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Jeanne Marie Roland de la Platière, An Appeal to Impartial Posterity, by Citizenness Roland 
An Appeal to Impartial Posterity, by Citizenness Roland, wife of the Minister of the Home Department, or A Collection of Pieces written by her during her Confinement in the Prisons of the Abbey and St. Pelagie, Part I (London: J. Johnson, 1795). Vol. 1.
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Table of Contents
ADVERTISEMENT FROM THE EDITOR.
Citizenness Roland, the wife of a man of science, was persuaded, that the celebrity of a woman ought to be confined to the esteem arising from the practice of domestic virtues. On this account she always refused to publish writings, which would have procured her literary fame. It was even necessary to be intimately acquainted with her, and enjoy her confidence, to be enabled to form a just estimate of her native merit, her acquired talents, and the strength of her character.
Citizenness Roland, the wife of a minister, retained the same principles. She assisted her husband in his political labours, as she had before assisted him in his scientific pursuits, without suffering her name to appear. But her situation was changed. Before she was confined within a narrow circle of friends: now, become the centre of a numerous group, the enthusiastic admiration of her friends, and the invidious malevolence of her enemies, soon combined to give her that renown, which she was still far from seeking.
Imprisoned, calumniated on all sides, having nought but the scaffold before her, citizenness Roland could not avoid seeking the esteem of posterity, to console her for the injustice of her contemporaries, and future glory, as an indemnification for premature death.
Then alone she appeared to separate her reputation from that of her husband: then alone she assumed the pen, to make herself known as an individual, and to furnish materials for history in her own name. It will be seen, however, that the sole desire of her own reputation, and her own fame, determined not her resolution: every page will show, that she was particularly animated with the duty of repelling the calumnious charges accumulated against her husband, and revenging the memory of Roland, if he should not have it in his power, to write or publish his last justification.
The public, already prejudiced in her favour, will judge from a perusal of her writings, whether she were really deserving of the commendations bestowed on her by her friends, and whether she did not deserve the hatred of the villains, who finally condemned her to the block.
Malevolence, assuming the mask of criticism, will endeavour, no doubt, to depreciate this monument erected by a woman to the glory of her sex; but the impartial reader will discover her traits. I will only say, as an excuse for some superfluous relations, and some negligences of style, that citizenness Roland composed the part entitled Historical Memoirs, two thirds of which, and those the most interesting, are loft, in the space of one month, and all the rest in two and twenty days, in the midst of vexations and disquietudes of every kind; and that the manuscript had very few corrections.
Many persons, whose characters citizenness Roland has given, will have to complain of her. Posterity must decide, whether she have judged them well or ill. I have confined myself strictly to the office of an editor; and not permitted myself to make the least alteration in the text, even when it was evident, that she had been mistaken. There is a passage, for instance, where she seems to cast suspicions on citizen Dulaure, which I believe him far from deserving, and which every true republican will be eager to repel. It may not be amiss here to relate the cause of her errour.
Dulaure, a patriotic journalist, and a writer of courage, visited Roland, whose principles were analogous to his own, and whose conduct he esteemed. Dulaure, a deputy to the convention, thought it incumbent on him, as a matter of delicacy, to desist from frequenting the house of a minister, of whose actions he was constituted a judge. Citizenness Roland attributed this reserve to a change of opinion in politics, and to the instigation of the mountaineers: hence the gall, which seems to have predominated, when she wrote the article concerning him; but in which, notwithstanding, she does his character the justice it deserves. The courage with which citizen Dulaure has printed all the complaints of citizenness Roland since the 31st of may; the honourable proscription he has undergone; and his last publication, entitled, Supplement to the Crimes of the late Committees of Government; render farther justification unnecessary.
It was my intention, to have given the public the whole of the work at once; but the delays of the press at the present moment, and the observations of some good citizens, have determined me to publish it in parts. There will be four; which will follow each other, as speedily as circumstances will permit. The second will be filled with several detached pieces, respecting the events of the revolution, and the papers that relate to her death, or immediately preceded it. The third and fourth will contain her private life, written precisely after the manner, and with the intentions, of the Confessions of Rousseau: to which will be added some familiar letters, which I have found amongst my papers. I much lament, that I have not a more complete series of her correspondence to publish* : it is in the essusions of friendship, that the mind displays itself fully, and our opinions, inclinations, and acquirements, exhibit themselves unveiled. Hence I consider these letters, though at first view they appear to concern only our friendship, tastes, and studies, as necessary supplements to her private memoirs. In them will be seen how ardent a republican she was from the first: and certainly, on the 28th of august, 1792, she could not possibly foresee, that France would become a republic; still less that she was destined, to act a part in it.
Citizenness Roland was very fond of exercising her pen in epistolary writing. She employed it on all subjects with incredible facility, and much grace. As a letter-writer she was superiour, in my opinion, to a Sevigné or a Maintenon: because she was far better informed than either of those two celebrated women, and her correspondence consisted of things, not words.
I wish to collect all her letters, that may have been preserved; which I here request them, who are in possession of them, to send me, in the original, free of expense as far as possible; and I propose to publish them at the end of several literary productions of citizenness Roland, which are known to me, and which I think worthy of seeing the light.
Roland, during his retreat, had also composed some historical memoirs; but they were consigned to the flames, the moment the courageous woman, who concealed him, was taken into custody. At the conclusion of his first ministry, he published a collection of pieces, calculated to make known to posterity his conduct in office; and I intend to continue it, by collecting such as relate to his second ministry.
But that I may be enabled to accomplish this object, as well as the preceding one, it is requisite, that the national convention, either by a general law, solicited by all the friends of justice, or a private decree, desired by every true friend of liberty, restore to the daughter of Roland the property, to which she has a just claim. I must have liberty to search amongst the papers still under seal at Villefranche, as well as those taken from the house at Paris, after the sale of the furniture by the agents of the national domains. It is the part of all sincere republicans, victims of tyranny, persecuted for their virtues or talents, as Roland and his wife, to favour my wishes with their influence, and promote the restoration of my engaging ward to all her rights.
Let me be permitted to conclude with a single observation, perhaps not unnecessary. This work is, at least at present, the sole fortune of Eudora, the beloved daughter, the only child of Roland. Woe be to the villain who dares to pirate it! For certainly he would not be able to sell one copy of it, yet I would not fail to call down upon him all the vengeance of the law.
The portrait of citizenness Roland, engraved by the worthy Pasquier, the countryman of Roland, and the friend of them both, ought to have been placed at the beginning of the first part; but it cannot be gotten ready for delivery, till the publication of the last.
Paris, germinal 20, in the year of the
Prison of the Abbey, june, 1793.
Now on a throne, to morrow in a prison.
SUCH is the sate of virtue at the period of revolutions. After the first commotions of a people, wearied out with the abuses, with which it had been aggrieved, have subsided, the sages, who have instructed it in it’s rights, and assisted it in regaining them, are called into places of authority: but these they cannot long occupy, for the ambitious, eager to avail themselves of circumstances, soon mislead the people by flattery, and turn it against it’s real defenders, to raise themselves into consequence and power. This has been the progress of things, particularly since the tenth of august. Some day, perhaps, I shall take them up from an earlier date, to retrace with my pen what my situation has enabled me to know: at present my sole object is to commit to paper the circumstances of my arrest; an amusement natural to the solitary, who pourtrays what affects himself, and expresses what he feels.
The resignation of Roland appeased not his enemies. He had quitted the ministry, in spite of his resolves to lay the storm, and brave every danger; because the state of the council, when he became fully acquainted with it, and his weakness, continually increasing, and strongly marked about the middle of january, presented nothing to his view but faults and follies, of which he must participate the disgrace. He was not even allowed to enter on the register of the deliberations his opinions, or his motives, when they were contrary to the determination of the majority.
Thus from the day of that pitiful decree respecting the piece of l’Ami des Loix, ‘the Friend of the Laws,’ which he would not sign, because the second branch of it was at least ridiculous, he no longer affixed his signature to any of the deliberations of the council. This was the fifteenth of january. In the convention he discovered nothing to afford him encouragement. There his very name was become the signal of discord and disturbance: it was no longer permitted to be pronounced without uproar: if a member ventured to answer the odious accusations gratuitously preferred against the minister, he was treated as an instrument of faction, and compelled to be silent. Yet Pache in the war department was committing every fault, into which his weakness and implicit submission to the jacobins, or the persidy and audaciousness of his agents, could lead him: and the convention could not obtain the dismissal of Pache, for the moment a single voice lifted itself against him, the barkers retorted the name of Roland. Thus the continuation of his courageous contest in the ministry could no longer restrain the faults of the council, whilst it became an additional motive of disorder in the convention. He gave in, therefore, his resignation. That the sound part of the legislative body, thoroughly convinced as it was of the virtues and talents of the calumniated minister, durst not make a single obsertion on the subject, sufficiently proves it’s necessity. This was unquestionably weakness: for it needed a firm and honest minister in the home department, who would have been it’s most powerful stay; and losing this it must submit to the yoke of the extravagants, who sought to raise up and maintain an authority capable of rivalling the national representation.
Roland supported an usurping commune: Roland impressed on all the administrative bodies an uniform, harmonious, and regular motion: he watched over the supply of provision to the grand family: he had established peace in all the departments; and inspired them with that order, which springs from justice, that confidence, which arises from vigilant administration, an affectionate correspondence, and the communication of knowledge. Roland, therefore, ought to have been supported: but weakness refused the means; and he, who knew well that weakness, had nothing left him to do, but, to withdraw.
The timid Garat, an amiable man in society, of moderate talents as a man of letters, and contemptible as a member of administration; whose being chosen minister of justice proved the want of men of capacity, a want which they only can know, who, occupying places of importance, have coadjutors to seek; had not sense enough to remain in that office, where there is least to be done, and in which his infirm health, natural indolence, and incapacity for business, must have been least conspicuous: he removed to the home department, without possessing one of the branches of knowledge it demands, not only with respect to politics, but in regard to commerce, the arts, and innumerable minutiæ, that come under it’s cognizance: with his ignorance and inactivity he attempted to supply the place of the most active man in the republic, and the best informed in all these points. The looseness of the machine soon disjointed it’s parts, and proved the weakness of the regulator: the departments were thrown into commotion, scarcity was felt, and the flames of civil war were lighted up in Vendée; the authorities of Paris began to encroach; the jacobins assumed the reins of government; the puppet Pache, dismissed from the department, which he had unhinged, was raised by the cabal to the mayoralty, where his suppleness was wanted, and replaced at the council-board by the idiot Bouchotte, as supple as he, and even exceeding him in stupidity.
Roland gave a terrible blow to his adversaries, by publishing, on his retirement, such accounts, as no minister before him had furnished. To have examined them, and sanctioned them by a report, was a piece of justice, which he must have solicited in vain: for that would have been, to acknowledge the falsehood of the obloquy thrown on him, the infamy of his detractors, and the weakness of the convention, that durst not undertake his defence.
It was necessary to persevere in slandering him, without coming to the proof; to blind and mislead the public opinion with respect to him, so as to be able to ruin him with impunity; and thus to remove a troublesome witness of so many atrocities, which must be concealed or justified, to preserve to those who committed them that wealth and authority, in the acquirement of which they were instrumental. In vain did Roland intreat, publish, and write seven times in four months to the convention, to demand an examination and report on his conduct in the ministry: the jacobins continued to employ their satellites, to proclaim him as a traitor: Marat proved to his fellows, that his head was necessary to the tranquillity of the republic: conspiracies, frustrated, renewed, strangled in the birth, yet again revived, terminated at length in the insurrection of the 31st of may, when the good people of Paris, with a fixed determination to massacre no one, did every thing it’s audacious directors, it’s insolent commune, and the revolutionary committee of messieurs the jacobins, become fools, madmen, or the hirelings of the enemy, chose to dictate. Roland had written the eighth time to the convention, which did not even deign to read his letter. I was preparing to get passports signed by the municipality, that I might go with my daughter into the country, to which I was called by domestic business, the state of my health, and many good reasons. Amongst other things I considered, how much more easy it would be for Roland alone to withdraw from the pursuit of his enemies, should they proceed to the last excess, than if he were with his little family: prudence urged the diminution of the points in which he could be attacked* . My passports had been delayed at the section, through the chicanery of some zealous maratists, in whose eyes I was an object of suspicion; and they were but just delivered to me, when a fit of the nervous colic, attended with violent convulsions, the sole indisposition to which I am liable, and to which the vehement affections of a strong mind ruling a robust frame expose me, confined me to my bed. Six days thus elapsed, and I purposed to go out on friday, to repair to the municipality. The sound of the alarm-bell informed me, that it was not a proper time. Every thing had long foretold a crisis necessary. This, it is true, threatened, from the ascendency of the jacobins, to be unfavourable to the real friends of liberty: but energetic minds detest uncertainty: and the debasement of the convention, with it’s daily acts of weakness and slavery, appeared to me so distressing, that I almost deemed the utmost excesses preferable; for these must have opened the eyes of the departments, and determined their conduct. The alarm gun, and the commotions of the day, awakened in me that interest, which grand events inspire, without any painful emotion. Two or three persons came to visit us; and one, in particular, pressed Roland to make his appearance at his section, where he was well esteemed, and the prudent precautions of which were the best warrants of his safety. It was agreed, however, that he should not sleep at home the following night: though nothing was talked of but the good intentions of the citizens, who arranged themselves under arms, in order to oppose every act of violence; but it was not added, that they would permit all the preparations for acts of violence to be made.
The blood boils in my veins, when I hear the goodness of the parisians vaunted, who would have no more such days as the 2d of september. Just heavens! you are not wanted to execute another, you have only to suffer it as before: but you are necessary to collect the victims, and you civilly lend your hands to apprehend them; you are necessary to give the appearance of a legitimate insurrection to the tribunes, who sway you, and you approve their undertakings, you obey their orders, and take the oath of fealty to the monstrous authorities they create; you surround the legislative body with your bayonets, and you permit the decrees, it is wanted to pass, to be dictated to it. Boast, then, no more, of being it’s defenders: it is you, who bind it in chains; you, who deliver into the hands of oppression it’s members most distinguished for their virtues and their talents, and with equal cowardice see them brought to a scaffold, by proceedings similar to those which destroyed Sidney; you, who will answer for so many crimes to indignant France, who serve the cause of her enemies, and prepare the way for federalism. Think you, that the proud Marseilles, and sage Gironde, will pass over the affront done to their representatives, or ever fraternise with your city black with guilt? You are the destroyers of your country, and soon will lament in vain, in the midst of it’s ruins, your infamous pusillanimity.
It was half after five in the evening, when six men armed came to our house. One of them read to Roland an order of the revolutionary committee, by the authority of which they came to apprehend him. ‘I know no law,’ said Roland, ‘which constitutes the authority you cite to me, and I shall obey no orders proceeding from it. If you employ violence, I can only oppose to you the resistance of a man of my years; but I shall protest against it to the last moment.’—‘I have no order to employ violence,’ replied the person, ‘and I will leave my colleagues here, whilst I go and report your answer to the council of the commune.’
Immediately it occurred to me, that it would be well to announce this circumstance to the convention with some noise, in order to prevent the arrest of Roland, or to obtain his prompt release, if this should be carried into execution. To communicate the thought to my husband, write a letter to the president, and set out, was the business of a few minutes. My servant was absent; I left a friend, who was in the house, with Roland; and stepped alone into a hackney-coach, which I ordered to proceed as fast as possible to the Carrouzel. The court of the Tuileries was filled with armed men. I crossed, and flew through the midst of them like a bird. I was dressed in a morning gown, and had put on a black shawl, and a veil. On my arrival at the doors of the outer halls, which were all shut, I found sentinels, who allowed no one to enter, or sent me by turns from one door to another. In vain I insisted on admission: at length I bethought myself of employing such language, as might have been uttered by some devotee of Robespierre: ‘but, citizens, in this day of salvation for our country, in the midst of those traitors we have to fear, you know not of what importance some notes I have to transmit to the president may be. Let me at least see one of the messengers, that I may entrust them to him.’
The door opened, and I entered into the petitioners hall. I inquired for a messenger of the house. ‘Wait till one comes out:’ said one of the inner sentinels. A quarter of an hour passed away: I perceived Rôze, the person who brought me the decree of the convention, which invited me to repair to the bar, on occasion of the ridiculous accusation of Viard, whom I overwhelmed with confusion: now I solicited permission to appear there, and announced Roland to be in danger, with which the public weal was connected. But circumstances were no longer the same, though my rights were equal: before invited, now a suppliant, could I expect the same success? Rôze took charge of my letter; understood the subject of my impatience; and repaired to lay it on the table, and urge it’s being read. An hour elapsed. I walked hastily backwards and forwards: every time the door opened my eyes were cast towards the hall, but it was immediately shut by the guard: a fearful noise was heard at intervals: Rôze again appeared.—‘Well!’—‘Nothing has been done yet. A tumult I cannot describe prevails in the assembly. Some petitioners, now at the bar, demand the two-and-twenty to be apprehended: I have just assisted Rabaud to slip out without being seen: they are not willing he should make the report of the commission of twelve: he has been threatened: several others are escaping: there is no knowing what will be the event.’—‘Who is the president now?’—‘Héraut-Séchelles.’—‘Ah! my letter will not be read. Send some deputy to me, with whom I can speak a few words.’—‘Whom?’—‘Indeed I have been little acquainted, or have little esteem for any, but them, who are proscribed. Tell Vergniaux I am inquiring for him.’
Rôze went in quest of him. After a considerable time he appeared. We talked together for ten minutes. He went back into the hall, returned, and said to me: ‘In the present state of the assembly, I dare not flatter you, you have little to hope. If you get admission to the bar, you may obtain a little more favour as a woman; but the convention can do no more good.’—‘It can do every thing:’ exclaimed I: ‘for the majority of Paris seeks only to know what it has to do. If I were admitted, I would venture to say, what you could not without exposing yourself to an accusation. I fear nothing; and if I cannot save Roland, I will utter with energy truths, which will not be useless to the republic. Inform your worthy colleagues: a burst of courage may have a great effect, and at least will set a great example.’—In fact, I was in that temper of mind, which imparts eloquence: warm with indignation, superiour to all fear, my bosom glowing for my country, the ruin of which I foresaw, every thing dear to me in the world exposed to the utmost danger, feeling strongly, expressing my sentiments with fluency, too proud not to utter them with dignity, I had subjects in which I was highly interested to discuss, possessed some means of defending them, and was in a singular situation for doing it with advantage.—‘But, at any rate, your letter cannot be read this hour or two: a plan of a decree, forming six articles, is going to be discussed: petitioners, deputed by the sections, wait at the bar: think what an attempt!’—‘I will go home, then, to hear what has passed; and will immediately return: so tell our friends.’—‘Most of them are absent: they show themselves courageous, when they are here; but they are deficient in assiduity.’—‘That is unfortunately too true.’
I quitted Vergniaux: I flew to Louvet’s: I wrote a note to inform him of what was going on, and what I foresaw. I flung myself into a hackney-coach, and ordered it home. The poor horses answered not the speed of my wishes. Soon we were met by some battalions, whose march stopped us: I jumped out of the coach, paid the coachman, rushed through the ranks, and made off. This was near the Louvre. I ran to our house, which was opposite St. Côme, in Harp-street. The porter whispered me, that Roland was gone into the landlord’s, at the bottom of the court. Thither I repaired, in a profuse perspiration. A glass of wine was brought me, and I was told, that the bearer of the mandate of arrest having returned, without being able to procure a hearing at the council, Roland had persisted in protesting against his orders; and that these good people had demanded his protest in writing, and had then withdrawn: after which Roland went through the landlord’s apartment, and got out of the house the back way. I did the same to find him, to inform him of what I had done, and to acquaint him with the steps I meant to pursue. At the first house to which I repaired, I found him not: in the second I did. From the solitariness of the streets, which were illuminated, I presumed it was late; yet this did not prevent my design of returning to the convention. There I would have appeared ignorant of Roland’s escape, and spoken as I had before intended. I was about to set off on foot, without being conscious, that it was past ten o’clock, and that I was out that day for the first time since my illness, which demanded rest and the bath. A hackney-coach was brought me. On approaching the Carrouzel, I saw nothing more of the armed force: two pieces of cannon, and a few men, were still at the gate of the national palace: I went up to it, and found the sitting was dissolved!
What, on the day of an insurrection, when the sound of the alarm-bell scarcely ceases to strike the ear, when forty thousand men in arms surrounded the convention only two hours before, and petitioners threatened it’s members from the bar, the assembly is not permanent!—Surely then it is completely subjugated! it has done every thing, that it was ordered! The revolutionary power is so mighty, that the convention dares not oppose it, and it has no need of the convention!
‘Citizens,’ said I to some sans-culottes collected round a cannon, ‘has every thing gone well?’—‘O wonderfully! they embraced, and sung the hymn of the marseillese, there, under the tree of liberty.’—‘What, then, is the right side appeased?’—‘Faith, it was obliged to listen to reason.’—‘And what of the committee of twelve?’—‘It is kicked into the ditch.’—‘And the twenty-two?’—‘The municipality will cause them to be taken up.’—‘Good: but can it?’—‘Is it not the sovereign? It was necessary it should, to set those b— of traitors right, and support the commonwealth.’—‘But will the departments be well pleased to see their representatives * * * *’—‘What are you talking of? the parisians do nothing but in concert with the departments: they have said so to the convention.’—‘That is not too clear, for, to know their will, the primary assemblies should have met.’—‘Were they wanting on the 10th of august? Did not the departments approve what Paris did then? They do the same now: it is Paris that saves them.’—‘That ruins them rather, perhaps.’
I had crossed the court, and arrived at my hackneycoach, as I finished this dialogue with an old sansculotte, no doubt well paid to tutor the dupes. A pretty dog pressed close at my heels:—‘Is the poor creature your’s?’ said the coachman to me, with a tone of sensibility very rare amongst his fellows, which struck me extremely.—‘No: I know nothing of him:’ answered I gravely, as if I were speaking of a man, and already thinking of something else: ‘you will set me down at the galleries of the Louvre.’ There I intended to call on a friend, with whom I would consult on the means of getting Roland out of Paris. We had not gone a dozen yards before the coach stopped. ‘What is the matter?’ said I to the coachman.—‘Ah, he has left me; like a fool; and I wanted to keep him for my little boy. He would have been highly pleased with him. Wheugh! Wheugh! Wheugh!’—I recollected the dog: it was gratifying to me to have for a coachman, at such an hour, a man of a good heart, of feeling, and a father. ‘Endeavour to catch him:’ said I: ‘you shall put him into the coach, and I will take care of him for you.’—The good man, quite delighted, caught the dog, opened the door, and gave him to me for a companion. The poor animal appeared sensible, that he had found protection and an asylum: I was greatly caressed by him, and I thought of that tale of Sandi, in which is described an old man, weary of his fellow creatures, and disgusted with their passions, who retired to a wood, in which he constructed himself a dwelling, of which he sweetened the solitude by means of some animals, who repaid his cares with testimonies of affection, and with a species of gratitude, to which he confined himself, for want of meeting with it’s like amongst mankind.
Pasquier had just gone to bed. He rose: I proposed to him my plan. We agreed, that he should come to me the next day after seven o’clock, and I would inform him where to find his friend. I returned to my coach: it was stopped by the sentry, at the post of the Woman of Samaria. ‘Have a little patience:’ whispered the good coachman to me, turning back on his seat: ‘it is the custom at this time of night.’—The serjeant came, and opened the door. ‘Who is here?—‘A woman.’—‘Whence do you come?’—‘From the convention.’—‘It is very true:’ added the coachman, as if he feared, I should not be credited.—‘Whither are you going?’—‘Home.’—‘Have you no bundles?—‘I have nothing. Sec.’—‘But the assembly has broken up.’—‘Yes: at which I am very sorry, for I had a petition to make.’—‘A woman! at this hour! it is very strange: it is very imprudent.’—‘No doubt it is not a very common occurrence: I must have had strong reasons for it.’—‘But, madam, alone?’—‘How, sir, alone! Do you not see I have innocence and truth with me? what more is necessary?’—‘I must submit to your reasons.’—‘And you do well:’ replied I, in a gentler tone: ‘for they are good.’
The horses were so fatigued, that the coachman was obliged to pull them by the bridle, to get them up the hill, in the street in which I resided. I got home: I dismissed him: and I had ascended eight or ten steps, when a man, close at my heels, who had slipped in at the gate unperceived by the porter, begged me to conduct him to citizen Roland.—‘To his apartment, with all my heart, if you have any thing of service to him to impart: but to him is impossible.’—‘This evening he will certainly be apprehended.’—‘They must be very dexterous, who accomplish it.’—‘You give me great pleasure; for it is an honest citizen who accosts you.’—‘I am glad of it:’ said I, and went on, without well knowing what to think of the adventure.
Why, under such circumstances, did you enter into your house? perhaps the reader will ask.
The question is by no means out of place: for slander had attacked me too, and malevolence might have exercised itself against me: but to give a proper answer to it, the state of my mind must be completely unfolded, and this would require details, which I reserve for a future period: their results will be all I shall notice at present. I have naturally an aversion to every thing inconsistent with the grand, bold, and ingenuous course of innocence: the exertions necessary to withdraw myself from the hand of injustice would be to me more painful, than any thing it could inflict. In the last two months of Roland’s ministry, our friends often urged us to quit the hotel, and did persuade us thrice to sleep from home; each time against my consent. An assassination was then apprehended: but it was my opinion, that no persons could easily be induced to violate the asylum of a man invested with a public office; and if there were such wretches, it appeared to me, that the perpetration of such an act would be productive of beneficial consequences. At all events, it was incumbent on the minister to be at his post: for there his death would cry aloud for vengeance, and all the republic would know it: whilst it was possible to reach him in his goings out or comings in, with equal advantage to the perpetrator of the act, and less effect for the public weal, less glory for the victim. Such reasoning, I am aware, will be deemed absurd by them, who prefer life to all things: but he, who sets any value on his life in a period of revolution, will set none on virtue, on honour, or on his country. In the month of january, therefore, I would on no account leave the hotel: the bed of Roland was in my chamber, that we might both undergo the same fate: and under my pillow I kept a pistol, not to kill them, who might come to assassinate us, but to secure myself from any indignity, if they offered to lay hands upon me.
Out of place the obligation was no longer the same, and I thought it right in Roland, to shun the fury of the populace, and the talons of his enemies. To injure me, could not be to them a matter of equal importance: of my death they would not incur the odium; and to imprison me would be to them of little service, and to me no great misfortune. Were they possessed of sufficient sense of shame, to attempt to proceed according to form, and examine me, I should find no difficulty in confounding them; and this might serve to undeceive those, who were really misled with respect to Roland. If they began anew a second of september, the honest deputies would be also in their power, and all would be lost at Paris. In this case I would have preferred death, to living a witness of my country’s ruin; and been proud of being comprised amongst the glorious victims sacrificed to the fury of guilt. That fury, glutted on me, would be less violent against Roland, who, if saved from this crisis, might still render great services to the public in some part of France. Thus, either I risked only imprisonment, and a trial, which I could turn to the advantage of my husband, and of my country: or if I must perish, it would be under circumstances, by which life would to me be rendered odious.
I have an amiable daughter. I suckled her at my own breast. I brought her up with the enthusiastic anxiety of maternal love. I have set before her such examples, as at her age will not be forgotten: and she will be a good woman, with some talents. Her education may be completed without my assistance; her life will afford consolation to her father; but she will never feel my strong affections; she will never know my pains, or my pleasures: yet were I to be born again, and to have my own choice of dispositions, I would not change my frame, but would demand of the gods to make me, such as I am now formed. Since the resignation of the minister, I had lived so retired from the world, that I saw scarcely any person: the occupiers of one house, in which I might have concealed myself, were in the country: in another there was a sick person, which rendered the admission of a new guest too troublesome: that, in which Roland was concealed, could not accommodate me without great inconvenience; besides, it would have been too suspicious, perhaps impolitic, for me to have been in the same place with him: finally, it would have been painful to me, to have abandoned my servants: and therefore I returned home, quieted their uneasiness, already grown to a considerable pitch, embraced my child, and took up my pen, to write a note, which I intended to dispatch early in the morning to my husband.
Scarcely had I sitten down, when I heard a knock at my door. It was about midnight. A numerous deputation of the commune appeared, and inquired for Roland.—‘He is not at home.’—‘But,’ said the person, who wore an officer’s gorget, to me, ‘where can he be? when will he return? You know his way of life, and can judge when we may expect him.’—‘I know not,’ replied I, ‘whether your orders authorise you to put such questions to me; but this I know, that nothing can oblige me to answer them. Roland quitted his house, whilst I was at the convention: he could not then make me his confident: and I have nothing more to say to you.’
The troop withdrew much dissatisfied. I perceived, that a sentry was left at my door, and a guard at that of the house. From this I inferred, that I must summon strength to support whatever might happen. Exhausted with fatigue, I ordered supper, finished my letter, entrusted it to my faithful nurse, and retired to bed. I had slept soundly about an hour when my servant entered my chamber, to inform me, that the officers of the section requested me to go into the adjoining apartment. ‘I understand them,’ replied I: ‘go child, they shall not wait for me long.’ I jumped out of bed, and dressed myself. My nurse came in, and was surprized, that I should take the trouble to put on any thing more than a wrapping gown.—‘A proper dress is necessary to go out in,’ observed I.—The poor woman looked in my face, and the tears gushed into her eyes. I went into the next room.
