The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 4

Lion not dead.

The Convention, borne on the tide of Fortune towards foreign Victory, and driven by the strong wind of Public Opinion towards Clemency and Luxury, is rushing fast; all skill of pilotage is needed, and more than all, in such a velocity.

Curious to see, how we veer and whirl, yet must ever whirl round again, and scud before the wind. If, on the one hand, we re-admit the Protesting Seventy–Three, we, on the other hand, agree to consummate the Apotheosis of Marat; lift his body from the Cordeliers Church, and transport it to the Pantheon of Great Men, — flinging out Mirabeau to make room for him. To no purpose: so strong blows Public Opinion! A Gilt Youthhood, in plaited hair-tresses, tears down his Busts from the Theatre Feydeau; tramples them under foot; scatters them, with vociferation into the Cesspool of Montmartre. (Moniteur, du 25 Septembre 1794, du 4 Fevrier 1795.) Swept is his Chapel from the Place du Carrousel; the Cesspool of Montmartre will receive his very dust. Shorter godhood had no divine man. Some four months in this Pantheon, Temple of All the Immortals; then to the Cesspool, grand Cloaca of Paris and the World! ‘His Busts at one time amounted to four thousand.’ Between Temple of All the Immortals and Cloaca of the World, how are poor human creatures whirled!

Furthermore the question arises, When will the Constitution of Ninety-three, of 1793, come into action? Considerate heads surmise, in all privacy, that the Constitution of Ninety-three will never come into action. Let them busy themselves to get ready a better.

Or, again, where now are the Jacobins? Childless, most decrepit, as we saw, sat the mighty Mother; gnashing not teeth, but empty gums, against a traitorous Thermidorian Convention and the current of things. Twice were Billaud, Collot and Company accused in Convention, by a Lecointre, by a Legendre; and the second time, it was not voted calumnious. Billaud from the Jacobin tribune says, “The lion is not dead, he is only sleeping.” They ask him in Convention, What he means by the awakening of the lion? And bickerings, of an extensive sort, arose in the Palais–Egalite between Tappe-durs and the Gilt Youthhood; cries of “Down with the Jacobins, the Jacoquins,” coquin meaning scoundrel! The Tribune in mid-air gave battle-sound; answered only by silence and uncertain gasps. Talk was, in Government Committees, of ‘suspending’ the Jacobin Sessions. Hark, there! — it is in Allhallow-time, or on the Hallow-eve itself, month ci-devant November, year once named of Grace 1794, sad eve for Jacobinism, — volley of stones dashing through our windows, with jingle and execration! The female Jacobins, famed Tricoteuses with knitting-needles, take flight; are met at the doors by a Gilt Youthhood and ‘mob of four thousand persons;’ are hooted, flouted, hustled; fustigated, in a scandalous manner, cotillons retrousses; — and vanish in mere hysterics. Sally out ye male Jacobins! The male Jacobins sally out; but only to battle, disaster and confusion. So that armed Authority has to intervene: and again on the morrow to intervene; and suspend the Jacobin Sessions forever and a day. (Moniteur, Seances du 10–12 Novembre 1794: Deux Amis, xiii. 43–49.) Gone are the Jacobins; into invisibility; in a storm of laughter and howls. Their place is made a Normal School, the first of the kind seen; it then vanishes into a ‘Market of Thermidor Ninth;’ into a Market of Saint–Honore, where is now peaceable chaffering for poultry and greens. The solemn temples, the great globe itself; the baseless fabric! Are not we such stuff, we and this world of ours, as Dreams are made of?

