when it comes to that? King’s Guards can go no further than the bottom step there. Lo, Deputation of Legislators come out; he of the long pole is stilled by oratory; Assembly’s Guards join themselves to King’s Guards, and all may mount in this case of necessity; the outer Staircase is free, or passable. See, Royalty ascends; a blue Grenadier lifts the poor little Prince Royal from the press; Royalty has entered in. Royalty has vanished for ever from your eyes. — And ye? Left standing there, amid the yawning abysses, and earthquake of Insurrection; without course; without command: if ye perish it must be as more than martyrs, as martyrs who are now without a cause! The black Courtiers disappear mostly; through such issues as they can. The poor Swiss know not how to act: one duty only is clear to them, that of standing by their post; and they will perform that.

But the glittering steel tide has arrived; it beats now against the Chateau barriers, and eastern Courts; irresistible, loud-surging far and wide; — breaks in, fills the Court of the Carrousel, blackbrowed Marseillese in the van. King Louis gone, say you; over to the Assembly! Well and good: but till the Assembly pronounce Forfeiture of him, what boots it? Our post is in that Chateau or stronghold of his; there till then must we continue. Think, ye stanch Swiss, whether it were good that grim murder began, and brothers blasted one another in pieces for a stone edifice? — Poor Swiss! they know not how to act: from the southern windows, some fling cartridges, in sign of brotherhood; on the eastern outer staircase, and within through long stairs and corridors, they stand firm-ranked, peaceable and yet refusing to stir. Westermann speaks to them in Alsatian German; Marseillese plead, in hot Provencal speech and pantomime; stunning hubbub pleads and threatens, infinite, around. The Swiss stand fast, peaceable and yet immovable; red granite pier in that waste-flashing sea of steel.

Who can help the inevitable issue; Marseillese and all France, on this side; granite Swiss on that? The pantomime grows hotter and hotter; Marseillese sabres flourishing by way of action; the Swiss brow also clouding itself, the Swiss thumb bringing its firelock to the cock. And hark! high-thundering above all the din, three Marseillese cannon from the Carrousel, pointed by a gunner of bad aim, come rattling over the roofs! Ye Swiss, therefore: Fire! The Swiss fire; by volley, by platoon, in rolling-fire: Marseillese men not a few, and ‘a tall man that was louder than any,’ lie silent, smashed, upon the pavement; — not a few Marseillese, after the long dusty march, have made halt here. The Carrousel is void; the black tide recoiling; ‘fugitives rushing as far as Saint–Antoine before they stop.’ The Cannoneers without linstock have squatted invisible, and left their cannon; which the Swiss seize.

Think what a volley: reverberating doomful to the four corners of Paris, and through all hearts; like the clang of Bellona’s thongs! The blackbrowed Marseillese, rallying on the instant, have become black Demons that know how to die. Nor is Brest behind-hand; nor Alsatian Westermann; Demoiselle Theroigne is Sybil Theroigne: Vengeance Victoire, ou la mort! From all Patriot artillery, great and small; from Feuillants Terrace, and all terraces and places of the widespread Insurrectionary sea, there roars responsive a red whirlwind. Blue Nationals, ranked in the Garden, cannot help their muskets going off, against Foreign murderers. For there is a sympathy in muskets, in heaped masses of men: nay, are not Mankind, in whole, like tuned strings, and a cunning infinite concordance and unity; you smite one string, and all strings will begin sounding, — in soft sphere-melody, in deafening screech of madness! Mounted Gendarmerie gallop distracted; are fired on merely as a thing running; galloping over the Pont Royal, or one knows not whither. The brain of Paris, brain-fevered in the centre of it here, has gone mad; what you call, taken fire.

Behold, the fire slackens not; nor does the Swiss rolling-fire slacken from within. Nay they clutched cannon, as we saw: and now, from the other side, they clutch three pieces more; alas, cannon without linstock; nor will the steel-and-flint answer, though they try it. (Deux Amis, viii. 179–88.) Had it chanced to answer! Patriot onlookers have their misgivings; one strangest Patriot onlooker thinks that the Swiss, had they a commander, would beat. He is a man not unqualified to judge; the name of him is Napoleon Buonaparte. (See Hist. Parl. (xvii. 56); Las Cases, &c.) And onlookers, and women, stand gazing, and the witty Dr. Moore of Glasgow among them, on the other side of the River: cannon rush rumbling past them; pause on the Pont Royal; belch out their iron entrails there, against the Tuileries; and at every new belch, the women and onlookers shout and clap hands. (Moore, Journal during a Residence in France (Dublin, 1793), i. 26.) City of all the Devils! In remote streets, men are drinking breakfast-coffee; following their affairs; with a start now and then, as some dull echo reverberates a note louder. And here? Marseillese fall wounded; but Barbaroux has surgeons; Barbaroux is close by, managing, though underhand, and under cover. Marseillese fall death-struck; bequeath their firelock, specify in which pocket are the cartridges; and die, murmuring, “Revenge me, Revenge thy country!” Brest Federe Officers, galloping in red coats, are shot as Swiss. Lo you, the Carrousel has burst into flame! — Paris Pandemonium! Nay the poor City, as we said, is in fever-fit and convulsion; such crisis has lasted for the space of some half hour.

