The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 6

At the Bar.

Meanwhile, in a space of some five weeks, we have got to another emerging of the Trial, and a more practical one than ever.

On Tuesday, eleventh of December, the King’s Trial has emerged, very decidedly: into the streets of Paris; in the shape of that green Carriage of Mayor Chambon, within which sits the King himself, with attendants, on his way to the Convention Hall! Attended, in that green Carriage, by Mayors Chambon, Procureurs Chaumette; and outside of it by Commandants Santerre, with cannon, cavalry and double row of infantry; all Sections under arms, strong Patrols scouring all streets; so fares he, slowly through the dull drizzling weather: and about two o’clock we behold him, ‘in walnut-coloured great-coat, redingote noisette,’ descending through the Place Vendome, towards that Salle de Manege; to be indicted, and judicially interrogated. The mysterious Temple Circuit has given up its secret; which now, in this walnut-coloured coat, men behold with eyes. The same bodily Louis who was once Louis the Desired, fares there: hapless King, he is getting now towards port; his deplorable farings and voyagings draw to a close. What duty remains to him henceforth, that of placidly enduring, he is fit to do.

The singular Procession fares on; in silence, says Prudhomme, or amid growlings of the Marseillese Hymn; in silence, ushers itself into the Hall of the Convention, Santerre holding Louis’s arm with his hand. Louis looks round him, with composed air, to see what kind of Convention and Parliament it is. Much changed indeed:— since February gone two years, when our Constituent, then busy, spread fleur-de-lys velvet for us; and we came over to say a kind word here, and they all started up swearing Fidelity; and all France started up swearing, and made it a Feast of Pikes; which has ended in this! Barrere, who once ‘wept’ looking up from his Editor’s-Desk, looks down now from his President’s-Chair, with a list of Fifty-seven Questions; and says, dry-eyed: “Louis, you may sit down.” Louis sits down: it is the very seat, they say, same timber and stuffing, from which he accepted the Constitution, amid dancing and illumination, autumn gone a year. So much woodwork remains identical; so much else is not identical. Louis sits and listens, with a composed look and mind.

Of the Fifty-seven Questions we shall not give so much as one. They are questions captiously embracing all the main Documents seized on the Tenth of August, or found lately in the Iron Press; embracing all the main incidents of the Revolution History; and they ask, in substance, this: Louis, who wert King, art thou not guilty to a certain extent, by act and written document, of trying to continue King? Neither in the Answers is there much notable. Mere quiet negations, for most part; an accused man standing on the simple basis of No: I do not recognise that document; I did not do that act; or did it according to the law that then was. Whereupon the Fifty-seven Questions, and Documents to the number of a Hundred and Sixty-two, being exhausted in this manner, Barrere finishes, after some three hours, with his: “Louis, I invite you to withdraw.”

Louis withdraws, under Municipal escort, into a neighbouring Committee-room; having first, in leaving the bar, demanded to have Legal Counsel. He declines refreshment, in this Committee-room, then, seeing Chaumette busy with a small loaf which a grenadier had divided with him, says, he will take a bit of bread. It is five o’clock; and he had breakfasted but slightly in a morning of such drumming and alarm. Chaumette breaks his half-loaf: the King eats of the crust; mounts the green Carriage, eating; asks now what he shall do with the crumb? Chaumette’s clerk takes it from him; flings it out into the street. Louis says, It is pity to fling out bread, in a time of dearth. “My grandmother,” remarks Chaumette, “used to say to me, Little boy, never waste a crumb of bread, you cannot make one.” “Monsieur Chaumette,” answers Louis, “your grandmother seems to have been a sensible woman.” (Prudhomme’s Newspaper in Hist. Parl. xxi. 314.) Poor innocent mortal: so quietly he waits the drawing of the lot; — fit to do this at least well; Passivity alone, without Activity, sufficing for it! He talks once of travelling over France by and by, to have a geographical and topographical view of it; being from of old fond of geography. — The Temple Circuit again receives him, closes on him; gazing Paris may retire to its hearths and coffee-houses, to its clubs and theatres: the damp Darkness has sunk, and with it the drumming and patrolling of this strange Day.