Maximum being abrogated, Trade was to take its own free course. Alas, Trade, shackled, topsyturvied in the way we saw, and now suddenly let go again, can for the present take no course at all; but only reel and stagger. There is, so to speak, no Trade whatever for the time being. Assignats, long sinking, emitted in such quantities, sink now with an alacrity beyond parallel. “Combien?” said one, to a Hackney-coachman, “What fare?” “Six thousand livres,” answered he: some three hundred pounds sterling, in Paper-money. (Mercier, ii. 94. ‘1st February, 1796: at the Bourse of Paris, the gold louis,’ of 20 francs in silver, ‘costs 5,300 francs in assignats.’ Montgaillard, iv. 419.) Pressure of Maximum withdrawn, the things it compressed likewise withdraw. ‘Two ounces of bread per day’ in the modicum allotted: wide-waving, doleful are the Bakers’ Queues; Farmers’ houses are become pawnbrokers’ shops.

One can imagine, in these circumstances, with what humour Sansculottism growled in its throat, “La Cabarus;” beheld Ci-devants return dancing, the Thermidor effulgence of recivilisation, and Balls in flesh-coloured drawers. Greek tunics and sandals; hosts of Muscadins parading, with their clubs loaded with lead; — and we here, cast out, abhorred, ‘picking offals from the street;’ (Fantin Desodoards, Histoire de la Revolution, vii. c. 4.) agitating in Baker’s Queue for our two ounces of bread! Will the Jacobin lion, which they say is meeting secretly ‘at the Acheveche, in bonnet rouge with loaded pistols,’ not awaken? Seemingly not. Our Collot, our Billaud, Barrere, Vadier, in these last days of March 1795, are found worthy of Deportation, of Banishment beyond seas; and shall, for the present, be trundled off to the Castle of Ham. The lion is dead; — or writhing in death-throes!

Behold, accordingly, on the day they call Twelfth of Germinal (which is also called First of April, not a lucky day), how lively are these streets of Paris once more! Floods of hungry women, of squalid hungry men; ejaculating: “Bread, Bread and the Constitution of Ninety-three!” Paris has risen, once again, like the Ocean-tide; is flowing towards the Tuileries, for Bread and a Constitution. Tuileries Sentries do their best; but it serves not: the Ocean-tide sweeps them away; inundates the Convention Hall itself; howling, “Bread, and the Constitution!”

Unhappy Senators, unhappy People, there is yet, after all toils and broils, no Bread, no Constitution. “Du pain, pas tant de longs discours, Bread, not bursts of Parliamentary eloquence!” so wailed the Menads of Maillard, five years ago and more; so wail ye to this hour. The Convention, with unalterable countenance, with what thought one knows not, keeps its seat in this waste howling chaos; rings its stormbell from the Pavilion of Unity. Section Lepelletier, old Filles Saint–Thomas, who are of the money-changing species; these and Gilt Youthhood fly to the rescue; sweep chaos forth again, with levelled bayonets. Paris is declared ‘in a state of siege.’ Pichegru, Conqueror of Holland, who happens to be here, is named Commandant, till the disturbance end. He, in one day, so to speak, ends it. He accomplishes the transfer of Billaud, Collot and Company; dissipating all opposition ‘by two cannon-shots,’ blank cannon-shots, and the terror of his name; and thereupon announcing, with a Laconicism which should be imitated, “Representatives, your decrees are executed,” (Moniteur, Seance du 13 Germinal (2d April) 1795.) lays down his Commandantship.

This Revolt of Germinal, therefore, has passed, like a vain cry. The Prisoners rest safe in Ham, waiting for ships; some nine hundred ‘chief Terrorists of Paris’ are disarmed. Sansculottism, swept forth with bayonets, has vanished, with its misery, to the bottom of Saint–Antoine and Saint–Marceau. — Time was when Usher Maillard with Menads could alter the course of Legislation; but that time is not. Legislation seems to have got bayonets; Section Lepelletier takes its firelock, not for us! We retire to our dark dens; our cry of hunger is called a Plot of Pitt; the Saloons glitter, the flesh-coloured Drawers gyrate as before. It was for “The Cabarus” then, and her Muscadins and Money-changers, that we fought? It was for Balls in flesh-coloured drawers that we took Feudalism by the beard, and did, and dared, shedding our blood like water? Expressive Silence, muse thou their praise! —

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