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[EDINBURGH REVIEW, APRIL, 1844.]
Tuis book has more than one title to our aware that temptations such as those to which serious attention. It is an appeal, solemnly the members of the Convention and of the made to posterity by a man who played a con- committee of public safety were exposed, must spicuous part in great events, and who repre- try severely the strength of the firmest virtue, sents himself as deeply aggrieved by the rash Indeed, our inclination has always been to and malevolent censure of his contemporaries. regard with an indulgence, which to some rigid To such an appeal we shall always give ready moralists appears excessive, those faults into audience. We can perform no duty more use- which gentle and noble spirits are sometimes ful to society, or more agreeable to our own hurried by the excitement of conflict, by the feelings, than thai of making, as far as our maddening influence of sympathy, and by ill. power extends, reparation to the slandered and regulated zeal for a public cause. persecuted benefactors to mankind. We there. With such feelings we read this book, and fore promptly took into our consideration this compared it with other accounts of the events copious apology for the life of Bertrand Barère. in which Barère bore a part. It is now our We have made up our minds; and we now duty to express the opinion to which this in. propose to do him, by the blessing of God, full vestigation has led us. and signal justice.
Our opinion then is this, that Barère apIt is to be observed that the appellant in this proached nearer than any person mentioned case does not come into court alone. He is in history or fiction, whether man or devil, to attended to the bar of public opinion by two the idea of consummate and universal deprav. compurgators who occupy highly honourable ity. In him the qualities which are the proper stations. One of these is M. David of Angers, objects of hatred, and the qualities which are the member of the Institute, an eminent sculplor, proper objects of contempt, preserve an exqui. and, if we have been rightly informed, a favour site and absolute harmony. In almost every ite pupil, though not kinsman, of the painter particular sort of wickedness he has had rivals. who bore the same name. The other, to whom His sensuality was immoderate; but this was a we owe the biographical preface, is M. Hippo- failing common to him with many great and yte Carnot, member of the Chamber of Depu- amiable men. There have been many men as ties, and son of the celebrated Director. In the cowardly as he, some as cruel, a few as mean, judgment of M. David, and of M. Hippolyte a few as impudent. There may also have been Carnot, Barère was a deserving and an ill-used as great liars, though we never met with them man, a man who, though by no means faultless, or read of them. But when we put every must yet, when due allowance is made for the thing together, sensuality, poltroonery, baseness, force of circumstances and the infirmity of effrontery, mendacity, barbarity, the result is human nature, he considered as on the whole something which in a novel we should con. entitled to our esteem. It will be for the public demn as caricature, and to which we venture to determine, after a full hearing, whether the to say, no parallel can be found in history. editors have, by thus connecting their names It would be grossly unjust, we acknowledge, with that of Barère, raised his character or to try a man situated as Barère was by a severe lowered their own.
standard. Nor have we done so. We have We are not conscious that, when we opened formed our opinion of him by comparing him, this book, we were under the influence of any not with politicians of stainless character, not feeling likely to pervert our judgment. Un- with Chancellor D'Aguesseau, or General Wash doubtedly we had long entertained a most ington, or Mr. Wilberforce, or Earl Gray, but unfavourable opinion of Barère; but to this with his own colleagues of the Mountain. That opinion we were not tied by any passion or by party included a considerable number of the any interest. Our dislike was a reasonable worst men that ever lived; but we see in it dislike, and might have been removed by reason. nothing like Barère. Compared with him Indeed, our expectation was, that these Me- Fouché seems honest; Billaud seems humape; moirs would in some measure clear Barère's Hébert seems to rise into dignity. Every other fame. That he could vindicate himself from chief of a party, says M. Hippolyte Carnot, all the charges which had been brought against has found apologists; one set of men exalts him, we knew to be impossible: and his editors the Girondists; another set justifies Danton; a admit that he has not done so. But we thought third deisies Robespierre; but Barère remains it highly probable that some grave accusations without a defender. We venture to suggest a would be refuted, and that many offences to very simple solution of this phenomenon. AU which he would have been forced to plead the other chiefs of parties had some good guilty would be greatly extenuated. We were qualities, and Barère had none. The genius, not disposed to be severe. We were fully courage, patriotism, and humanity of the Girona * Mémoires de Bertrand Berère; publiés par MM.
