Paine's door happened to be open when the keeper went round to make his mark, and he chalked it on the inside ; it was shut when he came to take the prisoners out, and the destoying angel, savs Paine, past by. Before the mistake was discovered the reign of blood was over.

The fall of Robespierre was the triumph of fear rather than of justice, and the satisfaction with which it inust be contemplated is incomplete, because a few monsters even worse than himself were among the foremost iu sending him to the scaffold. His punishment however was as signal as his crimes. His under jaw was shattered with a pistol slot, either by bimself in an ineffectual attempt at suicide, or by a gendarme in the struggle ; it was bound up with a slight dressing as he lay in the lobby of the Convention, he wished to wipe away the blood which filled his mouth, they gave him a bloody cloth, and as he pushed it from him, they said to him It is blood-it is what thou Jikest!' There he lay on one of the benches, and, in bis agony of mind and body, clenched one of his thighs through bis torn clothes with such force that his nails entered his own flesh, and were rimmed round with blood. He was carried to the same dungeon which Hebert, and Chaumette, and Danton had successively occupied; the gaoler knocked him about without ceremony, and when he made signs to one of them (for he could not speak) to bring him pen and ink, the man made answer—' What dost thou want with it? is it to write to thy Maker? thou wilt see him presently! He was placed in a cart between Henriot and Couthon ; the shops, and the windows, and the house-tops were crowded with rejoicing spectators to see him pass, and as the cart proceeded, shouts of exultation went before it

, and surrounded it, and followed its way. His head was wrapt in a bloody cloth which bound up his shattered jaw, so that his pale and livid countenance was but half seen. The horsemen who escorted him shewed him to the spectators with the point of their sabres. The mob stopt him before the house in which he lived; some women danced before the cart, and one of them cried out to him, ' Descend to hell with the curses of all wives and of all mothers!' The executioner, when preparing for the performance of his office, roughly tore off the bandage from his wound; Robes. pierre then uttered a dreadful cry, his under jaw fell from the upper, and the head while he was yet living exhibited as ghastly a spectacle as when a few minutes afterward Sampson, holding it by the hair, exhibited it to the multitude.

It was at one time reported that Robespierre was the nephew of Damiens,-a foolish attempt to account for his cruelties, by supposing that he was actuated by a sedled purpose of revenge. The manner of that poor maniac's execution is one of the foulest F F 3


blots in history, but Robespierre's conduct is not to be explained by any such hypothesis ; it might serve the purpose of a romancer, but the truth holds out a more important lesson; for this man is one of the many persons whom the revolution made wicked, though it did not find them so. 'He had been a studious youth, and a respectable man; and his character contributed not a little to the ascendancy which he obtained over rivals, some of whom were corrupt, others impudently profligate, and of whom there were few who had any pretensions to inorality. He became bloody, because a revolutionist soon learns to consider human lives as the counters with which he plays his perilous game; and he perished after he had cut off every man who was capable of directing the republic, because they who had committed the greatest abominations of the revolution united against him, that they might secure themselves, and wash their hands in his blood. • We are far from wishing,' says the author of the Biographie Moderne, 'to diminish the horror that he inspires; yet it would be easy to prove that, like those animals which the ancients loaded with all the iniquities of a nation at the moment of sacrificing them, he was overwhelmed with the crimes of his accomplices, and even of, his enemies, who sought to purify themselves at his expense. Robespierre, devoured by ambition, believed that blood would be useful to his schemes, and he made ịt How in torrents ; but it would be absurd to imagine that he ever could have invented and directed all those little details of cruelty that were the delight of Fouquier, Dumas, Collot, Carrière, Billaud, &c. and all the throng of proconsuls and members of cominittecs, who, less vast in their ambition, but more vile, were some as cruel, and others still more barbarous.'

St. Just is said to have been more equal to the first place than Robespierre; but he wanted that reputation for private virtues, which even in the worst times, and among the most corrupted people, has its weight. He had published an imitation of Voltaire's Pucelle, shewing thereby the depravity of his imagination; the hardness of his heart was abundantly displayed during his ascendancy. Camille Desmoulins is said to have been put to death chiefly in revenge for a jest upon him. The execrations of the people seemed not to produce the slightest effect upon St. Just when he went to execution, and he submitted to his fate with the greatest coolness. Couthon suffered more. In Phillips's Anec. dotes it is said that he was seized in a closet, drowned in tears, and with a knife in his hand, which he had not courage to make use of: įhe French Biography says, that he wounded himself slightly, and feigned-kimself dead. "Being a cripple and unable to move without assistance, he had no other chance of escaping, and this did not avail him ; his deformity was of such a kind that, owing


[ocr errors]

to the frightful contraction of his lower limbs, it was impossible to fasten him to the moving plank of the guillotine in the visual manner; and the executioner was at last obliged to lay him on his side to receive the blow. This ceremony took up twice the time occupied in dispatching his seven companions. Before the revolution Couthon had been distinguished for the gentleness, as well as the integrity of his character. It is worthy of remark, that Ro. bespierre himself had both spoken and written against the punishment of death in all cases. Dumas, who was punished at the same tiine with his master, had just signed the warrant for putting sixty persons to death, when he was arrested; and it is one of the frightful circumstances of these dreadful times that they all suffered. In the confusion, no person thought of stopping the guillotive, and Sampson and bis machine continued their daily work.

