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eux;” and he breaks out into that memorable apostrophe to Roland:—
“O virtuous man, man exclusively, eternal}...". whither would you go by these ark paths ; You have tried public opinion; you have stopped short, terrified at the step you yourself have taken: you have done well: nature has not moulded you either for great actions or great attempts || murmurs]. I stop here out of regard for you; but another time, examine better the instruments that are put into your hands: you do not know the abominable history of the man of the enigmatical missive; seek it, if you have the courage, in the records of the police. You will one day know what value you ought to attach to the moderation of the enemy whom you sought to destroy.”
Whatever the effect of this speech, the result was a complete triumph for Robespierre, the order of the day having been voted by a very large majority, and his defence ordered to be printed. The result had been looked for with the greatest impatience throughout the capital; numerous patrols traversed the streets; all the posts had been reinforced. On the terrace of the Feuillans there were more national guards than people. “It is strange enough,” remarked the ‘Patriote Français,” “that the general who all at once has found so many patrols to protect Robespierre, whom nobody threatens, did not find one on the 2nd of September and the following days to save the prisoners whom they were massacreing, and who were under the safeguard of the laws.”
Robespierre was received at the Jacobins like a hero returning from a great victory. They praised “his virtue, his integrity, his profound wisdom, his masculine and natural eloquence, also that greatness, that generosity, that forgetfulness of self, which were the marks of his character.” But he himself was silent amid all this babble, declining all invitations to give his worshipers any further specimen of that “éloquence male et naive;” probably not including among the thoughts that succeeded each other in his brain, the contemplation of the change which might within the space of a few months come over this wild dream of popular idolatry and unclouded success.
* We have followed the report of this speech in the ‘Choix de Rapports; it differs very slightly from the report in the ‘Histoire Parlementaire,’ which is from the ‘Lettres a mes Commettans.” In the passage relating to Roland, we think the former the clearer from the division of the paragraphs.
On the 3rd of December Robespierre delivered his opinion in the Convention on the question of the King's trial. He was the only one, we believe, except Saint-Just, who got out of the lawyer-like quibble about the Assembly's having a legal power to try the King.
“The Assembly,” said Robespierre, “has been led far away from the true question. There is here no trial to make. Louis is not an accused citizen, you are not his judges; you are, you can only be, statesmen and representatives of the nation. You have no sentence to deliver for or against an individual, but a measure of public security to adopt, an act of national providence to exercise. What is the measure, which sound policy recommends to cement the rising republic? It is to engrave deeply on the people's hearts a contempt for royalty, and to strike with terror all the King's artisans..........The question has been decided y these words:—Louis has been dethroned for his crimes. Louis denounced the French |. as rebels, and called in the arms of his rother tyrants to punish them: victory and the people have decided that he alone was a rebel. Louis then cannot be judged: he is already judged; he is condemned, or the Republic is not acquitted..........If Louis can be tried he may be acquitted, he may be innocent: what do I say! he is presumed to be so till judgment is passed on him. But is Louis is acquitted, if Louis can be presumed innocent, what becomes of the Revolution If Louis is innocent, all the defenders of liberty become calumniators; all the rebels were the friends of truth and the defenders of oppressed innocence; all the manisestoes of the foreign courts are only legitimate remonstrances aganst a dominant faction; even the detention of Louis up to this time is an unjust vexation; the federates, the people of Paris, all the pat: riots of the French empire, are guilty.”
After showing that they were confounding the rules of civil law with the principles of the law of nations, and that Louis was to be regarded as a prisoner of war, he proceeds to the question how that prisoner of war should be dealt with.
“To what punishment shall we condemn Louis 7 . The punishment of death is too cruel.—No, says another, life is more cruel still ; let him live. Advocates of the King, is it from pity or from cruelty that you wish to withdraw him from the penalty of his crimes 2. For my part, I abhor the punishment of death, inflicted so unsparingly by your laws, and I have for Louis neither love nor hatred ; I hate only his crimes. I asked for the abolition of the punishment of death in the Assembly which you still call Constituent, and it is not my fault if the first principles of reason appeared to it moral ...} political heresies; but if you never thought of renouncing them in favor of so many unfortunate men whose offences are less theirs than those of the government, by what fatality do you
remember them only to plead the cause of
the greatest of all criminals? You demand an exception to the punishment of death for him alone who can render it legitimate | Yes, the punishment of death in general is a crime, and for this reason alone, that, according to the indestructible principles of nature, it can be justified only in the cases where it is necessary for the security of individuals or of society; now the public security never calls for it against ordinary offences, because society can always prevent them by other means, and put it out of the power of the guilty to be dangerous: but a dethroned king in the bosom of a Revolution, which is nothing less than cemented by laws, a king whose name alone brings down the plague of war upon the agitated nation,-neither imprisonment nor exile can render his existence a matter of indiserence to the public welfare, and this cruel exception to ordinary laws, which justice avows, can only be imputed to the nature of his crimes. I pronounce with regret this fatal truth; but Louis must die, because the country must live. A people at peace, free and respected within and without, might listen to the advice which is given you to be generous; but a people whose liberty is still disputed after so many sacrifices and combats, cannot afford to do so.”
