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ROLAND’s SECOND 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 SECOND ADMINISTRATION.
At the time of the recal of Roland, Claviere, and Servan, the composition of the ministry was completed by the appointment of Danton, whom I have sufficiently depicted elsewhere, and by that of Monge and le Brun; the former to the marine department, the latter to that of foreign affairs. Nothing is so distressing as the difficulty of making a choice in circumstances like those of the times in question. Every man who had belonged to the court directly, or indirectly, was proscribed by the public opinion; nor could any thing less than the brilliant proofs of patriotism given by Servan, efface that original sin, even small as it was in respect to him. The persons employed to make a choice were ill caculated to do so. New themselves to public affairs, our legislators had not had those extensive connexions which lead to an acquaintance with a great number of individuals, and enable a man to select from among them the persons fitted for important employs. The committee was at a loss on whom to fix, when the idea of Monge, who was known to Condorcet as a fellow academician, and of whose patriotism several others had heard favourable mention, presented itself. Monge, a mathematician, an examiner, sometimes sent to the out-ports, an honest citizen, the father of a respectable family, and a zealous member of the club of the Luxemburg, was for a moment put in the scale with Meunier, his colleague at the academy, and an officer of engineers; but as the latter was known to have paid his court to the great, Monge was preferred.
Good-humoured, thick-witted, and inclined to drollery, Monge was a stone-cutter at Mezieres, where the Abbe Bossut, perceiving him to have a turn that way, initiated him in the mathematicks, and encouraged him with six livres a week: but when by dint of application he had got forward in the world, he ceased to visit his benefactor, whose equal he was become. Accustomed to calculate immutable elements, Monge had no knowledge of mankind, or of public affairs: heavy and awkward in his pleasantry, whenever he made an attempt at wit, he recalled to my recollection the bears kept in the ditches of the city of Berne, whose playful tricks, corresponding with their uncouth form, amuse the passers by.
The new minister filled his office with men as little capable of acting as he was of judging: he took a great deal of pains without doing any good, and suffered the marine to be disorganized at a time when it was the most important to keep up, and increase the establishment. Justice, however, ought to be done to his good faith: he was frightened at the burthen, and wished to lay it down; but the difficulty of finding a better man, procured him an invitation to remain at his post. By degrees his situation became agreeable, and he fancied he did his duty as well as it could have been done by any one else. But if he was a bad administrator, he was still worse as a counsellor, and never occupied any thing but his chair in the deliberations of the executive power, always adhering to the opinion of the most timid, because having none of his own, he naturally followed that which was most conformable to the views of a narrow mind.
When Pache was promoted to the ministry, he became the regulator of his friend and admirer Monge, who no longer had any opinion of his own, but received that of Pache as if it had been the inspiration of the divinity. Thus was he Maratized; and thus did this man, who would have been a good creature in his way, become the abettor of the most atrocious and sanguinary doctrines.
Le Brun, employed in the office of foreign affairs, passed for a man of sound understanding, because he had never any flights of fancy, and for a man of abilities, because he had been a pretty good clerk. He was tolerably well acquainted with the diplomatic chart, and could draw up a sensible letter or report. In ordinary times, he would have been very well situated in the department which is the least onerous, and where the business is the most agreeable to transact. But he had none of that activity of mind and character, which it was necessary to display at the moment he was called to the ministry. Ill-informed of what was going on among our neighbours, and sending to foreign courts men, who, although not destitute of merit, had none of those qualities which serve as a recommendation, and who could hardly penetrate further than the anti-chambers of the great; he neither employed the kind of intrigue, by which occupation might have been given at home to those who wished to attack us, nor the kind of grandeur with which a powerful state should invest its acknowledged agents to procure itself respect—‘What are you about?’ said Roland sometimes. ‘In your place, I would have put all Europe in motion, and have assured peace to France, without the assistance of arms; I would take care to know what is going on in every cabinet, and exert my influence there.’ Le Brun was never in haste; and now, in August 1793, Semonville, who ought to have been at Constantinople eight months ago, has just been intercepted in his way through Switzerland. The last choice of Le Brun will serve to characterize him completely, without my adding another trait. He has appointed Grouvelle, the secretary to the council, of whom in that quality I should already have spoken, minister plenipotentiary at the court of Denmark.
