The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 8

Exeunt.

But this Twentieth of September is otherwise a great day. For, observe, while Kellermann’s horse was flying blown from under him at the Mill of Valmy, our new National Deputies, that shall be a NATIONAL CONVENTION, are hovering and gathering about the Hall of the Hundred Swiss; with intent to constitute themselves!

On the morrow, about noontide, Camus the Archivist is busy ‘verifying their powers;’ several hundreds of them already here. Whereupon the Old Legislative comes solemnly over, to merge its old ashes Phoenix-like in the body of the new; — and so forthwith, returning all solemnly back to the Salle de Manege, there sits a National Convention, Seven Hundred and Forty-nine complete, or complete enough; presided by Petion; — which proceeds directly to do business. Read that reported afternoon’s-debate, O Reader; there are few debates like it: dull reporting Moniteur itself becomes more dramatic than a very Shakespeare. For epigrammatic Manuel rises, speaks strange things; how the President shall have a guard of honour, and lodge in the Tuileries:— rejected. And Danton rises and speaks; and Collot d’Herbois rises, and Curate Gregoire, and lame Couthon of the Mountain rises; and in rapid Meliboean stanzas, only a few lines each, they propose motions not a few: That the corner-stone of our new Constitution is Sovereignty of the People; that our Constitution shall be accepted by the People or be null; further that the People ought to be avenged, and have right Judges; that the Imposts must continue till new order; that Landed and other Property be sacred forever; finally that ‘Royalty from this day is abolished in France:’ — Decreed all, before four o’clock strike, with acclamation of the world! (Hist. Parl. xix. 19.) The tree was all so ripe; only shake it and there fall such yellow cart-loads.

And so over in the Valmy Region, as soon as the news come, what stir is this, audible, visible from our muddy heights of La Lune? (Williams, iii. 71.) Universal shouting of the French on their opposite hillside; caps raised on bayonets; and a sound as of Republique; Vive la Republique borne dubious on the winds! — On the morrow morning, so to speak, Brunswick slings his knapsacks before day, lights any fires he has; and marches without tap of drum. Dumouriez finds ghastly symptoms in that camp; ‘latrines full of blood!’ (1st October, 1792; Dumouriez, iii. 73.) The chivalrous King of Prussia, for he as we saw is here in person, may long rue the day; may look colder than ever on these dulled-bright Seigneurs, and French Princes their Country’s hope; — and, on the whole, put on his great-coat without ceremony, happy that he has one. They retire, all retire with convenient despatch, through a Champagne trodden into a quagmire, the wild weather pouring on them; Dumouriez through his Kellermanns and Dillons pricking them a little in the hinder parts. A little, not much; now pricking, now negotiating: for Brunswick has his eyes opened; and the Majesty of Prussia is a repentant Majesty.

Nor has Austria prospered, nor the Wooden Horse of Thionville bitten his hay; nor Lille City surrendered itself. The Lille trenches opened, on the 29th of the month; with balls and shells, and redhot balls; as if not trenches but Vesuvius and the Pit had opened. It was frightful, say all eye-witnesses; but it is ineffectual. The Lillers have risen to such temper; especially after these news from Argonne and the East. Not a Sans-indispensables in Lille that would surrender for a King’s ransom. Redhot balls rain, day and night; ‘six-thousand,’ or so, and bombs ‘filled internally with oil of turpentine which splashes up in flame;’ — mainly on the dwellings of the Sansculottes and Poor; the streets of the Rich being spared. But the Sansculottes get water-pails; form quenching-regulations, “The ball is in Peter’s house!” “The ball is in John’s!” They divide their lodging and substance with each other; shout Vive la Republique; and faint not in heart. A ball thunders through the main chamber of the Hotel-de-Ville, while the Commune is there assembled: “We are in permanence,” says one, coldly, proceeding with his business; and the ball remains permanent too, sticking in the wall, probably to this day. (Bombardement de Lille in Hist. Parl. xx. 63–71.)

