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CHAPTER III. - Mary Wollstonecraft, An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution and the Effect it Has Produced in Europe 
An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution and the Effect it Has Produced in Europe (London: J. Johnson, 1795).
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preparations of the parisians for the defence of the city. the guards, and city watch, join the citizens. the armed citizens appoint a commander in chief. conduct of the national assembly during the disturbances at paris. they publish a declaration of rights,—and offer their mediation with the citizens,—which is haughtily refused by the king. proceedings at paris on the fourteenth of july. taking of the bastille. the mayor shot. proceedings of the national assembly at versailles. appearance of the king in the assembly. his speech.
Early in the morning of the 13th, the electors hastened to the centre of the general alarm, the hôtel-de-ville, and, urged by the necessity of the moment, passed the decrees, under deliberation, for the immediate embodying the garde-bourgeoise, without waiting for the requested sanction of the national assembly. The greater number then withdrew, to convoke their districts; whilst the few that remained endeavoured to calm the tumult, that was every moment augmenting, by informing the people of this decree; representing at the same time, to the citizens, the cogent motives which should induce them to separate, and each repair to his own district to be enrolled. But the crowd again called for arms, pretending, that there was a great number concealed in an arsenal, which nobody could point out. To quiet these clamours for a moment, the people were referred to the prévot des marchands* . He accordingly came, and requested, that the multitude would confirm his nomination to the function, which his majesty had confided to him. A general acclamation was the signal of their consent; and the assembled electors immediately turned their attention to the serious business before them.
They then established a permanent committee, to keep up a constant intercourse with the different districts, to which the citizens were again exhorted instantly to return, with all the arms they had collected; that those arms might be properly distributed amongst the parisian militia. But, it was impossible to pursue these important deliberations, with any degree of order, for a fresh multitude was continually rushing forward, to report fresh intelligence; often false or exaggerated, and always alarming. The barriers, they were told, were on fire; a religious house had been pillaged; and a hostile force was on the road, in full march, to fall upon the citizens. An immense number of coaches, waggons, and other carriages, were actually brought to the door of the hotel; and the demands of the concourse, who had been stopped going out of Paris, mingling with the cries of the multitude, eager to be led towards the troops, whose approach had been announced, were only drowned by the more lively instances of the deputies of the sixty districts, demanding arms and ammunition, to render them active. To appease them, and gain time, the mayor promised, if they would be tranquil till five o’clock in the evening, then to distribute a number of fusils; which were to be furnished by the director of a manufactory.
These assurances produced a degree of calm. Taking advantage of it, the committee determined, that the parisian militia, for the present, should consist of 48,000 citizens; and that the officers should be named by each district. Many subordinate decrees also passed, all tending to prevent the disasters naturally produced by confusion; and to provide for the subsistence of the city. The french guards, who had during the night assisted the citizens, now came to testify their attachment to the common cause; and to beg to be enrolled with them. The commander of the city watch, a military body, likewise presented himself; to assure the committee, that the troops under his direction were disposed to obey their orders, and assist in defending the city.
Among the carriages stopped was one of the prince de Lambesc. The people imagined, that they had caught the prince himself; and, when they were convinced of their mistake, it was impossible to save the coach, though the horses were put into a neighbouring stable; and the portmanteau, carefully detached, was lodged in the hall. This trivial circumstance is worthy of notice, because it shows the respect then paid to property; and that the public mind was entirely fixed on those grand objects, which absorb private passions and interests. Stung also to the quick by the insulting disregard of their claims, the people forcibly felt an indignant sense of injustice, which rendered the struggle heroic.
Preparations of a warlike cast were made during the whole course of this day; and every thing was conducted with a degree of prudence scarcely to have been expected from such impetuosity. Trenches were thrown up, several of the streets unpaved, and barricadoes formed in the suburbs—Defence was the sole object of every person’s thoughts, and deriding personal danger, all were preparing to sell their lives at a dear rate, furbishing up old weapons, or forging new. The old men, women, and children, were employed in making pikes; whilst the able bodied men paraded the streets, in an orderly manner, with most resolute looks, yet avoiding every kind of violence: there was, in fact, an inconceivable solemnity in the quick step of a torrent of men, all directing their exertions to one point, which distinguished this rising of the citizens from what is commonly termed a riot.—Equality, indeed, was then first established by an universal sympathy; and men of all ranks joining in the throng, those of the first could not be discriminated by any peculiar decency of demeanour, such public spirited dignity pervaded the whole mass.
A quantity of powder had been carried to the hôtel-de-ville, which the populace, for the most unruly always collected round this central spot, would probably have blown up in seizing, if a courageous elector* had not, at the continual risk of his life, insisted on distributing it regularly to the people. This engaged their attention a short time; but in the evening the demand for arms became more pressing than ever, mingled with a hoarse cry of persidy and treason, levelled against the mayor; which, for a while, was silenced by the arrival of a number of military chests, thought to contain arms, and these were supposed to be those promised by the mayor. Every possible precaution was immediately taken by the electors, to have them speedily conveyed into the cellar, that they might be given to those who knew best how to make use of them; instead of being caught up by the unskilful. The french guards had merited the confidence of the citizens; and four members of the committee, after some deliberation, were appointed to hasten to them, to request that they would come and take charge of the distribution. In short, great preparations were made, previous to the opening of the chests; but—when the chests were at last opened, in the presence of a concourse of people, and found to contain only pieces of old candlesticks, and such like rubbish, the impatience of the multitude, whose courage and patriotism had been played with all day, instantly changed into indignation and fury; and the suspicion of treason on the part of the mayor was extended to the whole committee, whom they threatened to blow up in their hall.
