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Stuart. Persons of our own day who are advanced in years have lived to see a great change of feeling in the sentiment with which she was regarded. They were brought up on what a great writer calls the immortal vision of Edmund Burke,' the tender and pathetic stories of Madame Campan, and the recollections of the old who had spoken to her amid the last glories of Versailles. They have lived to see that same great writer describe her conduct to the noble Turgot and the virtuous Malesherbes, and to say that the character of the Queen had far more concern in the character of the first five years of the Revolution than had the character of Robespierre. Lord Acton, who on the whole takes a kindlier view of her character, says that the advice she gave in decisive moments was disastrous, that she had no belief in the rights of nations, and that she plotted war and destruction against her own people. That with many attractive qualities she had curiously false instincts as to character, and was absolutely unfitted for political power, are facts that, with our later knowledge, it is hardly possible to deny. In private life her beauty and charm and her warm affections might have led to a happier end; in politics her mistakes were ruinous to herself and disastrous to France.
Meantime the Revolution went on in the provinces much assisted by the women whether they had votes or not. In the four months which preceded the taking of the Bastille there were more than three hundred riots in France, in most of which the women took the lead.1
At first it was principally a demand for corn. At Montlhéry the women tore the sacks of corn open with their scissors. Efforts were made to guard the wheat going from one place to another, but in vain. Troops of men and women armed with guns and axes lay in ambush in the woods by the wayside and seized the horses attached to the grain-carts. At Viroflay thirty women with a supporting guard of men stopped all the vehicles on the high road supposed to be carrying corn. At La Seyne the populace assembled to the sound of the drum, the women brought a bier in front of the house of one of the principal citizens, telling him to prepare for death, and that they would do him the honour of burying him. He managed to escape, but the chief of the band forced the inhabitants to give him money to indemnify the peasants who had left their work and employed their day for the public good.
On the 14th of July 1789 the Bastille was taken, the women of the better class, elegantly dressed, looking on from the Place de la Bastille, those who assisted the mob to rush it showing their
1 Taine, Les Origines de la France Contemporaines, vol. i.
teeth and threatening with their fists." The news from Paris seems to have excited the provinces still more. At Troyes, on the 18th of July, the peasants refused to pay the octroi, which had been suppressed in Paris. On the 27th of August they invaded the Hôtel de Ville. M. Huez, the mayor, was an amiable and benevolent man. He was injured severely, and at length thrown down the great staircase. A priest who wished to offer him the consolations of religion was repulsed and beaten. A woman trod on his face and pushed her scissors into his eyes.
At Caen, Major de Belsance, in spite of a safe-conduct, was cut in small pieces; a woman ate his heart.*
On the 21st of July 1789, at Cherbourg, two highwaymen led the women of the faubourg, foreign sailors, the population of the port, and a number of soldiers, in the smocks of working men. They devastated the houses of the principal merchants. Everywhere there was the same instinct of destruction. At Nouay the master of the château and his son-in-law were seized, brutally massacred, and the village children carried their heads about to the sound of music. These events were isolated in the west, the centre, and the south, but Alsace, Franche-Comté, Burgundy, Mâconnais, Beaujolais, Auvergne, Viennois, Dauphiné, resembled a perpetually exploding mine.
So much for the provinces. The Palais Royal had been for some time in a state of excitement, and attempting to gain the soldiers over by the lowest means; money was distributed, it was said, by intriguing persons who got hold of the Duke of Orleans, whom they were draining of millions under pretext of gratifying his ambitions.
On the 5th of October the women of the Palais Royal had assembled the previous night in white with hair dressed and powdered, laughing, singing, and dancing; three or four were known by their names. Théroigne de Méricourt organised a band of women of bad character and marched, brandishing a sword. Madeleine or Louison Chabry, a pretty flower-girl, was selected to speak to the King. They were joined by washerwomen, beggars, and fishwomen, and the crowd went on increasing. The wives of respectable citizens were in many cases forced to join under threats of having their hair cut.
Their first object was the Hôtel de Ville, where they forced the guard, burnt papers and writings, and stole 200,000 francs in notes. At the Place de Grève the crowd augmented, Millard, who had helped to take the Bastille, offered to lead them, and seven or eight thousand women and some hundreds of men started for Versailles. They were admitted into the assembly,
and insulted the President and the députés. The place of the former was taken by a woman.
At last the deputies went to the King and forced him to accept the Declaration of Rights, as set forth on the 4th of August. Meanwhile the women had succeeded in seducing the regiments, and gave way to unspeakable threats and brutalities, chiefly directed against the Queen. Lafayette arrived with the National Guard in a doubtful state of loyalty, and followed by a mob of the worthless and violent. After watching over affairs all night, he snatched an hour's rest at 5 o'clock in the morning, which was the signal for an outbreak. A band of ruffians made their way into the palace. The guards were butchered, and some fled. The Queen was saved by the gallantry and courage of Miomandre de Sainte-Marie, her sentry, who died at his post. A few hours after, the same crowd loudly applauded Lafayette, who appeared on the balcony with the Queen and kissed her hand. The royal family travelled to Paris at a foot's pace, surrounded by the victorious women, and took seven hours to reach the Tuileries.
