The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 3

Retreat of the Eleven.

It is one of the notablest Retreats, this of the Eleven, that History presents: The handful of forlorn Legislators retreating there, continually, with shouldered firelock and well-filled cartridge-box, in the yellow autumn; long hundreds of miles between them and Bourdeaux; the country all getting hostile, suspicious of the truth; simmering and buzzing on all sides, more and more. Louvet has preserved the Itinerary of it; a piece worth all the rest he ever wrote.

O virtuous Petion, with thy early-white head, O brave young Barbaroux, has it come to this? Weary ways, worn shoes, light purse; — encompassed with perils as with a sea! Revolutionary Committees are in every Township; of Jacobin temper; our friends all cowed, our cause the losing one. In the Borough of Moncontour, by ill chance, it is market-day: to the gaping public such transit of a solitary Marching Detachment is suspicious; we have need of energy, of promptitude and luck, to be allowed to march through. Hasten, ye weary pilgrims! The country is getting up; noise of you is bruited day after day, a solitary Twelve retreating in this mysterious manner: with every new day, a wider wave of inquisitive pursuing tumult is stirred up till the whole West will be in motion. ‘Cussy is tormented with gout, Buzot is too fat for marching.’ Riouffe, blistered, bleeding, marching only on tiptoe; Barbaroux limps with sprained ancle, yet ever cheery, full of hope and valour. Light Louvet glances hare-eyed, not hare-hearted: only virtuous Petion’s serenity ‘was but once seen ruffled.’ (Meillan, pp. 119–137.) They lie in straw-lofts, in woody brakes; rudest paillasse on the floor of a secret friend is luxury. They are seized in the dead of night by Jacobin mayors and tap of drum; get off by firm countenance, rattle of muskets, and ready wit.

Of Bourdeaux, through fiery La Vendee and the long geographical spaces that remain, it were madness to think: well, if you can get to Quimper on the sea-coast, and take shipping there. Faster, ever faster! Before the end of the march, so hot has the country grown, it is found advisable to march all night. They do it; under the still night-canopy they plod along; — and yet behold, Rumour has outplodded them. In the paltry Village of Carhaix (be its thatched huts, and bottomless peat-bogs, long notable to the Traveller), one is astonished to find light still glimmering: citizens are awake, with rush-lights burning, in that nook of the terrestrial Planet; as we traverse swiftly the one poor street, a voice is heard saying, “There they are, Les voila qui passent!” (Louvet, pp. 138–164.) Swifter, ye doomed lame Twelve: speed ere they can arm; gain the Woods of Quimper before day, and lie squatted there!

The doomed Twelve do it; though with difficulty, with loss of road, with peril, and the mistakes of a night. In Quimper are Girondin friends, who perhaps will harbour the homeless, till a Bourdeaux ship weigh. Wayworn, heartworn, in agony of suspense, till Quimper friendship get warning, they lie there, squatted under the thick wet boscage; suspicious of the face of man. Some pity to the brave; to the unhappy! Unhappiest of all Legislators, O when ye packed your luggage, some score, or two-score months ago; and mounted this or the other leathern vehicle, to be Conscript Fathers of a regenerated France, and reap deathless laurels, — did ye think your journey was to lead hither? The Quimper Samaritans find them squatted; lift them up to help and comfort; will hide them in sure places. Thence let them dissipate gradually; or there they can lie quiet, and write Memoirs, till a Bourdeaux ship sail.

And thus, in Calvados all is dissipated; Romme is out of prison, meditating his Calendar; ringleaders are locked in his room. At Caen the Corday family mourns in silence; Buzot’s House is a heap of dust and demolition; and amid the rubbish sticks a Gallows, with this inscription, Here dwelt the Traitor Buzot who conspired against the Republic. Buzot and the other vanished Deputies are hors la loi, as we saw; their lives free to take where they can be found. The worse fares it with the poor Arrested visible Deputies at Paris. ‘Arrestment at home’ threatens to become ‘Confinement in the Luxembourg;’ to end: where? For example, what pale-visaged thin man is this, journeying towards Switzerland as a Merchant of Neuchatel, whom they arrest in the town of Moulins? To Revolutionary Committee he is suspect. To Revolutionary Committee, on probing the matter, he is evidently: Deputy Brissot! Back to thy Arrestment, poor Brissot; or indeed to strait confinement, — whither others are fared to follow. Rabaut has built himself a false-partition, in a friend’s house; lives, in invisible darkness, between two walls. It will end, this same Arrestment business, in Prison, and the Revolutionary Tribunal.

