Page images
PDF
EPUB

in in the band la bied Reflexiondaign, M. den

the Saturnales terroristes, and he reproached Leonard Bourdon for speaking in the Convention with his hat on—and for other circumstances, which, being vaguely designated as des formes indécentes, are left to the imagination. For these reasons, and inasmuch as he chose to demonstrate the existence of a Supreme Being, by displaying before all Paris a large nosegay in his button-hole, M. Le Vasseur invites us to clear him of all undue participation in the reign of terror, and acknowledge him the friend of religion, virtue, and la bienséance même.

The next chapter is headed Reflexions sur Houchard, the general whose actions, in the recent campaign, M. Le Vasseur had been appointed to supervise, and whom he had denounced as a traitor to the revolutionary tribunal. An attempt, we learn, was made by Briez to save the ex-general. Barrère replied with a brilliant improvisation ;' an epithet which implies that the enemy of the Gironde can adınire ready eloquence when devoted to the legitimate purpose of shedding human blood for human error. The memory and veracity of the author were called in to help the eloquence of the improvisatore for the prosecution, and Houchard, by the joint efforts of Barrère and Le Vasseur, soon figured on the scaffold where Custine had shortly before fought his last fight.*

We find our author, in the next chapter, again active in a mission to the army, where he appears to have enforced a rigid discipline, if not among the soldiers, at least among the officers commanding. He rebukes a drunken general, forces · Kleber into fire,'-(may we not hope to see Marshal Jones or General Napier led into fire by Buckingham or Harvey ?)—but appears to have had some difficulty in performing the same operation on his own colleague, St. Just. We next find him employed, very differently, on a special mission to Sedan, in preparing and forwarding to Paris for trial some twenty notorious criminals. He confesses to as much weakness on this occasion as was consistent with the acceptance and execution of such a mission, and appears to have been somewhat annoyed by the shrieks and agonies of the relatives of the accused. . We have hitherto beheld our author and his friends invested with popularity equal to their power. We have now to contemplate them deprived of that popularity, and objects of the blackest calumnies; and M. Le Vasseur, like another military civiliun of our own day-his majesty's secretary at war-is very indignant at finding that he has lost some of that popularity which he had - * In this part of the work we could expose much error, confusion, and falsehood, employed to condemn poor Houchard and exalt Le Vasseur, but it is not worth while a work avowedly fabricated can be of no historical weight.

earned

earned by sitting on the Mountain; but the man-midwife's complaint is better founded than the Baronet's; for the former never changed his side, and seems to have persisted resolutely in his original principles, and accordingly very forcibly holds up to execration the baseness of the surviving traitors and emigrants, who founded on the trivial occurrences of the reign of terror, an indictment of bloodthirstiness against the Mountain.

We are now arrived at the period—probably that nec plus ultra of patriotism before-mentioned—when even Danton hung back, and Robespierre himself grew dizzy with blood.

But it is to be repeated, no one had impelled the revolution into these sinister ways. Without doubt some fanatics, at the head of whom must be placed St. Just, calculated the necessity of shedding blood as a means for founding liberty; without doubt these fierce republicans wished to strike terror into two opposite castes by the aspect of the scaffold;" [the aspect, indeed!] but never did they understand that they could arrive, even by transition, at a state of things, such, that no condition, how obscure soever, could save from political vengeance.

