LAST STRUGGLES OF THE GIRONDISTS.
The Jacobins resolve to bring the king to trial.—Famine in Paris.—Suspicions against the Girondists.—Baseness of the Jacobins.—Peril of the Girondists.—Anxious deliberations.—Vile intrigue of the Jacobins.—Madame Roland accused.—Madame Roland before the Assembly.—Her dignified demeanor.—Madame Roland's defense of herself.—She is acquitted by acclamation.—Madame Roland's triumph.—Chagrin of her enemies.—Festival of the Girondists.—Toast of Vergniaud.—Classical allusion.—Clamors for the king's death.—The king brought before the Convention.—Dismal day.—Menaces of the mob.—Danton, Marat, and Robespierre.—Trial of the king.—Proposition of Robespierre.—Vote of Vergniaud.—Vote of the Girondists.—Indignation at the king's death.—The Revolutionary Tribunal.—Unlimited powers of the Revolutionary Tribunal.—Atrocious cruelties.—Embarrassments of M. Roland.—He sends in his resignation.—Attempts to assassinate the Rolands.—Entreaties of friends.—Firmness of Madame Roland.—Roland's influence in the departments.—Plots against the Girondists.—Meetings at Madame Roland's.—Insurrections in favor of the monarchy.—Jacobin insurrection.—Portentous mutterings.—Precautions of the Girondists.—Intrepidity of Vergniaud.—Power of prayer.—"Horrible hope."—The power of the Girondists gone.
The Jacobins now resolved to bring the king to trial. By placards posted in the streets, by inflammatory speeches in the Convention, in public gatherings, and in the clubs, by false assertions and slanders of every conceivable nature, they had roused the ignorant populace to the full conviction that the king was the author of every calamity now impending. The storm of the Revolution had swept desolation through all the walks of peaceful industry. Starvation, gaunt and terrible, began to stare the population of Paris directly in the face. The infuriated mob hung the bakers upon the lamp-posts before their own doors for refusing to supply them with bread. The peasant dared not carry provisions into the city, for he was sure of being robbed by the sovereign people, who had attained the freedom of committing all crimes with impunity. The multitude fully believed that there was a conspiracy formed by the king in his prison, and by the friends of royalty, to starve the people into subjection. Portentous murmurs were now also borne on every breeze, uttered by a thousand unseen voices, that the Girondists were accomplices in this conspiracy; that they hated the Revolution; that they wished to save the life of the king; that they would welcome the army of invasion, as affording them an opportunity to reinstate Louis upon the throne. The Jacobins, it was declared, were the only true friends of the people. The Girondists were accused of being in league with the aristocrats. These suspicions rose and floated over Paris like the mist of the ocean. They were every where encountered, and yet presented no resistance to be assailed. They were intimated in the Jacobin journals; they were suggested, with daily increasing distinctness, at the tribune. And in those multitudinous gatherings, where Marat stood in filth and rags to harangue the miserable, and the vicious, and the starving, they were proclaimed loudly, and with execrations. The Jacobins rejoiced that they had now, by the force of circumstances, crowded their adversaries into a position from which they could not easily extricate themselves. Should the Girondists vote for the death of the king, they would thus support the Jacobins in those sanguinary measures, so popular with the mob, which had now become the right arm of Jacobin power. The glory would also all redound to the Jacobins, for it would not be difficult to convince the multitude that the Girondists merely submitted to a measure which they were unable to resist. Should the Girondists, on the other hand, true to their instinctive abhorrence of these deeds of blood, dare to vote against the death of the king, they would be ruined irretrievably. They would then stand unmasked before the people as traitors to the Republic and the friends of royalty. Like noxious beasts, they would be hunted through the streets and massacred at their own firesides. The Girondists perceived distinctly the vortex of destruction toward which they were so rapidly circling. Many and anxious were their deliberations, night after night, in the library of Madame Roland. In the midst of the fearful peril, it was not easy to decide what either duty or apparent policy required.
The Jacobins now made a direct and infamous attempt to turn the rage of the populace against Madame Roland. Achille Viard, one of those unprincipled adventurers with which the stormy times had filled the metropolis, was employed, as a spy, to feign attachment to the Girondist party, and to seek the acquaintance, and insinuate himself into the confidence of Madame Roland. By perversions and exaggerations of her language, he was to fabricate an accusation against her which would bring her head to the scaffold. Madame Roland instantly penetrated his character, and he was repulsed from her presence by the most contemptuous neglect. He, however, appeared before the Assembly as her accuser, and charged her with carrying on a secret correspondence with persons of influence at home and abroad, to protect the king. She was summoned to present herself before the Convention, to confront her accuser, and defend herself from the scaffold. Her gentle yet imperial spirit was undaunted by the magnitude of the peril. Her name had often been mentioned in the Assembly as the inspiring genius of the most influential and eloquent party which had risen up amid the storms of the Revolution. Her talents, her accomplishments, her fascinating conversational eloquence, had spread her renown widely through Europe. A large number of the most illustrious men in that legislative hall, both ardent young men and those venerable with age, regarded her with the most profound admiration—almost with religious homage. Others, conscious of her power, and often foiled by her sagacity, hated her with implacable hatred, and determined, either by the ax of the guillotine or by the poniard of the assassin, to remove her from their way.
The aspect of a young and beautiful woman, combining in her person and mind all the attractions of nature and genius, with her cheek glowing with heroic resolution, and her demeanor exhibiting the most perfect feminine loveliness and modesty, entering this vast assembly of irritated men to speak in defense of her life, at once hushed the clamor of hoarse voices, and subdued the rage of angry disputants. Silence the most respectful instantly filled the hall. Every eye was fixed upon her. The hearts of her friends throbbed with sympathy and with love. Her enemies were more than half disarmed, and wished that they, also, were honored as her friends. She stood before the bar.
"What is your name?" inquired the president.
She paused for a moment, and then, fixing her eye calmly upon her interrogator, in those clear and liquid tones which left their vibration upon the ear long after her voice was hushed in death, answered,
"Roland! a name of which I am proud, for it is that of a good and an honorable man."
"Do you know Achille Viard?" the president inquired.
"I have once, and but once, seen him."
"What has passed between you?"
"Twice he has written to me, soliciting an interview. Once I saw him. After a short conversation, I perceived that he was a spy, and dismissed him with the contempt he deserved."
The calm dignity of her replies, the ingenuous frankness of her manners, and the manifest malice and falsehood of Viard's accusation, made even her enemies ashamed of their unchivalrous prosecution. Briefly, in tremulous tones of voice, but with a spirit of firmness which no terrors could daunt, she entered upon her defense. It was the first time that a female voice had been heard in the midst of the clamor of these enraged combatants. The Assembly, unused to such a scene, were fascinated by her attractive eloquence. Viard, convicted of meanness, and treachery, and falsehood, dared not open his lips. Madame Roland was acquitted by acclamation. Upon the spot the president proposed that the marked respect of the Convention be conferred upon Madame Roland. With enthusiasm the resolution was carried. As she retired from the hall, her bosom glowing with the excitement of the perfect triumph she had won, her ear was greeted with the enthusiastic applause of the whole assembly. The eyes of all France had been attracted to her as she thus defended herself and her friends, and confounded her enemies. Marat gnashed his teeth with rage. Danton was gloomy and silent. Robespierre, vanquished by charms which had so often before enthralled him, expressed his contempt for the conspiracy, and, for the last time, smiled upon his early friend, whom he soon, with the most stoical indifference, dragged to the scaffold.
The evening after the overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of the Republic, when there was still some faint hope that there might yet be found intelligence and virtue in the people to sustain the Constitution, the Girondists met at Madame Roland's, and celebrated, with trembling exultation, the birth of popular liberty. The Constitution of the United States was the beau ideal of the Girondists, and, vainly dreaming that the institutions which Washington and his compatriots had established in Christian America were now firmly planted in infidel France, they endeavored to cast the veil of oblivion over the past, and to spread over the future the illusions of hope. The men here assembled were the most illustrious of the nation. Noble sentiments passed from mind to mind. Madame Roland, pale with emotion, conscious of the perils which were so portentously rising around them, shone with a preternatural brilliance in the solemn rejoicing of that evening. The aged Roland gazed with tears of fond affection and of gratified pride upon his lovely wife, as if in spirit asking her if all the loftiest aspirations of their souls were not now answered. The victorious Republicans hardly knew whether to sing triumphant songs or funeral dirges. Vergniaud, the renowned orator of the party, was prominent above them all. With a pale cheek, and a serene and pensive smile, he sat in silence, his mind evidently wandering among the rising apparitions of the future. At the close of the supper he filled his glass, and rising, proposed to drink to the eternity of the Republic. Madame Roland, whose mind was ever filled with classic recollections, scattered from a bouquet which she held in her hand, some rose leaves on the wine in his glass. Vergniaud drank the wine, and then said, in a low voice, "We should quaff cypress leaves, not rose leaves, in our wine to-night. In drinking to a republic, stained, at its birth, with the blood of massacre, who knows but that we drink to our own death. But no matter. Were this wine my own blood, I would drain it to liberty and equality." All the guests, with enthusiasm, responded, "Vive la Republique!" After dinner, Roland read to the company a paper drawn up by himself and wife in reference to the state of the Republic, which views were to be presented the next day to the Convention.
