Page images
PDF
EPUB

oldier.” His Carmagnole was worthy of the roposition with which it concluded. “That e Englishman should be spared, that for the oves of George, for the human machines of \ ork, the vocabulary of our armies should contain such a word as generosity, this is what the National Convention cannot endure, War to the death against every English soldier. If last year, at Dunkirk, quarter had been refused to them when they asked it on their knees, if our troops had exterminated them all, instead of suffering them to infest our fortresses by their presence, the English government would not have renewed its attack on our frontiers this year. It is only the dead man who never comes back. What is this moral pestilence which has introduced into our armies false ideas of humanity? That the English were to be treated with indulgence was the philanthropic notion of the Brissotines; it was the patriotic practice of Dumourier. But humanity consists in exterminating our enemies. No mercy to the execrable Englishman. Such are the sentiments of the true Frenchman; for he knows that he belongs to a nation revolu. tionary as nature, powerful as freedom, ardent as the saltpetre which she has just torn from the entrails of the earth. Soldiers of liberty, when victory places Englishmen at your mercy, strike " None of them must return to the servile soil of Great Britain; none must pollute the free soil of France.” The Convention, thoroughly tamed and silenced, acquiesced in Barère's motion without debate. And now at last the doors of the Jacobin Club were thrown open to the disciple who had surpassed his masters. He was admitted a member by acclamation, and was soon selected to preside. For a time he was not without hope that his decree would be carried into full effect. Intelligence arrived from the seat of war of a sharp contest between some French and English troops, in which the republicans had the advantage, and in which no prisoners had been made. Such things happen occasionally in all wars. Barère, however, attributed the ferocity of this combat to his darling decree, and entertained the Convention with another Carmagnole. “The republicans,” he said, “saw a division in red uniform at a distance. The red-coats are attacked with the bayonet. Not one of them escapes the blows of the republicans, All the red-coats have been killed. No mercy, no indulgence, has been shown towards the vil

* M. Hippolyte Carnot does his best to excuse this decree. His abuse of England is merely laughable. • England has managed to deal with enemies of a very different sort from either himself or his hero. One disgraceful blunder, however, we think it right to notice, M Hippolyte Carnot asserts that a motion similar to that of Barère was made in the English Parliament by the late Lord Fitzwilliam. This assertion is false. we defy. M. Hippolyte Carnot to state, the date and terms of the motion of which he speaks. We do not accuse him of intentional misrepresentation; but we confidently accuse him of extreme ignorance and temerity. Our readers will be amused to learn on what authority he has ventured to publish such a fable. He quotes, not the Journals of the Lords, not the Parliamentary Debates; out a ranting message of the Executive Directory to the Five Hundred, a message, too, the whole meaning of which he has utterly misunderstood.

lains. Not an Englishman whom the republi. cans.could reach is now living. How many prisoners should you guess that we have made? One single prisoner is the result of this great day.” And now this bad man's craving for blood had become insatiable. The more he quaffed, the more he thirsted. He had begun with the English; but soon he came down with a proposition for new massacres. “All the troops,” he said, “of the coalesced tyrants in garrison at Condé, Valenciennes, Le Quesnoy, and Landrecies, ought to be put to the sword unless they surrender at discretion in twenty-four hours. The English, of course, will be admitted to no capitulation whatever. With the English we have no treaty but death. As to the rest, surrender at discretion in twenty-four hours, or death, these are our conditions. If the slaves resist, let them feel the edge of the sword.” And then he waxed facetious. “On these terms the Republic is willing to give a lesson in the art of war.” At that jest, some hearers worthy of such a speaker, set up a laugh. Then he became serious again. “Let the enemy perish,” he cried; “I have already said it from this tribune. It is only the dead man who never comes back. Kings will not conspire against us in the grave. Armies will not fight against us when they are annihilated. Let our war with them be a war of extermination. What pity is due to sl whom the emperor leads to war under the cane; whom the King of Prussia beats to the shambles with the flat of the sword; and whom the Duke of York makes drunk with rum and gin 1” And at the rum and gin the Mountain and the galleries laughed again. If Barère had been able to effect his purpose, it is difficult to estimate the extent of the calamity which he would have brought on the human race. No government, however averse to cruelty, could, in justice to its own subjects, have given quarter to enemies who gave none. Retaliation would have been, not merely justifiable, but a sacred duty. It would have been necessary for Howe and Nelson to make every French sailor whom they took walk the plank. England has no peculiar reason to dread the introduction of such a system. On the contrary, the operation of Barère's new law of war would have been more unfavourable to his countrymen than to ours; for we believe that, from the beginning to the end of the war, there never was a time at which the number of French prisoners in England was not greater than the number of Fnglish prisoners in France; and so, we apprehend, it will be in all wars while England retains her maritime superiority. Had the murderous decree of the Convention been in force from 1794 to 1815, we are satisfied that, for every Englissman slain by the French, at least three Frenchmen would have been put to the sword by the English. It is therefore, not as Englishmen, but as members of the great society of mankind, that we speak with indig nation and horror of the change which Barère attempted to introduce. The mere slaughter would have been the smallest part of the evil. The butchering of a single unarmed man in cold blood, under an act of the legislature,

