Cinq Mars, Complete
by Alfred de Vigny
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"What! still at Paris?" said Corneille to Milton. "I thought you were in London."

"Hear you the people, Monsieur? Do you hear them? What is this ominous chorus,

'Les rois sont passes'?"

"That is nothing, Monsieur. Listen to their conversation."

"The parliament is dead," said one of the men; "the nobles are dead. Let us dance; we are the masters. The old Cardinal is dying. There is no longer any but the King and ourselves."

"Do you hear that drunken wretch, Monsieur?" asked Corneille. "All our epoch is in those words of his."

"What! is this the work of the minister who is called great among you, and even by other nations? I do not understand him."

"I will explain the matter to you presently," answered Corneille. "But first listen to the concluding part of this letter, which I received to-day. Draw near this light under the statue of the late King. We are alone. The crowd has passed. Listen!

"It was by one of those unforeseen circumstances which prevent the accomplishment of the noblest enterprises that we were not able to save MM. de Cinq-Mars and De Thou. We might have foreseen that, prepared for death by long meditation, they would themselves refuse our aid; but this idea did not occur to any of us. In the precipitation of our measures, we also committed the fault of dispersing ourselves too much in the crowd, so that we could not take a sudden resolution. I was unfortunately stationed near the scaffold; and I saw our unfortunate friends advance to the foot of it, supporting the poor Abbe Quillet, who was destined to behold the death of the pupil whose birth he had witnessed. He sobbed aloud, and had strength enough only to kiss the hands of the two friends. We all advanced, ready to throw ourselves upon the guards at the announced signal; but I saw with grief M. de Cinq-Mars cast his hat from him with an air of disdain. Our movement had been observed, and the Catalonian guard was doubled round the scaffold. I could see no more; but I heard much weeping around me. After the three usual blasts of the trumpet, the recorder of Lyons, on horseback at a little distance from the scaffold, read the sentence of death, to which neither of the prisoners listened. M. de Thou said to M. de Cinq-Mars:

"'Well, dear friend, which shall die first? Do you remember Saint- Gervais and Saint-Protais?'

"'Which you think best,' answered Cinq-Mars.

"The second confessor, addressing M. de Thou, said, 'You are the elder.'

"'True,' said M. de Thou; and, turning to M. le Grand, 'You are the most generous; you will show me the way to the glory of heaven.'

"'Alas!' said Cinq-Mars; 'I have opened to you that of the precipice; but let us meet death nobly, and we shall revel in the glory and happiness of heaven!'

"Hereupon he embraced him, and ascended the scaffold with surprising address and agility. He walked round the scaffold, and contemplated the whole of the great assembly with a calm countenance, which betrayed no sign of fear, and a serious and graceful manner. He then went round once more, saluting the people on every side, without appearing to recognize any of us, with a majestic and charming expression of face; he then knelt down, raising his eyes to heaven, adoring God, and recommending himself to Him. As he embraced the crucifix, the father confessor called to the people to pray for him; and M. le Grand, opening his arms, still holding his crucifix, made the same request to the people. Then he readily knelt before the block, holding the stake, placed his neck upon it, and asked the confessor, 'Father, is this right?' Then, while they were cutting off his hair, he raised his eyes to heaven, and said, sighing:

"'My God, what is this world? My God, I offer thee my death as a satisfaction for my sins!'

"'What are you waiting for? What are you doing there?' he said to the executioner, who had not yet taken his axe from an old bag he had brought with him. His confessor, approaching, gave him a medallion; and he, with an incredible tranquillity of mind, begged the father to hold the crucifix before his eyes, which he would not allow to be bound. I saw the two trembling hands of the Abbe Quillet, who raised the crucifix. At this moment a voice, as clear and pure as that of an angel, commenced the 'Ave, maris stella'. In the universal silence I recognized the voice of M. de Thou, who was at the foot of the scaffold; the people repeated the sacred strain. M. de Cinq-Mars clung more tightly to the stake; and I saw a raised axe, made like the English axes. A terrible cry of the people from the Place, the windows, and the towers told me that it had fallen, and that the head had rolled to the ground. I had happily strength enough left to think of his soul, and to commence a prayer for him.

"I mingled it with that which I heard pronounced aloud by our unfortunate and pious friend De Thou. I rose and saw him spring upon the scaffold with such promptitude that he might almost have been said to fly. The father and he recited a psalm; he uttered it with the ardor of a seraphim, as if his soul had borne his body to heaven. Then, kneeling down, he kissed the blood of Cinq-Mars as that of a martyr, and became himself a greater martyr. I do not know whether God was pleased to grant him this last favor; but I saw with horror that the executioner, terrified no doubt at the first blow he had given, struck him upon the top of his head, whither the unfortunate young man raised his hand; the people sent forth a long groan, and advanced against the executioner. The poor wretch, terrified still more, struck him another blow, which only cut the skin and threw him upon the scaffold, where the executioner rolled upon him to despatch him. A strange event terrified the people as much as the horrible spectacle. M. de Cinq-Mars' old servant held his horse as at a military funeral; he had stopped at the foot of the scaffold, and like a man paralyzed, watched his master to the end, then suddenly, as if struck by the same axe, fell dead under the blow which had taken off his master's head.

