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VI: The Fall of the Bastille - John Emerich Edward Dalberg, Lord Acton, Lectures on the French Revolution (LF ed.) 
Lectures on the French Revolution, ed. John Neville Figgis and Reginald Vere Laurence, with a foreword by Steven J. Tonsor (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).
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The Fall of the Bastille
After the dramatic intervention of the Marquis de Brézé, the king’s speech of June 23 was never seriously considered by the Assembly. Yet the concessions, which it made to the spirit of political progress, satisfied philosophic observers, and there had been no time in English history where changes so extensive, proceeding from the Crown, would have failed to conciliate the people. It was a common belief in those days, expressly sanctioned by the Economists, that secondary liberties, carried far enough, are worth more than formal securities for the principle of self-government. One is of daily use and practical advantage; the other is of the domain of theory, dubiously beneficial, and without assurance of enlightenment and justice. A wise, honest, and intelligent administration gives more to men than the established reign of uncertain opinion. These arguments had more weight with philosophers than with the deputies, for it was already decided that they must make the Constitution. All the king offered, and a great deal more, they intended to take. Much that he insisted on preserving they were resolved to destroy. The offer, at its best, was vitiated by the alloy; for the most offensive privileges, immunities, and emoluments of rank were to be perpetuated, and it was against these that the fiercest force of the revolutionary movement was beating. In order that they might be abolished, the nation tendered its indefeasible support, its unconquerable power, to its representatives.
If the Assembly, content with the advantage gained over the king, had surrendered unconditionally to the nobles, and assented, for a few political reforms, to the social degradation of the democracy, they would have betrayed their constituents. On that consideration they were compelled to act. They acted also on the principle, which was not new, which came down indeed from mediaeval divines, but which was newly invested with universal authority, that the law is not the will of the sovereign that commands, but of the nation that obeys. It was the very marrow of the doctrine that obstruction of liberty is crime, that absolute authority is not a thing to be consulted, but a thing to be removed, and that resistance to it is no affair of interest or convenience, but of sacred obligation. Every drop of blood shed in the American conflict was shed in a cause immeasurably inferior to theirs, against a system more legitimate by far than that of June 23. Unless Washington was an assassin, it was their duty to oppose, if it might be, by policy, if it must be, by force, the mongrel measure of concession and obstinacy which the Court had carried against the proposals of Necker. That victory was reversed, and the success of the Commons was complete. They had brought the three orders into one; they had compelled the king to retract his declaration and to restore his disgraced minister; they had exposed the weakness of their oppressors, and they had the nation at their back.
On June 27, in the united Assembly, Mirabeau delivered an address of mingled triumph and conciliation, which was his first act of statesmanship. He said that the speech from the throne contained large and generous views that proved the genuine liberality of the king. He desired to receive them gratefully without the drawbacks imposed by unthinking advisers, and to respect the just rights of the noblesse. He took the good without the evil, extricating Lewis from his entanglement, and tracing the line by which he might have advanced to great results. “The past,” he said, “has been the history of wild beasts. We are inaugurating the history of men; for we have no weapon but discussion, and no adversary but prejudice.”
Their victory brought loss as well as gain to the Commons, and there was reason to think that the counsel of Sieyès, to let the other orders take their own separate course, was founded on wisdom. Their opponents, joining under compulsion, had the means as well as the will of doing them injury.