One of the electors, the marquis de la Salle, now observed, ‘that the greatest inconvenience in their present cruel situation was the want of order, and subordination; and that a correspondence of the different parts of the grand machine, so necessary to promote expedition and success, could not subsist without a commander, known and acknowledged by the public: for all the citizens, become soldiers, are perpetually,’ he adds, ‘exposed to spend their zeal and intrepidity in superfluous efforts; sometimes even counteracting their own designs. It is necessary then to name a general of the first abilities and experience; I am far from thinking myself worthy of your choice, though I offer all that I can offer, my fortune and my life; and shall willingly serve in any post.’ This motion produced a new discussion; and the duke d‘Aumont was appointed commander in chief. But, he half declining it, though he tried to procrastinate his refusal, the post devolved to the marquis de la Salle, who had been unanimously named second; and he entered immediately on the discharge of this important trust. And this nomination contributed to support the exertions of the committee; for in spite of the chaotic shock, which seemed to have thrown into confusion all the parts of this great city, the centre of union formed at the hôtel-de-ville, by the assembling of the electors, was in a great measure the salvation of the public. This municipal power, created by circumstances, and tacitly consented to by the citizens, established a great degree of order and obedience, even in the midst of terrour and anarchy. The garde-bourgeoise had been assembled in all the districts; and the patrols relieved with the greatest exactness. The streets were illuminated, to prevent confusion or dismay during the night; private property was respected, and all the posts carefully super-intended; but, at the barriers, every carriage and every person was stopped, and obliged to go to the hôtel-de-ville to give an account of themselves. The public particularly mistrusted the design of those who were going to Versailles, or coming from it. Deputations had been regularly sent, to inform the national assembly of the disturbances, which their danger and the dread of a siege had occasioned in Paris, and of the measures pursued to restrain the head-long fury of the people.
The national assembly, indeed, now appeared with the dignified aspect becoming the fathers of their country; seeing their own danger, without timidly shrinking from the line of conduct, which had provoked the violence of the court: and the president, an old man, not being thought equal to the present toils of office, a vice-president was appointed.
To fill this post, the marquis la Fayette was chosen: a deputy for several reasons popular. In America, where he voluntarily risked his life and fortune, before the french nation espoused their cause, he had acquired certain just principles of government; and these he digested to the extent of his understanding, which was somewhat confined. He possessed great integrity of heart, though he was not without his portion of the national vanity. He had already distinguished himself at the meeting of the notables, by detecting, and exposing the peculation of Calonne, and opposing the arbitrary proceedings of the count d‘Artois. Governed by the same motives, he had proposed, likewise, during their sittings, some bold plans of reform, calculated to reduce the public revenue, and lessen the grievances of the nation, at the same stroke.—Amongst these was a motion for the abolition of the Bastille, and other state prisons, throughout the kingdom; and the suppression of lettres de cachet. And still having the same objects in view, he, the very day the king’s sneering reply was received (the 11th), laid before the assembly a proposal for a declaration of rights, similar to that of some of the american states. The marquis de Condorcet had published a declaration of this kind, to instruct the deputies, previous to their meeting. La Fayette had transmitted a copy of his declaration of rights to the assembled electors, to be read to the people; and nothing could be better adapted to keep them firm, telling them to what point they ought to adhere, than the short address with which it commenced.—‘Call to mind the sentiments, that nature has engraven on the heart of every citizen; and which take a new force, when recognized by all.—For a nation to love liberty, it is sufficient that she knows it; and, to be free, it is sufficient that she wills it.* .’
Mirabeau, even whilst supporting tenaciously the dignity of the national assembly, felt a pang of envy, that another should bring forward such an important business, as the sketch of a new constitution; avowedly that the world might know how they had been employed, and what they were contesting for, should they become the victims of their magnanimity.
It was impossible now for the whole assembly not to see in the change of the ministry the danger at hand, the approach of which some had affected to treat as a chimera. Determined, however, to continue their labours, in the very face of such hostile preparations; yet taking every prudent precaution to secure their safety, they sent to inform the king of the disturbances at Paris; and to point out the evils which menaced the state, if the troops that invested the metropolis were not sent to more distant quarters:—offering, at the same time, to throw themselves between the army and the citizens, to endeavour to ward off the calamities that were likely to ensue. But the king, obstinately bent to support the present measures, or controlled by the cabal, replied, ‘that he was the only judge of the necessity of withdrawing the troops;’ and, treating the offered interposition of the deputies with the most ineffable contempt, told them, ‘that they could be of no use at Paris, and were necessary at Versailles, to pursue those important labours, which he should continue to recommend.’
This answer was no sooner communicated, than La Fayette moved, that the present ministry should be declared responsible for the consequence of their obstinacy: and the assembly further decreed, that Necker and the rest of the ministry, who had just been sent away, carried with them their esteem and regret:—that, alarmed by the apprehensions of danger produced by the reply of the king, they would not cease to insist on the removal of the troops, and the establishment of a garde-bourgeoise.—They repeated their declaration, that no intermediate power can subsist between the king and the national assembly:—and that the public debt, having been placed under the safe-guard of french honour, the nation not refusing to pay the interest of it, no power had a right to utter the infamous word—bankruptcy.—In short, the assembly declared, that they persisted in their former decrees:—and that the present resolves should be presented to the king, by the president, and printed for the information of the public.
