The first year of their marriage life they passed in Paris. It was to Madame Roland a year of great enjoyment. Her husband was publishing a work upon the arts, and she, with all the energy of her enthusiastic mind, entered into all his literary enterprises. With great care and accuracy, she prepared his manuscripts for the press, and corrected the proofs. She lived in the study with him, became the companion of all his thoughts, and his assistant in all his labors. The only recreations in which she indulged, during the winter, were to attend a course of lectures upon natural history and botany. M. Roland had hired ready-furnished lodgings. She, well instructed by her mother in domestic duties, observing that all kinds of cooking did not agree with him, took pleasure in preparing his food with her own hands. Her husband engrossed her whole time, and, being naturally rather austere and imperious, he wished so to seclude her from the society of others as to monopolize all her capabilities of friendly feeling. She submitted to the exaction without a murmur, though there were hours in which she felt that she had made, indeed, a serious sacrifice of her youthful and buoyant affections. Madame Roland devoted herself so entirely to the studies in which her husband was engaged that her health was seriously impaired. Accustomed as she was to share in all his pursuits, he began to think that he could not do without her at any time or on any occasion.
At the close of the year M. Roland returned to Amiens with his wife. She soon gave birth to a daughter, her only child, whom she nurtured with the most assiduous care. Her literary labors were, however, unremitted, and, though a mother and a nurse, she still lived in the study with her books and her pen. M. Roland was writing several articles for an encyclopedia. She aided most efficiently in collecting the materials and arranging the matter. Indeed, she wielded a far more vigorous pen than he did. Her copiousness of language, her facility of expression, and the play of her fancy, gave her the command of a very fascinating style; and M. Roland obtained the credit for many passages rich in diction and beautiful in imagery for which he was indebted to the glowing imagination of his wife. Frequent sickness of her husband alarmed her for his life. The tenderness with which she watched over him strengthened the tie which united them. He could not but love a young and beautiful wife so devoted to him. She could not but love one upon whom she was conferring such rich blessings. They remained in Amiens for four years. Their little daughter Eudora was a source of great delight to the fond parents, and Madame Roland took the deepest interest in the developments of her infantile mind. The office of M. Roland was highly lucrative, and his literary projects successful; and their position in society was that of an opulent family of illustrious descent—for the ancestors of M. Roland had been nobles. He now, with his accumulated wealth, was desirous of being reinstated in that ancestral rank which the family had lost with the loss of fortune. Neither must we blame our republican heroine too much that, under this change of circumstances, she was not unwilling that he should resume that exalted social position to which she believed him to be so richly entitled. It could hardly be unpleasant to her to be addressed as Lady Roland. It is the infirmity of our frail nature that it is more agreeable to ascend to the heights of those who are above us, than to aid those below to reach the level we have attained. Encountering some embarrassments in their application for letters-patent of nobility, the subject was set aside for the time, and was never after renewed. The attempt, however, subsequently exposed them to great ridicule from their democratic opponents.
About this time they visited England. They were received with much attention, and Madame Roland admired exceedingly the comparatively free institutions of that country. She felt that the English, as a nation, were immeasurably superior to the French, and returned to her own home more than ever dissatisfied with the despotic monarchy by which the people of France were oppressed.
From Amiens, M. Roland removed to the city of Lyons, his native place, in which wider sphere he continued the duties of his office as Inspector General of Commerce and Manufactures. In the winter they resided in the city. During the summer they retired to M. Roland's paternal estate, La Platiere, a very beautiful rural retreat but a few miles from Lyons. The mother of M. Roland and an elder brother resided on the same estate. They constituted the ingredient of bitterness in their cup of joy. It seems that in this life it must ever be that each pleasure shall have its pain. No happiness can come unalloyed. La Platiere possessed for Madame Roland all the essentials of an earthly paradise; but those trials which are the unvarying lot of fallen humanity obtained entrance there. Her mother-in-law was proud, imperious, ignorant, petulant, and disagreeable in every development of character. There are few greater annoyances of life than an irritable woman, rendered doubly morose by the infirmities of years. The brother was coarse and arrogant, without any delicacy of feeling himself, and apparently unconscious that others could be troubled by any such sensitiveness. The disciplined spirit of Madame Roland triumphed over even these annoyances, and she gradually infused through the discordant household, by her own cheerful spirit, a great improvement in harmony and peace. It is not, however, possible that Madame Roland should have shed many tears when, on one bright autumnal day, this hasty tongue and turbulent spirit were hushed in that repose from which there is no awaking. Immediately after this event, attracted by the quiet of this secluded retreat, they took up their abode there for both summer and winter.
La Platiere, the paternal inheritance of M. Roland, was an estate situated at the base of the mountains of Beaujolais, in the valley of the Saone. It is a region solitary and wild, with rivulets, meandering down from the mountains, fringed with willows and poplars, and threading their way through narrow, yet smooth and fertile meadows, luxuriant with vineyards. A large, square stone house, with regular windows, and a roof, nearly flat, of red tiles, constituted the comfortable, spacious, and substantial mansion. The eaves projected quite a distance beyond the walls, to protect the windows from the summer's sun and the winter's rain and snow. The external walls, straight, and entirely unornamented, were covered with white plaster, which, in many places, the storms of years had cracked and peeled off. The house stood elevated from the ground, and the front door was entered by ascending five massive stone steps, which were surmounted by a rusty iron balustrade. Barns, wine-presses, dove-cotes and sheep-pens were clustered about, so that the farm-house, with its out-buildings, almost presented the aspect of a little village. A vegetable garden; a flower garden, with serpentine walks and arbors embowered in odoriferous and flowering shrubs; an orchard, casting the shade of a great variety of fruit-trees over the closely-mown greensward, and a vineyard, with long lines of low-trimmed grape vines, gave a finish to this most rural and attractive picture. In the distance was seen the rugged range of the mountains of Beaujolais, while still further in the distance rose towering above them the snow-capped summits of the Alps. Here, in this social solitude, in this harmony of silence, in this wide expanse of nature, Madame Roland passed five of the happiest years of her life—five such years as few mortals enjoy on earth. She, whose spirit had been so often exhilarated by the view of the tree tops and the few square yards of blue sky which were visible from the window of her city home, was enchanted with the exuberance of the prospect of mountain and meadow, water and sky, so lavishly spread out before her. The expanse, apparently so limitless, open to her view, invited her fancy to a range equally boundless. Nature and imagination were her friends, and in their realms she found her home. Enjoying an ample income, engaged constantly in the most ennobling literary pursuits, rejoicing in the society of her husband and her little Eudora, and superintending her domestic concerns with an ease and skill which made that superintendence a pleasure, time flew upon its swiftest wings.
Her mode of life during these five calm and sunny years which intervened between the cloudy morning and the tempestuous evening of her days, must have been exceedingly attractive. She rose with the sun, devoted sundry attentions to her husband and child, and personally superintended the arrangements for breakfast, taking an affectionate pleasure in preparing very nicely her husband's frugal food with her own hands. That social meal, ever, in a loving family, the most joyous interview of the day, being passed, M. Roland entered the library for his intellectual toil, taking with him, for his silent companion, the idolized little Eudora. She amused herself with her pencil, or reading, or other studies, which her father and mother superintended. Madame Roland, in the mean time, devoted herself, with most systematic energy, to her domestic concerns. She was a perfect housekeeper, and each morning all the interests of her family, from the cellar to the garret, passed under her eye. She superintended the preservation of the fruit, the storage of the wine, the sorting of the linen, and those other details of domestic life which engross the attention of a good housewife. The systematic division of time, which seemed to be an instinctive principle of her nature, enabled her to accomplish all this in two hours. She had faithful and devoted servants to do the work. The superintendence was all that was required. This genius to superintend and be the head, while others contribute the hands, is not the most common of human endowments. Madame Roland, having thus attended to her domestic concerns, laid aside those cares for the remainder of the day, and entered the study to join her husband in his labors there. These intellectual employments ever possessed for her peculiar attractions. The scientific celebrity of M. Roland, and his political position, attracted many visitors to La Platiere; consequently, they had, almost invariably, company to dine. At the close of the literary labors of the morning, Madame Roland dressed for dinner, and, with all that fascination of mind and manners so peculiarly her own, met her guests at the dinner-table. The labor of the day was then over. The repast was prolonged with social converse. After dinner, they walked in the garden, sauntered through the vineyard, and looked at the innumerable objects of interest which are ever to be found in the yard of a spacious farm. Madame Roland frequently retired to the library, to write letters to her friends, or to superintend the lessons of Eudora. Occasionally, of a fine day, leaning upon her husband's arm, she would walk for several miles, calling at the cottages of the peasantry, whom she greatly endeared to her by her unvarying kindness. In the evening, after tea, they again resorted to the library. Guests of distinguished name and influence were frequently with them, and the hours glided swiftly, cheered by the brilliance of philosophy and genius. The journals of the day were read, Madame Roland being usually called upon as reader. When not thus reading, she usually sat at her work-table, employing her fingers with her needle, while she took a quiet and unobtrusive part in the conversation. "This kind of life," says Madame Roland, "would be very austere, were not my husband a man of great merit, whom I love with my whole heart. Tender friendship and unbounded confidence mark every moment of existence, and stamp a value upon all things, which nothing without them would have. It is the life most favorable to virtue and happiness. I appreciate its worth. I congratulate myself on enjoying it; and I exert my best endeavors to make it last." Again she draws the captivating picture of rural pleasures. "I am preserving pears, which will be delicious. We are drying raisins and prunes. We make our breakfast upon wine; overlook the servants busy in the vineyard; repose in the shady groves, and on the green meadows; gather walnuts from the trees; and, having collected our stock of fruit for the winter, spread it in the garret to dry. After breakfast this morning, we are all going in a body to gather almonds. Throw off, then, dear friend, your fetters for a while, and come and join us in our retreat. You will find here true friendship and real simplicity of heart."
