The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 6

Risen against Tyrants.

Against all which incalculable impediments, horrors and disasters, what can a Jacobin Convention oppose? The uncalculating Spirit of Jacobinism, and Sansculottic sans-formulistic Frenzy! Our Enemies press in on us, says Danton, but they shall not conquer us, “we will burn France to ashes rather, nous brulerons la France.”

Committees, of Surete or Salut, have raised themselves ‘a la hauteur, to the height of circumstances.’ Let all mortals raise themselves a la hauteur. Let the Forty-four thousand Sections and their Revolutionary Committees stir every fibre of the Republic; and every Frenchman feel that he is to do or die. They are the life-circulation of Jacobinism, these Sections and Committees: Danton, through the organ of Barrere and Salut Public, gets decreed, That there be in Paris, by law, two meetings of Section weekly; also, that the Poorer Citizen be paid for attending, and have his day’s-wages of Forty Sous. (Moniteur, Seance du 5 Septembre, 1793.) This is the celebrated ‘Law of the Forty Sous;’ fiercely stimulant to Sansculottism, to the life-circulation of Jacobinism.

On the twenty-third of August, Committee of Public Salvation, as usual through Barrere, had promulgated, in words not unworthy of remembering, their Report, which is soon made into a Law, of Levy in Mass. ‘All France, and whatsoever it contains of men or resources, is put under requisition,’ says Barrere; really in Tyrtaean words, the best we know of his. ‘The Republic is one vast besieged city.’ Two hundred and fifty Forges shall, in these days, be set up in the Luxembourg Garden, and round the outer wall of the Tuileries; to make gun-barrels; in sight of Earth and Heaven! From all hamlets, towards their Departmental Town; from all their Departmental Towns, towards the appointed Camp and seat of war, the Sons of Freedom shall march; their banner is to bear: ‘Le Peuple Francais debout contres les Tyrans, The French People risen against Tyrants.’ ‘The young men shall go to the battle; it is their task to conquer: the married men shall forge arms, transport baggage and artillery; provide subsistence: the women shall work at soldiers’ clothes, make tents; serve in the hospitals. The children shall scrape old-linen into surgeon’s-lint: the aged men shall have themselves carried into public places; and there, by their words, excite the courage of the young; preach hatred to Kings and unity to the Republic.’ (Debats, Seance du 23 Aout 1793.) Tyrtaean words, which tingle through all French hearts.

In this humour, then, since no other serves, will France rush against its enemies. Headlong, reckoning no cost or consequence; heeding no law or rule but that supreme law, Salvation of the People! The weapons are all the iron that is in France; the strength is that of all the men, women and children that are in France. There, in their two hundred and fifty shed-smithies, in Garden of Luxembourg or Tuileries, let them forge gun-barrels, in sight of Heaven and Earth.

Nor with heroic daring against the Foreign foe, can black vengeance against the Domestic be wanting. Life-circulation of the Revolutionary Committees being quickened by that Law of the Forty Sous, Deputy Merlin, not the Thionviller, whom we saw ride out of Mentz, but Merlin of Douai, named subsequently Merlin Suspect, — comes, about a week after, with his world-famous Law of the Suspect: ordering all Sections, by their Committees, instantly to arrest all Persons Suspect; and explaining withal who the Arrestable and Suspect specially are. “Are Suspect,” says he, “all who by their actions, by their connexions, speakings, writings have” — in short become Suspect. (Moniteur, Seance du 17 Septembre 1793.) Nay Chaumette, illuminating the matter still further, in his Municipal Placards and Proclamations, will bring it about that you may almost recognise a Suspect on the streets, and clutch him there, — off to Committee, and Prison. Watch well your words, watch well your looks: if Suspect of nothing else, you may grow, as came to be a saying, ‘Suspect of being Suspect!’ For are we not in a State of Revolution?

