« PreviousContinue »
absolute power, were all that could be mustered to oppose the eloquence of Vergniaud, the rigid virtue of Roland, and the political ability of Brissot. The Mountain were yet as comparatively inferior in importance, as far as the Convention was concerned, to Messrs. Hume and O'Connell, as Vergniaud was superior in eloqueuce to Lord Althorp. And yet these able leaders of opposition, these practised declaimers against corruption, these Prototypes of all modern Reformers, when placed by their own reformed parliament at the helm of the state, found themselves, and were found by the country, utterly unable to manage it. Fast runners as they had been in the race of patriotism, they were yet to be surpassed by men of swifter foot and better wind. A few months and the vote of that assembly, which they now ruled with absolute sway, consigned their heads to the executioner, and their memory to the execration of all true patriots, and, we must seriously add, to the contempt of posterity.
How did all this happen? The solution is to be found in the next paragraph :
• The club of the Jacobins was the thermometer of public opinion. After the 10th of August, they (the Girondists) almost to a man abandoned that society, whose services they had extolled as long as it had applauded their views, but which they now regarded only as a resort of faction from the moment it had ceased to think as they did.”
vol. i. p. 59.
More of the Jacobins anon. We pass to another event of the French Revolution, with respect to which we anticipated, with some curiosity, the observations of M. Le Vasseur-an event at which, we know, he assisted, and on which we expected him to rest a strong claim on the respect of all patriots--we mean the trial and condemnation of Louis XVI. Great, then, was our surprise when, instead of a demonstration of the propriety of that measure, or even a vague eulogy of its wisdom and justice, we found that it did not come within his canvass-qu'il n'entrait pas dans son cadre to advert to it. Is it that the glory of this exploit was shared by other than the professed men of the Mountain ? Can any jealousy of Vergniaud's vote for blood, that vote which • astonished to stupefaction' even the galleries by which it was dictated, have induced this silence? The writer might have recollected, if this be his reason, that Vergniaud's vote was no more than sufficient to counterbalance the criminal weakness' he had displayed on the previous question of the appel au peuple. He might have quoted from his speech on that question such passages as these, which would appear, did not his subsequent conduct belie the supposition, to have been uttered with a sincere and sacrilegious intention of defrauding the great altar of pa
triotism of its fairest sacrifice,---of actually saving the life which he afterwards voted away. Have you not heard,' said Vergniaud, ' here and elsewhere, persons exclaim, if bread be dear, the cause is in the Temple -if money be rare, if our armies are unsupplied, the cause is in the Temple! Those,' said Vergniaud, ' who hold this language, know that all these evils spring from other causes ; ' which—he might have added—have as much to do with the Temple and its inmate, as the grievances of England have to do with rotten boroughs or bishops. He told his hearers that bread would be as dear, and the advocates of revolution and blood be as numerous and as loud, after the death of Louis, as before, but that the object of their clamour would then be the Convention itself. Yet the deliverer of the speech, from which these sentences are extracted—voted for the death of Louis! Contrasting that speech with that vote, Le Vasseur might have proved that the conduct of the Mountain and of Robespierre was honour, courage, and consistency, compared to that of the orator of the Gironde; and that the man who could hire and command the voices of the real judges of Louis XVI.,—the men of the gallery,was a greater, and not much a wickeder, man than the wretch who crouched beneath them. Be this as it may, we fear that the admirers of the Mountain will hardly be satisfied with Le Vasseur's summary dismissal of an event which, though it will doubtless redound to the lasting glory of its perpretators, has nevertheless been exposed to some of that misconstruction, and even obloquy, which it is the express object of this work to remove.