Grouvelle, a pupil of Cerutti, of whom he learned nothing but to construct affected phrases, which contain the whole of his philosophy; narrow-minded, frigid, and vain, the last editor of the. Feuille Villageoise, become as insipid as himself; Grouvelle had been candidate for I know not what place in the ministry, and was appointed secretary to the council on the tenth of August, in execution of a constitutional law, against the disregard of which Roland had remonstrated so warmly, that the king had at last determined to attend to it. Roland was in hopes that the keeping of a regular register, in which the deliberations might be entered, would give to the proceedings of the council a more serious, and more useful turn: he perceived besides, that it would afford to men of a firm character an opportunity of authenticating their opinions, and of securing a testimony sometimes useful to history, and always to their own justification. But the best institutions are only advantageous when in the hands of those incapable of perverting them. Grouvelle did not know how to take minutes of the proceedings, and the ministers, for the most part, cared little whether there remained or not any traces of their opinion. The secretary never was able to draw up more than a summary of the resolutions taken, without deduction of any motives, or mention of any opposition; nor could Roland ever find means to get his objections inserted, even when he formally resisted the determinations of the council. Grouvelle constantly interfered in the discussion, and by his punctilious manner contributed not a little to render it difficult: at length Roland, out of patience, observed to him that he did not recollect his character.—‘What, am I nothing but an ink-horn!’ exclaimed angrily the important secretary. - - - ‘You ought to be nothing else here,’ replied the severe Roland; ‘every time you interfere in the debate, you forget your duty, which is to take it down; and this is the reason why you have only time to make a little insignificant statement upon a loose sheet of paper, which, when entered in the register, gives not the smallest idea of the operations of government; whereas the register of the council ought to serve as archives to the executive power.’ - - - Grouvelle incensed, neither improved, nor altered his method; but it is easy to see that it was good enough for such men as I have described above. The salary of his place was twenty thousand livres (£.833), to which he thought it would be convenient to add an apartment in the Louvre, spacious enough to lodge himself and his clerks, and made his representation to the minister of the home department accordingly. It requires but a slight knowledge of Roland’s character to conceive the indignation with which he received this proposal, and the vigour with which he repelled it. ‘Clerks! for business that I could transact myself in a few hours, and better than you if I were in your place,’ said he to Grouvelle. ‘I desire that you will take a copyist to save you the trouble of delivering such copies or extracts of the proceedings as you may be called upon to furnish; but twenty thousand livres are quite sufficient to pay his salary, and to find a lodging for him as well as for yourself: the sum is even extravagant, in a free government, for the place you occupy.
Grouvelle certainly has a right not to be fond of Roland, and I believe he exercises it to its full extent.
As to me, I felt, in the most lively manner, that his ridiculous pretensions were intolerable.—These men, made up of vanity, whose wit is but a jargon, whose philosophy is pitiable ostentation, and whose sentiments are recollections, appear to me a kind of eunuchs, in a moral sense, whom I despise and detest more cordially than some women hate and disdain the other sort. Such, however, is the minister of a great nation at a foreign court, of which it is of consequence to preserve the esteem, and secure the neutrality. I am unacquainted with the secret of his appointment; but I would wager that Grouvelle, half-dead with fear, on seeing the disastrous position of public affairs, requested le Brun to get him sent out of France in any shape whatever; and that le Brun, in quality of minister, made him ambassador, as he would have made him a travelling clerk, if he himself had been a merchant. It is an arrangement between individual and individual, in which the republic is no otherwise concerned than in conferring the title, and advantages attached to it, and in receiving the injury that may arise from being so badly represented.
