The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 4

O Nature.

But looking more specially into Paris City, what is this that History, on the 10th of August, Year One of Liberty, ‘by old-style, year 1793,’ discerns there? Praised be the Heavens, a new Feast of Pikes!

For Chaumette’s ‘Deputation every day’ has worked out its result: a Constitution. It was one of the rapidest Constitutions ever put together; made, some say in eight days, by Herault Sechelles and others: probably a workmanlike, roadworthy Constitution enough; — on which point, however, we are, for some reasons, little called to form a judgment. Workmanlike or not, the Forty-four Thousand Communes of France, by overwhelming majorities, did hasten to accept it; glad of any Constitution whatsoever. Nay Departmental Deputies have come, the venerablest Republicans of each Department, with solemn message of Acceptance; and now what remains but that our new Final Constitution be proclaimed, and sworn to, in Feast of Pikes? The Departmental Deputies, we say, are come some time ago; — Chaumette very anxious about them, lest Girondin Monsieurs, Agio-jobbers, or were it even Filles de joie of a Girondin temper, corrupt their morals. (Deux Amis, xi. 73.) Tenth of August, immortal Anniversary, greater almost than Bastille July, is the Day.

Painter David has not been idle. Thanks to David and the French genius, there steps forth into the sunlight, this day, a Scenic Phantasmagory unexampled:— whereof History, so occupied with Real–Phantasmagories, will say but little.

For one thing, History can notice with satisfaction, on the ruins of the Bastille, a Statue of Nature; gigantic, spouting water from her two mammelles. Not a Dream this; but a Fact, palpable visible. There she spouts, great Nature; dim, before daybreak. But as the coming Sun ruddies the East, come countless Multitudes, regulated and unregulated; come Departmental Deputies, come Mother Society and Daughters; comes National Convention, led on by handsome Herault; soft wind-music breathing note of expectation. Lo, as great Sol scatters his first fire-handful, tipping the hills and chimney-heads with gold, Herault is at great Nature’s feet (she is Plaster of Paris merely); Herault lifts, in an iron saucer, water spouted from the sacred breasts; drinks of it, with an eloquent Pagan Prayer, beginning, “O Nature!” and all the Departmental Deputies drink, each with what best suitable ejaculation or prophetic-utterance is in him; — amid breathings, which become blasts, of wind-music; and the roar of artillery and human throats: finishing well the first act of this solemnity.

Next are processionings along the Boulevards: Deputies or Officials bound together by long indivisible tricolor riband; general ‘members of the Sovereign’ walking pellmell, with pikes, with hammers, with the tools and emblems of their crafts; among which we notice a Plough, and ancient Baucis and Philemon seated on it, drawn by their children. Many-voiced harmony and dissonance filling the air. Through Triumphal Arches enough: at the basis of the first of which, we descry — whom thinkest thou? — the Heroines of the Insurrection of Women. Strong Dames of the Market, they sit there (Theroigne too ill to attend, one fears), with oak-branches, tricolor bedizenment; firm-seated on their Cannons. To whom handsome Herault, making pause of admiration, addresses soothing eloquence; whereupon they rise and fall into the march.

And now mark, in the Place de la Revolution, what other August Statue may this be; veiled in canvas, — which swiftly we shear off by pulley and cord? The Statue of Liberty! She too is of plaster, hoping to become of metal; stands where a Tyrant Louis Quinze once stood. ‘Three thousand birds’ are let loose, into the whole world, with labels round their neck, We are free; imitate us. Holocaust of Royalist and ci-devant trumpery, such as one could still gather, is burnt; pontifical eloquence must be uttered, by handsome Herault, and Pagan orisons offered up.

And then forward across the River; where is new enormous Statuary; enormous plaster Mountain; Hercules–Peuple, with uplifted all-conquering club; ‘many-headed Dragon of Girondin Federalism rising from fetid marsh;’ — needing new eloquence from Herault. To say nothing of Champ-de-Mars, and Fatherland’s Altar there; with urn of slain Defenders, Carpenter’s-level of the Law; and such exploding, gesticulating and perorating, that Herault’s lips must be growing white, and his tongue cleaving to the roof of his mouth. (Choix des Rapports, xii. 432–42.)

Towards six-o’clock let the wearied President, let Paris Patriotism generally sit down to what repast, and social repasts, can be had; and with flowing tankard or light-mantling glass, usher in this New and Newest Era. In fact, is not Romme’s New Calendar getting ready? On all housetops flicker little tricolor Flags, their flagstaff a Pike and Liberty–Cap. On all house-walls, for no Patriot, not suspect, will be behind another, there stand printed these words: Republic one and indivisible, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death.