‘We come, citizenness, to put you under arrest, and to affix seals on your property.’—‘Where is your authority?’—‘Here:’ said a man, taking out of his pocket a mandate from the revolutionary committee* , to convey me to the Abbey, without specifying any motive for the arrest. ‘I may tell you, with Roland, that I know nothing of this committee, that I will not obey it’s orders, and that you shall not take me hence, unless by violence.’—‘Here is another order,’ said eagerly, with an air of consequence, a little hard featured man; and he read me one from the commune, which directed, also without alleging any charge, the arrest of both Roland and his wife. Whilst it was reading, I debated with myself, whether I should carry my resistance to the utmost, or quietly resign myself into their hands. I might plead the law, which prohibited nocturnal arrests; and if the law, which authorises magistrates to seize suspected persons were urged, I might retort the illegality of the municipality itself, cashiered and created anew by an arbitrary power. But then this power the citizens of Paris had in some measure sanctioned: the law was become nothing more than an empty name, employed for the purpose of trampling more securely on the most acknowledged rights: and force prevailed, to which if I compelled these brutes to have recourse, they would preserve no bounds in it’s application. Resistance therefore was useless, and could serve only to expose me.
‘How do you mean to proceed, gentlemen?’—‘We have sent for the justice of peace of the section, and you see a detachment of his armed force.’—The justice of peace arrived. They went into my salon, and fixed seals to every thing, to the windows, to the drawers for linen. One man would have had them put on a piano-forte, but he was told it was an instrument of music: he then drew out a foot rule, and took it’s dimensions, as if he designed it for some particular place. I asked leave to take out my daughter’s wardrobe! and I made up a small packet of nightclothes for myself. In the mean time fifty or a hundred persons were passing backwards and forwards continually, filled two rooms, crowded every place, and might easily conceal malicious persons disposed either to remove or to put in any thing. The air became loaded with noisome exhalations, and I was obliged to retire to the window of the anti-chamber to fetch breath. The officer durst not command this crowd to withdraw: occasionally he addressed to it a slight request, which produced only it’s renewal. Sitting down at my bureau, I wrote to a friend concerning my situation, or to recommend to him my daughter. As I was folding it up, Mr. Nicaud, the bearer of the order from the commune, said; ‘madam, you must read your letter, and tell us to whom it is addressed.’—‘I have no objection to read it, if that will satisfy you.’—‘It is of more consequence, to say to whom you address it.’—‘That I certainly shall not do: the title of my friend is not of a nature, at present, to induce me, to name to you those, on whom I bestow it:’ and I tore the letter to pieces. When I turned my back, they picked up the fragments, to put them under seal, I was tempted to laugh at their stupid eagerness, for the letter had no direction.
In fine, at seven in the morning I left my daughter and my people, after having recommended to them calmness and patience. By their tears I felt myself more honoured, than it was in the power of oppression to render me dejected.—‘You have people there, who love you:’ said one of the commissioners.—‘I have never had any about me, who did not:’ replied I; and I descended the stairs. From the bottom of them to the coach, which was on the opposite side of the street, two rows of armed men were drawn up, and a crowd of curious persons had assembled around. I walked slowly and deliberately between them, attentively viewing the cowardly or misled multitude. The armed force followed the coach in two files: whilst the wretched populace, deceived, and massacred in the persons of it’s true friends, stopped as I passed by, attracted by the sight, and some women cried out, ‘to the guillotine.’—‘Shall we draw up the blinds?’ said one of the commissioners to me very civilly.—‘No, gentlemen, innocence, however oppressed, never puts on the guise of criminality: I fear not the eye of any one, and I would not conceal myself from any person’s view.’—‘You have more courage, than many men: you submit to justice calmly.’—‘Justice! Were justice done, I should not now be in your hands: but should an iniquitous procedure send me to the scaffold, I would mount it with the same firmness and tranquillity, with which I now go to a prison. I sigh for my country: I regret my mistake in supposing it qualified for liberty and happiness: but life I appreciate at it’s due value; I have never feared aught but guilt; injustice and death I despise.’—The poor commissioners did not perfectly comprehend such language, and probably thought it very aristocratic.
We arrived at the Abbey, the theatre of those bloody scenes, the revival of which the jacobins have for some time preached up with such fervour. The first objects, that presented themselves to my sight, were five or six field beds, occupied by as many men, in a gloomy chamber. As soon as I had passed the wicket, all seemed in motion; and my guides made me ascend a dirty narrow staircase. We came to the keeper, in a sort of little salon, which was tolerably clean, where he offered me a couch. ‘Where is my chamber?’ said I to his wife, a corpulent woman, with a good countenance.—‘Madam, I did not expect you: I have no one ready: in the mean time you will remain here.’—The commissioners went into the adjoining room, directed an entry of their mandate to be made, and gave their verbal orders. These, I afterwards learnt, were very rigid, and often renewed afterwards, but they durst not give them in writing. The keeper knew his trade too well, literally to pursue, what he was under no obligation to follow. He is an honest man, active, obliging, and in the exercise of his office leaves nothing for justice or humanity to desire.—‘What would you choose for breakfast?’—‘A little capillaire.’
The commissioners withdrew, observing to me, that Roland ought not to have absconded, if he had been innocent.—‘When a man, who has rendered such important services to the cause of liberty, is exposed to suspicion; when a minister, whose conduct has been so open, and accounts so clear, is become an object of detestable calumny, and the bitterest persecution; it would be strange, if he did not withdraw himself from the last extremities of envy. Just as Aristides, severe as Cato, to his virtues he is indebted for his enemies. Their fury knows no bounds: let them satiate it on me: I defy it’s power, and to it I devote myself. It is incumbent on him, to save himself for the sake of his country, to which he may yet be capable of rendering important service.’—The gentlemen were a little confounded; made me no answer but a bow; and departed.
Whilst I breakfasted, a bed-chamber was hastily put in order, into which I was introduced.—‘You may remain here, madam, the whole day; and if I cannot get ready an apartment for you this evening, as I have a great many persons in the house, a bed shall be made up in the salon,’—The keeper’s wife, who said this to me, added some civil observations on the regret she felt, whenever a person of her own sex arrived, subjoining: ‘for they have not all your serene countenance, madam.’—I thanked her with a smile; and she locked me in.
Thus, then, I am in prison; said I to myself. I sat down, and gave myself up to profound reflection. The moments that followed I would not exchange for those, which others would esteem the most happy of my life. Never will they be erased from my memory. They enabled me to feel, in a critical situation, with a stormy, precarious period in view, all the value of honesty and fortitude, in the sincerity of a good conscience, and the strength of a courageous mind. Hitherto, impelled by circumstances, my actions, in this crisis, had been the result of a lively sentiment, hurrying me away. How grateful to find it’s effects justified by reason! I recalled to my mind the past: I weighed the events of the future: and if, listening to a heart of sensibility, I found an affection too powerful, I discovered not one, that could suffuse my cheek with a blush, not one, but served as aliment to my courage, not one, but that courage could subdue. I devoted myself, if I may so say, voluntarily to my destiny, whatever it might be: I defied it’s rigour: and my mind settled itself in that disposition, where it seeks nothing more than to employ the present well, without anxiety about any thing farther. But this tranquillity with regard to what concerned only myself I extended not to the fate of my country, and of my friends: with inexpressible eagerness I listened to the cries of the street, and waited for the papers of the evening. However, I made inquiry concerning my new situation, and what portion of liberty was left me.—‘May I write? May I see any person? What will be my expenses here?’ were my first questions. Lavacquerie, the keeper, acquainted me with the directions given him, and the liberty he could take with such orders. I wrote to my faithful nurse, to come and see me; but it was agreed, that she should impart to no one her having the permission.
The first visit I received at the Abbey was from Grandpré, the day of my arrival.—‘You should write to the assembly:’ said he: ‘have you not yet set about it?’—‘no: and now you mention it, how shall I procure my letter to be read?’—‘I will do all I can to promote it.’—‘Very well: then I will write.’—‘Do so. I will return in a couple of hours.’—He left me, and I wrote.[Back to Table of Contents]
‘Citizenness Roland to the national convention.
Prison of the Abbey, june 1, 1793.
“LEGISLATORS! I have just been torn from my home, from the arms of my daughter, a girl of twelve years of age, and I am detained in the Abbey, by virtue of orders, which alleged no cause for my being apprehended. These orders were issued by a revolutionary committee; and some commissioners of the commune, who accompanied those of the committee, showed me others from the general council, which also alleged none* .” Thus I am presumed a culprit by the public: I was conducted to prison with great parade, in the midst of an ostentatious guard, and of a misled people, some of whom called loudly for the scaffold; without my conductors being able to announce to any one, or inform myself, for what reason I was supposed a criminal, and treated accordingly. This is not all. The bearer of the orders of the commune made no use of them except with me, and to make me sign a statement of what passed: when I quitted my apartment, I was delivered to the commissioners of the revolutionary committee; these conducted me to the Abbey; and on their mandate alone was I received into it. An attested copy of this mandate, signed by a single individual possessing no office, I have subjoined. Every thing in my house has been sealed up. Whilst this was doing, which continue from three o’clock in the morning till seven, the crowd of citizens filled my apartment; and if, amongst the number, were present any malicious person, who entertained a design of privately slipping papers, calculated to throw on me the imputation of guilt, into a library open in all parts, he could not fail of opportunity.
‘Yesterday, the same committee had already sought to put under arrest the late minister, whom the laws render accountable to you alone for the acts of his administration, and who has been incessantly soliciting you to pass on them your judgment.
‘Roland protested against the order, and the bearers of it withdrew. He left his house alone, to spare Errour a crime, whilst I had repaired to the convention, to give it information of these attempts: but I procured a letter to be transmitted to the president to no purpose, for it was not read. I went to demand justice and protection: I demand them again, with fresh claims, for I too am now oppressed. I demand of the convention, to order an account of the cause and the manner of my being apprehended, to be laid before it; and to decide upon them. If it confirm my arrest, I appeal to the law, which ordains the enunciation of the crime, and the examination of the prisoner within twenty-four hours from the time of his caption. Finally I demand a report on the accounts of that irreproachable man, who exhibits an instance of persecution unheard of before, and who seems destined to give nations the terrible lesson of virtue proscribed by the blindness of prejudice.
‘If to have shared the strictness of his principles, the energy of his courage, and the ardour of his love of liberty, be my crime; I plead guilty, and await my punishment. Give sentence, legislators: France, freedom, the fate of the republic, and of yourselves, depend necessarily this day on the distribution of that justice, which it is yours to dispense.’
The agitation, in which I had passed the preceding night, made me feel extreme fatigue. I desired to have a chamber that same evening; and I obtained one, of which I took possession at ten o’clock. When I entered it, and found myself surrounded by four dirty walls, saw a bed without curtains, perceived a double-grated window, and was struck with that smell, which a person accustomed to an extremely clean apartment always finds in those which are not so, I was sensible, that I was indeed to inhabit a prison, and had no pleasure to expect from my situation. It was, however, sufficiently roomy; it had a fire-place; my bed-clothes were tolerable; I had a pillow, and, estimating things in themselves, without making any comparison, I deemed myself not badly accommodated. I went to bed, fully resolved to remain in it as long as I found myself comfortable there. I had not left it at ten in the morning, when Grandpré arrived. He did not appear less affected, but more uneasy, than the preceding evening; and his eyes surveyed the wretched room, which already appeared to me tolerable, for I had slept in it.
‘How have you passed the night?’ said he to me, the tears glistening in his eyes.—‘I have been often waked by the noise; but I fell asleep again as soon as it was over, even in spite of the alarm-bell, which I think I heard this morning.—Ha!—is it not sounding still?’—‘Why I thought so:—but it is not.’—‘Be it as it pleases heaven: if they kill me, it shall be in this bed: I am so weary, that here I will await whatever happens. Is there any thing new against the deputies?’—‘No. I have brought back your letter. We have been thinking with Champagneux, that the beginning should be softened. Here is what we have proposed for it. Then you should write a line or two to the minister of the home department, that he may address your letter officially, which would afford me another claim to solicit it’s being read.’—I took the paper; I considered it; and said to him: ‘If I thought my letter would be read as it is, I would let it remain so, were it to obtain no success for me, for I can scarcely flatter myself with the hope of justice from the assembly. The truths addressed to it are not for itself, now incapable of putting them in practice; but they should be said, that the departments may hear them.’
I was aware, that my exordium might prevent the reading of the letter, and on this account it would have been folly to have retained it: the first three paragraphs therefore I omitted, and substituted what was proposed to me in their stead. With respect to the minister’s intervention, I was sensible it would render the proceeding more regular: and though Garat scarcely deserved the honour of being written to by me, I knew how to do it without lessening myself, and wrote the following lines.[Back to Table of Contents]
‘To the minister of the home department.
‘THE post which you fill, citizen, demands, that you should watch over the execution of the laws, and denounce their violation by authorities that abuse them. I am persuaded, your justice will be eager to transmit to the convention the complaints, I have occasion to make against that oppression, of which I am the victim.’
Rising about noon, I considered how I should arrange my new apartment. With a clean napkin I covered a paltry little table, which I placed near my window, intending it to serve me for a bureau, and resolving rather to eat my meals on the corner of the fire-place than on it, that I might keep it clean, and in order, for writing. Two large hat-pins, stuck into the boards, served me for a portmanteau. In my pocket I had Thompson’s Seasons, a work which I valued on more than one account: and I made a memorandum of what other books I wanted. First was Plutarch’s Lives of Illustrious Persons, which, at eight years of age, I used to carry with me to the church, instead of a Prayer-book [une Semaine sainte], and which I had not read through since: and secondly, Hume’s History of England, and Sheridan’s Dictionary, in order to improve myself in the english language. I would rather have continued to read Mrs. Macaulay; but the person, who had lent me the former volumes, was certainly not at home; and I did not know where to procure the work; as I had already sought for it in vain amongst the booksellers. I could not avoid smiling myself at my preparations; for there was a great tumult: the drums were continually beating to arms, and I knew not the occasion. They will not prevent my living to my last moment, said I to myself: more happy in my own conscience, than they will be animated with rage, if they come, I will advance to meet them, and go to death as a man would go to repose.
The keeper’s wife came to invite me to her apartment, where she had directed my cloth to be laid, that I might dine in better air. Repairing thither, I found my faithful nurse. When she threw herself into my arms, bathed with tears, and choked with sobs; I could not avoid melting into tenderness and sorrow, and almost upbraided myself for remaining tranquil, whilst I reflected on the anxiety of those who were attached to me; and figuring to myself the agony of this person and that, I felt an indescribable oppression at my heart. Poor woman! how many tears have I caused her to shed! and for what does an attachment like her’s atone. In the common intercourse of life she has sometimes offended me by her bluntness; but it has been when she has thought me too negligent of what might contribute to my health or happiness; and when I have suffered, the office of complaining has been her’s, that of consoling has been mine. Such was the case now. I showed her, that, by giving way to her grief, she would be less capable of rendering me service; that she was more useful to me without, than she could be within the walls of the prison, where she begged me to permit her to remain; and that, upon the whole, I was far from being so unfortunate as she imagined, which was true. Whenever I have been ill, I have experienced a particular kind of serenity, unquestionably flowing from my mode of contemplating things, and from the precept I have laid down for myself, always to endeavour to soften necessary ills, instead of revolting against them. The moment I take to my bed, every duty seems to me at an end, and no solicitude for any thing lays hold of me: I have nothing to do, but remain there, and remain with resignation; which I do with a good grace. I give free scope to my imagination; I call up agreeable impressions, pleasing remembrances, and ideas of happiness: all exertions, reasonings, calculations, I discard: resigning myself wholly to nature, and peaceful like her, I suffer pain without impatience, or repose myself and am cheerful. I find imprisonment produces on me nearly the same effect as disease: nothing farther is required of me than to remain here, and what great hardship is that? my own company is not so very bad!
I soon learnt, that I must change my habitation. Victims were plentiful, and my chamber would contain more than one bed. Thus, that I might be alone. I was obliged from that evening to be shut up in a little closet, and consequently to remove my little establishment. The window of my new apartment was, I believe, over the sentry, who guarded the prison-gate. All the night long I heard, who goes there?—kill him!—guard!—patrole!—called with a thundering voice. The houses were lighted up: and from the number and frequency of the patroles it was easy to infer, that there had been some commotions, or that tumults were feared. I rose early, and employed myself about my household affairs; that is to say, making my bed, cleaning my little place, and rendering it and myself as neat as I could. Had I desired these things to be done for me, I knew they would not have been refused; but I was aware, that I must have paid for them dearly, waited a long time, and had them very superficially done at last. Thus by taking the office on myself I gained much: I should be better and sooner served, and the trifling presents I might give would be the more considered, as they would be gratuitous. With impatience I waited to hear the massy bolts of my door opened, that I might ask for a newspaper. I read it: the decree of impeachment against the twenty-two was passed: the paper fell from my hands, and in a transport of grief I exclaimed: ‘my country is lost!’
Whilst I imagined myself alone beneath the yoke of oppression, or nearly alone, proud and tranquil I formed wishes, and retained some hopes, for the defenders of liberty. But now guilt and errour have obtained the ascendency: the natural representation is violated, it’s unity is broken, and every one in it distinguished for probity united with talents and reputation is proscribed: the commune of Paris rules the legislative body; Paris is lost; the torch of civil war is lighted; the enemy will profit by our divisions; for the north of France freedom is no more; and the whole republic is delivered over to the most fearful ravages. Sublime illusions, generous sacrifices, hope, happiness, and country, adieu! At twelve years old I lamented, in the first expansions of my young heart, that I was not born at Sparta, or at Rome: in the french revolution I thought I saw the unexpected application of the principles, with which my mind was imbued: liberty, said I, has two sources; good manners, which make sage laws; and knowledge, which guides us to both, by instructing us concerning our rights: my bosom will be no longer torn by the spectacle of mankind debased, the human race will improve, and the happiness of all will constitute the basis and the pledge of the happiness of each. Splendid chimeras! seducing ideas, by which I have been charmed! the horrible corruption of one vast city dispels you all. I have despised life, your loss makes me detest it, and I wish to undergo the extremes of rage. Anarchists, savages, for what wait you? Virtue ye have proscribed, spill the blood of them who profess it: shed on that earth, it will render it ravenous, and make it open underneath your feet.
The course of things ought to have made me foresee the event: but I could not easily bring myself to believe, that the danger to be apprehended would not check the bulk of the convention, and I was astonished at the decisive act, which tolled the bell of it’s dissolution.
Frigid indignation now mantles all my sentiments: indifferent as ever to what concerns myself, my hopes for others are feeble, and I await events with more curiosity than desire: I no longer live to feel, but to know. Soon I learnt, that the tumult directed to force the decree of impeachment had given some uneasiness about the prisons. This was the cause of the strict and noisy guard during the night. The citizens of the section of Unity, too, would not obey the beat of drum, which called them to the convention; but all remained at home, to guard their property, and the prison within their boundaries. I now saw the motive of Grandpré’s alarm and disquietude, and the next day he confessed to me his apprehensions. He had repaired to the assembly, to obtain the reading of my letter; and, during eight successive hours, he, as well as several other deputies, had repeatedly urged it to the president in vain: it was evident, therefore, that I should not procure it’s being read. In the Monitor, I observed, my section, that of Beaurepaire, had expressed it’s sentiments in my favour, even after my imprisonment. It occurred to me, therefore, to write to it; which I did in the following terms.[Back to Table of Contents]
‘THE public papers inform me, that you have placed Roland and his wife under the safeguard of your section. This I knew not when I was taken from home: on the contrary, the bearer of the orders of the commune represented to me the armed force, with which he was accompanied, as that of the section, which he had demanded. So he expressed it in the statement of what passed. The moment I was put into the Abbey, I wrote to the convention, and addressed myself to the minister of the home-department, to convey to it my complaints. I know, that he obeyed my demand, and that the letter was delivered; but it was not read. An attested copy of it I have the honour to transmit you. If the section think it not unworthy it’s dignity, to become the spokesman of oppressed innocence, it may send a deputation to the bar of the convention, to procure my just complaints, and my demand, to be there heard. This point I submit to it’s wisdom: I add no intreaty, for truth has but one language, the exposition of facts. Citizens who love justice, are not desirous of having supplications addressed to them, and innocence is unaccustomed to supplicate.
‘P. S. This is the fourth day of my detention, and I have never yet been examined. I must observe, that the order of arrest contained no charge; but expressed, that I should be interrogated the next day.’
Some days passed without my hearing any thing. Still I was not interrogated. However, I had received several visits from administrators with unmeaning faces and dirty ribands, some of whom said they belonged to the police, others to I know not what; great sansculottes, with matted hair, strict observers of the order of the day, coming to know whether the prisoners were satisfied with their treatment. To them all I had expressed myself with the energy and dignity suitable to oppressed innocence: I had noticed two or three men of good sense, who understood me, without daring to take my part: and I was at dinner, when five or six others were announced to me in one batch. Half of them came forwards: he, who took upon himself to speak for the rest, appeared to me, before he opened his lips, one of those empty-headed babblers, who judge of their own merit by the volubility of their tongues.—‘Good morrow, citizenness.’—‘Good morrow, sir.’—‘Are you satisfied with this house? Have you no complaints to make of your treatment, and no demand to make for any thing?’—‘I complain of being in this place: and I demand to leave it.’—‘Is your health impaired? or are you a little melancholic?—‘I am in good health, and not in the least melancholic. The spleen is the disease of them, who have a vacuity of intellect, and whose minds are destitute of resource. But I have a strong sense of injustice, and protest against that, which has confined me without alleging a cause, and detained me without examination.’—‘O, in a period of revolution, there is so much to be done, that there is not time for every thing.’—‘A woman, to whom king Philip made almost the same reply, answered him: “if thou have not time to do me justice, thou hast not time to be king.” Take care you do not oblige oppressed citizens to say the same thing to the people, or rather to the arbitrary authorities, by which the people is misled.’—‘Adieu, citizenness!’—‘Adieu!’—And away went my chatterer, for want of knowing what to say to my reasons. These people appeared to me to have come purposely to see how I should look in a cage; but they would walk a great way, before they would find in it dolts like themselves.
I have already mentioned my having inquired into the way of living in these places: not that I set any great value on what people call the comforts of life, which I use without scruple, when no inconvenience arises from their use, though always with moderation, and which I can without difficulty forego: but my natural disposition to orderliness prompts me to know what constitutes my expenses, that I may regulate them according to my situation.
They informed me, that Roland, when minister, thought five livres [4s. 2d.] a day for each prisoner greatly too much, and reduced the sum to two [1s. 8d.]: but the excessive rise in the price of provision, which within a few months had been tripled, rendered this allowance very moderate: for the nation allowing nothing but straw and the bare walls, twenty sous [10d.] were deducted in the first instance, as an indemnification to the keeper, for the bed and trifling furniture of the room. The twenty sous remaining were to find candles, fire, if necessary, and meat and drink. To this, however, as was no more than equitable, every prisoner might add what he pleased for his own expenses. On myself I am not fond of spending much; and I take some pleasure in exercising my strength in supporting abstinence. I felt a desire of making an experiment, and trying how far the human will is capable of diminishing it’s wants: but to go any great length, it is necessary to proceed by degrees. At the end of four days, I began with retrenching my breakfast, and substituting bread and water in the room of coffee or chocolate: I fixed for my dinner one plain dish of meat, with some vegetable; and for my supper, pulse; without any desert. To break myself from wine, I drank beer at first, and then I left off this. As this regimen, however, had a moral purpose, and as I have as much aversion as contempt for useless economy, I gave a certain sum to those unfortunate prisoners who had nothing; that, when I ate my dry bread in a morning, I might have the satisfaction to reflect, the poor creatures would be indebted to me for being able to add something to their’s at dinner. If I remain here six months, I would quit the place with a healthy complexion, and a body by no means emaciated, having reduced my wants so as to be satisfied with soup and bread, and having gained some blessings unknown. I made some presents also, but with another intention, to the servants of the prison. When a person is, or appears to be, rigidly economical in point of expense, he must be generous to others, if he would not be blamed for it; particularly when from his expenses accrue the profits of those about him. I require no one to wait upon me; I send for nothing; I have nothing bought; I employ no person: consequently I should be the worst of prisoners with the domestics, who make their little profits on what they are commissioned to provide or procure: it is fitting, therefore, that I should purchase the state of independance, in which I place myself; thus I render it more perfect, and make myself also beloved.
I received a few visits from the excellent Champagneux and the worthy Bosc. The former, father of a numerous family, was attached to liberty from principle, and had professed it’s sound doctrines from the commencement of the revolution, in a newspaper, which he intended for the information of his fellow-citizens. He was distinguished by a sound judgment, gentle manners, and an aversion to idleness. Roland, when minister, placed him at the head of the first division of the home department. It was one of the best choices he made: though he was not less successful in the selection of many other principals, as the active and ingenuous Camus, the able Fépoul, and some others. Never were offices better filled; and nothing but the perfection of their establishments could enable Garat, to support a burden, to which he is unequal. To the honesty and capacity of such agents he is indebted for the tranquillity he is allowed to enjoy. Of this he is sensible; and he said with good reason, that he would quit the party, if he were obliged to make any change in his offices. Notwithstanding this, he will be forced to quit his post, for no talents in assistants can compensate for a minister’s want of firmness: irresolution is the worst of faults in those who govern, particularly in the midst of factions. Garat and Barrière, as private individuals, would not be deemed deficient in sense or honesty: but the one charged with the executive power, and the other a legislator, would ruin all the states in the world by their half-measures: their fury for pursuing what they term conciliatory plans propels them in that oblique path, which leads directly to the precipice of confusion. Statesmen should be conciliating only in mode, I mean in their manner of behaving to those with whom they are connected: they should avail themselves of the very passions and faults of those whom they direct, or with whom they treat: but rigid in their principles, firm and rapid in action, no obstacle, no consideration, should make them bend in the former respect, or alter their course in the latter.
Could Roland unite with his extensive views, strength of mind, and prodigious activity, a little more artfulness of manner, he would easily rule an empire: but his faults are prejudicial to himself alone, his good qualities are of infinite value to an administration.
Bosc, an old friend, of an ingenuous disposition, and enlightened mind, came to me the first day of my imprisonment, and was instant to conduct my daughter to madame Creuzé-la-Touche; who receives her kindly, as one of her own children, with whom it was resolved she should remain under her own eyes. To be sensible of all the value of this step, it is necessary to know the persons. It is necessary to figure the feeling and open-hearted Bosc, running to his friends, taking their child, intrusting her of his own accord to the most respectable family, as a pledge which he felt himself honoured in confiding to their hands, and which he knew would be received with the pleasure experienced by delicate minds, when an opportunity of doing good is offered them. And it is necessary to have been acquainted with the patriarchal manners, and the domestic virtues of Creuzé and his wife, and the gentleness and goodness of their characters, to form a due estimate of the worth of this reception.
Who, then, is to be pitied in all this? Roland alone: Roland, persecuted, proscribed: Roland, the examination of whose accounts has been refused; Roland, compelled to conceal himself as a criminal, to avoid the blind fury of men misled by his enemies; to tremble even for the safety of those who shelter him; to swallow in silence the imprisonment of his wife, and the sealing up every thing belonging to him;—and to await, in a state of incertitude, the reign of justice, which can never indemnify him for all, that perversity has made him suffer.
My section, imbibed with the best principles, passed, on the third, a decree, which breathed them, and which established the right of citizens, to protest against arbitrary imprisonment, and even resist such as might be attempted. My letter was read there, and listened to with concern. The debate, that took place on it, being prolonged to the next day, the mountaineers concerted together: the alarm was given to their party: a number of deputations of the violent of the other sections arrived, to fetter the progress of the deliberations, and if possible corrupt the temper of this, or frighten it by threats, and induce a majority of the sections to disarm it.
Whilst these things was going on, urged by Grandpré to neglect no means of shortening the term of my captivity, I wrote again to Garat, and also to Gohier. The latter, whom I have scarcely ever seen, possessed not more firmness than Garat, and has appeared to me inferiour to him in every other respect. I could not easily write to such men, without giving them lessons; and they were severe. Grandpré thought them mortifying, though just: I softened some of the expressions; and dispatched what follows.[Back to Table of Contents]
‘Citizenness Roland to the minister of justice.
Prison of the Abbey, june 8, 1793.
‘I AM suffering oppression: I am entitled, therefore, to remind you of my rights and your duties.
‘An arbitrary order, without specifying any charge, has plunged me into a place prepared for culprits. In it I have resided a week, without being examined.
‘The laws are known to you. They direct you to visit the prisons, and to set at liberty them, who are detained without cause. Lately, too, a decree has been passed, which enjoins you to take care, that the orders for arrests are shown to you, to examine whether they allege any charge, and to cause the persons who are imprisoned to be interrogated.
‘I transmit to you an attested copy of that, by virtue of which I have been forced from my home, and brought hither.
‘I demand the execution of the law, on my own account, and on your’s. Innocent and firm, injustice reaches without debasing me, and I can submit to it with pride, at a time when virtue is proscribed* . Of your will, placed as you are between the law and dishonour, there can be no doubt; and you are to be pitied, if you have not courage to act according to it.’[Back to Table of Contents]
‘To the minister of the home department.
