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ROLAND’S FIRST ADMINISTRATION. - Jeanne Marie Roland de la Platière, An Appeal to Impartial Posterity, by Citizenness Roland 
An Appeal to Impartial Posterity, by Citizenness Roland, wife of the Minister of the Home Department, or A Collection of Pieces written by her during her Confinement in the Prisons of the Abbey and St. Pelagie, Part I (London: J. Johnson, 1795). Vol. 2.
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ROLAND’S FIRST ADMINISTRATION.
How came Louis XVI. to select for the administration of public affairs a man like Roland, to whom, as an austere philosopher, and a laborious student, retirement was doubly dear? This will be a question with many people, and it would be one with me, were I any other than what I am. I am going to answer it by facts.
Resident at Lyons, during the winter, and belonging to the scientific and literary academics of that city, Roland was employed by the agricultural society to draw up its instructions for the use of the States General. His principles, and his turn of mind, made him naturally look forward with pleasure to a revolution which promised the reform of so many abuses. The publicity of these sentiments and his well known talents procured him his admission into the electoral body upon the first formation of the commune, and he was afterwards employed to manage the concerns of the city, which was deeply involved in debt. Being sent as a deputy extraordinary to the constituent assembly, he connected himself at Paris with several of its members and with some of the persons who devoted themselves to the study of public affairs. He returned home however, when the suppression of his place of inspector, by changing his destiny, obliged him to reflect on the course it would become him in future to pursue. The question was whether he should retire altogether to the country, live there upon his fortune, and employ himself in improving it; or whether, continuing his literary labours, he should make a journey to Paris, with the double view of collecting materials for that purpose, and of soliciting a pension as a reward for thirty years service in his administrative employ. The latter measure was adopted, because it would not prevent his recurring to the other, whenever he should deem it adviseable. We returned then to Paris on the 15th December 1791; but the affairs of the nation at large did not permit us to hope, that the legislative assembly, which had just met, would soon be at leisure to attend to the concerns of private individuals. Roland, intimate with Brissot, became acquainted with several of his colleagues in the legislative body; and not unfrequently went to the society of Jacobins, with old friends long since settled at Paris, who like him were delighted with a revolution which they esteemed friendly to liberty, and who thought that the society had already been useful, and might still help to support so good a cause.
Roland, content with being a peaceful auditor, never ascended the tribune to speak. He was known however, not indeed to the illiterate, who had as yet gained no ascendancy, but to many others; and by their means was appointed one of the committee of correspondence. This committee, of which the functions are indicated by the name, was composed of a considerable number of members, but only a few were actively employed. Roland often came home with a considerable packet of letters to answer: for though the business was divided into departments, and particular ones assigned to particular members; yet that every thing might be attended to in time, the more diligent were frequently obliged to perform the duty of the rest.—I read these letters; I often took upon me the care of answering them, having always found epistolary writing singularly easy and agreeable, because it adapts itself to every subject, and to every style alike, giving to discussion the most pleasing form, and to reason all the scope it can desire.—I remarked in the greatest part of the letters from the departments, a style exalted and emphatical, sentiments full of bombast, and consequently of affectation, in general a desire of the public good, or the ambition of appearing an ardent patriot. I considered that the parent society might exert a great insluence by disseminating good principles, taking care always to confine itself to the instruction of the people, and to the communication of sentiments calculated to strengthen the social tye, and consequently to inspire the true love of our country, which ought to be only that of the human kind, carried to the highest pitch in regard to those who live under the same laws with ourselves, and exalted by a disregard of self-interest in the unsrequent, but sometimes urgent, cases, which require the greatest sacrifices. Persuaded that a revolution is no better than a terrible, and destructive storm, if the improvement of the public mind do not keep pace with the progression of events; and sensible of the good that it was possible to do by taking hold of men’s imaginations, and giving them an impulsion towards virtue, I employed myself with pleasure in this correspondence. The committee gave Roland credit for his industry; nor indeed was he idle; but the work of two expeditious persons must necessarily have been considerable in the eyes of those, to whom the labours of either would have appeared great.
A few members of the assembly used to meet frequently in private at a house in Vendome square, where one of them lodged, and where a worthy and opulent woman had it in her power, without putting herself to inconvenience, to lend them an apartment, of which they were free to make use, even in her absence. Roland, who was esteemed for his good sense and integrity, was invited to join them; but he seldom went on account of the distance. As to me, I lived at home according to custom; I was not in health, and kept little company.