Still the court, despising the courageous remonstrances of the assembly, and untouched by the apprehensions of the people, which seemed to be driving them to the desperation that always conquers, stimulated the king to persist in the prosecution of the measures, which they had prevailed on him to adopt. The assembly, thus rendered vigilant by the various tokens, that the crisis was arrived, which was to determine their personal and political fate, in which that of their country was involved, thought it prudent to make their sitting permanent. Animated and united by the common danger, they reminded each other, ‘that, should they perish, their country still surviving would recover it’s vigour; and that their plans for the good of the public again warming the hearts of frenchmen, a brave and generous people would erect on their tomb, as an immortal trophy, a constitution solid as reason, and durable as time:—whilst their martyrdom would serve as an example, to prove, that the progress of knowledge and civilization is not to be stopped by the massacre of a few individuals.’
Whatever might have been the object of the court, respecting the national assembly, which was probably the slaughter or imprisonment necessary to disperse them, and disconcert their theories of reform, it is certain, that their situation wore the most threatening aspect; and their escape was owing to the courage and resolution of the people; for the breast of the cabinet was too callous, to feel either respect or repugnance, when emoluments and prerogatives were in question.
It was a circumstance favourable to the people, and the cause of humanity, that the want of common foresight in the court prevented their guarding against resistance. For so negligent were they, that the citizens, who were early in the morning of the 14th every where scouring about in search of arms, requested of the committee an order to demand those they heard were stored up at the hótel des invalides; and one of the electors was accordingly sent with them, to desire the governor to give up to the nation all the arms and ammunition committed to his care. He replied, that a body of citizens having already been with him, he had sent to Versailles for orders, and entreated them to wait till the return of the courier, whom he expected in the course of an hour or two. This answer at first satisfied the people, who were preparing to wait contentedly, till one of them observing, that this was not a day to lose time, they insisted on entering immediately; and instantly made themselves masters of all the arms they found, to the amount of 30,000 muskets, and six pieces of cannon. A considerable quantity of different sorts of arms were also carried away from the garde meuble, by a less orderly party; and fell into the hands of vagabonds, who always mix in a tumult, merely because it is a tumult. A hundred and fifty persons of this description had been disarmed the preceding night at the hôtel-de-ville, where they had dropped asleep on the stairs and benches, stupified by the brandy they had stolen: but, when they awoke, and requested work, not having any money or bread, they were sent to assist in the making of pikes, and the fabricating of other weapons, which required little skill. None of the citizens appeared, in fact, without some weapon, however uncouth, to brandish defiance, whilst sixty thousand men, enrolled and distributed in different companies, were armed in a more orderly, though not in a more warlike manner. The army of liberty now, indeed, assumed a very formidable appearance; yet the cabinet, never doubting of success, neglected in the thoughtlessness of security, the only way left to oblige the roused people to accept of any terms.
Paris, that immense city, second, perhaps, to none in the world, had felt a scarcity of bread for some time, and now had not sufficient flour to support the inhabitants four days to come* .
If, therefore, the mareschal Broglio had cut off the supplies, the citizens would have been reduced to the alternative of starving, or marching in confusion to fight his army, before they could have been disciplined for a regular action. But directed only by the depraved sentiments of tyranny, they deemed assassination the most speedy method of bringing the contest to an end favourable to their designs. Unaccustomed to govern freemen, they dreamt not of the energy of a nation shaking off it’s fetters; or, if their classical reveries had taught them a respect for man, whilst reading the account of that brave handful of spartans, who drove back, at the straits of Thermopylæ, millions of marshalled slaves; they had no conception, that the cause of liberty was still the same, and that men obeying her impulse will always be able to resist the attacks of all the enervated mercenaries of the globe.
The imaginations of the parisians, full of plots, created hourly many of the objects of terrour from which they started; though the troops being in motion around Paris naturally produced many false alarms, that their suspicious temper might have exaggerated sufficiently, without the help of invention. Various accounts of massacres and assassinations were consequently brought to the hôtel-de-ville, which inflamed the people, though afterwards they proved to be the idle rumours of fear. Thus much, however, appeared certain; a squadron of hussars had actually been seen hovering about the entrance of the fauxbourg Saint-Antoine, who disappeared when two companies of the french guards approached. The people of the same fauxbourg observed also, that the cannons of the Bastille were turned towards their street. On receiving this information, a message was sent from the committee to the governor of the Bastille, to expostulate with him; and one to each of the districts, desiring them to sound an alarm throughout, to break up the pavement of the streets, dig ditches, and oppose every obstacle, in their power, to the entrance of the troops. But, though the accounts of the hostile demeanour of some of the detachments in the skirts of Paris excited terrour, there was still reason to doubt the real disposition of the soldiery; for a considerable number, belonging to different regiments, had presented themselves at the barriers with arms and baggage, declaring their decided intention to enter into the service of the nation. They were received by the districts, and conducted to the hôtel-de-ville: and the committee distributed them amongst the national troops, with the precaution necessary to guard against the surprise of treason.
The deputation, sent to the Bastille, now returned, to give an account of their mission. They informed the committee, that the people, rendered furious by the menacing position of the cannon, had already surrounded the walls; but that they had entered without much difficulty, and were conducted to the governor, whom they had requested to change the disposition of his cannons; and that the reply he gave was not as explicit as they could have wished. They then demanded to pass into the second court, and did not without great difficulty obtain permission. The little drawbridge, they continued, was let down; but the great one, which led to this court yard was raised, and they entered by an iron gate, opened at the call of the governor. In this court they had seen three cannons ready for action, with two cannoneers, thirty-six swiss, and a dozen of invalids, all under arms; and the staff officers were also assembled.—They immediately summoned them, in the name of the honour of the nation, and for the sake of their country, to change the direction of the cannons; and, at the instance even of the governor himself, all the officers and soldiers swore, that the cannons should not be fired, or would they make any use of their arms, unless they were attacked. In short, another deputation from one of the districts had likewise been received with great politeness by the governor; and while they were taking some refreshment, he had actually ordered the cannons to be drawn back; and a moment after they were informed, that the order was obeyed.
