The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 7

In Fight.

Our Republic, by paper Decree, may be ‘One and Indivisible;’ but what profits it while these things are? Federalists in the Senate, renegadoes in the Army, traitors everywhere! France, all in desperate recruitment since the Tenth of March, does not fly to the frontier, but only flies hither and thither. This defection of contemptuous diplomatic Dumouriez falls heavy on the fine-spoken high-sniffing Hommes d’etat, whom he consorted with; forms a second epoch in their destinies.

Or perhaps more strictly we might say, the second Girondin epoch, though little noticed then, began on the day when, in reference to this defection, the Girondins broke with Danton. It was the first day of April; Dumouriez had not yet plunged across the morasses to Cobourg, but was evidently meaning to do it, and our Commissioners were off to arrest him; when what does the Girondin Lasource see good to do, but rise, and jesuitically question and insinuate at great length, whether a main accomplice of Dumouriez had not probably been — Danton? Gironde grins sardonic assent; Mountain holds its breath. The figure of Danton, Levasseur says, while this speech went on, was noteworthy. He sat erect, with a kind of internal convulsion struggling to keep itself motionless; his eye from time to time flashing wilder, his lip curling in Titanic scorn. (Memoires de Rene Levasseur (Bruxelles, 1830), i. 164.) Lasource, in a fine-spoken attorney-manner, proceeds: there is this probability to his mind, and there is that; probabilities which press painfully on him, which cast the Patriotism of Danton under a painful shade; which painful shade he, Lasource, will hope that Danton may find it not impossible to dispel.

“Les Scelerats!” cries Danton, starting up, with clenched right-hand, Lasource having done: and descends from the Mountain, like a lava-flood; his answer not unready. Lasource’s probabilities fly like idle dust; but leave a result behind them. “Ye were right, friends of the Mountain,” begins Danton, “and I was wrong: there is no peace possible with these men. Let it be war then! They will not save the Republic with us: it shall be saved without them; saved in spite of them.” Really a burst of rude Parliamentary eloquence this; which is still worth reading, in the old Moniteur! With fire-words the exasperated rude Titan rives and smites these Girondins; at every hit the glad Mountain utters chorus: Marat, like a musical bis, repeating the last phrase. (Seance du 1er Avril, 1793 in Hist. Parl. xxv. 24–35.) Lasource’s probabilities are gone: but Danton’s pledge of battle remains lying.

A third epoch, or scene in the Girondin Drama, or rather it is but the completion of this second epoch, we reckon from the day when the patience of virtuous Petion finally boiled over; and the Girondins, so to speak, took up this battle-pledge of Danton’s and decreed Marat accused. It was the eleventh of the same month of April, on some effervescence rising, such as often rose; and President had covered himself, mere Bedlam now ruling; and Mountain and Gironde were rushing on one another with clenched right-hands, and even with pistols in them; when, behold, the Girondin Duperret drew a sword! Shriek of horror rose, instantly quenching all other effervescence, at sight of the clear murderous steel; whereupon Duperret returned it to the leather again; — confessing that he did indeed draw it, being instigated by a kind of sacred madness, “sainte fureur,” and pistols held at him; but that if he parricidally had chanced to scratch the outmost skin of National Representation with it, he too carried pistols, and would have blown his brains out on the spot. (Hist. Parl. xv. 397.)

But now in such posture of affairs, virtuous Petion rose, next morning, to lament these effervescences, this endless Anarchy invading the Legislative Sanctuary itself; and here, being growled at and howled at by the Mountain, his patience, long tried, did, as we say, boil over; and he spake vehemently, in high key, with foam on his lips; ‘whence,’ says Marat, ‘I concluded he had got ‘la rage,’ the rabidity, or dog-madness. Rabidity smites others rabid: so there rises new foam-lipped demand to have Anarchists extinguished; and specially to have Marat put under Accusation. Send a Representative to the Revolutionary Tribunal? Violate the inviolability of a Representative? Have a care, O Friends! This poor Marat has faults enough; but against Liberty or Equality, what fault? That he has loved and fought for it, not wisely but too well. In dungeons and cellars, in pinching poverty, under anathema of men; even so, in such fight, has he grown so dingy, bleared; even so has his head become a Stylites one! Him you will fling to your Sword of Sharpness; while Cobourg and Pitt advance on us, fire-spitting?

The Mountain is loud, the Gironde is loud and deaf; all lips are foamy. With ‘Permanent–Session of twenty-four hours,’ with vote by rollcall, and a dead-lift effort, the Gironde carries it: Marat is ordered to the Revolutionary Tribunal, to answer for that February Paragraph of Forestallers at the door-lintel, with other offences; and, after a little hesitation, he obeys. (Moniteur, du 16 Avril 1793, et seqq.)

Thus is Danton’s battle-pledge taken up: there is, as he said there would be, ‘war without truce or treaty, ni treve ni composition.’ Wherefore, close now with one another, Formula and Reality, in death-grips, and wrestle it out; both of you cannot live, but only one!

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