Robespierre's speeches on the King's trial have been sometimes mentioned as his highest efforts. They perhaps exhibit more vigor of mind than any of his other speeches, though his fame either for eloquence or rhetorical strategy will not rest upon them. But we think some of his letters to his constituents show a higher and more comprehensive reach of thought than any other of his compositions.
In Robespierre's conduct hitherto there had appeared few of those darker shades of his character which asterwards became so prominent; the insatiable spirit of jealousy and suspicion, which was soon to hurry to the guillotine so many men who had been his friends, had as yet only manifested itself towards those with whom he certainly had never acted in any degree. His defence of the September massacres was on the ground of urgent and inevitable state necessity. His conduct in regard to the King's fate was only that of a man of sound sense and force of character. Those who, having a conquered enemy in their power, do not take effective measures to prevent his being dangerous, bring upon themselves the scorn even of those who profit by their weakness. Royalists, both
French and English, are lavish of their scorn as well as hatred for the Girondists; but it is not so with Cromwell and Robespierre, there may be hatred, but “those who hate them dare not to despise.”
Notwithstanding the majority which the Girondists still had in the Convention, the Mountain was more powerful, from its connection with the communes and its influence over the populace. On the 10th of March, 1793, the Revolutionary Tribunal, at first called the Tribunal Crimine! Extraordinaire, was established. The desection of Dumouriez early in April gave Robespierre an opportunity of attacking the Girondists, by charging them with being the general's accomplices, a charge which, whether it be considered as proved or not, he managed with such art as to render it a most effective instrument for their destruction. In the course of his speech, delivered in the Convention on the 18th of April, 1793, against the members of the Orleans family, and against Vergniaud, Guadet, Gensonné, Brissot, etc., he gave the following powerful summary of the intrigues which he imputes to the Girondists while they were in office,—we can hardly say in power—for, as these events showed, power and office were not then equivalent terms :—
“They have called all the friends of the country agitators, anarchists; they have sometimes even raised up real ones to substantiate this calumny. They have shown themselves adepts in the art of covering their own crimes by imputing them to the people: they have betimes alarmed the citizens with phantoms of an agrarian law; they have separated the interests of the rich from those of the poor; they have offered themselves to the former as their protectors against the sans-culottes; they have drawn to their party all the enemies of equality. Masters of the government and of the disposal of all places, predominant in the tribunals, and in the administrative bodies, depositaries of the public treasure, they have employed all their power to arrest the progress of public spirit, to awaken royalism and to resuscitate aristocracy; they have oppressed the energetic patriots, protected the hypocritical moderates; they have corrupted the people's defenders, one after another; attached to their cause those who showed some talent, and persecuted those whom they could not seduce.”
In this speech he said that Lafayette had run almost precisely the same course of perfidy and intrigue as Dumouriez: “He had only forgotten one thing, to begin like Dumouriez with a success.”
When Robespierre left the tribune, Vergniaud immediately took his place there, and began in a calm tone to defend himself against his accuser. “J’oserai répondre à Monsieur Robespierre,” he began, but he was interrupted by the “murmures” of the “tribunes publiques.” Again and again he attempted to speak, but in vain : the noise continued. But Vergniaud remained at the tribune, and at last his perseverance and the efforts of the president obtained for him a hearing. He soon fixed the general attention : the facility, the order, the charm of his extempore address, excited the admiration even of his adversaries. He characterized Robespierre's speech as “un roman perfide, artificieusement écrit dans le silence du cabinet,” adding, “joserai lui répondre sans méditation; je n'ai pas comme lui besoin d'art; il suffit de mon âme.” Alas poor Vergniaud 1
Vergniaud's eloquence has been much praised. As far as we can judge, we should say that, although he probably possessed much greater facility in extempore reply than Robespierre, he was immeasurably inferior to him in the higher qualities of an orator. His reply on this occasion, viewed merely as a piece of composition, seems to us very inferior to his rival's speech.
