The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 2

Death.

In the early days of November, there is one transient glimpse of things that is to be noted: the last transit to his long home of Philippe d’Orleans Egalite. Philippe was ‘decreed accused,’ along with the Girondins, much to his and their surprise; but not tried along with them. They are doomed and dead, some three days, when Philippe, after his long half-year of durance at Marseilles, arrives in Paris. It is, as we calculate, the third of November 1793.

On which same day, two notable Female Prisoners are also put in ward there: Dame Dubarry and Josephine Beauharnais! Dame whilom Countess Dubarry, Unfortunate-female, had returned from London; they snatched her, not only as Ex-harlot of a whilom Majesty, and therefore suspect; but as having ‘furnished the Emigrants with money.’ Contemporaneously with whom, there comes the wife of Beauharnais, soon to be the widow: she that is Josephine Tascher Beauharnais; that shall be Josephine Empress Buonaparte, for a black Divineress of the Tropics prophesied long since that she should be a Queen and more. Likewise, in the same hours, poor Adam Lux, nigh turned in the head, who, according to Foster, ‘has taken no food these three weeks,’ marches to the Guillotine for his Pamphlet on Charlotte Corday: he ‘sprang to the scaffold;’ said he ‘died for her with great joy.’ Amid such fellow-travellers does Philippe arrive. For, be the month named Brumaire year 2 of Liberty, or November year 1793 of Slavery, the Guillotine goes always, Guillotine va toujours.

Enough, Philippe’s indictment is soon drawn, his jury soon convinced. He finds himself made guilty of Royalism, Conspiracy and much else; nay, it is a guilt in him that he voted Louis’s Death, though he answers, “I voted in my soul and conscience.” The doom he finds is death forthwith; this present sixth dim day of November is the last day that Philippe is to see. Philippe, says Montgaillard, thereupon called for breakfast: sufficiency of ‘oysters, two cutlets, best part of an excellent bottle of claret;’ and consumed the same with apparent relish. A Revolutionary Judge, or some official Convention Emissary, then arrived, to signify that he might still do the State some service by revealing the truth about a plot or two. Philippe answered that, on him, in the pass things had come to, the State had, he thought, small claim; that nevertheless, in the interest of Liberty, he, having still some leisure on his hands, was willing, were a reasonable question asked him, to give reasonable answer. And so, says Montgaillard, he lent his elbow on the mantel-piece, and conversed in an under-tone, with great seeming composure; till the leisure was done, or the Emissary went his ways.

At the door of the Conciergerie, Philippe’s attitude was erect and easy, almost commanding. It is five years, all but a few days, since Philippe, within these same stone walls, stood up with an air of graciosity, and asked King Louis, “Whether it was a Royal Session, then, or a Bed of Justice?” O Heaven! — Three poor blackguards were to ride and die with him: some say, they objected to such company, and had to be flung in, neck and heels; (Foster, ii. 628; Montgaillard, iv. 141–57.) but it seems not true. Objecting or not objecting, the gallows-vehicle gets under way. Philippe’s dress is remarked for its elegance; greenfrock, waistcoat of white pique, yellow buckskins, boots clear as Warren: his air, as before, entirely composed, impassive, not to say easy and Brummellean-polite. Through street after street; slowly, amid execrations; — past the Palais Egalite whilom Palais–Royal! The cruel Populace stopped him there, some minutes: Dame de Buffon, it is said, looked out on him, in Jezebel head-tire; along the ashlar Wall, there ran these words in huge tricolor print, REPUBLIC ONE AND INDIVISIBLE; LIBERTY, EQUALITY, FRATERNITY OR DEATH: National Property. Philippe’s eyes flashed hellfire, one instant; but the next instant it was gone, and he sat impassive, Brummellean-polite. On the scaffold, Samson was for drawing of his boots: “tush,” said Philippe, “they will come better off after; let us have done, depechons-nous!”

So Philippe was not without virtue, then? God forbid that there should be any living man without it! He had the virtue to keep living for five-and-forty years; — other virtues perhaps more than we know of. Probably no mortal ever had such things recorded of him: such facts, and also such lies. For he was a Jacobin Prince of the Blood; consider what a combination! Also, unlike any Nero, any Borgia, he lived in the Age of Pamphlets. Enough for us: Chaos has reabsorbed him; may it late or never bear his like again! — Brave young Orleans Egalite, deprived of all, only not deprived of himself, is gone to Coire in the Grisons, under the name of Corby, to teach Mathematics. The Egalite Family is at the darkest depths of the Nadir.