Madame Roland, among her other innumerable accomplishments, had acquired no little skill in the science of medicine. Situated in a region where the poor peasants had no access to physicians, she was not only liberal in distributing among them many little comforts, but, with the most self-denying assiduity, she visited them in sickness, and prescribed for their maladies. She was often sent for, to go a distance of ten or twelve miles to visit the sick. From such appeals she never turned away. On Sundays, her court-yard was filled with peasants, who had assembled from all the region round, some as invalids, to seek relief, and others who came with such little tokens of their gratitude as their poverty enabled them to bring. Here appears a little rosy-cheeked boy with a basket of chestnuts; or a care-worn mother, pale and thin, but with a grateful eye presenting to her benefactrice a few small, fragrant cheeses, made of goat's milk; and there is an old man, hobbling upon crutches, with a basket of apples from his orchard. She was delighted with these indications of gratitude and sensibility on the part of the unenlightened and lowly peasantry. Her republican notions, which she had cherished so fondly in her early years, but from which she had somewhat swerved when seeking a patent of nobility for her husband, began now to revive in her bosom with new ardor. She was regarded as peculiarly the friend of the poor and the humble; and at all the hearth-fires in the cottages of that retired valley, her name was pronounced in tones almost of adoration. More and more Madame Roland and her husband began to identify their interests with those of the poor around them, and to plead with tongue and pen for popular rights. Her intercourse with the poor led her to feel more deeply the oppression of laws, framed to indulge the few in luxury, while the many were consigned to penury and hopeless ignorance. She acquired boundless faith in the virtue of the people, and thought that their disenthralment would usher in a millennium of unalloyed happiness. She now saw the ocean of human passions reposing in its perfect calm. She afterward saw that same ocean when lashed by the tempest.
THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY.
Portentous mutterings.—Welcomed as blessings.—Enthusiasm of Madame Roland.—Louis XVI.—Maria Antoinette.—Character of Maria Antoinette.—Character of Louis.—M. Roland elected to the Assembly.—Ardor of his wife.—Popularity of the Rolands.—They go to Paris.—Reception of the Rolands at Paris.—Sittings of the Assembly.—Tastes and principles.—Conflict for power.—The Girondists.—The Jacobins.—Meetings at Madame Roland's.—Appearance of Robespierre.—His character.—Remains of the court party.—Influence of Madame Roland.—Madame Roland's mode of action.—Her delicacy.—Robespierre at Madame Roland's.—Horrors of the Revolution.—Fears of the Girondists.—Violence of the Jacobins.—Resolution of the Girondists.—Warning of Madame Roland.—Danger of Robespierre.—He is concealed by Madame Roland.—Baseness of Robespierre.—The Assembly dissolved.—The Rolands again at La Platiere.—They return to Paris.—Plots and counterplots.—Political maneuvering.—Massacres and conflagrations.—The king insulted and a prisoner.—The king surrenders.—M. Roland Minister of the Interior.—Madame Roland in a palace.—M. Roland's first appearance at court.—Horror of the courtiers.—M. Roland's opinion of the king.—Madame Roland's advice.—Her opinion of kings and courtiers.
Madame Roland was thus living at La Platiere, in the enjoyment of all that this world can give of peace and happiness, when the first portentous mutterings of that terrible moral tempest, the French Revolution, fell upon her ears. She eagerly caught the sounds, and, believing them the precursor of the most signal political and social blessings, rejoiced in the assurance that the hour was approaching when long-oppressed humanity would reassert its rights and achieve its triumph. Little did she dream of the woes which in surging billows were to roll over her country, and which were to ingulf her, and all whom she loved, in their resistless tide. She dreamed—a very pardonable dream for a philanthropic lady—that an ignorant and enslaved people could be led from Egyptian bondage to the promised land without the weary sufferings of the wilderness and the desert. Her faith in the regenerative capabilities of human nature was so strong, that she could foresee no obstacles and no dangers in the way of immediate and universal disfranchisement from every custom, and from all laws and usages which her judgment disapproved. Her whole soul was aroused, and she devoted all her affections and every energy of her mind to the welfare of the human race. It is hardly to be supposed, human nature being such as it is, but that the mortifications she met in early life from the arrogance of those above her, and the difficulties she encountered in obtaining letters-patent of nobility, exerted some influence in animating her zeal. Her enthusiastic devotion stimulated the ardor of her less excitable spouse; and all her friends, by her fascinating powers of eloquence both of voice and pen, were gradually inspired by the same intense emotions which had absorbed her whole being.
Louis XVI. and Maria Antoinette had but recently inherited the throne of the Bourbons. Louis was benevolent, but destitute of the decision of character requisite to hold the reins of government in so stormy a period. Maria Antoinette had neither culture of mind nor knowledge of the world. She was an amiable but spoiled child, with great native nobleness of character, but with those defects which are the natural and inevitable consequence of the frivolous education she had received. She thought never of duty and responsibility; always and only of pleasure. It was her misfortune rather than her fault, that the idea never entered her mind that kings and queens had aught else to do than to indulge in luxury. It would be hardly possible to conceive of two characters less qualified to occupy the throne in stormy times than were Louis and Maria. The people were slowly, but with resistless power, rising against the abuses, enormous and hoary with age, of the aristocracy and the monarchy. Louis, a man of unblemished kindness, integrity, and purity, was made the scape-goat for the sins of haughty, oppressive, profligate princes, who for centuries had trodden, with iron hoofs, upon the necks of their subjects. The accumulated hate of ages was poured upon his devoted head. The irresolute monarch had no conception of his position.
The king, in pursuance of his system of conciliation, as the clamors of discontent swelled louder and longer from all parts of France, convened the National Assembly. This body consisted of the nobility, the higher clergy, and representatives, chosen by the people from all parts of France. M. Roland, who was quite an idol with the populace of Lyons and its vicinity, and who now was beginning to lose caste with the aristocracy, was chosen, by a very strong vote, as the representative to the Assembly from the city of Lyons. In that busy city the revolutionary movement had commenced with great power, and the name of Roland was the rallying point of the people now struggling to escape from ages of oppression. M. Roland spent some time in his city residence, drawn thither by the intense interest of the times, and in the saloon of Madame Roland meetings were every evening held by the most influential gentlemen of the revolutionary party. Her ardor stimulated their zeal, and her well-stored mind and fascinating conversational eloquence guided their councils. The impetuous young men of the city gathered around this impassioned woman, from whose lips words of liberty fell so enchantingly upon their ears, and with chivalric devotion surrendered themselves to the guidance of her mind.
In this rising conflict between plebeian and patrician, between democrat and aristocrat, the position in which M. Roland and wife were placed, as most conspicuous and influential members of the revolutionary party, arrayed against them, with daily increasing animosity, all the aristocratic community of Lyons. Each day their names were pronounced by the advocates of reform with more enthusiasm, and by their opponents with deepening hostility. The applause and the censure alike invigorated Madame Roland, and her whole soul became absorbed in the one idea of popular liberty. This object became her passion, and she devoted herself to it with the concentration of every energy of mind and heart.
On the 20th of February, 1791, Madame Roland accompanied her husband to Paris, as he took his seat, with a name already prominent, in the National Assembly. Five years before, she had left the metropolis in obscurity and depression. She now returned with wealth, with elevated rank, with brilliant reputation, and exulting in conscious power. Her persuasive influence was dictating those measures which were driving the ancient nobility of France from their chateaux, and her vigorous mind was guiding those blows before which the throne of the Bourbons trembled. The unblemished and incorruptible integrity of M. Roland, his simplicity of manners and acknowledged ability, invested him immediately with much authority among his associates. The brilliance of his wife, and her most fascinating colloquial powers, also reflected much luster upon his name. Madame Roland, with her glowing zeal, had just written a pamphlet upon the new order of things, in language so powerful and impressive that more than sixty thousand copies had been sold—an enormous number, considering the comparative fewness of readers at that time. She, of course, was received with the most flattering attention, and great deference was paid to her opinions. She attended daily the sittings of the Assembly, and listened with the deepest interest to the debates. The king and queen had already been torn from their palaces at Versailles, and were virtually prisoners in the Tuileries. Many of the nobles had fled from the perils which seemed to be gathering around them, and had joined the army of emigrants at Coblentz. A few, however, of the nobility, and many of the higher clergy, remained heroically at their posts, and, as members of the Assembly, made valiant but unavailing efforts to defend the ancient prerogatives of the crown and of the Church. Madame Roland witnessed with mortification, which she could neither repress nor conceal, the decided superiority of the court party in dignity, and polish of manners, and in general intellectual culture, over those of plebeian origin, who were struggling, with the energy of an infant Hercules, for the overthrow of despotic power. All her tastes were with the ancient nobility and their defenders. All her principles were with the people. And as she contrasted the unrefined exterior and clumsy speech of the democratic leaders with the courtly bearing and elegant diction of those who rallied around the throne, she was aroused to a more vehement desire for the social and intellectual elevation of those with whom she had cast in her lot. The conflict with the nobles was of short continuance. The energy of rising democracy soon vanquished them. Violence took the place of law. And now the conflict for power arose between those of the Republicans who were more and those who were less radical in their plans of reform. The most moderate party, consisting of those who would sustain the throne, but limit its powers by a free constitution, retaining many of the institutions and customs which antiquity had rendered venerable, was called the Girondist party. It was so called because their most prominent leaders were from the department of the Gironde. They would deprive the king of many of his prerogatives, but not of his crown. They would take from him his despotic power, but not his life. They would raise the mass of the people to the enjoyment of liberty, but to liberty controlled by vigorous law. Opposed to them were the Jacobins—far more radical in their views of reform. They would overthrow both throne and altar, break down all privileged orders, confiscate the property of the nobles, and place prince and beggar on the footing of equality. These were the two great parties into which revolutionary France was divided and the conflict between them was the most fierce and implacable earth has ever witnessed.