For the clergy there was a brief season of popular favour. The country priests, sprung from the peasantry, and poorly off, shared many of their feelings. The patronage of the State went to men of birth; and one of these, the Archbishop of Aix, had proclaimed his belief that, if anybody was to be exempt from taxation, it ought to be the impoverished layman, not the wealthy ecclesiastic. When it chanced that the Committee of Constitution was elected without any member of the clergy upon it, the Commons raised a cry that they should be introduced in their proportion. They, in a fraternal spirit, refused. And the second Committee, the one that actually drew up the scheme, was composed of three churchmen to five laymen. The nobles were not reconciled, and refused to unite with men of English views in a Tory party. To them, the separation of orders was a fundamental maxim of security, which they had inherited, which they were bound to hand down. They looked on debate in common as provisional, as an exception, to be rectified as soon as might be. They kept up the practice of also meeting separately. On July 3 there were one hundred and thirty-eight present; and on the 11th there still were eighty. They refused to vote in the divisions of the joint Assembly, because their instructions forbade. The scruple was sincere, and was shared by Lafayette; but others meant it as a protest that the Assembly was not lawfully constituted. Therefore, July 7, Talleyrand moved to annul the instructions. They could not be allowed to control the Assembly; they ought not to influence individuals. The constituencies contribute to a decision; they cannot resist it. Whatever the original wish of the electors, the final act belonged to the legislature. The king himself, on June 27, had declared the imperative mandates unconstitutional. But the deputies, in declaring themselves permanent, had cut themselves adrift from their constituents. The instructions had become the sole security that the Constitution would remain within the limits laid down by the nation, the sole assurance against indefinite change. They alone determined the line of advance, and gave protection to monarchy, property, religion, against the headlong rush of opinion, and the exigencies of popular feeling.
Sieyès, who expected no good from the co-operation of the orders which he condemned, and who thought a nobleman or prelate who did not vote better than one who voted wrong, urged that the question did not affect the Assembly, but the constituencies, and might be left to them. He carried his amendment by seven hundred to twenty-eight.
Meantime the party that had prevailed on June 23 and had succumbed on the 27th was at work to recover the lost position. Lewis had retained the services of Necker, without dismissing the colleagues who baffled him. He told him that he would not accept his resignation now, but would choose the time for it. Necker had not the acuteness to understand that he would be dismissed as soon as his enemies felt strong enough to do without him. A king who deserted his friends and reversed his accepted policy because there was no force he could depend on, was a king with a short shrift before him. He became the tool of men who did not love him, and who now despised him.
The resources wanting at the critical moment were, however, within reach, and the scheme proposed to the Count d’Artois by the wily bishop a few nights before was revived by less accomplished plotters. On July 1 it became known that a camp of 25,000 men was to be formed near Versailles under Marshal de Broglie, a veteran who gathered his laurels in the Seven Years’ War, and soon the Terrace was crowded with officers from the north and east, who boasted that they had sharpened their sabres, and meant to make short work of the ambitious lawyers, the profligate noblemen, and unfrocked priests who were ruining the country.
In adopting these measures the king did not regard himself as the originator of violence. There had been disturbances in Paris, and at Versailles the archbishop of Paris had been assaulted, and compelled to promise that he would go over to the Assembly. The leader on the other side, Champion de Cicé, archbishop of Bordeaux, came to him, and entreated him not to yield to faction, not to keep a promise extorted by threats. He replied that he had given his word and meant to keep it.
Forty years later Charles X. declared that his brother had mounted the scaffold because, at this juncture, he would not mount his horse. In truth Lewis believed that the deputies, cut off from Paris by visible battalions, would be overawed, that the army of waverers would be accessible to influence, to promises, remonstrances, and rewards, that it would be safer to coerce the Assembly by intimidation than to dissolve it. He had refused to listen to Talleyrand; he still rejected the stronger part of his scheme. By judicious management he hoped that the Assembly might be brought to undo its own usurping and unwarranted work, and that he would be able to recover the position he had taken up on June 23, the last day on which his policy had been that of a free agent.
Necker knew no more than everybody else of the warlike array. On July 7 thirty regiments were concentrated; more were within a few days’ march, and the marshal, surrounded by an eager and hurried staff, surveyed his maps of suburban Paris at his headquarters at Versailles.