To calm the people, these very men descended the stair-case of the hôtel-de-ville, to proclaim the assurances they had received of the amicable intentions of the governor; but, whilst the trumpet was sounding to demand silence, the report of a cannon from the quarter of the Bastille was heard; and at the same moment, an immense crowd precipitated themselves into the square, fronting the hotel, with the cry of treason. And to support the charge, they brought with them a citizen, and a soldier of the french guards, both wounded. The rumour was, that fifteen or twenty more, wounded at the same time, were left to be taken care of, in different houses on the way; for that the governor, Delaunay, had let down the first draw-bridge to engage the people to approach, who were demanding arms; and that they, entering with confidence on this invitation, had immediately received a discharge of all the musketry of the fortress. This report, confirmed by the presence of the two wounded men, demonstrated to the committee the perfidy of the troops who guarded the Bastille, and the necessity of sending succour to those, who, without order or sufficient force, had commenced the attack. Mean time the fury of the people was directed against the mayor, who endeavoured by various subterfuges to appease the rage which had been excited by his vain promises of procuring arms. He had, it is true, several times dispersed the multitude by sending them to different places with orders for arms, where he knew they were not to be found; and now, to silence the suspicions that threatned to break out in some dreadful acts of violence, involving the whole committee in the same destruction, he offered to make one of the third deputation; the second appearing to be detained, to remonstrate with Delaunay, and try to prevent an effusion of blood. A drum and colours were ordered to attend them, because it was supposed, that the want of some signal had prevented the others from executing their commission.
Shortly after their departure, however, the second deputation returned, and informed the committee, that, in their way to the Bastille, they had met a wounded citizen, carried by his companions, who informed them, that he had received a shot from a fusil, fired from the Bastille into the street St. Antoine; and that immediately after they had been stopped by a crowd, who were guarding three invalids, taken firing on their fellow citizens. Judging by these events, added they, that the danger was increasing, we hastened our steps, animated by the hope of putting a stop to such an unequal combat. Arrived within a hundred paces of the fortress, we perceived the soldiers on the towers firing upon the street St. Antoine, and we heard the report of the guns of the citizens in the court, discharged on the garrison. Drawing nearer, we made several signals to the governor, which were either unobserved, or disregarded. We then approached the gate, and saw the people, almost all without any thing to defend themselves, rushing forward exposed to the brisk fire of artillery, that hailed directly down upon them, making great havoc. We prevailed on those who had arms, to stop firing for a moment, whilst we reiterated our signal of peace; but the garrison, regardless of it, continued their discharges, and we had the grief to see fall, by our sides, several of the people, whose hands we had stopped. The courage of the rest, again inflamed by indignation, pushed them forward.—Our remonstrances, our prayers, had no longer any effect; and they declared, that it was not a deputation they now wished for.—It was the siege of the Bastille—the destruction of that horrible prison—the death of the governor, that they demanded, with loud cries. Repulsed by these brave citizens, we partook their momentary indignation, so fully justified by the abominable act of perfidy, with which they charged the governor.—They then repeated to us the information which has already reached you—that in the morning a crowd having approached the Bastille to demand arms, the governor had allowed a certain number to enter, and then had fired upon them. Thus the treason of the governor had been the first signal of a war, that he himself had begun with his fellow citizens, and seemed willing to continue obstinately, since he refused to attend to the deputation. Through all parts it was now resounded.—‘Let us take the Bastille!’—And five pieces of cannon, conducted by this cry, were hastening to the action.
Some time after, the third deputation also came back, and recounted, that, at the sight of their white flag, one had been hoisted on the top of the Bastille, and the soldiers had grounded their arms;—that, under the auspices of these ensigns of peace, the deputies had engaged the people, in the name of the permanent committee, to retire to their districts, and take the measures the most proper to re-establish tranquillity—and, that this retreat was actually taking place; the people all naturally passing through the court where the deputation remained.—When, notwithstanding the white emblem of a pacific disposition, displayed on the tower, the deputies saw a piece of cannon planted directly at the court, and they received a sudden discharge of musketry, which killed three persons at their feet—that this atrocity, at the moment they were calming the people, had thrown them into a transport of rage; and many of them had even held their bayonets at the breasts of the deputies; saying, ‘you are also traitors, and have brought us here that we might be more easily killed’—and it would have been difficult to calm them, if one of the deputies had not bid them observe, that they shared the same danger. The effervescence then abating, they hastened back and met 300 of the french guards, followed by the cannons taken at the invalids, all marching with a quick step, crying that they were going to take the Bastille. One of the deputies, who had been separated from the rest, further recited;—that having been obliged to scramble over the dead and dying to escape, the people, who recognized him as an elector, desired him to save himself—for that the treason was manifest. ‘It is rather you, my friends, he replied, who ought to retire; you who hinder our soldiers and cannons from entering this encumbered court, where you are all going to perish, for no purpose.’ But, that they interrupted him in a transport, exclaiming—‘No!—No! our dead bodies will serve to fill up the trench.’ He therefore retired with the balls hissing about his ears. These recitals, and the rumour of the second act of treachery, spreading through the city, violently agitated minds already alive to suspicion.
