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CHAPTER VI. - Gouverneur Morris, The Diary and Letters of Gouverneur Morris, vol. 1 
The Diary and Letters of Gouverneur Morris, Minister of the United States to France; Member of the Constitutional Convention, ed. Anne Cary Morris (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1888). 2 vols. Vol. 1.
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Dinner at Madame de Flahaut’s. Artists’ studios. Dinner with Lafayette. Visit to the Bastille. The Club. Foulon’s head carried through the streets. Making up a foreign mail. Madame de Montmorin. Ideas respecting a constitution for France. Asked to consult with the ministers. Passport for London. Journey to England. Beggars. Impressions of England.
Thatjolie intrigante, Madame de Flahaut, who never failed to pull the strings that moved the puppets high in authority, had probably some scheme in her clever little head when she hospitably entertained her satellites in the persons of the Abbé Bertrand, the Duc de Biron, the Évêque d’Autun, and Mr. Morris at dinner, soon after the Augean stable at Versailles had been cleansed and there were places in abundance to bestow. “Very agreeable,” Morris says he found this society. It would not be difficult to imagine the wit and abandon of the conversation; the spirituel and delicate repartee which fell from the lips of the fair hostess; the sarcastic and subtle wit, joined with immense tact, which characterized the Bishop of Autun; the careless, daring indifference to consequences which seemed to belong to that Don Juan, the Duc de Biron; the Abbé Bertrand, whom Morris always found agreeable; and, last of the number, Morris himself, not very much behind the Frenchmen in wit and appreciation. It is matter of regret that none of the conversation found its way into the pages of the diary; but “we all go,” Morris says (July 19th), “after dinner, to visit a painter and see three pieces, in one of which the actual execution of perspective goes beyond the power of my imagination, particularly in the right hand of the principal figure, which stands out so completely from the canvas that one absolutely sees all round it, a thing scarce credible, but which is not the less true. The subject is Love escaped from his cage and leaving by his flight the ladies in anguish and despair. The expression does not come up to my ideas of the power of this art, but the light and shade are distributed through the piece in a most astonishing perfection. He (the painter) shows us a piece he is now about for the King, taken from the Æneid: Venus restraining the arm which is raised in the temple of the Vestals to shed the blood of Helen. I tell him he had better paint the Storm of the Bastille; it will be a more fashionable picture, and that one trait will admit of a fine effect. It is of the garde française who, having got hold of the gate and unable to bring it down, cries to his comrades of the populace to pull by his legs. And this man has the force and courage to hold while a dozen of them pull him like a rope and bring down the gate, so that he actually sustains the rack. To represent him drawn out of joint, with his head turned round, encouraging them to pull still harder, must, I think, have a fine effect. L’Évêque d’Autun agrees with me entirely in this sentiment. Returning, we find M. de Rouillé, who, I find, is writing a history of the present revolution. He promises to meet me at the club and give me the news of M. Necker. Take the abbé home, and then go to the club. M. de Rouillé tells me they have yet no news of M. Necker, but expect an express to-night, and that if he is not yet farther than Brussels he will be in to-morrow night. Recommend a subscription to collect the various papers found in the Bastille, and then to employ an able hand in writing the annals of that diabolical castle, from the beginning of Louis Fourteenth’s reign to the present moment. Something of this sort will, I believe, be done. Give the hint also of forming the Garde Française into a city guard, with very high pay, and keep up the corps by putting with it all those who, by good conduct, shall have merited something more than the rank of a common soldier, without being qualified for that of a sergeant. They know not what to do at present with this corps.”
“This morning [July 20th] I go to the Hôtel de Ville. With much difficulty find out the Marquis de Lafayette,* who is exhausted by a variety of attentions. Tell him I will send his letters to America, and he must give me a passport to visit the Bastille. Agree to dine with him, on condition that I may bring my own wine. Return home, write, and at four go to the Hôtel de Lafayette. Find there Madame and the Duc de la Rochefoucault, M.—,etc., to dine. He gives me my passport for the Bastille. Suggest to him my plan respecting the Garde Française which he likes. Advise him to have a completed plan for the militia prepared, and to submit it to the committee. Ask him if he can think of any steps which may be taken to induce the King to confer on him the government of the Isle of France. He tells me that he would prefer that of Paris simply; that he has had the utmost power his heart could wish, and is grown tired of it; that he has commanded absolutely an hundred thousand men; has marched his sovereign about the streets as he pleased, prescribed the degree of applause which he should receive, and could have detained him prisoner had he thought proper. He wishes therefore, as soon as possible, to return to private life. In this last expression he deceives himself or wishes to deceive me, or both, perhaps. But in fact he is the lover of freedom from ambition, of which there are two kinds: one born of pride, the other of vanity, and his partakes most of the latter.”