The peril grew day by day, and it was time for the Assembly to act. They were defenceless, but they relied on the people of Paris and on the demoralisation of the army. Their friends had the command of money, and large sums were spent in preparing the citizens for an armed conflict. For the capitalists were on their side, looking to them to prevent the national bankruptcy which the Court and the nobles were bringing on. And the Palais Royal, the residence of the Duke of Orleans, was the centre of an active organisation. Since the king had proved himself incompetent, helpless, and insincere, men had looked to the Duke as a popular prince of the Blood, who was also wealthy and ambitious, and might avail to save the principle of monarchy, which Lewis had discredited. His friends clung to the idea, and continued to conspire in his interest after the rest of the world had been repelled by the defects of his character. For a moment they thought of his son, who was gifted for that dangerous part as perfectly as the father was unfit, but his time was to be in a later generation.
The leading men in the Assembly knew their position with accuracy, and did not exaggerate the danger they were in. On July 10 their shrewd American adviser, Morris, wrote: “I think the crisis is past without having been perceived; and now a free Constitution will be the certain result.” And yet there were 30,000 men, commanded by a marshal of France, ready for action; and several regiments of Swiss, famed for fidelity and valour, and destined, in the same cause, to become still more famous, were massed in Paris itself under Besenval, the trusted soldier of the Court.
On July 8, breaking through the order of debate, Mirabeau rose and the action began—the action which changed the face of the world, and the imperishable effects of which will be felt by every one of us, to the last day of his life. He moved an address to the king, warning him that, if he did not withdraw his troops, the streets of Paris would run blood; and proposing that the preservation of order should be committed to a civic guard. On the following day the Assembly voted the address, and on the 10th the Count de Clermont Tonnerre, at the head of a deputation, read it to the king. On the morning of Saturday, 11th, his reply was communicated to the Assembly. He had had three days to hasten his military preparations. At Paris, the agitators and organisers employed the time in arranging their counter measures.
The king refused to send away troops which there had been good reason to collect, but he was ready to move, with the Assembly, to some town at a distance from the turbid capital. The royal message was tipped with irony, and the deputies, in spite of Mirabeau, resolved not to discuss it. After this first thrust Lewis flung away the scabbard. That day, at council, it was noticed that he was nervous and uneasy, and disguised his restlessness by feigning sleep. At the end, taking one of the ministers aside, he gave him a letter for Necker, who was absent. The letter contained his dismissal, with an order for banishment.
Necker, who for some days had known that it must come, was at dinner. He said nothing to his company, and went out, as usual, for a drive. Then he made for the frontier, and never stopped till he reached Brussels. Two horsemen who had followed, keeping out of sight, had orders to arrest him if he changed his course. He travelled up the Rhine to his own country, on the way to his home by the lake of Geneva. At the first Swiss hotel he found the Duchess de Polignac. He had left her at Versailles, the Queen’s best friend and the heart of the intrigue against him; and she was now ruined and an exile, and the forerunner of the emigration. From her, and from the letters that quickly followed, forwarded by the Assembly, he learned the events that had happened since his fall, learned that he was, for one delirious moment, master of the king, of his enemies, and of the country.
The astounding news that Necker heard at “The Three Kings” at Bâle was this. His friends had been disgraced with him, and the chief of the new ministry was Breteuil, who had been the colleague of Calonne and Vergennes, and had managed the affair of the Diamond Necklace. He had directed the policy of those who opposed the National Assembly, holding himself in the twilight, until strong measures and a strong man were called for. He now came forward, and proposed that the nobles should depart in a body, protesting against the methods by which the States-General had been sunk in the National Assembly. In one day he brought round twenty-six of the minority to his views. A few remained, who would make a light day’s work for a man of conviction and resource. But resolute as Breteuil was, the Parisian democracy acted with still greater quickness and decision, and with a not less certain aim. On the 12th it became known that Necker had been sent out of the country, and that the armaments were in the hands of men who meant to employ them against the people. Paris was in disorder, but the middle class provided a civic guard for its protection. There were encounters with the troops, and some blood was shed.