Fresh crowds continually rushed into the hôtel-de-ville, and again they threatened to set fire to it, repeating how many times the mayor had deceived them. And, when he attempted to calm them by making plausible excuses, they stopped his mouth by saying, with one voice,—‘he seeks to gain time by making us lose our’s.’ Two intercepted billets also having been read aloud, addressed to the principal officers of the Bastille, desiring them to stand out, and promising succour; increased the public fury, principally directed against the governor of the Bastille, the mayor, and even the permanent committee.—Outcry followed outcry, and naked arms were held up denouncing vengeance—when an old man exclaimed, my friends, what do we here with these traitors!—Let us march to the Bastille! at this cry, as at a signal of victory, all the people hastily left the hall, and the committee unexpectedly found themselves alone.
In this moment of solitude and terrour, a man entered with affright visible on every feature, saying, that the square trembled with the rage of the people; and that they had devoted all of them to death.—‘Depart!’ he exclaimed, running out, ‘save yourselves while you can—or you are all lost!’ But they remained still; and were not long permitted in silence to anticipate the approach of danger; for one party of people following another, brought in a number of their wounded companions:—and those who brought them, described with passion the carnage of the citizens sacrificed under the ramparts of the Bastille. This carnage, the military officers attributed to the disorder of the attack, and to the interpidity of the assailants still greater than the disorder.
The accounts of the slaughter, nevertheless, were certainly very much exaggerated; for the fortress appears to have been taken by the force of mind of the multitude, pressing forward regardless of danger. The ardour of the besiegers, rather than their numbers, threw the garrison into confusion; for the Bastille was justly reckoned the strongest and most terrific prison in Europe, or perhaps in the world. It was always guarded by a considerable number of troops, and the governor had been previously prepared for it’s defence; but the unexpected impetuosity of the parisians was such as nothing could withstand. It is certain, that Delaunay, at first, despised the attempt of the people; and was more anxious to save from injury or pillage, a small elegant house he had built in the outer court, than to avoid slaughter. Afterwards, however, in the madness of despair, he is said to have rolled down large masses of stone from the platform on the heads of the people, to have endeavoured to blow up the fortress, and even to kill himself. The french guards, it is true, who mixed with the multitude, were of effential service in storming the Bastille, by advising them to bring the cannon, and take some other measures, that only military experience could have dictated; but the enthusiasm of the moment rendered a knowledge of the art of war needless; and resolution, more powerful than all the engines and batteries in the world, made the draw-bridges fall, and the walls give way.
Whilst then the people were carrying every thing before them, the committee only thought of preventing the further effusion of blood. Another deputation was therefore nominated, more numerous than had hitherto been sent; and they were just setting out on this errand of peace, when some voices announced, that the Bastille was taken. Little attention, however, was paid them; and the news was so improbable, that the impression made by the rumour was not sufficiently strong to stop the outrages of the mob, who still were menacing the mayor and the committee.—When a fresh uproar, heard at first at such a distance that it could not be distinguished, whether it were a cry of victory or of alarm, advancing with the crash and rapidity of a tempest, came to confirm the unlooked for intelligence.—For the Bastille was taken!
At the instant even the great hall was inundated by a crowd of all ranks, carrying arms of every kind.—The tumult was inexpressible—and to increase it, some one called out, that the hotel was giving way, under the mingled shout of victory and treason! vengeance and liberty!—About thirty invalids and swiss soldiers were then dragged into the hall, whose death the multitude imperiously demanded.—Hang them! Hang them! was the universal roar.
An officer of the queen’s regiment of guards (M. Elie) was brought in on the shoulders of the conquerors of the Bastille, and proclaimed by them, as the first of the citizens, who had just made themselves masters of it. The efforts he used to repress the testimonies of honour, which were lavished on him, were of no avail; and he was placed, in spite of his modesty, on a table opposite the committee, and surrounded by the prisoners, who seemed to be standing in fearful expectation of their doom. In this situation he was crowned, and trophies of arms awkwardly placed around, to which sentiment and circumstances gave dignity. All the plate taken at the Bastille was brought to him, and his comrades pressed him, in the most earnest manner, to accept it, as the richest spoil of the vanquished enemy. But he refused with sirmness, explaining the motives of his refusal so eloquently, he persuaded all who heard him, that the spoil did not belong to them; and that patriotism, jealous only of glory and honour, would blush at receiving a pecuniary recompense.—And, making a noble use of the ascendency which he had over the people, he began to recommend moderation and clemency.—But he was soon interrupted by the account of the death of Delaunay; seized in the court of the Bastille, and dragged by the furious populace almost to the hôtel-de-ville, before he was massacred.—And soon after the death of three other officers was reported.
The prisoners listened to these tales with the countenances of victims ready to be sacrificed, whilst the exasperated crowd demanded their instant execution. One of the electors spoke in their favour, but was scarcely permitted to go on. The people, indeed, were principally enraged against three of the invalids, whom they accused of being the cannoneers, that had sired so briskly on the citizens. One of them was wounded, and consequently inspired more compassion. The marquis de la Salle placed himself before this poor wretch, and forcing, in some degree, the people to hear him, he insisted on the authority which he ought to have as commander in chief; adding, that he only wished to secure the culprits, that they might be judged with all the rigour of martial law. The people seemed to approve of his reasoning; and taking advantage of this favourable turn, he made the wounded invalid pass into another apartment.—But, whilst he was preserving the life of this unfortunate man, the mob hurried the other two out of the hall, and immediately hung them on the adjacent lamp-post* . The effervescence, nevertheless, in spite of this overflowing of fury, still continued, and was not even damped by these cruel acts of retaliation. Two sentiments agitated the public mind—the joy of having conquered, and the desire of vengeance. Confused denunciations of treason resounded on all sides, and each individual was eager to show his sagacity in discovering a plot, or substituted suspicion instead of conviction with equal obstinacy. The mayor, however, had given sufficient proofs of his disposition to support the court, to justify the rage which was breaking out against him; and a general cry having been raised around him, that it was necessary for him to go to the palais royal, to be tried by his fellow citizens, he agreed to accompany the people.