June 8, 1793.
‘I know you have transmitted my complaints to the legislative body; but my letter has not been read. Have you fulfilled the whole of your duties by forwarding it at my request?—I have been apprehended, without any cause being alleged: I have been detained a week, without having been interrogated. It behoves you, filling a public post, to endeavour the delivery of that innocence, which you could not preserve from oppression.
‘You are more interested, perhaps, than myself, in the office I invite you to undertake. I am not the sole victim of prejudice and envy: and their present pursuit of every one, who unites virtue with talents, renders honourable the persecution, of which I am the object, and which is owing to my connexion with the venerable man, whose cause posterity will revenge. But you, who are now at the helm, if you be incapable of guiding it with a firm hand, will not escape the reproach of having yielded the vessel to the waves, and the disgrace of having remained at a post, the functions of which you could not execute.
‘Factions pass away, justice alone remains: and of all the faults of men in place weakness is the least pardoned; for it is the source of the greatest disorders, particularly in troublous times.
‘I need not add any thing to these reflections, if they reach you in time for you and for myself, or urge their application to what concerns me: since nothing can supply the want of courage and of will.’
Ministers, who have neglected and despised the decrees, that enjoined them to seek out the authors of the massacre of september, and the conspirators of the 10th of march; men, whose weak and unworthy conduct on those occasions emboldened guilt, favoured criminality, and assured this new insurrection, in which blindness and audacity, prescribing laws to the national convention, call forth all the evils of civil war; will not be the impeachers of oppression. From them I expect nothing: the truths I address to them are calculated much more to show them what they ought, and what they have failed, to do; than to procure me that justice, which they are incapable of rendering, unless a little shame produce a miracle.
Esop represents all the animals, who usually trembled at the aspect of the lion, coming to insult him when ill, each in his turn: thus the mob of inferiour men, deceived or jealous, attack with fury them, whom oppression holds captive, or whose capabilities it diminishes, by changing the public opinion respecting them. Of this the Thermometer of the Day, for the 9th of june, No. 526, affords an example. There appears, under the title of examination of L. P. d’Orleans, a series of questions, amongst which the following accusation is to be noticed: that he had been present at secret cabals, held by night at the apartment of the wife of Buzot, in the suburb of St. Germain; at which were present Dumouriez, Roland and his wife, Vergniaux, Brissot, Gensonné, Gorsas, Louvet, Petion, Cuadet, &c.’
What profundity of wickedness! and what excess of impudence! The deputies here named are precisely those, who voted for the banishment of the Bourbons. Those proud defenders of freedom never considered d’Orleans as a leader possessed of capacity; but he always appeared to them a dangerous implement. They were the first to dread his vices, his wealth, his connexions, his popularity, and his faction; and to denounce the latter, and pursue them, whom they deemed it’s agents. Louvet has marked them out in his Philippic against Robespierre; a valuable piece, as are all that have come from his pen, which history will carefully preserve; in which he follows them step by step to the electoral assembly, whence d’Orleans issued a deputy. Buzot, whose persevering energy has drawn on him the hatred of the factions, seized the first instant he thought favourable, to demand the banishment of the Bourbons; a measure, which he regarded as indispensable, from the moment the convention took upon itself to pass judgment on Lewis. Neither Roland, nor I, ever visited d’Orleans. Even Sillery, who I am told is a good and amiable man, I have avoided admitting to my house, because his connexion with d’Orleans rendered me suspicious of him. I remember two striking letters on this subject; one of which was written by madame Sillery to Louvet, after he had supported the motion of Buzot. ‘See here a proof,’ said Louvet, showing it to me, ‘that we are not mistaken, and that the Orleans party is no chimera. Madame Sillery would not write to me in such terms, were she not in concert with the parties concerned: and if they be so much afraid of banishment, it must be because exile will defeat some of their schemes.’ In fact, the object of the studied letter of madame Sillery was to induce Louvet to change his opinion: she endeavouring to persuade him, that the republican principles, in which the children of d’Orleans had been educated, would render them the most zealous supporters of a commonwealth; and that it was equally cruel and impolitic, to sacrifice unquestionably useful subjects to absurd prejudices.
The other letter was Louvet’s answer, which exhibited his motives for his opinion with force, yet delivered them with politeness. In it he observed, that the monarchical principles, and aristrocatical and other prejudices, which appeared in the works of madame Sillery herself, were far from satisfying him with respect to those of her pupils; and with the dignity of a free man he persisted in an opinion, which the love of his country inspired.
With respect to the pretended cabals at Buzot’s wife’s, nothing in the world could be so ridiculous. Buzot, who visited us frequently at the time of the constituent assembly, with whom I remained in friendly intercourse, and whose courage, sensibility, purity of principles, and gentleness of manners, inspired me with infinite esteem and attachment, came frequently to the residence of the minister of the home-department: his wife I visited only once, after their arrival at Paris, when he was sent up to the convention: and they had no kind of connexion with Dumouriez.
Indignant at these absurdities, I took up my pen to write to Dulaure, the editor of the Thermometer of the Day, a worthy man, who had visited me, till he was seduced by the mountain* .[Back to Table of Contents]
Citizenness Roland to the deputy Dulaure, author of the Thermometer of the Day.
Prison of the Abbey: june 9, 1793.
‘IF any thing could add to the astonishment of innocence, when it finds itself underneath the yoke of oppression, I would tell you, citizen, that I had just read with the greatest surprise the absurdities delivered in your paper of this day, under the title of interrogation of Philip d’Orleans, which chance has thrown into my hands. It would seem very strange, had not experience proved it to be only very audacious, that those persons, who first feared, announced, and pursued an Orleans faction, should be represented as having formed it themselves.
‘Time will unquestionably clear up this mystery of iniquity: but whilst it’s justice may be tardy in the midst of such fearful corruption, it appears to me incumbent on your’s, when publishing the questions of an interrogatory calculated to disseminate suspicions, to annex the answers, which must have been made, and which may enable an estimate of them to be formed.
‘This justice is the more strictly requisite, as calumny and persecution follow the steps of the persons named in these questions, and as most of them are in the toils of a decree, snatched by audacity and prejudice from the hands of weakness and errour. I myself have been in prison a week, in virtue of a mandate which alleges no charge: I have never been examined: I have not been able to obtain a hearing of my complaints from the convention; and when it was announced to it, that they had been suppressed, it passed to the order of the day, under pretence that they concerned it not. What, then, new authorities act arbitrarily, the constituted authorities bow before them, and ought not the injustices they commit to be laid before the convention? Is it not to the legislative body, that complaints should be addressed, when there remains none other to hear them? It can interest itself for them, who are confined by order of the tribunal of Marseilles; whilst I am confined here by a revolutionary committee, and my rights are no more!—And the commune makes the newspapers repeat, that the prisons of Paris contain only assassins, thieves, and counter-revolutionists!—Citizen, I have known you: I believe you honest: how will you grieve at some future day!—I transmit to you some notes, which I request you to peruse: and I recommend to you, to insert in your paper that letter, which I could not prevail on the convention to read. That you owe me this justice, circumstances sufficiently demonstrate: on which, if it be possible for you not to perceive this, it would be useless for me to say more.
‘P. S. Neither Roland nor I ever visited Philip d’Orleans: and I ought to add, that I have always heard the deputies mentioned in the interrogatory, as quoted in the Thermometer of this day, profess for him the same contempt as I have always felt; and if ever we have talked about him, our conversation has turned on the fears, which the true friends of liberty must experience on his account, and the necessity of banishing him for that reason.’
As circumstances have led me to mention Dumouriez, I will say what I know of him, and what I think: but this carries me back to the first ministry of Roland, and incites me to relate here how this austere man came to be nominated to a place, which kings seldom call a man like him to fill. I shall take up the thread of my narrative from a period somewhat remote; and the leisure of my captivity enables me to record facts, and recollect circumstances, which but for it, perhaps, I should never have written.
Roland executed the office of inspector of commerce and manufactures in the generality of Lyons, with such knowledge of the subject, and such administrative views, as must have distinguished him from the bulk of inspectors, had the government known how to keep up the spirit of the institution, of which Roland was almost the only one who afforded an example. Superiour to his place in every respect, fond of employment, and sensible to fame, he arranged in the silence of his closet the materials, which his experience and activity had enabled him to collect; and he continued the Dictionary of Manufactures for the new Encyclopedia. Brissot presented some of his works to Roland, as a testimony of the esteem, with which the principles of justice and liberty he observed in his writings had inspired him. These were received with the sensibility natural to authors, and that of a worthy man, who receives the commendations of others like himself: and gave birth to a correspondence, at first not very frequent; afterwards supported by that of one of our friends, who became acquainted with Brissot at Paris, and spoke of him with much praise, us applying to practice the philosophical and moral theory of his works; and ultimately cherished by the revolution of 1789: for events daily multiplying strongly exercised the minds of philosophers prepared for liberty, and produced interesting communications between those, who were enflamed with the love of their fellow-creatures, and the hope of seeing the reign of justice and happiness over all arrive. Brissot having at this juncture begun a periodical work, the excellence of the reasoning in which will make it often consulted, we sent to him every thing, of which circumstances induced us to suppose the publication useful. This speedily improved our acquaintance; and we became intimate and confidential friends, before we had seen each other.
Amidst those crises inevitable in a period of revolution, when principles, prejudices, and passions, raise insurmountable obstacles between persons, who before well agreed, Roland was chosen into the municipality of Lyons. His situation in life, his family, and his connexions, were such as might be supposed to attach him to the aristocracy: whilst his character and disposition rendered him interesting to the popular party, to which his philosophy and austerity much inclined him. No sooner had he taken a decided part, than he found enemies, so much the more violent, as his inflexible integrity proclaimed without reserve all the abuses, which had multiplied in the administration of the finances of the town. This in fact exhibited an epitome of the dilapidations of those of the state, and Lyons had it’s debt of forty millions [£ 1,666,667]. It was necessary to solicit assistance, for the manufactures had suffered, and twenty thousand workmen had been without bread during the winter. To impart the situation of Lyons to the constituent assembly, it was resolved to send a deputy extraordinary, and Roland was chosen. We arrived at Paris the 20th of february, 1791; after I had been absent from the place of my nativity five years. I had followed the progress of the revolution, and the labours of the assembly, and had studied the characters and talents of it’s leading members, with an interest not easy to be conceived, and scarcely to be appreciated except by them who knew my activity and turn of mind. I ran to the sittings: I saw the powerful Mirabeau* , the astonishing Cazales, the daring Maury, the artful Lameths, the frigid Barnave: I remarked with vexation that kind of superiority on the side of the blacks* , which the habit of representation, purity of language, and distinguished manners, give in large assemblies; but the strength of reason, the courage of integrity, the lights of philosophy, the knowledge of office, and the fluency of the bar, must secure the triumphs of the patriots of the left, if they were all honest, and could remain in unison.
Brissot came to visit us. I know nothing so pleasant as the first interview between persons, who are connected by correspondence, without knowing each other’s faces. With mutual curiosity they examine each other, to see whether the physiognomy accord with the features of the mind, and the exteriour appearance confirm the opinion entertained of the person. The simple manners, natural negligence, and ingenuous frankness of Brissot, appeared to me in perfect harmony with the austerity of his principles: but I found in him a sort of levity of mind and disposition, which was not equally suitable to the gravity of a philosopher. This always gave me pain, and of this his enemies always took advantage. In proportion as I became more acquainted with him, I esteemed him more. It is not in human nature to combine more complete disinterestedness with greater zeal for the public welfare, or to pursue the general good with more entire forgetfulness of self: but his writings are better fitted than his person to effectuate it; for they carry all the authority, which reason, justice, and intelligence can impress; whilst personally he can assume none, for want of dignity. He is the best of men: a good husband, an affectionate father, a faithful friend, a virtuous citizen: in society as gentle, as his temper is easy, confiding to imprudence, gay, simple, and ingenuous as at fifteen: he was framed to live with the wise, and to be the dupe of the wicked. Learned in the science of law, inclined from his youth to study the relations of society, and the means of human happiness, he has formed a sound judgment of man, yet is totally unacquainted with men. He knows, that vices exist; but he cannot believe any one vicious, who speaks to him with an open countenance: and when he has discovered a person to be so, he treats him as an idiot, who is to be pitied, without mistrusting him. Of hatred he is incapable: you would say his mind, with all it’s sensibility, possesses not sufficient firmness for a sentiment of such energy. Extensive in his knowledge, he writes with extreme facility, and composes a treatise, as another would copy a song: hence the discriminating eye detects in his works the hasty touch of a quick, and often light mind, though the matter is excellent. His activity and good-nature; rejecting nothing he imagines to be of utility, have given him an appearance of meddling with every thing; and have led them to accuse him of intrigue, who wanted to accuse him of something. It is laughable, to call such a man an intriguer; who never thinks of himself, or those belonging to him; who is equally incapable, and averse, to study his own private interest; and who is no more ashamed of poverty, than he is afraid of death, thinking both the one and the other the usual rewards of public virtue. I have seen him dedicating his whole time to the revolution, for no other end, than to forward the triumph of truth, and promote the general warfare; and, whilst assiduously occupied in the publication of his paper, of which he might easily have made considerable profit, contenting himself with the moderate emolument allowed him by his partner. His wife, humble as himself, a woman of good sense, and some strength of mind, judged more severely of things. Ever since their marriage her views had been turned towards the United States of America, as the abode most suitable to their tastes and manners, and where they might easily settle with a very moderate fortune. Brissot had made a voyage thither in consequence; and they were on the point of embarking for that shore, when the revolution chained him here. Born at Chartres, and the comrade of Pétion, who was a native of the fame town, Brissot connected himself still more intimately with him in the constituent assembly, where his labours and intelligence were often of assistance to his friend. He brought us acquainted with him, as well as with several other deputies, whom former acquaintance, or merely similitude of principles, and zeal for the public good, induced often to meet together, to converse on the common cause. It was even fixed, that they should come to my house four evenings in the week, because I was sedentary, and well accommodated, and my apartment was so situated, as to be at no great distance from any of them, who composed these little committees.
This arrangement suited me perfectly: it made me acquainted with the progress of affairs, in which I was strongly interested; and it favoured my taste for pursuing political speculations, and studying men. I knew what part became one of my sex, and I never stepped out of it. The conversations took place in my presence, without my mixing in them. Sitting at a table without the circle, I employed my fingers in working, or writing letters, whilst the company debated: yet if I dispatched ten epistles, which sometimes was the case, I lost not a single word of what passed, and more than once bit my lips, to keep in my own opinion.
What struck me most, and gave me singular pain, was that sort of chat and frivolity, in which men of sense passed three or four hours, without coming to any conclusion. To take things in detail, you would have heard excellent principles maintained, good ideas started, and some views opened: but taking the whole together, there was no path traced, no fixed aim, no determinate point, towards which each was to proceed in his way.
Sometimes for very vexation I could have boxed the ears of these philosophers, whom I daily learnt to esteem for the honesty of their hearts, and the purity of their intentions: excellent reasoners all, learned politicians in theory; but totally ignorant of the art of leading men, and consequently of swaying an assembly, their wit and learning were commonly lavished to no end.
Yet I have known some good decrees thus planned, which have afterwards passed. Soon the coalition of the minority of the nobility completely weakened the left side, and produced the evils of a revisal: there remained only a small number of inflexible men, who durst contend for principles; and these at length were reduced to few more than Buzot, Pétion, and Robespierre.
At that time Robespierre had to me the semblance of an honest man; and for the sake of his principles I forgave the defects of his language, and his tiresome manner of speaking. I noted, however, that he was always reserved in these committees: he heard the opinions of all, seldom gave his own, or did not take the trouble to deliver his reasons; and I have been told, that, the next day, the first to mount the tribune, he flourished away with the arguments, that had dropped in the evening from his friends. For this conduct he was sometimes gently reproved: when he passed it off with a jest; and it was forgiven him as the wile of that devouring self-love, with which he was really tormented. This could not do otherwise than diminish in some degree mutual confidence: for if something were to be proposed, and it was necessary to agree on what was to be done, or to distribute the several parts in consequence, there could never be any certainty, that Robespierre would not come, as it were in a freak, and throw himself athwart the business; or inconsiderately bring forward the attempt before it was ripe, from a desire of ascribing to himself the honour of it; and thus frustrate the design. Persuaded that Robespierre was passionately enamoured of liberty, I was inclined to attribute his faults to an excess of fiery zeal. That kind of reserve, which seems to indicate a man’s fear of suffering himself to be seen through, because he is conscious it would not be to his advantage to be known, or the distrust of one who finds in himself no reason to credit virtue in another, and which distinguishes Robespierre, gave me pain; but I mistook it for bashfulness. Thus with a lucky prejudice in favour of a person, we transform the most untoward indications into symptoms of the most amiable qualities. Never did the smile of confidence rest on the lips of Robespierre, whilst they are almost always contracted by the sour grin of envy, aiming to appear disdain. His talents, as an orator, were below mediocrity: his mean voice, ill chosen expressions, and faulty pronunciation, rendered his discourse very tiresome. But he maintained principles with warmth and perseverance; and there was some courage in continuing to do this, at a time when the defenders of the cause of the people were infinitely diminished in number. The court detested and calumniated them: to support and encourage them, therefore, was the duty of the patriots. I esteemed Robespierre on this account, and I told him so; and when he was not a very constant attendant at the little committee, he occasionally came to dine with me. I had been struck with the terrour he discovered the day of the king’s flight to Varennes. That afternoon I met him at Pétion’s, where he said with alarm, that the royal family would not having taken such a step, without having a coalition in Paris, to direct a massacre of the patriots; and that he expected not to live four and twenty hours. Pétion and Brissot on the contrary said, that this flight would be the king’s ruin, and that advantage must be taken of it: that the people were excellently disposed, and would be more clearly convinced of the treachery of the court by this step, than they would have been by the ablest publications: that this single fact rendered it evident to all, that the king would not maintain the constitution, to which he had sworn: and that this was the time to secure one less heterogenous, and, in order to it, prepare men’s minds for a republic. Robespierre, with his usual sneer, and biting his nails, asked what was a republic! The plan of a paper entitled the Republican, of which two numbers only were published, was now formed. Dumont of Geneva, a sensible man, was the editor; du Châtelet, an officer in the army, lent his name; and Condorcet, Brissot, and others, prepared to assist in it. The seizure of Lewis XVI gave Robespierre great pleasure; for in it he saw the prevention of mischief, and ceased to fear for himself: the others were grieved at it; they perceiving the return of a post into the go vernment, that intriguing would revive, and that the effervescence of the people, allayed by the pleasure of seeing the culprit detained, would no longer second the efforts of the friends of freedom. They judged rightly; and the more surely, because the reconciliation of Lafayette with the Lameths proved to them the existence of a new coalition, which could not have the public good for it’s foundation. It was not possible to counterbalance it, unless by the force of the general opinion displayed in a powerful manner; for which the patriots had only their pens, and their voices; but when some popular commotion came to their aid, they availed themselves of it with pleasure, without inquiring how it was produced, or giving themselves much concern about it. There was behind the curtain an interested person, whom the aristocrats accused with such vehemence, that the patriots were tempted to pardon him, so long as they perceived nothing, but what might be turned to the common good: besides, they could not persuade themselves, that he was any way formidable.
It is not easy to command our passions in the time of a revolution: there is indeed no instance of one accomplished without them. Great obstacles are to be overcome: and this cannot be affected without an ardour, and a devotion to the cause, which must either proceed from enthusiasm, or produce it. When this is the case, we seize with avidity what may serve our purpose, and lose the faculty of perceiving what may prove injurious. Hence that confidence, that eagerness to profit by a sudden movement, without tracing it to it’s origin, to know justly how to direct it: hence that indelicacy, if I may so say, in the concurrence of agents whom we do not esteem, but whom we permit to act, because they appear to promote the same end. D’Orleans standing singly was surely not to be feared: but his name, his relationships, his wealth, and his advisers, gave him great means: he acted unquestionably a secret part in all the popular commotions: men of pure intentions suspected it, but these ferments they deemed necessary, to raise the inert mass: they contented themselves with taking no share in them, and flattered themselves, that they should turn all to the benefit of the public: besides, they were more inclined to attribute to d’Orleans the desire of revenging himself on a court, which had despised him, and which he would be well-pleased to humble, than the design of his own elevation.
The jacobins proposed a petition to the assembly, to demand of it, to pass judgment on the traitor, who had fled: or to request it, to take the sense of the people on the punishment, which he might deserve; and in the mean time to declare, that he had lost the confidence of those of Paris. Laclos, a man of great parts, whom nature had formed for comprehensive views, and whose vices had dedicated all his faculties to intrigue; Laclos, devoted to d’Orleans, and of great weight in his council, made this proposal to the jacobins; who received it, and with whom it was abetted by some hundreds of tumultuaries and street-walkers, who tumbled from the Palais-Royal into the place of their meeting at ten o’clock at night. I saw them arrive. The society deliberated with that mob, who also voted; it decreed the substance of the petition; and it appointed a committee to draw it up, in which were Laclos and Brissot. They were employed on it that very night: for it had been resolved, that a deputation of the society should carry it to the Champ-de-Mars the next day, there to be shown to all, who might wish to examine and sign it. Laclos pretended a head-ach arising from want of sleep, which would not suffer him to hold the pen, and requested Brissot to take it; and conversing with him on the composition, he proposed, for the last article, I know not what clause, which revived royalty, and opened a door for d’Orleans. Brissot, surprised, rejected it with eagerness; and the other, an able politician, gave it up, with the pretence of not having sufficiently weighed it’s consequences: well knowing, that he could still slide it in; and in fact it did appear in the printed paper disseminated abroad as the resolution of the jacobins. But when the society, assembled the next morning to examine the petition drawn up, and send it away, was informed, that the national assembly had decided on the question of the king, it dispatched a committee to the Champ-de-Mars, to announce to the people, that the decree respecting the king having passed, the proposed petition could no longer take place. I was at the Champ-de-la-Federation* , led thither by curiosity. There were not more than two or three hundred persons dispersed about the environs of the altar of the country, from which deputies of the cordeliers, of the fraternal societies, bearing pikes with inflammatory inscriptions, harangued the by-standers, and animated their indignation against Lewis XVI. It was said, the jacobins having suppressed their petition, it was requisite, that the zealous citizens should frame another, and assemble the next day for that purpose. At this juncture the partisans of the court, feeling the necessity of striking terrour into these, combined together the means of making a grand stroke. The trains were laid in consequence; and the unexpected proclamation of martial law, and it’s prompt execution, produced what has been justly called the massacre of the Champ-de-Mars. The terrified people durst not stir: part of the national guard, seduced or deceived, seconding Lafayette, from obsequiousness to the court, or blind confidence in his pretended patriotism, served as a rampart against it’s fellow-citizens: the standard of death was displayed from the town-hall, and the whole of the revision was made under it’s influence. The establishment of the feuillans had been planned much about the same time, to weaken the jacobins; and certainly the whole proceedings of the coalition at that period evinced, how much the court and it’s partisans were superiour to their adversaries in weaving a tissue of intrigues.
I never knew affright comparable to that of Robespierre under these circumstances. There was indeed a talk of putting him on his trial, meant probably to intimidate him; and it was said, that there was a plot hatching at the Feuillans against him, and the committee, who drew up the petition at the Jacobins. Roland and I were really uneasy on his account. We drove to his house, at the farther end of the Marsh, at eleven at night, to offer him an asylum: but he had already quitted his habitation. Thence we proceeded to Buzot, to tell him, that perhaps he would do well, without leaving the society of the jacobins, to enter into that of the feuillans, to see what passed, and to be ready to defend any whom they might intend to persecute. Buzot hesitated some time, at length he said: speaking of Robespierre: ‘I would do any thing to save that unhappy young man; though I am far from entertaining the same opinion of him as some others: he thinks too much of himself, to be greatly in love with liberty; but he serves it’s cause, and that is enough for me. Yet the public must take place of him. I should be inconsistent in my principles, and give a false idea of them, if I went to the Feuillans. I have too much repugnance to a part, that would give me two faces. Grégoire is gone thither: he will let us know what passes: and nothing can be done against Robespierre, without the agency of the assembly, where I shall always be ready to defend him. For my part, I have seldom gone to the Jacobins of late, because the set grieves me, and appears more hideous in it’s noisy assemblies; but I shall be assiduous in my attendance there, as long as the voice of persecution is raised against a society, which I believe to be useful to the cause of freedom.’ These words paint the mind of Buzot: he acts, as he speaks, with truth and rectitude: his character is probity itself, arrayed in the pleasing garb of sensibility. I had distinguished him in our little committee, by the soundness of his advice, and that decided manner, which characterises a man of integrity. He lived not far from us: he had a wife, an affable woman, but not on a par with him; and we visited frequently. When the success of Roland’s mission with respect to the debt of the commune of Lyons allowed us to return to Beaujolois, we kept up a correspondence with Buzot and Robespierre. That with the former was the more regular: between us there was greater similarity, a wider foundation for friendship, and an abundance of materials to support it. It became intimate and unalterable. Elsewhere I shall say, how this connection was drawn closer.
The mission of Roland detained him seven months at Paris. We quitted that city in the middle of september, after he had obtained for Lyons all it could desire; and we spent the autumn in the country, employed in the vintage.
One of the last acts of the constituent assembly was the suppression of inspectors. We considered, whether we should determine to remain in the country, or rather spend the winter in Paris; there to prefer the claim of Roland to a pension, after having been forty years in office; and at the same time pursue his labours for the Encyclopedia, more easy in the focus of science, amidst artists and men of letters, than in the depth of a desert.
We returned to Paris in the month of december. The members of the constituent assembly had returned to their several homes. Pétion had been appointed to the mayoralty, and was wholly occupied with the cares of that office. There was no particular object to rally around: and we saw Brissot himself much less frequently. The whole of our attention centred at home. Roland’s industry led him to project the scheme of a journal of useful arts; and we sought in the pleasures of study to withdraw our minds from public affairs, the state of which appeared to us distressing. Many deputies of the legislative assembly, however, met sometimes at the house of one of them, in Vendome square; and Roland, whose patriotism and knowledge were esteemed, was invited to make one of the party: but the distance he disliked, and seldom went. One of our friends, who was there frequently, informed us, about the middle of march, that the intimidated court sought in it’s embarrassment to do something, to give it popularity; that it would have no aversion to form a jacobin ministry; and that the patriots were busied in endeavouring to make the choice fall on men of steadiness and ability; which was of the more importance, because it might only be a snare on the part of the court, which would not be sorry to have wrong-headed persons forced upon it, who might become just objects of complaint or scorn. He added, that some had thought of Roland, whose character in the learned world, ministerial knowledge, and public reputation for justice and firmness, promised stability. Roland at that time went pretty frequently to the jacobin society, and was one of it’s committee of correspondence. The idea appeared to me visionary, and made little impression on my mind.
The 21st of the same month, Brissot came to me in the evening, and repeated the same observations upon a more positive manner; asking whether Roland would consent to take such a burden on his shoulders. I replied, that, having mentioned the subject to him in the course of conversation, when it was first started, he had weighed it’s difficulties and dangers, which his zeal and activity were not then disposed to reject; but it would be necessary to examine the business more closely. The courage of Roland did not shrink: his knowledge of his own strength inspired him with a confidence of being serviceable to the cause of freedom and his country: and this answer was given to Brissot the next day.
Friday, the 23d, at eleven in the evening, he came to our house with Dumouriez; who, having just left the council, proceeded to inform Roland of his being appointed minister of the home-department, and salute him as his colleague. They remained a quarter of an hour; and a time was named for Roland to be sworn in the next day. That man, said I to my husband after their departure, speaking of Dumouriez, whom I then saw for the first time, has a subtle mind, and a deceitful look: perhaps he is more to be distrusted, than any person in the world: he has expressed great pleasure at the patriotic choice he was employed to announce, yet I shall not be surprised, if some future day he procure your dismission.—Indeed, that single view of Dumouriez exhibited him to me so very different from Roland, that I could not suppose it possible, they should long remain connected together. On the one side I beheld integrity and frankness personified, and rigid justice devoid of all the qualifications of a courtier, and of the caution of a man of the world: on the other I fancied I discovered a libertine of great parts, a hardy chevalier, who would make a jest of any thing, except his own interest and fame. It was not difficult to infer, that such elements would repel each other.
The incredible industry of Roland, his readiness in business, and his great propensity to method, soon enabled him, when minister, to arrange in his head all the branches of his department. But the principles and habits of the chief clerks rendered his employment extremely laborious. It was necessary for him to be continually on his guard, and extremely attentive, to let nothing contradictory pass; and he had perpetually to contend with his agents. He strongly felt the necessity of changing them: but he was too prudent to do this, before he had become familiar with affairs, and secured persons to supply their places. With respect to the council, it’s sittings resembled rather the conversations of a private company, than the deliberations of statesmen. Each minister carried to it orders and proclamations to be signed; and the minister of justice presented decrees to be sanctioned. The king read the gazette; put questions to each, respecting his own concerns, thus artfully displaying that kind of interest respecting them all, of which the great know how to make a merit; talked like a good sort of man about affairs in general; and at every turn professed, with an air of frankness, his desire to maintain the constitution. I have seen Roland and Claviere almost enchanted for three weeks with the king’s disposition, crediting him on his own word, and rejoicing, like honest-hearted men, at the turn things must take. ‘Good God!’ said I to them: ‘when I see you set out for the council in this unsuspecting disposition, you always seem to me on the brink of committing some folly.’—I could never put faith in the constitutional vocation of a king born and brought up to despotism, and accustomed to exercise it. Lewis XVI must have been a man far beyond the common race of mortals, to be sincerely the friend of a constitution, that restrained his power: and had he been such a man, he would never have permitted the arrival of those events, which brought on the constitution.