New men began to appear who represented the rising classes: Camille Desmoulins, a rhetorical journalist, with literary but not political talent, harangued the people in the garden of the Palais Royal; and one of the strong men of history, Danton, showed that he knew how to manage and to direct the masses.
The 13th was a day wasted by Government, spent by Paris in busy preparation. Men talked wildly of destroying the Bastille, as a sign that would be understood. Early on July 14 a body of men made their way to the Invalides, and seized 28,000 stand of arms and some cannon. At the other extremity of Paris the ancient fortress of the Bastille towered over the workmen’s quarter and commanded the city. Whenever the guns thundered from its lofty battlements, resistance would be over, and the conquered arms would be unavailing.
The Bastille not only overshadowed the capital, but it darkened the hearts of men, for it had been notorious for centuries as the instrument and the emblem of tyranny. The captives behind its bars were few and uninteresting; but the wide world knew the horror of its history, the blighted lives, the ruined families, the three thousand dishonoured graves within the precincts, and the common voice called for its destruction as the sign of deliverance. At the elections both nobles and commons demanded that it should be levelled with the ground.
As early as the 4th of July Besenval received notice that it would be attacked. He sent a detachment of Swiss, that raised the garrison to one hundred and thirty-eight, and he did no more. During the morning hours, while the invaders of the Invalides were distributing the plundered arms and ammunition, emissaries penetrated into the Bastille, under various pretexts, to observe the defences. One fair-spoken visitor was taken to the top of the dreaded towers, where he saw that the guns with which the embrasures had bristled, which were beyond the range of marksmen, and had Paris at their mercy, were dismantled and could not be fired.
About the middle of the day, when this was known, the attack began. It was directed by the Gardes Françaises, who had been the first to mutiny, and had been disbanded, and were now the backbone of the people’s army. The siege consisted in efforts to lower the drawbridge. After several hours the massive walls were unshaken, and the place was as safe as before the first discharge. But the defenders knew that they were lost. Besenval was not the man to rescue them by fighting his way through several miles of streets. They were not provisioned, and the men urged the governor to make terms before he was compelled. They had brought down above a hundred of their assailants, without losing a man. But it was plain that the loss neither of a hundred nor of a thousand would affect the stern determination of the crowd, whilst it might increase their fury. Delauney, in his despair, seized a match, and wanted to fire the magazine. His men remonstrated and spoke of the dreadful devastation that must follow the explosion. The man who stayed the hand of the despairing commander, and whose name was Bécard, deserved a better fate than he met that day, for he was one of the four or five that were butchered. The men beat a parley, hoisted the white flag, and obtained, on the honour of a French officer, a verbal promise of safety.
Then the victors came pouring over the bridge, triumphant over a handful of Swiss and invalids—triumphant too over thirteen centuries of monarchy and the longest line of kings. Those who had served in the regular army took charge of as many prisoners as they could rescue, carried them to their quarters, and gave them their own beds to sleep in. The officers who had conducted the unreal attack, and received the piteous surrender, brought the governor to the Hôtel de Ville, fighting their way through a murderous crowd. For it was long believed that Delauney had admitted the people into the first court, and then had perfidiously shot them down. In his struggles he hurt a bystander, who chanced to be a cook. The man, prompted, it seems, less by animosity than by the pride of professional skill, drew a knife and cut off his head. Flesselles, the chief of the old municipality, appointed by the Crown, was shot soon after, under suspicion of having encouraged Delauney to resist.
Dr. Rigby, an Englishman who was at the Palais Royal, has described what he saw. First came an enormous multitude bearing aloft the keys of the conquered citadel, with the inscription, “The Bastille is taken.” The joy was indescribable, and strangers shook his hand, saying, “We too are free men, and there will never more be war between our countries.” Then came another procession, also shouting and rejoicing; but the bystanders looked on with horror, for the trophies carried by were the heads of murdered men. For the nation had become sovereign, and the soldiers who fired upon it were reckoned rebels and traitors. The foreign envoys were all impressed with the idea that the vengeance wrought was out of all proportion with the immensity of the thing achieved. At nightfall the marshall gave orders to evacuate Paris. Besenval was already in full retreat, and the capital was no longer in the possession of the king of France.