The state of affairs, and the discontents of the public mind alarmed the court. The ministers soon became the objects of public animadversion, and indeed their whole proceeding only tended to undermine a constitution to which the king had sworn contrary to his inclination, and which he did not mean to maintain. The court uneasy and perplexed, in the midst of the frequent changes and agitation of the ministry, knew not on whom to fix its choice. But there were people who declared openly, that if Louis XVI. were sincere, he would take men of undoubted civism for his agents. At length, impelled by weakness or by fear, the court came to a decision, but it was with the hope of corrupting, or if that hope failed, with the intention of dismissing, the ministers it should appoint. The court then shewed itself inclined to make a choice among those called patriots; and at that time the term had not been abused. How was this brought about? I never knew, nor did I ever inquire, because it appeared to me, that in that, as in all other cases, the idea is first started by some few individuals, is propagated by others, and is at last taken up and acted upon by people in power. By reflecting minds it was considered as important, to direct the attention of the court towards men of abilities, and of respectable character; for it was possible that it might take a malicious pleasure in selecting hot-headed Jacobins, whose extravagancies would authorize it to complain, and serve to bring patriotism into contempt. I am ignorant who was the individual that first mentioned Roland, in the committee at Vendome square, as one of those who ought not to be overlooked. The name of Roland was necessarily associated with the idea of a well informed man, who had written upon the subject of administration, who was not destitute of experience in that line, who was besides in possession of a fair reputation, and whose age, manners, and decisive character, joined to the principles he had openly professed even before the revolution, bespoke him a worthy partizan of liberty, in every point of view.—The king himself was no stranger to the above considerations, or at least to the facts upon which they were founded, as I shall hereafter have occasion to shew. These ideas owed their birth so entirely to the nature of things, that they were communicated to us only three days before the formation of the new ministry.—Brissot called upon me one evening when I was alone, and informed me of the probability of Roland’s elevation. I smiled, and asked him what was the meaning of his pleasantry. But he assured me that it was no joke, related to me the particulars I have just mentioned, and added that he was come to know whether Roland would consent to take upon him such a task. I promised to consult him, and make known his resolution on the following day. Roland was as much astonished at the event as myself: but his natural activity rendered him by no means averse to a multiplicity of business, and he said to me with a smile, that he had always seen people in power so miserably deficient, that he had never ceased to wonder how the public concerns could go forward at all; and that consequently the thing in itself gave him no alarm. The circumstances of the times were indeed critical, on account of the interests of the court and the uncertainty of the king’s intentions; but to a man attached to his duty, and caring little for the loss of his place while fulfilling it, the risk of acceptance was not great. Besides, a zealous man who had a right to some confidence in his talents, could not be insensible to the hope of serving his country. Roland then decided in the affirmative, and made known his intentions to Brissot. The following day the latter accompanied Dumouriez; who came to Roland’s house at eleven o’clock at night, after the breaking up of the council, to announce to him, in virtue of the orders, of which he was the bearer, that the king had just chosen him minister for the home department. Dumouriez, who had himself lately come into administration, spoke of the king’s sincere determination to support the constitution, and of his hope of seeing the machine set to work as soon as the same spirit should pervade the whole council. He also testified to Roland his particular satisfaction at seeing a virtuous and enlightened patriot like him, called upon to take a share in the government.
Brissot observed, that in the present circumstances, the business of the home department was the most delicate, and the most multifarious; and that the friends of liberty would feel themselves at ease on seeing it entrusted to hands so steady and so pure. The conversation passed lightly over these matters, and an hour of the next day was appointed for Roland to be presented to the king, and to take his oath and his seat in the council. I found in Dumouriez the deliberate air of a soldier, the manners of an artful courtier, and the conversation of a man of wit, but nothing that indicated sincerity or truth.—On comparing this man with his new colleague, whose frankness and austerity sometimes bordered upon rudeness, I asked myself if it were possible for beings so dissimilar to act long in concert?—‘That is a man,’ said Roland, after they were gone, ‘who discovers a great deal of patriotism, and announces abilities.’—‘Yes,’ said I, ‘and against whom you will do well to be on your guard; for I believe him capable of soon worming you out of place, if you do not steer a course to please him.’—‘We shall see,’ said Roland.
The first time that Roland appeared at court in the philosophical dress which he had long adopted for the sake of convenience, with a few scattered hairs combed over his venerable forehead, a round hat, and strings in his shoes, all the court lackeys, who attached the greatest importance to that etiquette on which their existence depended, were scandalized, and in a manner terrified at the sight.—One of them stepped up to Dumouriez with horror pictured in his countenance, and indicating the cause of his consternation with his eyes, Monsieur* , said he, point de boucles a ses souliers. Dumouriez, ready at repartee, and assuming a tragic-comic tone, cried out, Monsieur†! tout est perdu! The saying was soon put in circulation, and provoked a laugh from those who were the least inclined to mirth.