“At half-past one [July 21st] I call for Madame de Flahaut, who expressed a wish to accompany me to the Bastille. Capellis and the Abbé Bertrand are waiting. Presently after Madame appears, with Mademoiselle Duplessis. We get all together into the coach of Capellis, and go to the Bastille.* Some difficulty in getting through the guards, notwithstanding my passport. We meet in the architect employed in the demolition an old acquaintance of the abbé’s, who is glad to be useful. He shows us everything—more than I wish to see, as it stinks horribly. The storming of this castle was a bold enterprise. Return to the Louvre with Madame de Flahaut. Make a long visit, at first tête-à-tête. Give her some verses, and with infinite coolness tell her that I am perfectly my own master with respect to her; that, having no idea of inspiring her with a tender passion, I have no idea either of subjecting myself to one; that, besides, I am timid to a fault—that I know it to be wrong, but cannot help it. She thinks it a very strange conversation, and, indeed, so it is; but I am much mistaken if it does not make an impression much greater on reflection than at the present moment. Nous verrons. The Duke of Orleans is at the club to-day. I am as cold with respect to him as an Englishman. A thousand to one we are never acquainted, but, if we are, he must make au moins la moitié du chemin.” This was Morris’s first sight of the duke, for, although he had been so much with the duchess her lord had never appeared. Possibly near her was the last place to look for him.
“To-day [July 22d] I go to the club to meet a gentleman. At a table d’hote we have a good dinner for three. Coffee, etc., included, the price of the dinner is 48 francs. After dinner walk a little under the arcade of the Palais Royal waiting for my carriage. In this period the head and body of M. Foulon* are introduced in triumph, the head on a pike, the body dragged naked on the earth. Afterwards, this horrible exhibition is carried through the different streets. His crime is to have accepted a place in the ministry. This mutilated form of an old man of seventy is shown to Berthier, his son-in-law, the intendant of Paris, and afterwards he is also put to death and cut to pieces, the populace carrying about the mangled fragments with a savage joy. Gracious God! what a people!”
With the Séance Royale on the 22d of July the crisis passed, and the destructive work of the revolution was complete. As Taine says, “It is no longer a government which falls that it may give way to another, it is all government which ceases to exist.” It was well to be able to turn from such revolting spectacles as those which were presented to the public gaze in the streets of Paris, and forget for a moment scenes so atrocious, even if forgetfulness were only attained by spending the entire night making up a mail for America—an arduous task when the grandfathers of the present generation sent letters across the sea. “I wrote all night,” Morris says (July 23d), “and went to bed at seven this morning. Waked up at eight to seal my letters. Take some more sleep, and between one and two respond to a wish of Madame de Flahaut’s that I should go to see her, as she does not go as she intended to Versailles. She keeps me to dine, and after dinner we glide into a confidential conversation. To cure me of any sentiment she might inspire in me, she avows a marriage of the heart. I guess the person. She acknowledges it, and assures me that she cannot commit an infidelity to him. I leave her, and go to Jefferson’s. Sit and chat and take tea.”
Of Jefferson’s standing in Paris Morris wrote to Robert Morris (July 22d) in the following terms: “He commands very much respect in this country, which is merited by good sense and good intentions. The French, who pique themselves on possessing the graces, very readily excuse in others the want of them, and to be an étranger (like charity) covers a multitude of sins. On the whole, therefore, I incline to think that an American minister at this Court gains more than he loses by preserving his originality. Mr. Jefferson lives well, keeps a good table and excellent wines, which he distributes freely.”