Meanwhile the National Assembly, aware of the strength of popular feeling around them, were calm in the midst of danger. Theirs was a diminished part, while, almost within sight and hearing, history was being unmade and made by a power superior to their own. On the morning of the 14th they elected the Committee of Eight who were to draw up the Constitution. Mounier and the friends of the English model still prevailed. By evening their chance had vanished, for the English model includes a king.
Late in the day Noailles brought authentic news of what he had witnessed; and the Assembly learned, in agitated silence, that the head of the governor of the impregnable Bastille had been displayed on a pike about the streets of Paris. Lafayette took the chair, while the President hurried with Noailles to the palace. They made no impression there. Lewis informed them that he had recalled his troops, and then he went to bed, tranquil, and persistently ignoring what it was that had been done, and what it was that had passed away.
But in the morning, when the Assembly met in disorder, and were about to send one more deputation, it was found that a change had taken place in the brief hours of that memorable night. At two o’clock the king was roused from sleep by one of the great officers of the household. The intruder, La Rochefoucauld, Duke de Liancourt, was not a man of talent, but he was universally known as the most benevolent and the most beneficent of the titled nobles of the realm. He made his master understand the truth and its significance, and how, in the capital that day, in every province on the morrow, the authority of government was at an end. And when Lewis, gradually awaking, exclaimed, “But this is a great revolt!” Liancourt replied, “No, sir, it is a great Revolution!” With those historic words the faithful courtier detached the monarch from his ministers, and obtained control over him in the deciding days that were to follow. Guided by the duke, and attended by his brothers, but without the ceremonious glories of regality, Lewis XVI. went down to the Assembly and made his submission. In the pathetic solemnity of the scene, the deputies forgot for a moment their righteous anger and their more righteous scorn, and the king returned to the palace on foot, in a sudden procession of triumph, amnestied and escorted by the entire body.
The struggle was over, and the spell was broken; and the Assembly had to govern France. To establish order a vast deputation repaired to the Hôtel de Ville, where Lally Tollendal delivered an oration thrilling with brotherhood and gladness, and appeared, crowned with flowers, before the people.
To cement the compact between Paris and Versailles, Bailly, the first president, was placed at the head of the new elective municipality, and the vice-president, Lafayette, became commander of the National Guard. This was the first step towards that Commune which was to exercise so vast an influence over the fortunes of France. It came into existence of necessity, when the action of Government was paralysed, and the space which it occupied was untenanted.
The National Guard was an invention of great import, for it was the army of society distinct from the army of the state, opinion in arms apart from authority. It was the middle class organised as a force, against the force above and the force below; and it protected liberty against the Crown, and property against the poor. It has been ever since the defence of order and the ruin of governments; for, as it was the nation itself, nobody was bold enough to fight it. Before the altar of Notre Dame Lafayette took the oath of fidelity to the people, and not to the king. He never displayed real capacity for peace or war; but in the changes of a long life he was true to the early convictions imbibed in Washington’s camp.
On their return from Paris the great deputation reported that the people demanded the recall of Necker. At last the king dismissed Breteuil, and charged the Assembly to take charge of a letter to the banished statesman. His banishment had lasted five days; it was now the turn of his enemies. On the same night, July 16, the baffled intriguers went into exile. Lewis himself sent his brother away, for the safety of himself and of the dynasty. The others followed. The queen was compelled to dismiss Madame de Polignac, whom she had too confidently trusted, and she was left alone amongst her enemies. This was the first emigration. The remaining nobles announced that they abandoned resistance, and the Assembly was at last united. The fight was lost and won, and the victor claimed the spoils.