Lewis XVI. behaved to his new ministers with the greatest appearance of frankness and good nature. This man was not precisely what he was depicted by those who took a pleasure in vilifying him; he was neither the brutish blockhead, who was held up to the contempt of the people; nor was he the honest, kind, and sensible creature, whom his friends extolled to the skies. Nature had endowed him with ordinary faculties, which would have done very well in an obscure station, but he was depraved by his princely education, and ruined by his mediocrity in difficult times, when his safety could be effected only by the union of genius and virtue. A common understanding, educated for the throne, and taught dissimulation from the earliest infancy, has a great advantage in flealing with mankind. The art of shewing to each person only what it is proper for him to see, is in him no more than a habit, the practice of which gives him the appearance of ability; but a man must be born an idiot indeed to appear a fool in similar circumstances. Louis XVI. had besides an excellent memory, and an active turn of mind; was never idle, and read a great deal. He had also a ready recollection of the various treaties existing between France and the neighbouring nations; was well versed in history, and was the best geographer in the kingdom. His knowledge of the names, and his application of them to the faces, of all the persons about the court to whom they belonged, as well as his acquaintance with the anecdotes peculiar to each, had been extended to all the individuals who had distinguished themselves in any manner during the revolution; so that it was impossible to present to him a candidate for any place, concerning whom he had not formed an opinion, founded on particular facts. But Lewis XVI. without elevation of soul, energy of mind, or firmness of character, had suffered his views to be still further contracted, and his sentiments to be twisted, if I may use the expression, by religious prejudices, and jesuitical principles. Elevated ideas of religion, a belief in God, and the hope of immortality, accord very well with philosophy, and fix it upon a broader basis, at the same time that they compose the best ornaments of the superstructure. Woe to the legislators who despise these powerful means of inspiring the political virtues, and of preserving the morals of the people! Even if they were illusions yet unborn, it would be necessary to create and foster them for the consolation of mankind. But the religion of our priests presents nothing but objects of puerile fear, and miserable practices, to supply the place of good actions; and it sanctifies besides all the maxims of despotism which the authority of the church calls in to its aid. Lewis XVI. was afraid of hell, and of excommunication: with such weakness as this it was impossible not to make a despicable king. If he had been born two centuries before, and his wife had been a rational woman, he would have made no more noise in the world, than so many other princes of the Capetian line, who have “fretted their hour upon the stage,” without doing either much good or much harm.—But raised to the throne when the profligacy of Louis XV’s court was at the highest, and when the disorder of the finances was extreme, he was led away by a giddy woman, who united with Austrian insolence the presumption of youth and high birth, an inordinate love of pleasure, and all the thoughtlessness of a light mind, and who was herself seduced by the vices of an Asiatic court, for which she had been but too well prepared by the example of her mother.—Louis XVI. too weak to hold the reins of a government which was running to destruction, hastened their common ruin by innumerable faults. Necker, who always mixed up pathos in his politics as he did in his style, was a man of moderate abilities, of whom the public entertained a good opinion, because he had a very high opinion of himself, and proclaimed it without reserve; but void of all political foresight, a kind of double refined financier, who could calculate nothing but the contents of a purse, and who spoke for ever of his character without rhime or reason, as women of gallantry do of their virtue; Necker was a bad pilot for France, when such a storm was gathering round the horizon. France was in a manner destitute of men; their scarcity has been truly surprizing in this revolution, in which scarcely any thing but pigmies have appeared. I do not mean however that there was any want of wit, of knowledge, of learning, of accomplishments, or of philosophy. These ingredients, on the contrary, were never so common: it was like the last glimmering of an expiring taper; but as to that firmness of mind which J. J. Rousseau has so well defined by calling it the first attribute of a hero, supported by that soundness of judgment which knows how to set a true value upon things, and by those extensive views which penetrate into futurity, altogether constituting the character of a great man, they were sought for every where, and were scarcely any where to be found.
Lewis XVI. constantly fluctuating between the fear of irritating his subjects, and the inclination of keeping them in awe, while incapable of governing them, convoked the states general instead of retrenching his expences, and introducing order into his court. After having himself sowed the seeds, and provided the means of innovation, he pretended to prevent it by the affectation of a power, against which he had established a principle of counteraction, and by so doing only taught his people how to resist. Nothing remained for him but to sacrifice one portion of his authority with a good grace, that he might preserve in the other the means of recovering the whole; but for want of knowing how to go about it, he turned his attention to nothing but petty intrigues, the only kind familiar to the persons chosen by himself, and favoured by the queen. He had however reserved in the constitution sufficient means of power and of happiness, had he known how to be content; so that, wanting as he was in abilities to prevent its establishment, he might still have been saved by his good faith, if after having accepted it, he had sincerely endeavoured to promote its execution. But always protesting, on one hand, his intention to support what he was undermining on the other, the obliquity of his proceedings, and the fallacy of his conduct, first awakened distrust, and at last excited indignation.
As soon as he had appointed patriotic ministers, he made it his sole study to inspire them with confidence; and so well did he succeed, that for the first three weeks, Roland and Claviere were enchanted with the good disposition of the king. They dreamt of nothing but a better order of things, and flattered themselves that the revolution was at an end. ‘Good God!’ I used to say to them, ‘every time I see you set off for the council with that wonderful confidence, it seems to me that you are about to commit a folly.’ ‘I assure you,’ would Claviere answer,’ that the king is perfectly sensible, that his interest is connected with the observation of the new laws; he reasons too pertinently on the subject not to be convinced of that truth.’ ‘Ma foi,’ added Roland, ‘if he be not an honest man, he is the greatest knave in the kingdom; it is impossible to carry dissimulation to so great a length.’ As to me, I always replied that I had no faith in the love for the constitution professed by a man who had been brought up in the prejudices of despotism, and the habits of enjoyment, and whose recent conduct proved him wanting in both genius and virtue. My great argument was the flight to Varennes.
