La Vendée, by Anthony Trollope

The Poitevins

The history of France in 1792 has been too fully written, and too generally read to leave the novelist any excuse for describing the state of Paris at the close of the summer of that year. It is known to every one that the palace of Louis XVI was sacked on the 10th of August. That he himself with his family took refuge in the National Assembly, and that he was taken thence to the prison of the Temple.

The doings on the fatal 10th of August, and the few following days had, however, various effects in Paris, all of which we do not clearly trace in history. We well know how the Mountain became powerful from that day; that from that day Marat ceased to shun the light, and Danton to curb the licence of his tongue that then, patriotism in France began to totter, and that, from that time, Paris ceased to be a fitting abode for aught that was virtuous, innocent, or high-minded; but the steady march of history cannot stop to let us see the various lights in which the inhabitants of Paris regarded the loss of a King, and the commencement of the first French Republic.

The Assembly, though it had not contemplated the dethronement of the King, acquiesced in it; and acted as it would have done, had the establishment of a republic been decreed by a majority of its members. The municipality had determined that the King should fall, and, of course, rejoiced in the success of its work; and history plainly marking the acquiescence of the Assembly, and the activity of the city powers, naturally passes over the various feelings excited in different circles in Paris, by the overthrow of the monarchy.

Up to that period there was still in Paris much that was high, noble, and delightful. The haute noblesse had generally left the country; but the haute noblesse did not comprise the better educated, or most social families in Paris. Never had there been more talent, more wit, or more beauty in Paris than at the commencement of 1792; never had literary acquirement been more fully appreciated in society, more absolutely necessary in those who were ambitious of social popularity.

There were many of this class in Paris who had hitherto watched the progress of the Revolution with a full reliance in the panacea it was to afford for human woes; many who had sympathized with the early demands of the Tiers État; who had rapturously applauded the Tennis Court oath; who had taken an enthusiastic part in the fête of the Champ de Mars; men who had taught themselves to believe that sin, and avarice, and selfishness were about to be banished from the world by the lights of philosophy; but whom the rancour of the Jacobins, and the furious licence of the city authorities had now robbed of their golden hopes. The dethronement of the King, totally severed many such from the revolutionary party. They found that their high aspirations had been in vain; that their trust in reason had been misplaced, and that the experiment to which they had committed themselves had failed; disgusted, broken-spirited, and betrayed they left the city in crowds, and with few exceptions, the intellectual circles were broken up.

A few of the immediate friends of the King, a few ladies and gentlemen, warmly devoted to the family of Louis XVI, remained in Paris. At the time when the King was first subjected to actual personal restraint, a few young noblemen and gentlemen had formed themselves into a private club, and held their sittings in the Rue Vivienne. Their object was to assist the King in the difficulties with which he was surrounded, and their immediate aim was to withdraw him from the metropolis; Louis’ own oft-repeated indecision alone prevented them from being successful. These royalists were chiefly from the province of Poitou, and as their meetings gradually became known and talked of in Paris, they were called the Poitevins.

They had among them one or two members of the Assembly, but the club chiefly consisted of young noblemen attached to the Court, or of officers in the body-guard of the King; their object, at first, had been to maintain, undiminished, the power of the throne; but they had long since forgotten their solicitude for the King’s power, in their anxiety for his safety and personal freedom.

The storming of the Tuilleries, and the imprisonment of Louis, completely destroyed their body as a club; but the energy of each separate member was raised to the highest pitch. The Poitevins no longer met in the Rue Vivienne, but they separated with a determination on the part of each individual royalist to use every effort to replace the King.

There were three young men in this club, who were destined to play a conspicuous part in the great effort about to be made, in a portion of France, for the restitution of the monarchy; their fathers had lived within a few miles of each other, and though of different ages, and very different dispositions, they had come to Paris together since the commencement of the revolution.