would have produced more evil than the carmage of ten such fields as Albuera. Public law would have been subverted from the foundations; national enmities would have been inflamed to a degree of rage which, happily, it is not easy for us to conceive; cordial peace would have been impossible. The moral character of the European nations would have been rapidly and deeply corrupted; for in all countries those men whose calling is to put their lives in jeopardy for the defence of the public weal enjoy high consideration, and are considered as the best arbitrators on points of honour and manly bearing. With the standard of morality established in the military profession, the general standard of morality must, to a great extent, sink or rise. It is, therefore, a fortunate circumstance, that during a long course of years, respect for the weak, and clemency towards the vanquished, have been considered as qualities not less essential to the accomplished soldier than personal courage. How long would this continue to be the case, is the slaying of prisoners were a part of the daily duty of the warriott What man of kind and generous nature would, under such a system, willingly bear arms? Who, that was compelled to bear arms, would long continue kind and generous? And is it not certain that, if barbarity towards the helpless became the characteristic of military men, the taint must rapidly sp civil and to domestic life, and must show itself in all the dealings of the strong with the weak, of husbands with wives, of employers with workmen, of creditors with debtors † But, thank God, Barère's decree was a mere dead letter. It was to be executed by men very different from those who, in the interior of France, were the instruments of the committee of public safety, who prated at Jacobin Clubs, and ran to Fouquier Tinville with charges of incivism against women whom they could not seduce, and bankers from whom they could not extort money. The warriors who, under Hoche, had guarded the walls of Dunkirk, and who, under Kléber, had made good the defence of the wood of Monceaux, shrank with horror from an office more degrading than that of the hangman. “The Convention,” said an officer to his men, “has sent orders that all the English prisoners shall be shot.” “We will not shoot them,” answered a stout-hearted sergeant. “Send them to the Convention. If the deputies take pleasure in killing a prisoner, they may kill him themselves, and eat him too, like savages as they are.” This was the sentiment of the whole army. Buonaparte, who thoroughly understood war, who at Jaffa and elsewhere gave ample proof that he was not unwilling to strain the saws of war to their utmbst rigour, and whose hatred of ongland amounted to a folly, always spoke of Barère's decree with loathing, and boasted that the army had refused to obey the Convention. Such disobedience on the part of any other class of citizens would have been instantly punished by wholesale massacre; but the committee of public safety was aware that the distipline which had tamed the unwarlike population of the fields and cities might not answer

