The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 4

Mumbo–Jumbo.

But on the day they call Decadi, New–Sabbath, 20 Prairial, 8th June by old style, what thing is this going forward, in the Jardin National, whilom Tuileries Garden?

All the world is there, in holydays clothes: (Vilate, Causes Secretes de la Revolution de 9 Thermidor.) foul linen went out with the Hebertists; nay Robespierre, for one, would never once countenance that; but went always elegant and frizzled, not without vanity even, — and had his room hung round with seagreen Portraits and Busts. In holyday clothes, we say, are the innumerable Citoyens and Citoyennes: the weather is of the brightest; cheerful expectation lights all countenances. Juryman Vilate gives breakfast to many a Deputy, in his official Apartment, in the Pavillon ci-devant of Flora; rejoices in the bright-looking multitudes, in the brightness of leafy June, in the auspicious Decadi, or New–Sabbath. This day, if it please Heaven, we are to have, on improved Anti–Chaumette principles: a New Religion.

Catholicism being burned out, and Reason-worship guillotined, was there not need of one? Incorruptible Robespierre, not unlike the Ancients, as Legislator of a free people will now also be Priest and Prophet. He has donned his sky-blue coat, made for the occasion; white silk waistcoat broidered with silver, black silk breeches, white stockings, shoe-buckles of gold. He is President of the Convention; he has made the Convention decree, so they name it, decreter the ‘Existence of the Supreme Being,’ and likewise ‘ce principe consolateur of the Immortality of the Soul.’ These consolatory principles, the basis of rational Republican Religion, are getting decreed; and here, on this blessed Decadi, by help of Heaven and Painter David, is to be our first act of worship.

See, accordingly, how after Decree passed, and what has been called ‘the scraggiest Prophetic Discourse ever uttered by man,’ — Mahomet Robespierre, in sky-blue coat and black breeches, frizzled and powdered to perfection, bearing in his hand a bouquet of flowers and wheat-ears, issues proudly from the Convention Hall; Convention following him, yet, as is remarked, with an interval. Amphitheatre has been raised, or at least Monticule or Elevation; hideous Statues of Atheism, Anarchy and such like, thanks to Heaven and Painter David, strike abhorrence into the heart. Unluckily however, our Monticule is too small. On the top of it not half of us can stand; wherefore there arises indecent shoving, nay treasonous irreverent growling. Peace, thou Bourdon de l’Oise; peace, or it may be worse for thee!

The seagreen Pontiff takes a torch, Painter David handing it; mouths some other froth-rant of vocables, which happily one cannot hear; strides resolutely forward, in sight of expectant France; sets his torch to Atheism and Company, which are but made of pasteboard steeped in turpentine. They burn up rapidly; and, from within, there rises ‘by machinery’ an incombustible Statue of Wisdom, which, by ill hap, gets besmoked a little; but does stand there visible in as serene attitude as it can.

And then? Why, then, there is other Processioning, scraggy Discoursing, and — this is our Feast of the Etre Supreme; our new Religion, better or worse, is come! — Look at it one moment, O Reader, not two. The Shabbiest page of Human Annals: or is there, that thou wottest of, one shabbier? Mumbo–Jumbo of the African woods to me seems venerable beside this new Deity of Robespierre; for this is a conscious Mumbo–Jumbo, and knows that he is machinery. O seagreen Prophet, unhappiest of windbags blown nigh to bursting, what distracted Chimera among realities are thou growing to! This then, this common pitch-link for artificial fireworks of turpentine and pasteboard; this is the miraculous Aaron’s Rod thou wilt stretch over a hag-ridden hell-ridden France, and bid her plagues cease? Vanish, thou and it! — “Avec ton Etre Supreme,” said Billaud, “tu commences m’embeter: With thy Etre Supreme thou beginnest to be a bore to me.” (See Vilate, Causes Secretes. Vilate’s Narrative is very curious; but is not to be taken as true, without sifting; being, at bottom, in spite of its title, not a Narrative but a Pleading.)

Catherine Theot, on the other hand, ‘an ancient serving-maid seventy-nine years of age,’ inured to Prophecy and the Bastille from of old, sits, in an upper room in the Rue-de-Contrescarpe, poring over the Book of Revelations, with an eye to Robespierre; finds that this astonishing thrice-potent Maximilien really is the Man spoken of by Prophets, who is to make the Earth young again. With her sit devout old Marchionesses, ci-devant honourable women; among whom Old–Constituent Dom Gerle, with his addle head, cannot be wanting. They sit there, in the Rue-de-Contrescarpe; in mysterious adoration: Mumbo is Mumbo, and Robespierre is his Prophet. A conspicuous man this Robespierre. He has his volunteer Bodyguard of Tappe-durs, let us say Strike-sharps, fierce Patriots with feruled sticks; and Jacobins kissing the hem of his garment. He enjoys the admiration of many, the worship of some; and is well worth the wonder of one and all.

The grand question and hope, however, is: Will not this Feast of the Tuileries Mumbo–Jumbo be a sign perhaps that the Guillotine is to abate? Far enough from that! Precisely on the second day after it, Couthon, one of the ‘three shallow scoundrels,’ gets himself lifted into the Tribune; produces a bundle of papers. Couthon proposes that, as Plots still abound, the Law of the Suspect shall have extension, and Arrestment new vigour and facility. Further that, as in such case business is like to be heavy, our Revolutionary Tribunal too shall have extension; be divided, say, into Four Tribunals, each with its President, each with its Fouquier or Substitute of Fouquier, all labouring at once, and any remnant of shackle or dilatory formality be struck off: in this way it may perhaps still overtake the work. Such is Couthon’s Decree of the Twenty-second Prairial, famed in those times. At hearing of which Decree the very Mountain gasped, awestruck; and one Ruamps ventured to say that if it passed without adjournment and discussion, he, as one Representative, “would blow his brains out.” Vain saying! The Incorruptible knit his brows; spoke a prophetic fateful word or two: the Law of Prairial is Law; Ruamps glad to leave his rash brains where they are. Death, then, and always Death! Even so. Fouquier is enlarging his borders; making room for Batches of a Hundred and fifty at once; — getting a Guillotine set up, of improved velocity, and to work under cover, in the apartment close by. So that Salut itself has to intervene, and forbid him: “Wilt thou demoralise the Guillotine,” asks Collot, reproachfully, “demoraliser le supplice!”

There is indeed danger of that; were not the Republican faith great, it were already done. See, for example, on the 17th of June, what a Batch, Fifty-four at once! Swart Amiral is here, he of the pistol that missed fire; young Cecile Renault, with her father, family, entire kith and kin; the widow of d’Espremenil; old M. de Sombreuil of the Invalides, with his Son, — poor old Sombreuil, seventy-three years old, his Daughter saved him in September, and it was but for this. Faction of the Stranger, fifty-four of them! In red shirts and smocks, as Assassins and Faction of the Stranger, they flit along there; red baleful Phantasmagory, towards the land of Phantoms.

Meanwhile will not the people of the Place de la Revolution, the inhabitants along the Rue Saint–Honore, as these continual Tumbrils pass, begin to look gloomy? Republicans too have bowels. The Guillotine is shifted, then again shifted; finally set up at the remote extremity of the South–East: (Montgaillard, iv. 237.) Suburbs Saint–Antoine and Saint–Marceau it is to be hoped, if they have bowels, have very tough ones.

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