The popular notion is, we believe, that the leading Terrorists were wicked men, but, at the same time, great men. We can see nothing great about them but their wickedness. That their policy was daringly original is a vulgar error. Their policy is as old as the oldest accounts which we have of human misgovernment. It seemed new in France and in the eighteenth century only because it had been long disused, for excellent reasons, by the enlightened part of mankind. But it has always prevailed, and still prevails, in savage and half-savage nations, and is the chief cause which prevents such nations from making advances towards civilisation. Thousands of deys, of beys, of pachas, of rajahs, of nabobs, have shown themselves as great masters of statecraft as the members of the Committee of Public Safety. Djezzar, we imagine, was superior to any of them in their new line. In fact, there is not a petty tyrant in Asia or Africa so dull or so unlearned as not to be fully qualified for the business of Jacobin police and Jacobin finance. To behead people by scores without caring whether they are guilty or innocent; to wring money out of the rich by the help of jailers and executioners; to rob the public creditor, and to put him to death if he remonstrates; to take loaves by force out of the bakers' shops; to clothe and mount soldiers by seizing on one man's wool and linen, and on another man's horses and saddles, without compensation; is of all modes of governing the simplest and most obvious. Of its morality we at present say nothing. But surely it requires no capacity beyond that of a barbarian or a child. By means like those which we have described, the Committee of Public Safety undoubtedly succeeded, for a short time, in enforcing profound submission, and in raising immense funds. But to en force submission by butchery, and to raise funds by spoliation, is not statesmanship. The real statesman is he who, in troubled times, keeps down the turbulent without unnecessarily harrassing the well-affected; and who, when great pecuniary resources are needed, provides for the public exigencies without violating the security of property and drying up the sources of future prosperity. Such a statesman, we are confident, might, in 1793, have preserved the independence of France without shedding a drop of innocent blood, without plundering a single warehouse. Unhappily, the Republic was subject to men who were mere demagogues and in no sense statesmen. They could declaim at a club. They could lead a rabble to mischief. But they had no skill to conduct the affairs of an empire. The want of skill they supplied for a time by atrocity and blind violence. For legislative ability, fiscal ability, military ability, diplomatic ability, they had one substitute, the guillotine. Indeed their exceeding ignorance, and the barrenness of their invention, are the best excuse for their murders and robberies. We really believe that they would not have cut so many throats, and picked so many pockets, if they had known how to govern in any other way.
That under their administration the war against the European Coalition was successfully conducted is true. But that war had been successfully conducted before their elevation, and continued to be successfully conducted after their fall. Terror was not the order of the day when Brussels opened its gates to Dumourier. Terror had ceased to be the order of the day when Piedmont and Lombardy were conquered by Bonaparte. The truth is, that France was saved, not by the Committee of Public Safety, but by the energy, patriotism, and valour of the French people. Those high qualities were victorious in spite of the incapacity of rulers whose administration was a tissue, not merely of crimes, but of blunders.
We have not time to tell how the leaders of the savage faction at length began to avenge mankind on each other: how the craven Hebert was dragged wailing and trembling to his doom; how the nobler Danton, moved by a late repentance, strove in vain to repair the evil which he had wrought, and half redeemed the great crime of September by man fully encountering death in the cause of mercy.
