The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 3

Destruction.

The suspect may well tremble; but how much more the open rebels; — the Girondin Cities of the South! Revolutionary Army is gone forth, under Ronsin the Playwright; six thousand strong; in ‘red nightcap, in tricolor waistcoat, in black-shag trousers, black-shag spencer, with enormous moustachioes, enormous sabre, — in carmagnole complete;’ (See Louvet, p. 301.) and has portable guillotines. Representative Carrier has got to Nantes, by the edge of blazing La Vendee, which Rossignol has literally set on fire: Carrier will try what captives you make, what accomplices they have, Royalist or Girondin: his guillotine goes always, va toujours; and his wool-capped ‘Company of Marat.’ Little children are guillotined, and aged men. Swift as the machine is, it will not serve; the Headsman and all his valets sink, worn down with work; declare that the human muscles can no more. (Deux Amis, xii. 249–51.) Whereupon you must try fusillading; to which perhaps still frightfuller methods may succeed.

In Brest, to like purpose, rules Jean–Bon Saint–Andre; with an Army of Red Nightcaps. In Bourdeaux rules Tallien, with his Isabeau and henchmen: Guadets, Cussys, Salleses, may fall; the bloody Pike and Nightcap bearing supreme sway; the Guillotine coining money. Bristly fox-haired Tallien, once Able Editor, still young in years, is now become most gloomy, potent; a Pluto on Earth, and has the keys of Tartarus. One remarks, however, that a certain Senhorina Cabarus, or call her rather Senhora and wedded not yet widowed Dame de Fontenai, brown beautiful woman, daughter of Cabarus the Spanish merchant, — has softened the red bristly countenance; pleading for herself and friends; and prevailing. The keys of Tartarus, or any kind of power, are something to a woman; gloomy Pluto himself is not insensible to love. Like a new Proserpine, she, by this red gloomy Dis, is gathered; and, they say, softens his stone heart a little.

Maignet, at Orange in the South; Lebon, at Arras in the North, become world’s wonders. Jacobin Popular Tribunal, with its National Representative, perhaps where Girondin Popular Tribunal had lately been, rises here and rises there; wheresoever needed. Fouches, Maignets, Barrases, Frerons scour the Southern Departments; like reapers, with their guillotine-sickle. Many are the labourers, great is the harvest. By the hundred and the thousand, men’s lives are cropt; cast like brands into the burning.

Marseilles is taken, and put under martial law: lo, at Marseilles, what one besmutted red-bearded corn-ear is this which they cut; — one gross Man, we mean, with copper-studded face; plenteous beard, or beard-stubble, of a tile-colour? By Nemesis and the Fatal Sisters, it is Jourdan Coupe-tete! Him they have clutched, in these martial-law districts; him too, with their ‘national razor,’ their rasoir national, they sternly shave away. Low now is Jourdan the Headsman’s own head; — low as Deshuttes’s and Varigny’s, which he sent on pikes, in the Insurrection of Women! No more shall he, as a copper Portent, be seen gyrating through the Cities of the South; no more sit judging, with pipes and brandy, in the Ice-tower of Avignon. The all-hiding Earth has received him, the bloated Tilebeard: may we never look upon his like again! — Jourdan one names; the other Hundreds are not named. Alas, they, like confused faggots, lie massed together for us; counted by the cartload: and yet not an individual faggot-twig of them but had a Life and History; and was cut, not without pangs as when a Kaiser dies!

Least of all cities can Lyons escape. Lyons, which we saw in dread sunblaze, that Autumn night when the Powder-tower sprang aloft, was clearly verging towards a sad end. Inevitable: what could desperate valour and Precy do; Dubois–Crance, deaf as Destiny, stern as Doom, capturing their ‘redouts of cotton-bags;’ hemming them in, ever closer, with his Artillery-lava? Never would that Ci-devant d’Autichamp arrive; never any help from Blankenberg. The Lyons Jacobins were hidden in cellars; the Girondin Municipality waxed pale, in famine, treason and red fire. Precy drew his sword, and some Fifteen Hundred with him; sprang to saddle, to cut their way to Switzerland. They cut fiercely; and were fiercely cut, and cut down; not hundreds, hardly units of them ever saw Switzerland. (Deux Amis, xi. 145.) Lyons, on the 9th of October, surrenders at discretion; it is become a devoted Town. Abbe Lamourette, now Bishop Lamourette, whilom Legislator, he of the old Baiser-l’Amourette or Delilah–Kiss, is seized here, is sent to Paris to be guillotined: ‘he made the sign of the cross,’ they say when Tinville intimated his death-sentence to him; and died as an eloquent Constitutional Bishop. But wo now to all Bishops, Priests, Aristocrats and Federalists that are in Lyons! The manes of Chalier are to be appeased; the Republic, maddened to the Sibylline pitch, has bared her right arm. Behold! Representative Fouche, it is Fouche of Nantes, a name to become well known; he with a Patriot company goes duly, in wondrous Procession, to raise the corpse of Chalier. An Ass, housed in Priest’s cloak, with a mitre on its head, and trailing the Mass–Books, some say the very Bible, at its tail, paces through Lyons streets; escorted by multitudinous Patriotism, by clangour as of the Pit; towards the grave of Martyr Chalier. The body is dug up and burnt: the ashes are collected in an Urn; to be worshipped of Paris Patriotism. The Holy Books were part of the funeral pile; their ashes are scattered to the wind. Amid cries of “Vengeance! Vengeance!” — which, writes Fouche, shall be satisfied. (Moniteur (du 17 Novembre 1793), &c.)

