The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 4

The Loser pays.

The Sixth of November, 1792, was a great day for the Republic: outwardly, over the Frontiers; inwardly, in the Salle de Manege.

Outwardly: for Dumouriez, overrunning the Netherlands, did, on that day, come in contact with Saxe–Teschen and the Austrians; Dumouriez wide-winged, they wide-winged; at and around the village of Jemappes, near Mons. And fire-hail is whistling far and wide there, the great guns playing, and the small; so many green Heights getting fringed and maned with red Fire. And Dumouriez is swept back on this wing, and swept back on that, and is like to be swept back utterly; when he rushes up in person, the prompt Polymetis; speaks a prompt word or two; and then, with clear tenor-pipe, ‘uplifts the Hymn of the Marseillese, entonna la Marseillaise,’ (Dumouriez, Memoires, iii. 174.) ten thousand tenor or bass pipes joining; or say, some Forty Thousand in all; for every heart leaps at the sound: and so with rhythmic march-melody, waxing ever quicker, to double and to treble quick, they rally, they advance, they rush, death-defying, man-devouring; carry batteries, redoutes, whatsoever is to be carried; and, like the fire-whirlwind, sweep all manner of Austrians from the scene of action. Thus, through the hands of Dumouriez, may Rouget de Lille, in figurative speech, be said to have gained, miraculously, like another Orpheus, by his Marseillese fiddle-strings (fidibus canoris) a Victory of Jemappes; and conquered the Low Countries.

Young General Egalite, it would seem, shone brave among the bravest on this occasion. Doubtless a brave Egalite; — whom however does not Dumouriez rather talk of oftener than need were? The Mother Society has her own thoughts. As for the Elder Egalite he flies low at this time; appears in the Convention for some half-hour daily, with rubicund, pre-occupied, or impressive quasi-contemptuous countenance; and then takes himself away. (Moore, ii. 148.) The Netherlands are conquered, at least overrun. Jacobin missionaries, your Prolys, Pereiras, follow in the train of the Armies; also Convention Commissioners, melting church-plate, revolutionising and remodelling — among whom Danton, in brief space, does immensities of business; not neglecting his own wages and trade-profits, it is thought. Hassenfratz dilapidates at home; Dumouriez grumbles and they dilapidate abroad: within the walls there is sinning, and without the walls there is sinning.

But in the Hall of the Convention, at the same hour with this victory of Jemappes, there went another thing forward: Report, of great length, from the proper appointed Committee, on the Crimes of Louis. The Galleries listen breathless; take comfort, ye Galleries: Deputy Valaze, Reporter on this occasion, thinks Louis very criminal; and that, if convenient, he should be tried; — poor Girondin Valaze, who may be tried himself, one day! Comfortable so far. Nay here comes a second Committee-reporter, Deputy Mailhe, with a Legal Argument, very prosy to read now, very refreshing to hear then, That, by the Law of the Country, Louis Capet was only called Inviolable by a figure of rhetoric; but at bottom was perfectly violable, triable; that he can, and even should be tried. This Question of Louis, emerging so often as an angry confused possibility, and submerging again, has emerged now in an articulate shape.

Patriotism growls indignant joy. The so-called reign of Equality is not to be a mere name, then, but a thing! Try Louis Capet? scornfully ejaculates Patriotism: Mean criminals go to the gallows for a purse cut; and this chief criminal, guilty of a France cut; of a France slashed asunder with Clotho-scissors and Civil war; with his victims ‘twelve hundred on the Tenth of August alone’ lying low in the Catacombs, fattening the passes of Argonne Wood, of Valmy and far Fields; he, such chief criminal, shall not even come to the bar? — For, alas, O Patriotism! add we, it was from of old said, The loser pays! It is he who has to pay all scores, run up by whomsoever; on him must all breakages and charges fall; and the twelve hundred on the Tenth of August are not rebel traitors, but victims and martyrs: such is the law of quarrel.

Patriotism, nothing doubting, watches over this Question of the Trial, now happily emerged in an articulate shape; and will see it to maturity, if the gods permit. With a keen solicitude Patriotism watches; getting ever keener, at every new difficulty, as Girondins and false brothers interpose delays; till it get a keenness as of fixed-idea, and will have this Trial and no earthly thing instead of it, — if Equality be not a name. Love of Equality; then scepticism of terror, rage of victory, sublime spectacle of the universe: all these things are strong.

But indeed this Question of the Trial, is it not to all persons a most grave one; filling with dubiety many a Legislative head! Regicide? asks the Gironde Respectability: To kill a king, and become the horror of respectable nations and persons? But then also, to save a king; to lose one’s footing with the decided Patriot; and undecided Patriot, though never so respectable, being mere hypothetic froth and no footing? — The dilemma presses sore; and between the horns of it you wriggle round and round. Decision is nowhere, save in the Mother Society and her Sons. These have decided, and go forward: the others wriggle round uneasily within their dilemma-horns, and make way nowhither.

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