Our business is with Barere. In all those things he was not only consenting, but eagerly and joyously forward. Not merely was he one of the guilty administration. He was the man to whom was especially assigned the office of proposing and defending outrages on justice and humanity, and of furnishing to atrocious schemes an appropriate garb of atrocious rodomontade. Barere first proclaimed from the tribune of the Convention that terror must be the order of the day. It was by Barere that the Revolutionary Tribunal of Paris was provided with the aid of a public accuser worthy of such a court, the infamous Fouquier Tinville. It was Barere who, when one of the old members of the National Assembly had been absolved by the Revolutionary Tribunal, gave orders that a fresh jury should be summoned. "Acquit one of the National Assembly!" he cried. "The Tribunal is turning against the Revolution." It is unnecessary to say that the prisoner's head was soon in the basket. It was Barere who moved that the city of Lyons should be destroyed. "Let the plough," he cried from the tribune, "pass over her. Let her name cease to exist. The rebels are conquered; but are they all exterminated? No weakness. No mercy. Let every one be smitten. Two words will suffice to tell the whole. Lyons made war on liberty; Lyons is no more." When Toulon was taken Barere came forward to announce the event. "The conquest," said the apostate Brissotine, "won by the Mountain over the Brissotines must be commemorated by a mark set on the place where Toulon once stood." The national thunder must crush the house of every trader in the town. When Camille Desmoulins, long distinguished among the republicans by zeal and ability, dared to raise his eloquent voice against the Reign of Terror, and to point out the close analogy between the government which then oppressed France and the government of the worst of the Caesars, Barere rose to complain of the weak compassion which tried to revive the hopes of the aristocracy. "Whoever," he said, "is nobly born is a man to be suspected. Every priest, every frequenter of the old court, every lawyer, every banker, is a man to be suspected. Every person who grumbles at the course which the Revolution takes is a man to be suspected. There are whole castes already tried and condemned. There are callings which carry their doom with them. There are relations of blood which the law regards with an evil eye. Republicans of France!" yelled the renegade Girondist, the old enemy of the Mountain—"Republicans of France! the Brissotines led you by gentle means to slavery. The Mountain leads you by strong measures to freedom. Oh! who can count the evils which a false compassion may produce?" When the friends of Danton mustered courage to express a wish that the Convention would at least hear him in his own defence before it sent him to certain death, the voice of Barere was the loudest in opposition to their prayer. When the crimes of Lebon, one of the worst, if not the very worst, of the viceregents of the Committee of Public Safety, had so maddened the people of the Department of the North that they resorted to the desperate expedient of imploring the protection of the Convention, Barere pleaded the cause of the accused tyrant, and threatened the petitioners with the utmost vengeance of the government. "These charges," he said, "have been suggested by wily aristocrats. The man who crushes the enemies of the people, though he may be hurried by his zeal into some excesses, can never be a proper object of censure. The proceedings of Lebon may have been a little harsh as to form." One of the small irregularities thus gently censured was this: Lebon kept a wretched man a quarter of an hour under the knife of the guillotine, in order to torment him, by reading to him, before he was despatched, a letter, the contents of which were supposed to be such as would aggravate even the bitterness of death. "But what," proceeded Barere, "is not permitted to the hatred of a republican against aristocracy? How many generous sentiments atone for what may perhaps seem acrimonious in the prosecution of public enemies? Revolutionary measures are always to be spoken of with respect. Liberty is a virgin whose veil it is not lawful to lift."
After this, it would be idle to dwell on facts which would indeed, of themselves, suffice to render a name infamous, but which make no perceptible addition to the great infamy of Barere. It would be idle, for example, to relate how he, a man of letters, a member of an Academy of Inscriptions, was foremost in that war against learning, art, and history which disgraced the Jacobin government; how he recommended a general conflagration of libraries; how he proclaimed that all records of events anterior to the Revolution ought to be destroyed; how he laid waste the Abbey of St Denis, pulled down monuments consecrated by the veneration of ages, and scattered on the wind the dust of ancient kings. He was, in truth, seldom so well employed as when he turned for a moment from making war on the living to make war on the dead.
Equally idle would it be to dilate on his sensual excesses. That in Barere as in the whole breed of Neros, Caligulas, and Domitians whom he resembled, voluptuousness was mingled with cruelty; that he withdrew, twice in every decade, from the work of blood, to the smiling gardens of Clichy, and there forgot public cares in the madness of wine and in the arms of courtesans, has often been repeated. M. Hippolyte Carnot does not altogether deny the truth of these stories, but justly observes that Barere's dissipation was not carried to such a point as to interfere with his industry. Nothing can be more true. Barere was by no means so much addicted to debauchery as to neglect the work of murder. It was his boast that, even during his hours of recreation, he cut out work for the Revolutionary Tribunal. To those who expressed a fear that his exertions would hurt his health, he gaily answered that he was less busy than they thought. "The guillotine," he said, "does all; the guillotine governs." For ourselves, we are much more disposed to look indulgently on the pleasures which he allowed to himself than on the pain which he inflicted on his neighbours.
"Atque utinam his potius nugis tota illa dedisset Tempora saevitiae, claras quibus abstulit urbi Illustresque animas, impune ac vindice nullo."
An immoderate appetite for sensual gratifications is undoubtedly a blemish on the fame of Henry the Fourth, of Lord Somers, of Mr Fox. But the vices of honest men are the virtues of Barere.