Mean time the clamour against the rest of the invalids redoubled. But the french guards, who entered in groups, requested as a recompense for the service which they had rendered to their country the pardon of their old comrades; and M. Elie joined in the request; adding, that this favour would be more grateful to his heart, than all the gifts and honours which they wished to lavish on him. Touched by his eloquence, some cried out—Pardon! and the same emotion spreading throughout the circle—Pardon! Pardon! succeeded the ferocious demand of vengeance, which had hitherto stifled sympathy. And to assure their safety, M. Elie proposed making the prisoners take an oath of fidelity to the nation and the city of Paris: and this proposition was received with testimonies of general satisfaction. The oath being administered, the french guards surrounded the prisoners and carried them away, in the midst of them, without meeting with any resistance.
The committee now endeavoured to reestablish something like order, for in the tumult the table had been broken down, and destruction menaced on every side—when a man entered to inform them, that an unknown, but, indeed, a merciful hand had shot the mayor, and thus by the only possible mean snatched him from the popular fury. The whole tenour of his conduct, in fact, justified the charge brought against him, and rendered at least this effect of public indignation excusable.—So excusable, that had not the passions of the people, exasperated by designing men, afterwards been directed to the commission of the most barbarous atrocities, the vengeance of this day could hardly be cited as acts of injustice or inhumanity.
The Bastille was taken about four o’clock in the afternoon; and after the struggle to save the prisoners, some necessary regulations were proposed, to secure the public safety. The conduct of the men in office had so irritated the people, that the cry against aristocrats was now raised; and a number of persons of distinction were brought to the hôtel-de-ville this evening, by the restless populace, who, roving about the streets, seemed to create some of the adventures, which were necessary to employ their awakened spirit. Breathless with victory, they, for the moment, gave a loose to joy; but the sounds of exultation dying away with the day, night brought back all their former apprehensions; and they listened with fresh affright to the report, that a detachment of troops was preparing to enter one of the barriers. Not, therefore, allowing themselves to sleep on their conquering arms, this was, likewise, a watchful night; for the taking of the Bastille, though it was a proof of the courage and resolution of the parisians, by no means secured them against the insidious schemes of the court. They had shown their determination to resist oppression very forcibly; but the troops that excited their resistance were still apparently waiting for an opportunity to destroy them. Every citizen then hurried to his post, for their very success made them the more alive to fear. The tocsin was again rung, and the cannon that had forced the Bastille to surrender dragged hastily to the place of alarm. The pavement of the adjacent streets was torn up, with astonishing quickness, and carried to the tops of the houses; where the women, who were equally animated, stood prepared to hurl them down on the soldiers.—All Paris, in short, was awake; and this vigilance either frustrated the designs of the cabal, or intimidated the hostile force, which never appeared to have entered with earnestness into it’s measures. For it is probable, that some decisive stroke had been concerted; but that the officers, who expected by their presence only to have terrified into obedience the citizens, whose courage, on the contrary, they roused, were rendered irresolute by the disaffection of the soldiers. Thus was the nation saved by the almost incredible exertion of an indignant people; who felt, for the first time, that they were sovereign, and that their power was commensurate to their will. This was certainly a splendid example, to prove, that nothing can resist a people determined to live free; and then it appeared clear, that the freedom of France did not depend on a few men, whatever might be their virtues or abilities, but alone on the will of the nation.
During this day, while the parisians were so active for it’s safety, the national assembly was employed in forming a committee, to be charged with digesting the plan of a constitution, for the deliberation of the whole body: to secure the rights of the people on the eternal principles of reason and justice; and thereby to guarantee the national dignity and respectability. Towards the evening, the uncertainty of what was passing at Paris, the mysterious conduct of the cabinet, the presence of the troops at Versailles, the substantiated facts, and the suspected proscriptions, gave to this sitting the involuntary emotions, that must naturally be produced by the approach of a catastrophe, which was to decide the salvation or destruction of a state. Mirabeau, firm to his point, showed the necessity of insisting on the sending away the troops without delay; and soon after the viscount de Noailles, arriving from Paris, informed them, that the arms had been taken from the hótel-des-invalides; and that the Bastille was actually besieged. The first impulse was for them to go altogether, and endeavour to open the king’s eyes; but, after some reflection, a numerous deputation was nominated;—to insist on the removal of the troops; and to speak to his majesty with that energetic frankness, so much more necessary as he was deceived by every person by whom he was surrounded. Whilst they were absent, two persons, sent by the electors of Paris, informed the assembly of the taking of the Bastille, and the other events of the day; which were repeated to them, when they returned with the king’s vague answer.
A second deputation was then immediately sent, to inform him of these circumstances:—To which he replied—‘You more and more distress my heart, by the recitals you bring me of the miseries of Paris. But I cannot believe, that the orders which I have given to the troops, is the cause of them: I have, therefore, nothing to add to the answer that you have already received from me.’
