The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 2

Danton.

But better than raising of Longwi, or rebuking poor dusty soldiers or soldiers’ wives, Danton had come over, last night, and demanded a Decree to search for arms, since they were not yielded voluntarily. Let ‘Domiciliary visits,’ with rigour of authority, be made to this end. To search for arms; for horses, — Aristocratism rolls in its carriage, while Patriotism cannot trail its cannon. To search generally for munitions of war, ‘in the houses of persons suspect,’ — and even, if it seem proper, to seize and imprison the suspect persons themselves! In the Prisons, their plots will be harmless; in the Prisons, they will be as hostages for us, and not without use. This Decree the energetic Minister of Justice demanded, last night, and got; and this same night it is to be executed; it is being executed, at the moment when these dusty soldiers get saluted with Mourir. Two thousand stand of arms, as they count, are foraged in this way; and some four hundred head of new Prisoners; and, on the whole, such a terror and damp is struck through the Aristocrat heart, as all but Patriotism, and even Patriotism were it out of this agony, might pity. Yes, Messieurs! if Brunswick blast Paris to ashes, he probably will blast the Prisons of Paris too: pale Terror, if we have got it, we will also give it, and the depth of horrors that lie in it; the same leaky bottom, in these wild waters, bears us all.

One can judge what stir there was now among the ‘thirty thousand Royalists:’ how the Plotters, or the accused of Plotting, shrank each closer into his lurking-place, — like Bertrand Moleville, looking eager towards Longwi, hoping the weather would keep fair. Or how they dressed themselves in valet’s clothes, like Narbonne, and ‘got to England as Dr. Bollman’s famulus:’ how Dame de Stael bestirred herself, pleading with Manuel as a Sister in Literature, pleading even with Clerk Tallien; a pray to nameless chagrins! (De Stael, Considerations sur la Revolution, ii. 67–81.) Royalist Peltier, the Pamphleteer, gives a touching Narrative (not deficient in height of colouring) of the terrors of that night. From five in the afternoon, a great City is struck suddenly silent; except for the beating of drums, for the tramp of marching feet; and ever and anon the dread thunder of the knocker at some door, a Tricolor Commissioner with his blue Guards (black-guards!) arriving. All Streets are vacant, says Peltier; beset by Guards at each end: all Citizens are ordered to be within doors. On the River float sentinal barges, lest we escape by water: the Barriers hermetically closed. Frightful! The sun shines; serenely westering, in smokeless mackerel-sky: Paris is as if sleeping, as if dead:— Paris is holding its breath, to see what stroke will fall on it. Poor Peltier! Acts of Apostles, and all jocundity of Leading–Articles, are gone out, and it is become bitter earnest instead; polished satire changed now into coarse pike-points (hammered out of railing); all logic reduced to this one primitive thesis, An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth! — Peltier, dolefully aware of it, ducks low; escapes unscathed to England; to urge there the inky war anew; to have Trial by Jury, in due season, and deliverance by young Whig eloquence, world-celebrated for a day.

Of ‘thirty thousand,’ naturally, great multitudes were left unmolested: but, as we said, some four hundred, designated as ‘persons suspect,’ were seized; and an unspeakable terror fell on all. Wo to him who is guilty of Plotting, of Anticivism, Royalism, Feuillantism; who, guilty or not guilty, has an enemy in his Section to call him guilty! Poor old M. de Cazotte is seized, his young loved Daughter with him, refusing to quit him. Why, O Cazotte, wouldst thou quit romancing, and Diable Amoureux, for such reality as this? Poor old M. de Sombreuil, he of the Invalides, is seized: a man seen askance, by Patriotism ever since the Bastille days: whom also a fond Daughter will not quit. With young tears hardly suppressed, and old wavering weakness rousing itself once more — O my brothers, O my sisters!

