Imagens das páginas


The following fact strongly illustrates | Sainte-Amaranthe to the guillotine because the anomalous state of things then existing she refused to become his mistress, both in France. Garat, the minister of the in- his opinions and his conduct in regard to terior, wished to make a last effort to save women were very far above the standard of the lives of his friends the Girondists, and his age and country; that his private life with that view he exerted himself to obtain was correct, and that his tastes and habits, an interview with Robespierre, convinced while altogether free from the cynical filth (as he informs us in his Memoirs') that and slovenliness of many of his colleagues, if Robespierre demanded blood, blood were simple and unexpensive; that consewould flow, that if he demanded it not, no quently on the two important points of woone would dare to demand it. Garat was a men and money, his conduct presented a minister of state,-Robespierre held no direct contrast to that of the men who muroffice; yet the minister had nearly as much dered him,-men who spent in sumptuous difficulty in obtaining an interview with the orgies among courtezans the money they demagogue, as a deputation of Paisley obtained from the plunder of their country. weavers have with a Secretary of State at In fact it was, we believe, their difference the present day. Robespierre received the in this branch of morals, joined to their reminister at his lodgings at the carpenter's. fusal to shape their belief according to his He was not alone; Chabot, whom he sent in the question of religion, that determined to the guillotine not many months after, Robespierre to destroy them, and thereby was with him, and walked about the room led to his own destruction. For Robesduring the conversation, says Garat, "sou- pierre's tyranny, if he had been able to carriant toujours à Robespierre, et souriant ry it out, would have been perhaps the quelquefois à moi à la dérobée." Garat's most intolerable ever known upon earth,— arguments had no effect upon Robespierre; being at once a religious, moral, and politand when at last he attempted to obtain his ical tyranny, uniting the worst intolerance consent that at least his friends should not of Puritanism with the despotism of Napobe tried by the Revolutionary Tribunal,-leon. leon. Such a despotism was to be put that tribunal the creation of which they had down at any cost. so much opposed,-Robespierre's only answer was, "Il est assez bon pour eux."

There is little doubt now that Robespierre has borne for a time considerably more than his share of the guilt of the French Revolution; and there is no doubt that there were many men engaged in that Revolution more ready to shed blood and infinitely more devoid of principle than Robespierre. But we do not believe that the French Revolution produced a single man (unless perhaps it might be his successor, Napoleon) more insatiable in his ambition, more implacable in his resentment towards all who stood in the way of that ambition, or more unscrupulous in gratifying that resentment by the destruction of its objects. On the other hand, MM. Buchez and Roux, the editors of the Histoire Parlementaire,' assert, that it is impossible to prove by the slightest document that Robespierre participated, either in act or intention, in the excesses of the Terrorists (tom. xxxvi. p. 8). It is true that he did not participate in some of the worst of those excesses: it may be true that he intended the same punishment for the authors of the massacres at Arras and at Cambrai, as he did for Carrier, Collot-d'Herbois and Fouché. It may be also true that, so far from sending Madame

[ocr errors]

But after making all allowance on the account above indicated, and even after making the deduction from the influence of Robespierre in the Committee of Public Safety contended for by MM. Buchez and Roux, the question of fact still remains. When did that course of systematic massacre under legal forms, commonly called the Reign of Terror, commence, and when did it end? On the 27th of July, 1793, Robespierre first took his seat as a member of the Committee of Public Safety. In the course of the next three months came the levée en masse, the loi des suspects, and the decree declaring the government revolutionary till the peace. From the first institution of the Revolutionary Tribunal on the 17th of August, 1792, to the end of July, 1793, the total number of victims had been fiftythree; from the 1st of August, 1793, to the end of July, 1794, the whole number, exclusive of Robespierre and his accom

* Lord Brougham thinks the evidence of a connexion between him and a daughter of the family with which he lodged too slight to be relied on. Even were the fact established, it would hardly, considering what the standard of morality then was in France, invalidate the assertion in the text.

