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CHAPTER IX. - 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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Deputies demand passports. The streets alive with disorderly characters. Houses marked for destruction. Unsafe to walk about Paris. Necker sombre and depressed. Madame de Staël’s salon. The Duke of Orleans leaves for England. Morris calls on Necker, and suggests the idea of raising the price of bread. Letter to Lafayette. The Duke of Orleans is stopped at Boulogne. News of insurrections. Conversation in Madame de Flahaut’s salon about intended changes in the ministry. Lafayette commits a blunder in offering himself to Mirabeau. The Cardinal de Rohan. Flour to be imported from America. Graphic letter to Robert Morris. Madame de Flahaut disconsolate over the reduction in pensions.
Before many weeks had passed, three hundred deputies demanded passports. An indisposition attacked them, which Louis Blanc calls the “maladie de la contre-révolution avortée.” Among the two parties which formed the counter-revolutionists, there were differences of action. The one endeavored to shun events, the other strove to ferment new agitations. The streets were alive with women of no character, dressed as for the masquerade, who entered houses and demanded money. Later, houses marked for more or less destructive purposes were everywhere to be seen. Red indicated fire, white signified pillage only, but the black mark proclaimed the house doomed, and its inmates subjects for death. Malet-du-Pin* wrote to some one that moderation had become a crime, and Mirabeau told the Comte de la Marck that, “given up to itself, Paris in three months will probably be a hospital, and certainly a theatre of horrors.” Honest women were no safer than courtesans from arrest and insult, and hardly dared to cross their own door-sills. Loustolot wrote that there was not a citizen in Paris who dared to say, “To-night I shall sup with my children.”
During these days, Morris employed himself with the necessary calculations and estimates for the purchase of the debt to France, preparatory to an interview with M. Necker. “I go this evening” [October 13th], says the diary, “with M. Le Coulteux to dine with M. Necker. He is sombre and triste, and so engrossed by the affairs of subsistence that I cannot speak to him upon the other subject. At dinner Madame de Staël seats herself next to me, and repeats part of the conversation of the other day at Madame de Flahaut’s. The Count Louis de Narbonne has told it to her. I apologize for my share in it, and add that I had rather say twice as much to her face. My apology, which is the reverse of an excuse, is accepted, and she asks why I do not come to see her. ‘Ily a longtemps, madame, que je désire avoir cet honneur-là!’ Some civil things are said on both sides, and I am to visit this evening.”
Quite the first salon of Paris at this time was that over which Madame de Staël presided. Her regular Tuesday evening supper, when not more than a dozen or fifteen covers were laid and her chosen friends were admitted into the little salon, the “chambre ardente,” was the great feature of the week. Here, the candles extinguished to heighten the effect, the Abbé Delille declaimed his “Catacombs de Rome,” and here Clermont-Tonnerre submitted to the criticism of his friends his discourse before delivering it in public. Near the chimney Necker stood, entertaining the Bishop of Autun, who smiled but avoided talking. Here was to be found the Duchesse de Lauzun, of all women the most gentle and timid; and in the midst stood the hostess, in her favorite attitude before the fire, with her hands behind her back, a large, leonine woman, with few beauties and no grace of gesture. She nevertheless animated the salon by her masculine attitude and powerful conversation. When Morris entered the charmed circle on this particular Tuesday, he found, he says, “De Narbonne, who is of course with Madame de Staël this evening. M. de Montmorin is also there, with his daughter, and a madame de Coigny, said to have beaucoup d’esprit. I feel very stupid in this group, which by degrees goes off and leaves madame, three gentlemen, and myself. As soon as supper appears I make my exit, promising her to come again. Much anxiety is felt about the situation of public affairs. Le Coulteux owned to me this afternoon that he has no hopes of a constitution but from the hand of the King.”