But the Assembly was not the victor, and had contributed little to the portentous change between the dismissal of Necker and the despatch of the fleet messenger with his recall. Whilst the deputies served the national cause by talking, there were plainer men at Paris who had died for it. The force that risked life and conquered was not at Versailles. It was Paris that held the fallen power, the power of governing itself, the Assembly, and France. The predominance of the capital was the new feature that enabled the monarchy to pass into a Republic.
The king had become a servant of two masters. Having recanted before his master at Versailles, it became necessary that he should submit himself to the new and mysterious authority at the Hôtel de Ville. He had yielded to representative democracy. He had to pay the same recognition to direct democracy. It was not safe to leave the Orleans stronghold entirely in their hands. Between the ministry that was gone and the ministry to come, Lewis acted by the advice of Liancourt.
Early on July 17 he made his will, heard mass, received communion, and set out to visit his good city. The queen remained behind, with all her carriages ready, in order that, at the first signal, she might fly for her life. At the barrier the king’s eye fell, for the first time, on innumerable armed men, who lined the streets for miles, and wore strange colours, and did not own him as their chief. Neither the National Guard, nor the dense crowd behind them, uttered a sound of welcome. Not a voice was raised, except for the nation and its deputies.
The peace made between the king and the Assembly did not count here. All men had to know that there was a distinct authority, to which a further homage was due, even from the sovereign. At the Hôtel de Ville the homage was paid. There the king confirmed the new mayor, and approved what had been done, and he showed himself to the people with the new cockade, devised by Lafayette, to proclaim that the royal power which had ruled France since the conversion of Clovis ruled France no more. He made his way home amid acclamations, regulated by the commander of the National Guard, like the gloomy and menacing silence in which he had been received.
A new reign commenced. The head of the great house of Bourbon, the heir of so much power and glory, on whom rested the tradition of Lewis XIV, was unfit to exert, under jealous control, the narrow measure of authority that remained. For the moment there was none. Anarchy in the capital gave the signal for anarchy in the provinces, and anarchy at that moment had a terrible meaning.
The deputies who came to Paris, to share the enthusiasm of the moment, failed to notice the fact that the victorious army which gave liberty to France and power to the Assembly was largely composed of assassins. Their crimes disappeared in the blaze of their achievements. Their support was still needed. It seemed too soon to insult the patriot and the hero by telling him that he was also a ruffian. The mixed multitude was thereby encouraged to believe that the slaughter of the obnoxious was a necessity of critical times. The Russian envoy wrote on the 19th that the French people displayed the same ferocity as two centuries before.
On the 22nd, Foulon, one of the colleagues of Breteuil, and his son-in-law Berthier, also a high official, were massacred by premeditation in the streets. Neither Bailly, nor Lafayette with all his cohorts, could protect the life of a doomed man; but a dragoon who had paraded with the heart of Berthier was challenged, when he came home to barracks, and cut down by a comrade.
Lally Tollendal brought the matter before the Assembly. His father inherited the feelings of an exiled Jacobite against Hanoverian England. He was at Falkirk with Charles Edward, and charged with the Irish Brigade that broke the English column at Fontenoy. During the Seven Years’ War he commanded in India, and held Pondicherry for ten months against Coote. Brought home a prisoner, he was released on parole, that he might stand his trial. He was condemned to death; and his son, who did not know who he was, was brought to the place of execution, that they might meet once on earth. But Lally stabbed himself, and lest justice should be defrauded, he was brought out to die, with a gag in his mouth to silence protest, some hours before the time.
The death of Lally is part of the long indictment against the French judiciary, and his son strove for years to have the sentence reversed. He came over to England, and understood our system better than any of his countrymen. Therefore, when Mounier, who was no orator, brought forward his Constitution, it was Lally who expounded it. By his emotional and emphatic eloquence he earned a brief celebrity; and in the Waterloo year he was a Minister of State, in partibus, at Ghent. He became a peer of France, and when he died, in 1830, the name disappeared. Not many years ago a miserable man, whom nobody knew and who asked help from nobody, died of want in a London cellar. He was the son of Lally Tollendal.