The sittings of the council were held in a manner which might pass for decent, in comparison of what they afterwards became; but with puerility, if regard be had to the important matters that called for discussion. Each of the ministers who had bons* to be signed, or business of a similar nature, regulated by the law, peculiar to his department, and concerning which there was no occasion to deliberate, waited upon the king, on the day appointed, previously to the meeting of the council, to transact these particular and subordinate affairs. They all repaired afterwards to the council chamber; and there the proclamations that related to the subjects of discussion were taken out of the port-folio. The minister of justice presented the decrees for the royal assent; and then the council proceeded, or ought to have proceeded, to deliberate upon the operations of government, the state of affairs at home and abroad, the question of peace and war, &c. As to proclamations adapted to circumstances of the moment, it was only necessary to examine the decree, and the occasion of applying it, which was readily done. In the mean time, the king suffered his ministers to confer, read the gazette, or the English newspapers in the original language, or else wrote a few letters. The sanctioning of decrees obtained more of his attention: he seldom gave his consent easily, and never without a refusal; always declining to accede to the first request, and postponing the matter to the next meeting, when he came with his opinion ready formed, though appearing to ground it upon the discussion. As to great political affairs, he often eluded their investigation, by turning the conversation to general topics, or to subjects suited to each particular person. If war were the question, he would talk of travelling; if diplomatic concerns were upon the carpet, he would relate the manners, or inquire into the local peculiarities of the country; or if the state of affairs at home were in discussion, he would dwell upon some trifling detail of economy or agriculture. Roland he would question about his works, Dumouriez concerning anecdotes, and so on: the council chamber was converted to a coffee-room, where nothing was heard but idle conversation; nor were any minutes taken of the proceedings, nor was there any secretary to keep them. At the end of three or four hours they broke up, without doing any thing but signing their names, and this was repeated three or four times a week.—‘Why ’tis pitiable!’ cried I out of all patience, when on Roland’s return, I inquired what had passed—‘You are all in good humour, because you experience no contradiction, and are treated with civility. You seem indeed to do whatever you please in your several departments; but I am terribly afraid that you are duped—however the public business is not at a stand—no, but much time is lost; for in the torrent of affairs that overwhelms you, I would rather see you employ three hours in solitary meditation on the great interests of the state, than spend them in idle chat.’ In the mean time the enemy were making their dispositions; for it had become absolutely necessary to declare war, a measure which was the subject of an animated discussion, and which the king did not seem to take without extreme repugnance. He had long delayed the decision; and appeared only to yield to the well-known opinion of the majority of the assembly, and to the unanimous voice of the council. Soon after the continuation or the multiplicity of religious troubles rendered those coercive measures indispensable, which the minister of the interior had long solicited in vain. On the other hand, the threatening, and formidable attitude of the foreign armies inspired the minister of war with the idea of a regulation, which the convention adopted with enthusiasm, and decreed without delay.
It is true that these two decrees, one for the formation of a camp of twenty thousand men near Paris, the other concerning the priests, were altogether decisive. The court perceived that they would overturn its secret treachery, the partial revolts fomented by fanaticism, and the progress of the enemy, which it favoured. The king was too firmly resolved to refuse his assent, to be in any haste to confess his determination, and devised various pretexts to avoid it for more than a fortnight. The discussion of this matter was several times renewed. Roland and Servan were urgent in their representations, because each of them felt the importance and the necessity of the law that regarded his department; the general advantage was evident to all, and the six ministers in this respect were agreed in their opinion. At this period Dumouriez, whose loose conversation the king encouraged, was sent for several times to the queen; he had a little affront to revenge, and wished to get rid of colleagues, whose austerity accorded ill with his gay turn of mind: hence he was induced to enter into agreements of which the effect was soon perceived.
As to me, I felt a kind of agitation difficult to describe; delighted with the revolution, persuaded that, with all it’s faults, it was necessary to enforce the constitution, and ardently desiring to see my country prosper, the lowering aspect of public affairs gave me a moral fever, which raged without intermission. The king’s delays demonstrated his duplicity; and Roland had no longer any doubt upon the subject: there remained then but one resolution for an honest minister to take, and that was to resign, in case Louis XVI. should persist in rejecting measures necessary to the salvation of the empire.
This step, unattended by any other, might perhaps have satisfied a timid man; but for a zealous citizen, it is not enough to renounce a post in which good is no longer to be done; it behoves him to say so with energy, that he may throw a light upon the public calamities, and render his retreat beneficial to his country.—Roland and I had long lamented the weakness of his colleagues. The tardiness of the king had made us imagine, that it might be of great use to address a letter to him from the ministers collectively, which might set forth the reasons that had been already given in the council, but which, when expressed upon paper, and signed by them all, with the offer of their resignation in case his majesty should not think proper to listen to their representations, might either force him to compliance, or expose him to the eyes of all France. I had drawn up the letter, after having agreed upon the fundamental points with Roland, who made the proposal to his colleagues.—All approved of the idea, but most of them differed as to the execution. Claviere objected to some phrase or other; Duranthon was inclined to temporize; and Lacoste was in no haste to subscribe his name. As the propriety of such a measure should be perceived at the first glance and felt in a lively manner, the bad success of our first attempt was a hint not to repeat it. It became then necessary to act in an insulated character, and since the council had not spirit enough to stand forth together, it behoved the man who set events at defiance to take upon himself the task which the whole body should have fulfilled: the question was no longer to retire, but to deserve to be dismissed—to say, do thus, or we will resign; but to assert, that all was lost unless a proper line of conduct were pursued.