And now Barere had become a really cruel man. It was from mere pusillanimity that he had perpetrated his first great crimes. But the whole history of our race proves that the taste for the misery of others is a taste which minds not naturally ferocious may too easily acquire, and which, when once acquired, is as strong as any of the propensities with which we are born. A very few months had sufficed to bring this man into a state of mind in which images of despair, wailing, and death had an exhilarating effect on him, and inspired him as wine and love inspire men of free and joyous natures. The cart creaking under its daily freight of victims, ancient men and lads, and fair young girls, the binding of the hands, the thrusting of the head out of the little national sash-window, the crash of the axe, the pool of blood beneath the scaffold, the heads rolling by scores in the panier—these things were to him what Lalage and a cask of Falernian were to Horace, what Rosette and a bottle of iced champagne are to De Beranger. As soon as he began to speak of slaughter his heart seemed to be enlarged, and his fancy to become unusually fertile of conceits and gasconades. Robespierre, Saint Just, and Billaud, whose barbarity was the effect of earnest and gloomy hatred, were, in his view, men who made a toil of a pleasure. Cruelty was no such melancholy business, to be gone about with an austere brow and a whining tone; it was a recreation, fitly accompanied by singing and laughing. In truth, Robespierre and Barere might be well compared to the two renowned hangmen of Louis the Eleventh. They were alike insensible of pity, alike bent on havoc. But, while they murdered, one of them frowned and canted, the other grinned and joked. For our own part, we prefer Jean qui pleure to Jean qui rit.
In the midst of the funeral gloom which overhung Paris, a gaiety stranger and more ghastly than the horrors of the prison and the scaffold distinguished the dwelling of Barere. Every morning a crowd of suitors assembled to implore his protection. He came forth in his rich dressing-gown, went round the antechamber, dispensed smiles and promises among the obsequious crowd, addressed himself with peculiar animation to every handsome woman who appeared in the circle, and complimented her in the florid style of Gascony on the bloom of her cheeks and the lustre of her eyes. When he had enjoyed the fear and anxiety of his suppliants he dismissed them, and flung all their memorials unread into the fire. This was the best way, he conceived, to prevent arrears of business from accumulating. Here he was only an imitator. Cardinal Dubois had been in the habit of clearing his table of papers in the same way. Nor was this the only point in which we could point out a resemblance between the worst statesman of the monarchy and the worst statesman of the republic.
Of Barere's peculiar vein of pleasantry a notion may be formed from an anecdote which one of his intimate associates, a juror of the revolutionary tribunal, has related. A courtesan who bore a conspicuous part in the orgies of Clichy implored Barere to use his power against a head-dress which did not suit her style of face, and which a rival beauty was trying to bring into fashion. One of the magistrates of the capital was summoned and received the necessary orders. Aristocracy, Barere said, was again rearing its front. These new wigs were counter-revolutionary. He had reason to know that they were made out of the long fair hair of handsome aristocrats who had died by the national chopper. Every lady who adorned herself with the relics of criminals might justly be suspected of incivism. This ridiculous lie imposed on the authorities of Paris. Female citizens were solemnly warned against the obnoxious ringlets, and were left to choose between their head-dresses and their heads. Barere's delight at the success of this facetious fiction was quite extravagant: he could not tell the story without going into such convulsions of laughter as made his hearers hope that he was about to choke. There was something peculiarly tickling and exhilarating to his mind in this grotesque combination of the frivolous with the horrible, of false locks and curling-irons with spouting arteries and reeking hatchets.
But, though Barere succeeded in earning the honourable nicknames of the Witling of Terror, and the Anacreon of the Guillotine, there was one place where it was long remembered to his disadvantage that he had, for a time, talked the language of humanity and moderation. That place was the Jacobin club. Even after he had borne the chief part in the massacre of the Girondists, in the murder of the Queen, in the destruction of Lyons, he durst not show himself within that sacred precinct. At one meeting of the society, a member complained that the committee to which the supreme direction of affairs was entrusted, after all the changes which had been made, still contained one man who was not trustworthy. Robespierre, whose influence over the Jacobins was boundless, undertook the defence of his colleague, owned there was some ground for what had been said, but spoke highly of Barere's industry and aptitude for business. This seasonable interposition silenced the accuser; but it was long before the neophyte could venture to appear at the club.
