Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER X: Private Anecdotes. - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
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CHAPTER X: Private Anecdotes. - Germaine de Staël, Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.) 
Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution, newly revised translation of the 1818 English edition, edited, with an introduction and notes by Aurelian Craiutu (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008).
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I cannot find courage to continue such pictures. Yet the 10th of August appeared to have in view the seizing of the reins of government, in order to direct all its efforts against the invasion of foreigners; but the massacres which took place twenty-two days after the overthrow of the throne were only wanton criminal acts. It has been said that the terror experienced in Paris, and throughout all France, decided the French to take refuge in the camps. What a singular expedient is fear for recruiting an army! But such a supposition is an offense to the nation, and I shall endeavor to show in the following chapter that it was in spite of those crimes, and not by their horrible concurrence, that the French repulsed the foreigners who came to impose the law.
To criminals succeeded criminals still more detestable. The true republicans did not remain masters one day after the 10th of August. The moment the throne they attacked was overturned, they had to defend themselves; they had shown but too much condescension toward the horrible instruments whom they had employed to establish the republic. But the Jacobins were very sure in the end to terrify them with their own idol, by dint of crimes; and it seemed as if the wretches who were most hardened in guilt endeavored to fit the head of Medusa on the different leaders of parties, in order to rid themselves of all who could not support its aspect.
The detail of these horrible massacres is revolting to the imagination and furnishes nothing for reflection. I shall, therefore, confine myself to relating what happened to me personally at this time; it is perhaps the best manner of giving an idea of it.
During the interval from the 10th of August to the 2d of September, new arrests were every day taking place. The prisons were crowded, and all the addresses of the people, which for three years past had announced, by anticipation, what the party leaders had already decided, called for the punishment of the traitors: this appellation extended to classes as well as to individuals; to talents as well as fortune; to dress as well as opinions; in short, to everything which the laws protect, and which it was the intention of these men to annihilate.
The Austrian and Prussian troops had already passed the frontier, and it was repeated on all sides that if the enemy advanced, all the honest people in Paris would be massacred. Several of my friends, Messrs. de Narbonne, Montmorency, Baumets,1 were personally threatened, and each of them was concealed in the house of some citizen or other. But it was necessary to change their place of retreat daily, because those who gave them an asylum were alarmed. They would not at first make use of my house, being afraid that it might attract attention; but it seemed to me that being the residence of an Ambassador, and having inscribed on the door Hôtel de Suède, it would be respected, although M. de Staël was absent. It soon, however, became useless to deliberate, when there could be found no one who dared to receive the proscribed. Two of them came to my house, and I admitted into my confidence only one of my servants, of whom I was sure. I shut up my friends in the remotest chamber, and passed the night myself in the apartments looking toward the street, dreading every moment what was called the “domiciliary visits.”
One morning, a servant whom I distrusted came to tell me that the denunciation and description of M. de Narbonne, who was one of the persons concealed in my house, was stuck up at the corner of my street. I thought my servant wanted, by frightening me, to penetrate my secret; but he had simply related the fact. A short time after, the formidable domiciliary visit took place in my house. M. de Narbonne, being outlawed, would have perished that very day if discovered; and notwithstanding the precautions I had taken, I knew well that if the search was rigorously made, he could not escape. It became then necessary, at whatever price, to prevent this search; I collected all my courage, and felt on this occasion that we can always conquer our emotions, however strong, when aware that they may endanger the life of another.
Commissaries of the lowest class had been sent into all the houses of Paris to seize the proscribed; and, while they were making these visits, military posts occupied the two extremities of the street to prevent any escape. I began by alarming these men as much as I could on the violation of the rights of nations, of which they were guilty by searching the house of an ambassador; and, as their knowledge of geography was not extensive, I persuaded them that Sweden was a power which could threaten them with an immediate invasion, being situated on the frontiers of France. Twenty years after, strange to tell! my assertion became literally true; for Lubeck and Swedish Pomerania fell into the power of the French.2
The common people are capable of being softened instantly or not at all; there is scarcely any gradation in their sentiments, or in their ideas. I perceived that my reasonings made an impression on them, and I had the courage, with anguish in my heart, to jest with them on the injustice of their suspicions. Nothing is more agreeable to men of this class than a tone of pleasantry; for, even in the excess of their fury against the upper ranks, they feel a pleasure in being treated by them as equals. I led them back in this manner to the door, and thanked God for the extraordinary courage with which he had endowed me at that moment. Nevertheless, this situation could not last, and the slightest accident would have sufficed to betray an outlawed person, who was very well known on account of his having been recently in the ministry.
