The French Revolution by Thomas Carlyle
Volume III. The Guillotine
Book 3.III. The Girondins
Chapter 3.3.IV. Fatherland in Danger
Or rather we will say, this Senatorial war might have lasted long; and Party tugging and throttling with Party might have suppressed and smothered one another, in the ordinary bloodless Parliamentary way; on one condition: that France had been at least able to exist, all the while. But this Sovereign People has a digestive faculty, and cannot do without bread. Also we are at war, and must have victory; at war with Europe, with Fate and Famine: and behold, in the spring of the year, all victory deserts us.
Dumouriez had his outposts stretched as far as Aix-la-Chapelle, and the beautifullest plan for pouncing on Holland, by stratagem, flat-bottomed boats and rapid intrepidity; wherein too he had prospered so far; but unhappily could prosper no further. Aix-la-Chapelle is lost; Maestricht will not surrender to mere smoke and noise: the flat-bottomed boats must launch themselves again, and return the way they came. Steady now, ye rapidly intrepid men; retreat with firmness, Parthian-like! Alas, were it General Miranda's fault; were it the War-minister's fault; or were it Dumouriez's own fault and that of Fortune: enough, there is nothing for it but retreat,--well if it be not even flight; for already terror-stricken cohorts and stragglers pour off, not waiting for order; flow disastrous, as many as ten thousand of them, without halt till they see France again. (Dumouriez, iv. 16-73.) Nay worse: Dumouriez himself is perhaps secretly turning traitor? Very sharp is the tone in which he writes to our Committees. Commissioners and Jacobin Pillagers have done such incalculable mischief; Hassenfratz sends neither cartridges nor clothing; shoes we have, deceptively 'soled with wood and pasteboard.' Nothing in short is right. Danton and Lacroix, when it was they that were Commissioners, would needs join Belgium to France;--of which Dumouriez might have made the prettiest little Duchy for his own secret behoof! With all these things the General is wroth; and writes to us in a sharp tone. Who knows what this hot little General is meditating? Dumouriez Duke of Belgium or Brabant; and say, Egalite the Younger King of France: there were an end for our Revolution!--Committee of Defence gazes, and shakes its head: who except Danton, defective in suspicion, could still struggle to be of hope?
And General Custine is rolling back from the Rhine Country; conquered Mentz will be reconquered, the Prussians gathering round to bombard it with shot and shell. Mentz may resist, Commissioner Merlin, the Thionviller, 'making sallies, at the head of the besieged;'--resist to the death; but not longer than that. How sad a reverse for Mentz! Brave Foster, brave Lux planted Liberty-trees, amid ca-ira-ing music, in the snow-slush of last winter, there: and made Jacobin Societies; and got the Territory incorporated with France: they came hither to Paris, as Deputies or Delegates, and have their eighteen francs a-day: but see, before once the Liberty-Tree is got rightly in leaf, Mentz is changing into an explosive crater; vomiting fire, bevomited with fire!
Neither of these men shall again see Mentz; they have come hither only to die. Foster has been round the Globe; he saw Cook perish under Owyhee clubs; but like this Paris he has yet seen or suffered nothing. Poverty escorts him: from home there can nothing come, except Job's-news; the eighteen daily francs, which we here as Deputy or Delegate with difficulty 'touch,' are in paper assignats, and sink fast in value. Poverty, disappointment, inaction, obloquy; the brave heart slowly breaking! Such is Foster's lot. For the rest, Demoiselle Theroigne smiles on you in the Soirees; 'a beautiful brownlocked face,' of an exalted temper; and contrives to keep her carriage. Prussian Trenck, the poor subterranean Baron, jargons and jangles in an unmelodious manner. Thomas Paine's face is red-pustuled, 'but the eyes uncommonly bright.' Convention Deputies ask you to dinner: very courteous; and 'we all play at plumsack.' (Forster's Briefwechsel, ii. 514, 460, 631.) 'It is the Explosion and New-creation of a World,' says Foster; 'and the actors in it, such small mean objects, buzzing round one like a handful of flies.'--
Likewise there is war with Spain. Spain will advance through the gorges of the Pyrenees; rustling with Bourbon banners; jingling with artillery and menace. And England has donned the red coat; and marches, with Royal Highness of York,--whom some once spake of inviting to be our King. Changed that humour now: and ever more changing; till no hatefuller thing walk this Earth than a denizen of that tyrannous Island; and Pitt be declared and decreed, with effervescence, 'L'ennemi du genre humain, The enemy of mankind;' and, very singular to say, you make an order that no Soldier of Liberty give quarter to an Englishman. Which order however, the Soldier of Liberty does but partially obey. We will take no Prisoners then, say the Soldiers of Liberty; they shall all be 'Deserters' that we take. (See Dampmartin, Evenemens, ii. 213-30.) It is a frantic order; and attended with inconvenience. For surely, if you give no quarter, the plain issue is that you will get none; and so the business become as broad as it was long.--Our 'recruitment of Three Hundred Thousand men,' which was the decreed force for this year, is like to have work enough laid to its hand.
