The French Revolution by Thomas Carlyle
Volume III. The Guillotine
Book 3.VII. Vendemiaire
Chapter 3.7.V. Lion sprawling its last
Representative Carrier went to the Guillotine, in December last; protesting that he acted by orders. The Revolutionary Tribunal, after all it has devoured, has now only, as Anarchic things do, to devour itself. In the early days of May, men see a remarkable thing: Fouquier-Tinville pleading at the Bar once his own. He and his chief Jurymen, Leroi August-Tenth, Juryman Vilate, a Batch of Sixteen; pleading hard, protesting that they acted by orders: but pleading in vain. Thus men break the axe with which they have done hateful things; the axe itself having grown hateful. For the rest, Fouquier died hard enough: "Where are thy Batches?" howled the People.--"Hungry canaille," asked Fouquier, "is thy Bread cheaper, wanting them?"
Remarkable Fouquier; once but as other Attorneys and Law-beagles, which hunt ravenous on this Earth, a well-known phasis of human nature; and now thou art and remainest the most remarkable Attorney that ever lived and hunted in the Upper Air! For, in this terrestrial Course of Time, there was to be an Avatar of Attorneyism; the Heavens had said, Let there be an Incarnation, not divine, of the venatory Attorney-spirit which keeps its eye on the bond only;--and lo, this was it; and they have attorneyed it in its turn. Vanish, then, thou rat-eyed Incarnation of Attorneyism; who at bottom wert but as other Attorneys, and too hungry Sons of Adam! Juryman Vilate had striven hard for life, and published, from his Prison, an ingenious Book, not unknown to us; but it would not stead: he also had to vanish; and this his Book of the Secret Causes of Thermidor, full of lies, with particles of truth in it undiscoverable otherwise, is all that remains of him.
Revolutionary Tribunal has done; but vengeance has not done. Representative Lebon, after long struggling, is handed over to the ordinary Law Courts, and by them guillotined. Nay, at Lyons and elsewhere, resuscitated Moderatism, in its vengeance, will not wait the slow process of Law; but bursts into the Prisons, sets fire to the prisons; burns some three score imprisoned Jacobins to dire death, or chokes them 'with the smoke of straw.' There go vengeful truculent 'Companies of Jesus,' 'Companies of the Sun;' slaying Jacobinism wherever they meet with it; flinging it into the Rhone-stream; which, once more, bears seaward a horrid cargo. (Moniteur, du 27 Juin, du 31 Aout, 1795; Deux Amis, xiii. 121-9.) Whereupon, at Toulon, Jacobinism rises in revolt; and is like to hang the National Representatives.--With such action and reaction, is not a poor National Convention hard bested? It is like the settlement of winds and waters, of seas long tornado-beaten; and goes on with jumble and with jangle. Now flung aloft, now sunk in trough of the sea, your Vessel of the Republic has need of all pilotage and more.
What Parliament that ever sat under the Moon had such a series of destinies, as this National Convention of France? It came together to make the Constitution; and instead of that, it has had to make nothing but destruction and confusion: to burn up Catholicisms, Aristocratisms, to worship Reason and dig Saltpetre, to fight Titanically with itself and with the whole world. A Convention decimated by the Guillotine; above the tenth man has bowed his neck to the axe. Which has seen Carmagnoles danced before it, and patriotic strophes sung amid Church-spoils; the wounded of the Tenth of August defile in handbarrows; and, in the Pandemonial Midnight, Egalite's dames in tricolor drink lemonade, and spectrum of Sieyes mount, saying, Death sans phrase. A Convention which has effervesced, and which has congealed; which has been red with rage, and also pale with rage: sitting with pistols in its pocket, drawing sword (in a moment of effervescence): now storming to the four winds, through a Danton-voice, Awake, O France, and smite the tyrants; now frozen mute under its Robespierre, and answering his dirge-voice by a dubious gasp. Assassinated, decimated; stabbed at, shot at, in baths, on streets and staircases; which has been the nucleus of Chaos. Has it not heard the chimes at midnight? It has deliberated, beset by a Hundred thousand armed men with artillery-furnaces and provision-carts. It has been betocsined, bestormed; over-flooded by black deluges of Sansculottism; and has heard the shrill cry, Bread and Soap. For, as we say, its the nucleus of Chaos; it sat as the centre of Sansculottism; and had spread its pavilion on the waste Deep, where is neither path nor landmark, neither bottom nor shore. In intrinsic valour, ingenuity, fidelity, and general force and manhood, it has perhaps not far surpassed the average of Parliaments: but in frankness of purpose, in singularity of position, it seeks its fellow. One other Sansculottic submersion, or at most two, and this wearied vessel of a Convention reaches land.