I composed the famous letter. Here I must digress for a moment to clear up the doubts, and to fix the opinion of a number of persons, of whom the greater part only allow me a little merit, that they may deny it to my husband, and of whom several others suppose me to have had an influence in public affairs discordant with my character. Studious habits and a taste for literature made me participate in his labours, as long as he remained a private individual—I wrote with him as I ate with him, because one was almost as natural to me as the other, and because my existence being devoted to his happiness, I applied myself to those things which gave him the greatest pleasure. Roland wrote treatises on the arts; I did the same, although the subject was tedious to me. He was fond of erudition; I helped him to pursue his critical researches. Did he wish, by way of recreation, to compose an essay for some academy? we sat down to write in concert, or else separately, that we might compare our productions, choose the best, or compress them into one. If he had written homilies, I should have written homilies also. He became minister: I did not interfere with his administration; but if a circular letter, a set of instructions, or an important state paper, were wanting, we talked the matter over with our usual freedom, and impressed with his ideas, and pregnant with my own, I took up the pen, which I had more leisure to conduct than he.
Our principles and our turns of mind being the same, we agreed upon the form, and my husband ran no risk in passing through my hands. I could advance nothing warranted by justice or reason, which he was not capable of realizing, or supporting by his character and conduct; but my language expressed more strongly than his words, what he had done or what he promised to do. Roland without me would not have been a worse minister; his activity, his knowledge, and his probity, were all his own; but with me he attracted more attention, because I infused into his writings that mixture of energy and of softness, of authoritative reason, and of seducing sentiment, which are perhaps only to be found in a woman of a clear head and a feeling heart. I took a delight in composing those pieces which I presumed would be of use, and my pleasure was even greater than if I had been known as the author. I am avaricious of happiness: with me it consists entirely in the good I do. I do not even stand in need of glory; nor can I find any part that suits me in this world, but that of Providence. I allow the malicious to look upon this confession as a piece of impertinence; but those who know me will see nothing in it but what is sincere, like myself.
I return to the letter, which was sketched with a stroke of the pen, as was generally the case with every thing I did of the kind; for to feel the necessity and the propriety of a thing, to conceive its good effect, to desire to produce it, and to cast in the mould the object from which that effect was to result, were to me but one and the same operation. While we were reading over this letter together, Pache was in my husband’s closet, that very Pache, who, before the expiration of the year, calumniated Roland, and now persecutes us, as the enemies of liberty.—‘ ’Tis a hazardous step,’ said the hypocrite, whom I took for a sage.—‘Hazardous! without doubt, but just and necessary; what signifies any thing else?’—Roland repaired to the council, on the 10th of June, with the letter in his pocket, and with the design of first reading it aloud to his colleagues, and then putting it into the king’s hands. The debate concerning the sanctioning of the two decrees began; but was suspended by the king, who told his ministers to have each his written opinion ready to deliver to him at the next meeting of the council. Roland could have delivered his without delay: he thought however, after what had passed, that it was incumbent on him to wait out of regard to his colleagues; but on his return home we were of opinion, that he could not do better than dispatch his letter, to which he added three or four missive lines.
The next day, at eight o’clock in the evening, I saw Servan walk into my apartment with a joyful countenance. ‘Congratulate me,’ said he, ‘I am turned out.’—‘I am much mortified,’ answered I, ‘at your being the first to have that honour; but I hope that, ere long, it will be awarded to my husband.’—Servan related to me that he had been on business with the king in the morning, that he had endeavoured to speak to him about the camp; that the king, with evident marks of ill humour, had at last turned his back upon him; and that Dumouriez came an instant after, to demand his port folio, of which he was going to take charge himself.—‘Dumouriez? His conduct surprizes me little, but it is infamous, and the other ministers in that case ought not to wait for their dismission. It would become them better to write to the king, that they can no longer sit at the council board with Dumouriez: we must send for them to consult about it.’ Nobody but Claviere and Duranthon came, and they were people who never knew how to take a decisive measure. It was agreed upon that they should return the next morning, after due deliberation, and that Roland should have a letter prepared for them to sign. He had already communicated to them the one he had sent in the morning, and from which he expected the same treatment as Servan had met with before.—I do not know whether, for that very reason, these gentlemen, who were fond of their places, might not imagine, that the two ministers the most urgent for the decrees, would be the only ones sacrificed, and that they ought not to expose themselves rashly to the same fate. The next morning they did not think proper to write, but deemed it most advisable to go and speak to the king in person; a measure contrary to common sense, for when it is necessary to say strong and disagreeable things to a person entitled by his situation to a great deal of respect, it is much more advantageous to do it by letter. Roland, who had fulfilled his task, could no longer be of the party; but they waited upon Lacoste, with the intention of asking him to join them. Lacoste was doubtful, and appeared to hesitate, when a messenger from the king brought Duranthon an order to go immediately, and alone, to the palace.—‘We will wait for you at your own house,’ said Claviere and Roland.—Scarcely had they reached the palace of justice, when Duranthon returned with a long face, and a hypocritical look; and drew slowly out of his pocket what was called a lettrede cachet; containing the discharge of his two colleagues. ‘You make us wait a long while for our liberty,’ said Roland, taking the paper with a smile. ‘Ay, our liberty is here indeed.’—He returned home, and brought me this intelligence for which I was well prepared.—‘One thing remains to be done,’ said I, with animation; ‘and that is, to be the first to acquaint the assembly with your dismission, and to send them a copy of your letter to the king, by which it has certainly been occasioned.’ This idea pleased him much, and we put it immediately into execution.—I was satisfied that it would have a great effect, nor was I deceived; it answered a double purpose; utility and glory followed my husband’s retreat. I had not been proud of his elevation to the ministry, but I was proud of his disgrace.