As to the New Calendar, we may say here rather than elsewhere that speculative men have long been struck with the inequalities and incongruities of the Old Calendar; that a New one has long been as good as determined on. Marechal the Atheist, almost ten years ago, proposed a New Calendar, free at least from superstition: this the Paris Municipality would now adopt, in defect of a better; at all events, let us have either this of Marechal’s or a better, — the New Era being come. Petitions, more than once, have been sent to that effect; and indeed, for a year past, all Public Bodies, Journalists, and Patriots in general, have dated First Year of the Republic. It is a subject not without difficulties. But the Convention has taken it up; and Romme, as we say, has been meditating it; not Marechal’s New Calendar, but a better New one of Romme’s and our own. Romme, aided by a Monge, a Lagrange and others, furnishes mathematics; Fabre d’Eglantine furnishes poetic nomenclature: and so, on the 5th of October 1793, after trouble enough, they bring forth this New Republican Calendar of theirs, in a complete state; and by Law, get it put in action.

Four equal Seasons, Twelve equal Months of thirty days each: this makes three hundred and sixty days; and five odd days remain to be disposed of. The five odd days we will make Festivals, and name the five Sansculottides, or Days without Breeches. Festival of Genius; Festival of Labour; of Actions; of Rewards; of Opinion: these are the five Sansculottides. Whereby the great Circle, or Year, is made complete: solely every fourth year, whilom called Leap-year, we introduce a sixth Sansculottide; and name it Festival of the Revolution. Now as to the day of commencement, which offers difficulties, is it not one of the luckiest coincidences that the Republic herself commenced on the 21st of September; close on the Vernal Equinox? Vernal Equinox, at midnight for the meridian of Paris, in the year whilom Christian 1792, from that moment shall the New Era reckon itself to begin. Vendemiaire, Brumaire, Frimaire; or as one might say, in mixed English, Vintagearious, Fogarious, Frostarious: these are our three Autumn months. Nivose, Pluviose, Ventose, or say Snowous, Rainous, Windous, make our Winter season. Germinal, Floreal, Prairial, or Buddal, Floweral, Meadowal, are our Spring season. Messidor, Thermidor, Fructidor, that is to say (dor being Greek for gift) Reapidor, Heatidor, Fruitidor, are Republican Summer. These Twelve, in a singular manner, divide the Republican Year. Then as to minuter subdivisions, let us venture at once on a bold stroke: adopt your decimal subdivision; and instead of world-old Week, or Se’ennight, make it a Tennight or Decade; — not without results. There are three Decades, then, in each of the months; which is very regular; and the Decadi, or Tenth-day, shall always be ‘the Day of Rest.’ And the Christian Sabbath, in that case? Shall shift for itself!

This, in brief, in this New Calendar of Romme and the Convention; calculated for the meridian of Paris, and Gospel of Jean–Jacques: not one of the least afflicting occurrences for the actual British reader of French History; — confusing the soul with Messidors, Meadowals; till at last, in self-defence, one is forced to construct some ground-scheme, or rule of Commutation from New-style to Old-style, and have it lying by him. Such ground-scheme, almost worn out in our service, but still legible and printable, we shall now, in a Note, present to the reader. For the Romme Calendar, in so many Newspapers, Memoirs, Public Acts, has stamped itself deep into that section of Time: a New Era that lasts some Twelve years and odd is not to be despised. Let the reader, therefore, with such ground-scheme, help himself, where needful, out of New-style into Old-style, called also ‘slave-style, stile-esclave;’ — whereof we, in these pages, shall as much as possible use the latter only.

September 22nd of 1792 is Vendemiaire 1st of Year One, and the new months are all of 30 days each; therefore:

     To the number of the          We have the number of the
     day in                 Add    day in                  Days

     Vendemiaire         21        September                30
     Brumaire            21        October                  31
     Frimaire            20        November                 30

     Nivose              20        December                 31
     Pluviose            19        January                  31
     Ventose             18        February                 28

     Germinal            20        March                    31
     Floreal             19        April                    30
     Prairial            19        May                      31

     Messidor            18        June                     30
     Thermidor           18        July                     31
     Fructidor           17        August                   31

There are 5 Sansculottides, and in leap-year a sixth, to be added at the end of Fructidor.

The New Calendar ceased on the 1st of January 1806. (See Choix des Rapports, xiii. 83–99; xix. 199.)

Thus with new Feast of Pikes, and New Era or New Calendar, did France accept her New Constitution: the most Democratic Constitution ever committed to paper. How it will work in practice? Patriot Deputations from time to time solicit fruition of it; that it be set a-going. Always, however, this seems questionable; for the moment, unsuitable. Till, in some weeks, Salut Public, through the organ of Saint–Just, makes report, that, in the present alarming circumstances, the state of France is Revolutionary; that her ‘Government must be Revolutionary till the Peace!’ Solely as Paper, then, and as a Hope, must this poor New Constitution exist; — in which shape we may conceive it lying; even now, with an infinity of other things, in that Limbo near the Moon. Further than paper it never got, nor ever will get.

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