A far nobler Victim follows; one who will claim remembrance from several centuries: Jeanne–Marie Phlipon, the Wife of Roland. Queenly, sublime in her uncomplaining sorrow, seemed she to Riouffe in her Prison. ‘Something more than is usually found in the looks of women painted itself,’ says Riouffe, (Memoires, Sur les Prisons, i., pp. 55–7.) ‘in those large black eyes of hers, full of expression and sweetness. She spoke to me often, at the Grate: we were all attentive round her, in a sort of admiration and astonishment; she expressed herself with a purity, with a harmony and prosody that made her language like music, of which the ear could never have enough. Her conversation was serious, not cold; coming from the mouth of a beautiful woman, it was frank and courageous as that of a great men.’ ‘And yet her maid said: “Before you, she collects her strength; but in her own room, she will sit three hours sometimes, leaning on the window, and weeping.”’ She had been in Prison, liberated once, but recaptured the same hour, ever since the first of June: in agitation and uncertainty; which has gradually settled down into the last stern certainty, that of death. In the Abbaye Prison, she occupied Charlotte Corday’s apartment. Here in the Conciergerie, she speaks with Riouffe, with Ex–Minister Claviere; calls the beheaded Twenty-two “Nos amis, our Friends,” — whom we are soon to follow. During these five months, those Memoirs of hers were written, which all the world still reads.

But now, on the 8th of November, ‘clad in white,’ says Riouffe, ‘with her long black hair hanging down to her girdle,’ she is gone to the Judgment Bar. She returned with a quick step; lifted her finger, to signify to us that she was doomed: her eyes seemed to have been wet. Fouquier–Tinville’s questions had been ‘brutal;’ offended female honour flung them back on him, with scorn, not without tears. And now, short preparation soon done, she shall go her last road. There went with her a certain Lamarche, ‘Director of Assignat printing;’ whose dejection she endeavoured to cheer. Arrived at the foot of the scaffold, she asked for pen and paper, “to write the strange thoughts that were rising in her;” (Memoires de Madame Roland introd., i. 68.) a remarkable request; which was refused. Looking at the Statue of Liberty which stands there, she says bitterly: “O Liberty, what things are done in thy name!” For Lamarche’s sake, she will die first; shew him how easy it is to die: “Contrary to the order” said Samson. — “Pshaw, you cannot refuse the last request of a Lady;” and Samson yielded.

Noble white Vision, with its high queenly face, its soft proud eyes, long black hair flowing down to the girdle; and as brave a heart as ever beat in woman’s bosom! Like a white Grecian Statue, serenely complete, she shines in that black wreck of things; — long memorable. Honour to great Nature who, in Paris City, in the Era of Noble–Sentiment and Pompadourism, can make a Jeanne Phlipon, and nourish her to clear perennial Womanhood, though but on Logics, Encyclopedies, and the Gospel according to Jean–Jacques! Biography will long remember that trait of asking for a pen “to write the strange thoughts that were rising in her.” It is as a little light-beam, shedding softness, and a kind of sacredness, over all that preceded: so in her too there was an Unnameable; she too was a Daughter of the Infinite; there were mysteries which Philosophism had not dreamt of! — She left long written counsels to her little Girl; she said her Husband would not survive her.

Still crueller was the fate of poor Bailly, First National President, First Mayor of Paris: doomed now for Royalism, Fayettism; for that Red–Flag Business of the Champ-de-Mars; — one may say in general, for leaving his Astronomy to meddle with Revolution. It is the 10th of November 1793, a cold bitter drizzling rain, as poor Bailly is led through the streets; howling Populace covering him with curses, with mud; waving over his face a burning or smoking mockery of a Red Flag. Silent, unpitied, sits the innocent old man. Slow faring through the sleety drizzle, they have got to the Champ-de-Mars: Not there! vociferates the cursing Populace; Such blood ought not to stain an Altar of the Fatherland; not there; but on that dungheap by the River-side! So vociferates the cursing Populace; Officiality gives ear to them. The Guillotine is taken down, though with hands numbed by the sleety drizzle; is carried to the River-side, is there set up again, with slow numbness; pulse after pulse still counting itself out in the old man’s weary heart. For hours long; amid curses and bitter frost-rain! “Bailly, thou tremblest,” said one. “Mon ami, it is for cold,” said Bailly, “c’est de froid.” Crueller end had no mortal. (Vie de Bailly in Memoires, i., p. 29.)