So many enemies come wending on; penetrating through throats of Mountains, steering over the salt sea; towards all points of our territory; rattling chains at us. Nay worst of all: there is an enemy within our own territory itself. In the early days of March, the Nantes Postbags do not arrive; there arrive only instead of them Conjecture, Apprehension, bodeful wind of Rumour. The bodefullest proves true! Those fanatic Peoples of La Vendee will no longer keep under: their fire of insurrection, heretofore dissipated with difficulty, blazes out anew, after the King's Death, as a wide conflagration; not riot, but civil war. Your Cathelineaus, your Stofflets, Charettes, are other men than was thought: behold how their Peasants, in mere russet and hodden, with their rude arms, rude array, with their fanatic Gaelic frenzy and wild-yelling battle-cry of God and the King, dash at us like a dark whirlwind; and blow the best-disciplined Nationals we can get into panic and sauve-qui-peut! Field after field is theirs; one sees not where it will end. Commandant Santerre may be sent thither; but with non-effect; he might as well have returned and brewed beer.
It has become peremptorily necessary that a National Convention cease arguing, and begin acting. Yield one party of you to the other, and do it swiftly. No theoretic outlook is here, but the close certainty of ruin; the very day that is passing over must be provided for.
It was Friday the eighth of March when this Job's-post from Dumouriez, thickly preceded and escorted by so many other Job's-posts, reached the National Convention. Blank enough are most faces. Little will it avail whether our Septemberers be punished or go unpunished; if Pitt and Cobourg are coming in, with one punishment for us all; nothing now between Paris itself and the Tyrants but a doubtful Dumouriez, and hosts in loose-flowing loud retreat!--Danton the Titan rises in this hour, as always in the hour of need. Great is his voice, reverberating from the domes:--Citizen- Representatives, shall we not, in such crisis of Fate, lay aside discords? Reputation: O what is the reputation of this man or of that? Que mon nom soit fletri, que la France soit libre, Let my name be blighted; let France be free! It is necessary now again that France rise, in swift vengeance, with her million right-hands, with her heart as of one man. Instantaneous recruitment in Paris; let every Section of Paris furnish its thousands; every section of France! Ninety-six Commissioners of us, two for each Section of the Forty-eight, they must go forthwith, and tell Paris what the Country needs of her. Let Eighty more of us be sent, post-haste, over France; to spread the fire-cross, to call forth the might of men. Let the Eighty also be on the road, before this sitting rise. Let them go, and think what their errand is. Speedy Camp of Fifty thousand between Paris and the North Frontier; for Paris will pour forth her volunteers! Shoulder to shoulder; one strong universal death-defiant rising and rushing; we shall hurl back these Sons of Night yet again; and France, in spite of the world, be free! (Moniteur (in Hist. Parl. xxv. 6).)--So sounds the Titan's voice: into all Section-houses; into all French hearts. Sections sit in Permanence, for recruitment, enrolment, that very night. Convention Commissioners, on swift wheels, are carrying the fire-cross from Town to Town, till all France blaze.