Lyons in fact is a Town to be abolished; not Lyons henceforth but ‘Commune Affranchie, Township Freed;’ the very name of it shall perish. It is to be razed, this once great City, if Jacobinism prophesy right; and a Pillar to be erected on the ruins, with this Inscription, Lyons rebelled against the Republic; Lyons is no more. Fouche, Couthon, Collot, Convention Representatives succeed one another: there is work for the hangman; work for the hammerman, not in building. The very Houses of Aristocrats, we say, are doomed. Paralytic Couthon, borne in a chair, taps on the wall, with emblematic mallet, saying, “La Loi te frappe, The Law strikes thee;” masons, with wedge and crowbar, begin demolition. Crash of downfall, dim ruin and dust-clouds fly in the winter wind. Had Lyons been of soft stuff, it had all vanished in those weeks, and the Jacobin prophecy had been fulfilled. But Towns are not built of soap-froth; Lyons Town is built of stone. Lyons, though it rebelled against the Republic, is to this day.

Neither have the Lyons Girondins all one neck, that you could despatch it at one swoop. Revolutionary Tribunal here, and Military Commission, guillotining, fusillading, do what they can: the kennels of the Place des Terreaux run red; mangled corpses roll down the Rhone. Collot d’Herbois, they say, was once hissed on the Lyons stage: but with what sibilation, of world-catcall or hoarse Tartarean Trumpet, will ye hiss him now, in this his new character of Convention Representative, — not to be repeated! Two hundred and nine men are marched forth over the River, to be shot in mass, by musket and cannon, in the Promenade of the Brotteaux. It is the second of such scenes; the first was of some Seventy. The corpses of the first were flung into the Rhone, but the Rhone stranded some; so these now, of the second lot, are to be buried on land. Their one long grave is dug; they stand ranked, by the loose mould-ridge; the younger of them singing the Marseillaise. Jacobin National Guards give fire; but have again to give fire, and again; and to take the bayonet and the spade, for though the doomed all fall, they do not all die; — and it becomes a butchery too horrible for speech. So that the very Nationals, as they fire, turn away their faces. Collot, snatching the musket from one such National, and levelling it with unmoved countenance, says “It is thus a Republican ought to fire.”

This is the second Fusillade, and happily the last: it is found too hideous; even inconvenient. They were Two hundred and nine marched out; one escaped at the end of the Bridge: yet behold, when you count the corpses, they are Two hundred and ten. Rede us this riddle, O Collot? After long guessing, it is called to mind that two individuals, here in the Brotteaux ground, did attempt to leave the rank, protesting with agony that they were not condemned men, that they were Police Commissaries: which two we repulsed, and disbelieved, and shot with the rest! (Deux Amis, xii. 251–62.) Such is the vengeance of an enraged Republic. Surely this, according to Barrere’s phrase, is Justice ‘under rough forms, sous des formes acerbes.’ But the Republic, as Fouche says, must “march to Liberty over corpses.” Or again as Barrere has it: “None but the dead do not come back, Il n’y a que les morts qui ne reviennent pas.” Terror hovers far and wide: ‘The Guillotine goes not ill.’