the Jacobins and is a suspicious character. He who had been so furious against Brissot's demand for confidence in a ministry, calls loudly for confidence in the Committee of Public Safety.

plices, was 2581.* We must not forget, the Committee of Public Safety, became, however, that Jean Bon-Saint André and through his character and popular influBarère had been elected members very ence, the principal member of the execushortly before; that Carnot and Prieur (de tive government, a visible change took la Côte d'Or) were added on the 14th of place in his conduct in the Convention. August, and Billaud-Varennes and Collot- From the leader of the opposition, he bed'Herbois on the 6th of September. It is came the leader of the ministry; from beunnecessary to specify Couthon and Saint- ing almost altogether destructive, he beJust, who had been appointed at the same came to a certain degree conservative. He time with Barère; for Couthon and Saint- had now a majority in the Convention, and Just may be supposed to have had the same therefore the vox populi vox Dei was no will as Robespierre. Now if Barère, Bil- longer to be sought for out of doors. When laud and Collot had been in the Committee a petition, in the name of the forty-eight during the time of the guillotine's compar- sections of Paris, "pour exprimer souve ative inactivity, they might fairly claim the rainement leur vœux," is presented to the inference that the change was the result of Convention, it is no longer supported by Robespierre's election and that of his Robespierre; it is no longer the voice of friends. It is indeed true that they contin- the people, but a plot of the aristocrats. It ued in the Committee after Robespierre's is even broadly hinted that the orator of the death; and even though the shedding of deputation, if he be not actually in the pay blood increased after he ceased to attend of the aristocracy, has been expelled from the Committee, yet as it certainly very much diminished at his death, they are entitled to any conclusion that may be thence drawn in their favor. With respect to the assertion that Fouquier-Tinville, the public accuser, received Robespierre's personal directions regarding the lists of victims, that person expressly denies in his memoir that he had any relation or particular correspondence with Robespierre, Saint-Just, Couthon, Dumas or Coffinhal. The deposition of Sénard too on Fouquier-Tinville's trial, to the effect that Fouquier once said to him, "Patriot or no patriot, when Robespierre has pointed out any one to me, he must die," was contradicted by the testimony of another witness, Daubigny, who declared that he had often heard Sénard tell the same story in the presence of a great number of the prisoners (detenus), and that he spoke of the Committee of Public Safety collectively, and not of Robespierre individually, whom he did not The festival de l'Etre Suprême has been name. Upon the whole, we conceive it to considered as strong evidence that Robesbe as impossible to prove Robespierre in- pierre was insane-possessed by a reasonnocent of the blood that was shed, as that ing madness-a maniacal vanity which inhe alone was guilty, and Billaud, Barère, creased with his successes and the facility and Collot innocent. Though not such a he found in bending a frantic nation to his ruffian, he was quite as much a man of will. The foppery of the sky-blue coat blood as they. and white silk waistcoat embroidered with When Robespierre, as a member of silver, of the bouquet of flowers mixed with

*These numbers are taken from an able and carefully written article on Robespierre in the Quarterly Review' for 1835, Vol. liv. p. 563. The writer appears to be one of the few persons who have read Robespierre's speeches. He consequently does more justice to him than those who have taken their opinion at second-hand.

We need not enter into any detailed account of the struggle with the Hébertists and Dantonists. Having destroyed them in succession, the question arises, what did Robespierre intend to do next? Our own opinion is that he meant to set up a new religion in France, somewhat analogous to that of Mahomet, the fundamental axiom of which would be, "There is no God but God, and Robespierre is his prophet.” But if such were his intention, he made a gross miscalculation both as to the age and part of the world in which he lived. Part of such a scheme would necessarily be to sweep away all those who, either by their opinions or manner of life, formed an obstruction to the execution of his designs.

ears of wheat in his hand, has been com

* See Mr. Macfarlane's narrative in the Pictorial History of the Reign of George III.,' Vol. iii. p 430, etc. But Mr. Macfarlane's view of the character of Robespierre appears to us to be on the whole more just than that either of Mr. Carlyle or of Lord Brougham.