M. de Lescure was a married man, about twenty-seven years of age, of grave and studious habits, but nevertheless of an active temperament. He was humane, charitable, and benevolent: his strongest passion was the love of his fellow-creatures; his pure heart had glowed, at an early age, with unutterable longings for the benefits promised to the human race by the school of philosophy from which the revolution originated. Liberty and fraternity had been with him principles, to have realized which he would willingly have sacrificed his all; but at the commencement of the revolution he had seen with horror the successive encroachments of the lower classes, and from conscience had attached himself to the Crown. Hitherto he had been without opportunity of showing the courage for which he was afterwards so conspicuous; he did not even himself know that he was a brave man; before, however, his career was ended, he had displayed the chivalry of a Bayard, and performed the feats of a Duguescin. A perfect man, we are told, would be a monster; and a certain dry obstinacy of manner, rather than of purpose, preserved de Lescure from the monstrosity of perfection. Circumstances decreed that the latter years of his life should be spent among scenes of bloodshed; that he should be concerned in all the horrors of civil war; that instruments of death should be familiar to his hands, and the groans of the dying continually in his ears. But though the horrors of war were awfully familiar to him, the harshness of war never became so; he spilt no blood that he could spare, he took no life that he could save. The cruelty of his enemies was unable to stifle the humanity of his heart; even a soldier and a servant of the republic became his friend as soon as he was vanquished.

Two young friends had followed M. de Lescure to Paris — Henri de Larochejaquelin and Adolphe Denot. The former was the son of the Marquis de Larochejaquelin, and the heir of an extensive property in Poitou; M. de Lescure and he were cousins, and the strictest friendship had long existed between the families. Young Larochejaquelin was of a temperament very different from that of his friend: he was eager, impetuous, warm-tempered, and fond of society; but he had formed his principles on those of M. de Lescure. The love of his fellow-creatures was not with him the leading passion of his heart, as it was with the other; but humanity had early been instilled into him as the virtue most necessary to cultivate, and he consequently fully appreciated and endeavoured to imitate the philanthropy of his friend.

At the time alluded to, Henri de Larochejaquelin was not quite twenty years of age. He was a lieutenant in the body-guard immediately attached to the King’s person, and called the “Garde du Roi.” At any other period, he would hardly yet have finished his education, but the revolution gave a precocious manhood to the rising generation. Henri’s father, moreover, was very old; he had not married till late in life; and the young Marquis, when he was only seventeen, had to take on himself the guardianship of his sister Agatha, and the management of the paternal property. The old man was unable to leave his chair, and though he still retained his senses, was well pleased to give up to the son of his old age the rights and privileges which in the course of nature would descend to him.

Without being absolutely handsome, young Larochejaquelin was of a very prepossessing appearance. He was tall and robust, well made, and active. Though he had not attained that breadth of shoulder, and expansion of chest, which a few years would probably have given him, he had the perfect use of his limbs, and was full of health and youthful energy; his eyes were bright, and of a clear blue colour; his hair was light, and his upper lip could already boast that ornament which the then age, and his own position made allowable. He was a favourite with all who knew him — more so even than his friend de Lescure; and it is saying much in his favour to declare that a year’s residence amongst all that was beautiful and charming in Paris, had hitherto done but little to spoil him.

Adolphe Denot was an orphan, but also possessed of a fair property in the province of Poitou. He had, when very young, been left to the guardianship of the Marquis de La Rochejaquelin, and had at intervals, during his holidays, and after he had left school, spent much of his time at Durbellière, the family residence of the La Rochejaquelins. Henri had of course contracted a close friendship with him; but this arose more from the position in which they were placed together, than a similarity of disposition. They were, indeed, very unlike; Adolphe was somewhat older than the other, but he had neither his manliness of manner nor strength of character; he was more ambitious to be popular, without the same capacity of making himself so: he had as much romantic love of poetical generosity, without the same forgetfulness of self to enable him to emulate in practice the characters, which he admired in description; he had much veneration for poetic virtue, though but little strength to accomplish practical excellence. He had, on leaving school, proclaimed himself to be an ardent admirer of Rousseau; he had been a warm partizan of the revolution, and had displayed a most devoted enthusiasm to his country at the fête of the Champ de Mars. Latterly, however, the circles which he mostly frequented in Paris had voted strong revolutionary ardour to be mauvais ton; a kind of modulated royalism, or rather Louis Seizeism, had become fashionable; and Adolphe Denot was not the man to remain wilfully out of the fashion. On the 10th of August, he was a staunch supporter of the monarchy.

Adolphe Denot was a much handsomer man than his friend; his features were better formed, and more regular; he had beautifully white teeth, an almost feminine mouth, a straight Grecian nose, and delicately small hands and feet; but he was vain of his person, and ostentatious; fond of dress and of jewellery. He was, moreover, suspicious of neglect, and vindictive when neglected; querulous of others, and intolerant of reproof himself; exigeant among men, and more than politely flattering among women. He was not, however, without talent, and a kind of poetic fecundity of language, which occasionally made him brilliant in society; it was, however, generally speaking, those who knew him least who liked him best.