The royal family were still in the dungeons of the Temple, lingering through the dreary hours of the most desolate imprisonment. Phrensied mobs, rioting through the streets of Paris, and overawing all law, demanded, with loudest execrations, the death of the king. A man having ventured to say that he thought that the Republic might be established without shedding the blood of Louis, was immediately stabbed to the heart, and his mutilated remains were dragged through the streets of Paris in fiendish revelry. A poor vendor of pamphlets and newspapers, coming out of a reading-room, was accused of selling books favorable to royalty. The suspicion was crime, and he fell, pierced by thirty daggers. Such warnings as these were significant and impressive, and few dared utter a word in favor of the king.
It was the month of January, 1793, when the imprisoned monarch was brought into the hall of the Convention for his trial. It was a gloomy day for France, and all external nature seemed shrouded in darkness and sorrow. Clouds of mist were sweeping through the chill air, and a few feeble lamps glimmered along the narrow avenues and gloomy passages, which were darkened by the approach of a winter's night. Armed soldiers surrounded the building. Heavy pieces of artillery faced every approach. Cannoneers, with lighted matches, stood at their side, ready to scatter a storm of grape-shot upon every foe. A mob of countless thousands were surging to and fro through all the neighboring streets. The deep, dull murmurings of the multitude swelled in unison with the sighings of the storm rising upon the somber night. It was with no little difficulty that the deputies could force their way through the ocean of human beings surrounding the Assembly. The coarse garb, the angry features, the harsh voices, the fierce and significant gestures, proclaimed too clearly that the mob had determined to have the life of the king, and that, unless the deputies should vote his death, both king and deputies should perish together. As each deputy threaded his way through the thronging masses, he heard, in threatening tones, muttered into his ear deep and emphatic, "His death or thine!"
Persons who were familiar with the faces of all the members were stationed at particular points, and called out aloud to the multitude the names of the deputies as they elbowed their way through the surging multitudes. At the names of Danton, Marat, Robespierre, the ranks opened to make way for these idols of the populace, and shouts of the most enthusiastic greeting fell upon their ears. When the names of Vergniaud, Brissot, and others of the leading Girondists were mentioned, clinched fists, brandished daggers, and angry menaces declared that those who refused to obey the wishes of the people should encounter dire revenge. The very sentinels placed to guard the deputies encouraged the mob to insult and violence. The lobbies were filled with the most sanguinary ruffians of Paris. The interior of the hall was dimly lighted. A chandelier, suspended from the center of the ceiling, illuminated certain portions of the room, while the more distant parts remained in deep obscurity. That all might act under the full sense of their responsibility to the mob, Robespierre had proposed and carried the vote that the silent form of ballot should be rejected, and that each deputy, in his turn, should ascend the tribune, and, with a distinct voice, announce his sentence. For some time after the voting commenced it was quite uncertain how the decision would turn. In the alternate record of the vote, death and exile appeared to be equally balanced. All now depended upon the course which the Girondists should pursue. If they should vote for death, the doom of the king was sealed. Vergniaud was the first of that party to be called to record his sentence. It was well known that he looked with repugnance and horror upon the sanguinary scenes with which the Revolution had been deformed, and that he had often avowed his sympathy for the hard fate of a prince whose greatest crime was weakness. His vote would unquestionably be the index of that of the whole party, and thus the life or death of the king appeared to be suspended from his lips. It was known that the very evening before, while supping with a lady who expressed much commiseration for the captives in the Temple, he had declared that he would save the life of the king. The courage of Vergniaud was above suspicion, and his integrity above reproach. Difficult as it was to judge impartially, with the cannon and the pikes of the mob leveled at his breast, it was not doubted that he would vote conscientiously.
As the name of Vergniaud was called, all conversation instantly ceased. Perfect silence pervaded the hall, and every eye was riveted upon him. Slowly he ascended the steps of the tribune. His brow was calm, but his mouth closely compressed, as if to sustain some firm resolve. He paused for a moment, and the Assembly was breathless with suspense. He contracted his eyebrows, as if again reflecting upon his decision, and then, in a low, solemn, firm voice, uttered the word "Death."
The most profound silence reigned for a moment, and then again the low murmur of suppressed conversation filled the hall. Vergniaud descended from the tribune and disappeared in the crowd. All hope for the king was now gone. The rest of the Girondists also voted for death, and Louis was condemned to the scaffold.
This united vote upon the death of the king for a short time mingled together again the Girondists and the Jacobins. But the dominant party, elated by the victory which they had gained over their adversaries, were encouraged to fresh extortions. Perils increased. Europe was rising in arms against the blood-stained Republic. The execution of the king aroused emotions of unconquerable detestation in the bosoms of thousands who had previously looked upon the Revolution with favor. Those who had any opulence to forfeit, or any position in society to maintain, were ready to welcome as deliverers the allied army of invasion. It was then, to meet this emergency, that that terrible Revolutionary Tribunal was organized, which raised the ax of the guillotine as the one all-potent instrument of government, and which shed such oceans of innocent blood. "Two hundred and sixty thousand heads," said Marat, "must fall before France will be safe from internal foes." Danton, Marat, and Robespierre were now in the ascendency, riding with resistless power upon the billows of mob violence. Whenever they wished to carry any measure, they sent forth their agents to the dens and lurking-places of degradation and crime, and surrounded and filled the hall of the Assembly with blood-thirsty assassins. "Those who call themselves respectable," said Marat, "wish to give laws to those whom they call the rabble. We will teach them that the time is come in which the rabble is to reign."
This Revolutionary Tribunal, consisting of five judges, a jury, and a public accuser, all appointed by the Convention, was proposed and decreed on the same evening. It possessed unlimited powers to confiscate property and take life. The Girondists dared not vote against this tribunal. The public voice would pronounce them the worst of traitors. France was now a charnel-house. Blood flowed in streams which were never dry. Innocence had no protection. Virtue was suspicion, suspicion a crime, the guillotine the penalty, and the confiscated estate the bribe to accusation. Thus there was erected, in the name of liberty and popular rights, over the ruins of the French monarchy, a system of despotism the most atrocious and merciless under which humanity has ever groaned.
Again and again had the Jacobins called the mob into the Assembly, and compelled the members to vote with the poniards of assassins at their breasts. Madame Roland now despaired of liberty. Calumny, instead of gratitude, was unsparingly heaped upon herself and her husband. This requital, so unexpected, was more dreadful to her than the scaffold. All the promised fruits of the Revolution had disappeared, and desolation and crime alone were realized. The Girondists still met in Madame Roland's library to deliberate concerning measures for averting the impending ruin. All was unavailing.
The most distressing embarrassments now surrounded M. Roland. He could not abandon power without abandoning himself and his supporters in the Assembly to the guillotine; and while continuing in power, he was compelled to witness deeds of atrocity from which not only his soul revolted, but to which it was necessary for him apparently to give his sanction. His cheek grew pale and wan with care. He could neither eat nor sleep. The Republic had proved an utter failure, and France was but a tempest-tossed ocean of anarchy.
Thus situated, M. Roland, with the most melancholy forebodings, sent in his final resignation. He retired to humble lodgings in one of the obscure streets of Paris. Here, anxiously watching the progress of events, he began to make preparations to leave the mob-enthralled metropolis, and seek a retreat, in the calm seclusion of La Platiere, from these storms which no human power could allay. Still, the influence of Roland and his wife was feared by those who were directing the terrible enginery of lawless violence. It was well known by them both that assassins had been employed to silence them with the poniard. Madame Roland seemed, however, perfectly insensible to personal fear. She thought only of her husband and her child. Desperate men were seen lurking about the house, and their friends urged them to remove as speedily as possible from the perils by which they were surrounded. Neither the sacredness of law nor the weapons of their friends could longer afford them any protection. The danger became so imminent that the friends of Madame Roland brought her the dress of a peasant girl, and entreated her to put it on, as a disguise, and escape by night, that her husband might follow after her, unencumbered by his family; but she proudly repelled that which she deemed a cowardly artifice. She threw the dress aside, exclaiming, "I am ashamed to resort to any such expedient. I will neither disguise myself, nor make any attempt at secret escape. My enemies may find me always in my place. If I am assassinated, it shall be in my own home. I owe my country an example of firmness, and I will give it."
She, however, was so fully aware of her peril, and each night was burdened with such atrocities, that she placed loaded pistols under her pillow, to defend herself from those outrages, worse than death, of which the Revolution afforded so many examples. While the influence of the Girondists was entirely overborne by the clamors of the mob in Paris, in the more virtuous rural districts, far removed from the corruption of the capital, their influence was on the increase. The name of M. Roland, uttered with execrations in the metropolis by the vagabonds swarming from all parts of Europe, was spoken in tones of veneration in the departments, where husbandmen tilled the soil, and loved the reign of law and peace. Hence the Jacobins had serious cause to fear a reaction, and determined to silence their voices by the slide of the guillotine. The most desperate measures were now adopted for the destruction of the Girondists. One conspiracy was formed to collect the mob, ever ready to obey a signal from Marat, around the Assembly, to incite them to burst in at the doors and the windows, and fill the hall with confusion, while picked men were to poniard the Girondists in their seats. The conspiracy was detected and exposed but a few hours before its appointed execution. The Jacobin leaders, protected by their savage allies, were raised above the power of law, and set all punishment at defiance.