The famed and named go; the nameless, if they have an accuser. Necklace Lamotte’s Husband is in these Prisons (she long since squelched on the London Pavements); but gets delivered. Gross de Morande, of the Courier de l’Europe, hobbles distractedly to and fro there: but they let him hobble out; on right nimble crutches; — his hour not being yet come. Advocate Maton de la Varenne, very weak in health, is snatched off from mother and kin; Tricolor Rossignol (journeyman goldsmith and scoundrel lately, a risen man now) remembers an old Pleading of Maton’s! Jourgniac de Saint–Meard goes; the brisk frank soldier: he was in the Mutiny of Nancy, in that ‘effervescent Regiment du Roi,’ — on the wrong side. Saddest of all: Abbe Sicard goes; a Priest who could not take the Oath, but who could teach the Deaf and Dumb: in his Section one man, he says, had a grudge at him; one man, at the fit hour, launches an arrest against him; which hits. In the Arsenal quarter, there are dumb hearts making wail, with signs, with wild gestures; he their miraculous healer and speech-bringer is rapt away.

What with the arrestments on this night of the Twenty-ninth, what with those that have gone on more or less, day and night, ever since the Tenth, one may fancy what the Prisons now were. Crowding and Confusion; jostle, hurry, vehemence and terror! Of the poor Queen’s Friends, who had followed her to the Temple and been committed elsewhither to Prison, some, as Governess de Tourzelle, are to be let go: one, the poor Princess de Lamballe, is not let go; but waits in the strong-rooms of La Force there, what will betide further.

Among so many hundreds whom the launched arrest hits, who are rolled off to Townhall or Section-hall, to preliminary Houses of detention, and hurled in thither, as into cattle-pens, we must mention one other: Caron de Beaumarchais, Author of Figaro; vanquisher of Maupeou Parlements and Goezman helldogs; once numbered among the demigods; and now —? We left him in his culminant state; what dreadful decline is this, when we again catch a glimpse of him! ‘At midnight’ (it was but the 12th of August yet), ‘the servant, in his shirt,’ with wide-staring eyes, enters your room:— Monsieur, rise; all the people are come to seek you; they are knocking, like to break in the door! ‘And they were in fact knocking in a terrible manner (d’une facon terrible). I fling on my coat, forgetting even the waistcoat, nothing on my feet but slippers; and say to him’ — And he, alas, answers mere negatory incoherences, panic interjections. And through the shutters and crevices, in front or rearward, the dull street-lamps disclose only streetfuls of haggard countenances; clamorous, bristling with pikes: and you rush distracted for an outlet, finding none; — and have to take refuge in the crockery-press, down stairs; and stand there, palpitating in that imperfect costume, lights dancing past your key-hole, tramp of feet overhead, and the tumult of Satan, ‘for four hours and more!’ And old ladies, of the quarter, started up (as we hear next morning); rang for their Bonnes and cordial-drops, with shrill interjections: and old gentlemen, in their shirts, ‘leapt garden-walls;’ flying, while none pursued; one of whom unfortunately broke his leg. (Beaumarchais’ Narrative, Memoires sur les Prisons (Paris, 1823), i. 179–90.) Those sixty thousand stand of Dutch arms (which never arrive), and the bold stroke of trade, have turned out so ill! —

Beaumarchais escaped for this time; but not for the next time, ten days after. On the evening of the Twenty-ninth he is still in that chaos of the Prisons, in saddest, wrestling condition; unable to get justice, even to get audience; ‘Panis scratching his head’ when you speak to him, and making off. Nevertheless let the lover of Figaro know that Procureur Manuel, a Brother in Literature, found him, and delivered him once more. But how the lean demigod, now shorn of his splendour, had to lurk in barns, to roam over harrowed fields, panting for life; and to wait under eavesdrops, and sit in darkness ‘on the Boulevard amid paving-stones and boulders,’ longing for one word of any Minister, or Minister’s Clerk, about those accursed Dutch muskets, and getting none, — with heart fuming in spleen, and terror, and suppressed canine-madness: alas, how the swift sharp hound, once fit to be Diana’s, breaks his old teeth now, gnawing mere whinstones; and must ‘fly to England;’ and, returning from England, must creep into the corner, and lie quiet, toothless (moneyless), — all this let the lover of Figaro fancy, and weep for. We here, without weeping, not without sadness, wave the withered tough fellow-mortal our farewell. His Figaro has returned to the French stage; nay is, at this day, sometimes named the best piece there. And indeed, so long as Man’s Life can ground itself only on artificiality and aridity; each new Revolt and Change of Dynasty turning up only a new stratum of dry rubbish, and no soil yet coming to view, — may it not be good to protest against such a Life, in many ways, and even in the Figaro way?

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