dist statesmen, more than atoned for what was Hippolyte Carnot, Membre de la Chambre des De- culpable in their conduct, and should have putés, 'et David d'Angers, Membre de l'Institut: pré. protected them from the insult of being com. cédés d'une Notice Historique par H. CARNOT. Tomes. Paris : 1843.
pared with such a thing as Barère. Danton
and Robespierre were, indeed, bad men; but in like the cedar of Lebanon. It is barely possible both of then some important parts of the mind that, under good guidance and in favourable remained sound. Danton was brave and re- circumstances, such a man might have slipped solute, fond of pleasure, of power, and of dis- through life without discredit. But the unseatinction, with vehement passions, with lax worthy craft, which even in still water would principles, but with some kind and manly have been in danger of goirg down from its feelings, capable of great crimes, but capable own rottenness, was launched on a raging also of friendship and of compassion. He, ocean, amidst a storm in which a whole armada therefore, naturally finds admirers among per- of gallant ships were cast away. The weakest sons of bold and sanguine dispositions. Robes, and most servile of human beings found himself pierre was a vain, envious, and suspicious on a sudden an actor in a Revolution which man, with a hard heart, weak nerves, and a convulsed the whole civilized world. At first gloomy temper. But we cannot with truth he fell under the influence of humane and deny that he was, in the vulgar sense of the moderate men, and talked the language of word, disinterested, that his private life was humanity and moderation. But he soon found correct, or that he was sincerely zealous for himself surrounded by fierce and resolute his own system of politics and morals. He spirits, scared by no danger and restrained by therefore naturally finds admirers among honest no scruple. He had to choose whether he would but moody and bitter democrats. If no class be their victim or their accomplice. His choice has taken the reputation of Barère under its was soon made. He lasted blood, and felt no patronage, the reason is plain : Barère had loathing: he tasted it again, and liked it well. not a single virtue, nor even the semblance Cruelty became with him, first a habit, then a of one.
passion, at last a madness. So complete and It is true that he was not, as far as we are rapid was the degeneracy of his nature, that able to judge, originally of a savage disposi- within a very few months after the time when tion; but this circumstance seems to us only he passed for a good-natured man, he had to aggravate his guilt. There are some un brought himself to look on the despair and happy men constitutionally prone to the darker misery of his fellow-creatures with a glee passions, men all whose blood is gall, and to resembling that of the fiends whom Dante saw whom bitter words and harsh actions are as watching ihe pool of seething pitch in Male. natural as snarling and biting to a ferocious bolge. He had many associates in guilt; but dog. To come into the world with this wretched he distinguished himself from them all by the mental disease is a greater calamity than to be Bacchanalian exultation which he seemed to born blind or deaf. A man who, having such feel in the work of death. He was drunk with a temper, keeps it in subjection, and constrains innocent and noble blood, laughed and shouted himself to behave habitually with justice and as he butchered, and howled strange songs and humanity towards those who are in his power, reeled in strange dances amidst the carnage. seems to us worthy of the highest admiration. Then came a sudden and violent turn of fortune. There have been instances of this self-com- The miserable man was hurled down from the maud; and they are among the most signal height of power to hopeless ruin and infamy. triumphs of philosophy and religion. On the The shock sobered him at once. The fumes other hand, a man who, having been blessed of his horrible intoxication passed away. But by nature with a bland disposition, gradually he was now so irrecoverably depraved, that the brings himself :o inflict misery on his fellow- discipline of adversity only drove him further creatures with indifference, with satisfaction, into wickedness. Ferocious vices, of which he and at length with a hideous rapture, deserves had never been suspected, had been developed to be regarded as a portent of wicke ss; and in him by power. Another class of vices, less such a man was Barère. The history of his hateful, perhaps, but more despicable, was now downward progress is full of instruction. Weak- developed in him by poverty and disgrace. ness, cowardice, and fickleness were born