Jean Paul Marat, l'ami du peuple.-Even the strong stomachs of the Mountain appear to have felt qualmish at the personal appearance, more than at the opinions or writings, of this their coadjutor. Prejudices, however, soon inelted away; and when this worthy person had perished, with the word guillotine' on his lips, and had been buried within the sacred precincts of the Core, deliers, and while the flowers, scattered by a grateful populace, were fresh upon his grave, his loss was deeply felt, and his virtues duly appreciated. Of these virtues, the first, according to our author, was that which the first criminal judge (we had almost said—such is our respect for office--the first lawyer) in England considers an effective bar to prosecution for any description of libel, blasphemy, or sedition*-sincerity. Marat entertained a
* "With regard to the general question of libels, my opinion is, that as long as a writer honestly expresses his opinions, and his opinions only---as long as it is possible to give him credit for sincerity-I should be greatly disinclined to prosecute.' (Speech of Sir T. Denman. Mirror of Parliament, May 21, 182, p. 2109.) ...The doctrine which has been laid down by the honourable and learned gentleman is simply this—that no man ought to be prosecuted for the publication of his opinions, provided those opinions be sincere.'-(Speech of Sir Robert Peel, ibid. p. 2113.)
sincere conviction that it was not only expedient, but necessary, to cut off the heads of half a million of persons in France, neither more nor less, and he said so. To be sure, this expression of opivion was communicated to men anxious to carry it into effect, and who had recently tried their hand on some six thousand, or, as others say, eleven thousand, in that affair of September, with which, as we have seen, the Mountain had really so little connexion. Marat was sincere; which means, if it means anything, that he really wished to cut off all the heads which he denounced. "Were we, then,' asks our author, ' to repel him from our bosom because his exaggeration was an object of our antipathy, or to persecute him because he had the misfortune to be irascible and suspicious ?'
It might occur to short-sighted people that there were other reasons, for what M. Le Vasseur styles persecuting' Marat, of the same nature with those which induce a misguided population to • persecute' a mad dog ;—and Charlotte Corday probably acted under a delusion of this description. But our author gives another excellent reason why the Mountain did not only tolerate but hug this associate, as lovingly as the paralytic Couthon did his spaniel :
• His follies were not only without danger, but, at the same time, constituted a kind of democratic maximum, which it was impossible to pass. “ Yes !” said Camille Desmoulins, “ the aristocrats can only beat us by becoming more revolutionary than we are ; therefore, while I see Marat, on whom we can reckon, among us, I can have no apprehension, for he, at least, cannot be outdone." - vol. i. p. 308.
This mode of reasoning has, in all probability, a strong analogy to that which has reconciled Mr. Stanley to remaining in the same cabinet with Lord John Russell, after the ballot-speech of the latter. It is well, in reference to Le Vasseur's opinion, that Marat's follies were without danger, to remind the reader, that 250,000 heads constituted the maximum,' within the limits of which it was considered safe and pleasant to abide. And it is, or ought to be, a salutary warning to those who think that revolutions can be stopped by the removal of those who excite them, that the moment Marat was out of the way, Hebert, (a great scape-goat of the Jacobins,) Chabot, and a hundred others, all in the pay of Pitt— all in the pay of Pitt !'-made a general rush on the blood-market of Paris, from which, during the existence of that great monopolist—l'ami du peuple—they had been excluded.
Having alluded to the hackneyed subject of the gold of Pitt,' we must observe, that a large portion of these volumes is taken up with a laboured, diffuse, but we admit successful demonstration, that neither Dapton, Marat, nor Robespierre were in the pay of that minister. That many questionable proceedings of other men,
and, indeed, all the principal crimes of the Revolution, were regu. larly ordered, booked, and paid for by Pitt, M. Le Vasseur by no means denies; but, on the contrary, adds the weight of his tęstimony to a charge which no French writer of authority bas failed to bring forward, and no Englishman has attempted seriously to refute.
In the second volume, our author figures as the representative of the Convention or 'viceroy over’ the commander-in-chief of the army on the north-western frontier. It is probably the part of the work which approaches nearest to authenticity, and is therefore probably really the least accurate, for the author's partiality attributes to the real hero of the relief of Dunkirk,viz. the author himself—a degree of courage and ability, which in a man-midwife would be equally meritorious and surprising.
