The French Revolution by Thomas Carlyle
Volume I. The Bastille
Book 1.VII. The Insurrection of Women
Chapter 1.7.VIII. The Equal Diet
But why lingers Mounier; returns not with his Deputation? It is six, it is seven o'clock; and still no Mounier, no Acceptance pure and simple.
And, behold, the dripping Menads, not now in deputation but in mass, have penetrated into the Assembly: to the shamefullest interruption of public speaking and order of the day. Neither Maillard nor Vice-President can restrain them, except within wide limits; not even, except for minutes, can the lion-voice of Mirabeau, though they applaud it: but ever and anon they break in upon the regeneration of France with cries of: "Bread; not so much discoursing! Du pain; pas tant de longs discours!"--So insensible were these poor creatures to bursts of Parliamentary eloquence!
One learns also that the royal Carriages are getting yoked, as if for Metz. Carriages, royal or not, have verily showed themselves at the back Gates. They even produced, or quoted, a written order from our Versailles Municipality,--which is a Monarchic not a Democratic one. However, Versailles Patroles drove them in again; as the vigilant Lecointre had strictly charged them to do.
A busy man, truly, is Major Lecointre, in these hours. For Colonel d'Estaing loiters invisible in the Oeil-de-Boeuf; invisible, or still more questionably visible, for instants: then also a too loyal Municipality requires supervision: no order, civil or military, taken about any of these thousand things! Lecointre is at the Versailles Townhall: he is at the Grate of the Grand Court; communing with Swiss and Bodyguards. He is in the ranks of Flandre; he is here, he is there: studious to prevent bloodshed; to prevent the Royal Family from flying to Metz; the Menads from plundering Versailles.
At the fall of night, we behold him advance to those armed groups of Saint- Antoine, hovering all-too grim near the Salle des Menus. They receive him in a half-circle; twelve speakers behind cannons, with lighted torches in hand, the cannon-mouths towards Lecointre: a picture for Salvator! He asks, in temperate but courageous language: What they, by this their journey to Versailles, do specially want? The twelve speakers reply, in few words inclusive of much: "Bread, and the end of these brabbles, Du pain, et la fin des affaires." When the affairs will end, no Major Lecointre, nor no mortal, can say; but as to bread, he inquires, How many are you?--learns that they are six hundred, that a loaf each will suffice; and rides off to the Municipality to get six hundred loaves.
Which loaves, however, a Municipality of Monarchic temper will not give. It will give two tons of rice rather,--could you but know whether it should be boiled or raw. Nay when this too is accepted, the Municipals have disappeared;--ducked under, as the Six-and-Twenty Long-gowned of Paris did; and, leaving not the smallest vestage of rice, in the boiled or raw state, they there vanish from History!
Rice comes not; one's hope of food is baulked; even one's hope of vengeance: is not M. de Moucheton of the Scotch Company, as we said, deceitfully smuggled off? Failing all which, behold only M. de Moucheton's slain warhorse, lying on the Esplanade there! Saint-Antoine, baulked, esurient, pounces on the slain warhorse; flays it; roasts it, with such fuel, of paling, gates, portable timber as can be come at,--not without shouting: and, after the manner of ancient Greek Heroes, they lifted their hands to the daintily readied repast; such as it might be. (Weber, Deux Amis, &c.) Other Rascality prowls discursive; seeking what it may devour. Flandre will retire to its barracks; Lecointre also with his Versaillese,-- all but the vigilant Patrols, charged to be doubly vigilant.
So sink the shadows of Night, blustering, rainy; and all paths grow dark. Strangest Night ever seen in these regions,--perhaps since the Bartholomew Night, when Versailles, as Bassompierre writes of it, was a chetif chateau. O for the Lyre of some Orpheus, to constrain, with touch of melodious strings, these mad masses into Order! For here all seems fallen asunder, in wide-yawning dislocation. The highest, as in down-rushing of a World, is come in contact with the lowest: the Rascality of France beleaguering the Royalty of France; 'ironshod batons' lifted round the diadem, not to guard it! With denunciations of bloodthirsty Anti-national Bodyguards, are heard dark growlings against a Queenly Name.
The Court sits tremulous, powerless; varies with the varying temper of the Esplanade, with the varying colour of the rumours from Paris. Thick-coming rumours; now of peace, now of war. Necker and all the Ministers consult; with a blank issue. The Oeil-de-Boeuf is one tempest of whispers:--We will fly to Metz; we will not fly. The royal Carriages again attempt egress;-- though for trial merely; they are again driven in by Lecointre's Patrols. In six hours, nothing has been resolved on; not even the Acceptance pure and simple.
