The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 7

The Whiff of Grapeshot.

In fact, what can be more natural, one may say inevitable, as a Post–Sansculottic transitionary state, than even this? Confused wreck of a Republic of the Poverties, which ended in Reign of Terror, is arranging itself into such composure as it can. Evangel of Jean–Jacques, and most other Evangels, becoming incredible, what is there for it but return to the old Evangel of Mammon? Contrat–Social is true or untrue, Brotherhood is Brotherhood or Death; but money always will buy money’s worth: in the wreck of human dubitations, this remains indubitable, that Pleasure is pleasant. Aristocracy of Feudal Parchment has passed away with a mighty rushing; and now, by a natural course, we arrive at Aristocracy of the Moneybag. It is the course through which all European Societies are at this hour travelling. Apparently a still baser sort of Aristocracy? An infinitely baser; the basest yet known!

In which however there is this advantage, that, like Anarchy itself, it cannot continue. Hast thou considered how Thought is stronger than Artillery-parks, and (were it fifty years after death and martyrdom, or were it two thousand years) writes and unwrites Acts of Parliament, removes mountains; models the World like soft clay? Also how the beginning of all Thought, worth the name, is Love; and the wise head never yet was, without first the generous heart? The Heavens cease not their bounty: they send us generous hearts into every generation. And now what generous heart can pretend to itself, or be hoodwinked into believing, that Loyalty to the Moneybag is a noble Loyalty? Mammon, cries the generous heart out of all ages and countries, is the basest of known Gods, even of known Devils. In him what glory is there, that ye should worship him? No glory discernable; not even terror: at best, detestability, ill-matched with despicability!—Generous hearts, discerning, on this hand, widespread Wretchedness, dark without and within, moistening its ounce-and-half of bread with tears; and on that hand, mere Balls in fleshcoloured drawers, and inane or foul glitter of such sort,—cannot but ejaculate, cannot but announce: Too much, O divine Mammon; somewhat too much!—The voice of these, once announcing itself, carries fiat and pereat in it, for all things here below.

Meanwhile, we will hate Anarchy as Death, which it is; and the things worse than Anarchy shall be hated more! Surely Peace alone is fruitful. Anarchy is destruction: a burning up, say, of Shams and Insupportabilities; but which leaves Vacancy behind. Know this also, that out of a world of Unwise nothing but an Unwisdom can be made. Arrange it, Constitution-build it, sift it through Ballot–Boxes as thou wilt, it is and remains an Unwisdom,—the new prey of new quacks and unclean things, the latter end of it slightly better than the beginning. Who can bring a wise thing out of men unwise? Not one. And so Vacancy and general Abolition having come for this France, what can Anarchy do more? Let there be Order, were it under the Soldier’s Sword; let there be Peace, that the bounty of the Heavens be not spilt; that what of Wisdom they do send us bring fruit in its season!—It remains to be seen how the quellers of Sansculottism were themselves quelled, and sacred right of Insurrection was blown away by gunpowder: wherewith this singular eventful History called French Revolution ends.

The Convention, driven such a course by wild wind, wild tide, and steerage and non-steerage, these three years, has become weary of its own existence, sees all men weary of it; and wishes heartily to finish. To the last, it has to strive with contradictions: it is now getting fast ready with a Constitution, yet knows no peace. Sieyes, we say, is making the Constitution once more; has as good as made it. Warned by experience, the great Architect alters much, admits much. Distinction of Active and Passive Citizen, that is, Money-qualification for Electors: nay Two Chambers, ‘Council of Ancients,’ as well as ‘Council of Five Hundred;’ to that conclusion have we come! In a like spirit, eschewing that fatal self-denying ordinance of your Old Constituents, we enact not only that actual Convention Members are re-eligible, but that Two-thirds of them must be re-elected. The Active Citizen Electors shall for this time have free choice of only One-third of their National Assembly. Such enactment, of Two-thirds to be re-elected, we append to our Constitution; we submit our Constitution to the Townships of France, and say, Accept both, or reject both. Unsavoury as this appendix may be, the Townships, by overwhelming majority, accept and ratify. With Directory of Five; with Two good Chambers, double-majority of them nominated by ourselves, one hopes this Constitution may prove final. March it will; for the legs of it, the re-elected Two-thirds, are already there, able to march. Sieyes looks at his Paper Fabric with just pride.

