The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 3

Growing shrill.

On the whole, one cannot say that the Girondins are wanting to themselves, so far as good-will might go. They prick assiduously into the sore-places of the Mountain; from principle, and also from jesuitism.

Besides September, of which there is now little to be made except effervescence, we discern two sore-places where the Mountain often suffers: Marat and Orleans Egalite. Squalid Marat, for his own sake and for the Mountain’s, is assaulted ever and anon; held up to France, as a squalid bloodthirsty Portent, inciting to the pillage of shops; of whom let the Mountain have the credit! The Mountain murmurs, ill at ease: this ‘Maximum of Patriotism,’ how shall they either own him or disown him? As for Marat personally, he, with his fixed-idea, remains invulnerable to such things: nay the People’s-friend is very evidently rising in importance, as his befriended People rises. No shrieks now, when he goes to speak; occasional applauses rather, furtherance which breeds confidence. The day when the Girondins proposed to ‘decree him accused’ (decreter d’accusation, as they phrase it) for that February Paragraph, of ‘hanging up a Forestaller or two at the door-lintels,’ Marat proposes to have them ‘decreed insane;’ and, descending the Tribune-steps, is heard to articulate these most unsenatorial ejaculations: “Les Cochons, les imbecilles, Pigs, idiots!” Oftentimes he croaks harsh sarcasm, having really a rough rasping tongue, and a very deep fund of contempt for fine outsides; and once or twice, he even laughs, nay ‘explodes into laughter, rit aux eclats,’ at the gentilities and superfine airs of these Girondin “men of statesmanship,” with their pedantries, plausibilities, pusillanimities: “these two years,” says he, “you have been whining about attacks, and plots, and danger from Paris; and you have not a scratch to shew for yourselves.” (Moniteur, Seance du 20 Mai 1793.) — Danton gruffly rebukes him, from time to time: a Maximum of Patriotism, whom one can neither own nor disown!

But the second sore-place of the Mountain is this anomalous Monseigneur Equality Prince d’Orleans. Behold these men, says the Gironde; with a whilom Bourbon Prince among them: they are creatures of the d’Orleans Faction; they will have Philippe made King; one King no sooner guillotined than another made in his stead! Girondins have moved, Buzot moved long ago, from principle and also from jesuitism, that the whole race of Bourbons should be marched forth from the soil of France; this Prince Egalite to bring up the rear. Motions which might produce some effect on the public; — which the Mountain, ill at ease, knows not what to do with.

And poor Orleans Egalite himself, for one begins to pity even him, what does he do with them? The disowned of all parties, the rejected and foolishly be-drifted hither and hither, to what corner of Nature can he now drift with advantage? Feasible hope remains not for him: unfeasible hope, in pallid doubtful glimmers, there may still come, bewildering, not cheering or illuminating, — from the Dumouriez quarter; and how, if not the timewasted Orleans Egalite, then perhaps the young unworn Chartres Egalite might rise to be a kind of King? Sheltered, if shelter it be, in the clefts of the Mountain, poor Egalite will wait: one refuge in Jacobinism, one in Dumouriez and Counter–Revolution, are there not two chances? However, the look of him, Dame Genlis says, is grown gloomy; sad to see. Sillery also, the Genlis’s Husband, who hovers about the Mountain, not on it, is in a bad way. Dame Genlis has come to Raincy, out of England and Bury St. Edmunds, in these days; being summoned by Egalite, with her young charge, Mademoiselle Egalite, that so Mademoiselle might not be counted among Emigrants and hardly dealt with. But it proves a ravelled business: Genlis and charge find that they must retire to the Netherlands; must wait on the Frontiers for a week or two; till Monseigneur, by Jacobin help, get it wound up. ‘Next morning,’ says Dame Genlis, ‘Monseigneur, gloomier than ever, gave me his arm, to lead me to the carriage. I was greatly troubled; Mademoiselle burst into tears; her Father was pale and trembling. After I had got seated, he stood immovable at the carriage-door, with his eyes fixed on me; his mournful and painful look seemed to implore pity; — “Adieu, Madame!” said he. The altered sound of his voice completely overcame me; not able to utter a word, I held out my hand; he grasped it close; then turning, and advancing sharply towards the postillions, he gave them a sign, and we rolled away.’ (Genlis, Memoires (London, 1825), iv. 118.)

