The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 8

In Death–Grips.

It proves what strength, were it only of inertia, there is in established Formulas, what weakness in nascent Realities, and illustrates several things, that this death-wrestle should still have lasted some six weeks or more. National business, discussion of the Constitutional Act, for our Constitution should decidedly be got ready, proceeds along with it. We even change our Locality; we shift, on the Tenth of May, from the old Salle de Manege, into our new Hall, in the Palace, once a King’s but now the Republic’s, of the Tuileries. Hope and ruth, flickering against despair and rage, still struggles in the minds of men.

It is a most dark confused death-wrestle, this of the six weeks. Formalist frenzy against Realist frenzy; Patriotism, Egoism, Pride, Anger, Vanity, Hope and Despair, all raised to the frenetic pitch: Frenzy meets Frenzy, like dark clashing whirlwinds; neither understands the other; the weaker, one day, will understand that it is verily swept down! Girondism is strong as established Formula and Respectability: do not as many as Seventy-two of the Departments, or say respectable Heads of Departments, declare for us? Calvados, which loves its Buzot, will even rise in revolt, so hint the Addresses; Marseilles, cradle of Patriotism, will rise; Bourdeaux will rise, and the Gironde Department, as one man; in a word, who will not rise, were our Representation Nationale to be insulted, or one hair of a Deputy’s head harmed! The Mountain, again, is strong as Reality and Audacity. To the Reality of the Mountain are not all furthersome things possible? A new Tenth of August, if needful; nay a new Second of September! —

But, on Wednesday afternoon, twenty-fourth day of April, year 1793, what tumult as of fierce jubilee is this? It is Marat returning from Revolutionary Tribunal! A week or more of death-peril: and now there is triumphant acquittal; Revolutionary Tribunal can find no accusation against this man. And so the eye of History beholds Patriotism, which had gloomed unutterable things all week, break into loud jubilee, embrace its Marat; lift him into a chair of triumph, bear him shoulder-high through the streets. Shoulder-high is the injured People’s-friend, crowned with an oak-garland; amid the wavy sea of red nightcaps, carmagnole jackets, grenadier bonnets and female mob-caps; far-sounding like a sea! The injured People’s-friend has here reached his culminating-point; he too strikes the stars with his sublime head.

But the Reader can judge with what face President Lasource, he of the ‘painful probabilities,’ who presides in this Convention Hall, might welcome such jubilee-tide, when it got thither, and the Decreed of Accusation floating on the top of it! A National Sapper, spokesman on the occasion, says, the People know their Friend, and love his life as their own; “whosoever wants Marat’s head must get the Sapper’s first.” (Seance in Moniteur, No. 116, du 26 Avril, An 1er.) Lasource answered with some vague painful mumblement, — which, says Levasseur, one could not help tittering at. (Levasseur, Memoires, i. c. 6.) Patriot Sections, Volunteers not yet gone to the Frontiers, come demanding the “purgation of traitors from your own bosom;” the expulsion, or even the trial and sentence, of a factious Twenty-two.

Nevertheless the Gironde has got its Commission of Twelve; a Commission specially appointed for investigating these troubles of the Legislative Sanctuary: let Sansculottism say what it will, Law shall triumph. Old–Constituent Rabaut Saint–Etienne presides over this Commission: “it is the last plank whereon a wrecked Republic may perhaps still save herself.” Rabaut and they therefore sit, intent; examining witnesses; launching arrestments; looking out into a waste dim sea of troubles. — the womb of Formula, or perhaps her grave! Enter not that sea, O Reader! There are dim desolation and confusion; raging women and raging men. Sections come demanding Twenty-two; for the number first given by Section Bonconseil still holds, though the names should even vary. Other Sections, of the wealthier kind, come denouncing such demand; nay the same Section will demand to-day, and denounce the demand to-morrow, according as the wealthier sit, or the poorer. Wherefore, indeed, the Girondins decree that all Sections shall close ‘at ten in the evening;’ before the working people come: which Decree remains without effect. And nightly the Mother of Patriotism wails doleful; doleful, but her eye kindling! And Fournier l’Americain is busy, and the two Banker Freys, and Varlet Apostle of Liberty; the bull-voice of Marquis Saint–Huruge is heard. And shrill women vociferate from all Galleries, the Convention ones and downwards. Nay a ‘Central Committee’ of all the Forty-eight Sections, looms forth huge and dubious; sitting dim in the Archeveche, sending Resolutions, receiving them: a Centre of the Sections; in dread deliberation as to a New Tenth of August!

One thing we will specify to throw light on many: the aspect under which, seen through the eyes of these Girondin Twelve, or even seen through one’s own eyes, the Patriotism of the softer sex presents itself. There are Female Patriots, whom the Girondins call Megaeras, and count to the extent of eight thousand; with serpent-hair, all out of curl; who have changed the distaff for the dagger. They are of ‘the Society called Brotherly,’ Fraternelle, say Sisterly, which meets under the roof of the Jacobins. ‘Two thousand daggers,’ or so, have been ordered, — doubtless, for them. They rush to Versailles, to raise more women; but the Versailles women will not rise. (Buzot, Memoires, pp. 69, 84; Meillan, Memoires, pp. 192, 195, 196. See Commission des Douze in Choix des Rapports, xii. 69–131.)