A generous and enlightened Hanoverian, Dr. Bollmann, who afterward exposed himself to deliver M. de la Fayette from the Austrian prisons, having heard of my anxieties, offered, without any other motive than the enthusiasm of goodness, to conduct M. de Narbonne to England by giving him the passport of one of his friends. Nothing was more daring than this attempt, since, if any foreigner had been arrested traveling with a proscribed person under a false name, he would have been condemned to death. The courage of Dr. Bollmann did not fail, either in the will or in the execution, and four days after his departure, M. de Narbonne was in London.
I had obtained passports to go into Switzerland; but it would have been so distressing to find myself alone in safety, leaving so many friends in danger, that I delayed my departure from day to day, in order to learn what became of them. I was informed on the 31st of August that M. de Jaucourt, a deputy to the Legislative Assembly, and M. de Lally Tollendal had both been sent to the Abbaye; and it was already known that those only who were destined to be massacred were sent to that prison. The fine talents of M. de Lally protected him in a singular manner. He composed the defense of one of his fellow prisoners who was brought before the tribunal previous to the massacre; the prisoner was acquitted, and everyone knew that he owed his deliverance to the eloquence of Lally. M. de Condorcet admired his splendid abilities and exerted himself to save him; M. de Lally also found an efficacious protection in the sympathy of the English ambassador, who was still in Paris at this date.* M. de Jaucourt had not the same support: I procured a list of all the members of the Commune of Paris, who were then the masters of the city. I knew them only by their terrible reputation, and I sought, as chance directed, for a motive to determine my choice. I suddenly recollected that one of them, called Manuel,3 was a dabbler in literature, having just published Letters of Mirabeau, with a preface, very badly written, it is true, but which showed at the same time an ambition to display ability. I persuaded myself that the love of applause might in some way render a man accessible to solicitation, and it was accordingly to Manuel that I wrote to ask an audience. He fixed it for the next morning at seven o’clock, at his house; this was rather a democratic hour, but I certainly did not fail to be punctual. I arrived before he had got up, and waited for him in his closet, where I saw his own portrait placed on his writing desk, which gave me hopes that at least he might be gained over a little by vanity. He came in, and I must do him the justice to admit that it was through his good sentiments that I succeeded in softening him.
I represented to him the terrible vicissitudes of popularity, of which examples could be cited every day. “In six months,” said I, “your power may perhaps be at an end” (in less than six months he perished on the scaffold). “Save M. de Lally and M. de Jaucourt; reserve for yourself a soothing and consoling recollection at the moment when you also may be proscribed in your turn.” Manuel was a man who could feel; he was carried on by his passions, but capable of honest sentiments; for it was for having defended the King that he was condemned to death. He wrote to me on the 1st of September that M. de Condorcet had obtained the liberation of M. de Lally; and that in compliance with my entreaties, he had just set M. de Jaucourt at liberty. Overjoyed at having saved the life of so estimable a man, I determined on departing the next day; but I engaged to take up the Abbé de Montesquiou,4 who was also proscribed, when I should have passed the barriers of Paris, and to carry him to Switzerland disguised as a servant. To make this change more easy and secure, I gave one of his attendants the passport of one of mine, and we fixed on the spot on the high road where I should find M. de Montesquiou. It was thus impossible to fail in this rendezvous, of which the hour and place were fixed, without exposing the person who was waiting for me to the suspicion of the patrols who scoured the high roads.
The news of the taking of Longwy and Verdun arrived on the morning of the 2d of September. We again heard in every quarter those frightful alarm bells, of which the sound was but too strongly engraven on my mind by the night of the 10th of August. Some wanted to prevent me from leaving, but could I risk the safety of a person who was then confiding in me?