“This morning [October 14th] General Dalrymple* spends two hours with me. Tell him he must introduce me to the King’s banker, who, he says, is very rich. Tell him that I desire such an introduction because I think I shall possess information as to things in this country from which money may be made. He asks immediately if I would advise speculations in their funds at present, to which I reply in the negative. He tells me that the Duke of Orleans is off for England; he wants to know my opinion as to his journey. I am surprised at this, but conclude that some transactions of his Royal Highness have been discovered which would involve disagreeable consequences, and that the King has desired him to go off by way of avoiding inquiry. It is said that he has gone on business of a public nature, but this, I think, must be an excuse, because no man in France is more personally disagreeable to the King of England. Go to dine at Madame de Flahaut’s. She receives a note from the Bishop d’Autun. He is to be with her at half-past five. She insists that I shall leave her at five. I put on a decent share of coldness. Go to the club and inquire a little about the departure of the Duke of Orleans, who certainly is sent by the King in a diplomatic capacity, but there must be some reason not diplomatic. Go from thence to General Dalrymple’s, where two gentlemen of this country are drinking hard. A lady of a certain sort is at the table. Later I see Madame de Flahaut; she tells me that the Bishop will not accept of the Finances under Necker. She is leaving soon, and we are to dine a trio with the Bishop at four to-morrow.”
“To-day at four [October 15th] I go to the Louvre as arranged. We wait till near five before the Bishop comes from Versailles, and then sit down to an excellent dinner. She engages us to sup at Madame de Laborde’s.* I go away and visit Madame de Ségur, who begins a conversation which is broken in upon by the arrival of two visitors. Go from thence to Madame de Corney’s. She is in bed and has a very disagreeable cough. Go to Madame de Chastellux’s: the Duchess is there, as usual; also the Vicomte de Ségur. Some politics with him. Madame de Ségur comes in late; has been detained by her visitors. Requests me to visit Lafayette and pray him not to go into the Council. I decline, but at last, upon her urgency, promise to write him a letter to-morrow. Go thence to the Louvre; madame is dressing; is much fatigued. The Bishop arrives; I tell him my intention of writing to Lafayette. He approves of it, and observes that he must be preserved because he is useful. He tells me that he will not accept of a place in the present administration, and I approve of that determination. He is received with infinite attention at Madame de Laborde’s, which proves that they expect he will be somebody. Madame de Flahaut’s countenance glows with satisfaction in looking at the Bishop and myself as we sit together, agreeing in sentiment and supporting the opinions of each other. What triumph for a woman. I leave her to go home with him.”
“To-day [October 16th] I call upon M. Necker and mention to him the idea of raising the price of bread in Paris by making the difference fall on those who employ workmen; so that, estimating it at two sous, the master should be obliged, when bread is at four, to allow, say, two, three, or four sous additional. Also start to him the idea of asking the Assembly to appropriate a sum to the supply of Paris. To the first he replies that there is no wheat to be got, and he treats responsibility to the nation for such use of public money with contempt. I tell him that he must not count on supplies from England; at this he seems alarmed. I offer my services to obtain it from America. He thanks me, but has already given his orders, which I knew, or I should not have said so much. He makes no mention of the debt, nor I either. Go from thence to the club, and hear a little of the sentiment entertained of the Duke of Orleans. His friends appear chopfallen and defend him, which is absurd, for they know not enough of the matter to make an able defence, or, if they know, conceal that knowledge, which comes to the same thing. Visit at Madame de Chastellux’s. At eight the Duchess comes in, and remarks to me upon her punctuality; afterwards Madame de Ségur, who tells me that M. de Lafayette does not go into the Council, at least for the present. After making tea, etc., I visit Madame de Flahaut, who has just returned from the opera. The Bishop comes in and I read my letter to Lafayette, she translating, but Capellis comes in before it is finished and stays till twelve, when we all take leave.”
The letter referred to, after a careful revision by Madame de Flahaut and the Bishop of Autun, Morris sent to Lafayette on the 17th of October. It is as follows:
Paris, October 16, 1789.
I took the liberty, in some late conversation, to give my sentiments on public affairs. I know the folly of offering opinions which bear the appearance of advice, but a regard for you, and the sincerest wishes for the prosperity of this kingdom, pushed me beyond the line which caution would have drawn for one of less ardent temper. I do not wish you to consider this as apology; on the contrary, I desire you to recollect, both now and hereafter, the substance of those conversations. In that progress of events which rapidly advances, you will judge my judgment.