The fall of Robespierre gave Sampson a little intermission from his daily labour, but not before he had performed the righteous office of executing the wretches who had sent so many victims to the scaffold. Dumas was carried before the same tribunal to be identified and condemned, where the day before he had presided as judge. Fouquier Tinville was not executed for some months afterwards. He made an able defence, upon the ground that he could not decline the office to which he had been appointed, and that he acted in obedience to commands which were not to be disputed, being the highest authority in the republic. But he was told that the commands which he had received were, by his own account, inhuman and unjust, that his compliance with them was criminal, and that his life was but a miserable atonement for the many thousands he had sported with in mockery of justice. This man seemed to feel remorse for the first time at the foot of the scaffold, and trembled as he ascended it. Coffinhal, the judge in one of the minor tribunals, underwent sufferings before his death, which almost in any other human being would excite our horror and compassion. He was called the facetious judge, because he used, in the same breath, to jest with his victims and condemn them. A prisoner one day displayed great presence of mind upon his trial in confuting the charges which were brought against him, saying frequently, I can parry this part of the accusation, and parry that. Coffinhal interrupted him, and asked him what business lie was of; the man replied he was a fencing-master. Then, said the judge, I am going to pass sentence of death upon you; parry that stroke if you

His grand practice, when a prisoner attempted to speak in his defence, was to cut him short by saying, 'tu n'a pas la parole.' During the overthrow of his party, Coftinhal escaped, and concealed himself eight and forty hours in the Isle de Cigue in the river. Torrents of rain fell, and at length he was in danger every

F F 4



minute of being carried away by the flood. Not having courage to die, lie caught a piece of toating timber, and reached the shore upon it, and went to the house of a man who owed him five and twenty louis, and whom he thought he inight trust. He found from him such faith and such mercy as he had shewn to others ; the man locked him in, and immediately informed against him; he was taken to the Conciergerie, and then told the gaoler that the fatigue and horror which he had endured upon the island, and in buffeting the waves, made the death he was about to suffer a pleasure in comparison. His own inhuman scoffs were retorted upon hiin on his way to the scaffold. Tlé bien, Cojinhal, said some persons in the crowd, que dis-tu de rette butte-? pare celle-.' He said nothing, upon which they added, tu n'a pas la parole.' When he reached the place of execution the use of his limbs was lost, from cold and e: haustion, and fear. Coffinhal was the man who,

when Lavoisier requested that his death might be delayed a fortnight in order that he might finish some important experiments, told him the republic had no need of scholars and chemists.

These guilty agents of an execrable tyranny would soon have been destroyed by Robespierre himself. He was preparing to sacrifice them to public opinion, and with them those inembers of the Convention who, either in the provinces, or in the Committee of Public Safety, had outstript him in cruelty. Had he succeeded, it is not improbable that he might have acted the part of Sylla, and endeavoured to secure his power by putting an end to the system of terror. He was destined to be the scape-goat himself, a fate which he deserved as the most prominent of these men of blood, but by no means as the worst of them. A very few of the most notorious villains were brought to the block after him. Collot d'Herbois and Billaud Varennes escaped with the inadequate punishment of transportation. Allons, President,' said the latter when the sentence was read to him, à la longue, il n'y restera que la sonnette. He is said to have employed himself at Sinamari in teaching parrots to speak. Collot d'Herbois in the thirst produced by a fever, perhaps in a fit of delirium, drank a bottle of brandy; it proved fatal; he was carried in a litter to the hospital at Cayenne, where he expired in the greatest bodily torments, and in far more dreadful agonies of mind, reproaching himself for his innumerable crimes, and cursing the hour of bis birth. Their colleague, Barrère, who seems to have assented to all their cruelties from mere cowardice, contrived to be left behind when the ship gailed with them from France, upon which Boursault observed, that it was the first time he had ever failed to sail with the wind. The sort of contempt in which he was held, and the cousideration that, though he had been the herald and apologist of so many


[ocr errors]

murders, he had occasioned none himself, contributed to his security. Before the revolution he had been a man of letters, and the French Biography tells us, that in his retirement he has returned to his former pursuits, and amused himself with translating the Night Thoughts. Dr. Dodd's Prisou Thoughts would have been more appropriate.

After the fall of Robespierre, in the natural order of a revolution, knaves and cowards succeeded to the sway, elbowing each other, and trafficking, intriguing, and contending for power, till the people were wears of misrule, and willingly submitted to a militury despotism. The Directory gave the first specimen of a military government; and there is a memorable anecdote connected with it.-Sis deputies were arrested after the insurrection of the first of Prairial, and were delivered over to a military commission; Phillips's collection mentious three of their names, Romme, Bourbotte, and Soubrany: the first was a man of science, and a sturdy republican; but while the terrorists were carrying on their abominable proscription, he devoted himself to the harınless employment of preparing a sort of commentary upon the new calendar, called Anmaire du Cultivateur, containing short philosophical accounts of the plants, animals, and implements with which Fabre d'Eglantine, at his suggestion, had filled the decadary almanack, in place of the saints. The Committee of Public Instruction thought his book worthy of being published for the use of the national schools, and a decree of the Convention was issued, ordering that an edition should be printed in the capital of every department for this purpose. Romme must have been passionately devoted to agriculture to imagine that such a book could ever supersede the Flos Sanctorum, the Nouveau Parterre des Fleurs des Vies des Saints, and the numberless other compilations of a similar kind, which are almost as amusing, and quite as veracious as the Arabian Tales. He did not live to see St. Francis and St. Dominic recover their places, and eject the sheep and oxen by whom they had for a while been ousted. He and his five companions seem to have been selected as victims by the directorial party, for their known attachment to the democratical constitution of 1793, not for any direct share which could be proved against them in the insurrection for which they were to be sacrificed; and as the name of a revolutionary tribunal was become odious, they were delivered over to a military commission, which did the business in a manuer equally sure and summary. The accused deputies were fully aware that their deaths had been determined on. Romine, although strictly watched by the gendarmes, found means to procure and secrete a strong and sharp pointed knife, and he obtained, as a favour, from the members of the commission, that he and his comrades should be placed during their trial

« VorigeDoorgaan »