At length a masterpiece of wickedness, unique, we think, even among Barere's great achievements, obtained his full pardon even from that rigid conclave. The insupportable tyranny of the Committee of Public Safety had at length brought the minds of men, and even of women, into a fierce and hard temper, which defied or welcomed death. The life which might be any morning taken away, in consequence of the whisper of a private enemy, seemed of little value. It was something to die after smiting one of the oppressors; it was something to bequeath to the surviving tyrants a terror not inferior to that which they had themselves inspired. Human nature, hunted and worried to the utmost, now turned furiously to bay. Fouquier Tinville was afraid to walk the streets; a pistol was snapped at Collot D'Herbois; a young girl, animated apparently by the spirit of Charlotte Corday, attempted to obtain an interview with Robespierre. Suspicions arose; she was searched; and two knives were found about her. She was questioned, and spoke of the Jacobin domination with resolute scorn and aversion. It is unnecessary to say that she was sent to the guillotine. Barere declared from the tribune that the cause of these attempts was evident. Pitt and his guineas had done the whole. The English Government had organised a vast system of murder, had armed the hand of Charlotte Corday, and had now, by similar means, attacked two of the most eminent friends of liberty in France. It is needless to say that these imputations were, not only false, but destitute of all show of truth. Nay, they were demonstrably absurd: for the assassins to whom Barere referred rushed on certain death, a sure proof that they were not hirelings. The whole wealth of England would not have bribed any sane person to do what Charlotte Corday did. But, when we consider her as an enthusiast, her conduct is perfectly natural. Even those French writers who are childish enough to believe that the English Government contrived the infernal machine and strangled the Emperor Paul have fully acquitted Mr Pitt of all share in the death of Marat and in the attempt on Robespierre. Yet on calumnies so futile as those which we have mentioned did Barere ground a motion at which all Christendom stood aghast. He proposed a decree that no quarter should be given to any English or Hanoverian soldier. (M. Hippolyte Carnot does his best to excuse this decree. His abuse of England is merely laughable. England has managed to deal with enemies of a very different sort from either himself or his hero. One disgraceful blunder, however, we think it right to notice. M. Hippolyte Carnot asserts that a motion similar to that of Barere was made in the English Parliament by the late Lord Fitzwilliam. This assertion is false. We defy M. Hippolyte Carnot to state the date and terms of the motion of which he speaks. We do not accuse him of intentional misrepresentation; but we confidently accuse him of extreme ignorance and temerity. Our readers will be amused to learn on what authority he has ventured to publish such a fable. He quotes, not the journals of the Lords, not the Parliamentary Debates, but a ranting message of the Executive Directory to the Five Hundred, a message, too, the whole meaning of which he has utterly misunderstood.) His Carmagnole was worthy of the proposition with which it concluded. "That one Englishman should be spared, that for the slaves of George, for the human machines of York, the vocabulary of our armies should contain such a word as generosity, this is what the National Convention cannot endure. War to the death against every English soldier. If last year, at Dunkirk, quarter had been refused to them when they asked it on their knees, if our troops had exterminated them all, instead of suffering them to infest our fortresses by their presence, the English government would not have renewed its attack on our frontiers this year. It is only the dead man who never comes back. What is this moral pestilence which has introduced into our armies false ideas of humanity? That the English were to be treated with indulgence was the philanthropic notion of the Brissotines; it was the patriotic practice of Dumourier. But humanity consists in exterminating our enemies. No mercy to the execrable Englishman. Such are the sentiments of the true Frenchman; for he knows that he belongs to a nation revolutionary as nature, powerful as freedom, ardent as the saltpetre which she has just torn from the entrails of the earth. Soldiers of liberty, when victory places Englishmen at your mercy, strike! None of them must return to the servile soil of Great Britain; none must pollute the free soil of France."
The Convention, thoroughly tamed and silenced, acquiesced in Barere's motion without debate. And now at last the doors of the Jacobin Club were thrown open to the disciple who had surpassed his masters. He was admitted a member by acclamation, and was soon selected to preside.
For a time he was not without hope that his decree would be carried into full effect. Intelligence arrived from the seat of war of a sharp contest between some French and English troops, in which the Republicans had the advantage, and in which no prisoners had been made. Such things happen occasionally in all wars. Barere, however, attributed the ferocity of this combat to his darling decree, and entertained the Convention with another Carmagnole.
"The Republicans," he said, "saw a division in red uniform at a distance. The red-coats are attacked with the bayonet. Not one of them escapes the blows of the Republicans. All the red-coats have been killed. No mercy, no indulgence, has been shown towards the villains. Not an Englishman whom the Republicans could reach is now living. How many prisoners should you guess that we have made? One single prisoner is the result of this great day."