My passports were perfectly in order, and I imagined that the best way would be to set out in a coach and six, with my servants in full livery. I thought that by seeing me in great style, people would conclude I had a right to depart, and would let me pass freely. This was very ill judged, for in such moments what of all things should be avoided is striking the imagination of the people, and the most shabby post-chaise would have conveyed me with more safety. Scarcely had my carriage advanced three steps when, at the noise of the whips of the postilions, a swarm of old women, who seemed to issue from the infernal regions, rushed on my horses, crying that I ought to be stopped; that I was running away with the gold of the nation, that I was going to join the enemy, and a thousand other invectives still more absurd. These women gathered a crowd instantly, and some of the common people, with ferocious countenances, seized my postilions and ordered them to conduct me to the assembly of the section of the quarter where I lived (the Faubourg of St. Germain). On stepping out of my carriage, I had time to whisper to the Abbé de Montesquiou’s servant to go and inform his master of what had happened.
I entered this assembly, the deliberations of which bore the appearance of a permanent insurrection. The person who called himself the president declared to me that I was denounced as having the intention of carrying away proscribed persons, and that my attendants were going to be examined. He found one person missing, who was marked on my passport (it was the servant I had sent away), and, in consequence of this irregularity, he ordered me to be conducted to the Hotel de Ville by a gendarme. Nothing could be more terrifying than such an order; it was necessary to cross the half of Paris and to alight on the Place de Grêve, opposite the Hotel de Ville. On the steps leading to the staircase of that hotel, several persons had been massacred on the 10th of August. No woman had yet perished; but the next day the Princess of Lamballe5 was murdered by the people, whose fury was already such that every eye seemed to demand blood.
It took me three hours to get from the Faubourg St. Germain to the Hotel de Ville, advancing slowly through an immense crowd, who assailed me with cries of death. Their invectives were not directed against me personally, for I was then hardly known; but a fine carriage and laced clothes were, in the eyes of the people, the marks of those who ought to be massacred. Not knowing yet how inhuman men become in revolutions, I addressed myself two or three times to the gendarmes who passed near my carriage to implore their assistance; and was answered by the most disdainful and threatening gestures. I was pregnant; but that did not disarm them; on the contrary their fury seemed to increase in proportion as they felt themselves culpable. The gendarme, however, who was placed in my coach, not being stimulated by his comrades, was moved by my situation and promised to defend me at the peril of his life. The most dangerous moment was in the Place de Grêve; but I had time to prepare myself for it, and the faces which surrounded me bore such an expression of atrocity that the aversion they inspired served to give me additional courage.
I stepped out of my carriage in the midst of an armed multitude and proceeded under an arch of pikes. In ascending the staircase, which likewise bristled with spears, a man pointed toward me the one which he held in his hand. My gendarme pushed it away with his saber: if I had fallen at this moment my life would have ended, for it is in the nature of the common people to respect what still stands erect, but the victim once struck is dispatched.
I arrived at length at the Commune, the president of which was Robespierre, and I breathed again because I had escaped from the populace: yet what a protector was Robespierre! Collot d’Herbois and Billaud Varennes6 performed the office of secretaries, and the latter had left his beard untouched for a fortnight, that he might the better escape the slightest suspicion of aristocracy. The hall was crowded with common people; men, women, and children were exclaiming, with all their might, “Vive la nation.” The writing office of the Commune being a little elevated, those who were placed there could converse together. There I was seated, and while I was recovering myself, the Bailli of Virieu, Envoy of Parma, who had been arrested at the same time as myself, rose to declare that he did not know me; that whatever my affair might be, it had not the least connection with his, and that we ought not to be confounded together. The want of chivalry of this poor man displeased me, and made me doubly eager to be useful to myself, since it appeared that the Bailli of Virieu was not disposed to spare me that trouble. I rose then and stated the right I had to depart, as being the Ambassadress of Sweden, showing the passports I had obtained in consequence of this right. At this moment Manuel arrived; he was very much astonished to find me in so painful a situation, and immediately becoming responsible for me till the Commune had decided on my fate, he conducted me out of that terrible place and locked me up with my maidservant in his closet.
We waited there for six hours, half dead with thirst, hunger, and fright: the window of Manuel’s apartment looked on the Place de Grêve, and we saw the assassins returning from the prisons with their arms bare and bloody, and uttering horrible cries.