Louis is now separated from his Queen and Family; given up to his simple reflections and resources. Dull lie these stone walls round him; of his loved ones none with him. In this state of ‘uncertainty,’ providing for the worst, he writes his Will: a Paper which can still be read; full of placidity, simplicity, pious sweetness. The Convention, after debate, has granted him Legal Counsel, of his own choosing. Advocate Target feels himself ‘too old,’ being turned of fifty-four; and declines. He had gained great honour once, defending Rohan the Necklace–Cardinal; but will gain none here. Advocate Tronchet, some ten years older, does not decline. Nay behold, good old Malesherbes steps forward voluntarily; to the last of his fields, the good old hero! He is grey with seventy years: he says, ‘I was twice called to the Council of him who was my Master, when all the world coveted that honour; and I owe him the same service now, when it has become one which many reckon dangerous.’ These two, with a younger Deseze, whom they will select for pleading, are busy over that Fifty-and-sevenfold Indictment, over the Hundred and Sixty-two Documents; Louis aiding them as he can.

A great Thing is now therefore in open progress; all men, in all lands, watching it. By what Forms and Methods shall the Convention acquit itself, in such manner that there rest not on it even the suspicion of blame? Difficult that will be! The Convention, really much at a loss, discusses and deliberates. All day from morning to night, day after day, the Tribune drones with oratory on this matter; one must stretch the old Formula to cover the new Thing. The Patriots of the Mountain, whetted ever keener, clamour for despatch above all; the only good Form will be a swift one. Nevertheless the Convention deliberates; the Tribune drones, — drowned indeed in tenor, and even in treble, from time to time; the whole Hall shrilling up round it into pretty frequent wrath and provocation. It has droned and shrilled wellnigh a fortnight, before we can decide, this shrillness getting ever shriller, That on Wednesday 26th of December, Louis shall appear, and plead. His Advocates complain that it is fatally soon; which they well might as Advocates: but without remedy; to Patriotism it seems endlessly late.

On Wednesday, therefore, at the cold dark hour of eight in the morning, all Senators are at their post. Indeed they warm the cold hour, as we find, by a violent effervescence, such as is too common now; some Louvet or Buzot attacking some Tallien, Chabot; and so the whole Mountain effervescing against the whole Gironde. Scarcely is this done, at nine, when Louis and his three Advocates, escorted by the clang of arms and Santerre’s National force, enter the Hall.

Deseze unfolds his papers; honourably fulfilling his perilous office, pleads for the space of three hours. An honourable Pleading, ‘composed almost overnight;’ courageous yet discreet; not without ingenuity, and soft pathetic eloquence: Louis fell on his neck, when they had withdrawn, and said with tears, Mon pauvre Deseze. Louis himself, before withdrawing, had added a few words, “perhaps the last he would utter to them:” how it pained his heart, above all things, to be held guilty of that bloodshed on the Tenth of August; or of ever shedding or wishing to shed French blood. So saying, he withdrew from that Hall; — having indeed finished his work there. Many are the strange errands he has had thither; but this strange one is the last.

And now, why will the Convention loiter? Here is the Indictment and Evidence; here is the Pleading: does not the rest follow of itself? The Mountain, and Patriotism in general, clamours still louder for despatch; for Permanent-session, till the task be done. Nevertheless a doubting, apprehensive Convention decides that it will still deliberate first; that all Members, who desire it, shall have leave to speak. — To your desks, therefore, ye eloquent Members! Down with your thoughts, your echoes and hearsays of thoughts: now is the time to shew oneself; France and the Universe listens! Members are not wanting: Oration spoken Pamphlet follows spoken Pamphlet, with what eloquence it can: President’s List swells ever higher with names claiming to speak; from day to day, all days and all hours, the constant Tribune drones; — shrill Galleries supplying, very variably, the tenor and treble. It were a dull tune otherwise.