Revolt of Germinal Twelfth ended as a vain cry; moribund Sansculottism was swept back into invisibility. There it has lain moaning, these six weeks: moaning, and also scheming. Jacobins disarmed, flung forth from their Tribune in mid air, must needs try to help themselves, in secret conclave under ground. Lo, therefore, on the First day of the Month Prairial, 20th of May 1795, sound of the generale once more; beating sharp, ran-tan, To arms, To arms!
Sansculottism has risen, yet again, from its death-lair; waste wild- flowing, as the unfruitful Sea. Saint-Antoine is a-foot: "Bread and the Constitution of Ninety-three," so sounds it; so stands it written with chalk on the hats of men. They have their pikes, their firelocks; Paper of Grievances; standards; printed Proclamation, drawn up in quite official manner,--considering this, and also considering that, they, a much-enduring Sovereign People, are in Insurrection; will have Bread and the Constitution of Ninety-three. And so the Barriers are seized, and the generale beats, and tocsins discourse discord. Black deluges overflow the Tuileries; spite of sentries, the Sanctuary itself is invaded: enter, to our Order of the Day, a torrent of dishevelled women, wailing, "Bread! Bread!" President may well cover himself; and have his own tocsin rung in 'the Pavilion of Unity;' the ship of the State again labours and leaks; overwashed, near to swamping, with unfruitful brine.
What a day, once more! Women are driven out: men storm irresistibly in; choke all corridors, thunder at all gates. Deputies, putting forth head, obtest, conjure; Saint-Antoine rages, "Bread and Constitution." Report has risen that the 'Convention is assassinating the women:' crushing and rushing, clangor and furor! The oak doors have become as oak tambourines, sounding under the axe of Saint-Antoine; plaster-work crackles, woodwork booms and jingles; door starts up;--bursts-in Saint-Antoine with frenzy and vociferation, Rag-standards, printed Proclamation, drum-music: astonishment to eye and ear. Gendarmes, loyal Sectioners charge through the other door; they are recharged; musketry exploding: Saint-Antoine cannot be expelled. Obtesting Deputies obtest vainly; Respect the President; approach not the President! Deputy Feraud, stretching out his hands, baring his bosom scarred in the Spanish wars, obtests vainly: threatens and resists vainly. Rebellious Deputy of the Sovereign, if thou have fought, have not we too? We have no bread, no Constitution! They wrench poor Feraud; they tumble him, trample him, wrath waxing to see itself work: they drag him into the corridor, dead or near it; sever his head, and fix it on a pike. Ah, did an unexampled Convention want this variety of destiny too, then? Feraud's bloody head goes on a pike. Such a game has begun; Paris and the Earth may wait how it will end.
And so it billows free though all Corridors; within, and without, far as the eye reaches, nothing but Bedlam, and the great Deep broken loose! President Boissy d'Anglas sits like a rock: the rest of the Convention is floated 'to the upper benches;' Sectioners and Gendarmes still ranking there to form a kind of wall for them. And Insurrection rages; rolls its drums; will read its Paper of Grievances, will have this decreed, will have that. Covered sits President Boissy, unyielding; like a rock in the beating of seas. They menace him, level muskets at him, he yields not; they hold up Feraud's bloody head to him, with grave stern air he bows to it, and yields not.
And the Paper of Grievances cannot get itself read for uproar; and the drums roll, and the throats bawl; and Insurrection, like sphere-music, is inaudible for very noise: Decree us this, Decree us that. One man we discern bawling 'for the space of an hour at all intervals,' "Je demande l'arrestation des coquins et des laches." Really one of the most comprehensive Petitions ever put up: which indeed, to this hour, includes all that you can reasonably ask Constitution of the Year One, Rotten- Borough, Ballot-Box, or other miraculous Political Ark of the Covenant to do for you to the end of the world! I also demand arrestment of the Knaves and Dastards, and nothing more whatever. National Representation, deluged with black Sansculottism glides out; for help elsewhere, for safety elsewhere: here is no help.