The choice of an envoy to the United States was conducted with more wisdom; and affords a new argument in favour of Brissot, against whom the share he had in it is brought forward as a crime. Bonne-Carrere having been pitched upon, I know not at what period, Brissot observed to some members of the council, that it was of consequence to the maintenance of our good understanding with the United States, as well as to the glory of our infant republic, to send to America a man whose character and manners might please the Americans. In that respect, Bonne-Carrere was not a suitable person: an amiable libertine of the fashionable world, and a gamester, whatever might be his talents and abilities, was very unfit to play the grave and decent part becoming a minister resident with that transatlantic nation.
Brissot was actuated by no personal interest; he was the last man in the world to be so influenced: he mentioned Genest, who was just returned from a residence of five years in Russia, and who, besides his being already conversant with diplomatic affairs, possessed all the moral virtues, and all the information which could render him agreeable to a serious people.
This proposal was a wise one, it was supported by every possible consideration, and Genest was preferred. If this indeed be an intrigue, let us pray that all intriguers may resemble Brissot. I saw Genest, I desired to see him again, and I should always be pleased with his company. His judgment is solid, his mind enlightened: he has as much amenity as decency of manners; his conversation is instructive and agreeable, and equally free from pedantry and from affectation: gentleness, propriety, grace, and reason, constitute his character; and with all this merit he unites the advantage of speaking English with fluency. Let the ignorant Robespierre, and the extravagant Chabot, declaim against such a man, by calling him the friend of Brissot; let them procure by their clamours the recal of the one, and the trial of the other, they will only add to the proofs of their own villany and stupidity, without hurting the fame of those whom they may deprive of existence.
During the second administration of Roland, as well as during the first, I determined with myself to receive no female, and this was a rule to which I scrupulously adhered. My circle was never very extensive, and never did the greater part of it consist of my own sex. Besides my nearest relations, I saw nobody but the persons whose congenial taste and studies made them interesting to my husband. I was sensible that while he was in the ministry, I should expose myself to very troublesome company, which might even be attended with danger. It appeared to me that Madame Pétion’s conduct at the Mairie (the residence of the mayor) was highly prudent; and I deemed it as laudable to follow, as to set, a good example. I had then neither circle nor visits: this in the first place was a saving of time, an inestimable advantage to those who have the means of turning it to any account. Twice a week only I gave a dinner:—once to my husband’s colleagues, with a few members of the Assembly; and once to a mixed company, composed either of national representatives, of first clerks in the public offices, or of such other persons as took a part in politics, or were concerned in the business of the state. Taste and neatness presided at my table, but profusion and the luxury of ornaments were equally unknown: every one was there at his ease, without devoting much time to conviviality, because I gave only a single course, and relinquished to nobody the care of doing the honours of the table. The usual number of guests was fifteen; it seldom exceeded eighteen; and once only amounted to twenty. Such were the repasts, which popular orators, at the tribune of the Jacobins, converted into sumptuous entertainments, where, like another Circe, I corrupted all those who had the misfortune to partake of the banquet. After dinner, we conversed for some time in the drawing room, and then every one took leave. We sat down to table about five; at nine not a creature remained; and yet this was the court, of which they made me the queen, and here, with the doors wide open, we entered into our dark and dangerous conspiracies.
The other days confined to our family party, my husband and myself generally sat down to table alone; for the transaction of the public business delaying our dinner to a very late hour, my daughter dined with her governess in her own room. Those, who saw me at that time, will bear witness in my savour, whenever the voice of truth can make itself heard: I shall then perhaps be no more; but I shall go out of this world with the persuasion, that the memory of my persecutors will be lost in maledictions, while my name will sometimes be recollected with a sigh.
Among the persons whom I was in the habit of receiving, and of whom I have already described the most remarkable, Paine deserves to be mentioned. Declared a French citizen, as one of those celebrated foreigners, whom the nation was naturally desirous of adopting, he was known by writings which had been useful in the American revolution, and which might have contributed to produce one in England. I shall not, however, take upon me to pronounce an absolute judgment upon his character, because he understood French without speaking it, and because that being nearly my case in regard to English, I was less able to converse with him than to listen to his conversation with those whose political skill was greater than my own.
