Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

ter and arbitrary rule; but still avoided to undertake any sudden reaction, lest not only the populace, but the majority of the convention itself, might esteem the revolutionary cause in danger. Billaud, Collet, and their friends, also, had rendered a service too recent and important to be forgotten. For these reasons the prisons were but gradually opened, the revolutionary tribunal abolished but by degrees. The executive government was modified, not changed. Of the twelve members of the committee of public safety, three were to be renewed each month, by which provision Tallien immediately entered, Collot and Billaud ceased to belong to it. Just vengeance, too, though slow, did not altogether sleep. The judges of the tribunal of blood, and the public accusers, were sent to the scaffold. Steps were taken to bring the pro-consuls, Carrier and Lebon, to the same fate. David and his brother ruffians of the committee of general safety were put in arrest. These measures, however wise and short of just retribution, were sufficient to alarm the terrorists, and those implicated in the extreme and violent acts of the revolution. Nor were the moderate and reactionary party out of doors satisfied. So many had the deaths of fathers, mothers, relatives of all kinds, to avenge, that truce was impossible betwixt them and their enemies. The sectionary meetings were the chief scene of these plaints and recriminations. The citizens, recovered from their terror, appeared there to exclaim against those who had terrified them; whilst the rabble and its representatives clamored, that the aristocrats were all let loose to plot once more the downfall of the republic. The press, too, recovered its freedom; and made use of its power in favor of moderation. Such journals as those of Marat and of Hebert were no longer tolerated. Humanity of taste, as well as of feeling, resumed its natural ascendency.

There was another singular effect observable at this period: men in the maturity and advance of life had universally disgraced themselves: they had either joined the violent, and from passion or calculation rushed into crime; or else they had shrunk in pusillanimity away, and remained suffering and hidden during the dreadful crisis. None stood upright, high 'n character, in their own and in others' confidence. The military profession formed a bright exception, which is one grand reason for the ascendency, not unmerited, which it speedily acquired. But all civilians were under the ban. The consequence was, that, in the capital especially, youth pushed age and manhood aside. The young alone undertook to raise the banner of moderation, to stoop no longer, as their sires had done, beneath the menaces of the terrorists, and to sup 1794. SOCIETY. 81

port by force, if requisite, the triumph of national li lerty over the arbitrary and despotic principles of the thorough revolutionists. This leagued band of young men gratified at once the vanity of their age and their contempt for sans-culottism, by elegance of dress and of manners. They were called, in derision, by their enemies, la jennesse doree, the begilded youths.

The same epithet was applied to the saloons that now dared to open and to receive society. These no longer belonged to the ancient noblesse, whom the French had proscribed, far more on account of their social arrogance, than of their political privileges. It was the boon of equality far more than that of liberty the nation sought. But an aristocracy of some kind or another is an inevitable consequence of society. If that of birth be proscribed, wealth will take its place. If wealth be disallowed as a claim to distinction, talent will assume the lead; and under the name of talent so many vain and noisy pretenders take pre-eminence, that, perhaps, this last forms the most intolerable of social despotisms. Wealth, however, now had the undisputed lead, birth and talent having fallen under the ax of the terror, financiers, jobbers, contractors, Jacobins, enriched by rapine, all the cunning ones who had speculated with success in the revolution; these men now claimed the chief consideration; their wives or mistresses became the queens of the gay circles. Madame Tallien bore away the palm amongst them. She was the widow of ar. emigre, Tallien, secretary of the commune during the massacres of September, having gone as a pro-consul to Bordeaux, which he deluged with blood, became enamored of her. She had the merit of softening the vindictiveness of the tyrant, and recalling him to humanity. Robespierre had imprisoned her; and fears for her life had principally given Tallien the courage to declare against the terror and its chief. Tallien then married his mistress, who was known as Notre Dame de Thermidor. With her madame Recamier, wife of a rich banker, disputed the palm of beauty. That of wit, high intellect, and nobleness of character, fell to madame de Steel. Nor are these details unimportant to history. The resurrection of polite society, so long extinct,—-the natural pre-eminence of the well-bred in such circles thus giving flagrant contradiction to the revolutionary principle,—the empire recovered by sarcasm and ridicule now turned against popular excesses,—contributed to change altogether the general tone of feeling. The persiflage of conversation effected now in France, what the written persiflage of Hudibras worked ic England upon the revolution, nair N y, shamed and killed po* litical fanaticism. Another similarity in the fete of the two countries at these similar epochs, was the dissolution of morals consequent upon the decay of enthusiasm. Hitherto the majority of the legislature had mingled private probity with sanguinary fanaticism: now both disappeared. The object was no longer to save one's head, or decapitate one's neighbor; but to make a fortune, and secure a share of national spoil and fame. The rage for wealth succeeded in the passionate to rage for blood; the servility of selfishness succeeded in the timid to servility of personal fear. The way to despotism was prepared; it was too late to hope for aught better. The tide of liberty for nations is like that of fortune for men; if not "taken at the ebb," it leads but to anarchy and despotism.