I am convinced that the proposed constitution cannot serve for the government of this country; that the National Assembly, late the object of enthusiastic attachment, will soon be treated with disrespect; that the extreme licentiousness of your people will render it indispensable to increase the royal authority; that under such circumstances the freedom and happiness of France must depend on the wisdom, integrity, and firmness of His Majesty’s councils, and, consequently, that the ablest and best men should be added to the present administration; that, so far as regards yourself, you should take care that those who come in be sensible of the obligation they owe you, disposed to repay it, and of a temper neither to desert you nor their sovereign nor each other, in the moment of danger or for the sake of advantage; I consider the present time as critical, and that if neglected, many irreparable mischiefs must ensue. Such are the bodings of a mind not easily ruffled nor alarmed, but feelingly alive to the interests of friendship and devotedly attached to the liberties of mankind. Certainly, you have much better means of information than I have. Certainly, you have that intimate knowledge of your own nation which it is impossible for a stranger to acquire, and most certainly you have perfect acquaintance with the characters which stand forward for public observation.
Let what I have said, therefore, go for nothing; I have repeated it here as being in some sort the needful introduction to what I am now to communicate. Last evening, in company with some of your friends who supposed me to enjoy a share of your confidence, in which I assured them, with great truth, that they were mistaken, I was urged to visit and entreat you not to go into the Council. Knowing how much you are occupied and how improper it is for me to interfere, I declined the visit, but was at length prevailed on by earnest entreaty to promise that I would in a letter assign the reasons which influence them: 1. That your present command must of necessity engross your time and require undissipated attention; and in consequence, that you must fail in the duty either of minister or general. 2. That when in Council your opinions will not have more weight, and perhaps less, than they have at present, because at present they are respected as coming from you, but will only be received in Council according to the reasons adduced in their support, and it is not always that the wisest man is the most eloquent. 3. If your opinions do not prevail, you will have the mortification to sanction by your presence the measures which you disapprove, or quit in disgust the seat which you have taken. 4. If your opinions prevail, you will then, in your quality of general, be called on to execute what, in your quality of councillor, you had ordained. In this situation the public opinion will revolt unless it be subdued. The one will ruin you and the other your country. 5. The jealousy and suspicion inseparable from tumultuous revolutions, and which have already been maliciously pointed against you, will certainly follow all your future steps if you appear to be too strictly connected with the Court. The foundations of your authority will then crumble away, and you fall, the object of your own astonishment. 6. The retreat of the Duke of Orleans is attributed to you, and if you go into the Council immediately after what is called by some his flight, and by others his banishment, the two events will be coupled in a manner particularly disadvantageous and disagreeable. 7. If you go into the ministry with Mirabeau, or about the same time, every honest Frenchman will ask himself the cause of what he will call a very strange coalition. There are in the world men who are to be employed, not trusted. Virtue must ever be sullied by an alliance with vice, and liberty will blush at her introduction if led by a hand polluted. Lastly, I am earnestly, most earnestly, requested by those who love you well to add one caution as to your friends: Trust those who had that honor before the 12th of July. New friends are zealous, they are ardent, they are attentive, but they are seldom true.
