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cannon of alarm, c'est le pas de charge sur les ennemis de la
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.
• The too famous massacres of September, 1792.
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 Chateaubriand, “the historian must speak of the greatest atrocities without indignation—of the noblest virtues without affection. Il faut que d'un ail 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
But, looking at these authors apart from their theory, the work of M. Mignet is as incomparable for fixing and concentrating your thoughts, as that of M. Thiers is for developing and awakening your ideas. M. de Chateaubriand calls the work of M. Thiers* a splendid picture, the work of M. Mignet a vigorous sketch : t it is impossible to choose a word so ill applied to M. Mignet's work as that word “sketch.” Were the word applicable to either work, it would be far more applicable to the work of M. Thiers, which, varied, animated, and full of interest, is nevertheless in many parts hasty and unfinished. The peculiar beauty of M. Mignet's work, on the contrary, is, its perfect finish, its accurate and nicely adjusted proportions, its completeness in every one of its parts. Each epoch of the revolution stands just as it should do in respect to the other, and occupies precisely the space it should do to harmonise with what follows and precedes it. Comprising every circumstance within the smallest possible compass, M. Mignet has given every circumstance its exact and proper
the capital of Paris. Was it the massacres of September which gave Dumourier his quick eye, his extraordinary activity, his great courage and enterprise? Suppose be had been a stupid and a slow fellow-a bad general -what then? Did the massacres of September inspire him with one plan for his campaign, and his council of war with another? Did the massacres of September show him the march across the forest of Argone, or the passage of the Aisne? Did the massacres of September place him on the heights of Valmy? A false step, a wrong position, and then what would have been the result of the massacres of September ? Why, the re-establishment of the old despotism by foreign hands, and the preference, among all sober men, of that despotism to the bloody, and inhuman, and beastly, and infernal tyranny that had preceded it: the reestablishment of a despotism which would have stood upon those massacres firmer than upon a rock of adamant; while a sacred execration would have been be queathed to all posterity for every man, however pure his motives or upright his intentions, who stood forward with the title of “reformer."
The comparative moderation of the Directory, the glory, the laws, the order of the empire, the long confusion of ranks, and the continued division of fortunes, made what had been the reveries of philosophers the habits of a people; and these habits, habits which could never have grown up without domestic tranquillity and security, were incompatible with a court despotism and the old distinctions. But for this the people of France are mainly indebted, I repeat, to the laws of the empire, and not to the massacres of the republic.
* The work of M. Thiers is in ten volumes, that of M. Mignet in two.
+ M. de Châteaubriand seems to think that every thing on a large scale must be a picture, and every thing on a small one a sketch.
effect-looking at the events of those times with a magnifying glass, he has reflected them in a mirror. Many of his reflections are at once just, simple, and profound ; his descriptions, rarer and shorter than those of M. Thiers, are still paintings. We see Camille Desmoulins (the memorable 12th of July) mounted on a table in the Palais Royal, a pistol in his hand, and shouting “ To arms!” We see the bust of Necker, in those first days when the demands of liberty were so moderate, crowned with mulberry leaves and carried (singular ensign of revolutionary tumult!) round the city of Paris. And soon we see (10th of August) the corpulent and irresolute rather than timid king reviewing, with downcast look, the gallant and generous Swiss-who-far from their mountains, their simplicity, and their freedom-were burning with a loyal and chivalric enthusiam- and eager to fight in a foreign land for a sovereign whom they would have despised and resisted in their own.
And there is the Queen, the beautiful and graceful Queen, more warlike than her spouse, her Austrian lip curling, the nostril of her eagle nose dilating,--there is the beautiful and gracesul Marie Antoinette, ready to stake the crown and sceptre of her child on the chance of battle.* And but too soon after we shall hear the shouts of the hot-blooded populace, and the heavy rolling of the cannons along the streets, and the beating of the melancholy drum--and lo! the son of St. Louis mounting to Heaven. † But, leaving M. Thiers and M. Mignet to the high reputation which their talents deserve, I come to M. Guizot, formerly Minister of the Interior, now Minister of public Instruction, and once Professor of History. M. Guizot, full of deep and lofty thoughts, and skilful in their combination, of a meditative rather than an active mind, is by nature less of a painter than a philosopher, but the popular taste pervades his own. He would be as an artist what he is not as a man, and gives at least its full value to the life and the colouring which constitute the charm of his countrymen and contemporaries. “ Mr. Brodie,” he says (in speaking of our writer on the English Revolution), “studies and does not see—discusses, and does not paint—admires the popular party without bringing
Page 359. † “ Fils de St. Louis,” said the priest officiating, montez au ciel !”
it on the stage ; his work is a learned and useful dissertation: mais pas une histoire morale et vivante.” So Sismondi complains of the little interest that the old histories of France, notwithstanding their learning, excited; and, in illustrating his own history by romances, shows why he supposed his predecessors to be neglected.
M. de Châteaubriand, whom I have had different occasions to quote in this chapter, and with whose opinions in criticism and in politics I very seldom agree, has nevertheless said, I think, every thing which can, and which ought to be said of the two styles of history—the philosophic history of the past century in France, the pictorial history of the present. Eminent as an artist himself, eminent for seizing and painting the costume of each particular time, and bringing before our eyes, as no other writer has done, the feudal customs, and stately and chivalric manners of a sturdier time, he has armed the critic, as it were, against his own excellence, and insisted on the imperfectness of a history which does not mingle thought and philosophy with ardour and description.
“ La pensée philosophique,” says he,“ employée avec sobrieté, n'est-elle pas nécessaire pour donner à l'histoire sa gravité, pour lui faire prononcer les arrêts qui sont du ressort de son dernier et suprême tribunal ? Au degré de civilisation où nous sommes arrivés, l'histoire de l'espèce peut-elle disparattre entièrement de l'histoire de l'individu ? Les vérités éternelles, bases de la société humaine, doivent-elles se perdre dans des tableaux qui ne représentent que des meurs privées ? On the other hand,” he continues, " history, as a work,-is not a work of philosophy—it is a picture. We must join to our narrative the representation of the objects of which we speak, i. e. we must design and paint. We must give to our personages the language, the sentiments of their time, and not regard them through the medium of our own opinions and ideas, a fault which has been the principal cause of those distortions of facts which have disfigured history.... Si, prenant pour règle ce que nous croyons de la liberté, de l'égalité, de la religion, de tous les principes politiques, nous appliquons cette règle à l'ancien ordre de choses, nous faussons la vérité; nous exigeons des hommes vivant dans cet ordre de choses ce dont ils n'avaient pas l'idée. Rien n'était si mal que nous le pen