The Patriots, in Mountain and Galleries, or taking counsel nightly in Section-house, in Mother Society, amid their shrill Tricoteuses, have to watch lynx-eyed; to give voice when needful; occasionally very loud. Deputy Thuriot, he who was Advocate Thuriot, who was Elector Thuriot, and from the top of the Bastille, saw Saint–Antoine rising like the ocean; this Thuriot can stretch a Formula as heartily as most men. Cruel Billaud is not silent, if you incite him. Nor is cruel Jean–Bon silent; a kind of Jesuit he too; — write him not, as the Dictionaries too often do, Jambon, which signifies mere Ham.

But, on the whole, let no man conceive it possible that Louis is not guilty. The only question for a reasonable man is, or was: Can the Convention judge Louis? Or must it be the whole People: in Primary Assembly, and with delay? Always delay, ye Girondins, false hommes d’etat! so bellows Patriotism, its patience almost failing. — But indeed, if we consider it, what shall these poor Girondins do? Speak their convictions that Louis is a Prisoner of War; and cannot be put to death without injustice, solecism, peril? Speak such conviction; and lose utterly your footing with the decided Patriot? Nay properly it is not even a conviction, but a conjecture and dim puzzle. How many poor Girondins are sure of but one thing: That a man and Girondin ought to have footing somewhere, and to stand firmly on it; keeping well with the Respectable Classes! This is what conviction and assurance of faith they have. They must wriggle painfully between their dilemma-horns. (See Extracts from their Newspapers, in Hist. Parl. xxi. 1–38, &c.)

Nor is France idle, nor Europe. It is a Heart this Convention, as we said, which sends out influences, and receives them. A King’s Execution, call it Martyrdom, call it Punishment, were an influence! Two notable influences this Convention has already sent forth, over all Nations; much to its own detriment. On the 19th of November, it emitted a Decree, and has since confirmed and unfolded the details of it. That any Nation which might see good to shake off the fetters of Despotism was thereby, so to speak, the Sister of France, and should have help and countenance. A Decree much noised of by Diplomatists, Editors, International Lawyers; such a Decree as no living Fetter of Despotism, nor Person in Authority anywhere, can approve of! It was Deputy Chambon the Girondin who propounded this Decree; — at bottom perhaps as a flourish of rhetoric.

The second influence we speak of had a still poorer origin: in the restless loud-rattling slightly-furnished head of one Jacob Dupont from the Loire country. The Convention is speculating on a plan of National Education: Deputy Dupont in his speech says, “I am free to avow, M. le President, that I for my part am an Atheist,” (Moniteur, Seance du 14 Decembre 1792.) — thinking the world might like to know that. The French world received it without commentary; or with no audible commentary, so loud was France otherwise. The Foreign world received it with confutation, with horror and astonishment; (Mrs. Hannah More, Letter to Jacob Dupont (London, 1793); &c. &c.) a most miserable influence this! And now if to these two were added a third influence, and sent pulsing abroad over all the Earth: that of Regicide?

Foreign Courts interfere in this Trial of Louis; Spain, England: not to be listened to; though they come, as it were, at least Spain comes, with the olive-branch in one hand, and the sword without scabbard in the other. But at home too, from out of this circumambient Paris and France, what influences come thick-pulsing! Petitions flow in; pleading for equal justice, in a reign of so-called Equality. The living Patriot pleads; — O ye National Deputies, do not the dead Patriots plead? The Twelve Hundred that lie in cold obstruction, do not they plead; and petition, in Death’s dumb-show, from their narrow house there, more eloquently than speech? Crippled Patriots hop on crutches round the Salle de Manege, demanding justice. The Wounded of the Tenth of August, the Widows and Orphans of the Killed petition in a body; and hop and defile, eloquently mute, through the Hall: one wounded Patriot, unable to hop, is borne on his bed thither, and passes shoulder-high, in the horizontal posture. (Hist. Parl. xxii. 131; Moore, &c.) The Convention Tribune, which has paused at such sight, commences again, — droning mere Juristic Oratory. But out of doors Paris is piping ever higher. Bull-voiced St. Huruge is heard; and the hysteric eloquence of Mother Duchesse: ‘Varlet, Apostle of Liberty,’ with pike and red cap, flies hastily, carrying his oratorical folding-stool. Justice on the Traitor! cries all the Patriot world. Consider also this other cry, heard loud on the streets: “Give us Bread, or else kill us!” Bread and Equality; Justice on the Traitor, that we may have Bread!