The first time Roland appeared at court, the plainness of his apparel, his round hat, and shoes tied with ribbands, astonished and offended all the valets; those beings, who, their existence depending solely on etiquette, believe the safety of the state depends on it’s preservation. The master of the ceremonies, approaching Dumouriez with an alarmed countenance and contracted brow, whispered him, glancing a look at Roland from the corner of his eye: ‘why, sir! he has no buckles in his shoes!’—‘Ah! sir: all is lost!’ answered Dumouriez, with a gravity fit to make any one burst with laughter.
A council was held four times a week: the ministers having agreed to dine together in turn on these days, on friday they met at my table. Degrave was then minister at war. He was a little man, in every sense of the word: nature had formed him gentle and timid; his prejudices prompted him to be lofty; his heart inspired him with the desire of being amiable; and endeavouring to reconcile these, he became in reality nothing. Methinks I see him walking with the gait of a courtier, his head erect on his slight body, displaying the whites of his blue eyes, which he cannot keep open after dinner without the aid of two or three cups of coffee, speaking little, as through reserve, but in reality for want of ideas; and at length so bewildering himself in the affairs of his department, as to ask leave to retire. Lacoste, a true clerk in office of the ancient order, of which he had the insignificant and awkward look, frigid air, and dogmatic tone, wanted none of those advantages which arise from being hackneyed in business: but his close exteriour concealed a violence of temper, the excesses of which when he was contradicted were ridiculous: and he had neither the activity, nor extensive views, necessary for a minister. Duranthon, who had been called from Bourdeaux to be made minister of justice, was an honest man, they say, but very indolent. His air was vain; and his timid disposition, and pompous tattle, made him always appear to me an old woman. Clavière, reputed able in finance before he was minister, has skill in that subject, I believe, of which I am no judge. Active and industrious, naturally irascible, obstinate, as most men are, who live much in the retirement of the closet, cavilling and stiff in debate, could not avoid clashing with Roland, dry and peremptory in dispute, and not less attached to his opinions. These two men were formed to esteem, without ever loving each other; and they did not belie their destiny. Dumouriez had of what is called parts more than all, and of morality less than any one of them. Diligent and brave, a good general, an able courtier, writing well, delivering himself with fluency, and capable of great undertakings, he wanted only more consistency of mind, or a cooler head to follow the plan he had conceived. Pleasant with his friends, and ready to deceive them all; gallant with women, but by no means calculated to succeed with those, whom a tender intercourse might seduce; he was formed for ministerial intrigue, and a corrupt court. His brilliant qualities, and the interest of his fame, gave room for a persuasion, that he might be employed with advantage in the army of the republic: and perhaps he would have proceeded in the right path, if the convention had been prudent; for he is too able not to act like an honest man, when it would promote his interest and reputation.
Degrave was succeeded by Servan, an honest man, in the fullest signification of the term, of an ardent temper and pure manners, with all the austerity of a philosopher, and the benevolence of a feeling heart, an enlightened patriot, a brave soldier, a vigilant minister, he needed only more coolness of mind, and more strength of character.
The troubles on the score of religion, and the dispositions of foreign enemies, calling for decisive decrees, the refusal of sanctioning them completely stripped off the veil from Louis XVI; whose good faith was already strongly suspected by those of his ministers, who had been induced to believe it real. At first the refusal was not positive: the king would consider the subject: he put off the sanction till the following council, and always found reasons still to defer it. These procrastinations gave the ministers room to declare their sentiments boldly. Roland and Servan, in particular, insisted without ceasing, and uttered the most striking truths with great energy.
Their situation became critical: the commonwealth was in danger: it was requisite, that the really patriotic ministers should obtain what was necessary to save it, or retire, that they might not be assisting in it’s ruin. Roland proposed to his colleagues a letter to the king to this effect. Claviere cavilled at it’s expressions. Duranthon, who liked his place, was unwilling to risk it’s loss, if he could retain it, without being a traitor confest. Lacoste did not approve of strong measures; and the will of the king appeared to him, at bottom, the best of all rules. Dumouriez left them to debate, and attended to his own cards. He meditated revenge, for what he considered as a trick: the fact was as follows.
A certain rumour, which is not indeed the opinion of the public, but which precedes and indicates it, prevailed against Bonnecarrere, whom Dumouriez had made director-general of the department of foreign affairs. He had the reputation of an intriguer, and possessed the talents, disposition, and manners of one: at least so I have heard men of probity say, who related some circumstances of his life, and lamented the choice Dumouriez had made.
The report was spread of some place being bestowed, or affair settled, by Bonnecarrere, at the price of a hundred thousand livres [£4167], part of which was to be given to madam de Beauvert, the mistress of Dumouriez; who lived in his house, and presided at his table, to the great displeasure of men of sense, who were friends to morals and to liberty. For this licentiousness in a servant of the public, charged with affairs of state, too strongly showed a contempt of decorum; and madam de Beauvert, sister of Rivarol, well known to his discredit, was surrounded with imps of the aristocracy, little to be commended on any account. Had not the conduct of Dumouriez been blamable on principle, it was impolitic, and calculated to excite suspicion.
I was frequently visited by Brissot, and several other members of the legislative assembly. At my house they frequently met the ministers; and kept up that kind of intimacy with them, which is requisite amongst men, who, devoted to the cause of the public, have need of understanding and informing one another, to serve it the more effectually. The story of Bonnecarrere was related to one of them: the person told the names of the parties concerned, and the notary in whose hands the money was deposited, or who was appointed to receive it. The particulars have escaped my memory. I only recollect, that two men of character came to my house to aver them in the presence of three or four deputies, one of whom, a friend of Dumouriez, had desired to hear the whole from their mouths. It was resolved to repeat to Dumouriez, with a degree of solemnity, what had already been represented to him in private, on the necessity, both for the public good and his own, of making his conduct, and the choice of his agents, more conformable to the political principles, which he professed to entertain. The conversation in consequence took place in the presence of his colleagues and three or four deputies. Roland, availing himself of the liberty, to which his years and character entitled him, pointed out to Dumouriez the importance of his conducting himself with more strictness and prudence. Every one agreed, that this action of Bonnecarrere ought to open his eyes respecting the director-general, and determine him to bestow the place on another. Dumouriez, whom the talents of Bonnecarrere wellsuited, and who gave himself little concern on the score of morality, listened to the remarks of his friends with great indifference, and at length rejected them with anger. From that moment he discontinued to see the deputies, was more cool to his colleagues, and no doubt thought only of displacing those, whose gravity most displeased him. I foresaw the effect of this conference, and said to Roland: ‘if you were an intriguer, capable of modelling your conduct after the errours of the ancient court and it’s practice, I would say, that the moment is come, to ruin Dumouriez, lest he play you some ill turn.’ But honest men understand not this petty warfare; and Roland was as incapable of having recourse to it, as ill-fitted to conduct it.
The postponement of the sanction became a refusal: the utmost verge of delay was at hand. We felt, that, the council not possessing sufficient unity and vigour to deliver it’s sentiments in a body, it befitted the integrity and courage of Roland, to advance alone; and between us we concluded on his famous letter to the king. He had carried it with him to the council, to read it openly, the very day when the king, pressed anew for his sanction, required each of his ministers to give him his opinion written and signed, and quickly diverted the conversation to other affairs. Roland returned home, added a few missive lines to his letter, and delivered the whole into the hands of the king the 11th of june in the morning.
The next day, the 12th, in the evening, Servan came to our house with a smiling countenance, and said to me: ‘give me joy: I have the honour of being dismissed.’—‘My husband, then,’ replied I, ‘will soon share it; and I am a little piqued, that you take the lead.’—He related to me, that, having gone to the king in the morning on some private affairs, he had spoken to him with warmth on the necessity of the camp of twenty thousand men, if he meant sincerely to oppose the designs of the enemy; that the king turned his back upon him in very ill humour; and that Dumouriez, at the instant, came from the war-office, whither he had gone to take his portfolio, in virtue of an order, of which he was the bearer.—‘Dumouriez?’—‘Yes: he is acting a vile part; but I am not surprised at it.’—The three preceding days Dumouriez had been frequently at the Tuileries, and held long conferences with the queen; with whom, it may not be impertinent to observe, Bonnecarrere had some interest, through the women. Roland, informed that Servan was in my apartment, quitted the persons to whom he was giving audience, heard what had occurred, and invited his colleagues, Dumouriez excepted, to come to him.
It was Roland’s opinion, that they should not wait for their dismission: but, that of Servan being pronounced, it became all, who professed the same principles, to offer their resignations; unless the king recalled Servan, and dismissed Dumouriez, with whom they could no longer sit at the council-table. Had the four ministers acted thus, the court, I have no doubt, would have been a little embarrassed to replace them, Lacoste and Duranthon would have done themselves honour, and the affair would have been rendered more striking to the public: but it became so in a different manner.
The ministers arrived, and deliberated together, without coming to any resolution, except that they should meet the next morning at eight, and Roland should prepare a letter in the mean time. I could never have believed, had not circumstances brought me to experience it, how rarely correctness of judgment and firmness of character are to be found; consequently how few men are fit for the management of affairs, and still less to govern. Would you have these two qualities united to perfect disinterestedness in one man, he is the phenix, scarcely possible to be found. It is no longer surprising to me, that men superiour to the vulgar, and placed at the head of empires, commonly entertain a sovereign contempt for their species: it is the almost inevitable consequence of an extensive knowledge of the world; and to escape the faults, into which it may lead them, to whom the happiness of nations is entrusted, requires an extraordinary fund of philosophy and magnanimity.
Their appointment the ministers kept. They hesitated about the letter; and at length concluded, that it would be better to go to the king, and declare their sentiments in person. This expedient appeared to me a mode of eluding the business: a man cannot speak so forcibly as he can write to a person, whom, from his rank, and the power of custom, he would treat with great respect. It was agreed to call on Lacoste, who had not yet made his appearance, and to take him with them, or at least to propose to him to join the rest. Scarcely had these gentlemen assembled together at the navy-office, when a message came from the king to Duranthon, ordering him to repair alone to the palace immediately. Claviere and Roland said, they would wait his return at the chancery. It was not long before Duranthon arrived; and silently, with a long face, and an hypocritical appearance of sorrow, drew slowly from his pocket an order from the king for each of the other two.—‘Give them us;’ said Roland, with a smile: ‘I perceive our dilatoriness has made us lose the start.’—In fact he brought their dismissions.
‘I am dismissed too:’ said my husband to me on his return.—‘I hope,’ replied I, ‘that you merit it more than any other: but do not by any means allow the king to announce it to the assembly: and since he has not profited by the lesson given him in your letter, it should be rendered useful to the public, by making it acquainted with it’s contents. Nothing appears to me more consistent with the courage of having written it, than the hardihood of sending a copy of it to the assembly: in hearing of your dismission, it should be acquainted with it’s cause.’
This idea could not be other than highly pleasing to my husband. It was adopted: and the world knows how the assembly honoured the three ministers, by declaring, that they carried with them the regret of the nation; as it approved the letter, by ordering it to be printed, and sent to the departments. In my own mind I am convinced, and I think the event has demonstrated, that the letter of Roland contributed greatly to enlighten France: it exhibited to the king, with so much force and wisdom, what his own interest required him to perform, that it was natural to infer, he would not have refused his compliance, were he not determined to oppose the maintenance of the constitution.
When I recollect, that Pache was in Roland’s closet, when we read the copy of that letter, and deemed it a bold step; when I reflect how often that man has witnessed our enthusiasm in the cause of liberty, and our zeal to serve it; and now see him at the head of that arbitrary authority, which oppresses us and persecutes us as the enemies of the republic: I ask myself, whether I be awake, or whether the dream must not terminate in the punishment of that infamous hypocrite.
Thus we returned to private life. Perhaps I shall be asked, whether I never had any more circumstantial account of the manner, in which Roland was called to the ministry. This I can affirm I have not; and even that it never occurred to me, to inquire further concerning it: for it appeared to me to be brought about in the same way, in which so many other things are in this world; the idea occurred to some one, many approved it, and thus supported it reached some person capable of carrying it into effect. I saw, that it had struck some of the deputies: who first proposed it, I know not, or by whom it was imparted to the court. Roland neither knew more of it, nor gave himself farther concern about it, than I. When a successor to Degrave was thought of for the war department, the ministers and patriotic deputies did not know whom to select. Almost all the officers of the army, of any repute, were supposed enemies to the constitution. Roland thought of Servan, who was in the service, and had obtained the cross of St. Lewis; and whose principles were not dubious, for he had displayed them before the revolution, in a performance much applauded, The Citizen Soldier: we knew him personally; having seen him at Lyons, where he had the not unmerited reputation of an active and sagacious man: finally, in 1790 he had lost a place at court, where his civism was not agreeable to Guynard-St.-Priest. These considerations led the members of the council to join in proposing him to the king, by whom he was accepted.
When my husband became minister, I imposed it on myself as a law, neither to pay or receive visits, nor invite to my table any female. I had no great sacrifices to make on this head: for, not residing constantly at Paris, my circle was far from extensive; and besides, I had no where kept a great deal of company, for I am as fond of study, as I am averse to cards, and the society of silly people affords me no pleasure. Accustomed to spend my days in domestic retirement, I shared the labours of Roland, and cultivated my own particular tastes. The establishment of this strict rule, therefore, sheltered me from the inconveniences, to which an interested crowd exposes persons connected with great places, and enabled me to live in my own way. Of company I had never, to speak properly, any circle. Twice a week I received at my table some of the deputies, and of the ministers, and persons with whom it was necessary for my husband to converse, or keep up his connections. Business was talked of before me; because I had no desire of interfering in it, and was not surrounded with company to occasion distrust. From all the rooms of a spacious apartment I had chosen, for my common habitation, the smallest salon, forming a closet, in which I had placed my books and a bureau. It often happened, that some of the friends or colleagues of the minister, wanting to speak to him privately, would come to my apartment, instead of going to his, where he was surrounded by his clerks or the public, and request me to send for him. Thus I was acquainted with the course of affairs, without intrigue or idle curiosity. Roland also took pleasure in conversing with me about them afterwards in private, with that confidence, which always reigned between us, and made of our knowledge and opinions one common stock. It happened, too, sometimes, that Friends, who had only a piece of information to communicate, or a word to say, always sure of finding me, came to desire me to communicate it to him the first opportunity.
It had been found necessary to counterbalance the influence of the court, the aristocracy, the civil list, and the papers on their side, by popular instructions of great publicity. A daily paper, to be posted up in the strects, seemed well calculated for this purpose: but then it was necessary to find a judicious and enlightened man, capable of following up events, and exhibiting them in their proper colours, to conduct it. Louvet, already known as an author, a man of letters, and a politician, was mentioned, approved, and accepted the office. A fund also was requisite for it’s support: this was another affair. Petion himself had none for the police: yet this was indispensable in a city like Paris, and in such a state of things, when it was of importance to have people in pay, in order to be informed in time of what might happen, or what was contriving. To have obtained any thing from the assembly would have been difficult; as the demand would have given the alarm to the partisans of the court, and met many obstacles. It occurred, that Dumouriez, who had a fund for secret expenses in the department of foreign affairs, might allow a monthly sum to the mayor of Paris for the police, and that from this should be defrayed the cost of the paper, of which the minister of the home department should have the superintendance. The expedient was simple, and was adopted. This was the origin of the Sentinel.
In the course of july, perceiving affairs daily grow worse through the perfidy of the court, the progress of the foreign troops, and the weakness of the assembly, we considered where threatened liberty could take refuge. We frequently conversed with Barbaroux and Servan on the excellent disposition of the south, of the energy of the departments in that region, and of the advantages it’s situation afforded for establishing a republic, if the triumphant court should subjugate Paris and the north. We took a map, and traced the line of demarcation. Servan studied the military positions it offered: we calculated it’s strength: we investigated the nature of it’s produce, and the means of altering it: each recollected places, or persons, of whom we might expect the support; and insisted, that, after a revolution affording such grand hopes, we must not relapse into slavery, but strain every nerve to establish somewhere a free government. ‘That must be our resource,’ said Barbaroux, ‘if the marseillese, whom I accompanied hither, be not sufficiently seconded by the parisians to subdue the court. I hope, however, that they will effect it, and that we shall have a convention, which will give a republican government to all France.’
We immediately perceived, without his explaining himself farther, that an insurrection was ripening; which appeared inevitable, since the court was making preparations, that indicated a design of enforcing submission. There are, who will say, these were made in it’s own defence: but the idea of attack would not have entered into the imagination of any one, or at least would not have been embraced by the people in general, if the court had sincerely co-operated in carrying the constitution into effect: for, though aware of all it’s defects, the most strenuous republicans desired nothing more than that constitution at the moment, and would have quietly awaited it’s improvement from time and experience.
It is true, that, at the period of a revolution, there will always be found, particularly amongst a corrupt people, and in large cities, a class of men destitute of the advantages of fortune, yet covetous of her favours, and eager to extort them at any price, or accustomed to supply them by means little consonant with equity. If a daring mind, courageous disposition, and some native talents, distinguish one of these, he becomes the chief, or leader, of a turbulent band; quickly recruited by all those, who, having nothing to lose, are ready to attempt any thing; by all the dupes, they have art to make; and by certain individuals, disseminated among them by domestic politicians or foreign powers, interested in something divisions, to weaken those who are agitated by them, and afterwards turn them to their own advantage.
The patriotic societies, those collections of men assembled to deliberate on their rights and interests, have exhibited to us a picture in miniature of what passes in the great society of the nation.
First we have a few men of ardent dispositions, strongly penetrated with a sense of the public danger, and seeking with sincerity to prevent it. These the philosophers join, from a persuasion, that this junction is necessary, to overturn the dominion of tyranny, and propagate principles beneficial to their fellow-creatures. In effect, grand truths are unfolded, and rendered common; generous sentiments are roused and diffused; the impulse is given to men’s heads and hearts. Then come forward individuals, who, reclothing principles, and adopting a language calculated to procure their reception, seek to captivate the favour of the public, in order to obtain consequence or places. These refine upon truths, to render themselves more conspicuous; heat the imagination by exaggerated pictures; flatter the passions of the populace, ever ready to admire the gigantic; urge it to measures, in which they make themselves useful, that they may be always thought necessary; and finish with endeavouring to excite suspicion against those prudent or enlightened men, of whose merit they are afraid, and with whom they could not stand in competition. Calumny, at first employed by them without art, learns, from the humiliation it receives, to erect itself into a system: it becomes a profound science, in which they and their fellows alone can succeed.
Unquestionably many of this stamp threw themselves into the popular party against the court; ready to serve it for money, and as ready to betray it, if it should become the weaker side. The court pretended to believe all such who opposed it’s designs, and was fond of confounding them under the appellation of the factious. The true patriots suffered this noisy pack to take it’s course, as so many setting dogs; and perhaps were not sorry to employ it as a forlorn hope, that sacrificed itself to the enemy. Their hatred of despotism allowed them not to reflect, that, if it be allowable in politics, to suffer good things to be effected by ill men, or to profit by their excesses for some useful end; it is infinitely dangerous, to ascribe to them the honour of the one, or not to punish them for the other.
All the world is acquainted with the revolution of the 10th of august. I know no more concerning it than the public: for, though I was instructed in the grand course of affairs whilst Roland was in office, and attended to it with interest when he was no longer in place, I never was a considant of what might be termed little manœuvres, as he was never an agent in such.
Recalled to the ministry at that period, he entered it with fresh hopes for liberty. It is great pity, said we, that the council is spoilt by that Danton, who has such a bad repute. Some friends, to whom I whispered the remark, said: ‘what would you do? he has been of service in the revolution, and the people love him: we have no occasion to create malecontents, and we must derive from him all the good we can.’—It was well said: but it is much easier not to afford a man the means of influence, than to prevent his abusing it. There began the faults of the patriots: the instant the court was subdued, an excellent council should have been formed, all the members of which being irreproachable in their conduct, and distinguished for their knowledge, should have set forward the government with dignity, and impressed foreign powers with respect. To admit Danton into office, was to deluge the government with the men I have depicted above; who harass it, when not employed by it, and corrupt and debase it, when they participate in it’s operations. But who was there, to make these reflections? who would have dared to communicate, and openly maintain them? The choice was determined by the assembly, or it’s committee of twenty-one; in which there were many men of merit; but not one leader; not one of those beings such as Mirabeau, formed to command the vulgar, to condense into one focus the opinions of the wife, and to present them with that force of genius, which compels obedience the moment it is displayed.
They did not know whom to place at the head of the navy. Condorcet mentioned Monge, because he had seen him solve geometrical problems at the academy of sciences; and Monge was chosen. This was a sort of original, very well calculated to play tricks in the manner of the bears, that I have seen dance in the ditches of the town of Berne. There cannot be a clumsier jack-pudding, or less formed for pleasantry. Formerly a stone-cutter at Mézières, where abbe Bossuet encouraged him, and set him to study mathematics, he advanced himself by dint of industry, and ceased to visit his benefactor, as soon as he began to entertain hopes of becoming his equal. A good kind of man, however, or knowing enough to acquire the reputation of being so, in a little circle, the most satyrical members of which would not have amused themselves with holding him up as merely possessing a dull and confined understanding. Still he passed for an honest man, and a friend of the revolution: whilst it was so difficult to find people of capacity, and so many had proved traitors, that it began to be seemed sufficient, if dependance could be placed on a man’s principles. I need not speak of his ministry: the deplorable state of our navy too plainly evinces his incapacity and nothingness.
The first care of Roland was to make that reform in his office, of which he had felt the necessity. He collected about him industrious, enlightened men, of firm principles: and, had he accomplished nothing more, he would have done great benefit in that branch of administration. He hastened to write to all the departments, with that force which reason gives, that authority which belongs to truth, and that patheticalness which results from feeling. His letters displayed to them the new destiny of France, in the revolution of the tenth of august; and the necessity for all parties to rally round justice, which prevents all excesses; liberty, which produces the happiness of all; good order, which alone can insure it; and the legislative body, as charged with the expression of the common will. Those administrative bodies, which appeared to hesitate, were suspended, or broken. Great dispatch in business, and the most active and extensive correspondence, diffused through all parts a similar spirit, restored confidence, and re-animated the interiour of the kingdom.
Danton scarcely suffered a day to pass without visiting me. At one time he would come to the council a little before the time, and would enter my apartment; or would stay a little after it, commonly with Fabre-d’Eglantine: at another he would invite himself to dinner with me, on days when I was not accustomed to see company, to converse with Roland about some business.
It is impossible to show more zeal, or a greater love of liberty, and desire of unanimity with his colleagues to serve it most effectually, than he displayed. Contemplating his forbidding and savage features, though I would say to myself, that no one should be judged at sight, that I was not certain of any thing against him, that the most honest man must have two characters when party ran high, and that appearances were not to be trusted, I could not bring myself to associate the idea of a good man with such a countenance. I never saw any thing, that so perfectly characterised the violence of brutal passions, and the most astonishing audacity, half cloked under a jovial air, with the affectation of frankness and a sort of simplicity. My lively imagination represents to me every person, with whom I am struck, in the action I think suitable to his character. I cannot see for half an hour a face a little out of the common track, without arraying it in the garb of some profession, or giving it some part, the idea of which it revives or impresses on my mind. This imagination has often figured to me Danton, with a dagger in his hand, encouraging by his voice and action a troop of assassins, more timid or less serocious than himself: or, satisfied with his crimes, indicating his habits and propensities by the gestures of a Sardanapalus. I would defy an expert painter, not to find in the person of Danton all the requisites for such a composition.
Could I confine myself to a regular path, instead of abandoning my pen to the wandering course of a mind, that ranges at large over the field of events, I would have taken up Danton at the beginning of 1789, a poor counsellor, more burdened with debts than causes; and whose wife has said, that she could not have kept house, without the assistance of a guinea a week from her father. I would have exhibited him just coming out at the section, they termed the district, and making himself noticed by the strength of his lungs: a great sectary of the Orleans party; acquiring a sort of competence in the course of that year, without his being perceived to do any thing to gain it; and obtaining a little celebrity by excesses, which Lafayette would have punished, but which he artfully turned to his own advantage, by procuring himself to be protected by the section, which he had rendered turbulent. I should remark him declaiming with success in the popular societies, setting himself up for the defender of the rights of all, and declaring, that he would accept no place of profit, till after the revolution; yet filling that of substitute to the solicitor of the commune; preparing to build his influence at the Jacobins on the ruins of that of the Lameths; appearing on the tenth of august with those who returned from the palace* ; and arriving at the ministry, as a tribune in favour with the people, to whom it was necessary to give the satisfaction of seeing him hold a share in the government. From that period his progress was as rapid as bold. He attached to himself by largesses, or protected by his influence, those greedy and miserable men, who are the slaves of vice or want: he pointed out the men he dreaded, that their ruin might be effected: he paid the writers, and set on the enthusiasts, whom he destined to worry them: he refined on the revolutionary inventions of blind patriots, or adroit knaves: he framed, decreed, and caused to be carried into execution, schemes capable of striking terrour, removing numerous obstacles, amassing heaps of wealth, and misleading the public opinions on all these things. By his intrigues he formed the electoral body, which he openly swayed by his agents, and named the deputation from Paris to the convention, of which he became a member. To Belgium he went to augment his treasures; and had the boldness to avow a fortune of 1400000 livres [£.58333], wallow in luxury, whilst preaching up sans-culolitme, and sleep on mountains of dead bodies.
As to Fabre d’Eglantine, muffled in a cowl, armed with a dagger, employed in laying snares for the innocent, whose character he would defame, or to destroy the rich, whose wealth he covets, he is so perfectly in his character, that whoever would paint the most abandoned hypocrite, need only draw his portrait thus accoutred.
These two men sought much to make me deliver my sentiments by talking patriotism. On this subject I had nothing to conceal, or dissemble: I avow my principles equally to those, whom I suppose to participate in them, and those, whom I suspect of others less pure: to those from confidence, to these from pride; for I disdain to practise reserve, even under the pretence or hope of better penetrating the mind of another. I form an opinion of men from their appearance; and I judge of them by their conduct at various times compared with their language: but myself I exhibit entire, and leave no room to doubt of what I really am.
As soon as the assembly had passed of it’s own accord a decree, which allowed the minister of the home department 100000 livres [£.4167], to defray the expenses of useful publications, Danton, and Fabre particularly, asked me by way of conversation, whether Roland were prepared on that point, had writers in readiness to employ, &c. I answered, that he was no stranger to those, who had already made themselves known: that such of the periodical works as were of a right temper would point out the publications, which it was proper to encourage: that it would be adviseable to see their authors; to form a meeting of them sometimes, that they might be acquainted with facts, the knowledge of which it would be useful to disseminate, and agree on the most efficacious method of leading men’s minds to the same point. That if either of them, Fabre or Danton, knew any in particular, they should mention them, and come with them to the minister; where they might converse, once a week for instance, on what ought more especially to occupy their pens under the existing circumstances.
‘We have a scheme,’ answered Fabre, ‘for a paper to be posted up, to be entitled Compte rendu au Peuple souverain, “An Account to the sovereign People,” which shall exhibit a sketch of the late revolution, and in which Camille-Desmoulins, Robert, and some others, will write.’—‘Very well! you must introduce them to Roland.’—This he took care not to do, and spoke no more of the paper; which however was begun, as soon as the assembly had given the council two millions [£.83333] for secret expenses. Danton said to his colleagues, that it was fit each minister should have the employment of a portion of this sum in his own department; but those of the home department and foreign affairs having already similar funds, this should be at the disposal of the other four, who would thus have each so many hundred thousand livres. Roland strongly objected to this proposal. He showed, that the design of the assembly had been, to give the executive power, at this critical period, all the necessary means of acting with promptitude: that the council collectively was to decide on the employment of this fund, at the demand, and on the objects brought forward by each: and declared, that, for his own part, he would never make any use of it, without the approbation of the council, to whom the sum was intrusted, and to whom it belonged to know how it was applied* . Danton replied, swore according to custom, and talked of the revolution, of grand measures, of secresy, and of freedom. The others, seduced perhaps by the pleasure of playing each his own game, declared for his opinion; contrary to all justice, delicacy, and sound policy; and in spite of the protests of Roland, and his resolute opposition, the rigidity of which gave displeasure. Danton quickly drew his hundred thousand crowns [£.20833] out of the public treasury, and did with them what he thought proper: yet this did not prevent his obtaining from Servan 60000 l. [£2500], and from Lebrun more, out of the secret funds of their departments, under different pretences. To the assembly he never gave any account; contenting himself with affirming, that he had accounted to the council: and to this council he only said, at a meeting at which Roland was not present on account of indisposition, that he had given twenty thousand livres to one, ten to another, and so of the rest, on account of the revolution, for their patriotism, and the like.