The Austrian Archduchess (Queen’s Sister) will herself see red artillery fired; in their over-haste to satisfy an Archduchess ‘two mortars explode and kill thirty persons.’ It is in vain; Lille, often burning, is always quenched again; Lille will not yield. The very boys deftly wrench the matches out of fallen bombs: ‘a man clutches a rolling ball with his hat, which takes fire; when cool, they crown it with a bonnet rouge.’ Memorable also be that nimble Barber, who when the bomb burst beside him, snatched up a shred of it, introduced soap and lather into it, crying, “Voila mon plat a barbe, My new shaving-dish!” and shaved ‘fourteen people’ on the spot. Bravo, thou nimble Shaver; worthy to shave old spectral Redcloak, and find treasures! — On the eighth day of this desperate siege, the sixth day of October, Austria finding it fruitless, draws off, with no pleasurable consciousness; rapidly, Dumouriez tending thitherward; and Lille too, black with ashes and smoulder, but jubilant skyhigh, flings its gates open. The Plat a barbe became fashionable; ‘no Patriot of an elegant turn,’ says Mercier several years afterwards, ‘but shaves himself out of the splinter of a Lille bomb.’

Quid multa, Why many words? The Invaders are in flight; Brunswick’s Host, the third part of it gone to death, staggers disastrous along the deep highways of Champagne; spreading out also into ‘the fields, of a tough spongy red-coloured clay; — like Pharaoh through a Red Sea of mud,’ says Goethe; ‘for he also lay broken chariots, and riders and foot seemed sinking around.’ (Campagne in Frankreich, p. 103.) On the eleventh morning of October, the World–Poet, struggling Northwards out of Verdun, which he had entered Southwards, some five weeks ago, in quite other order, discerned the following Phenomenon and formed part of it:

‘Towards three in the morning, without having had any sleep, we were about mounting our carriage, drawn up at the door; when an insuperable obstacle disclosed itself: for there rolled on already, between the pavement-stones which were crushed up into a ridge on each side, an uninterrupted column of sick-wagons through the Town, and all was trodden as into a morass. While we stood waiting what could be made of it, our Landlord the Knight of Saint–Louis pressed past us, without salutation.’ He had been a Calonne’s Notable in 1787, an Emigrant since; had returned to his home, jubilant, with the Prussians; but must now forth again into the wide world, ‘followed by a servant carrying a little bundle on his stick.

‘The activity of our alert Lisieux shone eminent; and, on this occasion too, brought us on: for he struck into a small gap of the wagon-row; and held the advancing team back till we, with our six and our four horses, got intercalated; after which, in my light little coachlet, I could breathe freer. We were now under way; at a funeral pace, but still under way. The day broke; we found ourselves at the outlet of the Town, in a tumult and turmoil without measure. All sorts of vehicles, few horsemen, innumerable foot-people, were crossing each other on the great esplanade before the Gate. We turned to the right, with our Column, towards Estain, on a limited highway, with ditches at each side. Self-preservation, in so monstrous a press, knew now no pity, no respect of aught. Not far before us there fell down a horse of an ammunition-wagon: they cut the traces, and let it lie. And now as the three others could not bring their load along, they cut them also loose, tumbled the heavy-packed vehicle into the ditch; and, with the smallest retardation, we had to drive on, right over the horse, which was just about to rise; and I saw too clearly how its legs, under the wheels, went crashing and quivering.

‘Horse and foot endeavoured to escape from the narrow laborious highway into the meadows: but these too were rained to ruin; overflowed by full ditches, the connexion of the footpaths every where interrupted. Four gentlemanlike, handsome, well-dressed French soldiers waded for a time beside our carriage; wonderfully clean and neat: and had such art of picking their steps, that their foot-gear testified no higher than the ancle to the muddy pilgrimage these good people found themselves engaged in.

‘That under such circumstances one saw, in ditches, in meadows, in fields and crofts, dead horses enough, was natural to the case: by and by, however, you found them also flayed, the fleshy parts even cut away; sad token of the universal distress.

‘Thus we fared on; every moment in danger, at the smallest stoppage on our own part, of being ourselves tumbled overboard; under which circumstances, truly, the careful dexterity of our Lisieux could not be sufficiently praised. The same talent shewed itself at Estain; where we arrived towards noon; and descried, over the beautiful well-built little Town, through streets and on squares, around and beside us, one sense-confusing tumult: the mass rolled this way and that; and, all struggling forward, each hindered the other. Unexpectedly our carriage drew up before a stately house in the market-place; master and mistress of the mansion saluted us in reverent distance.’ Dexterous Lisieux, though we knew it not, had said we were the King of Prussia’s Brother!

‘But now, from the ground-floor windows, looking over the whole market-place, we had the endless tumult lying, as it were, palpable. All sorts of walkers, soldiers in uniform, marauders, stout but sorrowing citizens and peasants, women and children, crushed and jostled each other, amid vehicles of all forms: ammunition-wagons, baggage-wagons; carriages, single, double, and multiplex; such hundredfold miscellany of teams, requisitioned or lawfully owned, making way, hitting together, hindering each other, rolled here to right and to left. Horned-cattle too were struggling on; probably herds that had been put in requisition. Riders you saw few; but the elegant carriages of the Emigrants, many-coloured, lackered, gilt and silvered, evidently by the best builders, caught your eye. (See Hermann and Dorothea (also by Goethe), Buch Kalliope.)