A night was again designated, in which bands of armed men were to surround the dwelling of each Girondist, and assassinate these foes of Jacobin domination in their beds. This plot also was revealed to the Girondists but a few hours before its destined catastrophe, and it was with the utmost difficulty that the doomed victims obtained extrication from the toils which had been wound around them. Disastrous news was now daily arriving from the frontiers. The most alarming tidings came of insurrections in La Vendee, and other important portions of France, in favor of the restoration of the monarchy. These gathering perils threw terror into the hearts of the Jacobins, and roused them to deeds of desperation. Though Madame Roland was now in comparative obscurity, night after night the most illustrious men of France, battling for liberty and for life in the Convention, ascended the dark staircase to her secluded room, hidden in the depth of a court of the Rue de la Harpe, and there talked over the scenes of the day, and deliberated respecting the morrow.
The Jacobins now planned one of those horrible insurrections which sent a thrill of terror into every bosom in Paris. Assembling the multitudinous throng of demoniac men and women which the troubled times had collected from every portion of Christendom, they gathered them around the hall of the Assembly to enforce their demands. It was three o'clock in the morning of the 31st of May, 1793, when the dismal sounds of the alarm bells, spreading from belfry to belfry, and the deep booming of the insurrection gun, reverberating through the streets, aroused the citizens from their slumbers, producing universal excitement and consternation. A cold and freezing wind swept clouds of mist through the gloomy air, and the moaning storm seemed the appropriate requiem of a sorrow-stricken world. The Hotel de Ville was the appointed place of rendezvous for the swarming multitudes. The affrighted citizens, knowing but too well to what scenes of violence and blood these demonstrations were the precursors, threw up their windows, and looked out with fainting hearts upon the dusky forms crowding by like apparitions of darkness. The rumbling of the wheels of heavy artillery, the flash of powder, with the frequent report of firearms, and the uproar and the clamor of countless voices, were fearful omens of a day to dawn in blacker darkness than the night. The Girondists had recently been called in the journals and inflammatory speeches of their adversaries the Rolandists. The name was given them in recognition of the prominent position of Madame Roland in the party, and with the endeavor to cast reproach upon her and her husband. Through all the portentous mutterings of this rising storm could be heard deep and significant execrations and menaces, coupled with the names of leading members of the Girondist party. "Down with the aristocrats, the traitors, the Rolandists!" shouted incessantly hoarse voices and shrill voices, of drunken men, of reckless boys, of fiendish women.
The Girondists, apprehensive of some movement of this kind, had generally taken the precaution not to sleep that night in their own dwellings. The intrepid Vergniaud alone refused to adopt any measure of safety. "What signifies life to me now?" said he; "my blood may be more eloquent than my words in awakening and saving my country. I am ready for the sacrifice." One of the Girondists, M. Rabout, a man of deep, reflective piety, hearing these noises, rose from his bed, listened a moment at his window to the tumult swelling up from every street of the vast metropolis, and calmly exclaiming, "Illa suprema dies," it is our last day, prostrated himself at the foot of his bed, and invoked aloud the Divine protection upon his companions, his country, and himself. Many of his friends were with him, friends who knew not the power of prayer. But there are hours in which every soul instinctively craves the mercy of its Creator. They all bowed reverently, and were profoundly affected by the supplications of their Christian friend. Fortified and tranquilized by the potency of prayer, and determining to die, if die they must, at the post of duty, at six o'clock they descended into the street, with pistols and daggers concealed beneath their clothes. They succeeded, unrecognized, in reaching the Convention in safety.
One or two of the Jacobin party were assembled there at that early hour, and Danton, pale with the excitement of a sleepless night, walking to and fro in nervous agitation, greeted his old friends with a wan and melancholy smile. "Do you see," said Louvet to Gaudet, "what horrible hope shines upon that hideous face?" The members rapidly collected. The hall was soon filled. The Girondists were now helpless, their sinews of power were cut, and the struggle was virtually over. All that remained for them was to meet their fate heroically and with an unvanquished spirit.
ARREST OF MADAME ROLAND.
The Convention, the mob, the Jacobins.—Robespierre, Danton, Marat.—Aspect of the mob.—The Jacobins' sword of justice.—The Convention invaded.—Triumph of the mob.—Fraternizing with the mob.—Paris illuminated.—Arrest of the Girondists.—Suspense of the Rolands.—Arrest of M. Roland.—Prompt action of Madame Roland.—Madame Roland in the petitioners' hall.—Uproar in the Assembly.—Madame Roland's letter.—The messenger—Interview with Vergniaud.—Hope vanishes.—Escape of M. Roland.—Scene at the Tuileries.—The deputies embraced by the mob.—Anecdote.—Madame Roland returns home.—A mother's tears.—Arrest of Madame Roland.—Her composure.—Insults of the mob.—Conversation with officers.—The Abbaye.—Kindness of the jailer's wife.—Madame Roland enters her cell.—Her first night there.—Embarrassment of M. Roland.—His escape from Paris.—The re-arrest and escape.—Cheerful philosophy of Madame Roland.—The cell made a study.—Delight of the jailer and his wife.—Prison regulations.—Coarse fare.—Prison employment.—Madame Roland's serenity of spirit.—Intellectual pastime.—Visit from commissioners.—Madame Roland's heroism accounted a crime.
France was now governed by the Convention. The Convention was governed by the mob of Paris. The Jacobins were the head of this mob. They roused its rage, and guided its fury, when and where they listed. The friendship of the mob was secured and retained by ever pandering to their passions. The Jacobins claimed to be exclusively the friends of the people, and advocated all those measures which tended to crush the elevated and flatter the degraded. Robespierre, Danton, Marat, were now the idols of the populace.
On the morning of the 30th of May, 1793, the streets of Paris were darkened with a dismal storm of low, scudding clouds, and chilling winds, and sleet and rain. Pools of water stood in the miry streets, and every aspect of nature was cheerless and desolate. But there was another storm raging in those streets, more terrible than any elemental warfare. In locust legions, the deformed, the haggard, the brutalized in form, in features, in mind, in heart—demoniac men, satanic women, boys burly, sensual, blood-thirsty, like imps of darkness rioted along toward the Convention, an interminable multitude whom no one could count. Their hideous howlings thrilled upon the ear, and sent panic to the heart. There was no power to resist them. There was no protection from their violence. And thousands wished that they might call up even the most despotic king who ever sat upon the throne of France, from his grave, to drive back that most terrible of all earthly despotisms, the despotism of a mob. This was the power with which the Jacobins backed their arguments. This was the gory blade which they waved before their adversaries, and called the sword of justice.
The Assembly consisted of about eight hundred members. There were twenty-two illustrious men who were considered the leaders of the Girondist party. The Jacobins had resolved that they should be accused of treason, arrested, and condemned. The Convention had refused to submit to the arbitrary and bloody demand. The mob were now assembled to coerce submission. The melancholy tocsin, and the thunders of the alarm gun, resounded through the air, as the countless throng came pouring along like ocean billows, with a resistlessness which no power could stay. They surrounded the Assembly on every side, forced their way into the hall, filled every vacant space, clambered upon the benches, crowded the speaker in his chair, brandished their daggers, and mingled their oaths and imprecations with the fierce debate. Even the Jacobins were terrified by the frightful spirits whom they had evoked. "Down with the Girondists!" "Death to the traitors!" the assassins shouted. The clamor of the mob silenced the Girondists, and they hardly made an attempt to speak in their defense. They sat upon their benches, pale with the emotions which the fearful scenes excited, yet firm and unwavering. As Couthon, a Jacobin orator, was uttering deep denunciations, he became breathless with the vehemence of his passionate speech. He turned to a waiter for a glass of water. "Take to Couthon a glass of blood," said Vergniaud; "he is thirsting for it."
The decree of accusation was proposed, and carried, without debate, beneath the poniards of uncounted thousands of assassins. The mob was triumphant. By acclamation it was then voted that all Paris should be joyfully illuminated, in celebration of the triumph of the people over those who would arrest the onward career of the Revolution; and every citizen of Paris well knew the doom which awaited him if brilliant lights were not burning at his windows. It was then voted, and with enthusiasm, that the Convention should go out and fraternize with the multitude. Who would have the temerity, in such an hour, to oppose the affectionate demonstration? The degraded Assembly obeyed the mandate of the mob, and marched into the streets, where they were hugged in the unclean arms and pressed to the foul bosoms of beggary, and infamy, and pollution. Louis was avenged. The hours of the day had now passed; night had come; but it was noonday light in the brilliantly-illuminated streets of the metropolis. The Convention, surrounded by torch-bearers, and an innumerable concourse of drunken men and women, rioting in hideous orgies, traversed, in compulsory procession, the principal streets of the city. The Girondists were led as captives to grace the triumph. "Which do you prefer," said a Jacobin to Vergniaud, "this ovation or the scaffold?" "It is all the same to me," replied Vergniaud, with stoical indifference. "There is no choice between this walk and the guillotine. It conducts us to it." The twenty-two Girondists were arrested and committed to prison.
During this dreadful day, while these scenes were passing in the Assembly, Madame Roland and her husband were in their solitary room, oppressed with the most painful suspense. The cry and the uproar of the insurgent city, the tolling of bells and thundering of cannon, were borne upon the wailings of the gloomy storm, and sent consternation even to the stoutest hearts. There was now no room for escape, for the barriers were closed and carefully watched. Madame Roland knew perfectly well that if her friends fell she must fall with them. She had shared their principles; she had guided their measures, and she wished to participate in their doom. It was this honorable feeling which led her to refuse to provide for her own safety, and which induced her to abide, in the midst of ever increasing danger, with her associates. No person obnoxious to suspicion could enter the street without fearful peril, though, through the lingering hours of the day, friends brought them tidings of the current of events. Nothing remained to be done but to await, as patiently as possible, the blow that was inevitably to fall.