And now this bad man's craving for blood had become insatiable. The more he quaffed, the more he thirsted. He had begun with the English; but soon he came down with a proposition for new massacres. "All the troops," he said, "of the coalesced tyrants in garrison at Conde, Valenciennes, Le Quesnoy, and Landrecies, ought to be put to the sword unless they surrender at discretion in twenty-four hours. The English, of course, will be admitted to no capitulation whatever. With the English we have no treaty but death. As to the rest, surrender at discretion in twenty-four hours, or death, these are our conditions. If the slaves resist, let them feel the edge of the sword." And then he waxed facetious. "On these terms the Republic is willing to give them a lesson in the art of war." At that jest, some hearers, worthy of such a speaker, set up a laugh. Then he became serious again. "Let the enemy perish," he cried, "I have already said it from this tribune. It is only the dead man who never comes back. Kings will not conspire against us in the grave. Armies will not fight against us when they are annihilated. Let our war with them be a war of extermination. What pity is due to slaves whom the Emperor leads to war under the cane; whom the King of Prussia beats to the shambles with the flat of the sword; and whom the Duke of York makes drunk with rum and gin?" And at the rum and gin the Mountain and the galleries laughed again.
If Barere had been able to effect his purpose, it is difficult to estimate the extent of the calamity which he would have brought on the human race. No government, however averse to cruelty, could, in justice to its own subjects, have given quarter to enemies who gave none. Retaliation would have been, not merely justifiable, but a sacred duty. It would have been necessary for Howe and Nelson to make every French sailor whom they took walk the plank. England has no peculiar reason to dread the introduction of such a system. On the contrary, the operation of Barere's new law of war would have been more unfavourable to his countrymen than to ours; for we believe that, from the beginning to the end of the war, there never was a time at which the number of French prisoners in England was not greater than the number of English prisoners in France; and so, we apprehend, it will be in all wars while England retains her maritime superiority. Had the murderous decree of the Convention been in force from 1794 to 1815, we are satisfied that, for every Englishman slain by the French, at least three Frenchmen would have been put to the sword by the English. It is, therefore, not as Englishmen, but as members of the great society of mankind, that we speak with indignation and horror of the change which Barere attempted to introduce. The mere slaughter would have been the smallest part of the evil. The butchering of a single unarmed man in cold blood, under an act of the legislature, would have produced more evil than the carnage of ten such fields as Albuera. Public law would have been subverted from the foundations; national enmities would have been inflamed to a degree of rage which happily it is not easy for us to conceive; cordial peace would have been impossible. The moral character of the European nations would have been rapidly and deeply corrupted; for in all countries those men whose calling is to put their lives in jeopardy for the defence of the public weal enjoy high consideration, and are considered as the best arbitrators on points of honour and manly bearing. With the standard of morality established in the military profession the general standard of morality must to a great extent sink or rise. It is, therefore, a fortunate circumstance that, during a long course of years, respect for the weak and clemency towards the vanquished have been considered as qualities not less essential to the accomplished soldier than personal courage. How long would this continue to be the case, if the slaying of prisoners were a part of the daily duty of the warrior? What man of kind and generous nature would, under such a system, willingly bear arms? Who, that was compelled to bear arms, would long continue kind and generous? And is it not certain that, if barbarity towards the helpless became the characteristic of military men, the taint must rapidly spread to civil and to domestic life, and must show itself in all the dealings of the strong with the weak, of husbands with wives, of employers with work men, of creditors with debtors?
But, thank God, Barere's decree was a mere dead letter. It was to be executed by men very different from those who, in the interior of France, were the instruments of the Committee of Public Safety, who prated at Jacobin Clubs, and ran to Fouquier Tinville with charges of incivism against women whom they could not seduce, and bankers from whom they could not extort money. The warriors who, under Hoche, had guarded the walls of Dunkirk, and who, under Kleber, had made good the defence of the wood of Monceaux, shrank with horror from an office more degrading than that of the hangman. "The Convention," said an officer to his men, "has sent orders that all the English prisoners shall be shot." "We will not shoot them" answered a stout-hearted sergeant. "Send them to the Convention. If the deputies take pleasure in killing a prisoner, they may kill him themselves, and eat him too, like savages as they are." This was the sentiment of the whole army. Bonaparte, who thoroughly understood war, who at Jaffa and elsewhere gave ample proof that he was not unwilling to strain the laws of war to their utmost rigour, and whose hatred of England amounted to a folly, always spoke of Barere's decree with loathing, and boasted that the army had refused to obey the Convention.