I feel that I should perhaps apologise for writing about so much that is generally known; but I observe in modern accounts of the Revolution a great tendency to minimise the action of the women, and also to pass over deeds of violence and cruelty in the lightest way. It is quite true that they are unpleasant reading, but this generation requires to be reminded of the danger, the extraordinary contagion, and the unexpectedness of violence. Robespierre himself, not many years before he deluged France with blood, resigned his position as judge in the episcopal court at Arras in a fit of remorse after condemning a murderer to death. After the above very decided political action in 1789, Condorcet took the cause of the women in hand, having previously done so in 1788. He published an article in the Journal de la Société of 1789, 'Sur l'admission de la femme au droit de la cité,' which is, says M. Aulard, not only a curious feminist manifesto but the feminist manifesto par excellence, the germ of the whole of the present feminist movement being found in his strong and well-reasoned pages. Condorcet ended by saying: 'The equality of rights established among men in our new constitution has caused eloquent declamation and endless jokes, but let anyone show me a natural difference between men and women on which the exclusion of a right can be founded.' This desire of Condorcet was not gratified, though his manifesto was much discussed in the salons, in the clubs, and at the Cercle Social. This last, started at the Palais Royal by the Abbé Fauchet, a gentle
Those who care to read the whole essay will find it in the Appendix to Critical Essays by John Morley, 1878.
and eloquent man, who dreamed of Christian Socialism, was founded on the lines of the Freemasons. Women were admitted to this society and crowded into it. But when the question of the Rights of Women was discussed the atmosphere was hostile. A month later a gentleman named Rousseau ventured to speak at the Cercle Social in favour of women. He was interrupted with violence. According to the Orateur du Peuple, a foreign lady remarkable for her distinguished appearance spoke, and asked that for the sake of French gallantry the speaker might go on. She was applauded, but the sitting was stopped. Then,' remarks the same newspaper, the foreigner saw herself surrounded, caressed and thanked by nearly all the female citizens present.' You have been till now,' she said, 'the companions of men enervated by the sentiments of corrupt slaves. As Frenchmen have become like Romans, imitate the virtues and the patriotism of Roman ladies.' This person was a Dutchwoman, named Etta Palm, by marriage Aelders. She seems to have converted the Cercle Social to feminism, since her speech was published and sent to various municipalities, among others to Creil. This town conferred on her the title of honorary member of the National Guard. The insignia were presented solemnly at a meeting at the Cercle Social, with speeches suitable to the occasion. The medal that you have awarded me shall be the sword of honour which shall repose on my coffin,' said the recipient.
In 1792, at the fête of July, Olympe de Gouges appeared at the head of a female corps, most of them armed. In that year and in 1793 there were many women who enrolled themselves dressed as men in the French armies. Others assisted the men in their revolutionary work. On the 8th of June 1795 the most repulsive crime of the whole Revolution, the demoralisation and torture of a child, came to its sad end. Louis XVII. died. M. Poumies de la Siboutie, in a recently published memoir, says: The cobbler Simon was not a bad fellow, and but for his wife's influence would have treated the child kindly enough. The wife, however, was a cruel wretch, who had taken part with ghoulish enjoyment in all the sanguinary scenes of the Revolution. She lived on till 1840, and died in the Hospice des Incurables.'
The greater part of the democrats at the head of affairs avoided pronouncing theoretically on the question of female suffrage. The clubs of women, as opposed to the clubs of men, were considered an unsocial and sterilising system, and patriots with warm hearts and elevated ideas preferred what they considered the beautiful and fruitful proposal of the association of men and women. I speak of the fraternal societies of both sexes, which VOL. LXXI—No. 423.
played so important a part in the detail of democratic and Republican Government.
One point M. Aulard brings out strongly, and to many persons it will be a novel one-that is, the way in which the Revolutionary Government clung to the idea of a Constitutional King. The beginnings of actual Republicanism were very small, and Camille Desmoulins till 1790 found no echo. When the suspicion grew that Louis XVI. had betrayed France, and had a secret understanding with the expatriated nobles and with Austria, it was then, and then alone, that some persons began to believe that the only method of maintaining the Revolution was to suppress the monarchy.
In September 1790 a man of letters, afterwards at the time of the Convention a deputy for Paris, published a pamphlet entitled Du Peuple et des Rois, in which he said 'I am a Republican, and I write against Kings. I am a Republican, and was one before my birth.'
There were soon others of his opinion. In the issue of the 1st of October 1790 the Mercure National subscribes to the conclusions of this pamphlet. This paper, very little known, was of great importance, not only because it was well informed on matters of foreign politics, but because it was the organ of the Republican party at the very outset, and the organ also of the salon of a woman of letters in which the nucleus of this party was formed. I speak of Madame Robert, daughter of the Chevalier Guynement de Keralio, professor at the Military College, member of the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles Lettres, and editor of the Journal des Savants. Following the example of her mother, who was an authoress, she published novels, historical works, and translations. She married François Robert at the age of thirty-three. He was an advocate, born at Liège, who had become French and very French, his talents perhaps but mediocre, but a loyal man and a frank, an ardent revolutionary, a member of the Jacobin Club and the Cordeliers Club, who later on represented the Department of Paris in the Convention.
A volume by him Le Républicanisme adapté à la France appeared in 1790, and met with widespread attention and aided the formation of a Republican party.
Madame Roland, who had no love for Madame Robert and made fun of her dress, says in her Memoirs that she was a little, spiritual (? witty) woman, intelligent and ingenious.' A patriot in 1790, but a democrat patriot when so many others were content with the bourgeois system established in 1789, and a Republican patriot when Madame Roland was still supporting the monarchy, Aulard, vol. i.