The Limited or undecided Patriot is set against the Decided. Mayor Chambon heard of dreadful rioting at the Theatre de la Nation: it had come to rioting, and even to fist-work, between the Decided and the Undecided, touching a new Drama called Ami des Lois (Friend of the Laws). One of the poorest Dramas ever written; but which had didactic applications in it; wherefore powdered wigs of Friends of Order and black hair of Jacobin heads are flying there; and Mayor Chambon hastens with Santerre, in hopes to quell it. Far from quelling it, our poor Mayor gets so ‘squeezed,’ says the Report, and likewise so blamed and bullied, say we, — that he, with regret, quits the brief Mayoralty altogether, ‘his lungs being affected.’ This miserable Amis des Lois is debated of in the Convention itself; so violent, mutually-enraged, are the Limited Patriots and the Unlimited. (Hist. Parl. xxiii. 31, 48, &c.)

Between which two classes, are not Aristocrats enough, and Crypto–Aristocrats, busy? Spies running over from London with important Packets; spies pretending to run! One of these latter, Viard was the name of him, pretended to accuse Roland, and even the Wife of Roland; to the joy of Chabot and the Mountain. But the Wife of Roland came, being summoned, on the instant, to the Convention Hall; came, in her high clearness; and, with few clear words, dissipated this Viard into despicability and air; all Friends of Order applauding. (Moniteur, Seance du 7 Decembre 1792.) So, with Theatre-riots, and ‘Bread, or else kill us;’ with Rage, Hunger, preternatural Suspicion, does this wild Paris pipe. Roland grows ever more querulous, in his Messages and Letters; rising almost to the hysterical pitch. Marat, whom no power on Earth can prevent seeing into traitors and Rolands, takes to bed for three days; almost dead, the invaluable People’s-Friend, with heartbreak, with fever and headache: ‘O, Peuple babillard, si tu savais agir, People of Babblers, if thou couldst but act!’

To crown all, victorious Dumouriez, in these New-year’s days, is arrived in Paris; — one fears, for no good. He pretends to be complaining of Minister Pache, and Hassenfratz dilapidations; to be concerting measures for the spring campaign: one finds him much in the company of the Girondins. Plotting with them against Jacobinism, against Equality, and the Punishment of Louis! We have Letters of his to the Convention itself. Will he act the old Lafayette part, this new victorious General? Let him withdraw again; not undenounced. (Dumouriez, Memoires, iii. c. 4.)

And still, in the Convention Tribune, it drones continually, mere Juristic Eloquence, and Hypothesis without Action; and there are still fifties on the President’s List. Nay these Gironde Presidents give their own party preference: we suspect they play foul with the List; men of the Mountain cannot be heard. And still it drones, all through December into January and a New year; and there is no end! Paris pipes round it; multitudinous; ever higher, to the note of the whirlwind. Paris will ‘bring cannon from Saint–Denis;’ there is talk of ‘shutting the Barriers,’ — to Roland’s horror.

Whereupon, behold, the Convention Tribune suddenly ceases droning: we cut short, be on the List who likes; and make end. On Tuesday next, the Fifteenth of January 1793, it shall go to the Vote, name by name; and, one way or other, this great game play itself out!

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