On the 12th of April Guadet replied to Robespierre, and he also, like Vergniaud, spoke extempore. It was in the course of his speech, that at the words “votre Danton—” Danton exclaimed, “Ah ! tu m’accuses moi! tu ne connais pas ma force,” On which Guadet thus continued, “Votre Danton . . . . si toutefois on peut appeler vötre celui qui dans le nombre de ses agens vous place au troisième rang.” Who shall say what effect this observation, thus publicly made, may have had on Danton's own fate 7 Certainly a man like Robespierre was not likely easily to forgive Danton or any body else for classing him in the third rank of his agents. In the course of his speech Guadet pointed at the leading feature of Robespierre's character —suspicion, alluding to a fact as being attested by men whom “Robespierre ne
* The extraordinary license in expressing their opinions and consequent influence which the strangers' galleries had upon the deliberations of the National Assemblies during this Revolution seem almost to afford a ground for the word tribune being used in this double and sometimes misleading sense.
soupçonner a certainement pas, si toutefois il est quelqu'un que Robespierre puisse ne pas soupçonner.” The royalist journals had represented Robespierre as saying, “La cour conspire, les généraux conspirent, les directoires conspirent, les tribunaux conspirent, Tout conspire.”
Lord Brougham bestows very high praise upon the conclusion of Robespierre's address on the 31st of May against the Girondists. While he was proceeding thus— “Non' il faut purger l'armée Il faut—" Vergniaud impatiently interrupted him with “Concluez donc P’ whereupon Robespierre instantly turned on him and continued :
“Oui! je vais conclure, et contre vous – contre vous, qui, après la Révolution du 10 Août, avez vovlu conduire à l'échataud ceux qui l’ont faite –contre vous, qui n'avez cesse de provoguer la destruction de Paris : contre vous, qui avez woulu sauver le tyran —contre vous, qui avez conspiré avec Dumouriez — contre vous, qui avez poursuivi avec acharnement les mémes patriotes dont Dumouriez demandait la tête —contre vous, dont les vengeances criminelles ont provogué les mêmes cris d’indignation dont vous voulez faire un crime à ceux qui sont vos victimes' Eh bien: ma conclusion c'est le décret d’accusation contre tous les complices de Dumouriez et contre tous ceux qui ont été désignés parles pétitionneaires '''
Lord Brougham then adds, “The Gironde party were undone,” as if their undoing were the immediate effect of Robespierre's oratory; whereas that effect was produced by the armed mob of Paris, not an hundredth part of whom could possibly hear this last peal of the Jacobin thunder, but who had unlimited faith in the “ Incorruptible” being their friend, and in the Gironde being their enemies. In fact, the fall of the Girondists was as much produced by pike and artillery as the expulsion of the Five Hundred was by artillery and bayonet. The course of Robespierre's life, which had earned for him the appellation of “incorruptible,” joined to the power of mind which could produce such passages as the above, had given him a command of pikes and artillery nearly as effective for the time as the arms which Napoleon's victories afterwards gave him. A man devoid both of judgment and force of character might make as striking a conclusion as that quoted above, but then such a man must not expect to have some twenty heads for his pains.
The following fact strongly illustrates the anomalous state of things then existing in France. Garat, the minister of the interior, wished to make a last effort to save the lives of his friends the Girondists, and with that view he exerted himself to obtain an interview with Robespierre, convinced (as he informs us in his “Memoirs') that if Robespierre demanded blood, blood would flow,-that if he demanded it not, no one would dare to demand it. Garat was a minister of state, Robespierre held no office; yet the minister had nearly as much difficulty in obtaining an interview with the demagogue, as a deputation of Paisley weavers have with a Secretary of State at the present day. Robespierre received the minister at his lodgings at the carpenter's. He was not alone; Chabot, whom he sent to the guillotine not many months after, was with him, and walked about the room during the conversation, says Garat, “souriant toujours a Robespierre, et souriant quelquefois à moi a la dérobée.” Garat's arguments had no effect upon Robespierre; and when at last he attempted to obtain his consent that at least his friends should not be tried by the Revolutionary Tribunal,— that tribunal the creation of which they had 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, M.M. Buchez and Roux, the editors of the ‘Histoire Parlementaire,’ assert, that it is impossible to prove by the slightest document that Robespierreparticipated, 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
Sainte-Amaranthe to the guillotine because she refused to become his mistress, both his opinions and his conduct in regard to women were very far above the standard of his age and country; that his private life was correct,” and that his tastes and habits, while altogether free from the cynical filth and slovenliness of many of his colleagues, were simple and unexpensive; that consequently on the two important points of women and money, his conduct presented a direct contrast to that of the men who murdered him, men who spent in sumptuous orgies among courtezans the money they obtained from the plunder of their country. In fact it was, we believe, their difference in this branch of morals, joined to their refusal to shape their belief according to his in the question of religion, that determined Robespierre to destroy them, and thereby led to his own destruction. For Robespierre's tyranny, if he had been able to carry it out, would have been perhaps the most intolerable ever known upon earth, being at once a religious, moral, and political tyranny, uniting the worst intolerance of Puritanism with the despotism of Napoleon. Such a despotism was to be put down at any cost. 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 M.M. 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.
plices, was 2581.” We must not forget,
the Committee of Public Safety, became,
* 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.
* 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.