Thus Servan related the story to me. The council, interrogated by the assembly on the subject, to the question, whether Danton had given them any account, answered simply yes. But Danton had acquired so much power, that these timid men were afraid to offend him.
Immediately after the retirement of Servan, Danton, no longer finding any opposition from the war-office, poisoned the army with cordeliers, as cowardly as avaricious; who promoted plunder and devastation; rendered the soldiers as ferocious to their countrymen as to their enemies; made the revolution odious to the neighbouring people, by excesses of all kinds, which they practised in the name of the republic; and, every where preaching insubordination, prepared the misfortunes since experienced.
After this no one will be astonished to hear, that Danton, wanting to send into Brittany one of his creatures, under pretence of visiting the sea-ports and examining the inspectors, prevailed on the navy-minister to give him a commission. But commissions of this kind required the signature of all the members of the council, and Roland refused his. ‘Either,’ said he to Monge, ‘they, whom you employ, do their duty, or they do not; and of this you are competent to judge. If they do not, dismiss them without hesitation: if they do, why damp their zeal and insult them, by sending to them a stranger, who has no connexion with the office, and would only prove your distrust. Such a proceeding is by no means fitted for the character of a minister; and I will not sign the commission.’ The sitting of the council was drawn to some length: towards the end papers to be signed became numerous: Roland perceived, that he had put his name, after those of all his colleagues, to the commission he had refused to sign, which had been slidden into his hand. He cancelled it, therefore, and up-braided Monge, who whispered him: ‘it is Danton’s desire: if I refuse, he will denounce me to the commune, to the cordeliers, and will get me hanged.’—‘Well! I, a minister, would die before I would yield to such considerations.’
The bearer of this commission was arrested in Brittany, by order of an administration offended with his conduct. The cancelled signature of Roland appeared to it a sufficient motive, to examine the conduct of the bearer narrowly; and there were heavy complaints against him: but it was at the end of the year, when the mountain openly took the part of all anarchists; and it procured a decree, that Guermeur should be set at liberty.
I have suffered myself to be hurried away by circumstances; let me now resume the chain of facts.
Danton and Fabre ceased to visit me towards the latter end of august. No doubt they were cautious of exposing themselves to attentive eyes, when they chanted the matins of september; and they were sufficiently informed of the disposition of Roland and those about him. A firm, noble, and open disposition, strict principles, displayed without ostentation, yet unconstrained, and an even and regular conduct, were conspicuous to every eye. Hence they concluded, that Roland was an honest man, with whom there was nothing to be done in enterprises like their’s: that his wife had no weak place, by means of which he could be swayed: that equally firm in her principles, she possessed perhaps more of that penetration peculiar to her sex, which deceitful people have most reason to fear. Perhaps too they guessed, that she could sometimes wield a pen; and that such a couple, of strong reason, firm character, and some talents, might be injurious to their designs, and were fit only to be ruined. The course of events, illustrated by a number of circumstances, which it would be difficult for me to detail at present, but of which a lively impression remains on my mind, gives to these conjectures all the evidence of demonstration.
One of the first measures thought proper to be taken by the council was, to dispatch to the departments commissioners, instructed to explain the events of the 10th of august, and particularly to rouse the minds of the people to prepare for defence, be expeditious in raising the necessary recruits for the armies opposed to the enemy on the frontiers, &c. When it was agreed to send them, and the subject of choosing proper agents came to be discussed, Roland demanded to have till the next day to consider whom he could propose.—‘I will take it all upon myself:’ cried Danton: ‘the commune of Paris will furnish us with excellent patriots.’—The indolent majority of the council intrusted to him the care of pointing them out: and the next day he came to the council with commissions ready made; so that nothing more was necessary, than to fill them up with the names he presented, and sign them. The council examined them very little, and affixed their signatures, without debating the subject. Thus a swarm of men scarcely known; intriguers of sections, or bawlers of clubs; patriots from sublimation, and still more from interest; for the most part destitute of any mode of getting a livelihood, except what they might assume, or hope to acquire, in public commotions; but completely devoted to Danton their protector, and enamoured of his manners and licentious doctrines; became the representatives of the executive council throughout the departments of France.
This business always appeared to me one of the grandest party-strokes of Danton, and most humiliating lessons for the council.
It is necessary to reflect, how fully each minister was already occupied in the affairs of his own department, in those turbulent times, to conceive how it could be possible, that honest men, by no means destitute of capacity, could have acted with such inconsideration. The fact is, the ministers of the home, naval, and military departments, were so burdened with multiplicity of business, that particular affairs too completely absorbed their thoughts, to allow them time to reflect on the grand outlines of the political system. The council ought to have been composed of men, whose sole employment should be to deliberate on affairs, not to carry them into execution. Danton filled that post, where least was to be done: besides, he gave himself little concern about executing the duties of his office, which he scarcely permitted to occupy any part of his attention. His clerks turned the wheel, he trusted to them his hand, and the machine went on, just as it could, without giving him any anxiety. All his time and attention were dedicated to intrigues, and calculations, to promote his views of augmenting his wealth and power. At the war-office he was continually procuring his own creatures to be placed with the armies: he found means to get them concerned in the contracts for it of every kind: he neglected no quarter, in which he could advance these men, the dregs of a corrupted nation, of which they rose the scum during the political ferment, at the top of which they must swim for a time: with these he augmented his credit, and made himself a faction, that soon became powerful, for it is now paramount.
The enemy advanced on our territories. It’s progress became alarming. Men, who would lead the people, and who have studied the means of swaying them, know fear to be one of the most powerful. This affection places them, who experience it, in complete subjection to them, who permit it to have no influence on their minds. How great the advantage of those, who designedly inspire it by false rumours or pretences! This calculation had assuredly been made by the instigators of the proceedings of september: they must have had the twofold object of producing a tumult, under favour of which, the violation of the prisons, and massacre of the prisoners, would afford them an opportunity of satiating their private animosities, and gratifying their avarice by plunder; and at the same time of spreading abroad that kind of stupor, during which the little band of daring and ambitious men might lay the foundations of their power. Inferiour agents were not difficult to be gained by the lure of profit: the pretence of immolating supposed traitors, from whom conspiracies would be professed to be dreaded, must seduce some weak heads, deceive the people, and serve to justify the action: whence the directors would obtain the blind devotion of their amply-paid satellites, the attachment of all who shared the profits with their leaders, and the submission of the intimidated people, surprised at the energy, or persuaded of the justice of an operation, to which it would be enchained, by having it represented as it’s own work. Thus whoever durst afterwards reprobate these crimes was proclaimed a calumniator of the city of Paris, pointed out as such to the fury of a certain class of it’s inhabitants, and styled a federalist, and a conspirator. Such was the crime of the twenty-two, joined to the unpardonable guilt of superiority.
A report of the taking of Verdun was loudly propagated on the first of september, with great alarm. The officiating preacher to the mob affirmed the enemy to be in full march to Chalons. To listen to them it would be at Paris in three days: and the people, who considered nothing but the distance, without estimating every thing necessary to the march of an army, for it’s provision, baggage, and artillery, and all that render it’s progress so very different from that of an individual, already beheld the foreign troops pillaging the smoking ruins of the capital.
Nothing was neglected, that could inflame the imagination, amplify objects, or augment the apprehension of danger. It was not difficult to obtain from the assembly some measures adapted to promote the design. Domiciliary visits, under the pretence of searching for arms concealed, or discovering persons suspected, which have become so frequent since the tenth of august, were decreed as general procedures, and executed in the dead of the night. They gave occasion to fresh and numerous captions, and unheard of vexations. The commune of the tenth; composed in great part of those men, who, having nothing to lose, have every thing to gain by a revolution; already guilty of a thousand enormities; had need of committing more; for the accumulation of crimes alone can secure impunity. The misfortunes of the country were solemnly announced. The signal of distress, the black flag, was hoisted on the tower of the metropolitan church. The alarm-gun was fired. The commune proclaimed, by sound of trumpet, a general assembly of the citizens, on sunday, the 2d, in the Champ-de-Mars, to rally round the altar of the nation those zealous patriots, who would immediately set off for it’s defence. Yet it directed the gates to be shut, and no one was struck with the contradictoriness of these proceedings. The talk was of a conspiracy forming in the prisons by the aristocrats (or the rich), who were confined in them in great numbers; and of the uneasiness and repugnance of the people to quit their hearths, and leave behind them those ravenous wolves, who, soon unchained, would fall upon all they had left behind them most dear.
At the first symptoms of commotion, the minister of the home-department, whose it is to watch over the general tranquillity, but who has not the immediate exercise of power, or employment of force, wrote in a pressing manner to the commune, in the person of the mayor, to urge on it the vigilance, it ought to display. He contented himself not with this: he addressed himself to the commandant-general, to exhort him to strengthen the posts, and keep an eye on the prisons. He did more, hearing, that the prisons were threatened, he officially required him to guard them with care, making his head responsible for events: and to give more efficacy to a requisition, to which his authority was restrained, he caused it to be printed and posted up at the corner of every street. This was directing the citizens, to guard them themselves, if the commandant should neglect his duty.
At five in the evening of sunday, nearly at the very moment when the prisons were surrounded, as I have since been informed, about two hundred men came to the office of the home-department, loudly calling for the minister, and for arms.
From my own retired apartment, I thought I heard some noise. I quitted it, and, from a room looking into the great court, I perceived the mob. Thence I repaired to the anti-chamber, to inquire the cause. Roland was gone out: but they, who demanded him, were not satisfied with this, but were determined to speak to him. The servants refused them admission, persisting in the truth. I ordered them to go, and invite ten of them in. They entered. I asked them calmly what they wanted. They told me, they were honest citizens, ready to depart for Verdun, but in want of arms; for which they came to ask the minister, and they must see him. I observed to them, that the minister of the home-department never had arms at his disposal: and that they should demand them at the war-office, from the minister at war. They replied they had been there; and were told there was none: that all those ministers were f— of traitors, and they wanted Roland.—‘I am sorry he is gone out, for his solid arguments would have weight with you: come and go through the house with me, and you shall satisfy yourselves, that he is not at home, and that he has no arms, which, on reflection, you will be convinced he ought not to have. Return to the war-office, or carry your just complaints to the commune: or, if you will speak to Roland, repair to the navy-office, where all the council is assembled.’—They withdrew. I went into the balcony over the court, and thence I beheld a furious fellow in his shirt, with his sleeves tucked up to his shoulders, sabre in hand, declaiming against the treachery of the ministers. My ten deputies dispersed themselves amongst the crowd, and at length determined it to retreat with drums beating, and carrying away the valet-de-chambre as an hostage; who was forced to pace the streets for an hour, when he was permitted to depart.
Immediately I got into a coach, and hastened to the navy-office, to inform my husband of what had passed. The council was not yet formed. I found a numerous circle, in which were several deputies. The ministers at war and of justice not being arrived, the others were in the salon as a private company. I related the story, on which each made his remarks. Most supposed it the fortuitous result of circumstances, and the effervescence of the people’s minds.
What was Danton then doing? I knew not till several days after: but it may be proper to mention it here, in the order of facts. He was at the residence of the mayor, in the committee of superintendance, as it was styled, from which issued the orders for the arrests, which had been so numerous within a few days. There a reconciliation had just taken place between him and Marat, after the parade of a feigned quarrel for four-and-twenty hours. He went to Pétion’s apartment, took him aside, and said to him, in his strong language: ‘can you guess what they have taken into their heads? Would you have imagined that they had issued a mandate to apprehend Roland?’—‘Who have?’—‘That furious committee. I have laid hold of the mandate: see, here it is. We cannot suffer them to act thus. What, the devil! against a member of the council!’—Pétion took the mandate, read it, returned it to him with a smile, and said: ‘let them do it: it will have a good effect.’—‘A good effect!’ replied Danton, inquisitively examining the mayor’s countenance: ‘O, I will not suffer it: I will go and make them listen to reason.’ The mandate was not carried into execution. But who is there, that does not see, that the two hundred men were sent to the minister of the home department by the authors of the mandate? Who is there, that does not suspect, that the inutility of their attempt, delaying the execution of their project, might occasion them, who conceived it, to hesitate? Who is there, that does not perceive, in the conduct of Danton with the mayor, that of a conspirator who would sound the effect of such a stroke, or take to himself the honour of having parried it, when he found it had failed, or been rendered dubious by accidental delay.
The ministers left the council a little after eleven. It was not till the next morning we learnt the horrours, of which the night had been witness, and which still continued to reign in the prisons. Our hearts bursting with the thoughts of these abominable crimes, the inability of preventing them, and the evident accord between the commune and the commandant-general* , we were persuaded, that nothing remained for a virtuous minister, but to announce them with the greatest vehemence, to engage the assembly to stay them, to raise the indignation of all honest men against them, and thus to wash away the dishonour of having shared in them by silence; nay, to expose himself, if so it must be, to the daggers of the assassins, to avoid the guilt and shame of being in any measure their accomplice.—‘It is equally true,’ said I to my husband, ‘that the resolutions of courage are not more consonant to justice, than they are conducive to safety. Firmness alone can repress audacity. If the denunciation of these enormities were not a duty, it would be an act of prudence. The perpetrators of them must hate you, for you have endeavoured to prune their wings: nothing remains for you; but to inspire them with fear.’ Roland wrote to the assembly his letter of the third of september; which became equally celebrated with that he had addressed to the king. The assembly received it with transport: it ordered it to be printed, posted up, and sent to the departments: it applauded it, as weak men applaud acts of courage they cannot imitate, but which affect themselves, and inspire them with some hope.
I remember having read a little work, strongly aristocratic, published some time since at London, I believe by Pelletier; the author of which is greatly astonished, that the same man, who had so audaciously offended his king, afterwards displayed so much justice and humanity. Either the spirit of party must render a man extremely inconsistent; or virtue is so rare, that it’s very existence is become questionable. The friend of freedom and his fellow-creatures detests with equal vehemence, and proclaims with equal energy, the tyranny of a mob, and the tyranny of a king, the despotism of a throne, and the disorders of anarchy, the wiliness of courts, and the ferociousness of robbers.
That same day, the 3d of september, a man, formerly a colleague of Roland, and to whom I thought I owed the civility of inviting him to dinner, took it into his head to bring with him the orator of the human race, without mentioning it to me, or asking my permission. This breach of politeness appeared to me the venial offence of an honest man, dazzled by the orator’s fame. I received with civility Clootz, of whom I knew nothing more than his bombast orations, and of whom I had no unfavourable memorandum: but one of my friends seeing him, whispered in my ear: ‘your guest has introduced to you an insufferable parasite, whom I am sorry to see here.’—
The conversation turned on the events of the day. Clootz pretended to prove, that they were indispensable and salutary measures; uttered many common-place observations on the rights of the people, the justice of their vengeance, and it’s subserviency to the happiness of mankind; spoke loud, and long; ate still more than he spoke; and tired more than one auditor. Soon after appointed deputy, he returned occasionally of his own accord; seating himself in the first place, and helping himself to the nicest dishes, without ceremony. My extreme and cold politeness, accompanied with the care I always took to help several persons before him, soon gave him to understand, that he held no high place in my esteem. He perceived it, came no more, and revenged himself by calumnies. I should not have mentioned this contemptible fellow, but for the distinguished part he acted amongst the slanderers of good men, and the art with which he joined in making of federalism a scarecrow for fools, or a title of proscription for those of good understanding, who embraced not his chimera of an universal commonwealth.
The last time he came to visit me, he mounted his hobby-horse, and repeated all his extravagancies on the possibility of a convention formed of deputies from every corner of the world. Some of the company answered him with a jest. Roland, tired of the noise and pedantry, with which Clootz maintained his opinion, and pretended to make converts to it, had the civility to flourish an argument or two with him, and then turned away to another part of the room. The conversation cooled, and broke off into different subjects. Buzot, whose solid understanding never amuses itself long with attacking castles in the air, was astonished, that federation should be treated as a heresy in politics. He observed, that Greece, so celebrated, so prolific of great men and heroic actions, was composed of small confederate republics: that the United States, which in our own days exhibit the most interesting picture of a good social organization, form a composition of the same nature: and that Switzerland presented a similar example. That in truth, at the present moment, and in the actual situation of France, it was important for it to maintain unity; because thus it formed a mass more likely to be respected by foreign powers, and possessed a singleness of action, which would be of precious account for the completion of the laws, that must insure it a constitution: yet it could not be dissembled, that there would ever be a laxity in the political bands, which united a fleming and a native of Provence; that it was difficult to make that attachment, in which the strength of a republic consists, reign over a surface so extensive; for the love of our country is not strictly that of the land we inhabit, but of the citizens with whom we dwell, and the laws by which they are governed, otherwise the athenians could not have transferred their existence as such from their city to their ships; that we can never thoroughly love any but those whom we know; and that the enthusiasm of men separated by a distance of six hundred miles can never be general, uniform, and vivid, like that of the inhabitants of a small territory.
These sage reflections, so esteemed by most of those who heard them, were traduced and denounced by Clootz, as a conspiracy to federate France, and detach it from the department of Paris. He represented Buzot as the most dangerous of the conspirators, Roland as their chief, and the deputies who visited me most frequently as partizans of this liberticide project. I know not whether a madman like Clootz can have been sincere in his apprehensions: but I cannot bring myself to believe him so; firmly persuaded, that he saw, in the fabrication of his lie, an opportunity of revenging his self-love, offended at not being admired: a subject for declaiming in his own way, extremely suitable to the turgidity of his style, and the disorder of his imagination: and a mean of injuring men, whose understanding must displease him, and making a common cause with those, in whose vices he delights: even supposing him to have no secret mission to embroil France, by the help of the bedlamites, to smooth the way for his countrymen, the prussians.
The massacres, notwithstanding, continued: at the Abbey, from sunday evening till tuesday morning; at the bridewell, longer; at the Bicêtre, four days; &c. To my present abode, in the first of these prisons, I am indebted for particulars, which would make the reader thrill with horrour, but which I have not courage to write. One circumstance, however, I will not pass over in silence, because it tends to demonstrate, that it was a deep-laid scheme. In the suburb of St. Germain there is a house of confinement, to receive prisoners which the Abbey cannot admit, when it is already full; and the police chose sunday evening to remove them, the instant before the general massacre began. The assassins were ready; fell upon the hackney coaches, of which there were five or six; and stabbed, and murdered, with sabres and pikes, all that were in them, in the middle of the street, and unchecked by their doleful cries. All Paris witnessed these terrible scenes, perpetrated by a small number of cut-throats: so small, that there were scarcely more than a dozen at the Abbey, the gate of which was defended, notwithstanding the requisitions made to the commune and the commandant, only by two national guards. All Paris suffered them to go on—all Paris was accursed in my eyes, and I could no longer entertain hopes of the establishment of liberty amongst cowards, insensible to the last outrages against nature and humanity, frigid spectators of crimes, which the courage of fifty armed men could with ease have prevented.
The public force was badly organized, as it is still: for the miscreants take great care, when they would reign, to oppose all kind of order, that might tie their hands. But is it necessary for men to know their captain, and march in regular order of battle, when they have to fly to the assistance of victims about to be murdered? The fact is, the rumour of a pretended conspiracy in the prisons, completely improbable as it was, and the affected enunciation of the uneasiness and rage of the people, held every one in a state of stupor; and persuaded him, shut up in his house, that the people were the actors; when, from all accounts, there were not two hundred villains in the whole, employed on this infamous purpose. It is not the first night, therefore, that astonishes me: but four days!—and curious people went to see this spectacle!—No! I know nothing in the annals of the most barbarous people, to be compared with this atrocious deed.
The health of Roland was impaired by it. The disturbance of the nervous system was so great, that his stomach could bear nothing, and the bile, obstructed in it’s course, diffused itself on the surface of the skin. He was yellow and weak; yet his industry was not diminished: unable to eat, or sleep, he desisted not from his labours. He was still ignorant of his having been the object of arrest, though I had heard of it; for I could by no means think of acquainting him with what would have only tended to exasperate a complaint already serious: some one, however, I know not who, mentioned it to him the week following. It must be confessed, that he afterwards spoke of the subject sometimes: so that his enemies affected to repeat, that he declaimed against these executions only from the fear he had of being comprehended in the number of their victims: whilst, in reality, to the just horrour, with which they had inspired him, he only added indignation, at having been reckoned amongst those, who were destined to fall by them.
Danton was the man, who most endeavoured to represent the opposition of Roland to these events, as the fruit of an ardent imagination, and the terrour with which he feigned he was struck. I always thought much might be inferred from this circumstance.
History no doubt will preserve the infamous circular letter of the committee of superintendance of the commune, containing an apology for the transactions of september, and an invitation to perpetrate the like throughout all France; a letter of which numbers were expedited from the office of the minister of justice, and counter-signed by him.
Circumstances indicating the inconvenience of bringing to Paris the prisoners from Orleans, whose removal had been decreed, and who were already on the road, the minister of the home department gave orders, by advice of the council, to conduct them to Versailles; and a numerous escort was sent for this purpose. Certain men, pretending to be penetrated with horrour at the assassinations of Paris, insinuated themselves into it under this cloak, and were the authors of the butchery perpetrated on the prisoners in the waggons, on their arrival at Versailles.
The money, notes, jewels, and other valuables, of which there was abundance in the prisons at that time; from the wealth and condition of those, by whom they were filled; were pillaged, as may be supposed.
Much more considerable had been the plunder made by the members of the commune after the 10th of august, at the palace of the Tuileries, or in the royal houses near it, to which it sent commissioners, or in the houses of private persons said to be suspected, on whose property it had affixed seals.
The commune had received considerable deposites, and it had removed much treasure. No account appeared, and the minister of the home department could not obtain the information he had a right to demand concerning them. He complained to the assembly; as he did also of the negligence of the commandant-general, from whom he requested in vain a more numerous guard for the post of the Jewel-office. Villains in the mean time hesitated at nothing: watches, shoe-buckles, ear-rings; were taken from people in the market-places and public walks, in broad day. The assembly, as usual, commended the minister’s zeal; directed him to make a report of the state of Paris; and took no measures whatever.
The pillage of the Jewel-office was effected. Millions fell into the hands of persons, who would naturally employ them to perpetuate anarchy, the source of their power.
D’Eglantine, who had never visited me after the matins of september; who, the last time I saw him, said to me, as from a profound sense of the critical state of France; ‘things will never go well, without a concentration of powers: the executive council must have the dictatorship, and it’s president must exercise it:’ came to me the morning after this important robbery, at eleven o’clock. He came, but I was not at home, for I had just gone out with madam Pétion. He waited for me two hours: I found him in the court at my return: he went in with me, uninvited: he remained an hour and half, unasked to sit down. With an hypocritical tone he lamented the robbery of that night, which deprived the nation of real wealth: he inquired, whether no information of it’s authors had been obtained: and he professed astonishment at it’s not having been foreseen. Then he talked of Robespierre and Marat, who had begun to revile Roland and me; and called them hot-headed men, who must be permitted to go on their own way, well-meaning, extremely zealous, who were startled at every thing, but whose conduct ought to create no alarm. I suffered him to talk as he pleased, said little, and expressed my opinion of nothing. He withdrew; and I have not seen him since. The purpose of this singular visit has never yet been known to me: it remains for time to unfold.
I have said, that Marat began to revile us. It should be told, that, the moment the assembly had decreed a sum at the disposal of the minister of the home department for printing useful works, Marat, who, the day after the 10th, had caused four presses to be taken from the royal printing house by his people, to indemnify him for those, which the hand of justice had taken from him, wrote to Roland for fifteen thousand livres [£625], to enable him to publish some excellent things. Roland answered, that the sum was too great to be delivered, without knowing the object, on which it was to be employed; and if Marat would send his manuscripts to him, he would not take upon himself to decide on them, but would lay them before the council, to determine whether they ought to be printed at the expense of the nation. Marat replied rudely enough; of which he is extremely capable, and sent a heap of manuscripts, the very sight of which was enough to frighten any one. There was an essay on the chains of slavery, and I know not what besides, quite in his own style, which is saying sufficient.
I had sometimes doubted, whether Marat were not a fictitious person: but then I was convinced, that such a being really existed. I spoke of him to Danton, expressed a desire of seeing him, and begged he would introduce him to me: for it is not amiss to have a knowledge of monsters, and my curiosity was excited to learn, whether he were a man who had lost his wits, or a well-prompted actor. Danton excused himself, under pretence of it’s being completely useless, and even disagreeable, as it would only present me an original answering to nothing. From the tone of his excuse, I guessed he would not have gratified my fancy, had I insisted upon it; so I did not appear, to have thought of it seriously.
The council decided, that the manuscripts of Marat should be put into the hands of Danton, who would know how to settle the matter with him. This was cutting the gordian knot, instead of untying it. It was not proper for the minister of the home department, to expend the public money in feeing a madman; it was not prudent for him, to make him an enemy: a simple flat refusal from the council would have removed every difficulty. Entrusting this office to Danton was affording him a fresh opportunity of attaching to himself this mad dog, that he might set him on to bite and worry whom he pleased.
Three weeks and more had passed away, and the transactions of september were at an end. Marat had the impudence to post up a demand of fifteen thousand livres from d’Orleans, with a complaint of the incivism of the minister in refusing him that sum; and published a libel against me personally. I did not give into the snare.—‘This’, said I to my husband, ‘is Danton downright: he wants to attack you, and begins by prowling round you. He has the folly to suppose, that these silly things will affect me, and that I shall take up the pen to answer them; so that he will bring forward a woman upon the stage, and thus render ridiculous the man to whom I am allied. These fellows may form some opinion of my qualifications, but of my mind they can frame no judgment. Let them slander me as long as they please, they will never move me to complain, or to regard them.’
Roland made his report of the state of Paris on the 22d of september. It was exact and spirited: that is to say, it depicted the disorders, that had been committed, and the imprudence of leaving the constituted authorities any longer in the greatest insubordination, and the most dangerous exercise of arbitrary power. He did justice to the zeal of the commune of the 10th, and the service it did the revolution on that day: but he showed, that the prolongation of the employment of revolutionary measures would produce exactly the reverse of what was hoped from them; since the purpose of destroying tyranny was to introduce the reign of justice and order, with which anarchy was equally incompatible: and he demonstrated the equity of demanding, and the difficulty of obtaining accounts from that commune, from which he had required them in vain.
The assembly, capable of perceiving the right, but from weakness unable to pursue it, applauded the report, ordered it to be printed, decreed little, and rectified nothing. It is scarcely possible to conceive a situation more painful, than that of a firm and upright man, who, at the head of a great administration, in which he appears to have considerable power, and is actually burdened with high responsibility, daily witnesses disgusting abuses, which he can do no more than denounce, and to remedy which, the legislative authority he informs of them can or dares do nothing. To cashier the commune, order a new municipality to be elected according to the forms prescribed by law, to organize the common force, and cause a commander to be appointed it by the sections, were the only measures that could establish order in Paris; without which the laws would be appealed to in vain, and for want of which a convention there must necessarily be subject to the municipal authority, which knew no restraint. In such a state of things, I would rather, that Roland dedicated his talents to his country as a deputy, than as member of a council without energy, and minister of a government without a capacity of acting. I did not conceal these sentiments from some, who were capable of appreciating them: but the vulgar could not have comprehended the preference of an humble sphere to the honours and throng of ministerial office, and for want of this comprehension would have formed unlucky conjectures.
The department of the Somme, in which Roland had long resided, chose him for it’s representative. This choice excited almost universal regret. It appeared inconsiderate and absurd to take from the helm a man of integrity, courage, and understanding, whom it would be difficult to replace; in order to put him into an assembly, where numbers could serve the state by their votes, without possessing his capacity. Roland made no hesitation. He wrote to the assembly in consequence, requesting it to appoint him a successor, and mentioning a person, whom he thought qualified to fill his office. This news occasioned great agitation: exclamations arose against it on all sides, and a motion was made, that he should be invited to retain his office. The convention was already formed by the number of deputies to the legislative assembly who were chosen members of it also, and those who first arrived from the country; or the latter had taken their places in the legislative assembly. Which of the two was the case I do not perfectly recollect at this moment, and I have nothing to consult for information: but Danton was present* , and rose to oppose this invitation with great warmth. His impetuosity betrayed his rancour, and led him to say many ridiculous things: amongst others, that they ought to address the invitation to me also, for I was by no means unimportant to the administration of Roland. Murmurs of disapprobation attended his invidious remarks: but the decree did not pass, though the general with was strongly expressed. The minister’s resignation, however, was not accepted, and he was still left free to make his option. A crowd of deputies repaired to his house, to prevail on him not to quit the ministry. It was strongly urged on him as a sacrifice he owed his country; and it was represented to him, that the convention, when once complete, would give affairs a grand and decisive course, in which his activity and disposition were necessary, and by which he would be supported. Two days passed in these solicitations, when he was informed, that his election was void, because it had been made to replace another supposed null, but in reality not so; and therefore he had no reason to quit the ministry.
