Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XII. - The Diary and Letters of Gouverneur Morris, vol. 1
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
CHAPTER XII. - 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.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The opera. Gardell and Vestris. Strictures on the character of the people of France. The Caisse Patriotique opened. Paris gay with uniforms. People sacrifice their jewels for the public benefit. Morris disapproves of Necker’s plan of finance. Resolutions passed in the Assembly which affect Protestants. The public debt. The king’s brother goes to the Commons. Monsieur and the Favras conspiracy. Lafayette intriguing deeply. Morris makes punch for the society at Madame de Vannoise’s. His first suggestion of settling the banks of the St. Lawrence. Asked for information about America. Ceremony of saluting the ladies with a kiss on New Year’s eve.
The opera to-night [December 15th] is a new one, and very good. I take Madame de Flahaut to enjoy it with me. It has as little of the inevitable evil of an opera as can easily be supposed, but the radical vices remain; the scenery is fine. After the opera, Gardell and then Vestris exhibit their muscular genius. The latter seems almost to step on air. It is a prodigious piece of human mechanism. Take M. and Madame Robert (the painter) from the opera, and go afterwards to the Louvre. M. St. Priest is here. We are to sup trio. The Vicomte de St. Priest comes in—a coxcomb, and, what is worse, an old one. The conversation is dull.”
“To-day [December 16th] I hear that the Comte de Montmorin says M. Necker is ready to accept my proposal as soon as a solid house in Europe will come forward with the offer; that the plan I have offered suits (as M. de Montmorin says) this government exactly, and must be very well if it suits the United States as well. At Madame de Laborde’s I am introduced to Madame d’Houdetot, who is the protectrice of Crêvecœur, who is much courted by the academicians, who was the only beloved of Rousseau, who had at the same time another lover, a happy one, and who is, I think, one of the ugliest women I ever saw, even without her squint, which is of the worst kind.
“Madame de Flahaut tells me to-night that Montesquiou will propose to-morrow a plan of finance, which consists in issuing a large sum of billets d’État bearing interest; but if the report of the committee to be made by Le Cantaleu is adopted by acclamation, Montesquiou will be silent. He and the Bishop were with her this evening and they discussed the matter together. She asks my opinion. I tell her it is good for nothing, and give one or two reasons. I add that the more reasonable their plan, the more unreasonable is their conduct in offering it. But the character of this country is precipitation, not to mention the vaulting ambition which o’erleaps itself. There is, besides, a spur to prick the sides of their intent with all the sharpness of necessity, for both these gentlemen are not a little out at elbows. The Marquis de Montesquiou comes in. He tells me the plan of finance reported by the committee and that which he means to move in substitution. The first is complicated, and it would seem that the farmers have, by bewildering, convinced themselves. The second is simple, but liable to a little objection which the author had overlooked; I state it. He endeavors to obviate it; in effect, he feels attached to his plan, which is natural, but if adopted, I think it will work evil to him as well as to the country, for the paper money must depreciate. He asks whether, in my opinion, the paper proposed by the committee will sustain its value. I tell him no, but that he had better let the plan of his opponents do the mischief. He seems to be convinced against his will, and therefore, according to ‘Hudibras,’ is, I presume, of the same opinion still.”
On the 17th of December the report of the ten commissioners was presented to the Assembly. On the 19th, Morris says: “The Bishop just come from the Assemblée; says they have passed tumultuously the plan of the committee grounded on the plan of M. Necker. He seems much dissatisfied with it.” Necker’s plan adopted, the Caisse Patriotique was opened, and into it flowed every imaginable thing, of great or small value—precious stones, articles of jewellery, “mouches” boxes, some time since abandoned by the ladies. Great ladies sacrificed their jewels, and adorned themselves with ribbons instead. Madame de Genlis and Madame de Bulard, to give emphasis to their patriotic feelings, wore pieces of the stone of the Bastille set in laurel leaves, pinned on with a forest of ribbons of the three colors. The king and queen contributed their share, in gold plates and dishes of great value. A spasm of generosity possessed all ranks, and rivalled the soldier fever, which for months had been strong, and had filled the streets of Paris with the most fantastic costumes imaginable, of which red, green, and gold epaulets were a brilliant feature. Each district had its distinctive color and mode, but all united in carrying the tricolor, in the manufacture of which all the available material in Paris seems to have been sacrificed. During the last month of 1789 a loan of eighty millions was made to the Caisse d’Escompte. As to the new plan, the diary says:
“At Madame de Ségur’s this morning [December 20th] her brother, M. d’Aguesseau asked my opinion of the new plan of finance. I gave it very candidly, but find from Madame Chastellux this evening that it made a very sombre impression upon his mind. M. de Montmorin tells me that M. Necker is pleased with my proposition, and willing to treat with me, provided I can show that I am authorized by persons of sufficient property in Europe to create a due responsibility. I communicate to him what passed with M. Necker, and, if I can judge rightly of this conversation, the Count at least (and probably M. Necker) is desirous of bringing this business to a conclusion. He asks me if he may speak to M. Necker about it. I tell him yes, and that I will take an opportunity one day to call at M. Necker’s coffee, and converse with him if he chooses.”
