The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 9

Extinct.

Accordingly, on Friday, the Thirty-first of May 1793, there comes forth into the summer sunlight one of the strangest scenes. Mayor Pache with Municipality arrives at the Tuileries Hall of Convention; sent for, Paris being in visible ferment; and gives the strangest news.

How, in the grey of this morning, while we sat Permanent in Townhall, watchful for the commonweal, there entered, precisely as on a Tenth of August, some Ninety-six extraneous persons; who declared themselves to be in a state of Insurrection; to be plenipotentiary Commissioners from the Forty-eight Sections, sections or members of the Sovereign People, all in a state of Insurrection; and further that we, in the name of said Sovereign in Insurrection, were dismissed from office. How we thereupon laid off our sashes, and withdrew into the adjacent Saloon of Liberty. How in a moment or two, we were called back; and reinstated; the Sovereign pleasing to think us still worthy of confidence. Whereby, having taken new oath of office, we on a sudden find ourselves Insurrectionary Magistrates, with extraneous Committee of Ninety-six sitting by us; and a Citoyen Henriot, one whom some accuse of Septemberism, is made Generalissimo of the National Guard; and, since six o’clock, the tocsins ring and the drums beat:— Under which peculiar circumstances, what would an august National Convention please to direct us to do? (Compare Debats de la Convention (Paris, 1828), iv. 187–223; Moniteur, Nos. 152, 3, 4, An 1er.)

Yes, there is the question! “Break the Insurrectionary Authorities,” answers some with vehemence. Vergniaud at least will have “the National Representatives all die at their post;” this is sworn to, with ready loud acclaim. But as to breaking the Insurrectionary Authorities, — alas, while we yet debate, what sound is that? Sound of the Alarm–Cannon on the Pont Neuf; which it is death by the Law to fire without order from us!

It does boom off there, nevertheless; sending a sound through all hearts. And the tocsins discourse stern music; and Henriot with his Armed Force has enveloped us! And Section succeeds Section, the livelong day; demanding with Cambyses’-oratory, with the rattle of muskets, That traitors, Twenty-two or more, be punished; that the Commission of Twelve be irrecoverably broken. The heart of the Gironde dies within it; distant are the Seventy-two respectable Departments, this fiery Municipality is near! Barrere is for a middle course; granting something. The Commission of Twelve declares that, not waiting to be broken, it hereby breaks itself, and is no more. Fain would Reporter Rabaut speak his and its last-words; but he is bellowed off. Too happy that the Twenty-two are still left unviolated! — Vergniaud, carrying the laws of refinement to a great length, moves, to the amazement of some, that ‘the Sections of Paris have deserved well of their country.’ Whereupon, at a late hour of the evening, the deserving Sections retire to their respective places of abode. Barrere shall report on it. With busy quill and brain he sits, secluded; for him no sleep to-night. Friday the last of May has ended in this manner.

The Sections have deserved well: but ought they not to deserve better? Faction and Girondism is struck down for the moment, and consents to be a nullity; but will it not, at another favourabler moment rise, still feller; and the Republic have to be saved in spite of it? So reasons Patriotism, still Permanent; so reasons the Figure of Marat, visible in the dim Section-world, on the morrow. To the conviction of men! — And so at eventide of Saturday, when Barrere had just got it all varnished in the course of the day, and his Report was setting off in the evening mail-bags, tocsin peals out again! Generale is beating; armed men taking station in the Place Vendome and elsewhere for the night; supplied with provisions and liquor. There under the summer stars will they wait, this night, what is to be seen and to be done, Henriot and Townhall giving due signal.

The Convention, at sound of generale, hastens back to its Hall; but to the number only of a Hundred; and does little business, puts off business till the morrow. The Girondins do not stir out thither, the Girondins are abroad seeking beds. Poor Rabaut, on the morrow morning, returning to his post, with Louvet and some others, through streets all in ferment, wrings his hands, ejaculating, “Illa suprema dies!” (Louvet, Memoires, p. 89.) It has become Sunday, the second day of June, year 1793, by the old style; by the new style, year One of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. We have got to the last scene of all, that ends this history of the Girondin Senatorship.

It seems doubtful whether any terrestrial Convention had ever met in such circumstances as this National one now does. Tocsin is pealing; Barriers shut; all Paris is on the gaze, or under arms. As many as a Hundred Thousand under arms they count: National Force; and the Armed Volunteers, who should have flown to the Frontiers and La Vendee; but would not, treason being unpunished; and only flew hither and thither! So many, steady under arms, environ the National Tuileries and Garden. There are horse, foot, artillery, sappers with beards: the artillery one can see with their camp-furnaces in this National Garden, heating bullets red, and their match is lighted. Henriot in plumes rides, amid a plumed Staff: all posts and issues are safe; reserves lie out, as far as the Wood of Boulogne; the choicest Patriots nearest the scene. One other circumstance we will note: that a careful Municipality, liberal of camp-furnaces, has not forgotten provision-carts. No member of the Sovereign need now go home to dinner; but can keep rank, — plentiful victual circulating unsought. Does not this People understand Insurrection? Ye, not uninventive, Gualches! —