Larochejaquelin, however, was always true to him; he knew that he was an orphan, without brother, sister, or relatives, and with the devotion of a real friend, he overlooked all his faults, and greatly magnified his talents. For Henri’s sake, M. de Lescure tolerated him, and the three were therefore much together; they came from the same country; they belonged to the same club; they had the same political sympathies; and were looked upon as dear and stedfast friends.

On the 10th of August, the King left the Tuilleries, and took refuge in the National Assembly; during the greater part of the night he remained there with his family. Early on the following morning, he was removed, under a guard, to the Feuillants; and on the 12th it was decided that he should be confined in the prison of the Temple.

It was on the morning of the 12th, that the last meeting of the little club of the Poitevins took place.

They met with throbbing hearts and blank faces; they all felt that evil days had come that the Revolution which had been so petted and caressed by the best and fairest in France, had become a beast of prey, and that war, anarchy, and misrule were at hand.

They sat waiting on the morning of the 12th, till they should learn the decision of the Assembly with regard to the King. De Lescure was there calm and grave, but with much melancholy in his countenance.

Larochejaquelin was there. Hot and eager, whispering plans for rescuing the King, to which the less resolute hardly dared to listen. Charette, the Prince de Talmont, d’Autachamps, Fleuriot, and others, all of whom now detested the Revolution, though they could not but feel the danger of proclaiming themselves royalists.

“Denot will be here directly,” said La Rochejaquelin; “he is at the Assembly — they are not apt to be very tedious in their decisions.”

“Danton has openly declared,” said Fleuriot, “that the armed sections shall remain in revolt, unless the Assembly decree the abolition of the monarchy.”

“Lafayette,” said the Prince, “is the only man now who could save the country — if Lafayette will move, he might still save the throne.”

“He could do nothing,” said d’Autachamps, “but add himself to the ruins — the regiments, to a man, would side with the populace.”

“I don’t know,” said Larochejaquelin, “I don’t think so. See how our Swiss fought — could any men be more true to their officers or their colours? and do you think there are not thousands in the French army as true, as brave as they? If Lafayette would raise his hand, I for one would join him.”

“Wait, Henri, wait,” said de Lescure, “wait till you know whether Lafayette and the army will really be wanting to save the King. If Roland be still firm, and Vergniaud true to his principles, they may still quell the fury of the Jacobins —— the moderate party has still a large majority in the Assembly.”

“Roland and Vergniaud are both true,” said Fleuriot, “but you will find, de Lescure, that they can do nothing but yield or go — they must vanish out of the Assembly and become nothing — or else they must go with the people.”

“The people! How I hate that phrase, in the sense in which it is now used,” said Larochejaquelin. “A mob of blood-thirsty ruffians wishes to overturn the throne — but what evidence have we that the people wish it.”

“The people, Henri, have been taught to wish it,” said de Lescure.

“No, Charles, the people of France have not been taught to wish it — with all the teaching they have had, they do not wish it — have they shewn any favour to the new priests whom the Revolution has sent to them; do they love much the Commissioners, who from time to time, come among them with the orders of the Assembly. Do the people in the Bocage wish it? — do they wish it in the Marais, Charette? — do they wish it in Anjou and Brittany? Danton, Robespierre, and Tallien wish it — the mob of Paris wishes it — but the people of France does not wish to depose their King.”

“But unfortunately,” said d’Autachamps, “it is Danton, Robespierre, and the mob of Paris who have now the supreme power, and for a time will have their way — they who are wise will lie by till the storm has blown over.”

“And are we to remain quiet while we are robbed of every thing which we esteem as holy?” said Larochejaquelin; “are we all to acquiesce in the brutality of such men as Danton, for fear the mob of Paris should be too strong for us?”

“I for one, will not!” said Charette.

“Nor I,” said Larochejaquelin — not while I have a sword to draw, and an arm to use it. You are silent, Charles — is a Republic so much to your mind, that you have not a word, or even a wish for your King?”

“You are too talkative, Henri,” replied the other; “will it not be well to think a little first before we proclaim definitively what we mean to do? We do not even know as yet in what position Louis XVI. may find himself tomorrow — he may be more firmly seated on his throne than he has been at any time since the Three Estates first met at Versailles.”

As he ceased speaking, the door opened, and Adolphe Denot entered, hot with walking fast, and with his whole dress disordered by pushing through the dense masses of the crowd.

“Speak, Adolphe,” said Henri, “have they decreed — has it come to the vote?”