On the eve of a journey to England, then a formidable undertaking, Morris mentions going out to Versailles to say good-by to his friends there—among them, Madame de Montmorin. “I desire to be favored with her commands for London,” he says. “To my compliments on the Count being restored to his place, she replies that she wishes to be a good way off, that she is shocked at the scenes acting in Paris.” The terrible catastrophe which later overtook her and her family cast its shadow before it and over her very early in the Revolution. M. de Montmorin perished in the September massacres. She and one son died on the scaffold. One daughter died in prison, and Madame de Beaumont died of grief. “After dining with the Montmorins,” Morris continues, “among other things I speak to monsieur of M. de Moustier. Tell him confidentially that he is not agreeable to the people of America, and that he must send us such a man as the Chevalier de la Luzerne. He tells me in confidence the person he intends to send over, but makes me promise not to mention it to anybody. Visit at De la Luzerne’s. He reproves me for not dining with him. I find he is taking a great deal of pains to show that he is well with M. Necker, which proves beyond all things to me the preponderance which Necker will have in the council. I presume the place of Garde des Sceaux is kept vacant until his pleasure shall be known.” Later in the evening, “visit Madame de Tessé. She is deeply engaged in a political discussion. I find that the high democrats begin to cool a little, and I think that by degrees they will feel, though they would not understand reason.”
Morris had been requested by a member of the States-General to “throw together some thoughts respecting the constitution of this country. I am occupied all Saturday morning [July 24th], in this work. While I am about it, Dr. McDonald comes in. I read to him what I have written, and see him forcibly struck with the thoughts and with the manner. This serves as an evidence to me that there is some weight and truth in my observations.”
The following evening (July 25th) he dined with Mr. Jefferson, who gave him several letters of introduction for use in London, and a passport. Sunday morning (July 26th), he received a note “from Madame de Flahaut, who has something to communicate. Visit her at one. She desires to know whether I will go to Versailles to confer with the committee who are to report a constitution. She is charged by one of them to make this request. I reply that if it will not delay my departure for London I shall consult, conceiving it my duty to render any service I can to this country. I explain to her the paper written yesterday, that she may translate it afterwards. Have a little chit-chat, and dine with her partie carrée, and afterwards drive and walk in the Bois de Boulogne. Received while I was dressing a note from Madame de Chastellux, desiring me to interest Lafayette in favor of a protégé of her late husband, who wants to be placed in the Régiment National. At five go by appointment to Madame de Flahaut’s. She is at her toilette. Monsieur comes in. She dresses before us with perfect decency, even to her shift. Monsieur leaves us to make a long visit, and we are to occupy ourselves in making a translation.”
“See Lafayette to-day [July 28th], to ask a commission for the protégé of Madame de Chastellux, and I desire him to give the King some consolation which may make him easy, as it is of the last importance to France. I cannot tell him my reasons, because they are founded on a secret intrusted to me, but I am most serious. As we cannot have conversation now, he desires me to dine with him. Return home and set about the translation of what I wrote yesterday afternoon. Interrupted by visitors. As soon as completed, go to Madame de Flahaut’s. Monsieur not gone, as was intended, to Versailles. This is unfortunate. He comes in and chats a while, but it is clear that he means to give us the pleasure of his company, that we may not have the pleasure of his absence. This is very absurd. People who wish to please should never be troublesome. Go to Madame de Fouquet’s. A lively conversation; pressed to stay to dinner. Cannot. Promise on my return to visit her immediately. Make various visits, and go to M. de Lafayette’s and dine. After dinner mention again M. Martin’s affair, and he promises to do all in his power. Urge again the taking measures to put the King at ease (note—Madame de Flahaut gave me yesterday the communication), upon which he is desirous of knowing my reasons. I tell him that they arise from a secret communication, therefore cannot go farther. Propose an association to protect the Prince, and to declare those who may insult him enemies, both public and private. Propose a plan to get rid of the difficulty of the Assemblée Nationale, which is bound not to tax till the constitution is completed, and which is pressed in consequence for time. Then urge strongly the danger of a constitution too democratical, and leave him. Go to Madame de Ségur’s; take leave, with an engagement to correspond together; thence to Madame de Flahaut’s. Monsieur is there, and Vicq d’Azyr, the Queen’s head physician. The latter goes away presently. The former is called down, and she communicates a request for my thoughts on the subject of education for the French. Monsieur enters—again is obliged to go abroad. This is right. Take supper with Madame de Flahaut. Some conversation with her and Monsieur, who returns, which is on the interesting subject of their public affairs. He seems well pleased with me, which is uncommon. Make arrangements for a correspondence with Madame.”