M. Roland and wife, occupying a residence in Paris, which was a convenient place of rendezvous, by their attractions gathered around them every evening many of the most influential members of the Assembly. They attached themselves, with all their zeal and energy, to the Girondists. Four evenings of every week, the leaders of this party met in the saloon of Madame Roland, to deliberate respecting their measures. Among them there was a young lawyer from the country, with a stupid expression of countenance, sallow complexion, and ungainly gestures, who had made himself excessively unpopular by the prosy speeches with which he was ever wearying the Assembly. He had often been floored by argument and coughed down by contempt, but he seemed alike insensible to sarcasm and to insult. Alone in the Assembly, without a friend, he attacked all parties alike, and was by all disregarded. But he possessed an indomitable energy, and unwavering fixedness of purpose, a profound contempt for luxury and wealth, and a stoical indifference to reputation and to personal indulgence, which secured to him more and more of an ascendency, until, at the name of Robespierre, all France trembled. This young man, silent and moody, appeared with others in the saloon of Madame Roland. She was struck with his singularity, and impressed with an instinctive consciousness of his peculiar genius. He was captivated by those charms of conversation in which Madame Roland was unrivaled. Silently—for he had no conversational powers—he lingered around her chair, treasured up her spontaneous tropes and metaphors, and absorbed her sentiments. He had a clear perception of the state of the times, was perhaps a sincere patriot, and had no ties of friendship, no scruples of conscience, no instincts of mercy, to turn him aside from any measures of blood or woe which might accomplish his plans.
Though the Girondists and the Jacobins were the two great parties now contending in the tumultuous arena of French revolution, there still remained the enfeebled and broken remains of the court party, with their insulted and humiliated king at their head, and also numerous cliques and minor divisions of those struggling for power. At the political evening reunions in the saloon of Madame Roland, she was invariably present, not as a prominent actor in the scenes, taking a conspicuous part in the social debates, but as a quiet and modest lady, of well-known intellectual supremacy, whose active mind took the liveliest interest in the agitations of the hour. The influence she exerted was the polished, refined, attractive influence of an accomplished woman, who moved in her own appropriate sphere. She made no Amazonian speeches. She mingled not with men in the clamor of debate. With an invisible hand she gently and winningly touched the springs of action in other hearts. With feminine conversational eloquence, she threw out sagacious suggestions, which others eagerly adopted, and advocated, and carried into vigorous execution. She did no violence to that delicacy of perception which is woman's tower and strength. She moved not from that sphere where woman reigns so resistlessly, and dreamed not of laying aside the graceful and polished weapons of her own sex, to grasp the heavier and coarser armor of man, which no woman can wield. By such an endeavor, one does but excite the repugnance of all except the unfortunate few, who can see no peculiar sacredness in woman's person, mind, or heart.
As the gentlemen assembled in the retired parlor, or rather library and study, appropriated to these confidential interviews, Madame Roland took her seat at a little work-table, aside from the circle where her husband and his friends were discussing their political measures. Busy with her needle or with her pen, she listened to every word that was uttered, and often bit her lips to check the almost irrepressible desire to speak out in condemnation of some feeble proposal or to urge some bolder action. At the close of the evening, when frank and social converse ensued, her voice was heard in low, but sweet and winning tones, as one after another of the members were attracted to her side. Robespierre, at such times silent and thoughtful, was ever bending over her chair. He studied Madame Roland with even more of stoical apathy than another man would study a book which he admires. The next day his companions would smile at the effrontery with which Robespierre would give utterance, in the Assembly, not only to the sentiments, but even to the very words and phrases which he had so carefully garnered from the exuberant diction of his eloquent instructress. Occasionally, every eye would be riveted upon him, and every ear attentive, as he gave utterance to some lofty sentiment, in impassioned language, which had been heard before, in sweeter tones, from more persuasive lips.
But the Revolution, like a spirit of destruction, was now careering onward with resistless power. Liberty was becoming lawlessness. Mobs rioted through the streets, burned chateaux, demolished convents, hunted, even to death, priests and nobles, sacked the palaces of the king, and defiled the altars of religion. The Girondists, illustrious, eloquent, patriotic men, sincerely desirous of breaking the arm of despotism and of introducing a well-regulated liberty, now began to tremble. They saw that a spirit was evoked which might trample every thing sacred in the dust. Their opponents, the Jacobins, rallying the populace around them with the cry, "Kill, burn, destroy," were for rushing onward in this career of demolition, till every vestige of gradations of rank and every restraint of religion should be swept from the land. The Girondists paused in deep embarrassment. They could not retrace their steps and try to re-establish the throne. The endeavor would not only be utterly unavailing, but would, with certainty, involve them in speedy and retrieveless ruin. They could not unite with the Jacobins in their reckless onset upon every thing which time had rendered venerable, and substitute for decency, and law, and order, the capricious volitions of an insolent, ignorant, and degraded mob. The only hope that remained for them was to struggle to continue firm in the position which they had already assumed. It was the only hope for France. The restoration of the monarchy was impossible. The triumph of the Jacobins was ruin. Which of these two parties in the Assembly shall array around its banners the millions of the populace of France, now aroused to the full consciousness of their power? Which can bid highest for the popular vote? Which can pander most successfully to the popular palate? The Girondists had talent, and integrity, and incorruptible patriotism. They foresaw their peril, but they resolved to meet it, and, if they must perish, to perish with their armor on. No one discerned this danger at an earlier period than Madame Roland. She warned her friends of its approach, even before they were conscious of the gulf to which they were tending. She urged the adoption of precautionary measures, by which a retreat might be effected when their post should be no longer tenable. "I once thought," said Madame Roland, "that there were no evils worse than regal despotism. I now see that there are other calamities vastly more to be dreaded."
Robespierre, who had associated with the Girondists with rather a sullen and Ishmaelitish spirit, holding himself in readiness to go here or there, as events might indicate to be politic, began now to incline toward the more popular party, of which he subsequently became the inspiring demon. Though he was daily attracting more attention, he had not yet risen to popularity. On one occasion, being accused of advocating some unpopular measure, the clamors of the multitude were raised against him, and vows of vengeance were uttered, loud and deep, through the streets of Paris. His enemies in the Assembly took advantage of this to bring an act of accusation against him, which would relieve them of his presence by the decisive energy of the ax of the guillotine. Robespierre's danger was most imminent, and he was obliged to conceal himself. Madame Roland, inspired by those courageous impulses which ever ennobled her, went at midnight, accompanied by her husband, to his retreat, to invite him to a more secure asylum in their own house. Madame Roland then hastened to a very influential friend, M. Busot, allowing no weariness to interrupt her philanthropy, and entreated him to hasten immediately and endeavor to exculpate Robespierre, before an act of accusation should be issued against him. M. Busot hesitated, but, unable to resist the earnest appeal of Madame Roland, replied, "I will do all in my power to save this unfortunate young man, although I am far from partaking the opinion of many respecting him. He thinks too much of himself to love liberty; but he serves it, and that is enough for me. I will defend him." Thus was the life of Robespierre saved. He lived to reward his benefactors by consigning them all to prison and to death. Says Lamartine sublimely, "Beneath the dungeons of the Conciergerie, Madame Roland remembered that night with satisfaction. If Robespierre recalled it in his power, this memory must have fallen colder upon his heart than the ax of the headsman."
The powerful influence which Madame Roland was thus exerting could not be concealed. Her husband became more illustrious through that brilliance she was ever anxious to reflect upon him. She appeared to have no ambition for personal renown. She sought only to elevate the position and expand the celebrity of her companion. It was whispered from ear to ear, and now and then openly asserted in the Assembly, that the bold and decisive measures of the Girondists received their impulse from the youthful and lovely wife of M. Roland.
In September, 1791, the Assembly was dissolved, and M. and Madame Roland returned to the rural quiet of La Platiere. But in pruning the vines, and feeding the poultry, and cultivating the flowers which so peacefully bloomed in their garden, they could not forget the exciting scenes through which they had passed, and the still more exciting scenes which they foresaw were to come. She kept up a constant correspondence with Robespierre and Busot, and furnished many very able articles for a widely-circulated journal, established by the Girondists for the advocacy of their political views. The question now arose between herself and her husband whether they should relinquish the agitations and the perils of a political life in these stormy times, and cloister themselves in rural seclusion, in the calm luxury of literary and scientific enterprise, or launch forth again upon the storm-swept ocean of revolution and anarchy. Few who understand the human heart will doubt of the decision to which they came. The chickens were left in the yard, the rabbits in the warren, and the flowers were abandoned to bloom in solitude; and before the snows of December had whitened the hills, they were again installed in tumultuous Paris. A new Assembly had just been convened, from which all the members of the one but recently dissolved were by law excluded. Their friends were rapidly assembling in Paris from their summer retreats, and influential men, from all parts of the empire, were gathering in the metropolis, to watch the progress of affairs. Clubs were formed to discuss the great questions of the day, to mold public opinion, and to overawe the Assembly. It was a period of darkness and of gloom; but there is something so intoxicating in the draughts of homage and power, that those who have once quaffed them find all milder stimulants stale and insipid. No sooner were M. and Madame Roland established in their city residence, than they were involved in all the plots and the counterplots of the Revolution. M. Roland was grave, taciturn, oracular. He had no brilliance of talent to excite envy. He displayed no ostentation in dress, or equipage, or manners, to provoke the desire in others to humble him. His reputation for stoical virtue gave a wide sweep to his influence. His very silence invested him with a mysterious wisdom. Consequently, no one feared him as a rival, and he was freely thrust forward as the unobjectionable head of a party by all who hoped through him to promote their own interests. He was what we call in America an available candidate. Madame Roland, on the contrary, was animated and brilliant. Her genius was universally admired. Her bold suggestions, her shrewd counsel, her lively repartee, her capability of cutting sarcasm, rarely exercised, her deep and impassioned benevolence, her unvarying cheerfulness, the sincerity and enthusiasm of her philanthropy, and the unrivaled brilliance of her conversational powers, made her the center of a system around which the brightest intellects were revolving. Vergniaud, Petion, Brissot, and others, whose names were then comparatively unknown, but whose fame has since resounded through the civilized world, loved to do her homage.