‘The crisis of the strait however arose further on a little; where the crowded market-place had to introduce itself into a street, — straight indeed and good, but proportionably far too narrow. I have, in my life, seen nothing like it: the aspect of it might perhaps be compared to that of a swoln river which has been raging over meadows and fields, and is now again obliged to press itself through a narrow bridge, and flow on in its bounded channel. Down the long street, all visible from our windows, there swelled continually the strangest tide: a high double-seated travelling-coach towered visible over the flood of things. We thought of the fair Frenchwomen we had seen in the morning. It was not they, however, it was Count Haugwitz; him you could look at, with a kind of sardonic malice, rocking onwards, step by step, there.’ (Campagne in Frankreich, Goethe’s Werke (Stuttgart, 1829), xxx. 133–137.)

In such untriumphant Procession has the Brunswick Manifesto issued! Nay in worse, ‘in Negotiation with these miscreants,’ — the first news of which produced such a revulsion in the Emigrant nature, as put our scientific World–Poet ‘in fear for the wits of several.’ There is no help: they must fare on, these poor Emigrants, angry with all persons and things, and making all persons angry, in the hapless course they struck into. Landlord and landlady testify to you, at tables-d’hote, how insupportable these Frenchmen are: how, in spite of such humiliation, of poverty and probable beggary, there is ever the same struggle for precedence, the same forwardness, and want of discretion. High in honour, at the head of the table, you with your own eyes observe not a Seigneur but the automaton of a Seigneur, fallen into dotage; still worshipped, reverently waited on, and fed. In miscellaneous seats, is a miscellany of soldiers, commissaries, adventurers; consuming silently their barbarian victuals. ‘On all brows is to be read a hard destiny; all are silent, for each has his own sufferings to bear, and looks forth into misery without bounds.’ One hasty wanderer, coming in, and eating without ungraciousness what is set before him, the landlord lets off almost scot-free. “He is,” whispered the landlord to me, “the first of these cursed people I have seen condescend to taste our German black bread.” (Ibid. 152.) (Ibid. 210–12.)

And Dumouriez is in Paris; lauded and feasted; paraded in glittering saloons, floods of beautifullest blond-dresses and broadcloth-coats flowing past him, endless, in admiring joy. One night, nevertheless, in the splendour of one such scene, he sees himself suddenly apostrophised by a squalid unjoyful Figure, who has come in uninvited, nay despite of all lackeys; an unjoyful Figure! The Figure is come “in express mission from the Jacobins,” to inquire sharply, better then than later, touching certain things: “Shaven eyebrows of Volunteer Patriots, for instance?” Also “your threats of shivering in pieces?” Also, “why you have not chased Brunswick hotly enough?” Thus, with sharp croak, inquires the Figure. — “Ah, c’est vous qu’on appelle Marat, You are he they call Marat!” answers the General, and turns coldly on his heel. (Dumouriez, iii. 115. — Marat’s account, In the Debats des Jacobins and Journal de la Republique (Hist. Parl. xix. 317–21), agrees to the turning on the heel, but strives to interpret it differently.) — “Marat!” The blonde-gowns quiver like aspens; the dress-coats gather round; Actor Talma (for it is his house), and almost the very chandelier-lights, are blue: till this obscene Spectrum, or visual Appearance, vanish back into native Night.

General Dumouriez, in few brief days, is gone again, towards the Netherlands; will attack the Netherlands, winter though it be. And General Montesquiou, on the South–East, has driven in the Sardinian Majesty; nay, almost without a shot fired, has taken Savoy from him, which longs to become a piece of the Republic. And General Custine, on the North–East, has dashed forth on Spires and its Arsenal; and then on Electoral Mentz, not uninvited, wherein are German Democrats and no shadow of an Elector now:— so that in the last days of October, Frau Forster, a daughter of Heyne’s, somewhat democratic, walking out of the Gate of Mentz with her Husband, finds French Soldiers playing at bowls with cannon-balls there. Forster trips cheerfully over one iron bomb, with “Live the Republic!” A black-bearded National Guard answers: “Elle vivra bien sans vous, It will probably live independently of you!” (Johann Georg Forster’s Briefwechsel (Leipzig, 1829), i. 88.)

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