But before quitting those Southern regions, over which History can cast only glances from aloft, she will alight for a moment, and look fixedly at one point: the Siege of Toulon. Much battering and bombarding, heating of balls in furnaces or farm-houses, serving of artillery well and ill, attacking of Ollioules Passes, Forts Malbosquet, there has been: as yet to small purpose. We have had General Cartaux here, a whilom Painter elevated in the troubles of Marseilles; General Doppet, a whilom Medical man elevated in the troubles of Piemont, who, under Crance, took Lyons, but cannot take Toulon. Finally we have General Dugommier, a pupil of Washington. Convention Representans also we have had; Barrases, Salicettis, Robespierres the Younger:— also an Artillery Chef de brigade, of extreme diligence, who often takes his nap of sleep among the guns; a short taciturn, olive-complexioned young man, not unknown to us, by name Buonaparte: one of the best Artillery-officers yet met with. And still Toulon is not taken. It is the fourth month now; December, in slave-style; Frostarious or Frimaire, in new-style: and still their cursed Red–Blue Flag flies there. They are provisioned from the Sea; they have seized all heights, felling wood, and fortifying themselves; like the coney, they have built their nest in the rocks.

Meanwhile, Frostarious is not yet become Snowous or Nivose, when a Council of War is called; Instructions have just arrived from Government and Salut Public. Carnot, in Salut Public, has sent us a plan of siege: on which plan General Dugommier has this criticism to make, Commissioner Salicetti has that; and criticisms and plans are very various; when that young Artillery Officer ventures to speak; the same whom we saw snatching sleep among the guns, who has emerged several times in this History, — the name of him Napoleon Buonaparte. It is his humble opinion, for he has been gliding about with spy-glasses, with thoughts, That a certain Fort l’Eguillette can be clutched, as with lion-spring, on the sudden; wherefrom, were it once ours, the very heart of Toulon might be battered, the English Lines were, so to speak, turned inside out, and Hood and our Natural Enemies must next day either put to sea, or be burnt to ashes. Commissioners arch their eyebrows, with negatory sniff: who is this young gentleman with more wit than we all? Brave veteran Dugommier, however, thinks the idea worth a word; questions the young gentleman; becomes convinced; and there is for issue, Try it.

On the taciturn bronze-countenance, therefore, things being now all ready, there sits a grimmer gravity than ever, compressing a hotter central-fire than ever. Yonder, thou seest, is Fort l’Eguillette; a desperate lion-spring, yet a possible one; this day to be tried! — Tried it is; and found good. By stratagem and valour, stealing through ravines, plunging fiery through the fire-tempest, Fort l’Eguillette is clutched at, is carried; the smoke having cleared, wiser the Tricolor fly on it: the bronze-complexioned young man was right. Next morning, Hood, finding the interior of his lines exposed, his defences turned inside out, makes for his shipping. Taking such Royalists as wished it on board with him, he weighs anchor: on this 19th of December 1793, Toulon is once more the Republic’s!

Cannonading has ceased at Toulon; and now the guillotining and fusillading may begin. Civil horrors, truly: but at least that infamy of an English domination is purged away. Let there be Civic Feast universally over France: so reports Barrere, or Painter David; and the Convention assist in a body. (Moniteur, 1793, Nos. 101 (31 Decembre), 95, 96, 98, &c.) Nay, it is said, these infamous English (with an attention rather to their own interests than to ours) set fire to our store-houses, arsenals, warships in Toulon Harbour, before weighing; some score of brave warships, the only ones we now had! However, it did not prosper, though the flame spread far and high; some two ships were burnt, not more; the very galley-slaves ran with buckets to quench. These same proud Ships, Ships l’Orient and the rest, have to carry this same young Man to Egypt first: not yet can they be changed to ashes, or to Sea–Nymphs; not yet to sky-rockets, O Ship l’Orient, nor became the prey of England, — before their time!

And so, over France universally, there is Civic Feast and high-tide: and Toulon sees fusillading, grape-shotting in mass, as Lyons saw; and ‘death is poured out in great floods, vomie a grands flots’ and Twelve thousand Masons are requisitioned from the neighbouring country, to raze Toulon from the face of the Earth. For it is to be razed, so reports Barrere; all but the National Shipping Establishments; and to be called henceforth not Toulon, but Port of the Mountain. There in black death-cloud we must leave it; — hoping only that Toulon too is built of stone; that perhaps even Twelve thousand Masons cannot pull it down, till the fit pass.