Accordingly he resolved to remain in it; and wrote to the assembly in a style of courage and dignity, which was crowned with the plaudits of the majority, and made his enemies tremble. His election was indeed not valid: but the party of Danton strove to conceal this till he had quitted the ministry, that he might be thrown out of every situation. From that time the party pursued him without remission; every day there was some fresh attack: the journal of Marat, pamphlets composed for the purpose, and denunciations at the Jacobins, incessantly repeated calumnies and accusations, each more stupid or more atrocious than it’s predecessor. But effrontery and perseverance in things of this kind have always success with a people naturally fickle and suspicious, They went so far even as to impute to him as a crime, what ought to have procured him praise: and had the art to inspire honest men void of courage with alarm at that very solicitude, which was most conducive to the safety of the common wealth: I mean the care of instructing the public opinion. It requires no profound skill in politics to know, that from public opinion arises the strength of a government: all the difference in this respect, that exists between a tyrannical administration, and one which takes justice for it’s basis, is, that the former is employed wholly in narrowing the sphere of light, and suppressing truth, whilst the latter makes it a law, to diffuse them as widely as possible.
The assembly had rightly judged, that the events of the 10th of august would produce different impressions, according to the prejudices or interests of individuals, and the manner in which they were represented. It directed a narrative of the facts therefore to be drawn up, decreed it should be printed, supported it by the publication of all the documents necessary to prove it’s accuracy, charged the minister of the home department to expedite it together with these throughout all France, and enjoined him to promote the writing of pamphlets conducive to the same end.
Roland felt, that, in the present circumstance, the act of diffusing information needed improvement, and that it was requisite to form a stream of light, to supply in some measure the want of public instruction, ever too much neglected. He made inquiry in the departments, and secured there a small number of zealous and enlightened men, on whose fidelity, in distributing such writings as might be sent them, he could depend. He made it a rule, to answer every thing, and to keep up a correspondence with all the popular societies, country clergymen, and private persons, who should write to him. To the societies he sent a circular letter, reminding them of the spirit of their institution, and inculcating into them the fraternal care of instructing and enlightening each other, from which they had too great tendency to swerve, in order to deliberate and rule. He selected out of his offices three or four perions of good sense, to keep up this patriotic correspondence, and dispatch the printed tracts, under the direction of him amongst them, who had most sensibility of heart, strictness of principle, and amenity of style. This correspondence he frequently animated with his own circular letters, dictated by circumstances, and always breathing that morality, and that charm of affection, which engage men’s hearts. The excellent effect resulting from this cannot easily be conceived: troubles of every kind subsided: the administrative bodies executed their functions with regularity: five or six hundred societies, and a considerable number of country clergymen, employed themselves with affecting zeal to diffuse instruction; and to render interested and concerned for the public welfare men hitherto occupied wholly in their manual labours, abandoned to ignorance, and more disposed to receive chains, than to maintain that freedom, of which they knew neither the extent, nor the limits, neither the rights, nor the duties.
This patriotic correspondence is a valuable monument, equally attesting the pure principles and enlightened vigilance of the minister, the good will of a great number of prudent citizens, and the admirable fruits of wisdom, patriotism, and reason.
In the thing itself, and in it’s effects, suspicious and jealous men saw less the triumph of freedom, the maintenance of tranquillity, and the consolidation of the republic, than the same and reputation that might accrue from them to the first mover. From that moment Roland was represented as a dangerous man, who had offices of public opinion; and soon as a corruptor of the people’s judgment, a man ambitious of the supreme power; and finally, as a conspirator.
It was only necessary to read his writings, and examine his correspondence. The departments, that received his letters, answered him with their warmest thanks: but the banditti of Paris still persevered in slander, without proving any thing; and excited, by a thousand arts, a sort of mistrust, and of popular opinion, which the jacobins seconded with all their power, for they were wholly swayed by Danton, Robespierre, and Marat.—[Back to Table of Contents]
St. Pélagie, august 8, 1793.
MORE than two months have I been imprisoned, because I am related to a good man, who took it into his head to retain his virtue in a revolution, and give in exact accounts being a minister. For five months he had solicited in vain the settlement of his accounts, and the passing of judgment on his administration. They have been examined: but, as nothing has been found in them to blame, it has not been thought proper to make any report, and he has been slandered. The activity of Roland, his multifarious labours, and his enlightened writings, acquired him a degree of reputation, which has been thought dangerous: or at least envious men have made it believed so, to effect the downfal of a man, whose integrity they detested. His ruin was resolved: and an attempt was made to take him into custody at the time of the insurrection on the 31st of may; the epoch of the complete debasement and violation of the representative body of the nation, and the success of the decemvirate. He has escaped: for rage they have seized me: though they would have apprehended me otherwise; for our perfecutors, if they know my name has not the influence of his, are persuaded, that my temper possesses not less firmness, and they are almost equally desirous of my ruin.
The first part of my captivity I employed in writing. This I did with so much rapidity, and was so happily disposed for it, that in less than a month I had manuscripts sufficient to have formed a duodecimo volume. Under the title of Historical Memoirs, they consisted of details relative to all the facts, and all the persons, connected with public affairs, that my situation had brought to my knowledge. I related them with all the freedom and energy of my character, with all the negligence of frankness, the unconstraint of a mind superiour to selfish considerations, the pleasure of describing what I had felt or experienced, and finally in confidence, that, whatever might happen, the collection would form my moral and political testament.
I had completed the whole, bringing things down to the present moment: and I had entrusted it to a friend, who set upon it the highest value. On a sudden the storm burst over him. The instant he saw himself put under arrest, he thought of nothing but the danger, he felt only the necessity of parrying it, and, without ruminating on expedients, he threw my manuscript into the fire. This loss agitated my mind more than the rudest shocks had ever done. It is not difficult to conceive this, if it be recollected, that the crisis approaches; that I may be massacred to-morrow, or dragged, I know not how, before the tribunal employed by those who rule, to rid them of persons they find troublesome: and that these writings were the anchor, to which I entrusted the justification of my memory, and that of many other persons, for whom I am deeply interested.
Yet, as we should not sink under any event, I shall employ my leisure hours in setting down, without form or order, what occurs to my mind. These fragments cannot supply what I have lost, but they will serve to recal it to my memory, and assist me in replacing it some future day, if the power of doing it be left me.[Back to Table of Contents]
CHARACTERS and ANECDOTES.[Back to Table of Contents]
OF a losty character, proud mind, and boiling courage, susceptible, ardent, melancholy, and indolent, cannot but sometimes run into extremes. A passionate admirer of nature, feeding his imagination with all the charms it offers, and his mind with the most affecting principles of philosophy, he seems formed to taste and impart domestic happiness: he would forget the whole world in the placid enjoyment of private virtues with a heart worthy of his own. But, thrown into public life, he is sensible only to the laws of rigid equity, and defends them at all hazards. Easily roused to indignation against injustice, he attacks it with ardour, and is incapable of making terms with guilt. The friend of human nature susceptible of the tenderest feelings, capable of the sublimest flights and most generous resolutions, he cherishes mankind, and can sacrifice himself as a true republican: but a severe judge of individuals, and difficult in the choice of the objects of his esteem, he bestows it on very few. This reserve, added to the energetic freedom, with which he expresses himself, has made him be accused of haughtiness, and begotten him enemies. Mediocrity scarcely ever forgives merit: but vice detests and persecutes that courageous virtue, which declares war against it. Buzot is the gentlest man on earth to his friends; and the roughest adversary to knaves. Whilst yet young, the ripeness of his judgment, and purity of his morals, obtained him the esteem and confidence of his fellow-citizens. Both their confidence and esteem he justified, by his devotion to truth, and his firmness and perseverance in speaking it. Ordinary men, who depreciate what they cannot attain, treat his penetration as resvery, his warmth as passion, his strong ideas as flights of fancy, and his opposition to every kind of excess as a revolt against the majority. He was accused of royalism, because he asserted, that morals were necessary in a republic, and that nothing should be omitted to maintain or correct them; of calumniating Paris, because he abhorred the massacres of september, and ascribed them solely to a handful of cut throats hired by robbers; of aristocracy, because he would have called the people to the exercise of it’s sovereignty in passing judgment on Lewis XVI; of federalism, because he claimed the maintenance of equality between all the departments, and stood up to oppose the municipal tyranny of an usurping commune. These were his crimes. He had also his faults. Possessing a nobleness of countenance, and elegance of shape, in his dress he preserved that attention, neatness, and decorum, which announce a love of order, a taste and feeling of propriety, and that respect which a man of education [l’homme honnête] owes to the public and to himself.
Thus, when the scum of the nation lifted to the helm men, who made patriotism consist in flattering the people, in order to guide it; in overturning and invading every thing, to procure themselves wealth and consequence; in slandering the laws, to obtain rule; in protecting licentiousness, to secure impunity; in cutting throats, to strengthen their own power; and in swearing, drinking, and dressing like porters, to fraternise with their fellows: Buzot professed the morals of a Socrates, and retained the politeness of a Scipio.—What a villain!—Hence the upright Lacroix, the sage Chabot, the gentle Lindet, the modest Thuriot, the learned Duroi, the humane Danton, and their faithful imitators, declared him a traitor to his country: they caused his house to be razed, and his property to be confiscated, as formerly Aristides was banished, and Phocion condemned to die. I am astonished they did not decree, that his name should be forgotten. It would have been more consistent with their views, than to pretend to preserve it attached to epithets, which the evidence of facts disproves.
They cannot obliterate from the page of history Buzot’s conduct in the constituent assembly; or suppress his sage motions, and vigorous flights, in the convention. However his opinions may be falsified in papers devoid of impartiality, the principles by which they are supported will still be perceptible. Buzot frequently spoke off-hand, and this constituted the greater part of his labours: but he never failed to stand up against every crooked system, against every step detrimental to liberty. His report on a departmentary guard, a project so much decried, contains arguments, that have never been answered. That against instigators to murder displays the soundest policy; and philosophy true as that nature, strong as that reason, on which it is founded. His proposal for the banishment of the Bourbons is detailed with precision, defended with justice, and written with warmth and elegance. His opinion on the judgment of the king, abounding with facts and arguments, has nothing of that pathos and rambling from the subject, in which so many haranguers indulged on the occasion. In fine, his letters to his constituents, of the 6th and 22d of january, paint his mind with such truth, as will make them sought after. A few wrestlers of his strength might have given the convention the impulse it wanted: but the rest of the men of talents, keeping themselves back as orators for great occasions, were too neglectful of common daily contests, and not sufficiently wary of the arts of their inferiour adversaries.[Back to Table of Contents]
A TRULY honest and good man, he is equally incapable of doing the least thing repugnant to justice, and inflicting the slightest injury, or occasioning the least uneasiness to any one. For himself he can neglect many things, yet he knows not how to refuse a favour to any person in the world. The serenity of a good conscience, and mildness of an easy temper, with frankness and cheerfulness, distinguish his countenance. He was a prudent mayor, and faithful representative: but he is too unsuspicious, and too peaceable, to foresee or allay a storm. Sound judgment, pure intentions, and what is termed justness of thought, characterise his opinions and writings, which bear stronger marks of good sense than of talents. As an orator he is cold, as a writer his style is loose: an equitable minister, and a good citizen, he was formed for the exercise of virtue in a republic; not to found a republican government amongst a corrupt people, who for some time idolized him, and then rejoiced at his proscription, as at that of an enemy.
At the time of the constituent assembly, during the revision of the laws, I was one day with the wife of Buzot, when her husband returned from the assembly very late, bringing with him Pétion to dinner. It was the period when the court treated them as factious men, and described them as intriguers completely occupied in exciting disturbances. After dinner, Pétion, sitting on a large sopha, began to play with a little dog, with all the earnestness of a child, till they both grew tired, and fell asleep together. The conversation of four persons did not prevent Pétion from snoring. ‘Look at that sower of sedition:’ said Buzot, with a smile: ‘we were eyed askance as we quitted the hall; and our accusers, greatly alarmed for their party, imagine we are busily occupied in intrigue.’
The circumstance, and the remark, have often recurred to my remembrance, since those unfortunate times when Pétion and Buzot were accused and proscribed as royalists, with as much reason as they were then accused of intrigue by the court. Always alone; imbued with such principles; conferring with men, who professed the same, only to converse on relative opinions; they deemed it sufficient to contend for justice obstinately, to speak the truth constantly, and to sacrifice themselves, or expose themselves to every danger, rather than betray them: and they are declared traitors to their country.
I will here record a striking fact. It has elsewhere been seen, that, during the first patriotic administration, it had been settled, that the minister of foreign affairs should take from the fund allotted to his department for secret services certain sums, which he should put into the hands of the mayor of Paris, as well to maintain the police, which was reduced to nothing for want of means, as for publications to counterbalance those of the court. Dumouriez having quitted that department, the matter, that is as far as it regarded the police alone, was mentioned to d’Abancourt. He would do nothing in it himself: but he pretended, that it was a business, which the king might be brought to approve, as he could not fail to see it’s justice. The king did not approve the proposal, and answered, in direct terms, that he would not buy rods to whip himself. In this he spoke sensibly enough, as he was not sincerely a friend to the constitution; and such an answer might have been expected. But a few days after, Lacroix, the present colleague of Danton, in concert with whom he is the plunderer of Belgium, the persecutor of honest men, and the fovereign of the day; who then had a seat in the legislative assembly, and who was known to frequent the palace; went to Pétion to promise him the free disposal of three millions [£.125,000], if he would employ them so as to support his majesty. This proposal must necessarily have been even more affronting to the mayor, than the other was displeasing to the king. It was rejected therefore: notwithstanding he was received with particular graciousness at the same time by the king; for, his attendance being requested at the palace, instead of finding the king surrounded as usual, whom he had never before seen alone, he was introduced into his closet, where there appeared to be no one else, and Lewis XVI was lavish to him of marks of affability and regard, and even of those little captivating cajoleries, which he well knew how to employ when he pleased. A slight sound of silk rustling behind the hangings informed Pétion, that the queen was present without being visible, and the caresses of the king convinced him of his hypocrisy: he remained firm, without suffering his honesty to yield to the king, who would have seduced it: in the same manner as afterwards, without flattering the people, he would have deferred to it the judgment of that same king; whilst Lacroix, who had served him, and probably been paid for his services, thought he could not too speedily be condemned to death.[Back to Table of Contents]
IT has been said with reason, that the talent of knowing men ought to be the first with them who govern: their errours of this kind are always the most fatal. But the exercise of this difficult talent is much more difficult in the time of a revolution: and there is a degree of hypocrisy, by which to be duped is no shame, for to suspect it would prove it a man wicked.
In my youth, I had met, at the house of one of my relations, Gilbert, who held a place in the post-office. An honest man, an affectionate father, he amused himself with painting, cultivated music, possessed that degree of suavity, which is the usual companion of a taste for the fine arts, and rendered himself esteemed by his acquaintance for his probity. Gibert was extremely attached to a man, his most particular friend, whose extraordinary merit he extolled with the height of enthusiasm, and the modesty of one who thought himself far inferiour. I sometimes saw this friend; in whom, at the first view, you would perceive nothing but extreme simplicity. I had, however, no opportunity of forming a judgment of him, for I met him seldom, and did not often see Gibert himself. From the latter I only learnt, that his friend, who was Pache, enamoured of a country life, the only one suited to his patriarchal manners, and of liberty, all the advantages of which his understanding enabled him duly to prize, resigned a genteel place under the french government, to settle with his family in Switzerland. I afterwards learnt, that, having lost his wife, finding his children sigh after Paris, and perceiving the revolution about to effectuate the liberty of the nation, he resolved to return to the capital; and that being satisfied with the independence he enjoyed from the sale of his former property, and the purchase of a national estate, he had resigned into the hands of a quondam minister a pension that he had procured him.
It was not necessary to be often in the company of Gibert, and know his intimacy with Pache, to be informed of every thing, that could be said to Pache’s advantage. In the month of january 1792 he introduced him to us, and I saw him from time to time. Pache, as I have already observed, wears an appearance of the utmost modesty. It is so great indeed, that you would be tempted to adopt the opinion he appears to have of himself, and conceive him to be nothing extraordinary: but this modesty you would set down to the account of his virtues, when you discovered him reasoning justly, and by no means destitute of acquirements. As he is extremely reserved, and never unbosoms himself freely, you would soon suspect him to know more than he says, and end with ascribing to him so much the more merit, as you had been near committing the injustice of allowing him none. A person, who talks little, listens intelligently to every subject that may be discussed, and ventures a few well-timed observations, easily passes for an able man. Pache was connected with Meuniers and Monge, both members of the academy of sciences. They had formed a popular society in the section of Luxembourg, the objects of which they said were knowledge and civism. Pache was very assiduous in this society; and appeared to dedicate to his country, as a citizen, all the time he did not bestow on his children, and which intervened between the lectures of the public courses to which he led them.
I have elsewhere related how Roland was called to the ministry, at the end of march, in that year. The offices were filled with clerks of the old stamp, little disposed to favour the new system: but they were habituated to the course of business; and it would have been wrong to hazard unhinging the whole of a great machine, in those troublesome times, for the sake of changing these agents. All that ought to be done, therefore, was to watch over them, and prepare to remove them in due time. But in the multiplicity of business, the daily current of which hurries along a man in place with inconceivable rapidity, it is not to be denied, that he may easily be involved in difficulties, if he pay not a scrupulous attention to every thing, which is infinitely irksome, when it is inspired by mistrust. In this situation, Roland was desirous of a man, on whom he could depend, to have always about him in his closet: capable of reading over a letter, or a report, on some pressing subject, which another still more pressing would not permit himself to read over so soon; not to adjust it, but to see that the adverse principles of the clerks had not influenced the manner of representing facts or studying motives: and that could be employed to search out a particular paper, in a particular office, or deliver a verbal message on any thing of importance. The idea of Pache occurred. Pache had been in the navy-office: he knew the practice of business: he had good sense, patriotism, morals that do honour to the choice of a man to an office, and that simplicity which never excites ill-will. The idea appeared excellent. It was mentioned to Pache: who immediately expressed the greatest eagerness to serve Roland, in being useful to the state; but on condition of preserving his independence, without having either title or salary. This was a noble commencement. Roland supposed, that, when a new arrangement took place in the office, it would be easy to see for what he was more particularly adapted: and Pache came to him, being in his closet every morning at seven, with his morsel of bread in his pocket, and remaining till three, without ever being prevailed on to take any thing; attentive, prudent, zealous, executing his office well, making an observation, putting in a word, to bring a subject to the point in question, and soothing Roland, sometimes irritated by the aristocratical contrarieties of his clerks.
Roland, very irritable, and warm to excess, set an infinite value on the mildness and complaisance of Pache, and treated him as a valuable friend: whilst I, delighted with the service I supposed him to render my husband, lavished on him marks of esteem, and proofs of attachment. Pache had no style: he could not be employed to compose a letter, as he would have made it dry and flat: but he was not wanted for this purpose, and he was useful for that, for which the attention of a trusty person was required. Our friend Servan, appointed minister at war, was alarmed at the complication and derangement of certain offices, and envied us Pache. ‘Let that honest man come to me:’ said he to Roland: ‘you have no farther occasion for him, you are far superiour to your business, and the chaos of the first outset once put in order, you no longer need the superintendance of another; whilst I am overwhelmed with business, and have a great hatred of persons, in whom I can trust.’—These ministers thought, too, that places required capacities in those who filled them; and that a man could not be put into an office, without reasonable grounds to suppose him qualified for it. Roland gave his consent. Pache, being consulted, yielded with a good grace, on the same conditions as he had made with Roland. After this removal, we scarcely ever saw him; but Servan commended him highly.
A change in the ministry took place. Roland retired to private life; and Pache returned to his section. The tenth of august came; and the legislative assembly recalled the patriotic ministers. Roland arranged his offices: Pache persisted in refusing any place, and Roland gave a situation to Fépoul, whom Pache had introduced to him. Fépoul was an intelligent, industrious, and accurate man, very well calculated for superintending the accounts, adroit, never opposing any one, and approving the stronger party.
Roland, nominated to the convention, and disgusted by the horrours of september, would have given in his resignation as minister: and, knowing the extreme embarrassment prudent men would have found in appointing him a successor, he thought he should render the public service by mentioning Pache. This he did with the frankness of his character, and the incaution of a susceptible mind, proud of acknowledging merit, wherever he supposes it to reside.
Pache, to whom he had not hinted his intention, and who had a little before refused the superintendance of the jewel-office, for which he recommended Restout, whom Roland appointed in consequence, appeared well satisfied to remain disengaged. Yet he accepted a mission for Toulon from Monge, repaired thither, and played some foolish tricks, as I have since been informed.
Servan’s health obliging him to quit the war-office, Roland recommended to succeed him a person, of whose principles there could be no suspicion, and who was not destitute of talents. He was accordingly approved; and we wrote to Pache, to inform him of his appointment, pressing him to accept it. But this did not appear to be necessary: for, jealous as he was of his independence, he appeared not to have the least uneasiness about the burden to be laid on his shoulders, and took it without hesitation. On his return to Paris he came to see us. We conversed with him freely on the dispositions of people’s minds; the party formed by the parisian deputies; the enormities of the commune; the dangers, that appeared to threaten the liberty of the convention, and particularly those, which might arise from the sway of immoral and guilty men, who sought to acquire power only to escape punishment or gratify their passions; of the establishment of order in his department; and of our joy at seeing him in the council, where his presence would preserve unanimity of will and concurrency of action. Pache listened to the overflowings of confidence, with the silence of a man who disguises his own sentiments; opposed every opinion of Roland at the council-table; and came to see him no more.
At first we imagined, that this conduct arose from a movement of self-love, a sort of fear of appearing the creature of Roland. But I learnt, that this man, who never accepted the invitations of his colleague, under pretence of the retirement in which the multiplicity of his business obliged him to live, received at his table Fabre, Chabot, and other mountaineers; surrounded himself with their friends; and took into office their creatures, all of them actors of the lowest class, ignorant persons, or intriguers like themselves; and that honest men began to murmur and lament. I thought it right to attempt one final step, to open his eyes, if he were only misled, and to detect him, if he were insincere. I wrote to him, on the 11th of november, in a friendly style, to acquaint him with the murmurs raised against him, the causes to which they were owing, and what his own interest seemed to require. I reminded him of what had been said to him in confidence on his arrival at the ministry; and I said a word or two of the unequivocal sentiments we had expressed to him, the unanimity they gave reason to hope, and the state of things altogether opposite to what might have been expected.
Pache made me not the least answer: and we soon heard, that his first clerks, Hassenfratz, Vincent, and the rest, inconsiderable beings, whom I would not name, had not their enormities already consigned their names to the historic page amidst the late popular commotions, declaimed at the Jacobins, and elsewhere, against Roland, and held him up for an enemy of the people. Thus there could no longer be any room to doubt, that Pache sought his downfal. The atrocity and baseness of this conduct inspired me with indignation and contempt: sentiments, in which I preceded several, who knew Pache from us, and who were then inclined to charge me with levity, though they have since gone beyond me in aversion to him. His misconduct, or at least the way in which the public money was squandered in the war-department during his ministry, was horrible; every thing was unhinged, owing to the bad choice of persons employed; it was proved, that regiments reduced to a small number of men were paid as if complete; it was not only impossible to produce a fair account, but even to make out any account at all, for more than 130 millions [near five millions and half sterling]. In the twenty-four hours following his dismission, which so many ills rendered indispensable, he nominated, to sixty places, all the acquaintances he had left base enough to make their court to him, from his son-in-law, who from a curate was made commissary-general with a salary of 19000 livres [£792 ], to his hair-dresser, a boy of nineteen, appointed a muster-master. These are the exploits, which the people of Paris rewarded by calling him to the mayoralty; where, supported by the Chautnets, Heberts, and other tatterdemalions, he favoured the oppression of the legislative body, the violation of the national representation, and the proscription of all virtuous men, and confirmed the ruin of his country.
And this was the man who fought a free country, gave up a pension, and refused a place! But Pache went into Switzerland, his native country, and thus enabled his father to keep up at Paris the port of a great man, where he hoped to spend his time more agreeably, than in a place which would have recalled to him his origin: and Pache received from Castries a pension, which showed how far he had been a dependent on him, and might have excited suspicion, when the nobles and ministers of the old system were objects of persecution. This side of him I had never seen; and this is no way inconsistent with Pache returning to France after the taking of the Bastille, courting votes in a little popular society ably contrived for the acquisition of influence, obstinately refusing second-rate places, and not hesitating a moment to become a member of the council, and take upon himself that department in the administration, which circumstances rendered most important. He was in politics the Tartuffe* of Moliere.
Whilst I am writing this, Biron is confined in the same prison as I inhabit. Towards the end of Pache’s ministry, Biron came to impeach him before the assembly, and of course provided with documents capable of proving his misconduct. Biron saw him; was seduced by his air of simplicity; persuaded himself, that his maleadministration was owing more to want of knowledge than dishonesty; thought it cruel to bring to the scaffold a man, who might have been imposed upon; relinquished his design; and then mentioned it to Pache himself. Pache came to an explanation; drew from Biron all his papers, and every information, respecting the complaints against himself; and procured him to be sent to the army of Italy, where he was left in want of every thing. Biron obtained some advantages; they were never mentioned: he made complaints; no attention was paid to them: time ran on, the evils increased, he was urgent; an order was sent him, to repair to Paris: as soon as he arrived, he was seized, and confined at St.-Pelagie. In this stroke he discovers the hand of Pache, and the tyrant by whom he is oppressed.[Back to Table of Contents]
LOVE each other, probably because they bear no resemblance. Guadet is as impetuous as Gensonné is cool: but the paroxysms of his ebullient vivacity are never followed by sourness, and to the intention of offending he is a stranger. Nature has made Guadet an orator; Gensonné, a logician. This frequently loses, in deliberating, the time, which ought to have been employed in action: that dissipates, in happy, but short and transient, flights, the warmth, which sometimes requires concentration, always longer continuance, to produce a durable effect.
Guadet has had brilliant moments in each of the two assemblies, the legislative and conventional; owing to the sway of honesty, seconded by talents: but too susceptible to wrestle long without fatigue, he has acquired the hatred of the wicked, without being very formidable to them; and he has never possessed the degree of influence, which his enemies were fond of ascribing to him, in order to render him an object of jealousy. Gensonné, useful in debate, which however he has the fault of drawing out too long, has laboured in different committees, and drew up part of the plan of the proposed constitution. His speech on the business of the king is seasoned with sarcastic strokes, to which an apparent coolness gave an edge, and which the sons of the mountain will never forgive.
Both tender husbands, good fathers, excellent citizens, virtuous men, sincere republicans, they sunk under the accusation of the conspirators, merely for want of having formed an union in favour of the good cause, for which alone they contended, for which alone they were worthy to exist.[Back to Table of Contents]
WAS, perhaps, the most eloquent orator in the assembly. He did not speak without any preparation, like Guadet: but his made speeches, strong in argument, animated with fire, abundant in matter, sparkling with beauties, and supported by a dignified delivery, are still to be read with great pleasure.
Yet I do not love Vergniaux: I perceive in him a philosopher absorbed in self. Disdaining mankind, assuredly because he knows it well, he gives himself no concern on it’s account: but he who does this should remain a private individual, without employment; otherwise idleness is a crime; and in this respect Vergniaux is highly culpable. What pity, that talents like his have not been employed with the ardour of a mind devoured by the love of the public weal, and with the perseverance of an industrious mind![Back to Table of Contents]
IS the best of mankind, with a countenance of the least pronise. His understanding is of the common level; his mind, truly great: and he performs noble actions with simplicity, and not in the least suspecting, what they would cost any other than himself.
In the course of july, 1792, the conduct and disposition of the court indicating hostile designs, every one talked of the means of preventing or frustrating them. On this subject Chabot said, with the ardour which proceeds from a heated imagination, not from strength of mind, it was to be wished, that the court might attempt the lives of some of the patriotic deputies; as this would infallibly cause an insurrection of the people, the only mean of setting the multitude in motion, and producing a salutary crisis. He grew warm on this head, on which he made a copious harangue. Grangeneuve, who had listened to him without saying a word, in the little society where the discourse took place, embraced the first opportunity of speaking to Chabot in private. ‘I have been struck with your reasons;’ said he: ‘they are excellent: but the court is too sagacious, ever to afford us such an expedient. We must make it ourselves. Find you men to strike the blow: I will devote myself as the victim.’—‘What! you will * * * * ?’—‘Certainly, What is there so strange in it? My life is of no great utility: as an individual I am of little importance: I should be very happy, to sacrifice myself for my country.’—‘Ah, my friend, you shall not do it singly:’ exclaimed Chabot, with a look of enthusiasm: ‘I will share the glory with you.’—‘As you please: one is enough: two may be better. But there will be no glory in the business; for it is necessary, that it remain a secret to all the world. Let us think, then, of the means of carrying it into execution.’