The spirit of the Revolution was still advancing with gigantic strides, and the already shattered throne was reeling beneath the redoubled blows of the insurgent people. Massacres were rife all over the kingdom. The sky was nightly illumined by conflagrations. The nobles were abandoning their estates, and escaping from perils and death to take refuge in the bosom of the little army of emigrants at Coblentz. The king, insulted and a prisoner, reigned but in name. Under these circumstances, Louis was compelled to dismiss his ministry and to call in another more acceptable to the people. The king hoped, by the appointment of a Republican ministry, to pacify the democratic spirit. There was no other resource left him but abdication. It was a bitter cup for him to drink. His proud and spirited queen declared that she would rather die than throw herself into the arms of Republicans for protection. He yielded to the pressure, dismissed his ministers, and surrendered himself to the Girondists for the appointment of a new ministry. The Girondists called upon M. Roland to take the important post of Minister of the Interior. It was a perilous position to fill, but what danger will not ambition face? In the present posture of affairs, the Minister of the Interior was the monarch of France. M. Roland, whose quiet and hidden ambition had been feeding upon its success, smiled nervously at the power which, thus unsolicited, was passing into his hands. Madame Roland, whose all-absorbing passion it now was to elevate her husband to the highest summits of greatness, was gratified in view of the honor and agitated in view of the peril; but, to her exalted spirit, the greater the danger, the more heroic the act. "The burden is heavy," she said; "but Roland has a great consciousness of his own powers, and would derive fresh strength from the feeling of being useful to liberty and his country."
In March, 1792, he entered upon his arduous and exalted office. The palace formerly occupied by the Controller General of Finance, most gorgeously furnished by Madame Necker in the days of her glory, was appropriated to their use. Madame Roland entered this splendid establishment, and, elevated in social eminence above the most exalted nobles of France, fulfilled all the complicated duties of her station with a grace and dignity which have never been surpassed. Thus had Jane risen from that humble position in which the daughter of the engraver, in solitude, communed with her books, to be the mistress of a palace of aristocratic grandeur, and the associate of statesmen and princes.
When M. Roland made his first appearance at court as the minister of his royal master, instead of arraying himself in the court-dress which the customs of the times required, he affected, in his costume, the simplicity of his principles. He wished to appear in his exalted station still the man of the people. He had not forgotten the impression produced in France by Franklin, as in the most republican simplicity of dress he moved among the glittering throng at Versailles. He accordingly presented himself at the Tuileries in a plain black coat, with a round hat, and dusty shoes fastened with ribbons instead of buckles. The courtiers were indignant. The king was highly displeased at what he considered an act of disrespect. The master of ceremonies was in consternation, and exclaimed with a look of horror to General Damuriez, "My dear sir, he has not even buckles in his shoes!" "Mercy upon us!" exclaimed the old general, with the most laughable expression of affected gravity, "we shall then all go to ruin together!"
The king, however, soon forgot the neglect of etiquette in the momentous questions which were pressing upon his attention. He felt the importance of securing the confidence and good will of his ministers, and he approached them with the utmost affability and conciliation. M. Roland returned from his first interview with the monarch quite enchanted with his excellent disposition and his patriotic spirit. He assured his wife that the community had formed a totally erroneous estimate of the king; that he was sincerely a friend to the reforms which were taking place, and was a hearty supporter of the Constitution which had been apparently forced upon him. The prompt reply of Madame Roland displayed even more than her characteristic sagacity. "If Louis is sincerely a friend of the Constitution, he must be virtuous beyond the common race of mortals. Mistrust your own virtue, M. Roland. You are only an honest countryman wandering amid a crowd of courtiers—virtue in danger amid a myriad of vices. They speak our language; we do not know theirs. No! Louis can not love the chains that fetter him. He may feign to caress them. He thinks only of how he can spurn them. Fallen greatness loves not its decadence. No man likes his humiliation. Trust in human nature; that never deceives. Distrust courts. Your virtue is too elevated to see the snares which courtiers spread beneath your feet."
THE MINISTRY OF M. ROLAND.
Parlor of Madame Roland.—Vacillation of Louis.—Measures of the Girondists.—Their perilous position.—Rumors of invasion.—The rabble.—Danger of the Girondists.—Their demand of the king.—Letter to the king.—Its character.—Refusal of the king.—Dismissal of M. Roland.—The letter read to the Assembly.—Its celebrity.—Increasing influence of the Rolands.—Barbaroux.—Project of a republic.—Seconded by Madame Roland.—Barbaroux's opinion of the Rolands.—The Girondists desert the king.—Madame Roland's influence over the Girondists.—Buzot adores her.—Madame Roland's opinion of Buzot.—Effect of her death.—Danton at Madame Roland's.—New scenes of violence.—Outrages of the mob.—Recall of M. Roland.—Perilous situation of M. Roland.—His wife's mode of living.—Library of Madame Roland.—Meetings there.—Striking contrast.—Labors of Madame Roland.—French artists at Rome.—Letter to the pope.—Anecdote.—Reverses of fortune.—Increasing anarchy.—Baseness of the Jacobins.—The throne demolished.—Cry for a republic.—The Republic.—Waning of M. Roland's power.—Madame Roland's disgust at the horrors of the Revolution.
From all the spacious apartments of the magnificent mansion allotted as the residence of the Minister of the Interior, Madame Roland selected a small and retired parlor, which she had furnished with every attraction as a library and a study. This was her much-loved retreat, and here M. Roland, in the presence of his wife, was accustomed to see his friends in all their confidential intercourse. Thus she was not only made acquainted with all the important occurrences of the times, but she formed an intimate personal acquaintance with the leading actors in these eventful movements. Louis, adopting a vacillating policy, in his endeavors to conciliate each party was losing the confidence and the support of all. The Girondists, foreseeing the danger which threatened the king and all the institutions of government, were anxious that he should be persuaded to abandon these mistaken measures, and firmly and openly advocate the reforms which had already taken place. They felt that if he would energetically take his stand in the position which the Girondists had assumed, there was still safety for himself and the nation. The Girondists, at this time, wished to sustain the throne, but they wished to limit its power and surround it by the institutions of republican liberty. The king, animated by his far more strong-minded, energetic, and ambitious queen, was slowly and reluctantly surrendering point by point as the pressure of the multitude compelled, while he was continually hoping that some change in affairs would enable him to regain his lost power.
The position of the Girondists began to be more and more perilous. The army of emigrant nobles at Coblentz, within the dominions of the King of Prussia, was rapidly increasing in numbers. Frederic was threatening, in alliance with all the most powerful crowns of Europe, to march with a resistless army to Paris, reinstate the king in his lost authority, and take signal vengeance upon the leaders of the Revolution. There were hundreds of thousands in France, the most illustrious in rank and opulence, who would join such an army. The Roman Catholic priesthood, to a man, would lend to it the influence of all its spiritual authority. Paris was every hour agitated by rumors of the approach of the armies of invasion. The people all believed that Louis wished to escape from Paris and head that army. The king was spiritless, undecided, and ever vacillating in his plans. Maria Antoinette would have gone through fire and blood to have rallied those hosts around her banner. Such was the position of the Girondists in reference to the Royalists. They were ready to adopt the most energetic measures to repel the interference of this armed confederacy.
On the other hand, they saw another party, noisy, turbulent, sanguinary, rising beneath them, and threatening with destruction all connected in any way with the execrated throne. This new party, now emerging from the lowest strata of society, upheaving all its superincumbent masses, consisted of the wan, the starving, the haggard, the reckless. All of the abandoned and the dissolute rallied beneath its banners. They called themselves the people. Amazonian fish-women; overgrown boys, with the faces and the hearts of demons; men and girls, who had no homes but the kennels of Paris, in countless thousands swelled its demonstrations of power, whenever it pleased its leaders to call them out. This was the Jacobin party.
The Girondists trembled before this mysterious apparition now looming up before them, and clamoring for the overthrow of all human distinctions. The crown had been struck from the head of the king, and was snatched at by the most menial and degraded of his subjects. The Girondists, through Madame Roland, urged the Minister of the Interior that he should demand of the king an immediate proclamation of war against the emigrants and their supporters, and that he should also issue a decree against the Catholic clergy who would not support the measures of the Revolution. It was, indeed, a bitter draught for the king to drink. Louis declared that he would rather die than sign such a decree. The pressure of the populace was so tremendous, displayed in mobs, and conflagrations, and massacres, that these decisive measures seemed absolutely indispensable for the preservation of the Girondist party and the safety of the king. M. Roland was urged to present to the throne a most earnest letter of expostulation and advice. Madame Roland sat down at her desk and wrote the letter for her husband. It was expressed in that glowing and impassioned style so eminently at her command. Its fervid eloquence was inspired by the foresight she had of impending perils. M. Roland, impressed by its eloquence, yet almost trembling in view of its boldness and its truths, presented the letter to the king. Its last paragraphs will give one some idea of its character.
"Love, serve the Revolution, and the people will love it and serve it in you. Deposed priests agitate the provinces. Ratify the measures to extirpate their fanaticism. Paris trembles in view of its danger. Surround its walls with an army of defense. Delay longer, and you will be deemed a conspirator and an accomplice. Just Heaven! hast thou stricken kings with blindness? I know that truth is rarely welcomed at the foot of thrones. I know, too, that the withholding of truth from kings renders revolutions so often necessary. As a citizen, a minister, I owe truth to the king, and nothing shall prevent me from making it reach his ear."