No frightfuller Law ever ruled in a Nation of men. All Prisons and Houses of Arrest in French land are getting crowded to the ridge-tile: Forty-four thousand Committees, like as many companies of reapers or gleaners, gleaning France, are gathering their harvest, and storing it in these Houses. Harvest of Aristocrat tares! Nay, lest the Forty-four thousand, each on its own harvest-field, prove insufficient, we are to have an ambulant ‘Revolutionary Army:’ six thousand strong, under right captains, this shall perambulate the country at large, and strike in wherever it finds such harvest-work slack. So have Municipality and Mother Society petitioned; so has Convention decreed. (Ibid. Seances du 5, 9, 11 Septembre.) Let Aristocrats, Federalists, Monsieurs vanish, and all men tremble: ‘The Soil of Liberty shall be purged,’ — with a vengeance!

Neither hitherto has the Revolutionary Tribunal been keeping holyday. Blanchelande, for losing Saint–Domingo; ‘Conspirators of Orleans,’ for ‘assassinating,’ for assaulting the sacred Deputy Leonard–Bourdon: these with many Nameless, to whom life was sweet, have died. Daily the great Guillotine has its due. Like a black Spectre, daily at eventide, glides the Death-tumbril through the variegated throng of things. The variegated street shudders at it, for the moment; next moment forgets it: The Aristocrats! They were guilty against the Republic; their death, were it only that their goods are confiscated, will be useful to the Republic; Vive la Republique!

In the last days of August, fell a notabler head: General Custine’s. Custine was accused of harshness, of unskilfulness, perfidiousness; accused of many things: found guilty, we may say, of one thing, unsuccessfulness. Hearing his unexpected Sentence, ‘Custine fell down before the Crucifix,’ silent for the space of two hours: he fared, with moist eyes and a book of prayer, towards the Place de la Revolution; glanced upwards at the clear suspended axe; then mounted swiftly aloft, (Deux Amis, xi. 148–188.) swiftly was struck away from the lists of the Living. He had fought in America; he was a proud, brave man; and his fortune led him hither.

On the 2nd of this same month, at three in the morning, a vehicle rolled off, with closed blinds, from the Temple to the Conciergerie. Within it were two Municipals; and Marie–Antoinette, once Queen of France! There in that Conciergerie, in ignominious dreary cell, she, cut off from children, kindred, friend and hope, sits long weeks; expecting when the end will be. (See Memoires particuliers de la Captivite a la Tour du Temple, by the Duchesse d’Angouleme, Paris, 21 Janvier 1817.)

The Guillotine, we find, gets always a quicker motion, as other things are quickening. The Guillotine, by its speed of going, will give index of the general velocity of the Republic. The clanking of its huge axe, rising and falling there, in horrid systole-diastole, is portion of the whole enormous Life-movement and pulsation of the Sansculottic System! — ‘Orleans Conspirators’ and Assaulters had to die, in spite of much weeping and entreating; so sacred is the person of a Deputy. Yet the sacred can become desecrated: your very Deputy is not greater than the Guillotine. Poor Deputy Journalist Gorsas: we saw him hide at Rennes, when the Calvados War burnt priming. He stole afterwards, in August, to Paris; lurked several weeks about the Palais ci-devant Royal; was seen there, one day; was clutched, identified, and without ceremony, being already ‘out of the Law,’ was sent to the Place de la Revolution. He died, recommending his wife and children to the pity of the Republic. It is the ninth day of October 1793. Gorsas is the first Deputy that dies on the scaffold; he will not be the last.

Ex–Mayor Bailly is in prison; Ex–Procureur Manuel. Brissot and our poor Arrested Girondins have become Incarcerated Indicted Girondins; universal Jacobinism clamouring for their punishment. Duperret’s Seals are broken! Those Seventy-three Secret Protesters, suddenly one day, are reported upon, are decreed accused; the Convention-doors being ‘previously shut,’ that none implicated might escape. They were marched, in a very rough manner, to Prison that evening. Happy those of them who chanced to be absent! Condorcet has vanished into darkness; perhaps, like Rabaut, sits between two walls, in the house of a friend.

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