Danton, the first (but not the last either in France or England) —who had dared to present anarchy as a weapon, and popular disorder as an indispensable means of forceDanton was also, we are told, the first to recoil from his own work, when he began to feel himself in danger, or, as he expressed it, when he saw the excesses ready to engulph social order altogether. Camille Desmoulins, who had ventured to assume the title, burlesquely ferocious, of Attorney-General to the Lantern, was (when he also trembled for himself) struck with horror at the sight of the judicial murders, of which it was impossible to foresee the limit; even Robespierre felt his head turn, when he contemplated the revolutionary moyement arrived at the highest degree of its circle.' :. For us,' proceeds our author,' obscure Mountaineers, who, without ever pretending to direct the political machine, had devoted our lives to the republic, we could not see without trembling the transitory results of our energetic measures, and of the resistances which they had excited. A prey. to the most profound grief, when we perceived the new obstacles brought in the way of founding the republic, we consoled ourselves by the sole thought, that we had sought the interest of the community, by the abnegation of every personal sentiment; and we applied ourselves to the study of the state of France, in order to apply a remedy to its evils. Convinced that we were surrounded by treasons, we did not dare violently to arrest the gloomy energy of the Committee of Public Safety, from the fear of having nothing to oppose to it. We waited in silence the moment propitious for the necessary reparations, and for the foundation of a better order of things.'- vol. iii. p. 3.

tention on thend his friends we employed in

It was while the members of the Convention were thus watch: ing in silence for the approach of the revolutionary millennium, and dawdling about their benches, like the members of our own House of Commons waiting the arrival of the speaker and the chaplain, that the public prosecutor, Fouquier Tinville, offered, for their amusement, to bring the guillotine either under their windows, or into their antechamber, we are not sure which. Our author appears to be proud of the rejection of this delicate attention on the part of his associates. It appears, however, that Le Vasseur and his friends were not idle at this period; they were diligently and rationally employed in the introduction of positive ameliorations in the lot of the people, which ameliorations principally consisted in the abolition of all distinctions of dress, language, condition, and refinement; in a word, the establishment of general sans-culottism. We are a little puzzled with this, after the admiration bestowed, in only the preceding page, on the bienséance of Robespierre, and on his quarrel with Leonard Bourdon's hat. We profess our inability to discover the difference between Robespierre's known attention to his own toilette, as well as that of Leonard Bourdon, and the immoral attempts of the aristocracy in disguise' to preserve some of the traditional usages' of polished society.

In the mean time, the nec plus ultra of patriotism' having been attained, our author's hero, Robespierre, finds himself and the Committee of Public Safety, in rather an awkward situation, At the very moment when that great man was, as our author avers, turning his thoughts towards closing the Reign of Terror, and introducing that of Religion, Virtue, and la bienséance même, he was interrupted by the sudden necessity of removing—not the hats, but—the heads, of two batches of his dearest friends—the Dantonists and the Hebertists. The latter, being mere puppets, acting at the impulse of that eternal agent, the gold of Pitt, might be dismissed without observation, if it were not that this notorious fact of their being in the pay of Pitt, (who was long the writer of the leading article in the Père du Chesne,'-as M. de Talleyrand is no doubt at this day in our “Morning Post,')-had been the foundation for that identical charge against Robespierre himself.

* Chose étrange! All the writers who have occupied themselves with the history of the revolution have acknowledged the influence of foreign agents upon the crimes of the reign of terror-all have acknowledged that the centre of this execrable intrigue was in the party of Hebert, and yet the greater number of them have accused the Mountain of complicity with the wretches which it punished.'- vol. iii. p. 61. They perished as a matter of course, and the Convention went

on

[ocr errors]

on with business, or rather continued to wait for the millennium of liberty as usual.

Chose inconcevable! The majority of the Convention had very evidently pronounced itself in favour of moderate measures; and yet the violence which the Committee of Public Safety had made the order of the day, found always an all but unanimous support on our benches.'-vol. iii. p. 62.

To us, who have watched the progress of the Reform Bill through the English House of Commons, this almost unanimous support of the most outrageous injustice under the pretence of thereby operating some future and theoretic good, appears quite as 'concevable' as any fact in the history of the French Revolution.

Well, Hebert was removed, and the Convention was as cheerful and unanimous as could be; but the case was different only two days after, when it was announced that Danton, with his friend Camille Desmoulins, had been arrested. The Convention were, indeed, aware that Danton had quarrelled with Robespierre, upon account, and in behalf, of Fabre d'Eglantine, a gentleman who had indiscreetly dabbled in--not a Greek loan-but some such financial speculation.