tained. But the grand mistake which he made, and which led immediately to his destruction, was his supposing that he could do more by talking or speech-making than speech-making is capable of doing. But for this it is possible that the whole subsequent course of the French Revolution might have been altered,-that Revolution terminating in the sway of a civil instead of a military dictator.

pared to the exhibition of Masaniello on his beautiful charger, in scarlet raiment and with gold chains round his neck. But human madness is a mystery which human plummet has never sounded and probably never will sound. Who shall trace out the course of the boundary line that divides the insane from the sane in any man? Who shall for ever guard the entrance of his brain against the drunkenness of overgorged success on one side, or against the It is not surprising that the height at paralysis of defeated counsels and perished which Robespierre now stood should make hopes on another? Who shall give un- him giddy, that the difficulties he had broken coherence, undeviating consist- overcome in climbing to that height should ency, to the many trains of thought, to make him confident. Obstacle after obthe many moods of mind, that make up stable, foe after foe, rival after rival, Laman's little life? Who shall say of him- meths, Lafayettes, Girondists, Hébertists, self or of another, that he is not "such Dantonists, had in turn been swept from the stuff as dreams are made of?" There is, path of the all-successful advocate of Arras. it is true, a remarkable adherence to what It was natural enough for him to suppose in England is called good sense, in a that he could deal with all future foes as he Cromwell and a Washington, under a had dealt with all past,-send them to the prosperity not easy to bear with even guillotine. We do not see the slightest mind. On the other hand, the greatest evidence for saying with Lord Brougham, man of all antiquity prizes his laurel crown that such was Robespierre's nature, that more because it conceals his bald forehead, he would have killed, if he dared, the comthan because it is the symbol of achievements that had given him dominion over the rulers of mankind. And did not the successor of Robespierre, the man who followed that "bald first Cæsar," though with unequal stops,-did not Napoleon Buonaparte, only a few years after this exhibition of Robespierre's, get up exhibitions, with the aid too of Robespierre's artist, the painter David, which only differed from Robespierre's in substituting a military uniform for the sky-blue coat and white silk waistcoat, and a marshal's baton for the bouquet of flowers? There was also the resemblance between Napoleon's ceremony and Robespierre's, that Augereau and others of the former's generals had as much distaste for the Napoleon catholic festival as Billaud-Varennes and others had for the Robespierre Etre Suprême festival. But Napoleon had a logic, to set at rest all doubts, which Robespierre was not possessed of. The sum of the matter is, that as no logic but such as Napoleon wielded will enable one man to make other men so much as profess his particular opinions, Robespierre had now got upon exceedingly dangerous ground; but to say that he was therefore absolutely insane, is far more than we feel disposed. He was no doubt intoxicated with his success, as great (if not greater), considering the respective means, as Napoleon afterwards at

petitors for a college prize or a school reward as remorselessly as he afterwards exterminated Brissot, Hébert, and Danton, when they crossed the path of his ambition. But success-extraordinary and uninterrupted—at an early period of life, and its consequences, the almost unlimited submission of all around him to his will, had produced the same effect upon him as too much power produced upon Henry VIII. As the latter beheaded Sir Thomas More because he would not turn Protestant, so Robespierre appears to have wished to behead Billaud-Varennes, Collot-d'Herbois, Barère, Tallien, and others, because they would not adopt his speculative notions about the Etre Suprême. "This Robespierre is insatiable," exclaimed Barère one day on quitting the Jacobins, after hearing one of the Triumvir's sweeping denunciations, "because we cannot do all he wishes, he must seek to destroy us all."