with Having appalled the whole world by great him; the best quality which he received from crimes perpetrated under the pretence of zeal nature was a good iemper. These, it is true, for liberty, he became the meanest of all the are not very promising materials; yet out of tools of despotism. It is not easy to settle the materials as unpromising, high sentiments of order of precedence among his vices; but we piety and of honour have sometimes made are inclined to think that his baseness was, co martyrs and heroes. Rigid principles often do the whole, a rarer and more marvellous thing for feeble minds what stays do for feeble bodies. than his cruelty. But Barère had no principles at all. His cha This is the view which we have long taken racter was equally destitute of natural and of of Barère's character; but, till we read thesu acquired strength. Neither in the commerce Memoirs, we held our opinion with the diffi. of life, nor in books, did we ever become ac-dence which becomes a judge who has heard quainted with any mind so unstable, so utterly only one side. The case seemed strong, and in destitute of tone, so incapable of independent parts unanswerable ; yet we did not know what thought and earnest preference, so ready to take the accused party might have to say for him impressions and so ready to lose them. He self; and, not being much inclined to take our resembled those creepers which must lean on fellow-creatures either for angels of light or something, and which as soon as their prop is for angels of darkness, we could not but leci removed, fall down in utter helplessness. He some suspicion that his offences had been ercould no more stand up, erect and self-support- aggerated. That suspicion is now at an end. ed, in any cause, than the ivy can rear itself The vindication is before us. It occupies iour uke the oak, or the wild vine shoot to heaven volumes. It was the work of forty years.
would be absurd to suppose that it does not be brought to trial before the Revolutionary refute every serious charge which admitted of Tribunal. He would have been better em refutation. How many serious charges, then, ployed in concerting military measures which are here refuted ? Not a single one. Most of might have repaired our disasters in Belgium, the imputations which have been thrown on and might have arrested the progress of the Barère he does not even notice. In such cases, enemies of the Revolution in the west."-(VoL of course, judgment must go against him by ii. p. 312.). default. The fact is, that nothing can be more Now it is notorious that Marie Antoinette meagre and uninteresting than his account of was sent before the Revolutionary Tribunal, the great public transactions in which he was not at Rubespierre's instance, but in direct op engaged. He gives us hardly a word of new position to Robespierre's wishes. We will information respecting the proceedings of the cite a single authority, which is quite decisive. Committee of Public Safety; and, by way of Buonaparte, who had no conceivable motive compensation, tells us long stories about things to disguise the truth, who had the best oppor. which happened before he emerged from ob- tunities of knowing the truth, and who, after scurity, and after he had again sunk into it. his marriage with the Archduchess, naturally Nor is this the worst. As soon as he ceases felt an interest in the fate of his wife's kins to write trifles, he begins to write lies; and woman, distinctly affirmed that Robespierre such lies! A man who has never been within opposed the trying of the queen. Who, then, the tropics does not know what a thunder-storm was the person who really did propose that the means; a man who has never looked on Nia- Capet family should be banished, and that gara has but a faint idea of a cataract; and he Marie Antoinette should be tried ? Full inforwho has not read Barère's Memoirs may be mation will be found in the Moniteur.t From said not to know what it is to lie. Among the that valuable record it appears that, on the first numerous classes which make up the great of August 1793, an orator deputed by the Comgenus Mendacium, the Mendacium Vasconicum, or mittee of Public Safety addressed the ConvenGascon lie, has, during some centuries, been tion in a long and elaborate discourse. He highly esteemed as peculiarly circumstantial asked, in passionate language, how it happened and peculiarly impudent; and among the Men- that the enemies of the Republic still continued dacia Vasconica, the Mendacium Barerianum is, to hope for success. “Is it,” he cried, “be. without doubt, the finest species. It is, indeed, cause we have too long forgotten the crimes a superb variety, and quite throws into the of the Austrian woman? Is