Front Page Titles (by Subject) MY LAST THOUGHTS. - An Appeal to Impartial Posterity, by Citizenness Roland
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MY LAST THOUGHTS. - 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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MY LAST THOUGHTS.
Is life a property which belongs to us? I think it is; but this property is given us upon conditions in regard to which alone we are liable to error.
We are born to seek happiness for ourselves and to contribute to that of others: the social state extends this destination, as well as all our other faculties, without creating any thing new.
As long as we have a field before us in which we can practise virtue, and give a great example, it becomes us not to quit it; for courage consists in continuing our career in spite of misfortune. But if malevolence set bounds to that career, we are free to stop short of them, especially when the fortitude with which we might undergo its last effects can be conducive to no one’s advantage. When I was put in confinement, I flattered myself that I should contribute to my husband’s glory, and help to enlighten the public, if brought to trial. But it was then that I should have been tried, and our persecutors were too dexterous to choose their time so ill. They were circumspect as long as they had any thing to fear from those, who, having fled from their violence, inspired the departments with zeal in their defence. But now that terror holds its iron sceptre over a subjugated world, insolent guilt no longer delays its triumph; it deludes, it oppresses, and the gaping multitude wonders at its power. An immense city, fed upon blood and lies, furiously applauds abominable proscriptions, on which it stupidly imagines its salvation to depend.
Two months ago, I aspired to the honour of ascending the scaffold; the victim was then allowed to speak, and the energy of a courageous mind might have been serviceable to the cause of truth. Now all is lost!—This generation, rendered ferocious by infamous preachers of carnage, looks upon the friends of makind as conspirators, and considers as its champions those abject wretches, who cover their vile passions and their cowardice with the mask of frantic enthusiasm. To live in the midst of it, is basely to submit to its horrible government, and to give room for the commission of new atrocities.
I know that the reign of the wicked cannot be of long duration: they generally survive their power, and almost always undergo the punishment they have deserved.
Unknown and overlooked, I might in solitude and silence have withdrawn myself from the horrors which rend the bosom of my country, and have waited in the practice of private virtues, for the period of its misfortunes. But a prisoner, and marked out as a victim, by prolonging my existence, I shall only afford a new gratification to tyranny.
Let us deceive it then, since it is not to be overthrown.
Forgive me, respectable man, for disposing of a life which I had devoted to you: your misfortunes would have attached me to it, if I had been permitted to alleviate them. But I am robbed for ever of the power of doing so, and you lose nothing but a shadow, a useless object of affliction and uneasiness.
Forgive me, my dear child, young and tender girl, whose sweet image is impressed upon my maternal heart, and staggers my resolution. Oh! certainly, I would not have deprived you of your guide, if it had been possible that they would have let her remain with you: the cruel wretches! have they any pity upon innocence!—But do what they will, they cannot rob you of my example; and I feel, and I will venture to say, upon the very brink of the grave, that it is a rich inheritance.
All you, whom heaven in its bounty gave me for friends, direct your attentions towards my orphan. A young plant violently torn from her native soil, she would have withered perhaps, or have been bruised by the hand of the spoiler; but you placed her in a kindly shelter, and beneath a reviving shade: there may she flourish, and may her beauty and her virtues repay your care!—Do not grieve at a resolution which puts an end to my sufferings: I can bear adversity: you know me, and you will not believe that weakness or fear have prompted my decision. If any one could assure me that before the tribunal at which so many just men are arraigned, I should be allowed to indicate the tyrants, I would appear there with pleasure; but experience has too well shewn that the vain formality of judgment is only an insulting parade in which they take care to refuse the victim the privilege of speech* . Shall I then wait till it please my executioners to indicate the hour of my death, and to enhance their triumph by the insolent clamours to which I shall be exposed. Most certainly, I should be able to brave them, if my fortitude could instrust the stupid populace; but they are no longer capable of feeling any thing, except the savage delight of seeing the blood of others spilt, while they run no risk of shedding their own.
The time foretold is come, when their cries for bread are appeased with dead bodies: their degraded nature is regaled by the spectacle, and the gratification of this brutal appetite will render the scarcity of bread supportable, until it shall exceed the sufferance of nature.
Perhaps, some one may say, these dominators of the present day, who sacrifice every thing to their fears, may not extend their fury so far as you.—Why, do you not see that they have reserved the facility of doing so by comprising me in the absurd indictment against the republicans whom they detest?
Shall I then hold my existence subject to their pleasure, until the fancy shall take them, of first bringing me forward in my turn upon the stage, and then commanding the exit of so formidable a witness of their villany?—Yes, formidable, for long ago my eyes read the secret of their hearts, my soul abhorred them, and my courage set them at defiance: they know it: they must then be determined on my ruin.
But the chances of a new revolution; the approach of the foreign armies!—What signifies it to my safety?—I should like as little to owe it to the Austrians, as to receivedeath from the French at present in power. They are alike the enemies of my country, and I desire nothing from any of them but their honourable hatred.
Oh! if those pusillanimous beings, those men unworthy of the name, whose weakness assumed the disguise of prudence, and ruined the estimable twenty-two, if they had possessed my courage, they would have redeemed the first faults of their conduct; they would have provoked on the second of June, by a formal opposition, the imprisonment to which they have just been consigned. Their resistance then would have enlightened the uncertain and timid departments; it would have saved the republic; and if they had been doomed to perish, it would have been with as much glory to themselves, as utility to their country.