But what is this that, with Legislative Insignia, ventures through the hubbub and death-hail, from the back-entrance of the Manege? Towards the Tuileries and Swiss: written Order from his Majesty to cease firing! O ye hapless Swiss, why was there no order not to begin it? Gladly would the Swiss cease firing: but who will bid mad Insurrection cease firing? To Insurrection you cannot speak; neither can it, hydra-headed, hear. The dead and dying, by the hundred, lie all around; are borne bleeding through the streets, towards help; the sight of them, like a torch of the Furies, kindling Madness. Patriot Paris roars; as the bear bereaved of her whelps. On, ye Patriots: vengeance! victory or death! There are men seen, who rush on, armed only with walking-sticks. (Hist. Parl. ubi supra. Rapport du Captaine des Canonniers, Rapport du Commandant, &c. Ibid. xvii. 300–18.) Terror and Fury rule the hour.

The Swiss, pressed on from without, paralyzed from within, have ceased to shoot; but not to be shot. What shall they do? Desperate is the moment. Shelter or instant death: yet How? Where? One party flies out by the Rue de l’Echelle; is destroyed utterly, ‘en entier.’ A second, by the other side, throws itself into the Garden; ‘hurrying across a keen fusillade:’ rushes suppliant into the National Assembly; finds pity and refuge in the back benches there. The third, and largest, darts out in column, three hundred strong, towards the Champs Elysees: Ah, could we but reach Courbevoye, where other Swiss are! Wo! see, in such fusillade the column ‘soon breaks itself by diversity of opinion,’ into distracted segments, this way and that; — to escape in holes, to die fighting from street to street. The firing and murdering will not cease; not yet for long. The red Porters of Hotels are shot at, be they Suisse by nature, or Suisse only in name. The very Firemen, who pump and labour on that smoking Carrousel, are shot at; why should the Carrousel not burn? Some Swiss take refuge in private houses; find that mercy too does still dwell in the heart of man. The brave Marseillese are merciful, late so wroth; and labour to save. Journalist Gorsas pleads hard with enfuriated groups. Clemence, the Wine-merchant, stumbles forward to the Bar of the Assembly, a rescued Swiss in his hand; tells passionately how he rescued him with pain and peril, how he will henceforth support him, being childless himself; and falls a swoon round the poor Swiss’s neck: amid plaudits. But the most are butchered, and even mangled. Fifty (some say Fourscore) were marched as prisoners, by National Guards, to the Hotel-de-Ville: the ferocious people bursts through on them, in the Place de Greve; massacres them to the last man. ‘O Peuple, envy of the universe!’ Peuple, in mad Gaelic effervescence!

Surely few things in the history of carnage are painfuller. What ineffaceable red streak, flickering so sad in the memory, is that, of this poor column of red Swiss ‘breaking itself in the confusion of opinions;’ dispersing, into blackness and death! Honour to you, brave men; honourable pity, through long times! Not martyrs were ye; and yet almost more. He was no King of yours, this Louis; and he forsook you like a King of shreds and patches; ye were but sold to him for some poor sixpence a-day; yet would ye work for your wages, keep your plighted word. The work now was to die; and ye did it. Honour to you, O Kinsmen; and may the old Deutsch Biederheit and Tapferkeit, and Valour which is Worth and Truth be they Swiss, be they Saxon, fail in no age! Not bastards; true-born were these men; sons of the men of Sempach, of Murten, who knelt, but not to thee, O Burgundy! — Let the traveller, as he passes through Lucerne, turn aside to look a little at their monumental Lion; not for Thorwaldsen’s sake alone. Hewn out of living rock, the Figure rests there, by the still Lake-waters, in lullaby of distant-tinkling rance-des-vaches, the granite Mountains dumbly keeping watch all round; and, though inanimate, speaks.

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