This reply tended to increase the general alarm; and they determined again to prolong the sitting all night; either to be ready to receive the enemy in their sacred function, or to make a last effort near the throne to succour the metropolis. Nothing could surpass the anxious suspense of this situation; for the most resolute of the deputies were uneasy respecting their fate, because their personal safety was connected with the salvation of France. Their nocturnal conversation naturally turned on the late events that had taken place at Paris; the commotions in the provinces; and the horrours of famine, ready to consume those whom a civil war spared. The old men sought for an hour of repose upon the tables and carpets; the sick rested on the benches.—All saw the sword suspended over them, and over their country—and all feared a morrow still more dreadful.
Impressed by their situation, and the danger of the state, one of the deputies (the duke de Liancourt) left his post, and sought a private audience with the king, with whom he warmly expostulated, pointing out the critical situation of the kingdom; and even of the royal family, should his majesty persist to support the present measures. Monsieur, the king’s eldest brother, and not only the most honest, but the most sensible of the blood royal, immediately coincided with the duke, silencing the rest of the cabal. They had at first treated with contempt the intelligence received of the Bastille’s being taken; and now were so stunned by the confirmation, that, at a loss how to direct the king, they left him to follow the counsel of whoever dared to advise him.—And he, either convinced, or persuaded, determined to extricate himself out of the present difficulties, by yielding to necessity.
On the morning of the 15th, the national assembly, not informed of this circumstance, resolved to send another remonstrance to the king;—and Mirabeau, giving a sketch of the address, drew a rapid and lively picture of the exigencies of the moment. ‘Tell him,’ said he, ‘that the hordes of foreigners, by whom we are besieged, have yesterday been visited by the princes and princesses, their favourites, and their minions, who, lavishing on them caresses and presents, exhorted them to perseverance—tell him, that the whole night these foreign satellites, gorged with gold and wine, have, in their impious camp, predicted the subjugation of France, and, that they invoked, with brutal vehemence, the destruction of the national assembly—tell him, that, even in his own palace, the courtiers have mingled in the dance to the sound of this barbarous music—and, tell him, that such was the scene, which announced St. Bartholomew.
‘Tell him, that the Henry, whose memory the world blesses, the ancestor, whom he ought to wish to take for a model, allowed provision to pass into Paris in a state of revolt, when he was in person besieging it; whilst his ferocious counsellors are turning back the flour, that the course of commerce was bringing to his faithful and famished city.’
The deputation left the hall; but was stopped by the duke de Liancourt; who informed them, that the king was then coming to restore them to tranquillity and peace. Every heart was relieved by this intelligence; and a cynic, probably, would have found less dignity in the joy, than the grief of the assembly. A deputy, however, moderated these first emotions, by observing, that those transports formed a shocking contrast with the distress which the people had already endured.—He added, ‘that a respectful silence was the proper reception of a monarch during a moment of public sorrow: for the silence of the people is the only lesson of kings.’
Shortly after, the king appearedin the assembly, standing uncovered; and without any attention to ceremony. He addressed the representatives of the people with artful affection: for as it is impossible to avoid comparing his present affectionate style, with the cold contempt with which he answered their repeated remonstrances the preceding evening, it is not judging harshly to despise the affectation, and to suggest, that it was dictated rather by selfish prudence than by a sense of justice, or a feeling of humanity. He lamented the disorder that reigned in the capital, and requested them to think of some method to bring back order and tranquillity. He alluded to the report, that the personal safety of the deputies had been menaced; and, with contemptible duplicity asked, if his well-known character did not give the lie to such a rumour.—Reckoning then, he concluded, on the love and fidelity of his subjects, he had given orders to the troops to repair to more distant quarters—and he authorized, nay, invited them, to make known his intentions to the metropolis.
This speech was interrupted and followed by the most lively expression of applause; though the sagacity of a number of the deputies could not possibly have been clouded by their sympathy: and the king returning to the palace on foot, great part of the assembly escorted him, joined by a concourse of people, who rent the air with their benedictions. The declaration of Louis, that, trusting to the representatives of the people, he had ordered the troops to withdraw from Versailles, being spread abroad, every person, feeling relieved from the oppression of fear, and unshackled from the fetters of despotism, threw off care; and the national assembly immediately appointed eighty-four of it’s most respectable members, to convey to Paris the glad intelligence; that the harrassed parisians might participate in the joy they had procured the assembly, by the most noble exertions.
Arrived at Paris, they were received with enthusiasm, as the saviours of their country; and saw there more than a hundred thousand men in arms, formed into companies; showing the superiority of a nation rising in it’s own defence, compared with the mercenary machines of tyranny. The transports of the people, and the sympathy of the deputies, must have formed a highly interesting scene: success elevating the heart for the moment, and hope gilding the future prospect.—But the imagination would languidly pourtray this dazzling sunshine, depressed by the recollection of the sinister events, that have since clouded the bright beams. Precluded then by melancholy reflections from rejoicing with the happy throng, it is necessary to turn our attention to the circumstances, from which mankind may draw instruction:—and the first that present themselves to our notice are those which disconcerted the flagitious plan of the ministry;—the regulations that preserved order in the metropolis;—the astonishing reduction of the Bastille;—the union of the french guards with the citizens;—the prompt establishment of a city militia;—and, in short, the behaviour of the people, who showed neither a thirst for pillage, nor a fondness for tumult.
The court by their criminal enterprises had entirely disorded the political machines, that sustained the old worn out government* ; which, worm-eaten in all it’s pillars, and rotten in all it’s joints, fell at the first shock—never to rise again. The destruction of the Bastille—that fortress of tyranny! which for two centuries had been the shame and terrour of the metropolis* , was the sentence of death of the old constitution.