Two days after the fête de l'Etre Suprême. namely on the 10th of June, Couthon brought forward a new law, drawn up by Robespierre himself, remodelling the Revolutionary Tribunal, and by which all former laws on the same subject were repealed. Among the number was one by which the Convention had reserved to itself the exclusive right of accusing its own members before the Revolutionary Tribunal. The proposed new law exposed the members of

feeling which was not natural to the speaker, and probably was awakened by the peculiarity of his unprecedented position and the extreme singularity of the crisis in which he spoke."

the Convention to be dealt with in a very summary manner by those who had the direction of the Committee of Public Safety. When, however, some members of the Convention detected this, Robespierre and his satellite Couthon protested in the strong- In this speech Robespierre says, that est terms against there being any such ul- when he saw the multitude of vices which terior intention in the framing of the law. the torrent of the Revolution had rolled On the same day, as soon as Robespierre pêle-mêle along with the civic virtues, he entered the Committee of Public Safety, sometimes trembled lest he might be sullied Billaud-Varennes attacked him fiercely, ac- in the eyes of posterity by the impure concusing him of wishing to guillotine the tact of those perverse men who were mixed whole National Convention. Robespierre up with the sincere defenders of humanity. in his rage spoke so loud and with such vi- He might indeed have trembled could he olence, that several citizens collected on have foreseen, that those men would send the terrace of the Tuileries and it was his body to the guillotine and his name to necessary to close the window. After this posterity loaded with the weight of their he absented himself for six weeks from crimes as well as his own. He repeats the both the Committee and the Convention, same idea in nearly the same words further and became very assiduous in his attend- on, and ends with these words:-" No, ance at the Jacobins,-whether with the Chaumette, no, death is not an eternal sole purpose (as his admirers the editors of sleep!... Citizens, efface from the tombs the Histoire Parlementaire intimate) of that maxim engraved by sacrilegious hands, exalting "le sentiment moral," or of ex- which throws a funereal crape over nature, alting himself to the sovereign power, and which discourages oppressed innocence all his rivals to the guillotine, let the read- and insults death; rather engrave there in er judge. its place death is the commencement of imAt last on the 8th Thermidor (the 26th | mortality." He said too, that if he fell in July, 1794), Robespierre appeared in the this struggle he should leave to his destroytribune of the Convention, and delivered ers the legacy of opprobrium and death. his last speech,-that speech which Cambacères described to Napoleon as "tout rempli des plus grandes beautés," and which Lord Brougham thinks not unworthy of being compared even with some of the greatest efforts of the greatest orator of all antiquity-ay the greatest of all time.

"It is a pro luction," observes his Lordship, "of the highest merit, and manifestly elabora ted with extraordinary care as well as skill in oratory. The passage respecting the fête in honor of the Supreme Being is, for a popular assembly, perhaps too splendid, and might be deemed exaggerated; but the taste of the speech generally is correct and severe. That he had in various passages the masterpieces of the ancient orators in his mind, can admit of no doubt; but there is nothing to be seen like servile imitation; and even in the instance

which most reminds us of the original (Non! nous n'avons pas été trop sévères! J'en atteste la république qui respire! J'en atteste la représentation nationale environée du respect dû à la représentation d'un grand peuple!' and ending with On parle de notre rigueur, et la patrie nous reproche notre faiblesse '), we find nothing nauseous in the imitation, but so

fruitful a series of illustrations from the actual state of things, that all notion of pedantic recourse to Demosthenes is put to flight. There is also throughout the speech a tone of deep

It would seem from the whole tone of this speech, that Robespierre considered himself as now engaged in a mortal struggle-a struggle very different from those in which he had defeated former antagonists. However, we are inclined to believe that the expressions of despondency scattered through this speech, as well as those attributed to him the same day after reading his discourse of the morning at the Jacobins (such as that it was his last will and testament, that the league of the wicked was too strong for him to escape), were a rhetorical artifice and did not represent the real state of his mind. Toulongeon relates that Robespierre, when he went home that evening, spoke quietly of the debates of the morning, and said: "I expect nothing more from the Mountain; they wish to rid themselves of me as a tyrant; but the mass of the Assembly will hear me. In the morning of the 9th Thermidor (27th July), before he went to the Committee, Duplay, his landlord, once the carof the jurymen of the Revolutionary Tribupenter, now the "patriot Duplay," and one nal, spoke to him with much anxiety of the dangers which awaited him, and pressed the necessity of taking precautions. Ro

bespierre answered: "The mass of the Convention is pure; there is nothing to fear." Buonarotti had this in prison from the mouth of Duplay himself.

de l'Aube exclaimed, "The blood of Danton is choking him." And truly the same measure which he had meted out to Danton, vainly demanding to speak "for life and honor," was now to be meted out to him.