And so there is Flag of Fatherland in Danger waving from the Townhall, Black Flag from the top of Notre-Dame Cathedral; there is Proclamation, hot eloquence; Paris rushing out once again to strike its enemies down. That, in such circumstances, Paris was in no mild humour can be conjectured. Agitated streets; still more agitated round the Salle de Manege! Feuillans-Terrace crowds itself with angry Citizens, angrier Citizenesses; Varlet perambulates with portable-chair: ejaculations of no measured kind, as to perfidious fine-spoken Hommes d'etat, friends of Dumouriez, secret- friends of Pitt and Cobourg, burst from the hearts and lips of men. To fight the enemy? Yes, and even to "freeze him with terror, glacer d'effroi;" but first to have domestic Traitors punished! Who are they that, carping and quarrelling, in their jesuitic most moderate way, seek to shackle the Patriotic movement? That divide France against Paris, and poison public opinion in the Departments? That when we ask for bread, and a Maximum fixed-price, treat us with lectures on Free-trade in grains? Can the human stomach satisfy itself with lectures on Free-trade; and are we to fight the Austrians in a moderate manner, or in an immoderate? This Convention must be purged.
"Set up a swift Tribunal for Traitors, a Maximum for Grains:" thus speak with energy the Patriot Volunteers, as they defile through the Convention Hall, just on the wing to the Frontiers;--perorating in that heroical Cambyses' vein of theirs: beshouted by the Galleries and Mountain; bemurmured by the Right-side and Plain. Nor are prodigies wanting: lo, while a Captain of the Section Poissonniere perorates with vehemence about Dumouriez, Maximum, and Crypto-Royalist Traitors, and his troop beat chorus with him, waving their Banner overhead, the eye of a Deputy discerns, in this same Banner, that the cravates or streamers of it have Royal fleurs- de-lys! The Section-Captain shrieks; his troop shriek, horror-struck, and 'trample the Banner under foot:' seemingly the work of some Crypto- Royalist Plotter? Most probable; (Choix des Rapports, xi. 277.)--or perhaps at bottom, only the old Banner of the Section, manufactured prior to the Tenth of August, when such streamers were according to rule! (Hist. Parl. xxv. 72.)
History, looking over the Girondin Memoirs, anxious to disentangle the truth of them from the hysterics, finds these days of March, especially this Sunday the Tenth of March, play a great part. Plots, plots: a plot for murdering the Girondin Deputies; Anarchists and Secret-Royalists plotting, in hellish concert, for that end! The far greater part of which is hysterics. What we do find indisputable is that Louvet and certain Girondins were apprehensive they might be murdered on Saturday, and did not go to the evening sitting: but held council with one another, each inciting his fellow to do something resolute, and end these Anarchists: to which, however, Petion, opening the window, and finding the night very wet, answered only, "Ils ne feront rien," and 'composedly resumed his violin,' says Louvet: (Louvet, Memoires, p. 72.) thereby, with soft Lydian tweedledeeing, to wrap himself against eating cares. Also that Louvet felt especially liable to being killed; that several Girondins went abroad to seek beds: liable to being killed; but were not. Further that, in very truth, Journalist Deputy Gorsas, poisoner of the Departments, he and his Printer had their houses broken into (by a tumult of Patriots, among whom red-capped Varlet, American Fournier loom forth, in the darkness of the rain and riot); had their wives put in fear; their presses, types and circumjacent equipments beaten to ruin; no Mayor interfering in time; Gorsas himself escaping, pistol in hand, 'along the coping of the back wall.' Further that Sunday, the morrow, was not a workday; and the streets were more agitated than ever: Is it a new September, then, that these Anarchists intend? Finally, that no September came;--and also that hysterics, not unnaturally, had reached almost their acme. (Meillan, pp. 23, 24; Louvet, pp. 71-80.)
