The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 3

Quiberon.

But indeed do not these long-flowing hair-queues of a Jeunesse Doree in semi-military costume betoken, unconsciously, another still more important tendency? The Republic, abhorrent of her Guillotine, loves her Army.

And with cause. For, surely, if good fighting be a kind of honour, as it is, in its season; and be with the vulgar of men, even the chief kind of honour, then here is good fighting, in good season, if there ever was. These Sons of the Republic, they rose, in mad wrath, to deliver her from Slavery and Cimmeria. And have they not done it? Through Maritime Alps, through gorges of Pyrenees, through Low Countries, Northward along the Rhine-valley, far is Cimmeria hurled back from the sacred Motherland. Fierce as fire, they have carried her Tricolor over the faces of all her enemies; — over scarped heights, over cannon-batteries; down, as with the Vengeur, into the dead deep sea. She has ‘Eleven hundred thousand fighters on foot,’ this Republic: ‘At one particular moment she had,’ or supposed she had, ‘seventeen hundred thousand.’ (Toulongeon, iii. c. 7; v. c. 10, p. 194.) Like a ring of lightning, they, volleying and ca-ira-ing, begirdle her from shore to shore. Cimmerian Coalition of Despots recoils; smitten with astonishment, and strange pangs.

Such a fire is in these Gaelic Republican men; high-blazing; which no Coalition can withstand! Not scutcheons, with four degrees of nobility; but ci-devant Serjeants, who have had to clutch Generalship out of the cannon’s throat, a Pichegru, a Jourdan, a Hoche, lead them on. They have bread, they have iron; ‘with bread and iron you can get to China.’ — See Pichegru’s soldiers, this hard winter, in their looped and windowed destitution, in their ‘straw-rope shoes and cloaks of bass-mat,’ how they overrun Holland, like a demon-host, the ice having bridged all waters; and rush shouting from victory to victory! Ships in the Texel are taken by huzzars on horseback: fled is York; fled is the Stadtholder, glad to escape to England, and leave Holland to fraternise. (19th January, 1795, Montgaillard, iv. 287–311.) Such a Gaelic fire, we say, blazes in this People, like the conflagration of grass and dry-jungle; which no mortal can withstand — for the moment.

And even so it will blaze and run, scorching all things; and, from Cadiz to Archangel, mad Sansculottism, drilled now into Soldiership, led on by some ‘armed Soldier of Democracy’ (say, that Monosyllabic Artillery–Officer), will set its foot cruelly on the necks of its enemies; and its shouting and their shrieking shall fill the world! — Rash Coalised Kings, such a fire have ye kindled; yourselves fireless, your fighters animated only by drill-serjeants, messroom moralities, and the drummer’s cat! However, it is begun, and will not end: not for a matter of twenty years. So long, this Gaelic fire, through its successive changes of colour and character, will blaze over the face of Europe, and afflict the scorch all men:— till it provoke all men; till it kindle another kind of fire, the Teutonic kind, namely; and be swallowed up, so to speak, in a day! For there is a fire comparable to the burning of dry-jungle and grass; most sudden, high-blazing: and another fire which we liken to the burning of coal, or even of anthracite coal; difficult to kindle, but then which nothing will put out. The ready Gaelic fire, we can remark further, and remark not in Pichegrus only, but in innumerable Voltaires, Racines, Laplaces, no less; for a man, whether he fight, or sing, or think, will remain the same unity of a man, — is admirable for roasting eggs, in every conceivable sense. The Teutonic anthracite again, as we see in Luthers, Leibnitzes, Shakespeares, is preferable for smelting metals. How happy is our Europe that has both kinds! —

But be this as it may, the Republic is clearly triumphing. In the spring of the year Mentz Town again sees itself besieged; will again change master: did not Merlin the Thionviller, ‘with wild beard and look,’ say it was not for the last time they saw him there? The Elector of Mentz circulates among his brother Potentates this pertinent query, Were it not advisable to treat of Peace? Yes! answers many an Elector from the bottom of his heart. But, on the other hand, Austria hesitates; finally refuses, being subsidied by Pitt. As to Pitt, whoever hesitate, he, suspending his Habeas-corpus, suspending his Cash-payments, stands inflexible, — spite of foreign reverses; spite of domestic obstacles, of Scotch National Conventions and English Friends of the People, whom he is obliged to arraign, to hang, or even to see acquitted with jubilee: a lean inflexible man. The Majesty of Spain, as we predicted, makes Peace; also the Majesty of Prussia: and there is a Treaty of Bale. (5th April, 1795, Montgaillard, iv. 319.) Treaty with black Anarchists and Regicides! Alas, what help? You cannot hang this Anarchy; it is like to hang you: you must needs treat with it.

Likewise, General Hoche has even succeeded in pacificating La Vendee. Rogue Rossignol and his ‘Infernal Columns’ have vanished: by firmness and justice, by sagacity and industry, General Hoche has done it. Taking ‘Movable Columns,’ not infernal; girdling-in the Country; pardoning the submissive, cutting down the resistive, limb after limb of the Revolt is brought under. La Rochejacquelin, last of our Nobles, fell in battle; Stofflet himself makes terms; Georges–Cadoudal is back to Brittany, among his Chouans: the frightful gangrene of La Vendee seems veritably extirpated. It has cost, as they reckon in round numbers, the lives of a Hundred Thousand fellow-mortals; with noyadings, conflagratings by infernal column, which defy arithmetic. This is the La Vendee War. (Histoire de la Guerre de la Vendee, par M. le Comte de Vauban, Memoires de Madame de la Rochejacquelin, &c.)

Nay in few months, it does burst up once more, but once only:— blown upon by Pitt, by our Ci-devant Puisaye of Calvados, and others. In the month of July 1795, English Ships will ride in Quiberon roads. There will be debarkation of chivalrous Ci-devants, of volunteer Prisoners-of-war — eager to desert; of fire-arms, Proclamations, clothes-chests, Royalists and specie. Whereupon also, on the Republican side, there will be rapid stand-to-arms; with ambuscade marchings by Quiberon beach, at midnight; storming of Fort Penthievre; war-thunder mingling with the roar of the nightly main; and such a morning light as has seldom dawned; debarkation hurled back into its boats, or into the devouring billows, with wreck and wail; — in one word, a Ci-devant Puisaye as totally ineffectual here as he was in Calvados, when he rode from Vernon Castle without boots. (Deux Amis, xiv. 94–106; Puisaye, Memoires, iii-vii.)

Again, therefore, it has cost the lives of many a brave man. Among whom the whole world laments the brave Son of Sombreuil. Ill-fated family! The father and younger son went to the guillotine; the heroic daughter languishes, reduced to want, hides her woes from History: the elder son perishes here; shot by military tribunal as an Emigrant; Hoche himself cannot save him. If all wars, civil and other, are misunderstandings, what a thing must right-understanding be!

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