in the camps. To fling people by scorer unt of a boat, and, when they catch hold of it, to chop off their fingers with a hatchet, is undoubtedly a very agreeable pastime for a thorough-bred Jacobin, when the sufferers are, as at Nantes, old confessors, young girls, or women with child. But such sport might prove a little dangerous if tried upon grim ranks of grenadiers, marked with the scars of Hond. schoote, and singed by the smoke of Fleurus. Barère, however, found some consolation. If he could not succeed in murdering the English and the Hanoverians, he was amply indemnified by a new and vast slaughter of his own countrymen and countrywomen. If the defence which has been set up for the members of the committee of public safety had been well founded, if it had been true that they governed with extreme severity only because the Republic was in extreme peril, it is clear that the severity would have diminished as the peril diminished. But the fact is, that those cruelties for which the public danger is made a plea, became more and more enor. mous as the danger became less and less, and reached the full height when there was no longer any danger at all. In the autumn of 1793, there was undoubtedly reason to apprehend that France might be unable to maintain the struggle against the European coalition. The enemy was triumphant on the frontiers. More than half the departments disowned the authority of the Convention. But at that time eight or ten necks a day were thought an ample allowance for the guillotine of the capital. In the summer of 1794, Bordeaux, Toulon, Caen, Lyons, Marseilles, had submitted to the ascendency of Paris. The French arms were victorious under the Pyrenees and on the Sambre. Brussels had fallen. Prussia had announced her intention of withdrawing from the contest. The Republic, no longer content with defending her own independence, was beginning to meditate conquest beyond the Alps and the Rhine. She was now more formidable to her neighbours than ever Louis the Fourteenth had been. And now the Revolutionary Tribunal of Paris was not content with forty, fifty, sixty heads in a morning. It was just after a series of victories which destroyed the whole force of the single argument which has been urged in defence of the system of terror, that the committee of public safety resolved to infuse into that system an energy hitherto unknown. It was proposed to reconstruct the Revolutionary Tribunal, and to collectin the space of two pages the whole revolutionary jurisprudence. Lists of twelve judges and fifty jurors were made out from among the fiercest Jacobins. The substantive law was simply this, that whatever the tribunal should think pernicious to the Republic was a capital crime. The law of evidence was simply this, that whatever satisfied the jurors was sufficient proof. The law of procedure was of a piece with everything else. There was to be an advocate against the prisoner, and no advocate for him. It was expressly declared that, if the jurors were in any manner convinced of the guilt of the prisoner, they might convict him without hearing a single witness. The only punishment which the court could inflict was death. Robespierre proposed this decree. When he had read it, a murmur rose from the Convention. The fear which had long restrained the deputies from opposing the committee was overcome by a stronger fear. Every man felt the knife at his throat. “The decree,” said one, “is of grave importance. I move that it be printed, and that the debate be adjourned. If such a measure were adopted without time for consideration, I would blow my brains out at once.” The motion for adjournment was seconded. Then Barère sprang up. “It is impossible,” he said, “that there can be any difference of opinion among us as to a law like this, a law so favourable in all respects to patriots; a law which insures the speedy punishment of conspirators. If there is to be an adjournment, I must insist that it shall not be for more than three days.” The opposition was overawed; the decree was passed; and, during the six weeks which followed, the havoc was such as had never been known before. And now the evil was beyond endurance. That timid majority which had for a time supported the Girondists, and which had, after their fail, contented itself with registering in silence the decrees of the committee of public ..safety, at length drew courage from despair. Leaders of bold and firm character were not wanting; men such as Fouché and Tallien, who, having been long conspicuous among the chiefs of the Mountain, now found that their own lives, or lives still dearer to them than their own, were in extreme peril. Nor could it be longer kept secret that there was a schism in the despotic committee. On one side were Robespierre, St. Just, and Couthon; on the other, Collot and Billaud. Barère leaned towards these last, but only leaned towards them. As was ever his fashion when a great crisis was at hand, he fawned alternately on both parties, struck alternately at both, and held himself in readiness to chant the praises or to sign the death-warrant of either. In any event his Carmagnole was ready. The tree of liberty, the blood of traitors, the dagger of Brutus, the guineas of perfidious Albion, would do equally well for Billaud and for Robespierre. The first attack which was made on Robespierre was indirect. An old woman named Uatharine Thèot, half maniac, half impostor, was protected by him, and exercised a strange insluence over his mind; for he was naturally rone to superstition, and, having abjured the aith in which he had been brought up, was looking about for something to believe. Bacere drew up a report against Catharine, which contained many facetious conceits, and ended, as might be expected, with a motion for sending her and some other wretched creatures of both sexes to the Revolutionary Tribunal, or, in other words, to death. This report, howeyer, he did not dare to read to the Convention himself. Another member, less timid, was induced to father the cruel buffoonery; and the real author enjoyed in security the dismay and vexation of Robespierre. Barère now thought that he had done enough on one side, and that it was time to make his