The boldness of his conceptions, the originality of his style, and the striking truths which he throws with defiance into the midst of those whom they offend, have necessarily attracted great attention; but I think him better fitted to sow the seeds of popular commotion, than to lay the foundation or prepare the form of a government. Paine throws light upon a revolution better than he concurs in the making of a constitution. He takes up, and establishes those great principles, of which the exposition strikes every eye, gains the applause of a club, or excites the enthusiasm of a tavern; but for cool discussion in a committee, or the regular labours of a legislator, I conceive David Williams infinitely more proper than he. Williams, made a French citizen also, was not chosen a member of the Convention, in which he would have been of more use; but he was invited by the government to repair to Paris, where he passed several months, and frequently conferred with the most active representatives of the nation. A deep thinker, and a real friend to mankind, he appeared to me to combine their means of happiness, as well as Paine feels and describes the abuses which constitute their misery. I saw him, from the very first time he was present at the sittings of the assembly, uneasy at the disorder of the debates, afflicted at the influence exercised by the galleries, and in doubt whether it were possible for such men, in such circumstances, ever to decree a rational constitution. I think that the knowledge which he then acquired of what we were already, atttached him more strongly to his country, to which he was impatient to return. How is it possible, said he, for men to debate a question, who are incapable of listening to each other? Your nation does not even take pains to preserve that external decency, which is of so much consequence in public assemblies: a giddy manner, carelessness, and a slovenly person, are no recommendations to a legislator; nor is any thing indifferent which passes in public, and of which the effect is repeated every day.—Good heaven! what would he say now, if he were to see our senators drest, since the 31st of May, like watermen, in long trowsers, a jacket and a cap, with the bosom of their shirts open, and swearing and gesticulating like drunken sans-culottes? He would think it perfectly natural for the people to treat them like their lackeys, and for the whole nation, debased by its excesses, to crouch beneath the rod of the first despot who shall find means to reduce it to subjection.—Williams is equally fit to fill a place in the parliament, or the senate, and will carry with him true dignity wherever he goes.
By what sally of imagination is Vandermonde present to mine? Never did I see eyes so false, more truly express the turn of mind of the person to whom they belong. One would suppose that this man has had his cut into two equal parts; with one he is capable of beginning any kind of reasoning; but it is impossible for him with the other to pursue an argument, or to draw from the whole a reasonable conclusion. What a poor figure does science make in a head so badly organized! Accordingly Vandermonde, an academician by the way, the friend of Pache and of Monge, boasted of serving the latter as a counsellor, and of being called his wife. Speaking to me one day of the cordeliers (to which sect he confessed himself to belong), in opposition to the persons who considered them as madmen, ‘We,’ said he, ‘desire order by reason, and you are of the party that desires it by force.’ After such a definition I have nothing further to say of this man’s wayward turn of mind. But since I have been speaking of an academician, I must say a word or two of Condorcet, whose mind will ever soar to the sublimest truths, but whose character will ever be on a level with the base sentiment of fear. It may be said of his understanding, in relation to his person, that it is a fine liquor imbibed by cotton. Never will the saying of, a strong mind in a feeble body, be applied to him: his heart is as weak as his constitution. The timidity which characterizes him, and which he carries into company in his face and attitude, is not only a defect in his temperament, but seems to be a vice inherent in his soul, which all his philosophy cannot overcome.—Hence it was, that after having ably established a principle, or demonstrated a truth, he voted in the Assembly contrary to his own opinion, when obliged to stand up in presence of the thundering galleries, armed with injurious words, and prodigal of threats. He was very well in his place of Secretary to the Academy: such men may write, but ought never to be actively employed. It is even a fortunate circumstance when they can be made of any use, for most timid men are absolutely good for nothing. Look at those poltroons of the Assembly, pouring forth their lamentations in the senate: if they had had fortitude enough to procure their own arrestation, by protesting against that of the twenty-two, nobody would have dared to hurt a hair of the head of two or three hundred representatives of the people; the republic would have been saved, and the departments would not have relapsed into submission. The people acquiesced in the loss of twenty men, but an assembly, of which one-half should have retired, would never have been considered as the national convention.