I have said that Dumouriez had a little affront to revenge by entering into a league with the court against his colleagues. The circumstance that gave rise to it was as follows.
Bonne-Carrere, a handsome man, who had the reputation and manners of an intriguer, and who owed the cross of St. Lewis which decorated his person to the interest of Dumouriez, was chosen by the latter for his principal agent, and appointed director general of the department of foreign affairs.
I saw him once only, when Dumouriez brought him to dine with me; and was as little imposed upon by his agreeable outside as by that of Herault de Sechelles. ‘All these handsome fellows,’ said I to a friend, ‘seem to me to be but poor patriots; they appear too fond of themselves not to prefer their own pretty persons to the public good; and I am always tempted to mortify their arrogance, by affecting to be blind to the advantage on which they pride themselves the most.’
I more than once heard grave men, members of the legislature, some of those noble originals who gave their support to probity and honour, and who are now declared infamous on that account; I heard them lament the choice that Dumouriez had made, and contend that patriotic ministers, to give strength to the cause of liberty, should be particularly careful to commit every part of the administration to the purest hands. I know that Dumouriez was mildly remonstrated with; but he urged in excuse the understanding and talents of Bonne-Carrere, to whom wit, versatility, and a mind fertile in resources, could not be denied; but a rumour got abroad of an affair managed by Bonne-Carrere, on account of which a hundred thousand livres had been deposited in a notary’s hands. A part of this sum was destined for Madame de Beauvart, Dumouriez’ mistress, a woman of easy virtue, and sister to Rivarol, who lived in the midst of people of dissolute manners, and disgusting aristocracy. I have forgot the nature of the affair, and the parties; but the names, the time, and the particulars, were known, and the fact was undoubted. It was agreed upon that Dumouriez should be seriously requested to dismiss Bonne-Carrere, and to preserve, or to put on a decency of demeanour, without which it was impossible for him to remain in the ministry, without injury to the cause. Gensonné, who was intimately acquainted with Dumouriez; and Brissot, to whom all Bonne-Carrere’s tricks had been denounced, determined to speak to him at Roland’s, in his presence and in that of three or four other persons, either his colleagues, or members of the legislative body. Accordingly, after dining with me, and retiring into the room which I generally inhabited, the grievance was set forth, and the observations it warranted, were made to Dumouriez. Roland, with the gravity of his age and character, took the liberty of insisting upon the matter, as interesting to the whole ministry. Nothing being less agreeable to Dumouriez than this precision, and the tone of remonstrance, he endeavoured at first to give the subject a light turn; but finding himself hard pressed by sober argument, he grew angry, and took leave with an air of discontent. From that day he ceased to visit the members of the assembly, did not seem satisfied when he met them at my house, and came thither much less frequently than before. Reflecting upon this conduct, I told Roland, ‘that, without pretending to be versed in intrigue, I believed, that, according to the practice of the world, the hour of ruining Dumouriez was at hand, if he did not wish to be overturned himself. I know very well,’ added I, ‘that you will not descend to such manœuvres; but it is nevertheless true, that Dumouriez will certainly endeavour to get rid of those by whose censure he has been offended. When a man once thinks fit to preach, and does it to no purpose, he must punish, or expect to be molested.’ Dumouriez, who was partial to Bonne-Carrere, let him into the secret of what concerned him, and Bonne-Carrere found means to hush up the matter; he was besides admitted to the presence of the queen by means of the women with whom he was connected. Intrigues were set on foot; the famous decrees followed; and although Dumouriez was of opinion that they should receive the royal assent, he contrived to keep in favour; and was of use, after the departure of his colleagues, either by proposing successors, or by accepting the war department, though, by the way, he did not keep it long; for the court, which at first was glad to retain him, that they might not appear to dismiss all the ministers called patriots at once, got rid of him soon after. But he was too dexterous not to avoid a total disgrace, and obtained employment in the army conformable to his rank.
Even the patriots imagined that it was advisable to avail themselves of his talents, and were in hopes that he might make a good use of them in his military career.—One of the principal embarrassinents of government, after the 10th of August, was to find persons sit to fill public employs, particularly in that line. The old government conferred the rank of officer upon none but nobles; and knowledge and experience were concentrated in their order: but the people were uneasy at seeing them intrusted with the conduct of the forces intended to support a constitution adverse to their interest. Struck with this contrast, they could not, like the enlightened part of mankind, judge of the reasons of confidence, founded on one officer’s disposition, on the passions of another, and on the principles of a third. Their flatterers, on the contrary, aggravated their fears, and excited their distrust: everlasting denunciators, they make them themselves the enemies of every man in place, that they may establish themselves in that which best suits their ambition: this is the system of all agitators, from Hippo, the harangue-maker of Syracuse, to Robespierre, the speechifier of Paris.