Nor are Peace-makers wanting; of whom likewise we mention two; one fast on the crown of the Mountain, the other not yet alighted anywhere: Danton and Barrere. Ingenious Barrere, Old–Constituent and Editor from the slopes of the Pyrenees, is one of the usefullest men of this Convention, in his way. Truth may lie on both sides, on either side, or on neither side; my friends, ye must give and take: for the rest, success to the winning side! This is the motto of Barrere. Ingenious, almost genial; quick-sighted, supple, graceful; a man that will prosper. Scarcely Belial in the assembled Pandemonium was plausibler to ear and eye. An indispensable man: in the great Art of Varnish he may be said to seek his fellow. Has there an explosion arisen, as many do arise, a confusion, unsightliness, which no tongue can speak of, nor eye look on; give it to Barrere; Barrere shall be Committee–Reporter of it; you shall see it transmute itself into a regularity, into the very beauty and improvement that was needed. Without one such man, we say, how were this Convention bested? Call him not, as exaggerative Mercier does, ‘the greatest liar in France:’ nay it may be argued there is not truth enough in him to make a real lie of. Call him, with Burke, Anacreon of the Guillotine, and a man serviceable to this Convention.

The other Peace-maker whom we name is Danton. Peace, O peace with one another! cries Danton often enough: Are we not alone against the world; a little band of brothers? Broad Danton is loved by all the Mountain; but they think him too easy-tempered, deficient in suspicion: he has stood between Dumouriez and much censure, anxious not to exasperate our only General: in the shrill tumult Danton’s strong voice reverberates, for union and pacification. Meetings there are; dinings with the Girondins: it is so pressingly essential that there be union. But the Girondins are haughty and respectable; this Titan Danton is not a man of Formulas, and there rests on him a shadow of September. “Your Girondins have no confidence in me:” this is the answer a conciliatory Meillan gets from him; to all the arguments and pleadings this conciliatory Meillan can bring, the repeated answer is, “Ils n’ont point de confiance.” (Memoires de Meillan, Representant du Peuple (Paris, 1823), p. 51.) — The tumult will get ever shriller; rage is growing pale.

In fact, what a pang is it to the heart of a Girondin, this first withering probability that the despicable unphilosophic anarchic Mountain, after all, may triumph! Brutal Septemberers, a fifth-floor Tallien, ‘a Robespierre without an idea in his head,’ as Condorcet says, ‘or a feeling in his heart:’ and yet we, the flower of France, cannot stand against them; behold the sceptre departs from us; from us and goes to them! Eloquence, Philosophism, Respectability avail not: ‘against Stupidity the very gods fight to no purpose,

‘Mit der Dummheit kampfen Gotter selbst vergebens!’

Shrill are the plaints of Louvet; his thin existence all acidified into rage, and preternatural insight of suspicion. Wroth is young Barbaroux; wroth and scornful. Silent, like a Queen with the aspic on her bosom, sits the wife of Roland; Roland’s Accounts never yet got audited, his name become a byword. Such is the fortune of war, especially of revolution. The great gulf of Tophet, and Tenth of August, opened itself at the magic of your eloquent voice; and lo now, it will not close at your voice! It is a dangerous thing such magic. The Magician’s Famulus got hold of the forbidden Book, and summoned a goblin: Plait-il, What is your will? said the Goblin. The Famulus, somewhat struck, bade him fetch water: the swift goblin fetched it, pail in each hand; but lo, would not cease fetching it! Desperate, the Famulus shrieks at him, smites at him, cuts him in two; lo, two goblin water-carriers ply; and the house will be swum away in Deucalion Deluges.

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