The twilight was darkening into night, when six armed men ascended the stairs and burst into Roland's apartment. The philosopher looked calmly upon them as, in the name of the Convention, they informed him of his arrest. "I do not recognize the authority of your warrant," said M. Roland, "and shall not voluntarily follow you. I can only oppose the resistance of my gray hairs, but I will protest against it with my last breath."
The leader of the party replied, "I have no orders to use violence. I will go and report your answer to the council, leaving, in the mean time, a guard to secure your person."
This was an hour to rouse all the energy and heroic resolution of Madame Roland. She immediately sat down, and, with that rapidity of action which her highly-disciplined mind had attained, wrote, in a few moments, a letter to the Convention. Leaving a friend who was in the house with her husband, she ordered a hackney coach, and drove as fast as possible to the Tuileries, where the Assembly was in session. The garden of the Tuileries was filled with the tumultuary concourse. She forced her way through the crowd till she arrived at the doors of the outer halls. Sentinels were stationed at all the passages, who would not allow her to enter.
"Citizens," said she, at last adroitly adopting the vernacular of the Jacobins, "in this day of salvation for our country, in the midst of those traitors who threaten us, you know not the importance of some notes which I have to transmit to the president."
These words were a talisman. The doors were thrown open, and she entered the petitioners' hall. "I wish to see one of the messengers of the House," she said to one of the inner sentinels.
"Wait till one comes out," was the gruff reply.
She waited for a quarter of an hour in burning impatience. Her ear was almost stunned with the deafening clamor of debate, of applause, of execrations, which now in dying murmurs, and again in thundering reverberations, awakening responsive echoes along the thronged streets, swelled upon the night air. Of all human sounds, the uproar of a countless multitude of maddened human voices is the most awful.
At last she caught a glimpse of the messenger who had summoned her to appear before the bar of the Assembly in reply to the accusations of Viard, informed him of their peril, and implored him to hand her letter to the president. The messenger, M. Roze, took the paper, and, elbowing his way through the throng, disappeared. An hour elapsed, which seemed an age. The tumult within continued unabated. At length M. Roze reappeared.
"Well!" said Madame Roland, eagerly, "what has been done with my letter?"
"I have given it to the president," was the reply, "but nothing has been done with it as yet. Indescribable confusion prevails. The mob demand the accusation of the Girondists. I have just assisted one to escape by a private way. Others are endeavoring, concealed by the tumult, to effect their escape. There is no knowing what is to happen."
"Alas!" Madame Roland replied, "my letter will not be read. Do send some deputy to me, with whom I can speak a few words."
"Whom shall I send?"
"Indeed I have but little acquaintance with any, and but little esteem for any, except those who are proscribed. Tell Vergniaud that I am inquiring for him."
Vergniaud, notwithstanding the terrific agitations of the hour, immediately attended the summons of Madame Roland. She implored him to try to get her admission to the bar, that she might speak in defense of her husband and her friends.
"In the present state of the Assembly," said Vergniaud, "it would be impossible, and if possible, of no avail. The Convention has lost all power. It has become but the weapon of the rabble. Your words can do no good."
"They may do much good," replied Madame Roland. "I can venture to say that which you could not say without exposing yourself to accusation. I fear nothing. If I can not save Roland, I will utter with energy truths which may be useful to the Republic. An example of courage may shame the nation."
"Think how unavailing the attempt," replied Vergniaud. "Your letter can not possibly be read for two or three hours. A crowd of petitioners throng the bar. Noise, and confusion, and violence fill the House."
Madame Roland paused for a moment, and replied, "I must then hasten home, and ascertain what has become of my husband. I will immediately return. Tell our friends so."
Vergniaud sadly pressed her hand, as if for a last farewell, and returned, invigorated by her courage, to encounter the storm which was hailed upon him in the Assembly. She hastened to her dwelling, and found that her husband had succeeded in eluding the surveillance of his guards, and, escaping by a back passage, had taken refuge in the house of a friend. After a short search she found him in his asylum, and, too deeply moved to weep, threw herself into his arms, informed him of what she had done, rejoiced at his safety, and heroically returned to the Convention, resolved, if possible, to obtain admission there. It was now near midnight. The streets were brilliant with illuminations; but Madame Roland knew not of which party these illuminations celebrated the triumph.
On her arrival at the court of the Tuileries, which had so recently been thronged by a mob of forty thousand men, she found it silent and deserted. The sitting was ended. The members, accompanied by the populace with whom they had fraternized, were traversing the streets. A few sentinels stood shivering in the cold and drizzling rain around the doors of the national palace. A group of rough-looking men were gathered before a cannon. Madame Roland approached them.
"Citizens," inquired she, "has every thing gone well to-night?"
"Oh! wonderfully well," was the reply. "The deputies and the people embraced, and sung the Marseilles Hymn, there, under the tree of liberty."
"And what has become of the twenty-two Girondists?"
"They are all to be arrested."
Madame Roland was almost stunned by the blow. Hastily crossing the court, she arrived at her hackney-coach. A very pretty dog, which had lost its master, followed her. "Is the poor little creature yours?" inquired the coachman. The tones of kindness with which he spoke called up the first tears which had moistened the eyes of Madame Roland that eventful night.
"I should like him for my little boy," said the coachman.
Madame Roland, gratified to have, at such an hour, for a driver, a father and a man of feeling, said, "Put him into the coach, and I will take care of him for you. Drive immediately to the galleries of the Louvre." Madame Roland caressed the affectionate animal, and, weary of the passions of man, longed for retirement from the world, and to seclude herself with those animals who would repay kindness with gratitude. She sank back in her seat, exclaiming, "O that we could escape from France, and find a home in the law-governed republic of America."
Alighting at the Louvre, she called upon a friend, with whom she wished to consult upon the means of effecting M. Roland's escape from the city. He had just gone to bed, but arose, conversed about various plans, and made an appointment to meet her at seven o'clock the next morning. Entirely unmindful of herself, she thought only of the rescue of her friends. Exhausted with excitement and toil, she returned to her desolated home, bent over the sleeping form of her child, and gave vent to a mother's gushing love in a flood of tears. Recovering her fortitude, she sat down and wrote to M. Roland a minute account of all her proceedings. It would have periled his safety had she attempted to share his asylum. The gray of a dull and somber morning was just beginning to appear as Madame Roland threw herself upon a bed for a few moments of repose. Overwhelmed by sorrow and fatigue, she had just fallen asleep, when a band of armed men rudely broke into her house, and demanded to be conducted to her apartment. She knew too well the object of the summons. The order for her arrest was presented her. She calmly read it, and requested permission to write to a friend. The request was granted. When the note was finished, the officer informed her that it would be necessary for him to be made acquainted with its contents. She quietly tore it into fragments, and cast it into the fire. Then, imprinting her last kiss upon the cheek of her unconscious child, with the composure which such a catastrophe would naturally produce in so heroic a mind, she left her home for the prison. Blood had been flowing too freely in Paris, the guillotine had been too active in its operations, for Madame Roland to entertain any doubts whither the path she now trod was tending.
It was early in the morning of a bleak and dismal day as Madame Roland accompanied the officers through the hall of her dwelling, where she had been the object of such enthusiastic admiration and affection. The servants gathered around her, and filled the house with their lamentations. Even the hardened soldiers were moved by the scene, and one of them exclaimed, "How much you are beloved!" Madame Roland, who alone was tranquil in this hour of trial, calmly replied, "Because I love." As she was led from the house by the gens d'armes, a vast crowd collected around the door, who, believing her to be a traitor to her country, and in league with their enemies, shouted, "A la guillotine!" Unmoved by their cries, she looked calmly and compassionately upon the populace, without gesture or reply. One of the officers, to relieve her from the insults to which she was exposed, asked her if she wished to have the windows of the carriage closed.
"No!" she replied; "oppressed innocence should not assume the attitude of crime and shame. I do not fear the looks of honest men, and I brave those of my enemies."
"You have very great resolution," was the reply, "thus calmly to await justice."
"Justice!" she exclaimed; "were justice done I should not be here. But I shall go to the scaffold as fearlessly as I now proceed to the prison."
"Roland's flight," said one of the officers, brutally, "is a proof of his guilt."
She indignantly replied, "It is so atrocious to persecute a man who has rendered such services to the cause of liberty. His conduct has been so open and his accounts so clear, that he is perfectly justifiable in avoiding the last outrages of envy and malice. Just as Aristides and inflexible as Cato, he is indebted to his virtues for his enemies. Let them satiate their fury upon me. I defy their power, and devote myself to death. He ought to save himself for the sake of his country, to which he may yet do good."
When they arrived at the prison of the Abbaye, Madame Roland was first conducted into a large, dark, gloomy room, which was occupied by a number of men, who, in attitudes of the deepest melancholy, were either pacing the floor or reclining upon some miserable pallets. From this room she ascended a narrow and dirty staircase to the jailer's apartment. The jailer's wife was a kind woman, and immediately felt the power of the attractions of her fascinating prisoner. As no cell was yet provided for her, she permitted her to remain in her room for the rest of the day. The commissioners who had brought her to the prison gave orders that she should receive no indulgence, but be treated with the utmost rigor. The instructions, however, being merely verbal, were but little regarded. She was furnished with comfortable refreshment instead of the repulsive prison fare, and, after breakfast, was permitted to write a letter to the National Assembly upon her illegal arrest. Thus passed the day.