“The Assemblée passed to-day [December 24th] a resolution which gives the Protestants admission (by necessary implication) to the offices of state. The Bishop is much pleased with it, but said nothing in its support. I advise him to have his conduct remarked in some of the journals, because that his order is already against him, and therefore he must secure the interest of those who are against his order.”
“M. de Moustier tells me to-day [December 25th] that some persons were arrested last night in consequence of a plot formed to assassinate M. de Lafayette, M. Bailly, and M. Necker, and to carry the King off into Picardy. I don’t believe a word of the plot. It will, however, serve a certain purpose to the inventors. Moustier tells me further that Necker is prepared to accept my offer, and vaunts much his services in the business, all which I know how to estimate at the just value. The conversation at Madame de Chastellux’s this Christmas evening is sensible, but not marquante. The Comtesse de Ségur tells me that M. du Fresne, who is M. Necker’s right-hand man, says that his chief is not equal to his business. The Duchess comes in, and Mr. Short. I tell him of Moustier’s eagerness to show his utility to America, and add that certainly if the plan takes effect it must be attributed to him, Parker, and myself. Go to Madame de Guibert’s to supper. After supper a question is agitated respecting the Dauphin, father to Louis Seize and the Duc de Choiseul, which leads to the subject of poisons. M. de Laborde mentions a very extraordinary kind of poison as being notorious, and detailed in the dictionary of medicines. It consists in fattening a hog with portions of arsenic, and then distilling his flesh, which gives a poisonous water of slow but sure effect. He appeals, then, to the Count de Thiare for the truth of this extraordinary fact. A lady at court asked for a glass of water. It was brought, and she drank it. Immediately she burst into tears, declaring that she was poisoned, and told the King, ‘It is that villain,’ pointing to one of his attendants, ‘who has done it.’ The King rallied her on the subject, but she went away greatly distressed, and died in about eight days. The person she had designated asked leave, in the interim, to go and look after his affairs in Savoie, went off, and was never heard of. We afterwards get upon finance, and M. de Guibert, who loves to hear himself talk, says a good deal to prove that he knows but little. He is, however, a violent Neckerist. I leave this house before twelve, being not very well. It has been a fine day, but Paris, on this great festival of the nativity, shows how much she has fallen by the revolution. The paper of the Caisse keeps going down, and is now at two per cent. discount. The actions also fall fast, which is very natural.”
“A member of the Committee of Finance mentions at the club to-day [December 26th] that the totality of the public debt here is about 4,700,000,000£, including herein all reimbursements of charges of every kind, and calculating the viagères [life annuities] at ten years’ purchase; that it may amount, perhaps, to 4,800,000,000£, that is, to 200,000,000 pounds sterling. This, then, is the extreme of a burthen which this kingdom totters under. The Abbé d’Espagnac insists that it is not so much by a great deal. While the dispute on this subject is at its height, a gentleman arrives who communicates the extraordinary intelligence that Monsieur, the King’s brother, has been to the Commons and made a speech on the subject of a charge circulated against him yesterday, that he was at the head of the supposed plot against M. Bailly and M. de Lafayette. Go to Madame de Chastellux’s. While there the Chevalier de Graave brings us Monsieur’s speech. It is very well written, but has the fault of calling himself a citizen, and, again, his audience fellow-citizens. Go to the Louvre. Madame tells the history of this speech. Monsieur yesterday, upon hearing of the slander, applied to the Duc de Livi, who, not knowing what advice to give him, applied to the Bishop d’Autun, who made the speech for him. This morning Monsieur applied to the King, and asked him if he meant to send another of his brothers out of the kingdom; then went on to complain of the slander. This touches Lafayette, who has too many of these little matters on the anvil. It was then determined that Monsieur should go to the Ville, etc.”