Nor must we forget Duperret, and the seal put on his papers by reason of Charlotte. One Paper is there, fit to breed woe enough: A secret solemn Protest against that suprema dies of the Second of June! This Secret Protest our poor Duperret had drawn up, the same week, in all plainness of speech; waiting the time for publishing it: to which Secret Protest his signature, and that of other honourable Deputies not a few, stands legibly appended. And now, if the seals were once broken, the Mountain still victorious? Such Protestors, your Merciers, Bailleuls, Seventy-three by the tale, what yet remains of Respectable Girondism in the Convention, may tremble to think! — These are the fruits of levying civil war.

Also we find, that, in these last days of July, the famed Siege of Mentz is finished; the Garrison to march out with honours of war; not to serve against the Coalition for a year! Lovers of the Picturesque, and Goethe standing on the Chaussee of Mentz, saw, with due interest, the Procession issuing forth, in all solemnity:

‘Escorted by Prussian horse came first the French Garrison. Nothing could look stranger than this latter: a column of Marseillese, slight, swarthy, party-coloured, in patched clothes, came tripping on; — as if King Edwin had opened the Dwarf Hill, and sent out his nimble Host of Dwarfs. Next followed regular troops; serious, sullen; not as if downcast or ashamed. But the remarkablest appearance, which struck every one, was that of the Chasers (Chasseurs) coming out mounted: they had advanced quite silent to where we stood, when their Band struck up the Marseillaise. This Revolutionary Te–Deum has in itself something mournful and bodeful, however briskly played; but at present they gave it in altogether slow time, proportionate to the creeping step they rode at. It was piercing and fearful, and a most serious-looking thing, as these cavaliers, long, lean men, of a certain age, with mien suitable to the music, came pacing on: singly you might have likened them to Don Quixote; in mass, they were highly dignified.

‘But now a single troop became notable: that of the Commissioners or Representans. Merlin of Thionville, in hussar uniform, distinguishing himself by wild beard and look, had another person in similar costume on his left; the crowd shouted out, with rage, at sight of this latter, the name of a Jacobin Townsman and Clubbist; and shook itself to seize him. Merlin drew bridle; referred to his dignity as French Representative, to the vengeance that should follow any injury done; he would advise every one to compose himself, for this was not the last time they would see him here. (Belagerung von Maintz, Goethe’s Werke, xxx. 315.) Thus rode Merlin; threatening in defeat. But what now shall stem that tide of Prussians setting in through the open North–East?’ Lucky, if fortified Lines of Weissembourg, and impassibilities of Vosges Mountains, confine it to French Alsace, keep it from submerging the very heart of the country!

Furthermore, precisely in the same days, Valenciennes Siege is finished, in the North–West:— fallen, under the red hail of York! Conde fell some fortnight since. Cimmerian Coalition presses on. What seems very notable too, on all these captured French Towns there flies not the Royalist fleur-de-lys, in the name of a new Louis the Pretender; but the Austrian flag flies; as if Austria meant to keep them for herself! Perhaps General Custines, still in Paris, can give some explanation of the fall of these strong-places? Mother Society, from tribune and gallery, growls loud that he ought to do it; — remarks, however, in a splenetic manner that ‘the Monsieurs of the Palais Royal’ are calling, Long-life to this General.

The Mother Society, purged now, by successive ‘scrutinies or epurations,’ from all taint of Girondism, has become a great Authority: what we can call shield-bearer, or bottle-holder, nay call it fugleman, to the purged National Convention itself. The Jacobins Debates are reported in the Moniteur, like Parliamentary ones.

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