The junction of the three orders in fact securing the power of the national assembly, and making the court appear a cypher, could not fail to prove sorely mortifying to it’s old minions; and the success of the people on the 14th of july proclaiming their supremacy, the courtiers, resorting to their old arts, suggested to the king a line of conduct the most plausible and flattering to the inconsiderate partizans of a revolution; whilst it betrayed to the more discerning a dissimulation as palpable as the motives of the advisers were flagrantly interested. For their views being narrowed by the depravity of their character, they imagined, that his apparent acquiescence, exciting the admiration and affection of the nation, would be the surest mode of procuring him that consequence in the government, which ultimately might tend to overthrow what they termed an upstart legislature; and, by the appropriation of chances, reinstate the tyranny of unlimited monarchy.
This serious farce commenced previous to that memorable epocha; and in marking the prominent features of the events that led to the disasters, which have fullied the glory of the revolution, it is impossible to keep too near in view the arts of the acting parties; and the credulity and enthusiasm of the people, who, invariably directing their attention to the same point, have always been governed in their sentiments of men by the most popular anarchists. For this is the only way to form a just opinion of the various changes of men, who, supplanting each other, with such astonishing rapidity, have produced the most fatal calamities.
The cabinet, indeed, the better to disguise their secret machinations, made the king declare, the 23d of june, that ‘he annulled and dissolved all powers and restrictions, which by cramping the liberty of the deputies would hinder them either from adopting the form of deliberation by orders separately, or in common, by the distinct voice of the three orders,’ absolutely gave his sanction for constituting the national assembly one and indivisible.—And in the same declaration, article the 6th, he says, ‘that he will not suffer the cahiers, or mandates, to be regarded as dictatorial; for they were only to be considered as simple instructions, intrusted to the conscience and free opinion of the deputies, who have been chosen.’ This was giving them unbounded latitude for their actions.—This was not only a tacit consent to their proceedings; but it was granting them all his authority to frame a constitution.—It was legalizing their actions, even according to the arbitrary rules of the old despotism; and abrogating in a formal manner that imaginary authority, the sanction of which, at a former period, would have been necessary to their existence as representatives of the people.—But happily that period had passed away; and those men, who had known no rule of action paramount to the commands of their sovereign, were now sufficiently enlightened, to demand a restitution of their long-estranged rights;—and a constitution, upon which they could consolidate their liberty and national fraternity.
This imperious demand was irresistible; and the cabinet, unable to check the current of opinion, had recourse to those stratagems, which, leading to their ruin, has buried in the wreck all that vain grandeur elevated on the spoil of industry, whilst it’s gilding obscured the sad objects of misery that pined under it’s shade. Lively sanguine minds, disgusted with the vices and artificial manners produced by the great inequality of conditions in France, naturally hailed the dawn of a new day, when the Bastille was destroyed; and freedom, like a lion roused from his lair, rose with dignity, and calmly shook herself.—With delight they marked her noble pace, without ever supposing that the tiger, who thirsts for blood, and the whole brutal herd, must necessarily unite against her.—Yet this has been the case; the dogs of war have been let loose, and corruption has swarmed with noxious life.—But let not the coldly wise exult, that their heads were not led astray by their hearts; or imagine, that the improvement of the times does not betoken a change of government, gradually taking place to meliorate the fate of man; for, in spite of the perverse conduct of beings spoilt by the old system, the preponderancy of truth has rendered principles in some respects triumphant over men; and instruments of mischief have wondered at the good which they have unwittingly produced.
[* ]The mayor.
[* ]This man, the abbé Lefebure, remained all night, and the greater part of the next day, standing over a barrel of gun-powder, persisting to keep off the people, with undaunted courage, though several of them, to torment him, brought pipes to smoke near it; and one actually fired a pistol close by, that set fire to his hair.
[* ]Lally Tolendal said of La Fayette, at this time, that ‘he spoke of liberty as he had defended it.’
[* ]The supplying of Paris with provision always depended on a nice arrangement of circumstances, capable of being controlled by the government of the state. It is not like London, and other great cities, the local position of which was previously pointed out by nature, and of which the welfare depends on the great and perpetual movements of commerce, which they themselves regulate. To cut off the provision from London, you must block up the port, and interdict in an open manner an intercourse, on which the wealth of the nation in a great measure depends. Paris, on the contrary, might be famished in a few days by a secret order of the court. All the people of the place would feel the effect, and no person be able to ascertain the cause. These considerations render it easy to account for the continued scarcity of provision in Paris during the summer of 1789. No person can doubt, but the court viewed the revolution with horrour; and that, among the measures which they took to prevent it, they would not overlook so obvious an expedient, as that of cutting off the supplies from the capital; as they supposed the people would lay the blame on the new order of things, and thus be disgusted with the revolution.
[* ]The lamp-posts, which are only to be sound in squares, and places where there are not two rows of houses, are much more substantial than in England.
[* ]‘In August 1778,’ says Lally-Tolendal, ‘the laws were overturned; and twenty-five millions of men without justice or judges;—the public treasury without funds, and without resource;—the sovereign authority was usurped by the ministers;—and the people without any other hope than the states-general;—yet without confidence in the promise of the king.’
[* ]In the Bastille, it is true, were found but seven prisoners.—Yet, it ought to be remarked, that three of them had lost their reason—that, when the secrets of the prison-house were laid open, men started with horrour from the inspection of instruments of torture, that appeared to be almost worn out by the exercise of tyranny—and that citizens were afraid even for a moment to enter the noisome dungcons, in which their fellow-creatures had been confined for years.