Chabot took upon himself this charge. A few days after, he informed Grangeneuve, that he had found instruments for the purpose, and all was ready.—‘Very well: let us appoint the time. We shall be at the committee tomorrow evening: I will leave it at half after ten: we must go through some street little frequented, in which you must post your men. They must take care to shoot us dead at once, and not maim us only.’—The hour was fixed: the circumstances were settled. Grangeneuve went to make his will, and arrange some domestic concerns, without any bustle; and was punctual to the appointment. Chabot did not yet appear. The hour came; and he did not arrive. Grangeneuve concluded, that he had given up his design of taking a share in the business: but supposing, that it would be carried into execution on himself, he departed, took the road agreed on, traversed it slowly, met no person, repassed it a second time, for fear of any mistake, and was obliged to return home safe and found, dissatisfied with having made all his preparations in vain. Chabot framed some paltry excuses, to prevent Grangeneuve from upbraiding him; and fully displayed the poltronry of a priest, with the hypocrisy of a capuchin.[Back to Table of Contents]
WHOSE features no painter would disdain to copy for the head of an Antinous, active, laborious, frank, and brave, with all the vivacity of a young marseillese, was destined to become a man of merit, and a citizen as useful as enlightened. Enamoured of independence, proud of the revolution, pregnant with knowledge, capable of assiduous attention, habituated to application, and sensible to glory; he is one of those men, whom a great politician would seek to attach to himself, and who must shine with lustre in a happy republic. But who would venture to say, to what point premature injustice, proscription, and misfortune, may repress such a mind, and tarnish it’s good qualities? Moderate success would have animated Barbaroux in his career, because he loves fame, and possesses every qualification necessary to procure him a very respectable reputation: but love of pleasure is at hand; and if it once take the place of glory, from vexation at obstacles, or disgust at miscarriage, it will corrupt an excellent temper, and lead it to betray it’s noble destination.
During the first time of Roland’s being in administration, I had an opportunity of seeing several letters from Barbaroux, addressed rather to the man than to the minister; the object of which was, to lead him to judge of the method most proper to be employed, to keep in the right way ardent and irritable minds, like those of the department of the mouths of the Rhone. Roland, a strict observer of the law, and rigid as it, knew but one language, when charged with it’s execution. The administrators had gone a little astray: the minister had chidden them with severity; and their minds were irritated. On this occasion Barbaroux wrote to Roland, to vindicate the purity of his countrymen’s intentions, excuse their errours, and convince Roland, that gentler methods would bring them back to a proper state of subordination with more promptitude and certainty. These letters were dictated by the best intentions, and consummate prudence. When I saw their author, I was astonished at his youth. They had that effect, of which they could not fail with an equitable man, who sought only to do good: Roland relaxed his austerity, assumed a more brotherly than ministerial tone, brought back the marseillese to their duty, and gave Barbaroux his esteem.
After Roland quitted the ministry, we saw him more frequently. His open disposition and ardent patriotism inspired us with confidence. It was then, that, reasoning on the bad state of affairs, and the apprehension of despotism in the north, we formed the conditional project of a republic in the south.—‘That will be our last stake:’ said Barbaroux with a smile: ‘but the marseillese here will prevent our being reduced to it.’—From this speech, and some others of a similar turn, we conjectured, that an insurrection was preparing: but his confidence leading him no farther, we asked no more. Towards the latter end of july, Barbaroux nearly discontinued his visits; telling us, at last, that we must not judge of his sentiments towards us from a consideration of his absence, which arose solely from a desire of preventing our being involved in any difficulty. After the tenth of august he departed for Marseilles, and returned a deputy to the convention. There he did his duty as a man of courage. Many of his printed speeches display excellent argumentation, and considerable knowledge with respect to the regulation of commerce: that on the supply of provision is, next to the work of Creuze-la-Touche, the best of it’s kind. But he would require some pains, to become an orator.
The animated and affectionate Barbaroux is attached to the delicate and susceptible Buzot: I would style them Nysus and Euryalus. May they have a better fate than those two friends! Louvet, more acute than Barbaroux, more gay than Buzot, and in goodness of heart equal to either, is intimate with both; but more particularly with Buzot, who serves as a link to bind him to Barbaroux, of whom Buzot’s natural gravity renders him in some sort the Mentor.[Back to Table of Contents]
WITH whom I became acquainted during the first ministry of Roland, and whose agreeable society I always sought, may sometimes, like Philopœmen, well pay the interest of his indifferent appearance. Little, slender, short-sighted, and negligent in dress, he appears nothing to the vulgar, who remark not the nobleness of his countenance, and the fire which animates his eyes and features at the utterance of a grand truth, a fine sentiment, a sally of wit, or delicate raillery. His pleasing romances, where the graces of imagination are combined with fluency of style, the maxims of philosophy, and the salt of criticism, are known to all men of letters and persons of taste. Politics are indebted to him for more serious works: the matter and manner of which depose equally in favour of his head and heart. He has shown, that his able hand can alternately jingle the bells of folly, direct the graver of history, and launch the thunders of eloquence. It is impossible to unite more wit with less pretension, and more simplicity. Bold as a lion, simple as a child, a man of feeling, a good citizen, and a vigorous writer; he can make Catiline tremble in the senate, dine with the graces, and sup with Bachaumont.
His Philippic, or Robespierride, deserved to have been pronounced in a senate possessed of strength to do justice. His Conspiracy of the 10th of March is another piece of value to the history of the times. His Sentinel is a model for those bills to be posted up, those daily instructions, designed to impart just ideas of facts to a populace, which it is meant to influence solely by reason, to move only for the good of all, and to inspire with the happy-sentiments that honour human nature. It forms an excellent contrast to those atrocious and disgusting papers, the coarse style and filthy expressions of which are answerable to the sanguinary doctrine, and impure falsehoods, of which they are the common-sewer; those audacious performances of calumny, hired by dishonest intrigue to accomplish the ruin of public morals, and by the aid of which the gentlest people in Europe has seen it’s disposition perverted to such a degree, that the peaceable parisians, whose kindness of heart was held up as a pattern, are become the rivals of those ferocious pretorian guards, who sold their votes, their lives, and the empire, to the best bidder. Let us dismiss these sad images, and revert our attention to the Observations on St. Just’s Report against the confined Deputies, by a Society of Girondines, printed at Caen the 13th of july. In it I discovered the style, the acuteness, and the gaiety of Louvet: it is Reason in dishabille, sporting with Ridicule, without derogating from her strength or dignity.[Back to Table of Contents]
BY birth a polander, Lazowski came to France no one knows how, without fortune, but under the protection of the duke of Liancourt; whether he were a relation of some person in his service, or a dependent on him in any other way.
Lazowski had been appointed inspector of manufactures: one of those very inferiour offices of administration, which confer no authority; the salaries of which were moderate; to fulfil the duties of which, it was sufficient to have honesty, and to have deserved them; and which, therefore, appeared adapted to any one, or for which at least every one thought himself fit. They were in the gift of the council, at the presentation of the minister of the finances, and subordinate to the superintendants of trade. The persons who filled these posts were little magistrates with great pretensions; who made themselves of some little consequence, people having the goodness to credit them, like many others, on their own words; and who in reality, from the multitude of affairs that came before them, had extensive connexions, and gave audiences, at which great lords sometimes took the trouble to be present.
Lively, enterprizing, and passing himself off for a man of understanding, Lazowski had persuaded his patron, that he ought not to remain a simple inspector of manufactures. It is true, that, in order to find him employment, an inspectorship had been created at Soissons, where there was scarcely any manufacture but of priests, and scarcely any objects of inspection except nuns: for it was a town of convents without trade, and in which no business was carried on except in the absolute necessaries of life. Mr. de Liancourt, who was excited to the advancement of his dependant by the usual vanity of courtiers, engaged in it also from the honest simplicity of his nature. He was pressing with the minister, and particularly with the superintendants of commerce; for the secondary agents are always the really effective men. Calonne was comptroller-general: he had an inventive mind, ready at seizing ingenious ideas. The creation of a travelling inspectorship was hinted. This was no effort of genius: such a place had already existed, and it’s inutility had been evinced: but it’s second creation was not without motive; it afforded the means of obliging a person of consideration, and the number of places, carried as far as four, gave it the air of an administrative operation, without reckoning the advantage of three places remaining for savour and intrigue. They were soon filled. The inspectors had salaries of 8000 livres [£333, 6, 8] a year; they were to reside in Paris four months of the twelve, and travel over the provinces the remaining eight; at the deaths of the inspector-general, they were to succeed to their places; and they were allowed to solicit gratifications in proportion to the importance of their services. It is true, this sapped the foundations of an institution, the spirit of which was excellent. It took from the inspectors of the generalities the hope of arriving at the inspector-generalship by merit or seniority: it discouraged them by sending into their respective departments men for the most part strangers to the business: and it deprived the minister of the possibility of being well-informed of the state of arts, manufactures, trade, and in short all the objects of industry; of which a much better account might be given by men settled in the several generalities for the purpose, than by these birds of passage, employed in traversing them all. But the views of the old system reached not so far: and who knows whether, under the new, individuals have more extensive views, and particularly more disinterested ones?
This happened in the spring of 1784, when I was at Paris on family affairs. I heard talk of a change in the inspections; and I learnt, that the ambitious Brisson had given up that of Lyons for a travelling inspectorship, and that it was conferred on a very young man. I reflected, that Roland always longed to retire, and intended to solicit leave, as soon as he had finished his labours in the Encyclopedia, that he might go into his own country, to forget Paris, and the meannesses to which a man must stoop, who would obtain preferment refused to merit. I thought it would be better for him to go to his native home with a place, than without one; and it occurred to me, to solicit the exchange of that of Amiens, where we then were, for that of Lyons, which would fix him in his own country. This trifling favour I supposed would easily be granted to an old servant, whose knowledge and character the superintendants of commerce dreaded enough to be pleased with his removal. The commissions were already made out. I urged my reasons with all the advantage a woman then had with people, who piqued themselves on their politeness: to these were objected the difficulties, which I frankly appreciated at their due value: and I obtained the change, almost as soon as my husband was informed of the request I intended to make.
On that occasion I met Lazowski in the office, then a fine gentleman, his hair well powdered, dressed with great care, strutting as he walked, rounding his shoulders and swelling out his chest, in short, giving himself those little airs of consequence, which fools then took for claims to respect, and men of sense ridiculed.
The constituent assembly, having discarded the nobles and suppressed the inspectorships, deprived Lazowski of his place and patron. Not daring to hope for a pension, which must have been reduced to a cipher, considering the little time he had been employed, and finding himself without a penny, he turned patriot, wore his hair about his ears, became a bawler at a section, and made himself a fans-culotte; when indeed he was really in danger of being forced to go without breeches.
Young and vigorous, with good lungs, and able at intrigue, he was soop distinguished, and became a ward-captain [capitaine de quartier] in the national guard. In this quality he served on the 10th of august, and availed himself much of the dangers of that day, like many others, who mixed in the tumult to reap some profit, and afterwards presented themselves boldly as the saviours of their country. But his exploits date from the 2d of september, and the activity he continued to keep up in the section of Finistere, which was his, in massacreing the priests at St.-Firmin. He was of equal utility in the affair of the prisoners of Orleans.
He had occasion to come, as deputy of his section, to the minister of the home department, where I saw him, and was enabled to judge of his astonishing transformation. The pretty gentleman, with his affected smiles, had assumed the savage aspect of a furious patriot; the purple face of a drunkard; and the haggard eye of an assassin.
Dear to the jacobins, who knew how to value his merit, and destined him for something great, he was intended to direct the conspiracy of the 10th of march; but on a sudden he died, at Vaugirard, of an inflammatory fever, the fruit of debauchery, bad hours, and brandy.
All the world knows the grief of the band at this unexpected loss; the funeral oration delivered by the high-priest Robespierre, his affecting lamentations, and his pompous eulogium of the great man unknown; the splendid funeral celebrated by the venerable commune, and the holy societies; the adoption of his child, embraced in the town-hall by papa Pache; and finally the interment of Lazowski near the tree of liberty, in the square of the Carrouzel, where his humble grave, covered with turf, is still to be seen.
Let them, who are astonished at his posthumous importance, recollect, that it emanated from the focus of the jacobins, when they were become as formidable to the timid parisians as atrocious, when Marat was in all his glory, and Danton in all his power.
Assuredly the people, that takes the one for it’s lord, the other for it’s prophet, may well honour Lazowski as a saint or a hero, which are both the same thing in the religion of the septembrists.[Back to Table of Contents]
WHAT have you done to Robert? said a person to me lately: ‘his wife and he revile you more virulently than any of your enemies.’—‘I have visited them but seldom: I have done them service: but I have not consented, to slatter their ambition. That is all.’
When I departed from Lyons for Paris, in 1791, Champagneux asked me, whether I knew madam Robert, a woman of sense, an author, and a patriot.—‘No. I understand, that mademoiselle Keralio, whose father is a writer, has lately married M. Robert, and that together they compose the Mercure national, of which I have seen a few numbers. I know nothing more of her.’—‘Do you with to see her? If you do, I will give you a letter of introduction to her; for we are connected as writers [journalistes].’—‘Why truly, a woman of sense, an author, and a republican, it is enough to excite my curiosity. Give me a letter.’
I arrived at Paris: I had been there about six weeks, when one of our friends, speaking to me of madam Robert, whom he had had occasion to see, brought to my remembrance, that I had a letter for her. I told him of it: he offered to accompany me to the house: and we went.
I saw a little lively woman, quick, and haughty, who gave me a very pleasing reception: and I found her clumsy husband with a face like a bishop, broad, beaming health and self-complacency, the ruddiness of which no deep study had faded. They returned my visit; and I urged our acquaintance no farther. The 17th of july, coming from the Jacobins, where I had been witness to the agitation produced by the mournful events of the Champ-de-Mars, when I arrived at home, at eleven at night, I found there M. and madam Robert.—‘We come,’ said the wife to me, with the confidence of an old friend, ‘to intreat of you an asylum. There is no necessity for having seen you often, to be persuaded of your frankness and patriotism. My husband drew up the petition on the altar of our country: I was by his side: we have escaped the slaughter, and dare not retire to our own house, or that of any known friend, which may be searched for us.’—‘I am much obliged to you,’ replied I, ‘for having thought of me on such an occasion, and I am happy to receive them, who are persecuted: but you will be badly concealed here;’ I was at the British hotel, in Guénégaud street; ‘this house is much frequented, and the master of the house is a great partisan of Lafayette.’—‘It is only for this night: to-morrow we will bethink ourselves of some retreat.’
I sent to inform the mistress of the hotel, that a relation of mine, just arrived at Paris in this state of tumult, had left her baggage at the place where the diligence put up, and would pass the night with me; and therefore begged she would make up a couple of camp beds in my apartment. These were placed in a salon; and in them our husbands slept, whilst madame Robert slept in my husband’s bed, adjoining mine, in my own chamber. The next morning, I rose early, and was eager to write letters, to inform my distant friends of the events of the preceding evening. M. and madam Robert, who, I supposed, must be very active, and have a much more extensive correspondence, as journalists, dressed themselves leisurely, chatted after the breakfast I had served up to them, and placed themselves in the balcony facing the street. They even went so far as to call out of the window to an acquaintance, who passed by, to come up to them.
This conduct appeared to me very inconsistent for people who were hiding themselves. The person, whom they called in, conversed with them warmly on the events of the day before, boasting that he had run his sword through the body of a national guard, and talking very loudly, though the room was adjoining to a large anti-chamber common to my apartment and another.
I called madam Robert.—‘I received you, madam, with that interest, which justice and humanity feel for honest persons in danger: but I cannot give an asylum to all your acquaintance. You expose yourself by conversing as you do, in a house like this, with a person so indiscreet. I am continually visited by deputies, who would run the hazard of being brought into trouble, if they were seen to enter my doors, when there is a person here, who boasts of having yesterday committed acts of violence. I beg you will desire him to withdraw.’—Madam Robert called her husband. I repeated my observations, in a somewhat higher tone, supposing the thicker head required the stronger impression. The man was dismissed. I found his name was Vachard: that he was president of a society, called paupers: and much was boasted of his excellent qualities, and ardent patriotism. I sighed within myself, at the price it was necessary to attach to the patriotism of a person, who had every appearance of what is termed a wrong head, and whom I should have taken for a man with a bad heart. Since I have learnt, he was a hawker of Marat’s paper, who could not even read, and who is now an administrator of the department of Paris, where he makes a very good figure amongst his fellows.
At noon M. and madam Robert talked of going home, where every thing must be in confusion. I told them, as that was the case, if they would accept of a dinner with me before they went, I would order it early. They replied, they would rather return, and thus engaged themselves as they were going. In effect, before three o’clock they returned. They were dressed: the wife had long plumes, and plenty of rouge: the husband was equipped in sky-blue silk, with which his black hair, falling down in large curls, formed a singular contrast; and a long sword by his side added every thing to his dress, that could make him remarkable.—‘My god!’ said I to myself: ‘are these people mad?’ and I listened to their discourse, to satisfy myself, that their brains were not turned. The jolly Robert ate wonderfully; and his wife prattled as freely. At length they took leave, and I never saw them after, or spoke of them to any one.
On our return to Paris the following winter, Robert, meeting Roland at the Jacobins, made him some civil reproaches, or polite complaints, for the interruption of our acquaintance: and his wife visited me several times, inviting me in the most pressing manner to go to her house two days in the week, when she received company, where I should find men of merit belonging to the legislature. I did go once. There I saw Antoine, whose mediocrity I knew, a little man, well enough to place on a toilette, a pretty maker of verses, an agreeable writer of trifles, but destitute of any decided character. I saw some other patriotic deputies of the standard, as observant of decorum as Chabot: and a few women ardent in civism, with some honourable members of the fraternal society, completed a circle, which suited me little, and to which I never returned.
A few months after Roland was called to the ministry. Four-and twenty hours had scarcely passed after his nomination, when madam Robert came to visit me.—‘So, your husband is in place: patriots ought mutually to serve each other: I hope your husband will not forget mine.’—‘I should be happy, madam, to render you any service: but I do not know how it is in my power; and certainly M. Roland will neglect no opportunity of serving the public by employing persons of capacity. In four days time, madam Robert returned to pay me a morning visit; and, in a few days after, another: always insisting much on the necessity of putting her husband in some office, and his claim to one on account of his patriotism. I informed madam Robert, that the minister of the home-department had no places in his appointment, except those in his own offices, which were all filled: that, notwithstanding the advantage, which might accrue from changing some of his agents, it behoved a prudent man to study things and persons, before he made alterations, lest the course of affair, should be clogged: and besides, from what she had said to me herself, her husband certainly did not desire a clerk’s place.—‘Certainly Robert is qualified for something better than that.’—‘In such a case, the minister of the home-department can do nothing to serve you.’—‘But he should speak to the minister of foreign affairs, and get some mission for Robert.’—‘I believe it suits not the strictness of M. Roland’s principles to solicit any one, or to interfere in the departments of his colleagues: but as you probably mean nothing more, than the bearing testimony to your husband’s civism, I will mention it to mine.’
Madam Robert laid close siege to Dumouriez and Brissot: and three weeks after she returned, to tell me, that the former had given her a promise, which she begged me to recall to his memory, when I should see him.
That same week he dined with me. Brissot and some others were present.—‘Have you not promised a certain very pressing lady,’ said I to Dumouriez, ‘to give her husband a place without delay? She has requested me to remind you of it; and her activity is so great, that I shall not be sorry to have it in my power to quiet her with respect to myself, by telling her, that I have done as she desired.’—‘Is it not Robert, of whom you speak?’ asked Brissot immediately.—‘It is.’—‘Aye!’ resumed he, addressing himself to Dumouriez, with his characteristic simplicity: ‘you ought to put that man in a place. He is a sincere friend of the revolution, a warm patriot, and not very happily circumstanced: the reign of liberty ought to be beneficial to it’s friends.’—‘What?’ said Dumouriez, interrupting him, with equal gaiety and quickness: ‘do you speak of that little black-headed man, as thick as he is long? Faith, I have no wish to disgrace myself. I would not send such a hob-nail to any place.’—‘But,’ replied Brissot, ‘among the agents you have to employ, all do not require equal capacity.’—‘Do you know this Robert?’ asked Dumouriez.—‘I am well acquainted with Keralio, his wife’s father, a very respectable man. At his house I have seen Robert. I know he is charged with some defects: but I believe him to be honest, possessing an excellent heart, imbued with the true spirit of civism, and in want of employment.’—‘I cannot employ such a madman.’—‘But have you not promised his wife?’—‘Certainly: an inferiour place, with a salary of a thousand crowns; which she refused. Do you know what she asks? the embassy to Constantinople.’—‘The embassy to Constantinople!’ exclaimed Brissot laughing: ‘impossible!’—‘It is the fact.’—‘I have nothing more to say.’—‘Or I:’ added Dumouriez: ‘except, that I will order that hogshead to be tumbled into the street, if he come to me, and forbid my door to his wife.’
Madam Robert returned to my house again. I wished to get rid of her altogether, but without noise, and I could employ no method inconsistent with my natural frankness. She complained greatly of Dumouriez, for his tardiness. I told her, that I had spoken to him; and I ought not to conceal from her, that she had enemies, who propagated ill reports concerning her; and I would advise her, to trace them to their source, in order to stop them; that a man in a public capacity might not be exposed to the detraction of the malevolent, for employing a person, against whom there must necessarily be unfavourable prejudices; and this required nothing more than certain explanations, which I recommended to her to give. Madam Robert repaired to Brissot, who ingenuously told her, that she was mad to ask an ambassador’s appointment, and a person, who made such pretensions, would ultimately obtain nothing.
We saw her no more: but her husband wrote a pamphlet against Brissot, to denounce him as a distributor of places, and a deceiver, who had promised him the embassy to Constantinople, and then forfeited his word. He flung himself into the cordeliers, connected himself with Danton, submitted to be his clerk when Danton became minister on the 10th of august, was pushed up by him to the electoral body, and the deputation from Paris to the convention, payed his debts, lived expensively, gave entertainments to d’Orleans, and a thousand others, is now rich, calumniates Roland, and reviles his wife. All this is easily conceivable: he follows his trade; and gets money.[Back to Table of Contents]
Champfort and Carra.
CHAMPFORT, a man of letters, living in the world, familiar with the great of the ancient school, connected with men of talents who have made some figure in the revolution, has become better acquainted with the court and the city, characters and intrigues, politics and men, than with the age in which he lives.
That extreme confidence, with which I have always reproached those philosophers, who were active in the new order of things, Champfort partook. He could not credit the ascendancy of some perverse heads, and the confusion they would be capable of producing.—‘You carry things to an extreme:’ he would say to me sometimes: ‘because, placed in the centre of the movement, you suppose it’s sphere of action extensive. It appears to you animated; and you deem it formidable. These fellows will ruin themselves by their own intemperances: they will not be able to impress a retrograde course on the light of eighteen centuries.’—Yet these fellows rule; and Champfort is now a prisoner, with all those who do not worship their empire.
Abundance of wit, a sufficiency of morality, the graces of good breeding, the acquirements of literature, and the philosophy of a sound and cultivated mind, rendered Champfort’s conversation equally solid and entertaining. At first I thought he talked too much: and I accused him of that exuberance of speech, and that sort of superiority, which our men of letters very commonly take upon them. I liked him better in a select society of five or six persons, than in a mixed company of fifteen or twenty, of which I had to do the honours. But, to say the truth, I forgave him for speaking more than another, for he amused me more: he abounds in those happy sallies, which make you laugh, and afford you matter for reflection at the same time, and which are very rare.—‘Do you think Champfort a thoroughly sincere patriot?’ said to me, one day, a man of spartan austerity.—‘Let us not misunderstand one another:’ replied I. ‘Champfort sees clearly, and judges rightly: he has a sound head, and does not err with regard to principles: he understands and reveres those of public freedom, and human happiness, and will not betray them. But that he would sacrifice to them his peace, his enjoyments, and his life, is another question; on which, I believe, he would deliberate.’—‘You see plainly, then, he is not a virtuous man.’—‘Why he is virtuous, as Ninna was chaste: and amidst the corruption, which erodes our vitals, we should be happy, if we had many such virtuous men.’—Our hypocrites and enthusiasts would never admit, that men should be employed according to the compound ratio of their civism and talents, so that they should be interested in employing these to the advantage of that. I have seen Servan enraged, that excellent engineers, whom he employed in the camp near Paris, were rejected, under pretence of their not being ardent republicans, whilst stout patriots, but consummate blockheads, who did not know how to draw a line, were substituted in their room.—‘I would not send for them,’ said he very justly, ‘to give their opinions on the form of a government: but I am convinced they will serve him well, who knows how to employ them. We want redoubts, not motions.’—This was too reasonable: it was talking like the faction of statesmen: and thus men of wisdom acquired the title of conspirators.
When Roland was recalled to the ministry on the 10th of august, it was necessary to change the superiour of the national library: at that time one d’Ormesson, whose name was obnoxious to the new system, and whose mediocrity gave no room for regret. The minister of the home department thought of dividing the function of librarian between two persons: reducing the salary from twelve thousand livres [£.500] a year to eight [£.333, 6s. 8d]; and having the library open every day: thus the public would have gained on the score of instruction; the nation, on that of œconomy; and the government, by the employment of two useful subjects. With regard to the choice of persons, he fixed on Champfort, who, being a man of letters and a philosopher, was one of those of that class, who had openly declared themselves for the revolution; and on Carra, already employed in the library, whose extreme zeal, if not his talents, seemed to entitle him to this reward. He had never seen either of the men, and was determined solely by these considerations, added to the necessity of making a choice agreeable to the public. I received the visits of both these men, in consequence of their places, and the connexion they gave them with the minister: and I should have continued to see Champfort with pleasure, if circumstances had not kept us at a distance.
Carra, become a deputy, has appeared to me a very good man, with a very indifferent head. It is impossible for a man to be more enthusiastic in favour of the revolution, liberty, and a commonwealth; or a worse judge of men and things. Giving way entirely to his imagination, reckoning from it rather than from facts, arranging in his mind the interests of foreign powers as best suited our success, seeing every thing strewed with flowers, he dreamed of his country’s happiness, and the emancipation of all Europe, with inexpressible complacency. It must not be denied, that he contributed greatly to our political commotions, and to the insurrections of which the object was the overthrow of tyranny. His Annals succeeded wonderfully with the populace, from a certain prophetic cast, which always has weight with the vulgar. And when we behold such a man brought to trial, as a traitor to the republic, we are tempted to ask, whether Robespierre be not labouring in the service of Austria: yet it is very evident, that he labours for himself; and that, in his greedy ambition to pass for the sole deliverer of France, he would remove out of the way all, who have in any manner served their country, with a sort of noise or reputation.[Back to Table of Contents]
IS a name I had so often seen in the Almanac of the Muses, and similar compilations, that I could not avoid laughing, when I found joined to it the title of secretary-register of the municipality. They seem incongruous; and so they really are. Cubières, faithful to that double character of insolence and baseness, which his revolting features wear in a supreme degree, preaches sans-culotism as he sung the graces, makes verses to Marat as he did to Iris, and sanguinary without rage, as he was apparently amorous without tenderness, he prostrates himself humbly before the idol of the day, be it Venus or Tantalus. Provided he creep through life, and get bread, what matters it how? yesterday it was by writing a song, to-day it is by copying a report, or signing an order of the police.
Getting admission into my house, I know not how, when my husband was minister, I knew him only as a wit, and I had an opportunity of making him a present. He dined with me twice: the first time I thought him odd; the second, insupportable: a flat courtier, an insipid complimenter, consequentially stupid, and meanly polite; he astonishes good sense, and offends reason, more than any other being I ever saw. I soon felt the necessity of giving my open manner that air of solemnity, which hints to a person, of whom you would get rid, what he has to do. Cubières understood it: yet, after some time, he wrote to me, to beg permission, to introduce to me a prince, who was desirous of being admitted to my acquaintance. The stress he laid on this title of prince was completely laughable; and to this he added the most disgusting flattery to myself. I answered in the manner of which I am sufficiently capable, when I would call people to order, without enraging them, and make a jest of them, without giving them a right to complain. As to the prince, and his introduction, I contented myself with observing, that, in the retired life I led, quite foreign to every thing that might be termed a circle, and avoiding company, I saw only such persons, as business or ancient friendship led my husband sometimes to wish to meet at his table. Cubières replied with long excuses, as tedious as his eulogies, requesting a single moment to explain himself at my feet. I gave him no answer, and thought no more of him, till the day I was apprehended, when I perceived his signature on the order of the commune: for there were two, one from the committee of insurrection of the said 31st of may, the other from the commune. Both were shown to me, lest I should object to that of the committee: yet this alone was used by my guards with the keeper of the Abbey, to which I was conveyed.
The request of Cubières led me to suspect some private interest: I diverted my husband at the time, by relating to him what had passed: and in fact I learnt, that the prince of Salm-Kirbourg, the person in question, was then importuning the ministers, in order to obtain from the council an indemnification for I know not what possessions in Alsace. Hence I concluded I had guessed aright, and that he sought to see me only from an idea, that the new system might resemble the old, when women were engaged to plead with their husbands. I was pleased with what I had done, and found in this anecdote a fresh trait of the character of Cubières. It would be serving him properly, to publish his servile letters, as contrasts to his affectation of ingenuousness and freedom. I should have had some curious pieces of that sort, if I had preserved the farrago. How many relations and admirers, of whom I had never before heard, sprung up on a sudden, as soon as I was the wife of a minister!—As I admitted no company, they wrote to me. I had enough to do to read their letters; which I answered briefly and politely, but sincerely, to suppress every thought, that I either could or would interfere in any thing, and to convince them of the perfect inutility of paying me compliments, or calling themselves relations.