At ten o'clock in the evening, her cell being prepared, she entered it for the first time. It was a cold, bare room, with walls blackened by the dust and damp of ages. There was a small fire-place in the room, and a narrow window, with a double iron grating, which admitted but a dim twilight even at noon day. In one corner there was a pallet of straw. The chill night air crept in at the unglazed window, and the dismal tolling of the tocsin proclaimed that the metropolis was still the scene of tumult and of violence. Madame Roland threw herself upon her humble bed, and was so overpowered by fatigue and exhaustion that she woke not from her dreamless slumber until twelve o'clock of the next day.
Eudora, who had been left by her mother in the care of weeping domestics, was taken by a friend, and watched over and protected with maternal care. Though Madame Roland never saw her idolized child again, her heart was comforted in the prison by the assurance that she had found a home with those who, for her mother's sake, would love and cherish her.
The tidings of the arrest and imprisonment of Madame Roland soon reached the ears of her unfortunate husband in his retreat. His embarrassment was most agonizing. To remain and participate in her doom, whatever that doom might be, would only diminish her chances of escape and magnify her peril; and yet it seemed not magnanimous to abandon his noble wife to encounter her merciless foes alone. The triumphant Jacobins were now, with the eagerness of blood-hounds, searching every nook and corner in Paris, to drag the fallen minister from his concealment. It soon became evident that no dark hiding-place in the metropolis could long conceal him from the vigilant search which was commenced, and that he must seek safety in precipitate flight. His friends obtained for him the tattered garb of a peasant. In a dark night, alone and trembling, he stole from his retreat, and commenced a journey on foot, by a circuitous and unfrequented route, to gain the frontiers of Switzerland. He hoped to find a temporary refuge by burying himself among the lonely passes of the Alps. A man can face his foes with a spirit undaunted and unyielding, but he can not fly from them without trembling as he looks behind. For two or three days, with blistered feet, and a heart agitated even beyond all his powers of stoical endurance, he toiled painfully along his dreary journey. As he was entering Moulines, his marked features were recognized. He was arrested, taken back to Paris, and cast into prison, where he languished for some time. He subsequently again made his escape, and was concealed by some friends in the vicinity of Rouen, where he remained in a state of indescribable suspense and anguish until the death of his wife.
When Madame Roland awoke from her long sleep, instead of yielding to despair and surrendering herself to useless repinings, she immediately began to arrange her cell as comfortably as possible, and to look around for such sources of comfort and enjoyment as might yet be obtained. The course she pursued most beautifully illustrates the power of a contented and cheerful spirit not only to alleviate the pangs of severest affliction, but to gild with comfort even the darkest of earthly sorrows. With those smiles of unaffected affability which won to her all hearts, she obtained the favor of a small table, and then of a neat white spread to cover it. This she placed near the window to serve for her writing-desk. To keep this table, which she prized so highly, unsoiled, she smilingly told her keeper that she should make a dining-table of her stove. A rusty dining-table indeed it was. Two hair-pins, which she drew from her own clustering ringlets, she drove into a shelf for pegs to hang her clothes upon. These arrangements she made as cheerfully as when superintending the disposition of the gorgeous furniture in the palace over which she had presided with so much elegance and grace. Having thus provided her study, her next care was to obtain a few books. She happened to have Thomson's Seasons, a favorite volume of hers, in her pocket. Through the jailer's wife she succeeded in obtaining Plutarch's Lives and Sheridan's Dictionary.
The jailer and his wife were both charmed with their prisoner, and invited her to dine with them that day. In the solitude of her cell she could distinctly hear the rolling of drums, the tolling of bells, and all those sounds of tumult which announced that the storm of popular insurrection was still sweeping through the streets. One of her faithful servants called to see her, and, on beholding her mistress in such a situation, the poor girl burst into tears. Madame Roland was, for a moment, overcome by this sensibility; she, however, soon again regained her self-command. She endeavored to banish from her mind all painful thoughts of her husband and her child, and to accommodate herself as heroically as possible to her situation. The prison regulations were very severe. The government allowed twenty pence per day for the support of each prisoner. Ten pence was to be paid to the jailer for the furniture he put into the cell; ten pence only remained for food. The prisoners were, however, allowed to purchase such food as they pleased from their own purse. Madame Roland, with that stoicism which enabled her to triumph over all ordinary ills, resolved to conform to the prison allowance. She took bread and water alone for breakfast. The dinner was coarse meat and vegetables. The money she saved by this great frugality she distributed among the poorer prisoners. The only indulgence she allowed herself was in the purchase of books and flowers. In reading and with her pen she beguiled the weary days of her imprisonment. And though at times her spirit was overwhelmed with anguish in view of her desolate home and blighted hopes, she still found great solace in the warm affections which sprang up around her, even in the uncongenial atmosphere of a prison.
Though she had been compelled to abandon all the enthusiastic dreams of her youth, she still retained confidence in her faith that these dark storms would ere long disappear from the political horizon, and that a brighter day would soon dawn upon the nations. No misfortunes could disturb the serenity of her soul, and no accumulating perils could daunt her courage. She immediately made a methodical arrangement of her time, so as to appropriate stated employment to every hour. She cheered herself with the reflection that her husband was safe in his retreat, with kind friends ready to minister to all his wants. She felt assured that her daughter was received with maternal love by one who would ever watch over her with the tenderest care. The agitation of the terrible conflict was over. She submitted with calmness and quietude to her lot. After having been so long tossed by storms, she seemed to find a peaceful harbor in her prison cell, and her spirit wandered back to those days, so serene and happy, which she spent with her books in the little chamber beneath her father's roof. She however, made every effort in her power to regain her freedom. She wrote to the Assembly, protesting against her illegal arrest. She found all these efforts unavailing. Still, she gave way to no despondency, and uttered no murmurs. Most of her time she employed in writing historic notices of the scenes through which she had passed. These papers she intrusted, for preservation, to a friend, who occasionally gained access to her. These articles, written with great eloquence and feeling, were subsequently published with her memoirs. Having such resources in her own highly-cultivated mind, even the hours of imprisonment glided rapidly and happily along. Time had no tardy flight, and there probably might have been found many a lady in Europe lolling in a sumptuous carriage, or reclining upon a silken couch, who had far fewer hours of enjoyment.
One day some commissioners called at her cell, hoping to extort from her the secret of her husband's retreat. She looked them calmly in the face, and said, "Gentlemen, I know perfectly well where my husband is. I scorn to tell you a lie. I know also my own strength. And I assure you that there is no earthly power which can induce me to betray him." The commissioners withdrew, admiring her heroism, and convinced that she was still able to wield an influence which might yet bring the guillotine upon their own necks. Her doom was sealed. Her heroism was her crime. She was too illustrious to live.
FATE OF THE GIRONDISTS.
Fate of the Girondists.—Their heroic courage.—The Girondists in the Conciergerie.—Their miserable condition.—Youthful hopes cut short.—State of Paris.—Books and friends.—Anecdote of Vergniaud.—Sentiments of the Girondists inscribed on the prison walls.—La Source and Sillery.—Their evening dirge.—The day of trial.—The misnamed Halls of Justice.—Precautions of the Jacobins.—Demeanor of the prisoners.—The trial and condemnation.—Death of Valaze.—Various emotions.—Return to the Conciergerie.—The Girondists exultingly sing the Marseillaise Hymn.—The Girondists prepare for the last scene.—Brutal decree.—Last feast of the Girondists.—Strange scene.—The Abbe Lambert.—His memoranda.—Vergniaud presides at the feast.—Unnatural gayety.—Last thoughts.—Religion, philosophy, and infidelity.—Eloquence of Vergniaud.—Argument for immortality.—Last preparations.—Arrival of the executioners.—Souvenirs to friends.—The carts of the condemned.—Enthusiasm of the Girondists.—The last embrace.—The execution.—Fortitude of Vergniaud.—Burial of the bodies.—Errors of the Girondists.—Escape of Gaudet and others.—The Jacobins clamor for more blood.—More Girondists executed.—Fate of Petion and Buzot.—Mystery attending the death of Petion and Buzot.
As the fate of the Girondist party, of which Madame Roland was the soul, is so intimately connected with her history, we must leave her in the prison, while we turn aside to contemplate the doom of her companions. The portentous thunders of the approaching storm had given such warning to the Girondists, that many had effected their escape from Paris, and in various disguises, in friendlessness and poverty, were wandering over Europe. Others, however, were too proud to fly. Conscious of the most elevated patriotic sentiments, and with no criminations of conscience, except for sacrificing too much in love for their country, they resolved to remain firm at their post, and to face their foes. Calmly and sternly they awaited the onset. This heroic courage did but arouse and invigorate their foes. Mercy had long since died in France.
Immediately after the tumult of that dreadful night in which the Convention was inundated with assassins clamoring for blood, twenty-one of the Girondists were arrested and thrown into the dungeons of the Conciergerie. Imprisoned together, and fully conscious that their trial would be but a mockery, and that their doom was already sealed, they fortified one another with all the consolations which philosophy and the pride of magnanimity could administer. In those gloomy cells, beneath the level of the street, into whose deep and grated windows the rays of the noonday sun could but feebly penetrate, their faces soon grew wan, and wasted, and haggard, from confinement, the foul prison air, and woe.