My coach with its baggage had remained in the middle of the square, and the people were proceeding to plunder it when I perceived a tall man, in the dress of a national guard, who, ascending the coach box, forbade the populace to take away anything. He passed two hours in guarding my baggage, and I could not conceive how so slight a consideration could occupy him amidst such awful circumstances. In the evening this man, with Manuel, entered the room where I was confined. He was Santerre, the brewer, afterward so notorious for his cruelty. He lived in the Faubourg St. Antoine and had several times been both witness and distributor of the supplies of corn which my father used to provide in seasons of scarcity, and for which he retained some gratitude. Unwilling also to go, as he ought to have done in his quality of commandant, to the relief of the prisoners, guarding my coach served him as a pretext; he wanted to make a boast of it to me, but I could not help reminding him what was his duty at such a moment. As soon as Manuel saw me, he exclaimed with great emotion, “Ah! how happy I am at having set your two friends at liberty yesterday!” He bitterly deplored the assassinations that were going on, but which even at this time he had no power to prevent. An abyss was opened behind the steps of every man who had acquired any authority, and if he receded he could not fail to sink into it.
Manuel conducted me home at night in his carriage; he was afraid of losing his popularity by doing it in the day. The lamps were not lighted in the streets; but we met numbers of men with torches in their hands, the glare of which was more terrifying than darkness itself. Manuel was often stopped and asked who he was, but when he answered, “Le Procureur de la Commune,” this revolutionary dignity was respectfully recognized.
Arrived at my house, Manuel informed me that a new passport would be given to me and that I should be allowed to depart, but with my maidservant only. A gendarme had orders to attend me to the frontier. The following day Tallien,7 the same who, twenty months after, delivered France from Robespierre on the 9th of Thermidor, came to my house, having been ordered by the Commune to conduct me to the barrier. We heard every instant of new massacres. Several persons much exposed were then in my room: I begged of Tallien not to name them; he promised that he would not, and he kept his word. We went together in my carriage, and left each other without having the power of communicating our thoughts to each other; the circumstances in which we were froze the words on our lips.
I still met with some difficulties near Paris which I managed to escape, and as the distance from the capital increased, the waves of the tempest seemed to subside, and in the mountains of Jura nothing reminded me of the dreadful agitation of which Paris was the theater. The French were everywhere repeating that they were determined to repulse the foreigners. I confess that I saw then no other foreigners than the bloody assassins under whose daggers I had left my friends, the royal family, and all the worthy inhabitants of France.
[1. ] Briois de Baumets (1759–1800), member of the constitutionalist group; he immigrated to Germany and, later, America.
[2. ] They were annexed to France in January 1811.
[* ] Lady Sutherland, now Marchioness of Stafford, and then English ambassadress at Paris, showed the most devoted attentions to the royal family at that frightful period.
[3. ] Louis Pierre Manuel (1753–93), a member of the Jacobin club, took part in the events of August 10, 1792. Elected deputy to the Convention, he voted against the death penalty during the King’s trial; he was arrested and executed on November 12, 1793.
[4. ] François-Xavier de Montesquiou-Fezensac (1755–1832) was a deputy to the Constituent Assembly. A vocal critic of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, he eventually emigrated and later returned to France in 1795. During the Bourbon Restoration he served as minister of the interior (1814–15) and was elected to the French Academy.
[5. ] Marie-Thérèse de Savoie-Carignan, Princess of Lamballe (b. 1749), was killed on September 3, 1792.
[6. ] Both Collot d’Herbois (1749–96) and Billaud-Varennes (1756–1819) were deputies from Paris to the Convention and members of the Committee of Public Safety (July 1793–July 1794); as such, they played a role in planning the fall of Robespierre on 9 Thermidor. They were later deported to Guyana and died overseas. For more information, see Palmer, Twelve Who Ruled.
[7. ] Jean-Lambert Tallien (1767–1820) was one of the most active popular leaders in the storming of the Tuileries Palace on August 10, 1792. Appointed secretary to the Commune of Paris, he eventually became a rival of Robespierre and contributed to his arrest. He was a member of the Council of Five Hundred during the Directory (1795–98), but was viewed with skepticism by both the moderates (because of his role in the Terror against the Girondins) and the extreme party (for his role in the fall of Robespierre). Later, Napoléon appointed him consul in Alicante.