Such disobedience on the part of any other class of citizens would have been instantly punished by wholesale massacre; but the Committee of Public Safety was aware that the discipline which had tamed the unwarlike population of the fields and cities might not answer in camps. To fling people by scores out of a boat, and, when they catch hold of it, to chop off their fingers with a hatchet, is undoubtedly a very agreeable pastime for a thoroughbred Jacobin, when the sufferers are, as at Nantes, old confessors, young girls, or women with child. But such sport might prove a little dangerous if tried upon grim ranks of grenadiers, marked with the scars of Hondschoote, and singed by the smoke of Fleurus.
Barere, however, found some consolation. If he could not succeed in murdering the English and the Hanoverians, he was amply indemnified by a new and vast slaughter of his own countrymen and countrywomen. If the defence which has been set up for the members of the Committee of Public Safety had been well founded, if it had been true that they governed with extreme severity only because the republic was in extreme peril, it is clear that the severity would have diminished as the peril diminished. But the fact is, that those cruelties for which the public danger is made a plea became more and more enormous as the danger became less and less, and reached the full height when there was no longer any danger at all. In the autumn of 1793, there was undoubtedly reason to apprehend that France might be unable to maintain the struggle against the European coalition. The enemy was triumphant on the frontiers. More than half the departments disowned the authority of the Convention. But at that time eight or ten necks a day were thought an ample allowance for the guillotine of the capital. In the summer of 1794, Bordeaux, Toulon, Caen, Lyons, Marseilles, had submitted to the ascendency of Paris. The French arms were victorious under the Pyrenees and on the Sambre. Brussels had fallen. Prussia announced her intention of withdrawing from the contest. The Republic, no longer content with defending her own independence, was beginning to meditate conquest beyond the Alps and the Rhine. She was now more formidable to her neighbours than ever Louis the Fourteenth had been. And now the Revolutionary Tribunal of Paris was not content with forty, fifty, sixty heads in a morning. It was just after a series of victories, which destroyed the whole force of the single argument which has been urged in defence of the system of terror, that the Committee of Public Safety resolved to infuse into that system an energy hitherto unknown. It was proposed to reconstruct the Revolutionary Tribunal, and to collect in the space of two pages the whole revolutionary jurisprudence. Lists of twelve judges and fifty jurors were made out from among the fiercest Jacobins. The substantive law was simply this, that whatever the tribunal should think pernicious to the republic was a capital crime. The law of evidence was simply this, that whatever satisfied the jurors was sufficient proof. The law of procedure was of a piece with everything else. There was to be an advocate against the prisoner, and no advocate for him. It was expressly declared that, if the jurors were in any manner convinced of the guilt of the prisoner, they might convict him without hearing a single witness. The only punishment which the court could inflict was death.
Robespierre proposed this decree. When he had read it, a murmur rose from the Convention. The fear which had long restrained the deputies from opposing the Committee was overcome by a stronger fear. Every man felt the knife at his throat. "The decree," said one, "is of grave importance. I move that it be printed and the debate be adjourned. If such a measure were adopted without time for consideration, I would blow my brains out at once." The motion for adjournment was seconded. Then Barere sprang up. "It is impossible," he said, "that there can be any difference of opinion among us as to a law like this, a law so favourable in all respects to patriots; a law which insures the speedy punishment of conspirators. If there is to be an adjournment, I must insist that it shall not be for more than three days." The opposition was overawed; the decree was passed; and, during the six weeks which followed, the havoc was such as has never been known before.
And now the evil was beyond endurance. That timid majority which had for a time supported the Girondists, and which had, after their fall, contented itself with registering in silence the decrees of the Committee of Public Safety, at length drew courage from despair. Leaders of bold and firm character were not wanting, men such as Fouche and Tallien, who, having been long conspicuous among the chiefs of the Mountain, now found that their own lives, or lives still dearer to them than their own, were in extreme peril. Nor could it be longer kept secret that there was a schism in the despotic committee. On one side were Robespierre, Saint Just, and Couthon; on the other, Collot and Billaud. Barere leaned towards these last, but only leaned towards them. As was ever his fashion when a great crisis was at hand, he fawned alternately on both parties, struck alternately at both, and held himself in readiness to chant the praises or to sign the death-warrant of either. In any event his Carmagnole was ready. The tree of liberty, the blood of traitors, the dagger of Brutus, the guineas of perfidious Albion, would do equally well for Billaud and for Robespierre.
