The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 7

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Tallien’s eyes beamed bright, on the morrow, Ninth of Thermidor ‘about nine o’clock,’ to see that the Convention had actually met. Paris is in rumour: but at least we are met, in Legal Convention here; we have not been snatched seriatim; treated with a Pride’s Purge at the door. “Allons, brave men of the Plain,” late Frogs of the Marsh! cried Tallien with a squeeze of the hand, as he passed in; Saint–Just’s sonorous organ being now audible from the Tribune, and the game of games begun.

Saint–Just is verily reading that Report of his; green Vengeance, in the shape of Robespierre, watching nigh. Behold, however, Saint–Just has read but few sentences, when interruption rises, rapid crescendo; when Tallien starts to his feet, and Billaud, and this man starts and that, — and Tallien, a second time, with his: “Citoyens, at the Jacobins last night, I trembled for the Republic. I said to myself, if the Convention dare not strike the Tyrant, then I myself dare; and with this I will do it, if need be,” said he, whisking out a clear-gleaming Dagger, and brandishing it there: the Steel of Brutus, as we call it. Whereat we all bellow, and brandish, impetuous acclaim. “Tyranny; Dictatorship! Triumvirat!” And the Salut Committee-men accuse, and all men accuse, and uproar, and impetuously acclaim. And Saint–Just is standing motionless, pale of face; Couthon ejaculating, “Triumvir?” with a look at his paralytic legs. And Robespierre is struggling to speak, but President Thuriot is jingling the bell against him, but the Hall is sounding against him like an Aeolus–Hall: and Robespierre is mounting the Tribune-steps and descending again; going and coming, like to choke with rage, terror, desperation:— and mutiny is the order of the day! (Moniteur, Nos. 311, 312; Debats, iv. 421–42; Deux Amis, xii. 390–411.)

O President Thuriot, thou that wert Elector Thuriot, and from the Bastille battlements sawest Saint–Antoine rising like the Ocean-tide, and hast seen much since, sawest thou ever the like of this? Jingle of bell, which thou jinglest against Robespierre, is hardly audible amid the Bedlam-storm; and men rage for life. “President of Assassins,” shrieks Robespierre, “I demand speech of thee for the last time!” It cannot be had. “To you, O virtuous men of the Plain,” cries he, finding audience one moment, “I appeal to you!” The virtuous men of the Plain sit silent as stones. And Thuriot’s bell jingles, and the Hall sounds like Aeolus’s Hall. Robespierre’s frothing lips are grown ‘blue;’ his tongue dry, cleaving to the roof of his mouth. “The blood of Danton chokes him,” cry they. “Accusation! Decree of Accusation!” Thuriot swiftly puts that question. Accusation passes; the incorruptible Maximilien is decreed Accused.

“I demand to share my Brother’s fate, as I have striven to share his virtues,” cries Augustin, the Younger Robespierre: Augustin also is decreed. And Couthon, and Saint–Just, and Lebas, they are all decreed; and packed forth, — not without difficulty, the Ushers almost trembling to obey. Triumvirat and Company are packed forth, into Salut Committee-room; their tongue cleaving to the roof of their mouth. You have but to summon the Municipality; to cashier Commandant Henriot, and launch Arrest at him; to regular formalities; hand Tinville his victims. It is noon: the Aeolus–Hall has delivered itself; blows now victorious, harmonious, as one irresistible wind.

And so the work is finished? One thinks so; and yet it is not so. Alas, there is yet but the first-act finished; three or four other acts still to come; and an uncertain catastrophe! A huge City holds in it so many confusions: seven hundred thousand human heads; not one of which knows what its neighbour is doing, nay not what itself is doing. — See, accordingly, about three in the afternoon, Commandant Henriot, how instead of sitting cashiered, arrested, he gallops along the Quais, followed by Municipal Gendarmes, ‘trampling down several persons!’ For the Townhall sits deliberating, openly insurgent: Barriers to be shut; no Gaoler to admit any Prisoner this day; — and Henriot is galloping towards the Tuileries, to deliver Robespierre. On the Quai de la Ferraillerie, a young Citoyen, walking with his wife, says aloud: “Gendarmes, that man is not your Commandant; he is under arrest.” The Gendarmes strike down the young Citoyen with the flat of their swords. (Precis des evenemens du Neuf Thermidor, par C.A. Meda, ancien Gendarme, Paris, 1825.)

Representatives themselves (as Merlin the Thionviller) who accost him, this puissant Henriot flings into guardhouses. He bursts towards the Tuileries Committee-room, “to speak with Robespierre:” with difficulty, the Ushers and Tuileries Gendarmes, earnestly pleading and drawing sabre, seize this Henriot; get the Henriot Gendarmes persuaded not to fight; get Robespierre and Company packed into hackney-coaches, sent off under escort, to the Luxembourg and other Prisons. This then is the end? May not an exhausted Convention adjourn now, for a little repose and sustenance, ‘at five o’clock?’

