The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 2

The Executive.

May we not conjecture therefore that round this grand enterprise of Making the Constitution there will, as heretofore, very strange embroilments gather, and questions and interests complicate themselves; so that after a few or even several months, the Convention will not have settled every thing? Alas, a whole tide of questions comes rolling, boiling; growing ever wider, without end! Among which, apart from this question of September and Anarchy, let us notice those, which emerge oftener than the others, and promise to become Leading Questions: of the Armies; of the Subsistences; thirdly, of the Dethroned King.

As to the Armies, Public Defence must evidently be put on a proper footing; for Europe seems coalising itself again; one is apprehensive even England will join it. Happily Dumouriez prospers in the North; — nay what if he should prove too prosperous, and become Liberticide, Murderer of Freedom! — Dumouriez prospers, through this winter season; yet not without lamentable complaints. Sleek Pache, the Swiss Schoolmaster, he that sat frugal in his Alley, the wonder of neighbours, has got lately — whither thinks the Reader? To be Minister of war! Madame Roland, struck with his sleek ways, recommended him to her Husband as Clerk: the sleek Clerk had no need of salary, being of true Patriotic temper; he would come with a bit of bread in his pocket, to save dinner and time; and, munching incidentally, do three men’s work in a day, punctual, silent, frugal, — the sleek Tartuffe that he was. Wherefore Roland, in the late Overturn, recommended him to be War–Minister. And now, it would seem, he is secretly undermining Roland; playing into the hands of your hotter Jacobins and September Commune; and cannot, like strict Roland, be the Veto des Coquins! (Madame Roland, Memoires, ii. 237, &c.)

How the sleek Pache might mine and undermine, one knows not well; this however one does know: that his War–Office has become a den of thieves and confusion, such as all men shudder to behold. That the Citizen Hassenfratz, as Head–Clerk, sits there in bonnet rouge, in rapine, in violence, and some Mathematical calculation; a most insolent, red-nightcapped man. That Pache munches his pocket-loaf, amid head-clerks and sub-clerks, and has spent all the War–Estimates: that Furnishers scour in gigs, over all districts of France, and drive bargains; — and lastly that the Army gets next to no furniture. No shoes, though it is winter; no clothes; some have not even arms: ‘In the Army of the South,’ complains an honourable Member, ‘there are thirty thousand pairs of breeches wanting,’ — a most scandalous want.

Roland’s strict soul is sick to see the course things take: but what can he do? Keep his own Department strict; rebuke, and repress wheresoever possible; at lowest, complain. He can complain in Letter after Letter, to a National Convention, to France, to Posterity, the Universe; grow ever more querulous indignant; — till at last may he not grow wearisome? For is not this continual text of his, at bottom a rather barren one: How astonishing that in a time of Revolt and abrogation of all Law but Cannon Law, there should be such Unlawfulness? Intrepid Veto-of-Scoundrels, narrow-faithful, respectable, methodic man, work thou in that manner, since happily it is thy manner, and wear thyself away; though ineffectual, not profitless in it — then nor now! — The brave Dame Roland, bravest of all French women, begins to have misgivings: the figure of Danton has too much of the ‘Sardanapalus character,’ at a Republican Rolandin Dinner-table: Clootz, Speaker of Mankind, proses sad stuff about a Universal Republic, or union of all Peoples and Kindreds in one and the same Fraternal Bond; of which Bond, how it is to be tied, one unhappily sees not.

It is also an indisputable, unaccountable or accountable fact that Grains are becoming scarcer and scarcer. Riots for grain, tumultuous Assemblages demanding to have the price of grain fixed abound far and near. The Mayor of Paris and other poor Mayors are like to have their difficulties. Petion was re-elected Mayor of Paris; but has declined; being now a Convention Legislator. Wise surely to decline: for, besides this of Grains and all the rest, there is in these times an Improvised insurrectionary Commune passing into an Elected legal one; getting their accounts settled, — not without irritancy! Petion has declined: nevertheless many do covet and canvass. After months of scrutinising, balloting, arguing and jargoning, one Doctor Chambon gets the post of honour: who will not long keep it; but be, as we shall see, literally crushed out of it. (Dictionnaire des Hommes Marquans, para Chambon.)

Think also if the private Sansculotte has not his difficulties, in a time of dearth! Bread, according to the People’s-Friend, may be some ‘six sous per pound, a day’s wages some fifteen;’ and grim winter here. How the Poor Man continues living, and so seldom starves, by miracle! Happily, in these days, he can enlist, and have himself shot by the Austrians, in an unusually satisfactory manner: for the Rights of Man. — But Commandant Santerre, in this so straitened condition of the flour-market, and state of Equality and Liberty, proposes, through the Newspapers, two remedies, or at least palliatives: First, that all classes of men should live, two days of the week, on potatoes; then second, that every man should hang his dog. Hereby, as the Commandant thinks, the saving, which indeed he computes to so many sacks, would be very considerable. A cheerfuller form of inventive-stupidity than Commandant Santerre’s dwells in no human soul. Inventive-stupidity, imbedded in health, courage and good-nature: much to be commended. “My whole strength,” he tells the Convention once, “is, day and night, at the service of my fellow-Citizens: if they find me worthless, they will dismiss me; I will return and brew beer.” (Moniteur in Hist. Parl. xx. 412.)

Or figure what correspondences a poor Roland, Minister of the Interior, must have, on this of Grains alone! Free-trade in Grain, impossibility to fix the Prices of Grain; on the other hand, clamour and necessity to fix them: Political Economy lecturing from the Home Office, with demonstration clear as Scripture; — ineffectual for the empty National Stomach. The Mayor of Chartres, like to be eaten himself, cries to the Convention: the Convention sends honourable Members in Deputation; who endeavour to feed the multitude by miraculous spiritual methods; but cannot. The multitude, in spite of all Eloquence, come bellowing round; will have the Grain–Prices fixed, and at a moderate elevation; or else — the honourable Deputies hanged on the spot! The honourable Deputies, reporting this business, admit that, on the edge of horrid death, they did fix, or affect to fix the Price of Grain: for which, be it also noted, the Convention, a Convention that will not be trifled with, sees good to reprimand them. (Hist. Parl. xx. 431–440.)

But as to the origin of these Grain Riots, is it not most probably your secret Royalists again? Glimpses of Priests were discernible in this of Chartres, — to the eye of Patriotism. Or indeed may not ‘the root of it all lie in the Temple Prison, in the heart of a perjured King,’ well as we guard him? (Ibid. 409.) Unhappy perjured King! — And so there shall be Baker’s Queues, by and by, more sharp-tempered than ever: on every Baker’s door-rabbet an iron ring, and coil of rope; whereon, with firm grip, on this side and that, we form our Queue: but mischievous deceitful persons cut the rope, and our Queue becomes a ravelment; wherefore the coil must be made of iron chain. (Mercier, Nouveau Paris.) Also there shall be Prices of Grain well fixed; but then no grain purchasable by them: bread not to be had except by Ticket from the Mayor, few ounces per mouth daily; after long swaying, with firm grip, on the chain of the Queue. And Hunger shall stalk direful; and Wrath and Suspicion, whetted to the Preternatural pitch, shall stalk; — as those other preternatural ‘shapes of Gods in their wrathfulness’ were discerned stalking, ‘in glare and gloom of that fire-ocean,’ when Troy Town fell! —

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