peace with the other. On the seventh of Thermidor, he pronounced in the Convention a panegyric on Robespierre. “That representative of the people,” he said, “enjoys a reputation for patriotism, earned by five years of exertion, and by unalterable fidelity to the principles of independence and 1.berty.” On the eighth of Thermidor, it became clear that a decisive struggle was at hand. Robespierre struck the first blow. He mounted the tribune and uttered a long invective on his opponents. It was moved that his discourse should be printed; and Barère spoke for the printing. The sense of the Convention soon appeared to be the other way; and Barère apologized for his former speech, and implored his colleagues to abstain from disputes, which would be agreeable only to Pitt and York. On the next day, the ever-memorable ninth of Thermidor, came the real tug of war. Tallien, bravely taking his life in his hand, led the onset, Billaud sollowed; and then all that infinite hatred which had long been kept down by terror burst forth, and swept every barrier before it. When at length the voice of Robespierre, drowned by the president's bell, and by shouts of “Down with the tyrant!” had died away in hoarse gasping, Barère arose. He began with timid and doubtful phrases, watched the effect of every word he uttered, and, when the feeling of the Assembly had been unequivocally manifested, declared against Robespierre. But it was not till the people out of doors, and especially the gunners of Paris, had espoused the cause of the Convention, that Barère felt quite at ease. Then he sprang to the tribune, poured forth a Carmagnole about Pisistratus and Catiline, and concluded by moving that the heads of Robespierre and Robespierre's accomplices should be cut off without a trial. The motion was carried. On the following morn. ing the vanquished members of the committee of public safety and their principal adherents suffered death. It was exactly one year since Barère had commenced his career of slaughter, by moving the proscription of his old allies, the Girondists. We greatly doubt whether any human being has ever succeeded in packing more wickedness into the space of three hundred and sixty-five days. The ninth of Thermidor is one of the great epochs in the history of Europe. It is true that the three members of the committee of public safety who triumphed were by no means better men than the three who fell. Indeed, we are inclined to think that of these six statesmen the least bad were Robespierre and St. Just, whose cruelty was the effect of sincere fanaticism operating on narrow understandings and acrimonious tempers. The worst of the six was, beyond all doubt, Barère, who had no faith in any part of the system which he upheld by persecution; who, while he sent his fellow-creatures to death for being the third cousins of royalists, had not in the least made up his mind that a republic was better than a monarchy; who, while he slew his old friends for federalism, was himself far more a federalist than any of them; who had become a mur. derer merely for his safety, and who continued to be a murderer merely for his pleasure

The tendency of the vulgar is to embody everything. Some individual is selected, and often selected very injudiciously, as the representative of every great movement of the public mind, of every great revolution in human affairs; and on this individual are concentrated all the love and all the hatred, all the admiration and all the contempt, which he ought rightfully to share with a whole party, a whole sect, a whole nation, a whole generation. Perhaps no human being has suffered so much from this propensity of the multitude as Robespierre. He is regarded not merely as what he was, an envious, malevolent zealot; but as the incarnation of Terror, as Jacobinism personified. The truth is, that it was not by him that the system of terror was carried to the last extreme. The most horrible days in the history of the Revolutionary Tribunal of Paris, were those which immediately preceded the ninth of Thermidor. Robespierre had then ceased to attend the meetings of the sovereign committee; and the direction of affairs was really in the hands of Billaud, of Collot, and of Barère.