The advice contained in this letter was most unpalatable to the enfeebled monarch. The adoption of the course it recommended was apparently his only chance of refuge from certain destruction. We must respect the magnanimity of the king in refusing to sign the decree against the firmest friends of his throne, and we must also respect those who were struggling against despotic power for the establishment of civil and religious freedom. When we think of the king and his suffering family, our sympathies are so enlisted in behalf of their woes that we condemn the letter as harsh and unfeeling. When we think for how many ages the people of France had been crushed into poverty and debasement, we rejoice to hear stern and uncompromising truth fall upon the ear of royalty. And yet Madame Roland's letter rather excites our admiration for her wonderful abilities than allures us to her by developments of female loveliness. This celebrated letter was presented to the king on the 11th of June, 1792. On the same day M. Roland received a letter from the king informing him that he was dismissed from office. It is impossible to refrain from applauding the king for this manifestation of spirit and self-respect. Had he exhibited more of this energy, he might at least have had the honor of dying more gloriously; but, as the intrepid wife of the minister dictated the letter to the king, we can not doubt that it was the imperious wife of the king who dictated the dismissal in reply. Maria Antoinette and Madame Roland met as Greek meets Greek.
"Here am I, dismissed from office," was M. Roland's exclamation to his wife on his return home.
"Present your letter to the Assembly, that the nation may see for what counsel you have been dismissed," replied the undaunted wife.
M. Roland did so. He was received as a martyr to patriotism. The letter was read amid the loudest applauses. It was ordered to be printed, and circulated by tens of thousands through the eighty-three departments of the kingdom; and from all those departments there came rolling back upon the metropolis the echo of the most tumultuous indignation and applause. The famous letter was read by all France—nay, more, by all Europe. Roland was a hero. The plaudits of the million fell upon the ear of the defeated minister, while the execrations of the million rose more loudly and ominously around the tottering throne. This blow, struck by Madame Roland, was by far the heaviest the throne of France had yet received. She who so loved to play the part of a heroine was not at all dismayed by defeat, when it came with such an aggrandizement of power. Upon this wave of enthusiastic popularity Madame Roland and her husband retired from the magnificent palace where they had dwelt for so short a time, and, with a little pardonable ostentation, selected for their retreat very humble apartments in an apparently obscure street of the agitated metropolis. It was the retirement of a philosopher proud of the gloom of his garret. But M. Roland and wife were more powerful now than ever before. The famous letter had placed them in the front ranks of the friends of reform, and enshrined them in the hearts of the ever fickle populace. Even the Jacobins were compelled to swell the universal voice of commendation. M. Roland's apartments were ever thronged. All important plans were discussed and shaped by him and his wife before they were presented in the Assembly.
There was a young statesman then in Paris named Barbaroux, of remarkable beauty of person, and of the richest mental endowments. The elegance of his stature and the pensive melancholy of his classic features invested him with a peculiar power of fascination. Between him and Madame Roland there existed the most pure, though the strongest friendship. One day he was sitting with M. Roland and wife, in social conference upon the desperate troubles of the times, when the dismissed minister said to him, "What is to be done to save France? There is no army upon which we can rely to resist invasion. Unless we can circumvent the plots of the court, all we have gained is lost. In six weeks the Austrians will be at Paris. Have we, then, labored at the most glorious of revolutions for so many years, to see it overthrown in a single day? If liberty dies in France, it is lost forever to mankind. All the hopes of philosophy are deceived. Prejudice and tyranny will again grasp the world. Let us prevent this misfortune. If the armies of despotism overrun the north of France, let us retire to the southern provinces, and there establish a republic of freemen."
The tears glistened in the eyes of his wife as she listened to this bold proposal, so heroic in its conception, so full of hazard, and demanding such miracles of self-sacrifice and devotion. Madame Roland, who perhaps originally suggested the idea to her husband, urged it with all her impassioned energy. Barbaroux was just the man to have his whole soul inflamed by an enterprise of such grandeur. He drew a rapid sketch of the resources and hopes of liberty in the south, and, taking a map, traced the limits of the republic, from the Doubs, the Aire, and the Rhone, to La Dordogne; and from the inaccessible mountains of Auvergne, to Durance and the sea. A serene joy passed over the features of the three, thus quietly originating a plan which was, with an earthquake's power, to make every throne in Europe totter, and to convulse Christendom to its very center. Barbaroux left them deeply impressed with a sense of the grandeur and the perils of the enterprise, and remarked to a friend, "Of all the men of modern times, Roland seems to me most to resemble Cato; but it must be owned that it is to his wife that his courage and talents are due." Previous to this hour the Girondists had wished to sustain the throne, and merely to surround it with free institutions. They had taken the government of England for their model. From this day the Girondists, freed from all obligations to the king, conspired secretly in Madame Roland's chamber, and publicly in the tribune, for the entire overthrow of the monarchy, and the establishment of a republic like that of the United States. They rivaled the Jacobins in the endeavor to see who could strike the heaviest blows against the throne. It was now a struggle between life and death. The triumph of the invading army would be the utter destruction of all connected with the revolutionary movement. And thus did Madame Roland exert an influence more powerful, perhaps, than that of any other one mind in the demolition of the Bourbon despotism.
Her influence over the Girondist party was such as no man ever can exert. Her conduct, frank and open-hearted, was irreproachable, ever above even the slightest suspicion of indiscretion. She could not be insensible to the homage, the admiration of those she gathered around her. Buzot adored Madame Roland as the inspiration of his mind, as the idol of his worship. She had involuntarily gained that entire ascendency over his whole being which made her the world to him. The secret of this resistless enchantment was concealed until her death; it was then disclosed, and revealed the mystery of a spiritual conflict such as few can comprehend. She writes of Buzot, "Sensible, ardent, melancholy, he seems born to give and share happiness. This man would forget the universe in the sweetness of private virtues. Capable of sublime impulses and unvarying affections, the vulgar, who like to depreciate what it can not equal, accuse him of being a dreamer. Of sweet countenance, elegant figure, there is always in his attire that care, neatness, and propriety which announce the respect of self as well as of others. While the dregs of the nation elevate the flatterers and corrupters of the people to station—while cut-throats swear, drink, and clothe themselves in rags, in order to fraternize with the populace, Buzot possesses the morality of Socrates, and maintains the decorum of Scipio. So they pull down his house, and banish him as they did Aristides. I am astonished that they have not issued a decree that his name should be forgotten."
These words Madame Roland wrote in her dungeon the night before her execution. Buzot was then an exile, pursued by unrelenting fury, and concealed in the caves of St. Emilion. When the tidings reached him of the death of Madame Roland, he fell to the ground as if struck by lightning. For many days he was in a state of phrensy, and was never again restored to cheerfulness.
Danton now appeared in the saloon of Madame Roland, with his gigantic stature, and shaggy hair, and voice of thunder, and crouched at the feet of this mistress of hearts, whom his sagacity perceived was soon again to be the dispenser of power. She comprehended at a glance his herculean abilities, and the important aid he could render the Republican cause. She wished to win his co-operation, and at first tried to conciliate him, "as a woman would pat a lion;" but soon, convinced of his heartlessness and utter want of principle, she spurned him with abhorrence. He subsequently endeavored, again and again, to reinstate himself in her favor, but in vain. Every hour scenes of new violence were being enacted in Paris and throughout all France. Roland was the idol of the nation. The famous letter was the subject of universal admiration. The outcry against his dismission was falling in thunder tones on the ear of the king. This act had fanned to increased intensity those flames of revolutionary phrensy which were now glaring with portentous flashes in every part of France. The people, intoxicated and maddened by the discovery of their power, were now arrayed, with irresistible thirstings for destruction and blood, against the king, the court, and the nobility. The royal family, imprisoned in the Tuileries, were each day drinking of the cup of humiliation to its lowest dregs. Austria and Prussia, united with the emigrants at Coblentz, prepared to march to Paris to reinstate the king upon his throne. Excitement, consternation, phrensy, pervaded all hearts. A vast assemblage of countless thousands of women, and boys, and wan and starving men, gathered in the streets of Paris. Harangues against the king and the aristocrats rendered them delirious with rage. They crowded all the avenues to the Tuileries, burst through the gates and over the walls, dashed down the doors and stove in the windows, and, with obscene ribaldry, rioted through all the apartments sacred to royalty. They thrust the dirty red cap of Jacobinism upon the head of the King. They poured into the ear of the humiliated queen the most revolting and loathsome execrations. There was no hope for Louis but in the recall of M. Roland. The court party could give him no protection. The Jacobins were upon him in locust legions. M. Roland alone could bring the Girondists, as a shield, between the throne and the mob. He was recalled, and again moved, in calm triumph, from his obscure chambers to the regal palace of the minister. If Madame Roland's letter dismissed him from office, her letter also restored him again with an enormous accumulation of power.