An exhausted Convention did it; and repented it. The end was not come; only the end of the second-act. Hark, while exhausted Representatives sit at victuals, — tocsin bursting from all steeples, drums rolling, in the summer evening: Judge Coffinhal is galloping with new Gendarmes to deliver Henriot from Tuileries Committee-room; and does deliver him! Puissant Henriot vaults on horseback; sets to haranguing the Tuileries Gendarmes; corrupts the Tuileries Gendarmes too; trots off with them to Townhall. Alas, and Robespierre is not in Prison: the Gaoler shewed his Municipal order, durst not on pain of his life, admit any Prisoner; the Robespierre Hackney-coaches, in confused jangle and whirl of uncertain Gendarmes, have floated safe — into the Townhall! There sit Robespierre and Company, embraced by Municipals and Jacobins, in sacred right of Insurrection; redacting Proclamations; sounding tocsins; corresponding with Sections and Mother Society. Is not here a pretty enough third-act of a natural Greek Drama; catastrophe more uncertain than ever?

The hasty Convention rushes together again, in the ominous nightfall: President Collot, for the chair is his, enters with long strides, paleness on his face; claps on his hat; says with solemn tone: “Citoyens, armed Villains have beset the Committee-rooms, and got possession of them. The hour is come, to die at our post!” “Oui,” answer one and all: “We swear it!” It is no rhodomontade, this time, but a sad fact and necessity; unless we do at our posts, we must verily die! Swift therefore, Robespierre, Henriot, the Municipality, are declared Rebels; put Hors la Loi, Out of Law. Better still, we appoint Barras Commandant of what Armed–Force is to be had; send Missionary Representatives to all Sections and quarters, to preach, and raise force; will die at least with harness on our back.

What a distracted City; men riding and running, reporting and hearsaying; the Hour clearly in travail, — child not to be named till born! The poor Prisoners in the Luxembourg hear the rumour; tremble for a new September. They see men making signals to them, on skylights and roofs, apparently signals of hope; cannot in the least make out what it is. (Memoires sur les Prisons, ii. 277.) We observe however, in the eventide, as usual, the Death-tumbrils faring South-eastward, through Saint–Antoine, towards their Barrier du Trone. Saint–Antoine’s tough bowels melt; Saint–Antoine surrounds the Tumbrils; says, It shall not be. O Heavens, why should it! Henriot and Gendarmes, scouring the streets that way, bellow, with waved sabres, that it must. Quit hope, ye poor Doomed! The Tumbrils move on.

But in this set of Tumbrils there are two other things notable: one notable person; and one want of a notable person. The notable person is Lieutenant–General Loiserolles, a nobleman by birth, and by nature; laying down his life here for his son. In the Prison of Saint–Lazare, the night before last, hurrying to the Grate to hear the Death-list read, he caught the name of his son. The son was asleep at the moment. “I am Loiserolles,” cried the old man: at Tinville’s bar, an error in the Christian name is little; small objection was made. The want of the notable person, again, is that of Deputy Paine! Paine has sat in the Luxembourg since January; and seemed forgotten; but Fouquier had pricked him at last. The Turnkey, List in hand, is marking with chalk the outer doors of to-morrow’s Fournee. Paine’s outer door happened to be open, turned back on the wall; the Turnkey marked it on the side next him, and hurried on: another Turnkey came, and shut it; no chalk-mark now visible, the Fournee went without Paine. Paine’s life lay not there. —

Our fifth-act, of this natural Greek Drama, with its natural unities, can only be painted in gross; somewhat as that antique Painter, driven desperate, did the foam! For through this blessed July night, there is clangour, confusion very great, of marching troops; of Sections going this way, Sections going that; of Missionary Representatives reading Proclamations by torchlight; Missionary Legendre, who has raised force somewhere, emptying out the Jacobins, and flinging their key on the Convention table: “I have locked their door; it shall be Virtue that re-opens it.” Paris, we say, is set against itself, rushing confused, as Ocean-currents do; a huge Mahlstrom, sounding there, under cloud of night. Convention sits permanent on this hand; Municipality most permanent on that. The poor Prisoners hear tocsin and rumour; strive to bethink them of the signals apparently of hope. Meek continual Twilight streaming up, which will be Dawn and a To-morrow, silvers the Northern hem of Night; it wends and wends there, that meek brightness, like a silent prophecy, along the great Ring–Dial of the Heaven. So still, eternal! And on Earth all is confused shadow and conflict; dissidence, tumultuous gloom and glare; and Destiny as yet shakes her doubtful urn.