Some days afterwards, Roland hearing the news of what happened on the 8th, embraces his kind Friends at Rouen, leaves their kind house which had given him refuge; goes forth, with farewell too sad for tears. On the morrow morning, 16th of the month, ‘some four leagues from Rouen, Paris-ward, near Bourg–Baudoin, in M. Normand’s Avenue,’ there is seen sitting leant against a tree, the figure of rigorous wrinkled man; stiff now in the rigour of death; a cane-sword run through his heart; and at his feet this writing: ‘Whoever thou art that findest me lying, respect my remains: they are those of a man who consecrated all his life to being useful; and who has died as he lived, virtuous and honest.’ ‘Not fear, but indignation, made me quit my retreat, on learning that my Wife had been murdered. I wished not to remain longer on an Earth polluted with crimes.’ (Memoires de Madame Roland introd., i. 88.)

Barnave’s appearance at the Revolutionary Tribunal was of the bravest; but it could not stead him. They have sent for him from Grenoble; to pay the common smart, Vain is eloquence, forensic or other, against the dumb Clotho-shears of Tinville. He is still but two-and-thirty, this Barnave, and has known such changes. Short while ago, we saw him at the top of Fortune’s Wheel, his word a law to all Patriots: and now surely he is at the bottom of the Wheel; in stormful altercation with a Tinville Tribunal, which is dooming him to die! (Foster, ii. 629.) And Petion, once also of the Extreme Left, and named Petion Virtue, where is he? Civilly dead; in the Caves of Saint–Emilion; to be devoured of dogs. And Robespierre, who rode along with him on the shoulders of the people, is in Committee of Salut; civilly alive: not to live always. So giddy-swift whirls and spins this immeasurable tormentum of a Revolution; wild-booming; not to be followed by the eye. Barnave, on the Scaffold, stamped his foot; and looking upwards was heard to ejaculate, “This then is my reward?”

Deputy Ex–Procureur Manuel is already gone; and Deputy Osselin, famed also in August and September, is about to go: and Rabaut, discovered treacherously between his two walls, and the Brother of Rabaut. National Deputies not a few! And Generals: the memory of General Custine cannot be defended by his Son; his Son is already guillotined. Custine the Ex–Noble was replaced by Houchard the Plebeian: he too could not prosper in the North; for him too there was no mercy; he has perished in the Place de la Revolution, after attempting suicide in Prison. And Generals Biron, Beauharnais, Brunet, whatsoever General prospers not; tough old Luckner, with his eyes grown rheumy; Alsatian Westermann, valiant and diligent in La Vendee: none of them can, as the Psalmist sings, his soul from death deliver.

How busy are the Revolutionary Committees; Sections with their Forty Halfpence a-day! Arrestment on arrestment falls quick, continual; followed by death. Ex–Minister Claviere has killed himself in Prison. Ex–Minister Lebrun, seized in a hayloft, under the disguise of a working man, is instantly conducted to death. (Moniteur, 11 Decembre, 30 Decembre, 1793; Louvet, p. 287.) Nay, withal, is it not what Barrere calls ‘coining money on the Place de la Revolution?’ For always the ‘property of the guilty, if property he have,’ is confiscated. To avoid accidents, we even make a Law that suicide shall not defraud us; that a criminal who kills himself does not the less incur forfeiture of goods. Let the guilty tremble, therefore, and the suspect, and the rich, and in a word all manner of culottic men! Luxembourg Palace, once Monsieur’s, has become a huge loathsome Prison; Chantilly Palace too, once Conde’s:— and their Landlords are at Blankenberg, on the wrong side of the Rhine. In Paris are now some Twelve Prisons; in France some Forty-four Thousand: thitherward, thick as brown leaves in Autumn, rustle and travel the suspect; shaken down by Revolutionary Committees, they are swept thitherward, as into their storehouse, — to be consumed by Samson and Tinville. ‘The Guillotine goes not ill, ne va pas mal.’

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