Roland, recalled to the ministry, thought that the public good, and the circumstances of the times, made it his duty to do away all idea of opposition between Dumouriez and himself, since each was serving the republic in his way. “The chances in politics,” said he in his letter, “are as uncertain as in war; I am again in the executive council; you are at the head of an army: you have the errors of your administration to efface from the public mind, and laurels to gather in the field of Mars! You were led into an intrigue which made you do an ill office to your colleagues, and were duped, in your turn, by the very court whose favour you were striving to preserve. But you are not unlike those valorous knights, who were every now and then guilty of little reguish tricks, at which they were the first to laugh themselves; but who sought nevertheless like furies, when their honour was at stake. It must be confessed that this character does not very well accord with republican austerity: it is the consequence of those manners, which we have not yet been able to throw off, and for which you will be sure of a pardon, if you beat the enemy. You will find me in the council always ready to second your enterprises as long as they have the public welfare in view. Where that is concerned I am a stranger to all favour and affection; and shall look up to you as to one of the saviours of my country, provided you sincerely devote yourself to its defence.”—Dumouriez’s answer was spirited, and his conduct no less so—he repulsed the Prussians.
I remember that at this period, some hopes were entertained of detaching him from the league, and some overtures made in consequence; but they led to nothing. He came to Paris after the enemy had evacuated our territory, to concert the plan of his Belgic operations. Roland saw him at the council chamber, and once he came to dine at our house, with a number of other persons. When he came into the room, he appeared rather embarrassed, and offered me a beautiful bouquet which he had in his hand, with somewhat of an awkward air for a man of so much assurance. I smiled, and told him, that the tricks of fortune were whimsical enough; and that doubtless he never expected that she would enable me to receive him again in that hotel; but that flowers did not the less become the conqueror of the Prussians, and that I received them with pleasure from his hand. After dinner he purposed going to the opera. This again was an old folly of our generals, whose custom it was to repair to the playhouse in search of theatrical crowns whenever they had obtained an advantage over the enemy. Somebody asked me if I intended to be there; but I declined giving an answer, because it was neither agreeable to my character, nor to my manners, to be seen in public with Dumouriez. When the company was gone, however, I proposed to Vergniaux to take a seat in my box in company with my daughter and myself. We went thither, and were told by the astonished box-keeper that the minister’s box was full. ‘That is impossible,’ said I; for nobody could go into it without a ticket signed by him, and I had not given a single one away.—‘But it is the minister himself, and he insisted upon being let in’—‘No, it is not he: open the door, and let me see who is there.’ Two or three sans-culottes, in the shape of bullies, were standing in the lobby. ‘Don’t open the door,’ cried they, the minister is there.’—‘I cannot do otherwise,’ answered the woman, who immediately obeyed me; and there I saw Danton’s broad face, that of Fabre, and two or three women of vulgar appearance. The opera was begun; their eyes were turned upon the stage; and Danton was leaning over towards the next box to speak to Dumouriez. I perceived them all at one glance, without being perceived by any body in the box, and pushing the door to, made a hasty retreat. ‘Why, indeed,’ said I to the box-keeper, ‘a certain ci-devant minister of justice is there, whom I would rather leave to enjoy the fruits of his impertinence, than expose myself to an affront: I have nothing to do here.’ On saying this, I retired, well pleased upon the whole that Danton’s improper behaviour had spared me the mortification I wished to avoid of appearing in public with Dumouriez, whose seat would have been so very near to mine. I afterwards heard that Danton and Fabre constantly attended him to all the other theatres, where he had the weakness to shew himself. As to me, I have never seen him since. This then was the whole of our connexion with a man, whose accomplices people were pleased to suppose us at the time of his treachery. Dumouriez is active, vigilant, witty, and brave; calculated alike for war and for intrigue. Of great military talents, he was the only man in France, in the opinion even of his jealous competitors, able to command a large army properly; but he was better fitted by his character, and immorality, to serve under the old court, than under the new government. With extensive views, and with the spirit necessary to pursue them, he is capable of forming vast projects, and does not want abilities to put them into execution; but his temper is not equal to his understanding, and his impatience and his impetuosity render him indiscreet or precipitate: he is excellent at devising a stratagem; he is incapable of concealing his purpose for any length of time. Dumouriez, in short, to become the leader of a party, wanted a cooler head.
I am persuaded that he did not go to the Belgic provinces with treacherous intentions: he would have served the republic as he had served his king, provided it had tended to his glory and advantage; but the injudicious decrees passed by the convention, the infamous conduct of its commissaries, and the blunders of the executive power, ruining our cause in that country, and the aspect of affairs threatening a general convulsion, he conceived the idea of giving them a turn, and for want of temper and prudence bewildered himself in his combinations. Dumouriez must be very amiable in orgies of his own sex, and agreeable to women of dissolute manners: he appears to have still all the sprightliness of youth, and all the gaiety of a lively and free imagination; but with women of a reserved disposition there is something formal in his politeness. He used to divert the king in council by the most extravagant stories, at which his grave colleagues could not help laughing; and now and then he seasoned them with truths equally bold, and well applied. What a difference between this man, vicious as he is, and Lukner, who at one time was the only hope of France! He was an old soldier, little better than a brute, without common sense, and destitute of character; the mere phantom of a man, who, by means of his broken French, his fondness for wine, a few oaths, and a certain air of intrepidity, had acquired great popularity in the army, among mercenary machines, always the dupes of any one who taps them upon the shoulder, speaks to them with familiarity, and punishes them from time to time. ‘O my poor country!’ said I next day to Gaudet, who asked me what I thought of Lukner, ‘you are undone indeed, if you are obliged to send abroad for such a being, and to confide your destiny to his hands!’