About three in the morning, the dissident Armed–Forces have met. Henriot’s Armed Force stood ranked in the Place de Greve; and now Barras’s, which he has recruited, arrives there; and they front each other, cannon bristling against cannon. Citoyens! cries the voice of Discretion, loudly enough, Before coming to bloodshed, to endless civil-war, hear the Convention Decree read: ‘Robespierre and all rebels Out of Law!’ — Out of Law? There is terror in the sound: unarmed Citoyens disperse rapidly home; Municipal Cannoneers range themselves on the Convention side, with shouting. At which shout, Henriot descends from his upper room, far gone in drink as some say; finds his Place de Greve empty; the cannons’ mouth turned towards him; and, on the whole, — that it is now the catastrophe!

Stumbling in again, the wretched drunk-sobered Henriot announces: “All is lost!” “Miserable! it is thou that hast lost it,” cry they: and fling him, or else he flings himself, out of window: far enough down; into masonwork and horror of cesspool; not into death but worse. Augustin Robespierre follows him; with the like fate. Saint–Just called on Lebas to kill him: who would not. Couthon crept under a table; attempting to kill himself; not doing it. — On entering that Sanhedrim of Insurrection, we find all as good as extinct; undone, ready for seizure. Robespierre was sitting on a chair, with pistol shot blown through, not his head, but his under jaw; the suicidal hand had failed. (Meda. p. 384.) Meda asserts that it was he who, with infinite courage, though in a lefthanded manner, shot Robespierre. Meda got promoted for his services of this night; and died General and Baron. Few credited Meda (in what was otherwise incredible.) With prompt zeal, not without trouble, we gather these wretched Conspirators; fish up even Henriot and Augustin, bleeding and foul; pack them all, rudely enough, into carts; and shall, before sunrise, have them safe under lock and key. Amid shoutings and embracings.

Robespierre lay in an anteroom of the Convention Hall, while his Prison-escort was getting ready; the mangled jaw bound up rudely with bloody linen: a spectacle to men. He lies stretched on a table, a deal-box his pillow; the sheath of the pistol is still clenched convulsively in his hand. Men bully him, insult him: his eyes still indicate intelligence; he speaks no word. ‘He had on the sky-blue coat he had got made for the Feast of the Etre Supreme’ — O reader, can thy hard heart hold out against that? His trousers were nankeen; the stockings had fallen down over the ankles. He spake no word more in this world.

And so, at six in the morning, a victorious Convention adjourns. Report flies over Paris as on golden wings; penetrates the Prisons; irradiates the faces of those that were ready to perish: turnkeys and moutons, fallen from their high estate, look mute and blue. It is the 28th day of July, called 10th of Thermidor, year 1794.

Fouquier had but to identify; his Prisoners being already Out of Law. At four in the afternoon, never before were the streets of Paris seen so crowded. From the Palais de Justice to the Place de la Revolution, for thither again go the Tumbrils this time, it is one dense stirring mass; all windows crammed; the very roofs and ridge-tiles budding forth human Curiosity, in strange gladness. The Death-tumbrils, with their motley Batch of Outlaws, some Twenty-three or so, from Maximilien to Mayor Fleuriot and Simon the Cordwainer, roll on. All eyes are on Robespierre’s Tumbril, where he, his jaw bound in dirty linen, with his half-dead Brother, and half-dead Henriot, lie shattered; their ‘seventeen hours’ of agony about to end. The Gendarmes point their swords at him, to shew the people which is he. A woman springs on the Tumbril; clutching the side of it with one hand; waving the other Sibyl-like; and exclaims: “The death of thee gladdens my very heart, m’enivre de joie;” Robespierre opened his eyes; “Scelerat, go down to Hell, with the curses of all wives and mothers!” — At the foot of the scaffold, they stretched him on the ground till his turn came. Lifted aloft, his eyes again opened; caught the bloody axe. Samson wrenched the coat off him; wrenched the dirty linen from his jaw: the jaw fell powerless, there burst from him a cry; — hideous to hear and see. Samson, thou canst not be too quick!

Samson’s work done, there burst forth shout on shout of applause. Shout, which prolongs itself not only over Paris, but over France, but over Europe, and down to this Generation. Deservedly, and also undeservedly. O unhappiest Advocate of Arras, wert thou worse than other Advocates? Stricter man, according to his Formula, to his Credo and his Cant, of probities, benevolences, pleasures-of-virtue, and such like, lived not in that age. A man fitted, in some luckier settled age, to have become one of those incorruptible barren Pattern–Figures, and have had marble-tablets and funeral-sermons! His poor landlord, the Cabinetmaker in the Rue Saint–Honore, loved him; his Brother died for him. May God be merciful to him, and to us.

This is end of the Reign of Terror; new glorious Revolution named of Thermidor; of Thermidor 9th, year 2; which being interpreted into old slave-style means 27th of July, 1794. Terror is ended; and death in the Place de la Revolution, were the ‘Tail of Robespierre’ once executed; which service Fouquier in large Batches is swiftly managing.

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