Nay, behold, in National Garden of Tuileries, — Demoiselle Theroigne herself is become as a brownlocked Diana (were that possible) attacked by her own dogs, or she-dogs! The Demoiselle, keeping her carriage, is for Liberty indeed, as she has full well shewn; but then for Liberty with Respectability: whereupon these serpent-haired Extreme She–Patriots now do fasten on her, tatter her, shamefully fustigate her, in their shameful way; almost fling her into the Garden-ponds, had not help intervened. Help, alas, to small purpose. The poor Demoiselle’s head and nervous-system, none of the soundest, is so tattered and fluttered that it will never recover; but flutter worse and worse, till it crack; and within year and day we hear of her in madhouse, and straitwaistcoat, which proves permanent! — Such brownlocked Figure did flutter, and inarticulately jabber and gesticulate, little able to speak the obscure meaning it had, through some segment of that Eighteenth Century of Time. She disappears here from the Revolution and Public History, for evermore. (Deux Amis, vii. 77–80; Forster, i. 514; Moore, i. 70. She did not die till 1817; in the Salpetriere, in the most abject state of insanity; see Esquirol, Des Maladies Mentales (Paris, 1838), i. 445–50.)

Another thing we will not again specify, yet again beseech the Reader to imagine: the reign of Fraternity and Perfection. Imagine, we say, O Reader, that the Millennium were struggling on the threshold, and yet not so much as groceries could be had, — owing to traitors. With what impetus would a man strike traitors, in that case? Ah, thou canst not imagine it: thou hast thy groceries safe in the shops, and little or no hope of a Millennium ever coming! — But, indeed, as to the temper there was in men and women, does not this one fact say enough: the height SUSPICION had risen to? Preternatural we often called it; seemingly in the language of exaggeration: but listen to the cold deposition of witnesses. Not a musical Patriot can blow himself a snatch of melody from the French Horn, sitting mildly pensive on the housetop, but Mercier will recognise it to be a signal which one Plotting Committee is making to another. Distraction has possessed Harmony herself; lurks in the sound of Marseillese and ca-ira. (Mercier, Nouveau Paris, vi. 63.) Louvet, who can see as deep into a millstone as the most, discerns that we shall be invited back to our old Hall of the Manege, by a Deputation; and then the Anarchists will massacre Twenty-two of us, as we walk over. It is Pitt and Cobourg; the gold of Pitt. — Poor Pitt! They little know what work he has with his own Friends of the People; getting them bespied, beheaded, their habeas-corpuses suspended, and his own Social Order and strong-boxes kept tight, — to fancy him raising mobs among his neighbours!

But the strangest fact connected with French or indeed with human Suspicion, is perhaps this of Camille Desmoulins. Camille’s head, one of the clearest in France, has got itself so saturated through every fibre with Preternaturalism of Suspicion, that looking back on that Twelfth of July 1789, when the thousands rose round him, yelling responsive at his word in the Palais Royal Garden, and took cockades, he finds it explicable only on this hypothesis, That they were all hired to do it, and set on by the Foreign and other Plotters. ‘It was not for nothing,’ says Camille with insight, ‘that this multitude burst up round me when I spoke!’ No, not for nothing. Behind, around, before, it is one huge Preternatural Puppet-play of Plots; Pitt pulling the wires. (See Histoire des Brissotins, par Camille Desmoulins, a Pamphlet of Camille’s, Paris, 1793.) Almost I conjecture that I Camille myself am a Plot, and wooden with wires. — The force of insight could no further go.

Be this as it will, History remarks that the Commission of Twelve, now clear enough as to the Plots; and luckily having ‘got the threads of them all by the end,’ as they say, — are launching Mandates of Arrest rapidly in these May days; and carrying matters with a high hand; resolute that the sea of troubles shall be restrained. What chief Patriot, Section–President even, is safe? They can arrest him; tear him from his warm bed, because he has made irregular Section Arrestments! They arrest Varlet Apostle of Liberty. They arrest Procureur–Substitute Hebert, Pere Duchesne; a Magistrate of the People, sitting in Townhall; who, with high solemnity of martyrdom, takes leave of his colleagues; prompt he, to obey the Law; and solemnly acquiescent, disappears into prison.

The swifter fly the Sections, energetically demanding him back; demanding not arrestment of Popular Magistrates, but of a traitorous Twenty-two. Section comes flying after Section; — defiling energetic, with their Cambyses’ vein of oratory: nay the Commune itself comes, with Mayor Pache at its head; and with question not of Hebert and the Twenty-two alone, but with this ominous old question made new, “Can you save the Republic, or must we do it?” To whom President Max Isnard makes fiery answer: If by fatal chance, in any of those tumults which since the Tenth of March are ever returning, Paris were to lift a sacrilegious finger against the National Representation, France would rise as one man, in never-imagined vengeance, and shortly “the traveller would ask, on which side of the Seine Paris had stood!” (Moniteur, Seance du 25 Mai, 1793.) Whereat the Mountain bellows only louder, and every Gallery; Patriot Paris boiling round.

And Girondin Valaze has nightly conclaves at his house; sends billets; ‘Come punctually, and well armed, for there is to be business.’ And Megaera women perambulate the streets, with flags, with lamentable alleleu. (Meillan, Memoires, p. 195; Buzot, pp. 69, 84.) And the Convention-doors are obstructed by roaring multitudes: find-spoken hommes d’etat are hustled, maltreated, as they pass; Marat will apostrophise you, in such death-peril, and say, Thou too art of them. If Roland ask leave to quit Paris, there is order of the day. What help? Substitute Hebert, Apostle Varlet, must be given back; to be crowned with oak-garlands. The Commission of Twelve, in a Convention overwhelmed with roaring Sections, is broken; then on the morrow, in a Convention of rallied Girondins, is reinstated. Dim Chaos, or the sea of troubles, is struggling through all its elements; writhing and chafing towards some creation.

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