"I write these sad details in haste, on board a Genoese galley, into which Fontrailles, Gondi, Entraigues, Beauvau, Du Lude, myself, and others of the chief conspirators have retired. We are going to England to await until time shall deliver France from the tyrant whom we could not destroy. I abandon forever the service of the base Prince who betrayed us.


"Such," continued Corneille, "has been the fate of these two young men whom you lately saw so powerful. Their last sigh was that of the ancient monarchy. Nothing more than a court can reign here henceforth; the nobles and the senates are destroyed."

"And this is your pretended great man!" said Milton. "What has he sought to do? He would, then, create republics for future ages, since he destroys the basis of your monarchy?"

"Look not so far," answered Corneille; "he only seeks to reign until the end of his life. He has worked for the present and not for the future; he has continued the work of Louis XI; and neither one nor the other knew what they were doing."

The Englishman smiled.

"I thought," he said, "that true genius followed another path. This man has shaken all that he ought to have supported, and they admire him! I pity your nation."

"Pity it not!" exclaimed Corneille, warmly; "a man passes away, but a people is renewed. This people, Monsieur, is gifted with an immortal energy, which nothing can destroy; its imagination often leads it astray, but superior reason will ever ultimately master its disorders."

The two young and already great men walked, as they conversed, upon the space which separates the statue of Henri IV from the Place Dauphine; they stopped a moment in the centre of this Place.

"Yes, Monsieur," continued Corneille, "I see every evening with what rapidity a noble thought finds its echo in French hearts; and every evening I retire happy at the sight. Gratitude prostrates the poor people before this statue of a good king! Who knows what other monument another passion may raise near this? Who can say how far the love of glory will lead our people? Who knows that in the place where we now are, there may not be raised a pyramid taken from the East?"

"These are the secrets of the future," said Milton. "I, like yourself, admire your impassioned nation; but I fear them for themselves. I do not well understand them; and I do not recognize their wisdom when I see them lavishing their admiration upon men such as he who now rules you. The love of power is very puerile; and this man is devoured by it, without having force enough to seize it wholly. By an utter absurdity, he is a tyrant under a master. Thus has this colossus, never firmly balanced, been all but overthrown by the finger of a boy. Does that indicate genius? No, no! when genius condescends to quit the lofty regions of its true home for a human passion, at least, it should grasp that passion in its entirety. Since Richelieu only aimed at power, why did he not, if he was a genius, make himself absolute master of power? I am going to see a man who is not yet known, and whom I see swayed by this miserable ambition; but I think that he will go farther. His name is Cromwell!"


A cat is a very fine animal. It is a drawing-room tiger A queen's country is where her throne is Adopted fact is always better composed than the real one Advantage that a calm temper gives one over men All that he said, I had already thought Always the first word which is the most difficult to say Ambition is the saddest of all hopes Art is the chosen truth Artificialities of style of that period Artistic Truth, more lofty than the True As Homer says, "smiling under tears" Assume with others the mien they wore toward him But how avenge one's self on silence? Dare now to be silent when I have told you these things Daylight is detrimental to them Deny the spirit of self-sacrifice Difference which I find between Truth in art and the True in fac Doubt, the greatest misery of love Friendship exists only in independence and a kind of equality Happy is he who does not outlive his youth Hatred of everything which is superior to myself He did not blush to be a man, and he spoke to men with force Hermits can not refrain from inquiring what men say of them History too was a work of art I have burned all the bridges behind me In pitying me he forgot himself In every age we laugh at the costume of our fathers In times like these we must see all and say all It is not now what it used to be It is too true that virtue also has its blush Lofty ideal of woman and of love Men are weak, and there are things which women must accomplish Money is not a common thing between gentlemen like you and me Monsieur, I know that I have lived too long Neither idealist nor realist Never interfered in what did not concern him No writer had more dislike of mere pedantry Offices will end by rendering great names vile Princes ought never to be struck, except on the head Princesses ceded like a town, and must not even weep Principle that art implied selection Recommended a scrupulous observance of nature Remedy infallible against the plague and against reserve Reproaches are useless and cruel if the evil is done Should be punished for not having known how to punish So strongly does force impose upon men Tears for the future The great leveller has swung a long scythe over France The most in favor will be the soonest abandoned by him The usual remarks prompted by imbecility on such occasions These ideas may serve as opium to produce a calm They tremble while they threaten They have believed me incapable because I was kind They loved not as you love, eh? This popular favor is a cup one must drink This was the Dauphin, afterward Louis XIV True talent paints life rather than the living Truth, I here venture to distinguish from that of the True Urbain Grandier What use is the memory of facts, if not to serve as an example Woman is more bitter than death, and her arms are like chains Yes, we are in the way here


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