But now see how the contumacious Sections, Lepelletier foremost, kick against the pricks! Is it not manifest infraction of one’s Elective Franchise, Rights of Man, and Sovereignty of the People, this appendix of re-electing your Two-thirds? Greedy tyrants who would perpetuate yourselves!—For the truth is, victory over Saint–Antoine, and long right of Insurrection, has spoiled these men. Nay spoiled all men. Consider too how each man was free to hope what he liked; and now there is to be no hope, there is to be fruition, fruition of this.

In men spoiled by long right of Insurrection, what confused ferments will rise, tongues once begun wagging! Journalists declaim, your Lacretelles, Laharpes; Orators spout. There is Royalism traceable in it, and Jacobinism. On the West Frontier, in deep secrecy, Pichegru, durst he trust his Army, is treating with Conde: in these Sections, there spout wolves in sheep’s clothing, masked Emigrants and Royalists! (Napoleon, Las Cases, Choix des Rapports, xvii. 398–411.) All men, as we say, had hoped, each that the Election would do something for his own side: and now there is no Election, or only the third of one. Black is united with white against this clause of the Two-thirds; all the Unruly of France, who see their trade thereby near ending.

Section Lepelletier, after Addresses enough, finds that such clause is a manifest infraction; that it, Lepelletier, for one, will simply not conform thereto; and invites all other free Sections to join it, ‘in central Committee,’ in resistance to oppression. (Deux Amis, xiii. 375–406.) The Sections join it, nearly all; strong with their Forty Thousand fighting men. The Convention therefore may look to itself! Lepelletier, on this 12th day of Vendemiaire, 4th of October 1795, is sitting in open contravention, in its Convent of Filles Saint–Thomas, Rue Vivienne, with guns primed. The Convention has some Five Thousand regular troops at hand; Generals in abundance; and a Fifteen Hundred of miscellaneous persecuted Ultra–Jacobins, whom in this crisis it has hastily got together and armed, under the title Patriots of Eighty-nine. Strong in Law, it sends its General Menou to disarm Lepelletier.

General Menou marches accordingly, with due summons and demonstration; with no result. General Menou, about eight in the evening, finds that he is standing ranked in the Rue Vivienne, emitting vain summonses; with primed guns pointed out of every window at him; and that he cannot disarm Lepelletier. He has to return, with whole skin, but without success; and be thrown into arrest as ‘a traitor.’ Whereupon the whole Forty Thousand join this Lepelletier which cannot be vanquished: to what hand shall a quaking Convention now turn? Our poor Convention, after such voyaging, just entering harbour, so to speak, has struck on the bar;—and labours there frightfully, with breakers roaring round it, Forty thousand of them, like to wash it, and its Sieyes Cargo and the whole future of France, into the deep! Yet one last time, it struggles, ready to perish.

Some call for Barras to be made Commandant; he conquered in Thermidor. Some, what is more to the purpose, bethink them of the Citizen Buonaparte, unemployed Artillery Officer, who took Toulon. A man of head, a man of action: Barras is named Commandant’s-Cloak; this young Artillery Officer is named Commandant. He was in the Gallery at the moment, and heard it; he withdrew, some half hour, to consider with himself: after a half hour of grim compressed considering, to be or not to be, he answers Yea.

And now, a man of head being at the centre of it, the whole matter gets vital. Swift, to Camp of Sablons; to secure the Artillery, there are not twenty men guarding it! A swift Adjutant, Murat is the name of him, gallops; gets thither some minutes within time, for Lepelletier was also on march that way: the Cannon are ours. And now beset this post, and beset that; rapid and firm: at Wicket of the Louvre, in Cul de Sac Dauphin, in Rue Saint–Honore, from Pont Neuf all along the north Quays, southward to Pont ci-devant Royal,—rank round the Sanctuary of the Tuileries, a ring of steel discipline; let every gunner have his match burning, and all men stand to their arms!