it because we shade some Mendacia which we were ised to have shown so strange an indulgence to the regard with admiration. The Mendacium Wrax-race of our ancient tyrants? It is time that allianum, for example, though by no means to this unwise apathy should cease; it is time to be despised, will not sustain the comparison extirpate from the soil of the Republic i he last for a moment. Beriously, we think that M. roots of royalty. As for the children of Louis Hippolyte Carnot is much to blame in this the conspirator, they are hostages for the Rematter. We can hardly suppose him to be public. The charge of their maintenance shall worse read than ourselves in the history of the be reduced to what is necessary for the food Convention, a history which must interest him and keep of two individuals. The public deeply, not only as a Frenchman, but also as a treasure shall no longer be lavished on creason. He must, therefore, be perfectly aware that tures who have too long been considered as many of the most important statements which privileged. But behind them lurks a woman these volumes contain are falsehoods, such who has been the cause of all the disasters of as Corneille's Durante, or Molière's Scapin, France, and whose share in every project ador Colin d'Harleville's Monsieur de Crac would verse to the Revolution has long been known. have been ashamed to utter. We are far, in- National justice claims its right over her. It is deed, from holding M. Hippolyte Carnot an- to the tribunal appointed for the trial of con. swerable for Barère's want of veracity. But spirators that she vugnt to be sent. It is only M. Hippolyte Carnot has arranged these Me- by striking the Austrian woman that you can moirs, has introduced them to the world by a make Francis and George, Charles and wil. laudatory preface, has described them as docu- liam, sensible of the crimes which their minisments of great historical value, and has illus-ters and their armies have committed." The trated them by notes. We cannot but think speaker concluded by moving that Marie Adthat, by acting thus, he contracted some obli- toinette should be brought to judgment, and gations of which he does not seem to have should, for that end, be forth with transferred been at all aware; and that he ought not to to the Conciergerie; and that all the members have suffered any monstrous fiction to go forth of the house of Capet, with the exception of under the sanction of his name, without adding those who were under the sword of the law, a line at the foot of the page for the purpose of and of the two children of Louis, should be cautioning the reader.
banished from the French territory. The ma We will content ourselves at present with tion was carried without debate. pointing out two instances of Barère's wilful Now, who was the person who made this and deliberate mendacity; namely, his account speech and this motion! It was Barère himof the death of Marie Antoinette, and his ac- self. It is clear, then, that Barère attributed his count of the death of the Girondists. His ac- own mean insolence and barbarity to one who count of the death of Marie Antoinette is as whatever his crimes may have been, was id follows :-"Robespierre in his turn proposed that the members of the Capet family should
• O'Meara's Voice from St. Helena, fi. 170. be banished, and that Marie Antoinette should + Moniteur, 2d, 7th, and Oth, of August, 1721.
this matter innocent. The only question re- or made a report against any, or drew up an maining is, whether Barère was misled by his impeachment against any."* memory, or wrote a deliberate falsehood. Now, we affirm that this is a lie. We affirm
We are convinced that he wrote a deliberate that Barère himself took the lead in the profalsehood. His memory is described by editors ceedings of the convention against the Girone as remarkably good, and must have been bad dists. We affirm that he, on the twenty-eighth indeed if he could not remember such a fact of July, 1793, proposed a decree for bringing as this. It is true that the number of murders nine Girondist deputies to trial, and for putting in which he subsequently bore a part was so to death sixteen other Girondist deputies with great, that he might well confound one with out any trial at all. We affirm that, when the another, that he might well forget what part of accused deputies had been brought to trial, and the daily hecatomb was consigned to death by when some apprehension arose that their elohimself, and what part by his colleagues. But quence might produce an effect even on the retwo circumstances make it quite incredible voluntary tribunal, Barère did, on the 8th of that the share which he took in the death of Brumaire, second a motion