The first attack which was made on Robespierre was indirect. An old woman named Catherine Theot, half maniac, half impostor, was protected by him, and exercised a strange influence over his mind; for he was naturally prone to superstition, and, having abjured the faith in which he had been brought up, was looking about for something to believe. Barere drew up a report against Catherine, which contained many facetious conceits, and ended, as might be expected, with a motion for sending her and some other wretched creatures of both sexes to the Revolutionary Tribunal, or, in other words, to death. This report, however, he did not dare to read to the Convention himself. Another member, less timid, was induced to farther the cruel buffoonery; and the real author enjoyed in security the dismay and vexation of Robespierre.
Barere now thought that he had done enough on one side, and that it was time to make his peace with the other. On the seventh of Thermidor, he pronounced in the Convention a panegyric on Robespierre. "That representative of the people," he said, "enjoys a reputation for patriotism, earned by five years of exertion, and by unalterable fidelity to the principles of independence and liberty." On the eighth of Thermidor, it became clear that a decisive struggle was at hand. Robespierre struck the first blow. He mounted the tribune, and uttered a long invective on his opponents. It was moved that his discourse should be printed; and Barere spoke for the printing. The sense of the Convention soon appeared to be the other way; and Barere apologised for his former speech, and implored his colleagues to abstain from disputes which could be agreeable only to Pitt and York. On the next day, the ever-memorable ninth of Thermidor, came the real tug of war. Tallien, bravely taking his life in his hand, led the onset. Billaud followed; and then all that infinite hatred which had long been kept down by terror burst forth, and swept every barrier before it. When at length the voice of Robespierre, drowned by the President's bell, and by shouts of "Down with the tyrant!" had died away in hoarse gasping, Barere rose. He began with timid and doubtful phrases, watched the effect of every word he uttered, and, when the feeling of the Assembly had been unequivocally manifested, declared against Robespierre. But it was not till the people out of doors, and especially the gunners of Paris, had espoused the cause of the Convention, that Barere felt quite at ease. Then he sprang to the tribune, poured forth a Carmagnole about Pisistratus and Catiline, and concluded by moving that the heads of Robespierre and Robespierre's accomplices should be cut off without a trial. The motion was carried. On the following morning the vanquished members of the Committee of Public Safety and their principal adherents suffered death. It was exactly one year since Barere had commenced his career of slaughter by moving the proscription of his old allies the Girondists. We greatly doubt whether any human being has ever succeeded in packing more wickedness into the space of three hundred and sixty-five days.
The ninth of Thermidor is one of the great epochs in the history of Europe. It is true that the three members of the Committee of Public Safety who triumphed were by no means better men than the three who fell. Indeed, we are inclined to think that of these six statesmen the least bad were Robespierre and Saint Just, whose cruelty was the effect of sincere fanaticism operating on narrow understandings and acrimonious tempers. The worst of the six was, beyond all doubt, Barere, who had no faith in any part of the system which he upheld by persecution; who, while he sent his fellow-creatures to death for being the third cousins of royalists, had not in the least made up his mind that a republic was better than a monarchy; who, while he slew his old friends for federalism, was himself far more a federalist than any of them; who had become a murderer merely for his safety, and who continued to be a murderer merely for his pleasure.
The tendency of the vulgar is to embody everything. Some individual is selected, and often selected very injudicially, as the representative of every great movement of the public mind, of every great revolution in human affairs; and on this individual are concentrated all the love and all the hatred, all the admiration and all the contempt, which he ought rightfully to share with a whole party, a whole sect, a whole nation, a whole generation. Perhaps no human being has suffered so much from this propensity of the multitude as Robespierre. He is regarded, not merely as what he was, an envious, malevolent zealot, but as the incarnation of Terror, as Jacobinism personified. The truth is, that it was not by him that the system of terror was carried to the last extreme. The most horrible days in the history of the Revolutionary Tribunal of Paris were those which immediately preceded the ninth of Thermidor. Robespierre had then ceased to attend the meetings of the sovereign Committee; and the direction of affairs was really in the hands of Billaud, of Collot, and of Barere.
