The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 8

The Twenty-two.

Whom next, O Tinville? The next are of a different colour: our poor Arrested Girondin Deputies. What of them could still be laid hold of; our Vergniaud, Brissot, Fauchet, Valaze, Gensonne; the once flower of French Patriotism, Twenty-two by the tale: hither, at Tinville’s Bar, onward from ‘safeguard of the French People,’ from confinement in the Luxembourg, imprisonment in the Conciergerie, have they now, by the course of things, arrived. Fouquier Tinville must give what account of them he can.

Undoubtedly this Trial of the Girondins is the greatest that Fouquier has yet had to do. Twenty-two, all chief Republicans, ranged in a line there; the most eloquent in France; Lawyers too; not without friends in the auditory. How will Tinville prove these men guilty of Royalism, Federalism, Conspiracy against the Republic? Vergniaud’s eloquence awakes once more; ‘draws tears,’ they say. And Journalists report, and the Trial lengthens itself out day after day; ‘threatens to become eternal,’ murmur many. Jacobinism and Municipality rise to the aid of Fouquier. On the 28th of the month, Hebert and others come in deputation to inform a Patriot Convention that the Revolutionary Tribunal is quite ‘shackled by forms of Law;’ that a Patriot Jury ought to have ‘the power of cutting short, of terminer les debats, when they feel themselves convinced.’ Which pregnant suggestion, of cutting short, passes itself, with all despatch, into a Decree.

Accordingly, at ten o’clock on the night of the 30th of October, the Twenty-two, summoned back once more, receive this information, That the Jury feeling themselves convinced have cut short, have brought in their verdict; that the Accused are found guilty, and the Sentence on one and all of them is Death with confiscation of goods.

Loud natural clamour rises among the poor Girondins; tumult; which can only be repressed by the gendarmes. Valaze stabs himself; falls down dead on the spot. The rest, amid loud clamour and confusion, are driven back to their Conciergerie; Lasource exclaiming, “I die on the day when the People have lost their reason; ye will die when they recover it.” (Greek, — Plut. Opp. t. iv. p. 310. ed. Reiske, 1776.) No help! Yielding to violence, the Doomed uplift the Hymn of the Marseillese; return singing to their dungeon.

Riouffe, who was their Prison-mate in these last days, has lovingly recorded what death they made. To our notions, it is not an edifying death. Gay satirical Pot-pourri by Ducos; rhymed Scenes of Tragedy, wherein Barrere and Robespierre discourse with Satan; death’s eve spent in ‘singing’ and ‘sallies of gaiety,’ with ‘discourses on the happiness of peoples:’ these things, and the like of these, we have to accept for what they are worth. It is the manner in which the Girondins make their Last Supper. Valaze, with bloody breast, sleeps cold in death; hears not their singing. Vergniaud has his dose of poison; but it is not enough for his friends, it is enough only for himself; wherefore he flings it from him; presides at this Last Supper of the Girondins, with wild coruscations of eloquence, with song and mirth. Poor human Will struggles to assert itself; if not in this way, then in that. (Memoires de Riouffe in Memoires sur les Prisons, Paris, 1823, p. 48–55.)

But on the morrow morning all Paris is out; such a crowd as no man had seen. The Death-carts, Valaze’s cold corpse stretched among the yet living Twenty-one, roll along. Bareheaded, hands bound; in their shirt-sleeves, coat flung loosely round the neck: so fare the eloquent of France; bemurmured, beshouted. To the shouts of Vive la Republique, some of them keep answering with counter-shouts of Vive la Republique. Others, as Brissot, sit sunk in silence. At the foot of the scaffold they again strike up, with appropriate variations, the Hymn of the Marseillese. Such an act of music; conceive it well! The yet Living chant there; the chorus so rapidly wearing weak! Samson’s axe is rapid; one head per minute, or little less. The chorus is worn out; farewell for evermore ye Girondins. Te–Deum Fauchet has become silent; Valaze’s dead head is lopped: the sickle of the Guillotine has reaped the Girondins all away. ‘The eloquent, the young, the beautiful and brave!’ exclaims Riouffe. O Death, what feast is toward in thy ghastly Halls?

Nor alas, in the far Bourdeaux region, will Girondism fare better. In caves of Saint–Emilion, in loft and cellar, the weariest months, roll on; apparel worn, purse empty; wintry November come; under Tallien and his Guillotine, all hope now gone. Danger drawing ever nigher, difficulty pressing ever straiter, they determine to separate. Not unpathetic the farewell; tall Barbaroux, cheeriest of brave men, stoops to clasp his Louvet: “In what place soever thou findest my mother,” cries he, “try to be instead of a son to her: no resource of mine but I will share with thy Wife, should chance ever lead me where she is.” (Louvet, p. 213.)

Louvet went with Guadet, with Salles and Valady; Barbaroux with Buzot and Petion. Valady soon went southward, on a way of his own. The two friends and Louvet had a miserable day and night; the 14th of November month, 1793. Sunk in wet, weariness and hunger, they knock, on the morrow, for help, at a friend’s country-house; the fainthearted friend refuses to admit them. They stood therefore under trees, in the pouring rain. Flying desperate, Louvet thereupon will to Paris. He sets forth, there and then, splashing the mud on each side of him, with a fresh strength gathered from fury or frenzy. He passes villages, finding ‘the sentry asleep in his box in the thick rain;’ he is gone, before the man can call after him. He bilks Revolutionary Committees; rides in carriers’ carts, covered carts and open; lies hidden in one, under knapsacks and cloaks of soldiers’ wives on the Street of Orleans, while men search for him: has hairbreadth escapes that would fill three romances: finally he gets to Paris to his fair Helpmate; gets to Switzerland, and waits better days.

Poor Guadet and Salles were both taken, ere long; they died by the Guillotine in Bourdeaux; drums beating to drown their voice. Valady also is caught, and guillotined. Barbaroux and his two comrades weathered it longer, into the summer of 1794; but not long enough. One July morning, changing their hiding place, as they have often to do, ‘about a league from Saint–Emilion, they observe a great crowd of country-people;’ doubtless Jacobins come to take them? Barbaroux draws a pistol, shoots himself dead. Alas, and it was not Jacobins; it was harmless villagers going to a village wake. Two days afterwards, Buzot and Petion were found in a Cornfield, their bodies half-eaten with dogs. (Recherches Historiques sur les Girondins in Memoires de Buzot, p. 107.)

Such was the end of Girondism. They arose to regenerate France, these men; and have accomplished this. Alas, whatever quarrel we had with them, has not their cruel fate abolished it? Pity only survives. So many excellent souls of heroes sent down to Hades; they themselves given as a prey of dogs and all manner of birds! But, here too, the will of the Supreme Power was accomplished. As Vergniaud said: ‘The Revolution, like Saturn, is devouring its own children.’

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