His situation was not an enviable one. Elevated as it was in dignity and influence, it was full of perplexity, toil, and peril. The spirit of revolution was now rampant, and no earthly power could stay it. It was inevitable that those who would not recklessly ride upon its billows must be overwhelmed by its resistless surges. Madame Roland was far more conscious of the peril than her husband. With intense emotion, but calmly and firmly, she looked upon the gathering storm. The peculiarity of her character, and her great moral courage, was illustrated by the mode of life she vigorously adopted. Raised from obscurity to a position so commanding, with rank and wealth bowing obsequiously around her, she was entirely undazzled, and resolved that, consecrating all her energies to the demands of the tempestuous times, she would waste no time in fashionable parties and heartless visits. "My love of study," she said, "is as great as my detestation of cards, and the society of silly people affords me no amusement." Twice a week she gave a dinner to the members of the ministry, and other influential men in the political world, with whom her husband wished to converse. The palace was furnished to their hands by its former occupants with Oriental luxury. Selecting for her own use, as before, one of the smallest parlors, she furnished it as her library. Here she lived, engrossed in study, busy with her pen, and taking an unostentatious and unseen, but most active part, in all those measures which were literally agitating the whole civilized world. Her little library was the sanctuary for all confidential conversation upon matters of state. Here her husband met his political friends to mature their measures. The gentlemen gathered, evening after evening, around the table in the center of the room, M. Roland, with his serene, reflective brow, presiding at their head, while Madame Roland, at her work-table by the fireside, employed herself with her needle or her pen. Her mind, however, was absorbed by the conversation which was passing. M. Roland, in fact, in giving his own views, was but recapitulating those sentiments with which his mind was imbued from previous conference with his companion.
It is not possible that one endowed with the ardent and glowing imagination of Madame Roland should not, at times, feel inwardly the spirit of exultation in the consciousness of this vast power. From the windows of her palace she looked down upon the shop of the mechanic where her infancy was cradled, and upon those dusty streets where she had walked an obscure child, while proud aristocracy swept by her in splendor—that very aristocracy looking now imploringly to her for a smile. She possessed that peculiar tact, which enabled her often to guide the course of political measures without appearing to do so. She was only anxious to promote the glory of her husband, and was never more happy than when he was receiving plaudits for works which she had performed. She wrote many of his proclamations, his letters, his state papers, and with all the glowing fervor of an enthusiastic woman. "Without me," she writes, "my husband would have been quite as good a minister, for his knowledge, his activity, his integrity were all his own; but with me he attracted more attention, because I infused into his writings that mixture of spirit and gentleness, of authoritative reason and seducing sentiment, which is, perhaps, only to be found in the language of a woman who has a clear head and a feeling heart." This frank avowal of just self-appreciation is not vanity. A vain woman could not have won the love and homage of so many of the noblest men of France.
A curious circumstance occurred at this time, which forcibly and even ludicrously struck Madame Roland's mind, as she reflected upon the wonderful changes of life, and the peculiar position which she now occupied. Some French artists had been imprisoned by the pope at Rome. The Executive Council of France wished to remonstrate and demand their release. Madame Roland sat down to write the letter, severe and authoritative, to his holiness, threatening him with the severest vengeance if he refused to comply with the request. As in her little library she prepared this communication to the head of the Papal States and of the Catholic Church, she paused, with her pen in her hand, and reflected upon her situation but a few years before as the humble daughter of an engraver. She recalled to mind the emotions of superstitious awe and adoration with which, in the nunnery, she had regarded his holiness as next to the Deity, and almost his equal. She read over some of the imperious passages which she had now addressed to the pope in the unaffected dignity of conscious power, and the contrast was so striking, and struck her as so ludicrous, that she burst into an uncontrollable paroxysm of laughter.
When Jane was a diffident maiden of seventeen, she went once with her aunt to the residence of a nobleman of exalted rank and vast wealth, and had there been invited to dine with the servants. The proud spirit of Jane was touched to the quick. With a burning brow she sat down in the servants' hall, with stewards, and butlers, and cooks, and footmen, and valet de chambres, and ladies' maids of every degree, all dressed in tawdry finery, and assuming the most disgusting airs of self-importance. She went home despising in her heart both lords and menials, and dreaming, with new aspirations, of her Roman republic. One day, when Madame Roland was in power, she had just passed from her splendid dining-room, where she had been entertaining the most distinguished men of the empire, into her drawing-room, when a gray-headed gentleman entered, and bowing profoundly and most obsequiously before her, entreated the honor of an introduction to the Minister of the Interior. This gentleman was M. Haudry, with whose servants she had been invited to dine. This once proud aristocrat, who, in the wreck of the Revolution, had lost both wealth and rank, now saw Madame Roland elevated as far above him as he had formerly been exalted above her. She remembered the many scenes in which her spirit had been humiliated by haughty assumptions. She could not but feel the triumph to which circumstances had borne her, though magnanimity restrained its manifestation.
Anarchy now reigned throughout France. The king and the royal family were imprisoned in the Temple. The Girondists in the Legislative Assembly, which had now assumed the name of the National Convention, and M. Roland at the head of the ministry, were struggling, with herculean exertions, to restore the dominion of law, and, if possible, to save the life of the king. The Jacobins, who, unable to resist the boundless popularity of M. Roland, had, for a time, co-operated with the Girondists, now began to separate themselves again more and more widely from them. They flattered the mob. They encouraged every possible demonstration of lawless violence. They pandered to the passions of the multitude by affecting grossness and vulgarity in person, and language, and manners; by clamoring for the division of property, and for the death of the king. In tones daily increasing in boldness and efficiency, they declared the Girondists to be the friends of the monarch, and the enemies of popular liberty. Upon this tumultuous wave of polluted democracy, now rising with resistless and crested billow, Danton and Robespierre were riding into their terrific power. Humanity shut its eyes in view of the hideous apparition of wan and haggard beggary and crime. The deep mutterings of this rising storm, which no earthly hand might stay, rolled heavily upon the ear of Europe. Christendom looked astounded upon the spectacle of a barbarian invasion bursting forth from the cellars and garrets of Paris. Oppressed and degraded humanity was about to take vengeance for its ages of accumulated wrongs. The throne was demolished. The insulted royal family, in rags and almost in starvation, were in a dungeon. The universal cry from the masses of the people was now for a republic. Jacobins and Girondists united in this cry; but the Jacobins accused the Girondists of being insincere, and of secretly plotting for the restoration of the king.
Madame Roland, in the name of her husband, drew up for the Convention the plan of a republic as a substitute for the throne. From childhood she had yearned for a republic, with its liberty and purity, fascinated by the ideal of Roman virtue, from which her lively imagination had banished all human corruption. But now that the throne and hereditary rank were virtually abolished, and all France clamoring for a republic, and the pen in her hand to present to the National Assembly a Constitution of popular liberty, her heart misgave her. Her husband was nominally Minister of the Interior, but his power was gone. The mob of Paris had usurped the place of king, and Constitution, and law. The Jacobins were attaining the decided ascendency. The guillotine was daily crimsoned with the blood of the noblest citizens of France. The streets and the prisons were polluted with the massacre of the innocent. The soul of Madame Roland recoiled with horror at the scenes she daily witnessed. The Girondists struggled in vain to resist the torrent, but they were swept before it. The time had been when the proclamation of a republic would have filled her soul with inexpressible joy. Now she could see no gleam of hope for her country. The restoration of the monarchy was impossible. The substitution of a republic was inevitable. No earthly power could prevent it. In that republic she saw only the precursor of her own ruin, the ruin of all dear to her, and general anarchy. With a dejected spirit she wrote to a friend, "We are under the knife of Robespierre and Marat. You know my enthusiasm for the Revolution. I am ashamed of it now. It has been sullied by monsters. It is hideous."
MADAME ROLAND AND THE JACOBINS.
Advance of the allies.—Hopes of the king's friends.—Consternation at Paris.—Speech of Danton.—Despotic measures.—Domiciliary visits.—Opening of the catacombs.—Terror of the people.—Scenes of terror.—Vain attempts at concealment.—Numbers arrested.—The priests.—A human fiend.—Butchery of the priests.—Arrival at the prison.—Prison tribunal.—Massacre in the prisons.—Fiendish orgies.—Female spectators.—Character of the victims.—The Bicetre.—Numbers massacred.—Girls sent to the guillotine.—Their heroism.—The assassins rewarded.—They threaten their instigators.—Ascendency of the mob.—Peril of the Girondists.—The Assembly surrounded.—Adroitness of the Jacobins.—Advance of the allies.—Robespierre and Danton.—Bold measures proposed by Madame Roland.—Decisive stand taken by MM. Roland and Vergniaud.—The Girondists defeated.—Resignation of M. Roland.—Attacks upon Madame Roland.—How received in the Assembly.—Letter from M. Roland.—Its lofty tone.—Danton seeks a reconciliation.—His failure.—Plans of the Jacobins.—Fearlessness of Madame Roland.
The Prussians were now advancing on their march to Paris. One after another of the frontier cities of France were capitulating to the invaders as the storm of bomb-shells, from the batteries of the allied army, was rained down upon their roofs. The French were retreating before their triumphant adversaries. Sanguine hopes sprung up in the bosoms of the friends of the monarchy that the artillery of the Prussians would soon demolish the iron doors of the Temple, where the king and the royal family were imprisoned, and reinstate the captive monarch upon his throne. The Revolutionists were almost frantic in view of their peril. They knew that there were tens of thousands in Paris, of the most wealthy and the most influential, and hundreds of thousands in France, who would, at the slightest prospect of success, welcome the Prussians as their deliverers. Should the king thus prove victorious, the leaders in the revolutionary movement had sinned too deeply to hope for pardon. Death was their inevitable doom. Consternation pervaded the metropolis. The magnitude of this peril united all the revolutionary parties for their common defense. Even Vergniaud, the most eloquent leader of the Girondists, proposed a decree of death against every citizen of a besieged city who should speak of surrender.
It was midnight in the Assembly. The most extraordinary and despotic measures were adopted by acclamation to meet the fearful emergency. "We must rouse the whole populace of France," exclaimed Danton, in those tones which now began to thrill so portentously upon the ear of Europe, "and hurl them, en masse, upon our invaders. There are traitors in Paris, ready to join our foes. We must arrest them all, however numerous they may be. The peril is imminent. The precautions adopted must be correspondingly prompt and decisive. With the morning sun we must visit every dwelling in Paris, and imprison those whom we have reason to fear will join the enemies of the nation, even though they be thirty thousand in number."
