The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 2

In Civil War.

But during these same hours, another guillotine is at work, on another: Charlotte, for the Girondins, dies at Paris to-day; Chalier, by the Girondins, dies at Lyons to-morrow.

From rumbling of cannon along the streets of that City, it has come to firing of them, to rabid fighting: Nievre–Chol and the Girondins triumph; — behind whom there is, as everywhere, a Royalist Faction waiting to strike in. Trouble enough at Lyons; and the dominant party carrying it with a high hand! For indeed, the whole South is astir; incarcerating Jacobins; arming for Girondins: wherefore we have got a ‘Congress of Lyons;’ also a ‘Revolutionary Tribunal of Lyons,’ and Anarchists shall tremble. So Chalier was soon found guilty, of Jacobinism, of murderous Plot, ‘address with drawn dagger on the sixth of February last;’ and, on the morrow, he also travels his final road, along the streets of Lyons, ‘by the side of an ecclesiastic, with whom he seems to speak earnestly,’ — the axe now glittering high. He could weep, in old years, this man, and ‘fall on his knees on the pavement,’ blessing Heaven at sight of Federation Programs or like; then he pilgrimed to Paris, to worship Marat and the Mountain: now Marat and he are both gone; — we said he could not end well. Jacobinism groans inwardly, at Lyons; but dare not outwardly. Chalier, when the Tribunal sentenced him, made answer: “My death will cost this City dear.”

Montelimart Town is not buried under its ruins; yet Marseilles is actually marching, under order of a ‘Lyons Congress;’ is incarcerating Patriots; the very Royalists now shewing face. Against which a General Cartaux fights, though in small force; and with him an Artillery Major, of the name of — Napoleon Buonaparte. This Napoleon, to prove that the Marseillese have no chance ultimately, not only fights but writes; publishes his Supper of Beaucaire, a Dialogue which has become curious. (See Hazlitt, ii. 529–41.) Unfortunate Cities, with their actions and their reactions! Violence to be paid with violence in geometrical ratio; Royalism and Anarchism both striking in; — the final net-amount of which geometrical series, what man shall sum?

The Bar of Iron has never yet floated in Marseilles Harbour; but the Body of Rebecqui was found floating, self-drowned there. Hot Rebecqui seeing how confusion deepened, and Respectability grew poisoned with Royalism, felt that there was no refuge for a Republican but death. Rebecqui disappeared: no one knew whither; till, one morning, they found the empty case or body of him risen to the top, tumbling on the salt waves; (Barbaroux, p. 29.) and perceived that Rebecqui had withdrawn forever. — Toulon likewise is incarcerating Patriots; sending delegates to Congress; intriguing, in case of necessity, with the Royalists and English. Montpellier, Bourdeaux, Nantes: all France, that is not under the swoop of Austria and Cimmeria, seems rushing into madness, and suicidal ruin. The Mountain labours; like a volcano in a burning volcanic Land. Convention Committees, of Surety, of Salvation, are busy night and day: Convention Commissioners whirl on all highways; bearing olive-branch and sword, or now perhaps sword only. Chaumette and Municipals come daily to the Tuileries demanding a Constitution: it is some weeks now since he resolved, in Townhall, that a Deputation ‘should go every day’ and demand a Constitution, till one were got; (Deux Amis, x. 345.) whereby suicidal France might rally and pacify itself; a thing inexpressibly desirable.

This then is the fruit your Anti-anarchic Girondins have got from that Levying of War in Calvados? This fruit, we may say; and no other whatsoever. For indeed, before either Charlotte’s or Chalier’s head had fallen, the Calvados War itself had, as it were, vanished, dreamlike, in a shriek! With ‘seventy-two Departments’ on one’s side, one might have hoped better things. But it turns out that Respectabilities, though they will vote, will not fight. Possession is always nine points in Law; but in Lawsuits of this kind, one may say, it is ninety-and-nine points. Men do what they were wont to do; and have immense irresolution and inertia: they obey him who has the symbols that claim obedience. Consider what, in modern society, this one fact means: the Metropolis is with our enemies! Metropolis, Mother-city; rightly so named: all the rest are but as her children, her nurselings. Why, there is not a leathern Diligence, with its post-bags and luggage-boots, that lumbers out from her, but is as a huge life-pulse; she is the heart of all. Cut short that one leathern Diligence, how much is cut short! — General Wimpfen, looking practically into the matter, can see nothing for it but that one should fall back on Royalism; get into communication with Pitt! Dark innuendoes he flings out, to that effect: whereat we Girondins start, horrorstruck. He produces as his Second in command a certain ‘Ci-devant,’ one Comte Puisaye; entirely unknown to Louvet; greatly suspected by him.

Few wars, accordingly, were ever levied of a more insufficient character than this of Calvados. He that is curious in such things may read the details of it in the Memoirs of that same Ci-devant Puisaye, the much-enduring man and Royalist: How our Girondin National Forces, marching off with plenty of wind-music, were drawn out about the old Chateau of Brecourt, in the wood-country near Vernon, to meet the Mountain National forces advancing from Paris. How on the fifteenth afternoon of July, they did meet, — and, as it were, shrieked mutually, and took mutually to flight without loss. How Puisaye thereafter, for the Mountain Nationals fled first, and we thought ourselves the victors, — was roused from his warm bed in the Castle of Brecourt; and had to gallop without boots; our Nationals, in the night-watches, having fallen unexpectedly into sauve qui peut:— and in brief the Calvados War had burnt priming; and the only question now was, Whitherward to vanish, in what hole to hide oneself! (Memoires de Puisaye (London, 1803), ii. 142–67.)

The National Volunteers rush homewards, faster than they came. The Seventy-two Respectable Departments, says Meillan, ‘all turned round, and forsook us, in the space of four-and-twenty hours.’ Unhappy those who, as at Lyons for instance, have gone too far for turning! ‘One morning,’ we find placarded on our Intendance Mansion, the Decree of Convention which casts us Hors la loi, into Outlawry: placarded by our Caen Magistrates; — clear hint that we also are to vanish. Vanish, indeed: but whitherward? Gorsas has friends in Rennes; he will hide there, — unhappily will not lie hid. Guadet, Lanjuinais are on cross roads; making for Bourdeaux. To Bourdeaux! cries the general voice, of Valour alike and of Despair. Some flag of Respectability still floats there, or is thought to float.

Thitherward therefore; each as he can! Eleven of these ill-fated Deputies, among whom we may count, as twelfth, Friend Riouffe the Man of Letters, do an original thing. Take the uniform of National Volunteers, and retreat southward with the Breton Battalion, as private soldiers of that corps. These brave Bretons had stood truer by us than any other. Nevertheless, at the end of a day or two, they also do now get dubious, self-divided; we must part from them; and, with some half-dozen as convoy or guide, retreat by ourselves, — a solitary marching detachment, through waste regions of the West. (Louvet, pp. 101–37; Meillan, pp. 81, 241–70.)

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