There is no sight more deplorable than that of an accomplished man of intellectual tastes, accustomed to all the refinements of polished life, plunged into those depths of misery from which the decencies even of our social being are excluded. These illustrious statesmen and eloquent orators, whose words had vibrated upon the ear of Europe, were transformed into the most revolting aspect of beggared and haggard misery. Their clothes, ruined by the humid filth of their dungeons, moldered to decay. Unwashed, unshorn, in the loss almost of the aspect of humanity, they became repulsive to each other. Unsupported by any of those consolations which religion affords, many hours of the blackest gloom must have enveloped them.
Not a few of the deputies were young men, in the morning of their energetic being, their bosoms glowing with all the passions of this tumultuous world, buoyant with hope, stimulated by love, invigorated by perfect health. And they found themselves thus suddenly plunged from the heights of honor and power to the dismal darkness of the dungeon, from whence they could emerge only to be led to the scaffold. All the bright hopes of life had gone down amid the gloom of midnight darkness. Several months lingered slowly away while these men were awaiting their trial. Day after day they heard the tolling of the tocsin, the reverberations of the alarm gun, and the beating of the insurrection drum, as the demon of lawless violence rioted through the streets of the blood-stained metropolis. The execrations of the mob, loud and fiend-like, accompanied the cart of the condemned, as it rumbled upon the pavements above their heads, bearing the victims of popular fury to the guillotine; and still, most stoically, they struggled to nerve their souls with fortitude to meet their fate.
From these massive stone walls, guarded by triple doors of iron and watched by numerous sentinels, answerable for the safe custody of their prisoners with their lives, there was no possibility of escape. The rigor of their imprisonment was, consequently, somewhat softened as weeks passed on, and they were occasionally permitted to see their friends through the iron wicket. Books, also, aided to relieve the tedium of confinement. The brother-in-law of Vergniaud came to visit him, and brought with him his son, a child ten years of age. The features of the fair boy reminded Vergniaud of his beloved sister, and awoke mournfully in his heart the remembrance of departed joys. When the child saw his uncle imprisoned like a malefactor, his cheeks haggard and sunken, his matted hair straggling over his forehead, his long beard disfiguring his face, and his clothes hanging in tatters, he clung to his father, affrighted by the sad sight, and burst into tears.
"My child," said Vergniaud, kindly, taking him in his arms, "look well at me. When you are a man, you can say that you saw Vergniaud, the founder of the Republic, at the most glorious period, and in the most splendid costume he ever wore—that in which he suffered unmerited persecution, and in which he prepared to die for liberty." These words produced a deep impression upon the mind of the child. He remembered them to repeat them after the lapse of half a century.
The cells in which they were imprisoned still remain as they were left on the morning in which these illustrious men were led to their execution. On the dingy walls of stone are still recorded those sentiments which they had inscribed there, and which indicate the nature of those emotions which animated and sustained them. These proverbial maxims and heroic expressions, gleaned from French tragedies or the classic page, were written with the blood which they had drawn from their own veins. In one place is carefully written,
"Quand il n'a pu sauver la liberte de Rome, Caton est libre encore et suit mourir en homme."
"When he no longer had power to preserve the liberty of Rome Cato still was free, and knew how to die for man."
"Cui virtus non deest Ille nunquam omnino miser."
"He who retains his integrity Can never be wholly miserable."
In another place,
"La vraie liberte est celle de l'ame."
"True liberty is that of the soul."
On a beam was written,
"Dignum certe Deo spectaculum fortem virum cum calamitate colluctantem."
"Even God may look with pleasure upon a brave man struggling against adversity."
"Quels solides appui dans le malheur supreme! J'ai pour moi ma vertu, l'equite, Dieu meme."
"How substantial the consolation in the greatest calamity I have for mine, my virtue, justice, God himself."
Beneath this was written,
"Le jour n'est pas plus pur que le fond de mon coeur."
"The day is not more pure than the depths of my heart."
In large letters of blood there was inscribed, in the hand-writing of Vergniaud,
"Potius mori quam foedari."
"Death is preferable to dishonor."
But one sentence is recorded there which could be considered strictly of a religious character. It was taken from the "Imitation of Christ."
"Remember that you are not called to a life of indulgence and pleasure, but to toil and to suffer."
La Source and Sillery, two very devoted friends, occupied a cell together. La Source was a devoted Christian, and found, in the consolations of piety, an unfailing support. Sillery possessed a feeling heart, and was soothed and comforted by the devotion of his friend. La Source composed a beautiful hymn, adapted to a sweet and solemn air, which they called their evening service. Night after night this mournful dirge was heard gently issuing from the darkness of their cell, in tones so melodious and plaintive that they never died away from the memory of those who heard them. It is difficult to conceive of any thing more affecting than this knell, so softly uttered at midnight in those dark and dismal dungeons.
"Calm all the tumults that invade Our souls, and lend thy powerful aid. Oh! source of mercy! soothe our pains, And break, O break our cruel chains! To Thee the captive pours his cry, To Thee the mourner loves to fly. The incense of our tears receive— 'Tis all the incense we can give.
"Eternal Power! our cause defend, O God! of innocence the friend. Near Thee forever she resides, In Thee forever she confides. Thou know'st the secrets of the breast: Thou know'st the oppressor and the oppress'd. Do thou our wrongs with pity see, Avert a doom offending thee.
"But should the murderer's arm prevail; Should tyranny our lives assail; Unmoved, triumphant, scorning death, We'll bless Thee with our latest breath. The hour, the glorious hour will come, That consecrates the patriots' tomb; And with the pang our memory claims, Our country will avenge our names."
Summer had come and gone while these distinguished prisoners were awaiting their doom. World-weary and sick at heart, they still struggled to sustain each other, and to meet their dreadful fate with heroic constancy. The day for their trial at length arrived. It was the 20th of October, 1793. They had long been held up before the mob, by placards and impassioned harangues, as traitors to their country, and the populace of Paris were clamorous for their consignment to the guillotine. They were led from the dungeons of the Conciergerie to the misnamed Halls of Justice. A vast concourse of angry men surrounded the tribunal, and filled the air with execrations. Paris that day presented the aspect of a camp. The Jacobins, conscious that there were still thousands of the most influential of the citizens who regarded the Girondists with veneration as incorruptible patriots, determined to prevent the possibility of a rescue. They had some cause to apprehend a counter revolution. They therefore gathered around the scene of trial all that imposing military array which they had at their disposal. Cavalry, with plumes, and helmets, and naked sabers, were sweeping the streets, that no accumulations of the multitude might gather force. The pavements trembled beneath the rumbling wheels of heavy artillery, ready to belch forth their storm of grape-shot upon any opposing foe. Long lines of infantry, with loaded muskets and glittering bayonets, guarded all the avenues to the tribunal, where rancorous passion sat enthroned in mockery upon the seat of justice.
The prisoners had nerved themselves sternly to meet this crisis of their doom. Two by two, in solemn procession, they marched to the bar of judgment, and took their seat upon benches surrounded by gens d'armes and a frowning populace, and arraigned before judges already determined upon their doom. The eyes of the world were, however, upon them. The accused were illustrious in integrity, in rank, in talent. In the distant provinces there were thousands who were their friends. It was necessary to go through the formality of a trial. A few of the accused still clung to the hope of life. They vainly dreamed it possible that, by silence, and the abandonment of themselves to the resistless power by which they were crushed, some mercy might be elicited. It was a weakness unworthy of these great men. But there are few minds which can remain firm while immured for months in the wasting misery of a dungeon. In those glooms the sinews of mental energy wither with dying hope. The trial continued for a week. On the 30th of October, at eleven o'clock at night, the verdict was brought in. They were all declared guilty of having conspired against the Republic, and were condemned to death. With the light of the next morning's sun they were to be led to the guillotine.
As the sentence was pronounced, one of the accused, M. Valaze, made a motion with his hand, as if to tear his garment, and fell from his seat upon the floor. "What, Valaze," said Brissot, striving to support him, "are you losing your courage?" "No," replied Valaze, faintly, "I am dying;" and he expired, with his hand still grasping the hilt of the dagger with which he had pierced his heart. For a moment it was a scene of unutterable horror. The condemned gathered sadly around the remains of their lifeless companion. Some, who had confidently expected acquittal, overcome by the near approach of death, yielded to momentary weakness, and gave utterance to reproaches and lamentations. Others, pale and stupefied, gazed around in moody silence. One, in the delirium of enthusiasm, throwing his arms above his head, shouted, "This is the most glorious day of my life!" Vergniaud, seated upon the highest bench, with the composure of philosophy and piety combined, looked upon the scene, exulting in the victory his own spirit had achieved over peril and death.
The weakness which a few displayed was but momentary. They rallied their energies boldly to meet their inevitable doom. They gathered for a moment around the corpse of their lifeless companion, and were then formed in procession, to march back to their cells. It was midnight as the condemned Girondists were led from the bar of the Palace of Justice back to the dungeons of the Conciergerie, there to wait till the swift-winged hours should bring the dawn which was to guide their steps to the guillotine. Their presence of mind had now returned, and their bosoms glowed with the loftiest enthusiasm. In fulfillment of a promise they had made their fellow-prisoners, to inform them of their fate by the echoes of their voices, they burst into the Marseillaise Hymn. The vaults of the Conciergerie rang with the song as they shouted, in tones of exultant energy,
"Allons, enfans de la patrie, Le jour de glorie est arrive, Contre nous de la tyrannie L'etendard sanglant est leve.