It is said that when, on July 22, he denounced the atrocities in Paris, he overdid the occasion, speaking of himself, of his father, of his feelings. Barnave, who was a man of honour, and already conspicuous, was irritated to such a pitch that he exclaimed: “Was this blood, that they have shed, so pure?”
Long before Barnave expiated his sin upon the scaffold he felt and acknowledged its enormity. But it is by him and men like him, and not by the scourings of the galleys, that we can get to understand the spirit of the time. Two men, more eminent than Barnave, show it still more clearly. The great chemist Lavoisier wrote to Priestley that if there had been some excesses, they were committed for the love of liberty, philosophy, and toleration, and that there was no danger of such things being done in France for an inferior motive. And this is the view of Jefferson on the massacres of September: “Many guilty persons fell without the forms of trial, and with them some innocent. These I deplore as much as anybody. But—it was necessary to use the arm of the people, a machine not quite so blind as balls and bombs, but blind to a certain degree—was ever such a prize won with so little innocent blood?” There is a work in twelve stout volumes, written to prove that it was all the outcome of the Classics, and due to Harmodius, and Brutus, and Timoleon.
But you will find that murder, approved and acknowledged, is not an epidemic peculiar to any time, or any country, or any opinion. We need not include hot-blooded nations of the South in order to define it as one characteristic of modern Monarchy. You may trace it in the Kings of France, Francis I., Charles IX., Henry III., Lewis XIII., Lewis XIV., in the Emperors Ferdinand I. and II., in Elizabeth Tudor and Mary Stuart, in James and William. Still more if you consider a class of men, not much worse, according to general estimate, than their neighbours, that is, the historians. They have praise and hero-worship for nearly every one of these anointed culprits. The strong man with the dagger is followed by the weaker man with the sponge. First, the criminal who slays; then the sophist who defends the slayer.
The royalists pursued the same tradition through the revolutionary times. Cérutti advised that Mirabeau and Target should be removed by poison; Chateaubriand wished to poniard Condorcet, and Malesherbes admired him for it; the name of Georges Cadoudal was held in honour, because his intended victim was Napoleon; La Rochejaquelein entertained the same scheme, and made no secret of it to the general, Ségur. Adair found them indignant at Vienna because Fox had refused to have the Emperor murdered, and warned him of the plot.
Those who judge morality by the intention have been less shocked at the crimes of power, where the temptation is so strong and the danger so slight, than at those committed by men resisting oppression. Assuredly, the best things that are loved and sought by man are religion and liberty—they, I mean, and not pleasure or prosperity, not knowledge or power. Yet the paths of both are stained with infinite blood; both have been often a plea for assassination, and the worst of men have been among those who claimed to promote each sacred cause.
Do not open your minds to the filtering of the fallacious doctrine that it is less infamous to murder men for their politics than for their religion or their money, or that the courage to execute the deed is worse than the cowardice to excuse it. Let us not flinch from condemning without respite or remission, not only Marat and Carrier, but also Barnave. Because there may be hanging matter in the lives of illustrious men, of William the Silent and Farnese, of Cromwell and Napoleon, we are not to be turned from justice towards the actions, and still more the thoughts, of those whom we are about to study.
Having said this, I shall endeavour, in that which is before us, to spare you the spectacles that degrade, and the plaintive severity that agitates and wearies. The judgment I call for is in the conscience, not upon the lips, for ourselves, and not for display. “Man,” says Taine, “is a wild beast, carnivorous by nature, and delighting in blood.” That cruel speech is as much confirmed by the events that are crowding upon us as it has ever been in royal or Christian history.
The Revolution will never be intelligibly known to us until we discover its conformity to the common law and recognise that it is not utterly singular and exceptional, that other scenes have been as horrible as these, and many men as bad.