The decree passed without hesitation. The gates of Paris were to be locked, that none might escape. Carriages were to be excluded from the streets. All citizens were ordered to be at home. The sections, the tribunals, the clubs were to suspend their sittings, that the public attention might not be distracted. All houses were to be brilliantly lighted in the evening, that the search might be more effectually conducted. Commissaries, accompanied by armed soldiers, were, in the name of the law, to enter every dwelling. Each citizen should show what arms he had. If any thing excited suspicion, the individual and his premises were to be searched with the utmost vigilance. If the slightest deception had been practiced, in denying or in not fully confessing any suspicious appearances, the person was to be arrested and imprisoned. If a person were found in any dwelling but his own, he was to be imprisoned as under suspicion. Guards were to be placed in all unoccupied houses. A double cordon of soldiers were stationed around the walls, to arrest all who should attempt to escape. Armed boats floated upon the Seine, at the two extremities of Paris, that every possible passage of escape might be closed. Gardens, groves, promenades, all were to be searched.
With so much energy was this work conducted, that that very night a body of workmen were sent, with torches and suitable tools, to open an access to the subterranean burial-grounds extending under a portion of Paris, that a speedy disposal might be made of the anticipated multitude of dead bodies. The decree, conveying terror to ten thousand bosoms, spread with the rapidity of lightning through the streets and the dwellings of Paris. Every one who had expressed a sentiment of loyalty; every one who had a friend who was an emigrant or a loyalist; every one who had uttered a word of censure in reference to the sanguinary atrocities of the Revolution; every one who inherited an illustrious name, or who had an unfriendly neighbor or an inimical servant, trembled at the swift approach of the impending doom.
Bands of men, armed with pikes, brought into power from the dregs of society, insolent, merciless, and resistless, accompanied by martial music, traversed the streets in all directions. As the commissaries knocked at a door, the family within were pale and paralyzed with terror. The brutal inquisitors appeared to delight in the anguish which their stern office extorted, and the more refined the family in culture or the more elevated in rank, the more severely did vulgarity in power trample them in the dust of humiliation. They took with them workmen acquainted with all possible modes of concealment. They broke locks, burst in panels, cut open beds and mattresses, tore up floors, sounded wells, explored garrets and cellars for secret doors and vaults, and could they find in any house an individual whom affection or hospitality had sheltered, a rusty gun, an old picture of any member of the royal family, a button with the royal arms, a letter from a suspected person, or containing a sentiment against the "Reign of Terror," the father was instantly and rudely torn from his home, his wife, his children, and hurried with ignominious violence, as a traitor unfit to live, through the streets, to the prison. It was a night of woe in Paris.
The friends of the monarchy soon found all efforts at concealment unavailing. They had at first crept into chimneys, from which they were soon smoked out. They had concealed themselves behind tapestry. But pikes and bayonets were with derision thrust through their bodies. They had burrowed in holes in the cellars, and endeavored to blind the eye of pursuit by coverings of barrels, or lumber, or wood, or coal. But the stratagems of affection were equally matched by the sagacity of revolutionary phrensy, and the doomed were dragged to light. Many of the Royalists had fled to the hospitals, where, in the wards of infection, they shared the beds of the dead and the dying. But even there they were followed and arrested. The domiciliary visits were continued for three days. "The whole city was like a prisoner, whose limbs are held while he is searched and fettered." Ten thousand suspected persons were seized and committed to the prisons. Many were massacred in their dwellings or in the streets. Some were subsequently liberated, as having been unjustly arrested.
Thirty priests were dragged into a room at the Hotel de Ville. Five coaches, each containing six of the obnoxious prisoners, started to convey them to the prison of the Abbaye. A countless mob gathered around them as an alarm-gun gave the signal for the coaches to proceed on their way. The windows were open that the populace might see those whom they deemed traitors to their country, and whom they believed to be ready to join the army of invasion, now so triumphantly approaching. Every moment the mob increased in density, and with difficulty the coaches wormed their way through the tumultuous gatherings. Oaths and execrations rose on every side. Gestures and threats of violence were fearfully increasing, when a vast multitude of men, and women, and boys came roaring down a cross-street, and so completely blocked up the way that a peaceful passage was impossible. The carriages stopped. A man with his shirt-sleeves rolled up to the elbows, and a glittering saber in his hand, forced his way through the escort, and, deliberately standing upon the steps of one of the coaches, clinging with one hand to the door, plunged again, and again, and again his saber into the bodies of the priests, wherever chance might direct it. He drew it out reeking with blood, and waved it before the people. A hideous yell of applause rose from the multitude, and again he plunged his saber into the carriage. The assassin then passed to the next coach, and again enacted the same act of horrid butchery upon the struggling priests crowded into the carriages, with no shield and with no escape. Thus he went, from one to the other, through the whole line of coaches, while the armed escort looked on with derisive laughter, and shouts of fiendish exultation rose from the phrensied multitude. The mounted troops slowly forced open a passage for the carriages, and they moved along, marking their passage by the streams of blood which dripped, from their dead and dying inmates, upon the pavements. When they arrived at the prison, eight dead bodies were dragged from the floor of the vehicles, and many of those not dead were horridly mutilated and clotted with gore. The wretched victims precipitated themselves with the utmost consternation into the prison, as a retreat from the billows of rage surging and roaring around them.
But the scene within was still more terrible than that without. In the spacious hall opening into the court-yard of the prison there was a table, around which sat twelve men. Their brawny limbs, and coarse and brutal countenances, proclaimed them familiar with debauch and blood. Their attire was that of the lowest class in society, with woolen caps on their heads, shirt sleeves rolled up, unembarrassed by either vest or coat, and butchers' aprons bound around them. At the head of the table sat Maillard, at that time the idol of the blood-thirsty mob of Paris. These men composed a self-constituted tribunal to award life or instant death to those brought before them. First appeared one hundred and fifty Swiss officers and soldiers who had been in the employ of the king. They were brought en masse before the tribunal. "You have assassinated the people," said Maillard, "and they demand vengeance." The door was open. The assassins in the court-yard, with weapons reeking with blood, were howling for their prey. The soldiers were driven into the yard, and they fell beneath the blows of bayonets, sabers, and clubs, and their gory bodies were piled up, a hideous mound, in the corners of the court. The priests, without delay, met with the same fate. A moment sufficed for trial, and verdict, and execution. Night came. Brandy and excitement had roused the demon in the human heart. Life was a plaything, murder a pastime. Torches were lighted, refreshments introduced, songs of mirth and joviality rose upon the night air, and still the horrid carnage continued unabated. Now and then, from caprice, one was liberated; but the innocent and the guilty fell alike. Suspicion was crime. An illustrious name was guilt. There was no time for defense. A frown from the judge was followed by a blow from the assassin. A similar scene was transpiring in all the prisons of Paris. Carts were continually arriving to remove the dead bodies, which accumulated much faster than they could be borne away. The court-yards became wet and slippery with blood. Straw was brought in and strewn thickly over the stones, and benches were placed against the walls to accommodate those women who wished to gaze upon the butchery. The benches were immediately filled with females, exulting in the death of all whom they deemed tainted with aristocracy, and rejoicing to see the exalted and the refined falling beneath the clubs of the ragged and the degraded. The murderers made use of the bodies of the dead for seats, upon which they drank their brandy mingled with gunpowder, and smoked their pipes. In the nine prisons of Paris these horrors continued unabated till they were emptied of their victims. Men most illustrious in philanthropy, rank, and virtue, were brained with clubs by overgrown boys, who accompanied their blows with fiendish laughter. Ladies of the highest accomplishments, of exalted beauty and of spotless purity, were hacked in pieces by the lowest wretches who had crawled from the dens of pollution, and their dismembered limbs were borne on the points of pikes in derision through the streets of the metropolis. Children, even, were involved in this blind slaughter. They were called the cubs of aristocracy.
We can not enter more minutely into the details of these sickening scenes, for the soul turns from them weary of life; and yet thus far we must go, for it is important that all eyes should read this dreadful yet instructive lesson—that all may know that there is no despotism so dreadful as the despotism of anarchy—that there are no laws more to be abhorred than the absence of all law.
In the prison of the Bicetre there were three thousand five hundred captives. The ruffians forced the gates, drove in the dungeon doors with cannon, and for five days and five nights continued the slaughter. The phrensy of the intoxicated mob increased each day, and hordes came pouring out from all the foul dens of pollution greedy for carnage. The fevered thirst for blood was inextinguishable. No tongue can now tell the number of the victims. The mangled bodies were hurried to the catacombs, and thrown into an indiscriminate heap of corruption. By many it is estimated that more than ten thousand fell during these massacres. The tidings of these outrages spread through all the provinces of France, and stimulated to similar atrocities the mob in every city. At Orleans the houses of merchants were sacked, the merchants and others of wealth or high standing massacred, while some who had offered resistance were burned at slow fires.
In one town, in the vicinity of the Prussian army, some Loyalist gentlemen, sanguine in view of the success of their friends, got up an entertainment in honor of their victories. At this entertainment their daughters danced. The young ladies were all arrested, fourteen in number, and taken in a cart to the guillotine. These young and beautiful girls, all between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, and from the most refined and opulent families, were beheaded. The group of youth and innocence stood clustered at the foot of the scaffold, while, one by one, their companions ascended, were bound to the plank, the ax fell, and their heads dropped into the basket. It seems that there must have been some supernatural power of support to have sustained children under so awful an ordeal. There were no faintings, no loud lamentations, no shrieks of despair. With the serenity of martyrs they met their fate, each one emulous of showing to her companions how much like a heroine she could die.