About a month was allowed to elapse after the fall of Robespierre, ere any rupture was menaced betwixt the parties in the convention. After that interval Lecointre, deputy for Versailles, could no longer restrain his spleen; and openly accused Billaud, Collot, and Barrere, as accomplices of the fallen tyrant. The body of the Thermidoriahs had, however, not as yet made up their minds for new strife. They disapproved of Lecointre*s zeal; and his accusation in consequence fell to the ground. This circumstance, thereforey restored the courage of the fierce Moiintainists. They^ bullied, clamored, and the Jacobin club once more resounded with Virions declamation. An attempt was made to assassinate Tallien; and the Thermidorians found themselves obliged to abandon their moderation/ Their first attempt was against the clubs; and divers proposals were made to forbid members of the convention from belonging to them, for purifying them of the anarchists, as had been done universally With respect to ttie municipal councils. But the majority of the convention, of which, as yet, timidity was the chief characteristic, feared as much to appear counter--revolutionists as terrorists, and could not be moved to decision without an impulse from without. This was given them by the trial of a number of citizens of Nantes, who had been sent to the revolutionary tribunal at Paris. In their defence they revealed all the crimes of Carrier, who had decimated their city, and invented the famous noyades, ox drownings of prisoners. These details excited the public indignation. The accusation of Carrier was loudly called for. He defended himself with energy; declaring, with some truth, that the entire convention participated in his crimes, and "that the whole assembly was culpable, even to the very bell of the president." Nevertheless, after long debates and delay, Carrier was ordered to stand his trial. This afiair ex

1794* JACOBIN CLUB CLOSED. 83

cited to the utmost the interest and animosity of both parties. The terrorists saw in Carrier's downfall their own ruin. The moderates demanded loudly, in his case, the verdict to which tlie convention. had been unwilling to reduce the colleagues and betrayers of Robespierre. Billaud Varennes, no longer listened to in the convention, consoled himself in the Jacobins, and on one occasion menaced that "the lion might awaken." The lion could be no other than the terror; and this threat had the effect of awakening the very opposite feeling. A body of the jeunesse doree, the youth of the capital, surrounded the Jacobin club, broke the windows, insulted and chastised divers of the female furies of the galleries, that sought to escape. The Jacobins defended their hall, and even sallied out on their besiegers. The patrol at length interfered, dispersed the youth who besieged, but at the same time cleared the hall of the Jacobins. From this little engagement it appeared that the moderate party were strongest even in the streets. This gave courage to the timid majority of the assembly. It rallied to the side of the Thermidorians; and the Jacobin club was ordered to be finally closed. This was followed up by the recall of the exiled and proscribed deputies, who returned in considerable numbers; and reinforcing the moderate side, flung at once the whole weight of power into the hands of the Tnermidorians.

But few of the leading Girondists still survived, to take advantage of the decree of recall. In addition to the twentyone tried and executed together, Salles, Quadet, and Barbaroux had been taken, and underwent the same fate at Bordeaux as their brethren at Paris; Petion and Buzot were found dead in the forest where they had been concealed, the remains of the former partly devoured by wolves. Condorcet, the literary and philosophic head of the party, after lurking for many months in the vicinity of Paris, was discovered by chance, and swallowed poison. Most of them perished but a short month previous to the 9th Thermidor, which would have restored them to the convention and to their lost influence. Louvet, Lanjuinais, and Isnard were the principal of those who returned.

In many, perhaps most, shocks and maladies incident to the human frame, the increase of pain is counteracted by the numbness of feeling, and agony is lost in insensibility. It is in the moment of recovery, of returning strength, at the moment of revival from faint, that suffering is most poignant, and the weight of ill most felt. Somewhat similar to this was the state of France recovering from the terror. That dread reign had stricken all with stupor, but it banished mosl IIL—6

disorders. The country was defended by requisitions; money was found by the simple printing of assignats; whilst all commodities, limited to a maximum or fixed price, were to a certain degree attainable. Food was not plentiful, indeed; but its want did not then amount to famine. From the moment, however, that terror ceased, the farmer, the shopkeeper, felt no longer compelled by imminent death to bring forth their commodities in order to sell them at a low price the assignats sunk almost to extinction of value; it was no longer in the power or wish of the government to keep the mob in-pay, as Robespierre had continued partly to do. And hence the working classes fell back into that state of idleness and famine, which they had experienced at the commencement of the revolution. Riot appeared in the streets, the young men of the better classes often combating the rabble of the fauxbourgs. The police had no longer the guillotine at command. Political intrigues came, exciting to sedition a population prone to it from habit and distress.. The dispersed Jacobins spread in every quarter their complaints; insinuated that the moderates were royalists and aristocrats m disguise; and attributed the present famine and disorder to the relaxa tion of the revolutionary mode of government.

The recent execution of Carrier, and the approaching trial of Billaud Varennes, Collot d'Herbois, and 3arrere, rendered it incumbent on the old Mountainists to use the utmost efforts to rouse the people. They succeeded in mustering the sections of the fauxtourg St. Antoine. And from these accordingly, in the spring of 1795, petitions began to flow in to the convention, the old prelude to disorder. The cry and pretext were also the same as in the old insurrection. Bread was their demand;—bread, and the democratic constitution of 1793. The convention repelled these covert menaces with dignity; the president Thibaudeau had the courage to tell several hundreds of turbulent petitioners to return to their labors. The abbe Sieyes awakened from his long torpor, and proposed a plan for neutralizing insurrection; it organized all possible resistance, and decreed that, in case of being overpowered, the deputies were to* disperse, quit Paris, and meet at Chalons.

Exertions at the same time were made to meet the wishes of the people. Boissy d'Anglas, at the head of the commission for provisioning the capital,—there was no longer a mayor, Paris being wisely divided, as it still remains, into twelve municipalities,—took measures for warding off famine. As to the democratic constitution of 1793, it was found impracticable; and it was now openly avowed that a peopk

« ZurückWeiter »