Thus there is Permanent-session through night; and thus at sunrise of the morrow, there is seen sacred Insurrection once again: vessel of State labouring on the bar; and tumultuous sea all round her, beating generale, arming and sounding,—not ringing tocsin, for we have left no tocsin but our own in the Pavilion of Unity. It is an imminence of shipwreck, for the whole world to gaze at. Frightfully she labours, that poor ship, within cable-length of port; huge peril for her. However, she has a man at the helm. Insurgent messages, received, and not received; messenger admitted blindfolded; counsel and counter-counsel: the poor ship labours!—Vendemiaire 13th, year 4: curious enough, of all days, it is the Fifth day of October, anniversary of that Menad-march, six years ago; by sacred right of Insurrection we are got thus far.

Lepelletier has seized the Church of Saint–Roch; has seized the Pont Neuf, our piquet there retreating without fire. Stray shots fall from Lepelletier; rattle down on the very Tuileries staircase. On the other hand, women advance dishevelled, shrieking, Peace; Lepelletier behind them waving its hat in sign that we shall fraternise. Steady! The Artillery Officer is steady as bronze; can be quick as lightning. He sends eight hundred muskets with ball-cartridges to the Convention itself; honourable Members shall act with these in case of extremity: whereat they look grave enough. Four of the afternoon is struck. (Moniteur, Seance du 5 Octobre 1795.) Lepelletier, making nothing by messengers, by fraternity or hat-waving, bursts out, along the Southern Quai Voltaire, along streets, and passages, treble-quick, in huge veritable onslaught! Whereupon, thou bronze Artillery Officer —? “Fire!” say the bronze lips. Roar and again roar, continual, volcano-like, goes his great gun, in the Cul de Sac Dauphin against the Church of Saint–Roch; go his great guns on the Pont Royal; go all his great guns;—blow to air some two hundred men, mainly about the Church of Saint–Roch! Lepelletier cannot stand such horse-play; no Sectioner can stand it; the Forty-thousand yield on all sides, scour towards covert. ‘Some hundred or so of them gathered both Theatre de la Republique; but,’ says he, ‘a few shells dislodged them. It was all finished at six.’

The Ship is over the bar, then; free she bounds shoreward,—amid shouting and vivats! Citoyen Buonaparte is ‘named General of the Interior, by acclamation;’ quelled Sections have to disarm in such humour as they may; sacred right of Insurrection is gone for ever! The Sieyes Constitution can disembark itself, and begin marching. The miraculous Convention Ship has got to land;—and is there, shall we figuratively say, changed, as Epic Ships are wont, into a kind of Sea Nymph, never to sail more; to roam the waste Azure, a Miracle in History!

‘It is false,’ says Napoleon, ‘that we fired first with blank charge; it had been a waste of life to do that.’ Most false: the firing was with sharp and sharpest shot: to all men it was plain that here was no sport; the rabbets and plinths of Saint–Roch Church show splintered by it, to this hour.—Singular: in old Broglie’s time, six years ago, this Whiff of Grapeshot was promised; but it could not be given then, could not have profited then. Now, however, the time is come for it, and the man; and behold, you have it; and the thing we specifically call French Revolution is blown into space by it, and become a thing that was! —

Homer’s Epos, it is remarked, is like a Bas-relief sculpture: it does not conclude, but merely ceases. Such, indeed, is the Epos of Universal History itself. Directorates, Consulates, Emperorships, Restorations, Citizen–Kingships succeed this Business in due series, in due genesis one out of the other. Nevertheless the First-parent of all these may be said to have gone to air in the way we see. A Baboeuf Insurrection, next year, will die in the birth; stifled by the Soldiery. A Senate, if tinged with Royalism, can be purged by the Soldiery; and an Eighteenth of Fructidor transacted by the mere shew of bayonets. (Moniteur, du 5 Septembre 1797.) Nay Soldiers’ bayonets can be used a posteriori on a Senate, and make it leap out of window,—still bloodless; and produce an Eighteenth of Brumaire. (9th November 1799, Choix des Rapports, xvii. 1–96.) Such changes must happen: but they are managed by intriguings, caballings, and then by orderly word of command; almost like mere changes of Ministry. Not in general by sacred right of Insurrection, but by milder methods growing ever milder, shall the Events of French history be henceforth brought to pass.