These scenes were enacted at the instigation of the Jacobins. Danton and Marat urged on these merciless measures of lawless violence. "We must," said they, "strike terror into the hearts of our foes. It is our only safety." They sent agents into the most degraded quarters of the city to rouse and direct the mob. They voted abundant supplies to the wretched assassins who had broken into the prisons, and involved youth and age, and innocence and guilt, in indiscriminate carnage. The murderers, reeking in intoxication and besmeared with blood, came in crowds to the door of the municipality to claim their reward. "Do you think," said a brawny, gigantic wretch, with tucked-up sleeves, in the garb of a butcher, and with his whole person bespattered with blood and brains, "do you think that I have earned but twenty-four francs to-day? I have killed forty aristocrats with my own hands!" The money was soon exhausted, and still the crowd of assassins thronged the committee. Indignant that their claims were not instantly discharged, they presented their bloody weapons at the throats of their instigators, and threatened them with immediate death if the money were not furnished. Thus urged, the committee succeeded in paying one half the sum, and gave bonds for the rest.
M. Roland was almost frantic in view of these horrors, which he had no power to quell. The mob, headed by the Jacobins, had now the complete ascendency, and he was minister but in name. He urged upon the Assembly the adoption of immediate and energetic measures to arrest these execrable deeds of lawless violence. Many of the Girondists in the Assembly gave vehement but unavailing utterance to their execration of the massacres. Others were intimidated by the weapon which the Jacobins were now so effectually wielding; for they knew that it might not be very difficult so to direct the fury of the mob as to turn those sharp blades, now dripping with blood, from the prisons into the hall of Assembly, and upon the throats of all obnoxious to Jacobin power. The Girondists trembled in view of their danger. They had aided in opening the sluice-ways of a torrent which was now sweeping every thing before it. Madame Roland distinctly saw and deeply felt the peril to which she and her friends were exposed. She knew, and they all knew, that defeat was death. The great struggle now in the Assembly was for the popular voice. The Girondists hoped, though almost in despair, that it was not yet too late to show the people the horrors of anarchy, and to rally around themselves the multitude to sustain a well-established and law-revering republic. The Jacobins determined to send their opponents to the scaffold, and by the aid of the terrors of the mob, now enlisted on their side, resistlessly to carry all their measures. A hint from the Jacobin leaders surrounded the Assembly with the hideous howlings of a haggard concourse of beings just as merciless and demoniac as lost spirits. They exhibited these allies to the Girondists as a bull-dog shows his teeth.
In speeches, and placards, and proclamations they declared the Girondists to be, in heart, the enemies of the Republic. They accused them of hating the Revolution in consequence of its necessary severity, and of plotting in secret for the restoration of the king. With great adroitness, they introduced measures which the Girondists must either support, and thus aid the Jacobins, or oppose, and increase the suspicion of the populace, and rouse their rage against them. The allied army, with seven thousand French emigrants and over a hundred thousand highly-disciplined troops, under the most able and experienced generals, was slowly but surely advancing toward Paris, to release the king, replace him on the throne, and avenge the insults to royalty. The booming of their artillery was heard reverberating among the hills of France, ever drawing nearer and nearer to the insurgent metropolis, and sending consternation into all hearts. Under these circumstances, the Jacobins, having massacred those deemed the friends of the aristocrats, now gathered their strength to sweep before them all their adversaries. They passed a decree ordering every man in Paris, capable of bearing arms, to shoulder his musket and march to the frontiers to meet the invaders. If money was wanted, it was only necessary to send to the guillotine the aristocrat who possessed it, and to confiscate his estate.
Robespierre and Danton had now broken off all intimacy with Madame Roland and her friends. They no longer appeared in the little library where the Girondist leaders so often met, but, placing themselves at the head of the unorganized and tumultuous party now so rapidly gaining the ascendency, they were swept before it as the crest is borne by the billow. Madame Roland urged most strenuously upon her friends that those persons in the Assembly, the leaders of the Jacobin party, who had instigated the massacres in the prisons, should be accused, and brought to trial and punishment. It required peculiar boldness, at that hour, to accuse Robespierre and Danton of crime. Though thousands in France were horror-stricken at these outrages, the mob, who now ruled Paris, would rally instantaneously at the sound of the tocsin for the protection of their idols.
Madame Roland was one evening urging Vergniaud to take that heroic and desperate stand. "The only hope for France," said she "is in the sacredness of law. This atrocious carnage causes thousands of bosoms to thrill with horror, and all the wise and the good in France and in the world will rise to sustain those who expose their own hearts as a barrier to arrest such enormities."
"Of what avail," was the reply, in tones of sadness, "can such exertions be? The assassins are supported by all the power of the street. Such a conflict must necessarily terminate in a street fight. The cannon are with our foes. The most prominent of the friends of order are massacred. Terror will restrain the rest. We shall only provoke our own destruction."
"Of what use is life," rejoins the intrepid woman, "if we must live in this base subjection to a degraded mob? Let us contend for the right, and if we must die, let us rejoice to die with dignity and with heroism."
Though despairing of success, and apprehensive that their own doom was already sealed, M. Roland and Vergniaud, roused to action by this ruling spirit, the next day made their appearance in the Assembly with the heroic resolve to throw themselves before the torrent now rushing so wildly. They stood there, however, but the representatives of Madame Roland, inspired by her energies, and giving utterance to those eloquent sentiments which had burst from her lips.
The Assembly listened in silence as M. Roland, in an energetic discourse, proclaimed the true principles of law and order, and called upon the Assembly to defend its own dignity against popular violence, and to raise an armed force consecrated to the security of liberty and justice. Encouraged by these appearances of returning moderation, others of the Girondists rose, and, with great boldness and vehemence, urged decisive action. "It requires some courage," said Kersaint, "to rise up here against assassins, but it is time to erect scaffolds for those who provoke assassination." The strife continued for two or three days, with that intense excitement which a conflict for life or death must necessarily engender. The question between the Girondist and the Jacobin was, "Who shall lie down on the guillotine?" For some time the issue of the struggle was uncertain. The Jacobins summoned their allies, the mob. They surrounded the doors and the windows of the Assembly, and with their howlings sustained their friends. "I have just passed through the crowd," said a member, "and have witnessed its excitement. If the act of accusation is carried, many a head will lie low before another morning dawns." The Girondists found themselves, at the close of the struggle, defeated, yet not so decidedly but that they still clung to hope.
M. Roland, who had not yet entirely lost, with the people, that popularity which swept him, on so triumphant a billow, again into the office of Minister of the Interior, now, conscious of his utter impotency, presented to the Assembly his resignation of power which was merely nominal. Great efforts had for some time been made, by his adversaries, to turn the tide of popular hatred against him, and especially against his wife, whom Danton and Robespierre recognized and proclaimed as the animating and inspiring soul of the Girondist party.
The friends of Roland urged, with high encomiums upon his character, that he should be invited to retain his post. The sentiment of the Assembly was wavering in his favor. Danton, excessively annoyed, arose and said, with a sneer, "I oppose the invitation. Nobody appreciates M. Roland more justly than myself. But if you give him this invitation, you must give his wife one also. Every one knows that M. Roland is not alone in his department. As for myself, in my department I am alone. I have no wife to help me."
These indecorous and malicious allusions were received with shouts of derisive laughter from the Jacobin benches. The majority, however, frowned upon Danton with deep reproaches for such an attack upon a lady. One of the Girondists immediately ascended the tribune. "What signifies it to the country," said he, "whether Roland possesses an intelligent wife, who inspires him with her additional energy, or whether he acts from his own resolution alone?" The defense was received with much applause.
The next day, Roland, as Minister of the Interior, presented a letter to the Convention, expressing his determination to continue in office. It was written by Madame Roland in strains of most glowing eloquence, and in the spirit of the loftiest heroism and the most dignified defiance. "The Convention is wise," said this letter, "in not giving a solemn invitation to a man to remain in the ministry. It would attach too great importance to a name. But the deliberation honors me, and clearly pronounces the desire of the Convention. That wish satisfies me. It opens to me the career. I espouse it with courage. I remain in the ministry. I remain because there are perils to face. I am not blind to them, but I brave them fearlessly. The salvation of my country is the object in view. To that I devote myself, even to death. I am accused of wanting courage. Is no courage requisite in these times in denouncing the protectors of assassins?"
Thus Madame Roland, sheltered in the seclusion of her library, met, in spirit, in the fierce struggle of the tribune, Robespierre, Danton, and Marat. They knew from whose shafts these keen arrows were shot. The Girondists knew to whom they were indebted for many of the most skillful parries and retaliatory blows. The one party looked to her almost with adoration; the other, with implacable hate. Never before, probably, in the history of the world, has a woman occupied such a position, and never by a woman will such a position be occupied again. Danton began to recoil from the gulf opening before him, and wished to return to alliance with the Girondists. He expressed the most profound admiration for the talents, energy, and sagacity of Madame Roland. "We must act together," said he, "or the wave of the Revolution will overwhelm us all. United, we can stem it. Disunited, it will overpower us." Again he appeared in the library of Madame Roland, in a last interview with the Girondists. He desired a coalition. They could not agree. Danton insisted that they must overlook the massacres, and give at least an implied assent to their necessity. "We will agree to all," said the Girondists, "except impunity to murderers and their accomplices." The conference was broken up. Danton, irritated, withdrew, and placed himself by the side of Robespierre. Again the Jacobins and the Girondists prepared for the renewal of their struggle. It was not a struggle for power merely, but for life. The Girondists, knowing that the fury of the Revolution would soon sweep over every thing, unless they could bring back the people to a sense of justice—would punish with the scaffold those who had incited the massacre of thousands of uncondemned citizens. The Jacobins would rid themselves of their adversaries by overwhelming them in the same carnage to which they had consigned the Loyalists. Madame Roland might have fled from these perils, and have retired with her husband to regions of tranquillity and of safety but she urged M. Roland to remain at his post and resolved to remain herself and meet her destiny, whatever it might be. Never did a mortal face danger, with a full appreciation of its magnitude, with more stoicism than was exhibited by this most ardent and enthusiastic of women.