The cowards, they entered into a compromise with guilt!—It was decreed that they should fall in their turn; but they fall ingloriously, unpitied by any one, and with nothing to hope for from posterity, but its perfect contempt. Why, in this last conjuncture, rather than obey their tyrants, descend to their bar, walk out of the assembly like a timid flock marked for slaughter by the butcher, and submit to be taken into custody, why did they not do themselves justice by falling upon the monsters, and expunging them from the face of the earth?
Divinity, supreme being, soul of the universe, principle of every thing great, good, and happy, thou in whose existence I believe, because I must needs emanate from something better than what I see around me, I am about to be reunited to thine essence!—I invoke the kindness of all those to whom I was dear in favour of that good servant, whose uncommon fidelity made her a pattern in her way. The excellent woman! How many tears has her attachment for me made her shed during these thirteen years past. How many secret sorrows has she shared in silence, which but for her tender cares I should not have known that she perceived! What activity in my afflictions! What devotion in my misfortunes!—If the chimæras of the metempsychosis had any reality, and if our wishes could have any influence upon the changes we should undergo, I should be glad to return to the world in another shape, that I might take care of her in my turn, and administer comfort to the old age of so kind and worthy a creature! O my friends! discharge the debt I owe her; it is the most grateful tribute you can pay to my memory.
As to my property, I find in the resolution I have taken, the advantage of securing it to whom it belongs: it will descend to my daughter, who, even if they should seize upon her father’s fortune, would have a right to claim every thing of mine on which the State has put its seals: she can claim besides twelve thousand livres (500l.) which were my portion, as will appear by the marriage contract, executed in February 1780, at Durand’s, a notary, resident at Paris, in Dauphine Square. Moreover an estate, a little wood, and a meadow, bought by me, in pursuance of the power given me by the written law* according to which I was married, from monies arising from sundry sums that came to me in my own right, by inheritance or reimbursement, as will appear by the contract executed at Dufresne’s, a notary, Rue Vivienne, in 1791, and by a deed of which duplicates exist in my apartment at Thésée, and at Villefranche; the whole amounting to thirteen or fourteen thousand livres. [From £.540 to £.580].
I have besides a thousand crowns in paper, which shall be pointed out. I desire that enough may be taken out of that sum to buy my daughter the harp on which she plays, and which I hired from Koliker, a musical instrument maker, rue des Fosses-Saint-Germain-des Prés: he is an honest and fair-dealing man, and will perhaps abate something of the hundred crowns (£.12. 10s.), which he asked me for it. At any rate, I should rather choose it to be laid out in this way than kept in paper. Virtues are the first of treasures: but they are employed to better advantage by the help of talents. Nobody can tell the relief that music affords in solitude and misfortune, nor from how many seductions it may be a preservative in prosperous days. Let the teacher of the harp be kept a few months longer; by that time, if circumstances will not admit of further expense, the dear little girl, by making a good use of her time, will know enough for her own amusement. Among the things sealed up is an excellent forte-piano, bought out of my savings, and for which the receipt was consequently made out in my own name, as will appear by examining the papers: let it by all means be claimed. As to drawing, that is the essential article to which her application, care, and attention, ought to be directed.
I have found means to get a letter written to her uncle and godfather, and I hope, if he be at liberty, that he will take the necessary steps to secure for my child what belongs to her. In that case, my daughter not being left destitute herself, ought to provide for our maid Fleury; and this is what I beg those who may watch over her conduct to induce her to do.
My venerable relations, the Besnards, rue et île St. Louis, placed some money in my husband’s hands, of which we used to pay them the interest. As they may be ignorant of the forms to be observed in establishing their claim, the necessary information should be given to those respectable old people. They should now and then also see their great-great-niece, who stands them in the stead of a child, and who will soon be their only hope.
I never had any jewels; but I possess two rings of very moderate value, which were left me by my father; I intend them, as memorials, the emerald for my daughter’s adoptive father, the other for my friend Bosc.
I have nothing to add to what I lately expressed to the generous woman who has the goodness to be a mother to my child: the services which she and her husband render me, inspire a sentiment which I shall carry with me to the grave, and which words cannot express.
May my last letter to my daughter fix her attention upon that object which appears to be her essential duty; and may the remembrance of her mother attach her for ever to those virtues which afford consolation for every thing that can befal us.
Farewell, my dear child, my worthy husband, my faithful servant, and my good friends; farewell, thou sun, whose resplendent beams used to shed serenity over my soul while they recalled it to the skies: farewell, ye solitary fields whose sight has so often called forth soft emotions; and you, ye rustic inhabitants of Thezée, who were wont to bless my presence, whom I attended in sickness, whose labours I alleviated, and whose indigence I relieved, farewell; farewell peaceful retirements, where I have enriched my mind with moral truths, and learnt in the silence of meditation to govern my passions, and to despise the vanity of the world.
[* ]Look at Gorsas; he is condemned; he is about to die; he is in their hands; they forbad him to speak: such is the fate of the courageous apostles of liberty.
[* ]The written law (le droit écrit) is the old Roman law, which was retained in several parts of France till the fall of the ancient despotic system. It was so called in contradistinction to the traditionary customs, or common law, which prevailed in other places. Hence the provinces of France were divided into Pays de droit écrit, and Pays Coutumier.—Trans.