"Come! children of your country, come! The day of glory dawns on high, And tyranny has wide unfurl'd Her blood-stain'd banner in the sky."
It was their death-knell. As they were slowly led along through the gloomy corridors of their prison to the cells, these dirge-like wailings of a triumphant song penetrated the remotest dungeons of that dismal abode, and roused every wretched head from its pallet. The arms of the guard clattered along the stone floor of the subterranean caverns, and the unhappy victims of the Revolution, roused from the temporary oblivion of sleep, or from dreams of the homes of refinement and luxury from which they had been torn, glared through the iron gratings upon the melancholy procession, and uttered last words of adieu to those whose fate they almost envied. The acquittal of the Girondists would have given them some little hope that they also might find mercy. Now they sunk back upon their pillows in despair, and lamentations and wailings filled the prison.
The condemned, now that their fate was sealed, had laid aside all weakness, and, mutually encouraging one another, prepared as martyrs to encounter the last stern trial. They were all placed in one large room opening into several cells, and the lifeless body of their companion was deposited in one of the corners. By a decree of the tribunal, the still warm and bleeding remains of Valaze were to be carried back to the cell, and to be conveyed the next morning, in the same cart with the prisoners, to the guillotine. The ax was to sever the head from the lifeless body, and all the headless trunks were to be interred together.
A wealthy friend, who had escaped proscription, and was concealed in Paris, had agreed to send them a sumptuous banquet the night after their trial, which banquet was to prove to them a funeral repast or a triumphant feast, according to the verdict of acquittal or condemnation. Their friend kept his word. Soon after the prisoners were remanded to their cell, a table was spread, and preparations were made for their last supper. There was a large oaken table in the prison, where those awaiting their trial, and those awaiting their execution, met for their coarse prison fare. A rich cloth was spread upon that table. Servants entered, bearing brilliant lamps, which illuminated the dismal vault with an unnatural luster, and spread the glare of noonday light upon the miserable pallets of straw, the rusty iron gratings and chains, and the stone walls weeping with moisture, which no ray of the sun or warmth of fire ever dried away. It was a strange scene, that brilliant festival, in the midst of the glooms of the most dismal dungeon, with one dead body lying upon the floor, and those for whom the feast was prepared waiting only for the early dawn to light them to their death and burial. The richest viands of meats and wines were brought in and placed before the condemned. Vases of flowers diffused their fragrance and expanded their beauty where flowers were never seen to bloom before. Wan and haggard faces, unwashed and unshorn, gazed upon the unwonted spectacle, as dazzling flambeaux, and rich table furniture, and bouquets, and costly dishes appeared, one after another, until the board was covered with luxury and splendor.
In silence the condemned took their places at the table. They were men of brilliant intellects, of enthusiastic eloquence, thrown suddenly from the heights of power to the foot of the scaffold. A priest, the Abbe Lambert, the intimate personal friend of several of the most eminent of the Girondists, had obtained admittance into the prison to accompany his friends to the guillotine, and to administer to them the last consolations of religion. He stood in the corridor, looking through the open door upon those assembled around the table, and, with his pencil in his hand, noted down their words, their gestures, their sighs—their weakness and their strength. It is to him that we are indebted for all knowledge of the sublime scenes enacted at the last supper of the Girondists. The repast was prolonged until the dawn of morning began to steal faintly in at the grated windows of the prison and the gathering tumult without announced the preparations to conduct them to their execution.
Vergniaud, the most prominent and the most eloquent of their number, presided at the feast. He had little, save the love of glory, to bind him to life, for he had neither father nor mother, wife nor child; and he doubted not that posterity would do him justice, and that his death would be the most glorious act of his life. No one could imagine, from the calm and subdued conversation, and the quiet appetite with which these distinguished men partook of the entertainment, that this was their last repast, and but the prelude to a violent death. But when the cloth was removed, and the fruits, the wines, and the flowers alone remained, the conversation became animated, gay, and at times rose to hilarity. Several of the youngest men of the party, in sallies of wit and outbursts of laughter, endeavored to repel the gloom which darkened their spirits in view of death on the morrow. It was unnatural gayety, unreal, unworthy of the men. Death is not a jest, and no one can honor himself by trying to make it so. A spirit truly noble can encounter this king of terrors with fortitude, but never with levity. Still, now and then, shouts of laughter and songs of merriment burst from the lips of these young men, as they endeavored, with a kind of hysterical energy, to nerve themselves to show to their enemies their contempt of life and of death. Others were more thoughtful, serene, and truly brave.
"What shall we be doing to-morrow at this time?" said Ducos.
All paused. Religion had its hopes, philosophy its dreams, infidelity its dreary blank. Each answered according to his faith. "We shall sleep after the fatigues of the day," said some, "to wake no more." Atheism had darkened their minds. "Death is an eternal sleep," had become their gloomy creed. They looked forward to the slide of the guillotine as ending all thought, and consigning them back to that non-existence from which they had emerged at their creation. "No!" replied Fauchet, Carru, and others, "annihilation is not our destiny. We are immortal. These bodies may perish. These living thoughts, these boundless aspirations, can never die. To-morrow, far away in other worlds, we shall think, and feel, and act and solve the problems of the immaterial destiny of the human mind." Immortality was the theme. The song was hushed upon these dying lips. The forced laughter fainted away. Standing upon the brink of that dread abyss from whence no one has returned with tidings, every soul felt a longing for immortality. They turned to Vergniaud, whose brilliant intellect, whose soul-moving eloquence, whose spotless life commanded their reverence, and appealed to him for light, and truth, and consolation. His words are lost. The effect of his discourse alone is described. "Never," said the abbe "had his look, his gesture, his language, and his voice more profoundly affected his hearers." In the conclusion of a discourse which is described as one of almost superhuman eloquence, during which some were aroused to the most exalted enthusiasm, all were deeply moved, and many wept, Vergniaud exclaimed,
"Death is but the greatest act of life, since it gives birth to a higher state of existence. Were it not thus there would be something greater than God. It would be the just man immolating himself uselessly and hopelessly for his country. This supposition is a folly of blasphemy, and I repel it with contempt and horror. No! Vergniaud is not greater than God, but God is more just than Vergniaud; and He will not to-morrow suffer him to ascend a scaffold but to justify and avenge him in future ages."
And now the light of day began to stream in at the windows. "Let us go to bed," said one, "and sleep until we are called to go forth to our last sleep. Life is a thing so trifling that it is not worth the hour of sleep we lose in regretting it."
"Let us rather watch," said another, "during the few moments which remain to us. Eternity is so certain and so terrible that a thousand lives would not suffice to prepare for it."
They rose from the table, and most of them retired to their cells and threw themselves upon their beds for a few moments of bodily repose and meditation. Thirteen, however, remained in the larger apartment, finding a certain kind of support in society. In a low tone of voice they conversed with each other. They were worn out with excitement, fatigue, and want of sleep. Some wept. Sleep kindly came to some, and lulled their spirits into momentary oblivion.
At ten o'clock the iron doors grated on their hinges, and the tramp of the gens d'armes, with the clattering of their sabers, was heard reverberating through the gloomy corridors and vaults of their dungeon, as they came, with the executioners, to lead the condemned to the scaffold. Their long hair was cut from their necks, that the ax, with unobstructed edge, might do its work. Each one left some simple and affecting souvenir to friends. Gensonne picked up a lock of his black hair, and gave it to the Abbe Lambert to give to his wife. "Tell her," said he, "that it is the only memorial of my love which I can transmit to her, and that my last thoughts in death were hers." Vergniaud drew from his pocket his watch, and, with his knife, scratched upon the case a few lines of tender remembrance, and sent the token to a young lady to whom he was devotedly attached, and to whom he was ere long to have been married. Each gave to the abbe some legacy of affection to be conveyed to loved ones who were to be left behind. Few emotions are stronger in the hour of death than the desire to be embalmed in the affections of those who are dear to us.
All being ready, the gens d'armes marched the condemned, in a column, into the prison-yard, where five rude carts were awaiting them, to convey them to the scaffold. The countless thousands of Paris were swarming around the prison, filling the court, and rolling, like ocean tides, into every adjacent avenue. Each cart contained five persons, with the exception of the last, into which the dead body of Valaze had been cast with four of his living companions.
And now came to the Girondists their hour of triumph. Heroism rose exultant over all ills. The brilliant sun and the elastic air of an October morning invigorated their bodies, and the scene of sublimity through which they were passing stimulated their spirits to the highest pitch of enthusiasm. As the carts moved from the court-yard, with one simultaneous voice, clear and sonorous, the Girondists burst into the Marseillaise Hymn. The crowd gazed in silence as this funereal chant, not like the wailings of a dirge, but like the strains of an exultant song, swelled and died away upon the air. Here and there some friendly voice among the populace ventured to swell the volume of sound as the significant words were uttered,
"Contre nous de la tyrannie L'etendard sanglant est leve."
"And tyranny has wide unfurl'd Her blood-stain'd banner in the sky."