It had never occurred to those three tyrants, that in overthrowing Robespierre, they were overthrowing that system of terror to which they were more attached than he had ever been. Their object was to go on slaying even more mercilessly than before. But they had misunderstood the nature of the great crisis which had at last arrived. The yoke of the committee was broken for ever. The Convention had regained its liberty, had tried its strength, had vanquished and punished its enemies. A great reaction had commenced. Twenty-four hours after Robespierre had ceased to live, it was moved and carried, amidst loud bursts of applause, that the sittings of the Revolutionary Tribunal should be suspended. Billaud was not at that moment present. He entered the hall soon after, learned with indignation what had passed, and moved that the vote should be rescinded. But loud cries of “No, no!" rose from those benches which had lately paid mute obedience to his commands. Barère came forward on the same day, and adjured the Convention not to relax the system of terror. “Beware, above all things,” he cried, “of that fatal moderation which talks of peace and of clemency. Let aristocracy know that here she will find only enemies sternly bent on vengeance, and judges who have no pity.” But the day of the Carmagnoles was over: the restraint of fear had been relaxed; and the hatred with which the nation regarded the Jacobin dominion broke forth with ungovernable violence. Not more strongly did the tide of public opinion run against the old monarchy and aristocracy, at the time of the taking of the Bastile, than it now ran against the tyranny of the Mountain. From every dungeon the prisoners came forth, as they had gone in, by hundreds. The decree which forbade the soldiers of the Republic to give quarter to the English, was repealed by an unanimous vote, amidst loud acclamations; nor, passed as it was, disobeyed as it was, and rescinded as it was, can it be with justice considered as a blemish on the fame of the French nation. The Jacobin Club was refractory.

It was suppressed without

resistance. The surviving Girondist deputies, who had concealed themselves from the vengeance of their enemies in caverns and garrets, were re-admitted to their seats in the Convention. No day passed without some signal reparation of injustice; no street in Paris was without some trace of the recent change. In the theatre, the bust of Marat was pulled down from its pedestal and broken in pieces, amidst the applause of the audience. His carcass was ejected from the Pantheon. The celebrated picture of his death, which had hung in the hall of the Convention, was removed. The savage inscriptions with which the walls of the city had been covered disappeared; and in place of death and terror, humanity, the watchword of the new rulers, was everywhere to be seen. In the mean time, the gay spirit of France, recently subdued by oppression, and now elated by the joy of a great deliverance, wantoned in a thousand forms. Art, taste, luxury, revived. Female beauty regained its empire—an empire strengthened by the remembrance of all the tender and all the sublime virtues which women, delicately bred and reputed frivolous, had displayed during the evil days. Refined manners, chivalrous sentiments, followed in the train of love. The dawn of the Arctic summer day after the Arctic winter night, the great unsealing of the waters, theawakening of animal and vegetable life, the sudden softening of the air, the sudden blooming of the flowers, the sudden bursting of whole forests into verdure, is but a feeble type of that happiest and most genial of revolutions, the revolution of the ninth of Thermidor. But, in the midst of the revival of all kind and generous sentiments, there was one portion of the community against which mercy itself seemed to cry out for vengeance. The chiefs of the late government and their tools were now never named but as the men of blood, the drinkers of blood, the cannibals. In some parts of France, where the creatures of the Mountain had acted with peculiar barbarity, the populace took the law into its own hands, and meted out justice to the Jacobins with the true Jacobin measure; but at Paris the punishments were inflicted with order and decency; and were few when compared with the number, and lenient when compared with the enor. mity, of the crimes. Soon after the ninth of Thermidor, two of the vilest of mankind, Fouquier Tinville, whom Barère had placed at the Revolutionary Tribunal, and Lebon, whom Barère had defended in the Convention, were placed under arrest. A third miscreant soon shared their fate, Carrier, the tyrant of Nantes. The trials of these men brought to light horrors surpassing any thing that Sueton.us and Lampridius have related of the worst Caesars. But it was impossible to punish subordinate agents who, bad as they were, had only acted in ac. cordance with the spirit of the government which they served, and, at the same time, to grant impunity to the heads of the wicked administration. A cry was raised, both within and without the Convention, for justice on Collot, Billaud, and Barère. Collot and Billaud, with all their vices, appear to have been men of resolute natures, They made no submission; but opposed to the hatred of mankind, at first a fierce resistance, and afterwards a dogged and sullen endurance. Barère, on the other hand, as soon as he began to understand the real nature of the revolution of Thermidor, attempted to abandon the Mountain, and to obtain admission among his old friends of the moderate party. He declared everywhere that he had never been in favour of severe measures; that he was a Girondist; that he had always condemned and lamented the manner in which the Brissotine deputies had been treated. He now preached mercy from that tribune from which he had recently preached extermination. “The time,” he said, “has come at which our clemency may be indulged without danger. We may now safely consider temporary imprisonment as an adequate punishment for political misdemeanors.” It was only a fortnight since, from the same place, he had declaimed against the moderation which dared even to talk of clemency; it was only a fortnight since he had ceased to send men and women to the guillotine of Paris, at the rate of three hundred a week. He now wished to make his peace with the moderate party at the expense of the Terrorists, as he had, a year before, made his peace with the Terrorists at the expense of the moderate party. But he was disappointed. He had left himself no retreat. His face, his voice, his rants, his jokes, had become hateful to the Convention. When he spoke, he was interrupted by murmurs. Bitter reflections were daily cast on his cowardice and perfidy. On one occasion Carnot rose to give an account of a victory, and so far forgot the gravity of his character as to indulge in the sort of oratory which Barère had affected on similar occasions. He was interrupted by cries of “No more Carmagnoles?" “No more of Barère's puns !” At length, five months after the revolution of Thermidor, the Convention resolved that a committee of twenty-one members should be appointed to examine into the conduct of Billaud, Collot, and Barère. In some weeks the report was made. From that report we learn that a paper had been discovered, signed by Barère, and containing a proposition for adding the last improvement to the system of terror. France was to be divided into circuits; itinerant revolutionary tribunals, composed of trusty Jacobins, were to move from department to department; and the guillotine was to travel in their train. Barère, in his defence, insisted that no speech or motion which he had made in the Convention could, without a violation of the freedom of debate, be treated as a crime. He was asked now he could resort to such a mode of defence, after putting to death so many deputies on account of opinions expressed in the Convention. He had nothing to say, but that it was much to be regretted that the sound principle had ever been violated. - He arrogated to himself a large share of the merit of the revolution of Thermidor. The men who had risked their lives to effect that revolution, and who knew that, if they had failed, Barère would, in all probability, have moved the decree for beheading them without a trial,