We recommend to the perusal of Lord Althorp, Lord J. Russell, and the other correspondents with the Political Unions of England, the passages of the eleventh chapter, in which are described the dealings of successive governments with that assiduous auxiliary of public opinion, and permanent means of publicity, the Club of the Jacobins.'* From Mirabeau and Lameth downwards, for downwards it was, every party in power had called in this assiduous auxiliary' to support and accompany its steps; and, somehow or other, the Club had contrived to leave each successively behind ; and whenever they parted company, the deserted government of the day remained wedged in the mire, complaining bitterly of the increased pace of its quondam auxiliary, and receiving to that complaint the answer of universal derision. Our author denies, however, that the Club of the Jacobins took an active part in any public movements, unless, he adds, by pamphlets, journals, and other organs of publicity. Why, M. Le Vasseur, nobody ever imagined that the brawlers of the Jacobins, any more than the leaders of our own Political Unions, or the editors of our own Père du Chesne, were men to risk their persons in a fray! When our own nameless writers recommend that a candidate should be stoned on the hustings, or the Duke of Wellington torn to pieces in the streets, does anybody imagine that, with any possible advantage of numbers, the wretch who writes the paragraph would show himself within a measured mile of the transaction? In the first months of the Convention, we are told, the mission of the Jacobins. was confined to informing the public that the Girondists had lost the confidence of the people. It is remarkable that, soon after this appouncement had been made, the Girondists also lost their heads; but, of course, the Jacobins had nothing to do with the latter part of the transaction. Le Vasseur, however, ad* Vol. ii. p. 198.
mits that, after the fall of that party, and after what he calls the nec plus ultra of patriotism had been attained, (query the precise point of the scale, the Club of the Jacobins did become a power
but this power, let men say what they will, was all beneficent, all in the interest of liberty. This assertion is made out by a description of the rigid control which the Club exercised over all the functionaries of the executive government, 'and the summary manner in which it punished delinquency of all shapes and sizes by one impartial remedy—the guillotine.
We now arrive at a passage which, if it formed a separate section, might be headed after the fashion of Fielding's 4th chapter of the 9th book of his · Biography of Mr. Jonathan Wild :'- The death-warrant arrives for Heartfree, on which occasion Wild betrays some human weakness. Our readers will anticipate that we allude to the “removal '-or, to speak more plainly, the execution of the Girondists. The feelings, approaching to compunction, which M. Le Vasseur, or more probably M. Roche, here takes occasion to express, might have been spared. They are unworthy of his party, and inconsistent with his creed. It is true that these men were executed as traitors, and that their crime was being good speakers and weak politicians it is true that the act of their accusation was a lie, and the form of procedure a murder; but does M. Le Vasseur pretend that the Convention was ignorant of all this when it deliberately voted their execution ? Here, we must confess, we think M. Le Vasseur shrinks, in no very creditable manner, from the task of vindicating himself and his friends, those men of energy whom crime had never stained.' But we think we can guess at the reason—the memory of the Girondists is rather in favour with the liberal party of France, and the writer was not unwilling to stand well with it by showing some little tenderness towards them, as he is certain to do with the King, by his defence of the bosom friends of that 'best patriot of France,'*--the late citizen Egalité. The bold apologist is, however, himself again, when he comes to the bloody scenes which followed the thirtytwo minutes' labour of the executioner on the persons of the thirty-two Girondists. Barnave, Bailly, Madame Roland, republicans all, how does he wipe the stain of their blood from the brows of Robespierre and the Mountain ? (Of Marie Antoinette, like our author, we say nothing, because, for anything we learn to the contrary from these pages, she may be still in the Conciergerie.) Robespierre's delicacy, forsooth, revolted against
* His royal son's designation of that, it seems, much-calumniated character-see p. 540 of our last Number. It must be observed, that the two latter volumes of this work have been published since the change of dynasty.
citizen Egaliiends of that do with the little tendernet unwi
licans alirondists. Of the exscenes whowever,co*-thience of