•But we thought Danton too strong on the ground of his services, and the friendship of an immense majority of his colleagues, not to be beyond the reach of his enemy's vengeance. On croyait d'ailleurs that Robespierre would never abandon the interesting Camille Desmoulins:' (who we see had lately been disposed to resign the title of first law, officer to the Lantern).—vol. iii. p. 63,

In short, while on croyait this and on croyait that, Danton and his interesting friend were stowed in the deepest dungeon of the Abbaye. The credit of this, the most audacious proceeding of the Robespierre party, is due to St. Just. Camille was an active and pungent pamphleteer, and had borrowed from Danton a witticism upon the lofty manner in which St. Just carried his head. Il porte la tête comme un Saint Sacrement, said Camille in his pamphlet. The joke and its author were denounced to St. Just. Je lui ferai porter la tête comme St. Denis, was the reply.* This exchange of pleasantries was followed up on the part of St. Just by a report to the Convention, in which Danton was found guilty (accused would be an inapplicable term) of conspiring with the Duke of Orleans, Dumouriez, and the Girondists. It was moved, for the sake, we presume, of la bienséance, that

* Our readers will recollect that the Saint Sacrament—the Host, is in Roman Catholic countries carried in procession with a great show of reverence, and that the martyrdom of St. Denis was by decapitation, and that the legend says that he carried his head in his hand from the place of execution to that of burial. We have heard from a person who has seen both, that we may form a lively notion of the stateliness in which poor St. Just carried' his head, by the manner in which Mr. Robert Grant, the present judge-advocate general, performs the same function,

Danton

Danton should be heard in reply to this report; but, upon a significant hint from Robespierre, conveyed in the words Those who tremble are guilty,' that motion was negatived without a division. Defence, indeed, would have been utterly superfluous; for, as our author observes, no individual living could even have dreamed that Danton had been guilty of anything of the kind imputed to him. This idle form was, however, permitted before the Revolutionary Tribunal, and the accused, being adepts in public speaking, abused their privilege to such an extent that proper precautions were taken to prevent such scandal for the future by the decree:- That any accused person revolted against his judges might be put hors des débats' (convicted and sentenced); and, says our author, “We had wished to be founders of liberty, and the men who arrived at this excess of tyranny thought they were serving her noble cause. ... -Au reste, these patriots," devoted to death by other patriots,-died like heroes.'

Two others of these patriots,'-these energetic men unstained by crime,' now governed the Committee, and through it the Convention and France, with absolute sway– Robespierre and St. Just. Of these our author predicates that they wished to exercise their power, only for good !- vol. iii., p. 77. In all ages, however, the kindness and ingratitude of mankind have made them slow to appreciate benefits which are forced upon their acceptance. Strange to say, the members of the Convention could hardly reconcile the theory of the general Rights of Man with the right of these two individuals to hand them over severally or collectively to the scaffold; and at the very moment when the government of France felt ' a want of unity, before all things,-a tearing asunder became inevitable.' It was in vain that the Committee released the Convention from the labour of making, as well as that of executing, the law. The Convention were, nevertheless, afflicted with a • general uneasiness,' the indications of which again excited in the committee itself, such apprehensions, that fears for its own existence obliged it to adjourn the grand social regeneration which it had meditated.' In the mean time the Convention was permitted to amuse itself with some minor details of poor-laws, public education, and agriculture. This last subject was placed in the hands of two commissioners, a Mr. Isoré and the author. Of the former we know nothing. The latter, being by education á midwife, and by practice a general-officer, must be admitted to have been an happy selection. Under the supervision of the two, the agriculture of France probably made as much progress towards recovery—as did religion, virtue, and la bienséance même under Robespierre and St. Just, assisted as they were by Billaud de Varennes and Collot d'Herbois.

Our

ermitteducation, and commising. Thefficer, mervision of public e hands of te know ice a geneunder the much proces même aud de

and agriculturoners, a Miter, being by fmitted

« PreviousContinue »