In six hours? Alas, he who, in such circumstances, cannot resolve in six minutes, may give up the enterprise: him Fate has already resolved for. And Menadism, meanwhile, and Sansculottism takes counsel with the National Assembly; grows more and more tumultuous there. Mounier returns not; Authority nowhere shews itself: the Authority of France lies, for the present, with Lecointre and Usher Maillard.--This then is the abomination of desolation; come suddenly, though long foreshadowed as inevitable! For, to the blind, all things are sudden. Misery which, through long ages, had no spokesman, no helper, will now be its own helper and speak for itself. The dialect, one of the rudest, is, what it could be, this.
At eight o'clock there returns to our Assembly not the Deputation; but Doctor Guillotin announcing that it will return; also that there is hope of the Acceptance pure and simple. He himself has brought a Royal Letter, authorising and commanding the freest 'circulation of grains.' Which Royal Letter Menadism with its whole heart applauds. Conformably to which the Assembly forthwith passes a Decree; also received with rapturous Menadic plaudits:--Only could not an august Assembly contrive further to "fix the price of bread at eight sous the half-quartern; butchers'-meat at six sous the pound;" which seem fair rates? Such motion do 'a multitude of men and women,' irrepressible by Usher Maillard, now make; does an august Assembly hear made. Usher Maillard himself is not always perfectly measured in speech; but if rebuked, he can justly excuse himself by the peculiarity of the circumstances. (Moniteur (in Hist. Parl. ii. 105).)
But finally, this Decree well passed, and the disorder continuing; and Members melting away, and no President Mounier returning,--what can the Vice-President do but also melt away? The Assembly melts, under such pressure, into deliquium; or, as it is officially called, adjourns. Maillard is despatched to Paris, with the 'Decree concerning Grains' in his pocket; he and some women, in carriages belonging to the King. Thitherward slim Louison Chabray has already set forth, with that 'written answer,' which the Twelve She-deputies returned in to seek. Slim sylph, she has set forth, through the black muddy country: she has much to tell, her poor nerves so flurried; and travels, as indeed to-day on this road all persons do, with extreme slowness. President Mounier has not come, nor the Acceptance pure and simple; though six hours with their events have come; though courier on courier reports that Lafayette is coming. Coming, with war or with peace? It is time that the Chateau also should determine on one thing or another; that the Chateau also should show itself alive, if it would continue living!
Victorious, joyful after such delay, Mounier does arrive at last, and the hard-earned Acceptance with him; which now, alas, is of small value. Fancy Mounier's surprise to find his Senate, whom he hoped to charm by the Acceptance pure and simple,--all gone; and in its stead a Senate of Menads! For as Erasmus's Ape mimicked, say with wooden splint, Erasmus shaving, so do these Amazons hold, in mock majesty, some confused parody of National Assembly. They make motions; deliver speeches; pass enactments; productive at least of loud laughter. All galleries and benches are filled; a strong Dame of the Market is in Mounier's Chair. Not without difficulty, Mounier, by aid of macers, and persuasive speaking, makes his way to the Female- President: the Strong Dame before abdicating signifies that, for one thing, she and indeed her whole senate male and female (for what was one roasted warhorse among so many?) are suffering very considerably from hunger.
Experienced Mounier, in these circumstances, takes a twofold resolution: To reconvoke his Assembly Members by sound of drum; also to procure a supply of food. Swift messengers fly, to all bakers, cooks, pastrycooks, vintners, restorers; drums beat, accompanied with shrill vocal proclamation, through all streets. They come: the Assembly Members come; what is still better, the provisions come. On tray and barrow come these latter; loaves, wine, great store of sausages. The nourishing baskets circulate harmoniously along the benches; nor, according to the Father of Epics, did any soul lack a fair share of victual ((Greek), an equal diet); highly desirable, at the moment. (Deux Amis, iii. 208.)
Gradually some hundred or so of Assembly members get edged in, Menadism making way a little, round Mounier's Chair; listen to the Acceptance pure and simple; and begin, what is the order of the night, 'discussion of the Penal Code.' All benches are crowded; in the dusky galleries, duskier with unwashed heads, is a strange 'coruscation,'--of impromptu billhooks. (Courier de Provence (Mirabeau's Newspaper), No. 50, p. 19.) It is exactly five months this day since these same galleries were filled with high- plumed jewelled Beauty, raining bright influences; and now? To such length have we got in regenerating France. Methinks the travail-throes are of the sharpest!--Menadism will not be restrained from occasional remarks; asks, "What is use of the Penal Code? The thing we want is Bread." Mirabeau turns round with lion-voiced rebuke; Menadism applauds him; but recommences.
Thus they, chewing tough sausages, discussing the Penal Code, make night hideous. What the issue will be? Lafayette with his thirty thousand must arrive first: him, who cannot now be distant, all men expect, as the messenger of Destiny.