“At half-past two [December 27th] visit Madame de Flahaut. The Bishop d’Autun is there. She reads me a letter he has written to the author of the Courrier de l’Europe explaining his plan. I make to him sundry observations concerning it, but refuse to take it with me and make notes. After he is gone she asks me not to mention to Lafayette, as was intended, the archiepiscopacy of Paris for the Bishop d’Autun, but to show the advantages which may be derived from the step taken by Monsieur. Go to M. de Lafayette’s. After dinner I speak to Lafayette about Monsieur’s speech to the Commons. He takes Short* and me into his closet. Tells us that for a long time he has had information of a plot; that he has followed the track, and at length took up M. de Favras; that on M. de Favras was found a letter from Monsieur which seemed to show that he was but too deeply concerned in it; that he had immediately waited upon him with that letter, which he delivered, telling Monsieur that it was known only to him and M. Bailly—consequently, that he was not compromised; that Monsieur was much rejoiced at this intelligence; that yesterday morning, however, he sent for him, and, being surrounded by his courtiers, spoke in high terms respecting a note which had been circulated the evening before charging him with being at the head of the conspiracy. Lafayette told him that he knew of but one way to discover the authors, which was by offering a reward, which should be done; that Monsieur then declared his determination to go to the town-house in the afternoon, and that in consequence due preparation was made to receive him when he should come; that he came, and pronounced the speech we have seen, which was written by Mirabeau, whom he considers as an abandoned rascal. Every man is dear to himself. All the world knew Mirabeau to be a rascal when Lafayette connected himself with him; but it is in this moment only that he feels the misery of such a connection. I remind him of the warnings I had given with respect to Mirabeau, and add the intelligence which the Comte de Luxembourg desired me to convey; viz., that Mirabeau had sworn he would ruin Lafayette. I then tell him that this step of Monsieur’s has thrown the cards into his hands; that he has placed himself at the head of the revolution, in which place he ought to be kept, because, if there should happen any counter-revolution, he secures the heads of all others against accidents, and if the revolution is fully effected, the nullity of his character will of course seclude him from all weight and authority. He relishes this idea. I then take the opportunity to inculcate upon his mind anew the advantage of an administration whose characters are fair, which appears strongly in the case of M. Necker, to whose probity everything is pardoned. He feels conviction, but it will not last. His temper is turned towards intrigue and must unite itself to them of similar disposition. At going away I ask him if he sees often the gentleman I presented to him. He says that he does not. Mentions, however, his name (the Bishop d’Autun), which I did not intend, and tells me that he desired to have given him the King’s library, with the Abbé de Sieyès* under him, as a step toward l’éducation nationale, which is the Bishop’s hobby-horse. I undertake to make this communication at his request. Visit Madame de Chastellux. She tells me that Monsieur is not much applauded in society, that is, in good company. I am not at all surprised at this. Go from hence to Madame de Laborde’s, having first written a little extempore address to the Duchess as from Madame de Chastellux, to whom she had presented a small clock comme étrennes:
“Dine to-day [December 30th] with the Duchesse d’Orléans. Take tea with Madame de Chastellux and then go to Madame d’Houdetot’s. Her lover, M. de St. Lambert, is here. Conversation is sensible and agreeable enough, but I think I shall not go often. Of all Cupid’s magazines the least valuable, in my opinion, is his cabinet of antiquities. Have a conversation with M. de Montmorin and chat a while with the ladies, and, observing some almanacs on the chimney-piece, I take out my pencil and address a few lines to Madame de Beaumont, his daughter:
She is more pleased with this than she expresses, for the moral is rather to be adopted than approved. Go hence to a party at Madame de Vannoise’s. The intention, I find, is to hear the harmonica and drink punch. I am requested to mix that liquor and, in order that my glasses may produce equal music with those of the performer, I make it very strong. Madame de Laborde comes and sits next to me, with M. Bonnet. I repeat to her the lines I had written for Madame de Beaumont. She, of course, objects to the liberality of the sentiment, and M. Bonnet, who is to judge and can understand English only by the eye, though he has translated ‘Tristram Shandy,’ gives me his pencil and a piece of paper. I address to her a demonstration of my theme instead of copying what I had written:
I do not know whether this is exact, but it is convenient, and will, I know, be more strictly followed by those who condemn it than by the author. A reputation either good or bad as to morals is easily acquired. To judge a man by his actions requires a degree of attention which few have a right to expect, and few are willing to pay. It is much more convenient to judge from the conversation than from the conduct.
