ardour of the adventurers who had enlisted with so much zeal; so that some broke their engagement and retired.

"In the mean time William, in order to check a disposition so fatal to his projects, had the dead buried secretly, and increased the supply of victuals and strong liquors. But the same thoughts of regret and discouragement still recurred. • Very foolish,' said the soldiers, 'very foolish is the man who pretends to conquer another's land! God is offended at such designs, and now he shows his anger by refusing us a favourable wind! At last, perhaps from real superstition, perhaps for the mere purpose of distracting their followers from unwelcome thoughts, the Norman chiefs conducted the relics of St. Valery in great pomp, and with a long procession, through the camp. All the army began to pray; and the following night the fleet had the wind they wished for.

"And now, four hundred ships, with large sails, and upwards of one thousand boats of transport, started from the shore at the same signal. The vessel of William took the lead, and he carried at his mast's head the banner sent from the pope, and a cross upon his flag. The sails were of divers colours, and in many parts of them were painted the three lions, the arms of the Normans; and at the prow was carved the face of a child carrying a bent bow with an arrow ready to fly forth.

This vessel, a better sailer than the rest, headed the expedition during the day, and at night was far in the advance. On the following morning the duke bade a sailor climb to the top of the main mast and see if there were any other vessel coming. 'I only see,' said the sailor, the sky and the sea,'-and thereupon the anchor was cast.

[ocr errors]

and he ordered a Anon, the sailor saw four vessels,

"The duke affected a gaiety that was to put down any appearance of care or fear among his friends, sumptuous repast and wines highly spiced. mounted again; and this time he said he and presently afterwards he cried, 'I see a forest of masts and sails.'

[blocks in formation]

"Now, while this great armament was preparing in Normandy, Harold, the Norwegian, faithful to his engagements toward the Saxon Tostig, had assembled his soldiers and some hundreds of vessels of war and transports. The fleet remained

some time at anchor, and the Norwegian army, awaiting the signal for departure, encamped on the coast, as the Norman army had encamped at the mouth of the Dive.

[ocr errors]

'There, also, vague impressions of discouragement and inquietude manifested themselves, and under appearances yet more gloomy and conformable with the visionary imagination of the north. Many soldiers thought that they received prophetic revelations in their sleep. One imagined that he saw his companions debarking on the English coast, and in presence of the English army; and that before the front of that army a woman of gigantic stature galloped a wolf for her steed. The wolf held in its jaws a human corpse dripping with blood, and as the wolf devoured one corpse the woman gave it another.


"A second soldier dreamed that the fleet was departing, and that a cloud of ravens, and vultures, and other birds of prey, settled upon the masts; and that on a neighbouring rock sat a female, holding a naked sword, counting and regarding the ships. 'Go,' said she to the birds; Go without fear-you will have to feast-you will have to choose-for I go with them-I go there.' And his followers remarked, not without error, that when Harold put his foot upon the royal chaloupe, the weight of his body pressed it down into the water more than usual."

[blocks in formation]

Here is a picture where the skill of the artist is conspicuous in the ease of his work.

In these two or three pages you find almost every thing which could be told you, characteristic of the time described. You learn the nature of the Norman troops, the manner in which they enrolled, the hopes which they entertained, the very arms with which they fought; their restlessness, and their superstition. And by the side of the Normans come yet more darkly out the savage and mysterious dispositions of the Norwegian bands: and you see at once that William was a great commander, and a valiant and crafty man. A child, who read the passage I have cited, would be impressed with all these facts; and yet there has been no laying down the law, no teaching, no prosing, no explaining.

And now let us turn from this eloquent description of the

feudal time, to the awful narrative of our own. Let us take

up M. Thiers !* For the somewhat solemn and chivalric gravity which suited the chronicles of the olden day, you have the vivid colouring, the rush of thought and style, the glow and flash of expression, which, startling at every step, carries you with an appropriate pace over thrones, and over constitutions, and over the mangled bodies of noble and mistaken men, down the fiery and precipitous path of a revolution destined to destroy. And here you see Mirabeau "terrible in the ugliness of his genius," hesitating (his great brow labouring with his idea), and then bursting on to the expression that he sought, his words falling like a torrent, from chasm to chasm-violent, irresistible, abrupt. And here you see the gigantic Danton, at the head of the dark multitude which stormed the Tuileries on the 10th of August, waving that terrible and daring hand, a fatal signal to the proscribed! And, lo! Marat,§ hid during the attack in some obscure retreat, has came out since the victory, and marches, flourishing a sabre, through the town, at the head of the fierce Marseillians, while the neat and respectablelooking' Robespierre delivers to the Jacobins' one of his 'doctoral harangues.' I hardly know any passage in history more powerful than that in vol. iii. page 53, which begins— "La terreur régnait dans Paris

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


It is not eloquent in point of diction. The narrative of those dreadful days, which Danton commenced by the declaration, "qu'il fallait faire peur aux Royalistes," is told in the simplest and least pretending manner; but, from the moment that these words have passed that terrible man's lips, a kind of terious horror breathes over the page: you feel that something sickening is to come: sentence after sentence this sensation grows upon you, and the object on which your apprehensions are to rest is now gradually and artfully pointed out:-Madame Fausse Landry entreats to be permitted to share the captivity of her uncle," the Abbé de Rastignac," and Sergent answers her by saying "Vous faites une imprudence; les prisons ne sont pas sûres.” Then comes the declaration of Danton, the day after "The cannon you are about to hear is not the

* La Revolution Française. Ibid. p. 5, vol. iii.