Vergniaud denounces and deplores; in sweetly turned periods. Section Bonconseil, Good-counsel so-named, not Mauconseil or Ill-counsel as it once was,--does a far notabler thing: demands that Vergniaud, Brissot, Guadet, and other denunciatory fine-spoken Girondins, to the number of Twenty-two, be put under arrest! Section Good-counsel, so named ever since the Tenth of August, is sharply rebuked, like a Section of Ill-counsel; (Moniteur (Seance du 12 Mars), 15 Mars.) but its word is spoken, and will not fall to the ground.
In fact, one thing strikes us in these poor Girondins; their fatal shortness of vision; nay fatal poorness of character, for that is the root of it. They are as strangers to the People they would govern; to the thing they have come to work in. Formulas, Philosophies, Respectabilities, what has been written in Books, and admitted by the Cultivated Classes; this inadequate Scheme of Nature's working is all that Nature, let her work as she will, can reveal to these men. So they perorate and speculate; and call on the Friends of Law, when the question is not Law or No-Law, but Life or No-Life. Pedants of the Revolution, if not Jesuits of it! Their Formalism is great; great also is their Egoism. France rising to fight Austria has been raised only by Plot of the Tenth of March, to kill Twenty- two of them! This Revolution Prodigy, unfolding itself into terrific stature and articulation, by its own laws and Nature's, not by the laws of Formula, has become unintelligible, incredible as an impossibility, the waste chaos of a Dream.' A Republic founded on what they call the Virtues; on what we call the Decencies and Respectabilities: this they will have, and nothing but this. Whatsoever other Republic Nature and Reality send, shall be considered as not sent; as a kind of Nightmare Vision, and thing non-extant; disowned by the Laws of Nature, and of Formula. Alas! Dim for the best eyes is this Reality; and as for these men, they will not look at it with eyes at all, but only through 'facetted spectacles' of Pedantry, wounded Vanity; which yield the most portentous fallacious spectrum. Carping and complaining forever of Plots and Anarchy, they will do one thing: prove, to demonstration, that the Reality will not translate into their Formula; that they and their Formula are incompatible with the Reality: and, in its dark wrath, the Reality will extinguish it and them! What a man kens he cans. But the beginning of a man's doom is that vision be withdrawn from him; that he see not the reality, but a false spectrum of the reality; and, following that, step darkly, with more or less velocity, downwards to the utter Dark; to Ruin, which is the great Sea of Darkness, whither all falsehoods, winding or direct, continually flow!
This Tenth of March we may mark as an epoch in the Girondin destinies; the rage so exasperated itself, the misconception so darkened itself. Many desert the sittings; many come to them armed. (Meillan (Memoires, pp. 85, 24).) An honourable Deputy, setting out after breakfast, must now, besides taking his Notes, see whether his Priming is in order.
Meanwhile with Dumouriez in Belgium it fares ever worse. Were it again General Miranda's fault, or some other's fault, there is no doubt whatever but the 'Battle of Nerwinden,' on the 18th of March, is lost; and our rapid retreat has become a far too rapid one. Victorious Cobourg, with his Austrian prickers, hangs like a dark cloud on the rear of us: Dumouriez never off horseback night or day; engagement every three hours; our whole discomfited Host rolling rapidly inwards, full of rage, suspicion, and sauve-qui-peut! And then Dumouriez himself, what his intents may be? Wicked seemingly and not charitable! His despatches to Committee openly denounce a factious Convention, for the woes it has brought on France and him. And his speeches--for the General has no reticence! The Execution of the Tyrant this Dumouriez calls the Murder of the King. Danton and Lacroix, flying thither as Commissioners once more, return very doubtful; even Danton now doubts.
Three Jacobin Missionaries, Proly, Dubuisson, Pereyra, have flown forth; sped by a wakeful Mother Society: they are struck dumb to hear the General speak. The Convention, according to this General, consists of three hundred scoundrels and four hundred imbeciles: France cannot do without a King. "But we have executed our King." "And what is it to me," hastily cries Dumouriez, a General of no reticence, "whether the King's name be Ludovicus or Jacobus?" "Or Philippus!" rejoins Proly;--and hastens to report progress. Over the Frontiers such hope is there.