Excuse the liberty of an old one, who is, truly yours,
“Laurent Le Coulteux dines with me to-day [October 17th], and we enter into conversation about the shipment of wheat and flour from America. I give him information, and tell him if he chooses to take an interest in such business he may have it. My indifference makes him desirous of it. He proposes a concern in thirds, to which I assent, and desire him to prepare his letters and send them to me. We then speak of the tobacco business. He is very unwilling to give the credit I require, hesitates, and tries to evade it. Luckily my carriage arrives, and I tell him that a pressing engagement obliges me to leave him. Drive to the Louvre and take Madame de Flahaut to the convent to visit her religieuse, Maman Trent, who is as much of this world as one devoted to the other can be. The old lady admires her looks, and will not believe that she has been indisposed. We return again; I leave her to receive the Bishop. She drops an expression, for the first time, respecting him which is cousin-german to contempt. I may, if I please, wean her from all regard towards him. But he is the father of her child, and it would be unjust. The secret is that he wants the fortiter in re, though he abounds with the suaviter in modo, and this last will not do alone. Visit Madame de Chastellux; the Duchess is there, the Maréchal and Vicomte de Ségur; make tea. A person comes in and tells the Duchess that her husband is stopped at Boulogne. She is much affected; we undertake to assure her that it cannot be—though there is every reason to suppose that, in the present disordered state of the kingdom, he would not pass. She is very solicitous to know the truth, and I go to M. de Lafayette’s to inquire it. He is not at home, or, rather, if I may judge from appearances, he is not visible. Thence to M. de Montmorin’s, who is abroad. Return to Madame de Chastellux’s; the poor Duchess is penetrated with gratitude for this slight attempt to serve her. It is very hard that a heart so good should be doomed to suffer so much. Take leave; she follows me out to express again her thankfulness. Poor lady! Go to Madame de Staël’s; a pretty numerous company; a great deal of vivacity, which I do not enter into sufficiently. She asks me, while I sit next to Narbonne, if I continue to think she has a preference for M. de Tonnerre. I reply only by observing that they have each of them wit enough for one couple, and therefore I think they had better separate and take each a partner who is un peu bête. I do not enter enough into the ton of this society. After supper some gentlemen come in, who tell us that there is a riot in the Faubourg St. Antoine. We have had a great deal of news this evening; a number of insurrections in different places. It is affirmed by madame, on good authority, that the Duke is stopped. Go from thence to the club, where we learn that the supposed riot is a false alarm. But my servant tells me that they expect one to-morrow, and have ordered out a large body of troops at eight o’clock in the morning. The grenadiers of the late French guards insist on keeping possession of the King’s person. This is natural. It has been a fine day—something like what we call in America the second summer.”
“At the club [October 18th] M. ——, who is one of the entours of M. de Lafayette, tells me that the friends of the Duke of Orleans will (it is apprehended) denounce him to the Assemblée Nationale, so as to oblige him to return, they expecting that his popularity in Paris will make him triumph over his enemies. He wishes me to go and dine with Lafayette, but this cannot be; besides I will not again trouble him with advice unless he asks it, and perhaps not then. At three visit Madame de Flahaut. The Bishop is with her. Converse about the intended changes in administration. I insist that Mirabeau be not brought into the Council, that they are mistaken in supposing he can after that elevation preserve his influence in the Assembly; that introducing a man of such bad character will injure them in public opinion, and that everything depends in the present moment upon the preservation of that opinion. The Bishop tells me that in his opinion no administration can work well in which M. Necker has a share. After he is gone Madame tells me that Lafayette is determined not to let Montesquiou into the war department. This Mirabeau told the Bishop, and Montesquiou told her that Necker declares the calculations in the Bishop’s motion are pitiful. This accounts for his opinion delivered to me. Lafayette has committed a great blunder in opening himself to Mirabeau. If he employs him it will be disgraceful, and if he neglects him it will be dangerous, because every conversation gives him rights and means. She tells me that the Bishop has invited himself to dine with her every day. We laugh and chat. I go to General Dalrymple’s to dinner. The General says he is well informed that the Duc d’Orléans was on his knees to entreat pardon of the King. Despatches are sent off to urge his dismission from his keepers at Boulogne. The conversation is turned by degrees to American affairs, and I tell them (which is true) that they have committed an error in not sending a minister to America. They are vastly desirous of convincing me that an alliance with Britain would be for our interest, and I swallow all their arguments and observations in such a way as to induce the belief that I am convinced, or at least in the way of conviction. The young man thinks he has done wonders. From thence I go to the Louvre, though I had determined not. The Cardinal de Rohan* is with Madame. We talk among other things about religion, for the Cardinal is very devout. He was once the lover of Madame’s sister, and much beloved. He says the King is not the fool he is supposed to be, and gives instances to prove it; but the Cardinal is not the man of sense he was supposed to be, and therefore his evidence is not to be taken blindly. Shortly after the Cardinal goes, M. de St. Venau comes in and I take my leave.”