for a decree auMarie Antoinette should have escaped his re- thorizing the tribunal to decide without hearing collection. She was one of his earliest vic out the defence; and, for the truth of every one tims. She was one of his most illustrious of these things so affirmed by us, we appeal to victims. The most hardened assassin remem- that very Moniteur to which Barère has dared bers the first time that he shed blood; and the to appeal.t widow of Louis was no ordinary sufferer. If What M. Hyppolyte Carnot, knowing, as he the question had been about some milliner must know, that this book contains such falsebutchered for hiding in her garret her brother hoods as those which we have exposed, can who had let drop a word against the Jacobin have meant, when he described it as a valuable club-if the question had been about some old addition to our stock of historical information, nun, dragged to death for having mumbled passes our comprehension. When a man is what were called fanatical words over her not ashamed to tell lies about events which beads Barère's memory might well have de- took place before hundreds of witnesses, and ceived him. It would be as unreasonable to which are recorded in well-known and accesexpect him to remember all the wretches whom sible books, what credit can we give to his ache slew, as all the pinches of snuff that he count of things done in corners? No historian took. But though Barère murdered many who does not wish to be laughed at will cver hundreds of human beings, he murdered only cite the unsupported authority of Barère as one queen. That he, a small country lawyer, sufficient to prove any fact whatever. The only who, a few years before, would have thought thing, as far as we can see, on which these himself honoured by a glance or a word from volumes throw any light, is the exceeding basethe daughter of so many Cæsars, should call ness of the author. her the Austrian woman, should send her from So much for the veracity of the Memoirs. In jail to jail, should deliver her over to the exe- a literary point of view, they are beneath criticutioner, was surely a great event in his life. cism. They are as shallow, flippant and af. Whether he had reason to be proud of it or fected as Barère's oratory in the convention. ashamed of it, is a question on which we may They are also, what his oratory in the convenperhaps differ from his editors; but they will tion was not, utterly insipid. In fact, they are admit, we think, that he could not have forgot the mere dregs and rinsings of a bottle, of which ten it.
even the first froth was but of very question. We, therefore, confidently charge Barère able flavour. with having written a deliberate falsehood; We will now try to present our readers with and we have no hesitation in saying that we a sketch of this man's life. We shall, of course, never, in the course of any historical re- make very sparing use, indeed, of his own searches that we have happened to make, fell memoirs; and never without distrust, except in with a falsehood so audacious, except only where they are confirmed by other evidence. the falsehood which we are about to expose.
Bertrand Barère was born in the year 1755, of the proceeding against the Girondists, at Tarbes in Gascony. His father was the Barère speaks with just severity. He calls it proprietor of a small estate at Vieuzac, in the an atrocious injustice perpetrated against the beautiful vale of Argelès. Bertrand always legislators of the Republic. He complains loved to be called Barère de Vieuzac, and flatthat distinguished deputies, who ought to have tered himself with the hope that, by the help of been re-admitted to their seats in the Conven- this feudal addition to his name, he might pass tion, were sent to the scaffold as conspirators. for a gentleman. He was educated for the bar The day, he exclaims, was a day of mourning at Toulouse, the seat of one of the most cele. for France. It mutilated the national repre. brated parliaments of the kingdom, practised sentation; it weakened the sacred principle, as an advocate with considerable success, and thai the delegates of the people were inviola- wrote some small pieces, which he sent to the ble. He protests that he had no share in the principal literary societies in the south of guilt. “I have had,” he says, “ the patience France. Among provincial towns, Toulouse to go through the Moniteur, extracting all the seems to have been remarkably rich in indiffe. charges brought against deputies, and all the rent versifiers and critics. It gloried especially decrees for arresting and impeaching deputies. Nowhere will you find my name. I never
• Vol. ii. 407. brought a charge against any of my colleagues, or Brumaire, in the year 2.
