The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 6

Grilled Herrings.

So dies Sansculottism, the body of Sansculottism, or is changed. Its ragged Pythian Carmagnole-dance has transformed itself into a Pyrrhic, into a dance of Cabarus Balls. Sansculottism is dead; extinguished by new isms of that kind, which were its own natural progeny; and is buried, we may say, with such deafening jubilation and disharmony of funeral-knell on their part, that only after some half century or so does one begin to learn clearly why it ever was alive.

And yet a meaning lay in it: Sansculottism verily was alive, a New–Birth of TIME; nay it still lives, and is not dead, but changed. The soul of it still lives; still works far and wide, through one bodily shape into another less amorphous, as is the way of cunning Time with his New–Births:— till, in some perfected shape, it embrace the whole circuit of the world! For the wise man may now everywhere discern that he must found on his manhood, not on the garnitures of his manhood. He who, in these Epochs of our Europe, founds on garnitures, formulas, culottisms of what sort soever, is founding on old cloth and sheep-skin, and cannot endure. But as for the body of Sansculottism, that is dead and buried, — and, one hopes, need not reappear, in primary amorphous shape, for another thousand years!

It was the frightfullest thing ever borne of Time? One of the frightfullest. This Convention, now grown Anti–Jacobin, did, with an eye to justify and fortify itself, publish Lists of what the Reign of Terror had perpetrated: Lists of Persons Guillotined. The Lists, cries splenetic Abbe Montgaillard, were not complete. They contain the names of, How many persons thinks the reader? — Two Thousand all but a few. There were above Four Thousand, cries Montgaillard: so many were guillotined, fusilladed, noyaded, done to dire death; of whom Nine Hundred were women. (Montgaillard, iv. 241.) It is a horrible sum of human lives, M. l’Abbe:— some ten times as many shot rightly on a field of battle, and one might have had his Glorious–Victory with Te–Deum. It is not far from the two-hundredth part of what perished in the entire Seven Years War. By which Seven Years War, did not the great Fritz wrench Silesia from the great Theresa; and a Pompadour, stung by epigrams, satisfy herself that she could not be an Agnes Sorel? The head of man is a strange vacant sounding-shell, M. l’Abbe; and studies Cocker to small purpose.

But what if History, somewhere on this Planet, were to hear of a Nation, the third soul of whom had not for thirty weeks each year as many third-rate potatoes as would sustain him? (Report of the Irish Poor–Law Commission, 1836.) History, in that case, feels bound to consider that starvation is starvation; that starvation from age to age presupposes much: History ventures to assert that the French Sansculotte of Ninety-three, who, roused from long death-sleep, could rush at once to the frontiers, and die fighting for an immortal Hope and Faith of Deliverance for him and his, was but the second-miserablest of men! The Irish Sans-potato, had he not senses then, nay a soul? In his frozen darkness, it was bitter for him to die famishing; bitter to see his children famish. It was bitter for him to be a beggar, a liar and a knave. Nay, if that dreary Greenland-wind of benighted Want, perennial from sire to son, had frozen him into a kind of torpor and numb callosity, so that he saw not, felt not, was this, for a creature with a soul in it, some assuagement; or the cruellest wretchedness of all?

Such things were, such things are; and they go on in silence peaceably: and Sansculottisms follow them. History, looking back over this France through long times, back to Turgot’s time for instance, when dumb Drudgery staggered up to its King’s Palace, and in wide expanse of sallow faces, squalor and winged raggedness, presented hieroglyphically its Petition of Grievances; and for answer got hanged on a ‘new gallows forty feet high,’ — confesses mournfully that there is no period to be met with, in which the general Twenty-five Millions of France suffered less than in this period which they name Reign of Terror! But it was not the Dumb Millions that suffered here; it was the Speaking Thousands, and Hundreds, and Units; who shrieked and published, and made the world ring with their wail, as they could and should: that is the grand peculiarity. The frightfullest Births of Time are never the loud-speaking ones, for these soon die; they are the silent ones, which can live from century to century! Anarchy, hateful as Death, is abhorrent to the whole nature of man; and must itself soon die.

Wherefore let all men know what of depth and of height is still revealed in man; and, with fear and wonder, with just sympathy and just antipathy, with clear eye and open heart, contemplate it and appropriate it; and draw innumerable inferences from it. This inference, for example, among the first: ‘That if the gods of this lower world will sit on their glittering thrones, indolent as Epicurus’ gods, with the living Chaos of Ignorance and Hunger weltering uncared for at their feet, and smooth Parasites preaching, Peace, peace, when there is no peace,’ then the dark Chaos, it would seem, will rise; has risen, and O Heavens! has it not tanned their skins into breeches for itself? That there be no second Sansculottism in our Earth for a thousand years, let us understand well what the first was; and let Rich and Poor of us go and do otherwise. — But to our tale.

The Muscadin Sections greatly rejoice; Cabarus Balls gyrate: the well-nigh insoluble problem Republic without Anarchy, have we not solved it? — Law of Fraternity or Death is gone: chimerical Obtain-who-need has become practical Hold-who-have. To anarchic Republic of the Poverties there has succeeded orderly Republic of the Luxuries; which will continue as long as it can.

On the Pont au Change, on the Place de Greve, in long sheds, Mercier, in these summer evenings, saw working men at their repast. One’s allotment of daily bread has sunk to an ounce and a half. ‘Plates containing each three grilled herrings, sprinkled with shorn onions, wetted with a little vinegar; to this add some morsel of boiled prunes, and lentils swimming in a clear sauce: at these frugal tables, the cook’s gridiron hissing near by, and the pot simmering on a fire between two stones, I have seen them ranged by the hundred; consuming, without bread, their scant messes, far too moderate for the keenness of their appetite, and the extent of their stomach.’ (Nouveau Paris, iv. 118.) Seine water, rushing plenteous by, will supply the deficiency.

O man of Toil, thy struggling and thy daring, these six long years of insurrection and tribulation, thou hast profited nothing by it, then? Thou consumest thy herring and water, in the blessed gold-red evening. O why was the Earth so beautiful, becrimsoned with dawn and twilight, if man’s dealings with man were to make it a vale of scarcity, of tears, not even soft tears? Destroying of Bastilles, discomfiting of Brunswicks, fronting of Principalities and Powers, of Earth and Tophet, all that thou hast dared and endured, — it was for a Republic of the Cabarus Saloons? Patience; thou must have patience: the end is not yet.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/carlyle/thomas/french_revolution/v3.7.6.html

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