After much discussion and trouble, Morris and M. Le Coulteux finally agreed to import 30,000 barrels of flour from America as soon as possible—“having,” as Morris says, “in contemplation the relief of those wants which I foresee will take place here the ensuing spring.” “I am persuaded,” he wrote at this time, in a very graphic letter to Robert Morris, “for my own part, that this government must feel secure in the article of subsistence before they take the measures needful for the order which is indispensable. Everything now is as it were out of joint. The army without discipline or obedience. The civil magistracy annihilated. The finances deplorable. They have no fixed system to get through the difficulties, but live upon expedients, and are at the mercy of projectors. A country so situated may starve in one province while another suffers from its abundance. There is no order anywhere. I have only once attended the deliberations of the National Assembly since September. Indeed that once has fully satisfied my curiosity. It is impossible to imagine a more disorderly Assembly. They neither reason, examine, nor discuss. They clap those whom they approve and hiss those whom they disapprove. But if I attempted a description I should never have done. That day I dined in company with the President, and told him frankly that it was impossible for such a mob to govern this country. They have unhinged everything. The executive authority is reduced to a name. Everything almost is elective, and consequently no one obeys. It is an anarchy beyond conception, and they will be obliged to take back their chains for some time to come at least. And so much for that licentious spirit which they dignify with the name of ‘Love of Liberty.’ Their Literati, whose heads are turned by romantic notions picked up in books, and who are too lofty to look down upon that kind of man which really exists, and too wise to heed the dictates of common-sense and experience, have turned the heads of their countrymen, and they have run-a-muck at a Don Quixote constitution such as you are blessed with in Pennsylvania. I need say no more. You will judge of the effects of such a constitution upon people supremely depraved.”
“To-day [October 19th], I hear the purport of Cantaleu’s conversation with M. Necker about the debt of the United States to France. This last demands a million louis, which I think too much, and says that he cannot think of presenting to the public view a bargain in which he gets less than twenty-four millions [francs]. This afternoon I drive with Madame de Flahaut to the Bois de Boulogne, but we are stopped for want of a passport at the barrière. We make a short visit at the convent. Madame is in much grief over the loss of her income. The reduction of her brother’s affairs, who is superintendent of the King’s building, takes some of her support from her; and 4,000 which was due by the Comte d’Artois vanishes with his Royal Highness’s person. Thus there remains but 12,000, and those badly paid, being a rente viagère. With this little income it is impossible to live in Paris. She must then abandon her friends, her hopes, everything. Shortly after we arrive at the Louvre M. de Montesquiou comes in, and discusses the motion of the Bishop d’Autun. He disapproves of the calculations. He is right in his observations, which are precisely those which I made to the Bishop previous to his motion. However, good may be drawn from the business eventually. Leave them, promising to return. Go to Madame de Chastellux’s, and, as usual, make tea for the Duchess. Nothing here but the usual chat. Madame de Ségur is here and Mr. Short. Return to the Louvre. The Maréchal de Ségur tells us at Madame de Chastellux’s that Mirabeau was to be in the ministry. Madame de Flahaut tells me that Montesquiou says he is false to the Bishop, and is to go with Necker conjointly into the finances. She is anxious to see the Bishop this evening; she is ill and apprehends a fever, but I restore her considerably by the aid of a little soup.”
[*]Malet-du-Pin was said to be the sole newspaper man in Paris during the Revolution who, without insult or flattery, gave correct analyses of the debates.
[*]General Sir Howe Whiteford Dalrymple, a British general, fought in several campaigns in the war against France.
[*]The most sumptuous table, perhaps, in Paris was that of M. de Laborde, over which presided his wife, a sensible woman, who, wiser than many others of the financial set, took with pleasure and graciously the advances of the grandes dames, but withal maintained her dignity.
[*]Cardinal de Rohan, so famous for his complicity in the affair of the diamond necklace.