Therefore let a National Representation, ‘mandatories of the Sovereign,’ take thought of it. Expulsion of your Twenty-two, and your Commission of Twelve: we stand here till it be done! Deputation after Deputation, in ever stronger language, comes with that message. Barrere proposes a middle course:— Will not perhaps the inculpated Deputies consent to withdraw voluntarily; to make a generous demission, and self-sacrifice for the sake of one’s country? Isnard, repentant of that search on which river-bank Paris stood, declares himself ready to demit. Ready also is Te–Deum Fauchet; old Dusaulx of the Bastille, ‘vieux radoteur, old dotard,’ as Marat calls him, is still readier. On the contrary, Lanjuinais the Breton declares that there is one man who never will demit voluntarily; but will protest to the uttermost, while a voice is left him. And he accordingly goes on protesting; amid rage and clangor; Legendre crying at last: “Lanjuinais, come down from the Tribune, or I will fling thee down, ou je te jette en bas!” For matters are come to extremity. Nay they do clutch hold of Lanjuinais, certain zealous Mountain-men; but cannot fling him down, for he ‘cramps himself on the railing;’ and ‘his clothes get torn.’ Brave Senator, worthy of pity! Neither will Barbaroux demit; he “has sworn to die at his post, and will keep that oath.” Whereupon the Galleries all rise with explosion; brandishing weapons, some of them; and rush out saying: “Allons, then; we must save our country!” Such a Session is this of Sunday the second of June.

Churches fill, over Christian Europe, and then empty themselves; but this Convention empties not, the while: a day of shrieking contention, of agony, humiliation and tearing of coatskirts; illa suprema dies! Round stand Henriot and his Hundred Thousand, copiously refreshed from tray and basket: nay he is ‘distributing five francs a-piece;’ we Girondins saw it with our eyes; five francs to keep them in heart! And distraction of armed riot encumbers our borders, jangles at our Bar; we are prisoners in our own Hall: Bishop Gregoire could not get out for a besoin actuel without four gendarmes to wait on him! What is the character of a National Representative become? And now the sunlight falls yellower on western windows, and the chimney-tops are flinging longer shadows; the refreshed Hundred Thousand, nor their shadows, stir not! What to resolve on? Motion rises, superfluous one would think, That the Convention go forth in a body; ascertain with its own eyes whether it is free or not. Lo, therefore, from the Eastern Gate of the Tuileries, a distressed Convention issuing; handsome Herault Sechelles at their head; he with hat on, in sign of public calamity, the rest bareheaded, — towards the Gate of the Carrousel; wondrous to see: towards Henriot and his plumed staff. “In the name of the National Convention, make way!” Not an inch of the way does Henriot make: “I receive no orders, till the Sovereign, yours and mine, has been obeyed.” The Convention presses on; Henriot prances back, with his staff, some fifteen paces, “To arms! Cannoneers to your guns!” — flashes out his puissant sword, as the Staff all do, and the Hussars all do. Cannoneers brandish the lit match; Infantry present arms, — alas, in the level way, as if for firing! Hatted Herault leads his distressed flock, through their pinfold of a Tuileries again; across the Garden, to the Gate on the opposite side. Here is Feuillans Terrace, alas, there is our old Salle de Manege; but neither at this Gate of the Pont Tournant is there egress. Try the other; and the other: no egress! We wander disconsolate through armed ranks; who indeed salute with Live the Republic, but also with Die the Gironde. Other such sight, in the year One of Liberty, the westering sun never saw.

And now behold Marat meets us; for he lagged in this Suppliant Procession of ours: he has got some hundred elect Patriots at his heels: he orders us in the Sovereign’s name to return to our place, and do as we are bidden and bound. The Convention returns. “Does not the Convention,” says Couthon with a singular power of face, “see that it is free?” — none but friends round it? The Convention, overflowing with friends and armed Sectioners, proceeds to vote as bidden. Many will not vote, but remain silent; some one or two protest, in words: the Mountain has a clear unanimity. Commission of Twelve, and the denounced Twenty-two, to whom we add Ex–Ministers Claviere and Lebrun: these, with some slight extempore alterations (this or that orator proposing, but Marat disposing), are voted to be under ‘Arrestment in their own houses.’ Brissot, Buzot, Vergniaud, Guadet, Louvet, Gensonne, Barbaroux, Lasource, Lanjuinais, Rabaut, — Thirty-two, by the tale; all that we have known as Girondins, and more than we have known. They, ‘under the safeguard of the French People;’ by and by, under the safeguard of two Gendarmes each, shall dwell peaceably in their own houses; as Non–Senators; till further order. Herewith ends Seance of Sunday the second of June 1793.

At ten o’clock, under mild stars, the Hundred Thousand, their work well finished, turn homewards. This same day, Central Insurrection Committee has arrested Madame Roland; imprisoned her in the Abbaye. Roland has fled, no one knows whither.

Thus fell the Girondins, by Insurrection; and became extinct as a Party: not without a sigh from most Historians. The men were men of parts, of Philosophic culture, decent behaviour; not condemnable in that they were Pedants and had not better parts; not condemnable, but most unfortunate. They wanted a Republic of the Virtues, wherein themselves should be head; and they could only get a Republic of the Strengths, wherein others than they were head.

For the rest, Barrere shall make Report of it. The night concludes with a ‘civic promenade by torchlight:’ (Buzot, Memoires, p. 310. See Pieces Justificatives, of Narratives, Commentaries, &c. in Buzot, Louvet, Meillan: Documens Complementaires, in Hist. Parl. xxviii. 1–78.) surely the true reign of Fraternity is now not far?

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