I have no knowledge of tacticks, and Lukner, for aught I know, might understand the routine of his profession; but I am well assured that no man can be a great general without good sense and rationality.
The thing which surprised me the most, after my husband’s elevation had given me an opportunity of knowing a great number of persons, particulurly of those employed in important affairs, was the universal meanness of their minds: it surpasses every thing that can be imagined, and extends to every rank, from the clerk, who wants nothing but sense to comprehend a plain question, method to treat it, and a decent style to draw up a letter, to the minister charged with the government, the general at the head of armies, and the ambassador employed to negociate. But for that experience, I never should have thought so poorly of my confidence nor was it till that period that I assumed any confidence in myself: till then I was as bashful as a boarder in a convent, and thought that people who had more assurance than myself, had more abilities also.—I no longer wonder indeed that I was a savourite: my friends perceived that I was not without my share of merit, and yet I sacrificed my own pretensions with sincerity to the vanity of other people.—In this scarcity of men of abilities, the revolution having successively driven away those whose birth, fortune, education, and circumstances, had rendered them superior to the mass of the people by a somewhat higher degree of cultivation, it is no wonder if we fell gradually into the hand of the grossest ignorance, and most shameful incapacity. There are a great many degrees between de Grave and Bouchotte. The former was a little man, whom nature had made gentle, whose prejudices inspired him with pride, and whose heart persuaded him to be amiable; but who, for want of knowing how to reconcile these various affections, at last became nothing at all. I think I see him now, walking upon his heels, with his elbows turned out, and his head erect, very often shewing nothing but the whites of his great blue eyes, which he could not keep open after dinner without the assistance of two or three cups of coffee; speaking little, as if out of discretion, but in reality for fear of exposing himself; and truly anxious about his official concerns, but distracted by their multiplicity. The consequence was, that at last he abandoned a place for which he felt himself unfit. I will say nothing of Bouchotte; an idiot is described in three syllables; but his faults were innumerable. Of Servan I have spoken elsewhere; a brave soldier, an excellent citizen, and a man of information, he possessed a degree of merit seldom to be met with: the world would be too happy if there were many men of that stamp. Claviere, with wit, and that disagreeable disposition common among men, who passing much of their time in their closets, form opinions there, which they afterwards maintain with obstinacy, was neither deficient in knowledge nor philosophy; but financial habits had in some measure narrowed his mind. Pecuniary calculations indeed always spoil the happiest dispositions; for it is impossible for a man not to set a high value upon that which constitutes his daily occupation. A banker may be an able and well-informed man; but he will never number the disinterestedness of Aristides among his virtues. Claviere is very laborious, easy to be led by those who know his weak side, but insupportable in his commerce with any body who partakes of his own obstinacy in dispute; a bad judge of mankind, of whom he never studied but one part, their understandings, without attending to their characters, their interests, and their passions; timid in the council, although sometimes violent; in a word, rather a good administrator than an able minister.
I never yet could understand what it was that promoted Duranthon to a place in the administration, unless indeed it were the idea of the small abilities necessary to fill that of minister of justice. Heavy, slothful, vain, and talkative, timid and confined in his notions, he was in truth nothing more than an old woman. His reputation for integrity, the sober manners of a decent advocate, and the age of experience, probably served him as a recommendation; but he had not even sense enough to make a seasonable retreat, the only one by which he could have acquired a portion of glory. When I recollect who have been his successors, I am less angry with those who judged him worthy of his place; but I cannot help asking myself where we are to seek for men qualified to hold the reins of government.
Lacoste had the official knowledge, the laborious habits, and the insignificance of a clerk. Having been long employed in the admiralty-office (Bureaux de la marine), he was thought fit to be put at the head of that department, in which he committed no blunders. But he was destitute of the capacity and activity which ought to characterize the administrator of so considerable a branch of the public business, and his want of them was exposed by the exigencies of the times. Nothing short of the inability of Monge, could have afforded an advantageous object of comparison for Lacoste.—Beneath the mask of a timid countenance, the latter concealed an irritable disposition, which in case of contradiction, degenerated into the most ridiculous violence.
Such was the composition of the ministry the first time that Roland belonged to it. There prevailed, at first, a great union between the members of the council; and I verily believe that they were all sincerely attached to the constitution, with more or less of regard to their own interest on the part of several. They assembled at each other’s houses on the days that the council met, and once a week I had them to dine with me. Some of the members of the legislative body were also invited; and the conversation used to turn on the affairs of the nation, with the common desire of promoting the public good. This was a happy time in comparison of that which followed!
[* ]Sir! there are no buckles in his shoes!
[† ]Sir! we are all ruined and undone!
[* ]Orders on the Treasury.