One begins to be sick of ‘death vomited in great floods.’ Nevertheless hearest thou not, O reader (for the sound reaches through centuries), in the dead December and January nights, over Nantes Town, — confused noises, as of musketry and tumult, as of rage and lamentation; mingling with the everlasting moan of the Loire waters there? Nantes Town is sunk in sleep; but Representant Carrier is not sleeping, the wool-capped Company of Marat is not sleeping. Why unmoors that flatbottomed craft, that gabarre; about eleven at night; with Ninety Priests under hatches? They are going to Belle Isle? In the middle of the Loire stream, on signal given, the gabarre is scuttled; she sinks with all her cargo. ‘Sentence of Deportation,’ writes Carrier, ‘was executed vertically.’ The Ninety Priests, with their gabarre-coffin, lie deep! It is the first of the Noyades, what we may call Drownages, of Carrier; which have become famous forever.

Guillotining there was at Nantes, till the Headsman sank worn out: then fusillading ‘in the Plain of Saint–Mauve;’ little children fusilladed, and women with children at the breast; children and women, by the hundred and twenty; and by the five hundred, so hot is La Vendee: till the very Jacobins grew sick, and all but the Company of Marat cried, Hold! Wherefore now we have got Noyading; and on the 24th night of Frostarious year 2, which is 14th of December 1793, we have a second Noyade: consisting of ‘a Hundred and Thirty-eight persons.’ (Deux Amis, xii. 266–72; Moniteur, du 2 Janvier 1794.)

Or why waste a gabarre, sinking it with them? Fling them out; fling them out, with their hands tied: pour a continual hail of lead over all the space, till the last struggler of them be sunk! Unsound sleepers of Nantes, and the Sea–Villages thereabouts, hear the musketry amid the night-winds; wonder what the meaning of it is. And women were in that gabarre; whom the Red Nightcaps were stripping naked; who begged, in their agony, that their smocks might not be stript from them. And young children were thrown in, their mothers vainly pleading: “Wolflings,” answered the Company of Marat, “who would grow to be wolves.”

By degrees, daylight itself witnesses Noyades: women and men are tied together, feet and feet, hands and hands: and flung in: this they call Mariage Republicain, Republican Marriage. Cruel is the panther of the woods, the she-bear bereaved of her whelps: but there is in man a hatred crueller than that. Dumb, out of suffering now, as pale swoln corpses, the victims tumble confusedly seaward along the Loire stream; the tide rolling them back: clouds of ravens darken the River; wolves prowl on the shoal-places: Carrier writes, ‘Quel torrent revolutionnaire, What a torrent of Revolution!’ For the man is rabid; and the Time is rabid. These are the Noyades of Carrier; twenty-five by the tale, for what is done in darkness comes to be investigated in sunlight: (Proces de Carrier, 4 tomes, Paris, 1795.) not to be forgotten for centuries, — We will turn to another aspect of the Consummation of Sansculottism; leaving this as the blackest.

But indeed men are all rabid; as the Time is. Representative Lebon, at Arras, dashes his sword into the blood flowing from the Guillotine; exclaims, “How I like it!” Mothers, they say, by his order, have to stand by while the Guillotine devours their children: a band of music is stationed near; and, at the fall of every head, strikes up its ca-ira. (Les Horreures des Prisons d’Arras, Paris, 1823.) In the Burgh of Bedouin, in the Orange region, the Liberty-tree has been cut down over night. Representative Maignet, at Orange, hears of it; burns Bedouin Burgh to the last dog-hutch; guillotines the inhabitants, or drives them into the caves and hills. (Montgaillard, iv. 200.) Republic One and Indivisible! She is the newest Birth of Nature’s waste inorganic Deep, which men name Orcus, Chaos, primeval Night; and knows one law, that of self-preservation. Tigresse Nationale: meddle not with a whisker of her! Swift-crushing is her stroke; look what a paw she spreads; — pity has not entered her heart.

Prudhomme, the dull-blustering Printer and Able Editor, as yet a Jacobin Editor, will become a renegade one, and publish large volumes on these matters, Crimes of the Revolution; adding innumerable lies withal, as if the truth were not sufficient. We, for our part, find it more edifying to know, one good time, that this Republic and National Tigress is a New Birth; a Fact of Nature among Formulas, in an Age of Formulas; and to look, oftenest in silence, how the so genuine Nature–Fact will demean itself among these. For the Formulas are partly genuine, partly delusive, supposititious: we call them, in the language of metaphor, regulated modelled shapes; some of which have bodies and life still in them; most of which, according to a German Writer, have only emptiness, ‘glass-eyes glaring on you with a ghastly affectation of life, and in their interior unclean accumulation of beetles and spiders!’ But the Fact, let all men observe, is a genuine and sincere one; the sincerest of Facts: terrible in its sincerity, as very Death. Whatsoever is equally sincere may front it, and beard it; but whatsoever is not? —

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