At the end of each verse their voices sank for a moment into silence. The strain was then again renewed, loud and sonorous. On arriving at the scaffold, they all embraced in one long, last adieu. It was a token of their communion in death as in life. They then, in concert, loudly and firmly resumed their funereal chant. One ascended the scaffold, continuing the song with his companions. He was bound to the plank. Still his voice was heard full and strong. The plank slowly fell. Still his voice, without a tremor, joined in the triumphant chorus. The glittering ax glided like lightning down the groove. His head fell into the basket, and one voice was hushed forever. Another ascended, and another, and another, each with the song bursting loudly from his lips, till death ended the strain. There was no weakness. No step trembled, no cheek paled, no voice faltered. But each succeeding moment the song grew more faint as head after head fell, and the bleeding bodies were piled side by side. At last one voice alone continued the song. It was that of Vergniaud, the most illustrious of them all. Long confinement had spread deathly pallor over his intellectual features, but firm and dauntless, and with a voice of surpassing richness, he continued the solo into which the chorus had now died away. Without the tremor of a nerve, he mounted the scaffold. For a moment he stood in silence, as he looked down upon the lifeless bodies of his friends, and around upon the overawed multitude gazing in silent admiration upon this heroic enthusiasm. As he then surrendered himself to the executioner, he commenced anew the strain,
"Allons! enfans de la patrie, Le jour de glorie est arrive."
"Come! children of your country, come! The day of glory dawns on high."
In the midst of the exultant tones, the ax glided on its bloody mission, and those lips, which had guided the storm of revolution, and whose patriotic appeals had thrilled upon the ear of France, were silent in death. Thus perished the Girondists, the founders of the Republic and its victims. Their votes consigned Louis and Maria to the guillotine, and they were the first to follow them. One cart conveyed the twenty-one bodies away, and they were thrown into one pit, by the side of the grave of Louis XVI.
They committed many errors. Few minds could discern distinctly the path of truth and duty through the clouds and vapors of those stormy times. But they were most sincerely devoted to the liberties of France. They overthrew the monarchy, and established the Republic. They died because they refused to open those sluice-ways of blood which the people demanded. A few of the Girondists had made their escape. Petion, Buzot, Barbaroux, and Gaudet wandered in disguise, and hid themselves in the caves of wild and unfrequented mountains. La Fayette, who was one of the most noble and illustrious apostles of this creed, was saved from the guillotine by weary years of imprisonment in the dungeons of Olmutz. Madame Roland lingered in her cell, striving to maintain serenity, while her soul was tortured with the tidings of carnage and woe which every morning's dawn brought to her ears.
The Jacobins were now more and more clamorous for blood. They strove to tear La Fayette from his dungeon, that they might triumph in his death. They pursued, with implacable vigilance, the Girondists who had escaped from their fury. They trained blood-hounds to scent them out in their wild retreats, where they were suffering, from cold and starvation, all that human nature can possibly endure. For a time, five of them lived together in a cavern, thirty feet in depth. This cavern had a secret communication with the cellar of a house. Their generous hostess, periling her own life for them, daily supplied them with food. She could furnish them only with the most scanty fare, lest she should be betrayed by the purchase of provisions necessary for so many mouths. It was mid-winter. No fire warmed them in their damp and gloomy vault, and this living burial must have been worse than death. The search became so rigid that it was necessary for them to disperse. One directed his steps toward the Pyrenees. He was arrested and executed. Three toiled along by night, through cold, and snow, and rain, the keen wind piercing their tattered garments, till their sufferings made them reckless of life. They were arrested, and found, in the blade of the guillotine, a refuge from their woes. At last all were taken and executed but Petion and Buzot. Their fate is involved in mystery. None can tell what their sufferings were during the days and the nights of their weary wanderings, when no eye but that of God could see them. Some peasants found among the mountains, where they had taken refuge, human remains rent in pieces by the wolves. The tattered garments were scattered around where the teeth of the ferocious animals had left them. They were all that was left of the noble Petion and Buzot. But how did they die? Worn out by suffering and abandoned to despair, did they fall by their own hands? Did they perish from exposure to hunger and exhaustion, and the freezing blasts of winter? Or, in their weakness, were they attacked by the famished wolves of the mountains? The dying scene of Petion and Buzot is involved in impenetrable obscurity. Its tragic accompaniments can only be revealed when all mysteries shall be unfolded.
Liberation of Madame Roland.—She is re-arrested.—Infamous cruelty of the Jacobins.—Anguish of Madame Roland.—Madame Roland recovers her composure.—Intellectual enjoyments.—More comfortable apartments.—Kindness of the jailer's wife.—Madame Roland entreated to escape.—Rigorous treatment.—Visit of an English lady.—Kindness of the jailers.—Cheerful aspect of Madame Roland's cell.—Henriette Cannet.—Vain entreaties.—Robespierre in the zenith of his power.—Madame Roland's letter to Robespierre.—Supports of philosophy.—Influence of the Roman Catholic religion.—Energy of Madame Roland.—She prepares for voluntary death.—Madame Roland's prayer.—Notes to her husband and child.—Apostrophe to friends.—Farewell to Nature.—Maternal love triumphs.—The struggle ended.—Descriptions of Tacitus.—Madame Roland writes her memoirs.—The spirit wanders among happier scenes.—Striking contrasts.—Madame Roland conveyed to the Conciergerie.—Dismal cell.—Description of the Conciergerie.—Narrow courts.—Quadrangular tower.—The daughter of the Caesars.—The daughter of the artisan.
Madame Roland remained for four months in the Abbaye prison. On the 24th day of her imprisonment, to her inexpressible astonishment, an officer entered her cell, and informed her that she was liberated, as no charge could be found against her. Hardly crediting her senses—fearing that she should wake up and find her freedom but the blissful delirium of a dream—she took a coach and hastened to her own door. Her eyes were full of tears of joy, and her heart almost bursting with the throbbings of delight, in the anticipation of again pressing her idolized child to her bosom. Her hand was upon the door latch—she had not yet passed the threshold—when two men, who had watched at the door of her dwelling, again seized her in the name of the law. In spite of her tears and supplications, they conveyed her to the prison of St. Pelagie. This loathsome receptacle of crime was filled with the abandoned females who had been swept, in impurity and degradation, from the streets of Paris. It was, apparently, a studied humiliation, to compel their victim to associate with beings from whom her soul shrunk with loathing. She had resigned herself to die, but not to the society of infamy and pollution.
The Jacobins, conscious of the illegality of her first arrest, and dreading her power, were anxious to secure her upon a more legal footing. They adopted, therefore, this measure of liberating her and arresting her a second time. Even her firm and resigned spirit was for a moment vanquished by this cruel blow. Her blissful dream of happiness was so instantaneously converted into the blackness of despair, that she buried her face in her hands, and, in the anguish of a bruised and broken heart, wept aloud. The struggle, though short, was very violent ere she regained her wonted composure. She soon, however, won the compassionate sympathy of her jailers, and was removed from this degrading companionship to a narrow cell, where she could enjoy the luxury of being alone. An humble bed was spread for her in one corner, and a small table was placed near the few rays of light which stole feebly in through the iron grating of the inaccessible window. Summoning all her fortitude to her aid, she again resumed her usual occupations, allotting to each hour of the day its regular employment. She engaged vigorously in the study of the English language, and passed some hours every day in drawing, of which accomplishment she was very fond. She had no patterns to copy; but her imagination wandered through the green fields and by the murmuring brooks of her rural home. Now she roved with free footsteps through the vineyards which sprang up beneath her creative pencil. Now she floated upon the placid lake, reclining upon the bosom of her husband and caressing her child, beneath the tranquil sublimity of the evening sky. Again she sat down at the humble fireside of the peasant, ministering to the wants of the needy, and receiving the recompense of grateful hearts. Thus, on the free wing of imagination, she penetrated all scenes of beauty, and spread them out in vivid reality before her eye. At times she almost forgot that she was a captive. Well might she have exclaimed, in the language of Maria Antoinette, "What a resource, amid the calamities of life, is a highly-cultivated mind!"
A few devoted friends periled their own lives by gaining occasional access to her. During the dark hours of that reign of terror and of blood, no crime was more unpardonable than the manifestation of sympathy for the accused. These friends, calling as often as prudence would allow, brought to her presents of fruit and of flowers. At last the jailer's wife, unable to resist the pleadings of her own heart for one whom she could not but love and admire, ventured to remove her to a more comfortable apartment, where the daylight shone brightly in through the iron bars of the window. Here she could see the clouds and the birds soaring in the free air. She was even allowed, through her friends, to procure a piano-forte, which afforded her many hours of recreation. Music, drawing, and flowers were the embellishments of her life. Madame Bouchaud, the wife of the jailer, conceived for her prisoner the kindest affection, and daily visited her, doing every thing in her power to alleviate the bitterness of her imprisonment. At last her sympathies were so aroused, that, regardless of all prudential considerations, she offered to aid her in making her escape. Madame Roland was deeply moved by this proof of devotion, and, though she was fully aware that she must soon place her head upon the scaffold, she firmly refused all entreaties to escape in any way which might endanger her friend. Others united with Madame Bouchaud in entreating her to accept of her generous offer. Their efforts were entirely unavailing. She preferred to die herself rather than to incur the possibility of exposing those who loved her to the guillotine. The kindness with which Madame Roland was treated was soon spied out by those in power. The jailer was severely reprimanded, and ordered immediately to remove the piano-forte from the room, and to confine Madame Roland rigorously in her cell. This change did not disturb the equanimity of her spirit. She had studied so deeply and admired so profoundly all that was noble in the most illustrious characters of antiquity, that her mind instinctively assumed the same model. She found elevated enjoyment in triumphing over every earthly ill.