It is admitted that this Directorate, which owned, at its starting, these three things, an ‘old table, a sheet of paper, and an ink-bottle,’ and no visible money or arrangement whatever, (Bailleul, Examen critique des Considerations de Madame de Stael, ii. 275.) did wonders: that France, since the Reign of Terror hushed itself, has been a new France, awakened like a giant out of torpor; and has gone on, in the Internal Life of it, with continual progress. As for the External form and forms of Life,—what can we say except that out of the Eater there comes Strength; out of the Unwise there comes not Wisdom! Shams are burnt up; nay, what as yet is the peculiarity of France, the very Cant of them is burnt up. The new Realities are not yet come: ah no, only Phantasms, Paper models, tentative Prefigurements of such! In France there are now Four Million Landed Properties; that black portent of an Agrarian Law is as it were realised! What is still stranger, we understand all Frenchmen have ‘the right of duel;’ the Hackney-coachman with the Peer, if insult be given: such is the law of Public Opinion. Equality at least in death! The Form of Government is by Citizen King, frequently shot at, not yet shot.

On the whole, therefore, has it not been fulfilled what was prophesied, ex-postfacto indeed, by the Archquack Cagliostro, or another? He, as he looked in rapt vision and amazement into these things, thus spake: (Diamond Necklace, p. 35.) ‘Ha! What is this? Angels, Uriel, Anachiel, and the other Five; Pentagon of Rejuvenescence; Power that destroyed Original Sin; Earth, Heaven, and thou Outer Limbo, which men name Hell! Does the EMPIRE Of IMPOSTURE waver? Burst there, in starry sheen updarting, Light-rays from out its dark foundations; as it rocks and heaves, not in travail-throes, but in death-throes? Yea, Light-rays, piercing, clear, that salute the Heavens,—lo, they kindle it; their starry clearness becomes as red Hellfire!

‘IMPOSTURE is burnt up: one Red-sea of Fire, wild-billowing enwraps the World; with its fire-tongue, licks at the very Stars. Thrones are hurled into it, and Dubois mitres, and Prebendal Stalls that drop fatness, and—ha! what see I?—all the Gigs of Creation; all, all! Wo is me! Never since Pharaoh’s Chariots, in the Red-sea of water, was there wreck of Wheel-vehicles like this in the Sea of Fire. Desolate, as ashes, as gases, shall they wander in the wind. Higher, higher yet flames the Fire–Sea; crackling with new dislocated timber; hissing with leather and prunella. The metal Images are molten; the marble Images become mortar-lime; the stone Mountains sulkily explode. RESPECTABILITY, with all her collected Gigs inflamed for funeral pyre, wailing, leaves the earth: not to return save under new Avatar. Imposture, how it burns, through generations: how it is burnt up; for a time. The World is black ashes; which, ah, when will they grow green? The Images all run into amorphous Corinthian brass; all Dwellings of men destroyed; the very mountains peeled and riven, the valleys black and dead: it is an empty World! Wo to them that shall be born then!—A King, a Queen (ah me!) were hurled in; did rustle once; flew aloft, crackling, like paper-scroll. Iscariot Egalite was hurled in; thou grim De Launay, with thy grim Bastille; whole kindreds and peoples; five millions of mutually destroying Men. For it is the End of the Dominion of IMPOSTURE (which is Darkness and opaque Firedamp); and the burning up, with unquenchable fire, of all the Gigs that are in the Earth.’ This Prophecy, we say, has it not been fulfilled, is it not fulfilling?

And so here, O Reader, has the time come for us two to part. Toilsome was our journeying together; not without offence; but it is done. To me thou wert as a beloved shade, the disembodied or not yet embodied spirit of a Brother. To thee I was but as a Voice. Yet was our relation a kind of sacred one; doubt not that! Whatsoever once sacred things become hollow jargons, yet while the Voice of Man speaks with Man, hast thou not there the living fountain out of which all sacrednesses sprang, and will yet spring? Man, by the nature of him, is definable as ‘an incarnated Word.’ Ill stands it with me if I have spoken falsely: thine also it was to hear truly. Farewell.

Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07