In the twilight of that July day (the 27th), in the year 1794, the Place de Grève (which to him who treads it with a competent knowledge of the past, is alive with so many memories) presented a busy and eventful scene. Hackney coaches arrived bringing Robespierre and his friends from the five different prisons to which they had been conveyed, and from which they had again been liberated by the power of the

of the section battalions and some of the cannoniers came also; and the latter, posting themselves round the Hôtel-de-Ville and turning the mouths of their guns so as to command the approaches, stood by them with lighted matches.


It is strange that a man so suspicious as Robespierre should not have foreseen the plot that was to destroy him so soon. He must have observed extremely ominous signs in the general reception of his last harangue on the preceding day; and those members of the Convention who knew that they must either destroy Robespierre or be destroyed by him, were busily employed during the whole night between the 8th and 9th Thermidor in bringing over to their side that mass of the Convention upon council-general of the commune. Some which Robespierre seemed to rely. The genius of the Dictator had in fact deserted him; or rather it had done its work, and another kind of genius was wanted for what was now to be done. And yet if he had reflected on what his position had been when he overthrew the Girondists he might have Within that building, at his last council, seen that, had he then not brought a force sat the Jacobin chief with an anxious unto bear upon the Assembly from without, easy look, the sallow hue usually spread he and not the Girondists, must have fallen. over his repulsive countenance deepened His course was now clear,-it was no lon- by the agitation of his mind. Beside him ger a time for talking, but for prompt and sat a young man, the almost feminine softenergetic action. The Jacobins and the ness and regularity of whose fine features commune of Paris were his; Henriot, the formed a strange contrast with his characcommandant-general of the national guard ter,-stern, daring, and cruel as that of of Paris, was ready to die for him. Hen- Claverhouse or Sylla. It was Saint-Just,riot, it is true, was not a man of head; but that strange, sombre young fanatic, whose there was no man of head to oppose to him, fanaticism was at once so strong and so and he had been found sufficient in the cold-blooded, so sincere and so unscrupucase of the Girondists. But instead of giv-lous. Even in that moment of impending ing instructions to Henriot to march his fate his countenance preserved its usual troops and surround the Convention with impassive serenity, his pulse its regular the cannoniers of Paris, he went to the beat; the imminence of the peril had not assembly with a foolish notion of more deprived him of the power of making the speech-making and drivelling about respect most collected exertion of his mind. And for the laws. His voice was drowned in if he had had the lead for that night, perthe shouts of his enemies vociferating "à haps the result might have been different; "àhaps bas, à bas le tyran!" It was an open re- for both he and the younger Robespierre bellion, with nothing to oppose it but the had acted in the field with the armies which unheard voices of himself and his brother they superintended as commissioners (where Augustin, and his adherents Saint-Just, indeed the younger Robespierre had been Couthon and Lebas; he was like a general the friend of Napoleon Bonaparte, then an who has allowed himself to be surprised, officer in the army of Nice), and had acor rather like a wild beast taken in the quired something of military promptitude toils; for in this his last struggle he show- and decision. Even yet it may not be too ed no want of courage, making such vio- late now is the time-now-now! The lent and determined efforts to be heard, alternative is a felon's death, or a dominion that Fréron exclaimed, "Ah! qu'un tyran more absolute than the Cæsars'. Surely est dur à abattre!" But vain were those convulsive struggles: "Pour la dernière Among Saint-Just's papers was found a senfois, president d'assassins, je te demande la timent similar to that which Sir Walter Scott ascribes to Claverhouse,-that no great man ought parole." And when at length he had ex- to die in his bed. This element of greatness he hausted himself by repeated efforts, Garnier | secured to himself.


« AnteriorContinuar »