† Ibid. p. 124, vol. i.
§ Ibid. p. 54.

cannon of alarm, c'est le pas de charge sur les ennemis de la patrie."

Then "La ville entière était debout. Une terreur profonde régnait dans les prisons Les geôliers semblaient consternés. Celui de l'Abbaye, dès le matin, fait sortir sa femme et ses enfans. Le diner avait été servi aux prisonniers deux heures avant l'instant accoutumé; tous les couteaux avaient été retirés de leurs serviettes."



At length the tocsin sounds! the cannon's heavy peal rolls through the city; the people rush to the Champ de Mars, throng round the " Commune" and the " Assembly," and group together in the great square. It is now at this moment of gloom, of tumult, and agitation-chosen by chance or by intention for the purpose-that twenty-four priests are taken from the Hôtel de Ville to be transferred to the Abbaye. They are put into six hackney-coaches, and conducted, at a slow pace, along the Quais, and by the Pont Neuf to the Faubourg St. Germain. The savage and excited crowds kindle at the sight, like hounds in view of their prey; they grind their teeth, they howl round the carriage; they follow it; they butcher, they tear these unhappy men to pieces, as one by one they descend in the court of the Abbaye.

This is the first scene of Liberty's St. Bartholomew.*. And now arrives Billaud Varennes. He comes decorated with his official badge; walks through the splashing blood, and over the mangled bodies, speaks to the crowd of assassins, and says "People! thou slayest thy enemies, and thou doest well!" "There is nothing more to do here!" cries Maillard. "Allons aux Carmes;" and to the Carmes they go; murder two hundred priests more, and then return to the Abbaye,and here Maillard calls for wine "pour les braves travailleurs, qui délivrent la nation de ses ennemis." And wine is served in the court, and these wretches drink and make merry, and shout, and revel-and around them are the ghastly carcasses of those whom they had butchered in the morning.

[ocr errors][merged small]

Let us pass from this scene, sketched with too horrible a truth!. In the action of his narrative, and in the vividness of his paintings, consist M. Thiers' most striking merits as an historian; but his work, remarkable for its vivacity, is also remarkable for its clearness-whilst it displays a spirit that would be singularly impartial,-were it not warped at times by a system, false because it denies the possibility of an accident-horrible because it breaks down all distinction between crime and virtue-making both the necessity of a position.

M. Mignet, who has written upon the same epoch as M. Thiers, has been guilty of the same fault. He, too, has seen an infernal fatalism connecting all the horrors with all the energies, all the crimes with all the triumphs, of the Revolution. *

According to this system, all the terrible leaders of that time are concentrated, as it were, into one executioner, all society into one malefactor. Now, Mr. Executioner, strike off the head of your victim; nobody can call you a bad man-you are only doing your duty, the duty which Providence has set you, and it is all for the benefit of the world and for the advantage of future generations! If the poor creature delivered to you be innocent, be no malefactor, that is no business of yours-the law, i. e. the law of destiny, has decided that you shall strike; therefore be quick, and never think there is any reason to be ashamed of your task, though it be a bloody one. Good God! what a progress has the human mind made in forty years! We are now doubting whether society has the right to inflict death on an individual : we were then believing that two or three individuals had a right to murder all society. "According to Messrs. Thiers and Mignet," says M. de Châteaubriand, "the historian must speak of the greatest atrocities without indignation of the noblest virtues without affection. Il faut que d'un œil glacé il regarde la société comme soumise à certaines lois irrésistibles, de manière que chaque chose arrive comme elle devait inévitablement arriver. L'innocent ou l'homme de génie doit mourir, non pas parce qu'il est innocent ou homme de génie, mais parce que sa mort est nécessaire, et que sa vie mettrait obstacle à un fait général placé dans la série des événemens." And who is to judge of this necessity? The man of power will always think that necessary for the benefit of mankind which is necessary for his own advantage. Every wretch who wishes to place himself at the head of society will think, if he attain its, summit for a moment, that it is for the advantage of the world, and that Providence requires, that he should maintain himself there by shooting little children, and drowning pregnant women, and massacring aged and feeble priests; and Carrier and Lebon will pass to posterity as patterns of those apostles whom God has designed to be the harbingers of liberty, prosperity, and civilization.

But the folly of this system is equal, if that be possible, to its horror and its danger. The Prussians retired before Dumourier, and there were the massacres of September!ergo, the massacres of September saved

« VorigeDoorgaan »