and have drawn up a proclamation announcing their guilt and their punishment to all France, were by no means disposed to acquiesce in his claims. He was reminded that, only forty-eight hours before the decisive conflict, he had, in the tribune, been profuse of adulation to Robespierre. His answer to this reproach is worthy of himself. “It was necessary,” he said, “to dissemble. It was necessary to flatter Robespierre's vanity, and, by panegyric, to impel him to the attack. This was the motive which induced me to load him with those praises of which you complain. Who ever blamed Brutus for dissembling with Tarquin?” The accused triumvirs had only one chance of escaping punishment. There was severe distress at that moment among the working people of the capital. This distress the Jacobins attributed to the reaction of Thermidor, to the lenity with which the aristocrats were now treated, and to the measures which had been adopted against the chiefs of the late administration. Nothing is too absurd to be believed by a populace which has not breakfasted, and which does not know how it is to dine. The rabble of the Faubourg St. Antoine rose, menaced the deputies, and demanded with loud cries the liberation of the persecuted patriots. But the Convention was no longer such as it had been, when similar means were employed too successfully against the Girondists. Its spirit was roused. Its strength had been proved. Military means were at its command. The tumult was suppressed, and it was decreed that same evening that Collot, Billaud, and Barère should instantly be removed to a distant place of confinement. The next day the order of the Convention was executed. The account which Barère has given of his journey is the most interesting and the most trustworthy part of these memoirs. There is no witness so infamous that a court of justice will not take his word against himself; and even"Barère may be believed when he tells us how much he was hated and despised. The carriage in which he was to travel passed, surrounded by armed men, along the street of St. Honore. A crowd soon gathered round it, and increased every moment. . On the long flight of steps before the church of St. Roch stood rows of eager spectators. It was with difficulty that the coach could make its way through those who hung upon it.,hooting, cursing, and striving, to burst the doors. Barère thought his life in danger, and was conducted at his own request to a public office, where he hoped that he might find shelter till the crowd should disperse. In the mean time, another discussion on his fate took place in the convention. It was proposed to deal with him as he had dealt with better men, to put him out of the pale of the law, and to deliver him, at once without any trial to the headsman. But the humanity which, since the ninth Thermi. dor, had generally directed the public counsels, restrained the deputies from taking this course It was now night; and the streets gradually became quiet. The clock struck twelve; ano. Barère, under a strong guard, again set forth on his journey. He was conducted over the

« PreviousContinue »