+ Moniteur, 31st of July, 1793, and Nonidl, first Decade
in one venerable institution, called the Acade- ed his domestic life till some time after he be my of the Floral Games. This body held every came a husband. Our own guess is, that his year a grand meeting, which was a subject of wife was, as he says, a virtuous and amiable intense interest to the whole city, and at which woman, and that she did her best to make him flowers of gold and silver were given as prizes happy during some years. It seems clear that, for odes, for idyls, and for something that was when circumstances developed the latent atro called eloquence. These bounties produced of city of his character, she could no longer en course the ordinary effect of bounties, and turn- dure him, refused to see him, and sent back his ed people who might have been thriving attor- letters unopened. Then it was, we imagine, neys and useful apothecaries into small wits that he invented the fable about his distres on and bad poets. Barère does not appear to have his wedding-day. been so lucky as to obtain any of these preci In 1788, Barère paid his first visit to Paris, ous flowers; but one of his performances was attended reviews, heard Laharpe at the Lyce mentioned with honour. At Montauban he um, and Condorcet at the Academy of Sciences, was more fortunate. The academy of that stared at the envoys of Tippoo Saib, saw the town bestowed on him several prizes, one for royal family dine at Versailles, and kept a joura panegyric on Louis the Twelfth, in which the nal in which he noted down adventures and blessings of monarchy and the loyalty of the speculations. Some parts of this journal are French nation were set forth; and another for printed in the first volume of the work before a panegyric on poor Franc de Pompignan, in us, and are certainly most characteristic. The which, as may easily be supposed, the philo- worst vices of the writer had not yet shown sophy of the eighteenth century was sharply themselves; but the weakness which was the assailed. Then Barère found an old stone in-parent of those vices appears in every line. scribed with three Latin words, and wrote a His levity, his inconsistency, his servility, were dissertation upon it, which procured him a seat already what they were to the last. All his in a learned assembly, called the Toulouse opinions, all his feelings, spin round and round Academy of Sciences, Inscriptions, and Polite like a weathercock in a whirlwind. Nay, the Literature. At length the doors of the Acade- very impressions which he receives through my of the Floral Games were opened to so his senses are not the same two days together. much merit. Barère, in his thirty-third year, He sees Louis the Sixteenth, and is so much took his seat as one of that illustrious brother- blinded by loyalty as to find his majesty handhood, and made an inaugural oration which some. “I fixed my eyes," he says, “with a was greatly admired. He apologizes for re- lively curiosity on his fine countenance, which counting these triumphs of his youthful genius. I thought open and noble.” The next time that We own that we cannot blame him for dwell- the king appears, all is altered. His majesty's ing long on the least disgraceful portion of his eyes are without the smallest expression; he existence. To send in declamations for prizes has a vulgar laugh which seems like idiocy, cffered by provincial academies, is indeed no an ignoble figure, an awkward gait, and the very useful or dignified employment for a look of a big boy ill brought up. It is the same bearded man; but it would have been well is with more important questions. Barère is for Barère had always been so employed.
the parliaments on the Monday and against the In 1785 he married a young lady of conside-parliaments on the Tuesday, for feudality in rable fortune. Whether she was in other re- the morning and against seudality in the afterspecis qualified to make a home happy, is a noon. One day he admires the English constipoint respecting which we are imperfectly in- tution : then he shudders to think that, in the formed. In a little work, entitled Melancholy struggles by which that constitution had been Pages, which was written in 1797, Barère avers obtained, the barbarous islanders had murder. that his marriage was one of mere conveni ed a king, and gives the preference to the conence, that at the altar his heart was heavy with stitution of Bearn. Bearn, he says, has a subsorrowful forebodings, that he turned pale as lime constitution, a beautiful constitution. he pronounced the solemn “ Yes,” that unbid. There the nobility and clergy meet in one house den tears rolled down his cheeks, that his mo- and the commons in another. If the houses ther shared his presentiment, and that the evil differ, the king has the casting vote. A few omen was accomplished. “My marriage,” he weeks later we find him raving against the says, “was one of the most unhappy of mar- principles of this sublime and beautiful constiriages.” So romantic a tale, told by so noted a tution. To admit deputies of the nobility and liar, did not command our belief. We were, clergy into the legislature is, he says, neither therefore, not much surprised to discover that, more or less than to admit enemies of the nain his Memoirs, he calls his wife a most amia- tion into the legislature. ble woman, and declares that, after he had been In this state of mind, without one settled purunited to her six years, he found her as amiable pose or opinion, the slave of the last word as ever. He complains, indeed, that she was royalist, aristocrat, democrat, according to the too much attached to royalty and to the old su- prevailing sentiment of the coffee-house or perstition; but he assures us that his respect drawing-room into which he had just looked, for her virtues induced him to tolerate her pre- did Barère enter into public life. The states. judices. Now Barère, at the time of his mar- general had been summoned. Barère went riage, was himself a royalist and a Catholic. down to his own province, was there elected He had gained one prize by flattering the one of the representatives of the Third Estate, throne, and another by defending the church. and returned to Paris in May 1789. It is hardly possible, therefore, that disputes A great crisis, often predicted, had at las about politics or religion should have embitter- arrived. In no country, we conceive, have in