“Are they still sitting?” said Fleuriot; “Danton, I am sure would not have yielded so soon as this:— if the chamber be closed, he must have been victorious.”

“The King,” said Denot, pausing for breath, “the King is to be taken to the Temple!”

There was a momentary silence among them all — their worst fears had been realized — the brute force of Paris had been triumphant. The firmness of Roland, the eloquence of Vergniaud, the patriotism of Guadet had been of no avail. The King of France — the heir of so long a line of royalty — the King, who had discarded the vices of his predecessors, and proved himself the friend of. the people, was to be incarcerated in the worst prison in Paris by the vote of that very Assembly which he had himself called into existence.

“He is to be confined in the Temple,” continued Denot, “with the Queen and the two children. The populace are mad; they would kill him, if they could lay their hands on him.”

“Where are your hopes now, Charles?” said Larochejaquelin. “Is it yet time for us to proclaim what we are — is it yet time for us to move? or are we to set still, until Danton enrolls us in his list of suspected persons?”

No one immediately answered the appeal of the hot young loyalist, and after a moment or two de Lescure spoke.

“Adolphe, did you hear the words of the decree?”

“Again and again,” said Denot. “I was at the door of the Assembly, and the decree was known to the crowd the moment the votes had been taken.”

“But did you hear the exact words?”

“That Louis and his family should be imprisoned in the Temple,” answered Denot.

“Did they say the King, or did they call him by his name?” asked de Lescure again. “Did they decree that the King should be imprisoned, or Louis Capet?”

As he spoke, the door again opened, and another member, who had been among the crowd, entered the room.

“Gentlemen,” said he, “allow me the honour to congratulate you. Yon do not know your own happiness. You are no longer the burdened slaves of an effete monarchy; you are now the vigorous children of a young Republic.”

“Vive le Roi, quand même,” said Larochejaquelin, standing up in the middle of the room. “I am glad they have so plainly declared themselves; we are driven now to do the same. Prince, now is the time to stand by our King. Charette, your hand; our dreams must now be accomplished. You will doubt no longer, Charles. Prudence herself would now feel that we have no longer aught to wait for.”

“No — we must delay no longer,” said Adolphe Denot. “A King is to be saved; every hour of delay is an hour of treason, while the King is in the hands of his enemies.”

“A fine sentiment, Denot,” said d’Autachamps; “but how will you avoid the treason? — how do you purpose to rescue his Majesty?”

“With my sword,” said Adolphe, turning round shortly. “Do you doubt my will?”

“We only doubt your power, Adolphe,” said de Lescure. “We only fear you may not be able to raise the standard of revolt against the armed sections of all Paris, backed by a decree of the Assembly.”

“I can at any rate die in the attempt,” replied Denot. “I cannot draw the breath of life from the atmosphere of a Republic! I will not live by the permission of Messieurs Danton and Robespierre.”

“Whatever we do,” said Fleuriot, “the club must be given up. We are known to be friendly to the King, and we are too weak to stand our ground; indeed, we should only incur useless danger by meeting here”

“And waste the time which we may well employ in the provinces,” said Charette.

“You are right, Charette,” said Rochejaquelin, whom the wildness of his friend Denot had a little sobered. “You are quite right — Paris is no longer a place for us. I will go back to the Bocage; there, at least, I may own among my neighbours that I am not a republican; there, perhaps, I may make some effort for my King — here I can make none. You will not stay in Paris, Charles, to hear unwashed revolutionists clatter of Louis Capet?”

“No, Henri, I also will return home. Charette is right. We should but waste our time in Paris, and be in danger. We shall probably be in safety in Poitou.”

“Perhaps not in safety,” said Henri. “We may, I trust, soon be in action.”

“How in action?” said Fleuriot. “What do you intend to do?”

“To follow any one who will lead me to assist in restoring the King to his throne,” replied Henri. “Let us, at any rate, retire to our provinces; and be assured that the National Assembly will soon hear of us.”

The club was broken up; the young friends met no more in the Rue Vivienne. Within a week from the 10th of August, the denizens of the municipality had searched the rooms for any relics which might be discovered there indicatory of a feeling inimical to the Republic; their residences also were searched, and there were orders at the barriers that they should not pass out; but the future Vendean leaders had too quickly appreciated the signs of the time; they had gone before the revolutionary tribunal had had time to form itself. They were gone, and their names for a season were forgotten in Paris; but Henri Rochejaquelin was right — before long, the National Assembly did hear of them; before twelve months had passed, they were more feared by the Republic, than the allied forces of England, Austria, and Prussia.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43