All preparations for the journey to London were finally completed—except the passport—to obtain which required a visit to Lafayette at the Hôtel de Ville. “I do this,” Morris says, “on the principle that if I do not take care of my own business, I cannot expect anyone else to do it for me. Mankind are in the constant practice of believing in the attention of others, and of neglecting those who believe in them. Il faut être juste. I find that I was right. At the Hôtel de Ville there are a world of difficulties, but they are at length all surmounted. From thence I go to take leave of Madame de Flahaut, and thence to Madame de Corney; a number of gentle reproaches for neglecting her, which I had well merited.”
The next day, with post books and maps, Morris started on his journey. Outside of Paris many convoys of wheat and flour going to Paris, escorted by troops, and large droves of cattle and pigs, which he mentions as being “the worst formed animals I ever saw; long, narrow, and meagre, they seem more fitted for the race than the table,” had possession of most of the road. The weather was fine, and “the mind and eye,” he says, “are delighted by the exuberance of the approaching harvest.” At the entrance to Dieppe a number of questions were asked, owing to the fact of a number of refugees having lately passed into England. While waiting for a calm sea and a favoring wind to take him to the shores of England, Morris availed himself of the opportunity of a vessel sailing direct to New York, to write to Washington an account of recent events at Paris. He told him as private news that “the Comte de Moustier has his congé and Colonel Ternant will be his successor as chargé d’affaires, and possibly as minister later. The important trait in this appointment is that he is named as a person who will be agreeable to us. You may rely on what I am about to mention, but which I pray you not to disclose. It is known to very few in this country, and may perhaps (as it ought) be buried in oblivion. The King has actually formed the design of going off to Spain. Whether the measures set on foot to dissuade him will have, as I hope, the desired effect, time only can discover. His fears govern him absolutely, and they have of late been most strongly excited. He is a well-meaning man, but extremely weak, and probably these circumstances will in every event secure him from personal injury. An able man would not have fallen into his situation, but I think that no ability can now extricate him. He must float along on the current of events, being absolutely a cypher. If, however, he should fly, it will not be easy to predict the consequences, for this country is at present as near to anarchy as society can approach without dissolution. There are some able men in the National Assembly, yet the best heads among them would not be injured by experience, and unfortunately there are a good number who, with much imagination, have little knowledge, judgment, or reflection. You may consider the revolution as complete; that is to say, the authority of the King and of the nobility is completely subdued, but yet I tremble for the constitution. They have all that romantic spirit, and all those romantic ideas of government which, happily for America, we were cured of before it was too late. They are advancing rapidly. I pass over those facts which you cannot but know, to mention in one word that the whole army of France have declared for liberty, and that one reason why His Majesty has not taken the step above mentioned is that he does not know a single regiment that would obey him.”
The usual vicissitudes of weather and the usual discomforts of the Channel awaited Morris when he started for England on the 1st of August, and it was not until the 3d that he finally landed at Brighthelmstone. Three miles from shore the vessel was met by a small boat, and the passengers were landed on the beach, and “got on shore dry, a thing which does not always happen,” he says. Lodgings were difficult to find owing to the races, and the traveller did not linger longer than to notice that the “cleanliness of the place forms a reverse of the place I quitted yesterday, although that is the cleanest town, except Versailles, I have seen in France.” After many detentions and failures to provide post-horses, the races at Lewes being the absorbing interest of the moment, Morris at length started for London. “In descending a hill,” he says, “we arrive at a seat of Lord Abergavenny. The old castle, which was once, I suppose, the residence of the feudal tyrant of this soil, becomes now simply an object of ornament to the grounds. The house is neat, and the clumps of trees which are strewed upon the waving ground of vivid green derive an additional beauty by contrast. At Croydon they are holding the sessions, so that we have great difficulty to get anything. In the last ten miles I see some fine forest-trees, but not before. Those which had met my view were small and low, so that I actually, in one instance, took the forest for a large orchard till I came very near. I have as yet seen no land in Europe equal to our best soil in America, and very little as good as our second quality. All the difference of product arises from culture. With perpetual rains they have but little water, and, to my great surprise, in this hilly country, I have found no springs or rivulets.”
[*]Lafayette had done most efficient work in Paris as commandant of the National Guard. From the 14th to the 22d of July he, at the risk of his life, saved seventeen persons from hanging and other violent deaths in different quarters of the city.
[*]The demolition of the Bastille was begun at once, and some of the prisoners were found buried among the stones.
[*]Foulon was conseiller d’état. His anti-popular opinions cost him his life.