About four in the afternoon, there remain hardly more than some Sixty Members: mere friends, or even secret-leaders; a remnant of the Mountain- crest, held in silence by Thermidorian thraldom. Now is the time for them; now or never let them descend, and speak! They descend, these Sixty, invited by Sansculottism: Romme of the New Calendar, Ruhl of the Sacred Phial, Goujon, Duquesnoy, Soubrany, and the rest. Glad Sansculottism forms a ring for them; Romme takes the President's chair; they begin resolving and decreeing. Fast enough now comes Decree after Decree, in alternate brief strains, or strophe and antistrophe,--what will cheapen bread, what will awaken the dormant lion. And at every new Decree, Sansculottism shouts, Decreed, Decreed; and rolls its drums.
Fast enough; the work of months in hours,--when see, a Figure enters, whom in the lamp-light we recognise to be Legendre; and utters words: fit to be hissed out! And then see, Section Lepelletier or other Muscadin Section enters, and Gilt Youth, with levelled bayonets, countenances screwed to the sticking-place! Tramp, tramp, with bayonets gleaming in the lamp-light: what can one do, worn down with long riot, grown heartless, dark, hungry, but roll back, but rush back, and escape who can? The very windows need to be thrown up, that Sansculottism may escape fast enough. Money-changer Sections and Gilt Youth sweep them forth, with steel besom, far into the depths of Saint-Antoine. Triumph once more! The Decrees of that Sixty are not so much as rescinded; they are declared null and non-extant. Romme, Ruhl, Goujon and the ringleaders, some thirteen in all, are decreed Accused. Permanent-session ends at three in the morning. (Deux Amis, xiii. 129-46.) Sansculottism, once more flung resupine, lies sprawling; sprawling its last.
Such was the First of Prairial, 20th May, 1795. Second and Third of Prairial, during which Sansculottism still sprawled, and unexpectedly rang its tocsin, and assembled in arms, availed Sansculottism nothing. What though with our Rommes and Ruhls, accused but not yet arrested, we make a new 'True National Convention' of our own, over in the East; and put the others Out of Law? What though we rank in arms and march? Armed Force and Muscadin Sections, some thirty thousand men, environ that old False Convention: we can but bully one another: bandying nicknames, "Muscadins," against "Blooddrinkers, Buveurs de Sang." Feraud's Assassin, taken with the red hand, and sentenced, and now near to Guillotine and Place de Greve, is retaken; is carried back into Saint-Antoine: to no purpose. Convention Sectionaries and Gilt Youth come, according to Decree, to seek him; nay to disarm Saint-Antoine! And they do disarm it: by rolling of cannon, by springing upon enemy's cannon; by military audacity, and terror of the Law. Saint-Antoine surrenders its arms; Santerre even advising it, anxious for life and brewhouse. Feraud's Assassin flings himself from a high roof: and all is lost. (Toulongeon, v. 297; Moniteur, Nos. 244, 5, 6.)
Discerning which things, old Ruhl shot a pistol through his old white head; dashed his life in pieces, as he had done the Sacred Phial of Rheims. Romme, Goujon and the others stand ranked before a swiftly-appointed, swift Military Tribunal. Hearing the sentence, Goujon drew a knife, struck it into his breast, passed it to his neighbour Romme; and fell dead. Romme did the like; and another all but did it; Roman-death rushing on there, as in electric-chain, before your Bailiffs could intervene! The Guillotine had the rest.
They were the Ultimi Romanorum. Billaud, Collot and Company are now ordered to be tried for life; but are found to be already off, shipped for Sinamarri, and the hot mud of Surinam. There let Billaud surround himself with flocks of tame parrots; Collot take the yellow fever, and drinking a whole bottle of brandy, burn up his entrails. (Dictionnaire des Hommes Marquans, paras Billaud, Collot.) Sansculottism spraws no more. The dormant lion has become a dead one; and now, as we see, any hoof may smite him.