“At the club to-day we have a strange story of a sentinel stabbed, and the instruments left behind inscribed, ‘Va-t’en attendre Fayette.’ I profess, as usual, my disbelief. Go to the Louvre. The Duc de Biron, l’Évêque d’Autun, and M. de St. Foi, who dined here, are still with Madame, who is dressing to go to the Comédie. I am vexed at this. The Bishop and M. de St. Foi retire to a consultation, which is, I suppose, about his letter to the Courrier de l’Europe; when that is finished, I tell the Bishop what Lafayette had desired me to communicate. I add that I did not mention the archbishopric because Madame desired me not, but more because, not-withstanding the fair opportunity, I persisted in the opinion transmitted by her, for which I had not, however, given to her the reasons; that I think he should speak first himself, because he is of too elevated a rank to deal by an intermediary; if he were of an inferior grade, I would ask for him. He approves of this. Madame asks me to go to the play, which I refuse, and to Madame de Laborde’s, which I decline; I offer, however, to set her down at the play-house, which she accepts of. Go to Madame de Chastellux’s. M. de Brabançon comes in, to whom I communicate an idea which has occurred to my mind of forming a settlement upon the banks of the River St. Lawrence. He seems pleased with it, and will speak to the persons of his acquaintance who want to go out to America.”
“Go to Madame de Laborde’s to supper [December 31st]. Madame d’Houdetot tells me that she dined at M. Necker’s. I find that his family are much hurt at a refusal of the Assemblée to accept a gift proffered from Geneva, which is considered as a slight to M. Necker. She tells me that the Abbé Rayneval has addressed an excellent letter to the Assemblée. I suppose from hence that it is a criticism upon their conduct, which will not, I think, do them much good.
“This morning two persons come to see me who are determined to go out to America, and to purchase there my Raritan trust. I am to write a letter for them to New York. A person calls to obtain information about America, which I give, and also advice. Write, and then go to dine with M. Millet. After dinner one of the King’s pages comes in, who is to begin his tour of duty to-morrow. He tells us of the wonderful sagacity, understanding, and instruction of the King, his virtues, etc. He must be very confident, I think, of the credulity of his audience. M. de Moustier, who had spoken very favorably of him to me, and particularly as being an honest man, looks somewhat ashamed. A good deal of company at the Louvre. At midnight the gentlemen kiss the ladies; I do not attempt this operation, because there is some resistance, and I like only the yielding kiss and that from lips I love.”
Many people in Paris were already looking toward America as offering more safety if not comfort than any place nearer home, in the general upheaval of society that they felt was surely coming; and much of Morris’s time was occupied in giving advice and assistance to the emigrants. Several colonization schemes had already been set on foot in Paris by Americans anxious to get rid of their unproductive lands. One of the most shameful and cruel of these projects was the famous Scioto enterprise, and the founding of Gallipolis on the Ohio. Joel Barlow and Duer were among the men who furthered the emigration of hundreds of unfortunate families, lured to destruction by pictures of a salubrious climate and fertile soil. Morris, who was entirely convinced of the rottenness of the Scioto Company, cautioned and tried to protect the unwary Frenchmen from too hastily rushing into the forests of America.
[*]William Short, charge d’affaires during Jefferson’s official residence at Paris, was at this time the only representative of the United States in Paris.
[*]Abbé Sieyès, a central figure through all the years of the French Revolution, from the moment of writing, in 1789, the brochure entitled, “Qu’est-ce que le Tiers État,” until ten years later he was dismissed and placed in the hands of Bonaparte. The constitution he drew for France was conceived with a view of transforming the popular beliefs and principles; beginning a new order of things, not working to perfect the old. He was of bourgeois birth.