The most curious circumstance is, that some were angry, and replied in severe terms. I remember one M. David, who had planned some establishment, in behalf of which he would have interested me. It availed me nothing to answer, that he would obtain his purpose by applying directly to the minister; that my interference would answer no end; and that I never employed it, as it would be making myself a judge of subjects, to which I was incompetent: he found my principles abominable, and wrote to me with great anger.
Thus in private I was persecuted for my perseverance in confining myself to my own sphere of duty: and in public I was slandered by envy, as having taken upon myself the direction of affairs. Yet people think it very pleasing and desirable to fill places of eminence!—No doubt the wife of a good man devoted to the public, who is proud of his virtues, and feels herself capable of supporting his courage, tastes some pleasure, and enjoys some glory: but they are not gratuitous, and few would undergo what they cost, without regretting their price.[Back to Table of Contents]
WHEN I quitted the Abbey, I left there the family of Desilles, which was soon after removed to the Conciergerie, whence many concerned in the conspiracy in Brittany were conducted to the scaffold. Angelica Desilles, the wife of Roland de la Fouchais, the similarity of whose name to mine occasioned one of my friends, who wanted to carry me off, to make some singular mistakes, was one of the victims. Her sisters were acquitted, and consequently ought to have been set at liberty; but, as a measure of general safety, they were immediately arrested, and conveyed to St. Pélagie, where I saw them. We sometimes conversed together. They were both young, mild, and good. The elder, a widow of twenty-seven, wanted neither amiableness, nor a decided character: the younger was of a very delicate constitution. At first, overwhelmed with grief, it appeared as if they must sink under it: but both mothers of unfortunate children of the tenderest years, they had to live for their sakes, and summoned up all their courage.
They several times mentioned to me the base treachery of Chestel, a man of wit, known at Paris, where he practises physic, a breton by birth, who had insinuated himself into the most intimate confidence of Desilles the father, knew his wishes, and appeared to aid his schemes: but, connected at the same time with Danton, he received through his means commissions from the executive power, repaired to Britanny, to pay his court to his friend, taking up his abode at his country house, feasted by his relations, encouraging his designs, and giving them fresh activity by his assistance. The moment that appeared to him most sure, he secretly informed against him, and brought the parties concerned together, that they might be seized.
Desilles escaped. All his family were apprehended. His effects were sealed up. The places where his papers might be concealed, which Cheftel had pointed out, were searched. The young women, who still thought him a friend to the family, begged his advice, and implicitly followed his directions. Embarrassed with a purse of two hundred louis intended for their father, they put it into his hands, ordered the best horse in their stable to be saddled, and pressed Cheftel to depart, that he might not be taken. He professed himself determined to share their fate; indeed accompanied them, but not as a prisoner; and would always have persuaded the commander of the armed force, charged with the conveyance of the prisoners, to contrive, that they should enter the great towns by day.—‘Surely you cannot mean any such thing:’ said the commander: ‘it would endanger their lives.’
They arrived at Paris. The trial commenced. The name of Cheftel was crased from the correspondence, because he had disclosed the plot; and the poor victims then discovered the serpent they had entertained. Tried, acquitted, yet confined, and without money, the two young women recollected the purse of louis. They confided this circumstance to a man of courage and probity, who went to Cheftel, and demanded the two hundred louis. Cheftel, taken by surprise, at first denied the fact; but, terrified at the firmness of the demander, who threatened to expose him to the whole world, he hesitatingly confessed the receipt of half that sum: which he repaid in assignats, though not till after repeated interviews.
Cheftel, formerly physician to madam Elizabeth* , assiduous in pursuit of fortune, had in like manner gained the confidence of a wealthy private gentleman, whose name was I think Paganel, or something like it, and who, amongst other possessions, had immense estates in Limousin. Paganel, desirous of emigrating, to shun the storms of the revolution, made a fictitious sale of his property to Cheftel. He departed, and reckoned upon the income, which his faithful friend was to remit to him: but Cheftel kept it for himself, and enjoys with Danton the pleasures of an opulence, which both have acquired by similar means.
At length repeated solicitations, perhaps assisted by more valuable offers, procured the two sisters their liberty. I saw them depart: but I did not know their secret on this head. I have just seen Castellane, however, quit this prison, at the price of 30000 livres [£.1250], paid to Chabot. Dillon got out of Magdelonettes in the same manner. Both were involved in a charge of a counter-revolutionary plot. This very moment, august 22, I have under my eyes one miss Briant, living at No. 207, St. Bennet’s cloister, a woman of the town, whose keeper is a forger of assignats. An information has been lodged against him, and a pursuit has been pretended to be set on foot: but gold has rained into the hands of the administrators: he, who directs the persons appointed to discover and seize him, knows where he is concealed: his mistress is apprehended for form’s sake: the administrators, who pretend to come and interrogate her, bring her news of her keeper: and they will soon be together at liberty, as they have money to purchase it.
Fouquai-Tainville, public accuser to the revolutionary tribunal, notorious for his dissolute life, and impudencein making out articles of impeachment without any cause, is in the habit of receiving money from the parties. Madam Rochechouart payed him 8000 livres [£.3333] for Mony the emigrant. Fouquai-Tainville pocketed the sum: Mony was executed: and it was hinted to madam Rochechouart, that, if she opened her mouth about the affair, she should be instantly clapped into prison, never more to behold the face of day. Is it possible? the reader may exclaim.—Do you doubt it? hear more. In the hands of a late president of the department of the Eure there are two letters from Lacroix the deputy, formerly judge siscal of Amet. One contains an engagement for five hundred thousand livres [£.20833], for the purchase of national domains: the other is to withdraw the engagement, and assigns for his reason the decree, which obliges deputies to justify any increase of their fortune since the revolution. But this decree has been suffered to sleep, since the troublesome twenty-two were expelled: Lacroix holds estates as well as Danton, after having pillaged like him.
Lately a dutchman went to the commune of Paris for a passport to return to his own country. It was refused. The dutchman made no complaint; but, seeing which way the wind blew, he took out his pocket-book, and placed an assignat of a hundred crowns on the desk. This language was well understood, and he received his passport.
Here Marat will be quoted to me, at whose death, according to the public papers, no more than a single assignat of 25 fols [1s. 0d. ½] was found in his house. What edifying poverty! Let us however examine his habitation, borrowing the description of a lady. Her husband, a member of the revolutionary tribunal, is confined in the house of correction, for differing in opinion from the rulers: she has been put into St. Pélagie, as a measure of safety, it is said; but probably because the active solicitations of this little woman from the south of France were dreaded. Born at Toulouse, she has all the vivacity of that ardent climate where she first saw the light, and a few months ago she was disconsolate at the imprisonment of a cousin, to whom she was tenderly attached. She had given herself much pains to no purpose, and knew not where farther to apply, when she bethought herself of Marat. She knocked at his door, and was told he was not at home: but he heard a female voice, and came out. He had on boots, without stockings, an old pair of leather breeches, and a white silk waistcoat. His dirty shirt, open at the bosom, exhibited his skin of yellow hue; long and dirty nails marked the ends of his fingers; and his frightful visage was perfectly in unison with this strange dress. He took the lady by the hand; led her into a salon newly fitted up, furnished with blue and white damask, and decorated with silk curtains elegantly drawn up in festoons, a splendid chandelier, and superb vases of porcelain filled with natural flowers, then scarce and of high price; sat down by her side on a voluptuous sopha; listened to her tale; kissed her hand; squeezed her knees a little; and promised her, that her cousin should be set at liberty.—‘I would have let him even kiss my lips, if he had pleased;’ said the little woman gaily, with her toulousan accent; ‘but upon condition of washing them afterwards: provided he restored to me my cousin.’—That very evening Marat went to the committee, and the next day her cousin left the Abbey. But ere four and twenty hours had passed, the friend of the people wrote to the husband, sending him a person who stood in need of a certain savour, which he took care not to refuse.
One M. Dumas, a natural philosopher by profession, or a man of learning by trade, presented himself before the famous committee of public safety, some time in the month of june, to make it some important proposals. He offered to reconnoitre the army of the rebels in Vendée, and to give an exact account of it’s situation and numbers; circumstances concerning which the utmost ignorance has prevailed since the commencement of the war. M. Dumas pretended most accurately to inspect the whole, by taking a bird’s eye view of it from a balloon.—‘Why, indeed, it is an ingenious thought:’ said some of the profound politicians of the committee.—‘Yes:’ replied citizen Dumas: ‘and it may be quickly put into execution. I know there is a balloon, to be found, with all it’s appendages, in the hotel of an emigrant: so that the nation need not be at the expense of the purchase..’—Bravo! He gives the necessary information. It is received with transport, and officially sent to the minister of the home department, for him to find the balloon without delay. The minister sets his people in motion. They repair to the emigrant’s hotel, which was an inn; and the apartment he occupied was one small chamber, where there remained not a single rag. A report was made in consequence: the committee was disconsolate: Dumas was clamorous: and a fresh injunction was issued to the minister, to make a stricter search after the balloon. On this the minister consults his secretary; and it is resolved to have recourse to grand measures. A letter is written to the department: the department sends to the municipality: and the municipality puts the affair into the hands of it’s magistrates of police. Here the business was lost to the public functionaries; and I laughed heartily at the Abbey with Champagneux, who wrote the ministerial letter, at the charlatanry of the brazen-faced Dumas, the sottishness of the committee, the complaisance of the minister, and the whole category of follies: but I found the clew of the history at St. Pélagie.
Citizen Jubert, a magistrate of the police, one of those who signed the contradictory orders for apprehending me and setting me at liberty, a fat man, with a hoarse voice, a true section-prater, with a disgusting face, and awkward gait, discovered one miss Lallement, a tall pretty girl of fifteen, kept by St. Croix, an eminent officer, in the service, I think, of Philip d’Orleans. She was taken up, and sent to St. Pélagie. In her apartment were found the cover of a balloon, it’s net, and other things belonging to it. This was the very prize described by Dumas: but the committee had forgotten the expedient; the philosopher had lost all hopes of making himself of consequence; the minister cared little about the result of the orders he had given; and the magistrates had no objection to take into their own possession what was now a thing of some value.
Jubert thought the little Lallement handsome. He had laid hands on several of her effects, amongst which was a portrait of St. Croix, and he deemed it very silly for her to pretend to be faithful to him. At length imagining, that kindness would render her more tractable, he procured an order for her discharge, came to fetch her in a carriage, conducted her to her home, where he ordered a dinner, restored to her after much solicitation the portrait of St. Croix, the eyes of which he had spoiled, and expected a reward. The young girl laughed at his expectations, as she ridiculed his manner, showed him the door, and repaired to the police-office, to upbraid him publicly with his attempts, whilst she claimed the other effects, that had been taken from her. The adventure made some noise: but the colleagues of Jubert were not like to condemn it: and she passed through many others, still more disgusting or atrocious; of which the legislators of the 2d of june daily offer examples to all the constituted authorities.
TO-DAY a misunderstanding has broken out between the tyrants. Hebert dissatisfied at not being appointed minister, sets his father Duchesne upon the makers, attacks the enriched patriots, names Lacroix, and is undermining Danton. Danton, more wicked than any one of them, but more circumspect, whilst he endeavours to keep some measures in the course of affairs, is already styled a moderate man: the committee of public safety has rejected him: Robespierre, moved by jealousy, exclaims against him: and the cordeliers and jacobins are on the point of coming to a rupture. A grand spectacle for us victims is preparing: the tigers are going to worry one another; perhaps they will forget us, unless the fury of their last moments impel them to exterminate all in their power before their own fall.
Chabot is for transporting all suspected persons: of course the wives of Pétion and Roland, confined under that appellation, are threatened with a voyage to Cayenne. A pleasant destination!
HAVE not my ears deceived me?—What! that woman who lived unknown, buried in the country, arrived at Paris solely to solicit for her daughter, is condemned to die!—How profoundly iniquitous such a condemnation!
Pétion, proscribed as a royalist, exhibited a phenomenon of the late revolution. His wife, whom calumny had never reached, had retired to Fécamp, amongst her own relations, there to await happier days secluded from the world: she went to the sea-side with her son, a pretty boy, ten years of age, the sole fruit of her marriage, that he might bathe in the salt water. She was taken up, and made a prisoner, with the child; and both have been brought to Paris, and confined at St. Pélagie. Daily examples teach the wives of them, who are proscribed, to expect persecution: and Pétion’s has sufficient strength of reason to support her own misfortunes: but the situation of her son afflicts her; it is equally detrimental to his health and his education. She would make complaints: yet how could she render them interesting? and above all, whom could she get to listen to them? She wrote to her mother, who lived at Chartres, to request her to make those solicitations, to which her relationship gave her a sufficient title. She came: appeared at the bar; presented her petition with tears; was referred to the committee; and waited upon all the deputies, who composed it. Some of these seemed to give her hope, but from the greater number she experienced a very unfavourable reception. The inutility of her solicitations becoming evident, she resolved to depart, and repaired to her section, to get her passport signed. There she was impeached, and apprehended. She was carried before the mayor: a man, who resided in the hotel where she lodged, deposed, that she had said, the french had need of a king: two hired witnesses, deserters, belonging to Liege, attested it: she was condemned to lose her head, and is now going to the scaffold.
I have seen the unfortunate woman, madam Lefevre, several times, when she came to her daughter. She was in her fifty seventh year: she had been handsome, and her face still showed, that her features had been regular: she had preserved a fine head of hair, and her shape, though far from slender, was by no means clumsy. The desire of pleasing had occupied the greater part of her life, yet it had not led her to make any acquisitions: nothing appeared in her, therefore, but the remains of her former pretensions, and a fund of self-regard, which was perceptible on every occasion. She had no political opinion: indeed she was incapable of forming any, for she could not reason two minutes together. It is possible, that, in a conversation excited by some ill-designing people, she may have said, it would be indifferent to her if the french had a king, provided they had peace; or some words of a like nature may have been laid hold of, in order to bring her to trial. But who perceives not, in this false and atrocious application of the law, a scheme to mislead the people, by making them suppose the family of Pétion royalists, and it’s persecution consequently just?
Fearful days of the reign of Tiberius, we see your horrours revived; but multiplied in proportion to the number of our tyrants and their favourites! This unfortunate people, whose morals are destroyed and disposition perverted, requires blood; and every thing, except justice, is employed to satisfy it’s demand. I have seen in the prisons, during the four months that I have been their inhabitant, malefactors designedly forgotten: and they are in haste to put to death madam Lefevre, who has committed no crime, because she is guilty of being the step-mother of the honest Pétion, detested by tyrants!
I can conceive nothing more ridiculous than the quackery, with which are vaunted the benefits of a constitution decreed with equal zeal and rapidity. Yet did not the very people, who made it, soon after decree, that France was, and remained, in a state of revolution? and what is the constitution but a nonentity, since no part of it is observed? Of what advantage, then, is it to us, to have such a thing? It is a piece of waste paper, which serves only to attest the impudence of them, who would make a merit of it, without concerning themselves about securing to us it’s benefits.
They who, in the multitude, accepted it without examination, merely through weakness and indolence, from the hope of seeing peace, which they would not take the pains to deserve, are well rewarded for their apathy. Unfortunately it is with nations and their affairs, as with individuals and their undertakings: the folly and fears of the many produce the triumph of the bad, and the ruin of the good. Posterity will assign to each his place; but it is in the temple of Memory: Themistocles died never the less in exile, Socrates in prison, and Sylla in his bed.
THE decree, that ordains the act of impeachment against Brissot to be presented tomorrow, was passed in the same sitting, in which it was proposed to shorten the forms of trial before the revolutionary tribunal, and in which the four sections of that tribunal were organised: so that the means of trying are multiplied, sentence is enjoined to be passed more speedily, and the defence of the accused is curtailed, at the same moment, when it is resolved to destroy Brissot, and the rest of the imprisoned deputies, that is to say, those men of talents, who might have confounded their accusers.
Four months have passed, without their being able to draw up that act of impeachment, the formation of which has repeatedly been decreed in vain. An augmentation of power, and the universal sway of terrour, were necessary, to enable them to sacrifice the founders of liberty. But when the arbitrary imprisonment of a fourth part of France, under the appellation of suspected persons, has been determined; after an imbecile people has been rendered fanatic, to ruin Lyons, as if the second city in the republic belonged to the emperour, and those whom it thinks proper to style muscadines were wild beasts; after an iron sceptre, stretched out over all France, has established the reign of guilt and fear; after it has been made a law for those who are accused, to answer simply yes, or no, without saying any thing in their defence; they may send to execution those guiltless victims, whose eloquence they still dread, so redoubtable does the voice of Truth appear even to those, who are sufficiently powerful not to listen to it’s commands.
What care is not taken to stifle this voice? But History remains. Her hand still holds the graver, and prepares silently, though slowly, to revenge the imitators of Barnevelt and Sidney.
I PERUSE the public papers, and I perceive Robespierre accuse Roland and Brissot of having spoken ill of d’Aubigny, who stole 100000 livres [£4167] from the Tuileries on the tenth of august, after whom pursuit was made, and whose wife, in his absence, brought the 100000l. to the commune. I see Robespierre assert, that Roland appointed Restout to the Jewel-office, to pave the way for it’s being robbed: though it was Pache, whom Roland chose, who refused it, and who presented Restout to the minister; and the hall of the convention resounded with the complaints of Roland against the commander of the national guard, for his neglect to strengthen the post at the Jewel-office, in spite of the minister’s repeated injunctions.
That Robespierre, whom once I thought an honest man, is a very atrocious being. How he lies to his own conscience! How he delights in blood!
Infirmary of St.-Pélagie. October 23.
WITHIN these solitary walls, where oppressed innocence has now dwelt near five months with silent resignation, a stranger appears.—It is a physician, brought by my keepers for their own tranquillity; for to the ills of nature, as to the injustice of man, I neither can nor will oppose aught but calm fortitude. When he heard my name, he said he was the friend of a man, whom I perhaps did not like.—‘Why do you think so? Who is he?’—‘Robespierre.’—‘Robespierre! I have known him well, and esteemed him much: I have thought him a sincere and zealous friend of freedom.’—‘Is he not so?’—‘I fear he loves power too: perhaps from an idea, that he knows how to do good as well as any man, and wills it not less. I fear he loves vengeance too much, and particularly to exercise it against them, by whom he supposes himself not admired. I believe he is very susceptible of prejudice; easily moved to passion in consequence; too ready to think every one guilty, who does not agree in all his opinions.—You have not seen him twice!—I have seen him much oftener!—Ask him: let him lay his hand on his heart; and see whether he can speak any ill of me.’
Robespierre, if I deceive myself, I put it into your power to convince me, that I am wrong. To yourself I repeat what I have said of you, and I will deliver to your friend a letter, which perhaps my keeper will suffer to pass, on account of him to whom it is addressed.
I write not to entreat you, as you may suppose. I have never yet entreated any one: and certainly I shall not begin from a prison, and to him who has me in his power. Prayer is for the guilty, or the slave: innocence testifies, which is quite sufficient; or complains, to which she has a right, when oppressed. But even complaints suits not me: I can suffer, without being afraid of what may happen. I know, too, that, at the birth of republics, revolutions almost inevitable, unfolding the passions of mankind too much, frequently expose them, who best serve their country, to become the victims of their own zeal, and of the errours of their contemporaries. Their consciences will afford them consolation, and history will be their avenger.
But from what singularity am I, a woman, incapable of any thing but wishes, exposed to those storms, which usually fall only on active persons? And what fate is in reserve for me? These are two questions, which I address to you.
I deem them of small importance in themselves, and with regard to myself personally: for what is a single emmet more or less, crushed by the foot of the elephant, in the general system of the world? But they are of infinite concern, with regard to the present liberty and future happiness of my country. For if it’s declared friends, and avowed defenders, be confounded together with it’s confest enemies, without distinction; if the faithful citizen and generous patriot be treated in the same manner as the dangerous regarder of self, and persidious aristocrate; if the woman of sense and virtue, who is proud of having a country, and, in her humble retirement, or whatever her situation, makes to it every sacrifice in her power, find herself associated in punishment with the vain or haughty female, who curses equality; surely justice and freedom do not yet reign, and future happiness is doubtful.
I speak not here of my venerable husband. His accounts should have been examined, when they were delivered in: instead of refusing to justify him at first, in order to accuse him after having envenomed the public mind against him by slander. Robespierre, I defy you not to believe, that Roland is an honest man. You may be of opinion, that he does not think justly, with respect to this measure, or that: but your conscience must secretly do homage to his integrity and civism. He needs to be seen little, to be thoroughly known: his book is always open, and it is intelligible to every one. He has the ruggedness of virtue, as Cato had its tartness: his manners have procured him as many enemies as his inflexible equity: but these inequalities of surface disappear at a distance, and the great qualities of the public man will remain for ever. It has been reported, that he fanned the flames of civil war at Lyons: and the reporters have dared to allege this pretext as the cause of my apprehension! The supposition was not more just than it’s consequence. Disgusted with public affairs, irritated at persecution, tired of the world, sinking under the burden of his toils and his years, he could do no more than groan in obscure retirement, and bury himself in silence, to spare the world a crime.
—He has corrupted the public mind, and I am his accomplice!—Surely this is of all reproaches the most curious, of all imputations the most absurd. You, Robespierre, cannot desire me, to take the trouble of refuting them here: the task would be too easy; and you cannot be of the number of those good people, who believe a thing because it is in print, and because it has been told them. The pretension of my being an accessary would be laughable; were not the whole rendered atrocious by the cloudy aspect under which it is presented to the people, who, seeing nothing, forms to it’s imagination some monstrous figure of it knows not what. They must have an extreme thirst of injuring me, who can hedge me thus, with premeditated brutality, into an accusation, strongly resembling that charge of high-treason, so often repeated under the reign of Tiberius, to destroy all, whom, guilty of no crime, it was resolved to sacrifice. Whence, then, arises this animosity? I cannot conceive: I, who never injured any one, who know not how even to wish harm to them, who injure me.
Brought up in retirement; educated in those serious studies, which have unfolded my mind, and enabled it to display some character; addicted to simple enjoyments, which no circumstances have prevailed to alter; an enthusiastic admirer of the revolulution, and giving a loose to the energy of the generous sentiments it inspires; remote from public transactions through principle as well as sex, but conversing on them with warmth, because the interests of the public become of all the first as soon as they exist; I regarded the first calumnies vented against me as contemptible follies; I deemed them the necessary tribute claimed by envy from a situation, which the vulgar had still the imbecility to consider as exalted, and to which I would have preferred the peaceful state, in which I had spent so many happy days.
These calumnies, however, have increased with effrontery proportionate to my serenity and exemption from fear: I have been dragged to prison: and in confinement I have remained near five months; torn from the embraces of my young daughter, who can no longer recline her head on that bosom, from which she drew her first nourishment; far removed from every thing dear to me; the butt of all the envenomed shafts of an abused people, that believes the loss of my head would be conducive to it’s happiness; hearing the guards, who watch under my grated window, sometimes amuse themselves with anticipating my punishment; and reading the offensive libels published against me by writers, who never saw my face, any more than those, of whose hatred I am an object.
I have wearied no one with my remonstrances: from time I expect justice, and the termination of prejudice: wanting many things, I have asked for nothing: I have made up my mind to misfortune, proud of opposing my strength against her’s, and keeping her at my feet. My necessities becoming urgent, and afraid of involving in trouble them, to whom I might have addressed myself, I wished to sell the empty bottles in my cellar, which had not been sealed up, because it’s contents were of so little value. Immediately the whole quarter was in motion! the house was surrounded; the proprietor was taken into custody; the guards were doubled; and perhaps I have reason to fear for the liberty of a poor nurse, who has committed no crime but that of having served me with affection thirteen years, because I made her life comfortable. So much does the people, stunned with the cry of conspiracy, and misled with respect to me, suppose me deserving the appellation of a conspirator.
It is not to excite pity in you, Robespierre; to which I am superiour, and which perhaps I should deem an insult; that I present to you this picture, which I have considerably softened: it is for your instruction.
Fortune is fickle; and popular favour is not less addicted to change. Contemplate the fate of them, who have agitated, pleased, or governed the people, from Viscellinus to Cæsar, and from Hippo, the haranguer of the syracusans, to our parisian orator. Justice and truth alone remain, and afford consolation for whatever may happen, even for death itself; whilst nothing can shelter men from their strokes. Marius and Sylla proscribed thousands of knights, numbers of senators, and a multitude of unfortunate wretches. But could they stifle the voice of history, which has devoted their memories to execration? or could they taste the cup of happiness?
Whatever fate be reserved for me, I can submit to it in a manner worthy of myself; or forestal it, if I think proper. After having received the honours of persecution, are those of martyrdom to crown the whole? am I destined to languish in protracted captivity, exposed to the first catastrophe, that it may be judged requisite to excite? or am I to be sentenced to nominal transportation, to experience, when a few leagues at sea, that trifling negligence on the part of the captain, which rids him of the trouble of his living cargo, to the profit of the waves? Tell me which: for it is something to know our fate, and a soul like mine is capable of looking it in the face.
If you will be just, and read with reflection what I write, my letter will not be useless to you, and in that case it may possibly be of service to my country. Be that as it may, Robespierre, I know, and you cannot but feel, that a person, who has known me, cannot persecute me without remorse.
Roland, formerly Phlipon.
Note. The idea of this letter, the design of writing it, and the intention of sending it, have remained in my mind for four-and-twenty hours: but what effect can my reflections have on a man, who sacrifices colleagues, of whose integrity he is fully assured?
If my letter will do no service, it would be ill-timed. It would only embroil me to no purpose with a tyrant, who may sacrifice, but cannot debase me. I will not send it.
end of the first part.
[* ]This correspondence was very active for several years, frequently diurnal during her abode at Amiens. My memory retraces imperfectly some very interesting letters. I cannot now find them: possibly they are with several others in the hands of Lanthenas, to whom that correspondence was frequently common. He then considered it, and with reason, as of great importance; but now!—
[* ]This was not my strongest inducement; for, tired of the course of affairs, I feared nothing for myself; innocent and courageous, injustice might reach, but could not degrade me; and to suffer it, was a trial, in the thought of braving which I felt pleasure: but another reason, altogether personal, and which some day perhaps my pen will disclose, determined me to depart.
[* ]The authoress means the committee of insurrection of the commune of the 31st of may.
[* ]The words between double commas had been changed.
[* ]Here followed originally: ‘But it is incumbent on you, placed between the law and dishonour, either to fulfil the duties of your place, or resign it; else must you incur that infamy, with which posterity will brand weakness like your’s.’
[* ]I have since learnt, that the late excesses of the mountain have opened his eyes, and brought him to a proper sense of it’s principles.
[* ]The only man in the revolution, whose genius could guide the rest, and sway the whole assembly. Great from his talents, little from his vices, but always superiour to the herd, and infallibly master of himself, whenever he would take the pains to command his passions. He died soon after: I thought seasonably for his fame, and for freedom: though events have instructed me to regret him more. The counterpoise of a man of such weight was wanting, to equiponderate the action of a pack of curs, and preserve us from the domination of ruffians.
[* ]The court party, so called. The uniform of the emigrants assembled at Coblentz with the princes was black. Trans.
[* ]The new name of the Champ de Mars. Trans.
[* ]See Louvet’s Narrative, p. 17. Trans.
[* ]He expended of this fund only 1200 l. [£50], in an order payable to Hell, who had been member of the constituent assembly, for the expense of a body of instruction for the people, in the german language, for the departments of the Rhine.
[* ]Grandpré, who, by his office, is obliged to give an account of the state of the prisons to the minister of the home-department, had found their sad inmates in the greatest affright, in the morning of the 2d of september. He had taken various measures to procure the liberation of many of them, and had succeeded with respect to a considerable number; but the rumours, that prevailed, kept those who remained in the greatest consternation. This worthy citizen, having returned to the hotel, waited to see the ministers at the breaking up of the council. Dantoa first made his appearance. He went up to him: he told him what he had seen, and related what had been done, the requisitions made to the armed force by the minister of the home-department, the little regard apparently paid to them, the alarms of the prisoners, and the care which he, being minister of justice, ought to take of them. Danton, vexed at this unlucky representation, cried with his bellowing voice, and appropriate gestures: ‘devil take the prisoners! what care I, what becomes of them?’ and went on his way in a rage. This was in the second anti chamber, in the presence of twenty people, who shuddered to hear such a savage speech from the minister of justice. Danton enjoys his crimes. After having attained suceessively the several degrees of influence; and persecuted and proscribed the probity, which declared war against him, and the merit, of which he dreaded the ascendency; he reigns. His voice actuates the assembly; his intrigues keep the people in motion; and his genius rules the committee, called of public safety, in which resides all the power of the government. Thus disorder every where prevails: the men of blood rule; the most rigid tyranny crushes the people of Paris; and France, torn, degraded, under such a master, can no longer do more, than change it’s oppressers. I seel his hand rivet the setters that bind me; as I perceived his inspiration in the first attack of marat against me. It is necessary for him to ruin them, who know him, and resemble him not.
[* ]I remember, that, for more than a month, he continued to officiate at the council, whilst he went and voted in the assembly. This coalition of powers appeared highly culpable to Roland, who, during the last fortnight of Danton’s proceeding thus, refrained from attending a council, influenced by a man who had no right longer to fit in it.
[* ]A consummate hypocrite. Trans.
[* ]The king’s sister. Trans.