It had never occurred to those three tyrants that, in overthrowing Robespierre, they were overthrowing that system of terror to which they were more attached than he had ever been. Their object was to go on slaying even more mercilessly than before. But they had misunderstood the nature of the great crisis which had at last arrived. The yoke of the Committee was broken for ever. The Convention had regained its liberty, had tried its strength, had vanquished and punished its enemies. A great reaction had commenced. Twenty-four hours after Robespierre had ceased to live, it was moved and carried, amidst loud bursts of applause, that the sittings of the Revolutionary Tribunal should be suspended. Billaud was not at that moment present. He entered the hall soon after, learned with indignation what had passed, and moved that the vote should be rescinded. But loud cries of "No, no!" rose from those benches which had lately paid mute obedience to his commands. Barere came forward on the same day, and abjured the Convention not to relax the system of terror. "Beware, above all things," he cried, "of that fatal moderation which talks of peace and of clemency. Let aristocracy know that here she will find only enemies sternly bent on vengeance, and judges who have no pity." But the day of the Carmagnoles was over: the restraint of fear had been relaxed; and the hatred with which the nation regarded the Jacobin dominion broke forth with ungovernable violence. Not more strongly did the tide of public opinion run against the old monarchy and aristocracy, at the time of the taking of the Bastile, than it now ran against the tyranny of the Mountain. From every dungeon the prisoners came forth as they had gone in, by hundreds. The decree which forbade the soldiers of the republic to give quarter to the English was repealed by an unanimous vote, amidst loud acclamations; nor, passed as it was, disobeyed as it was, and rescinded as it was, can it be with justice considered as a blemish on the fame of the French nation. The Jacobin Club was refractory. It was suppressed without resistance. The surviving Girondist deputies, who had concealed themselves from the vengeance of their enemies in caverns and garrets, were readmitted to their seats in the Convention. No day passed without some signal reparation of injustice; no street in Paris was without some trace of the recent change. In the theatre, the bust of Marat was pulled down from its pedestal and broken in pieces, amidst the applause of the audience. His carcass was ejected from the Pantheon. The celebrated picture of his death, which had hung in the hall of the Convention, was removed. The savage inscriptions with which the walls of the city had been covered disappeared; and, in place of death and terror, humanity, the watchword of the new rulers, was everywhere to be seen. In the meantime, the gay spirit of France, recently subdued by oppression, and now elated by the joy of a great deliverance, wantoned in a thousand forms. Art, taste, luxury, revived. Female beauty regained its empire—an empire strengthened by the remembrance of all the tender and all the sublime virtues which women, delicately bred and reputed frivolous, had displayed during the evil days. Refined manners, chivalrous sentiments, followed in the train of love. The dawn of the Arctic summer day after the Arctic winter night, the great unsealing of the waters, the awakening of animal and vegetable life, the sudden softening of the air, the sudden blooming of the flowers, the sudden bursting of old forests into verdure, is but a feeble type of that happiest and most genial of revolutions, the revolution of the ninth of Thermidor.
But, in the midst of the revival of all kind and generous sentiments, there was one portion of the community against which mercy itself seemed to cry out for vengeance. The chiefs of the late government and their tools were now never named but as the men of blood, the drinkers of blood, the cannibals. In some parts of France, where the creatures of the Mountain had acted with peculiar barbarity, the populace took the law into its own hands and meted out justice to the Jacobins with the true Jacobin measure, but at Paris the punishments were inflicted with order and decency, and were few when compared with the number, and lenient when compared with the enormity, of the crimes. Soon after the ninth of Thermidor, two of the vilest of mankind, Fouquier Tinville, whom Barere had placed at the Revolutionary Tribunal, and Lebon, whom Barere had defended in the Convention, were placed under arrest. A third miscreant soon shared their fate, Carrier, the tyrant of Nantes. The trials of these men brought to light horrors surpassing anything that Suetonius and Lampridius have related of the worst Caesars. But it was impossible to punish subordinate agents, who, bad as they were, had only acted in accordance with the spirit of the government which they served, and, at the same time, to grant impunity to the heads of the wicked administration. A cry was raised, both within and without the Convention for justice on Collot, Billaud, and Barere.
Collot and Billaud, with all their vices, appear to have been men of resolute natures. They made no submission; but opposed to the hatred of mankind, at first a fierce resistance, and afterwards a dogged and sullen endurance. Barere, on the other hand, as soon as he began to understand the real nature of the revolution of Thermidor, attempted to abandon the Mountain, and to obtain admission among his old friends of the moderate party. He declared everywhere that he had never been in favour of severe measures; that he was a Girondist; that he had always condemned and lamented the manner in which the Brissotine deputies had been treated. He now preached mercy from that tribune from which he had recently preached extermination. "The time," he said, "has come at which our clemency may be indulged without danger. We may now safely consider temporary imprisonment as an adequate punishment for political misdemeanours." It was only a fortnight since, from the same place, he had declaimed against the moderation which dared even to talk of clemency; it was only a fortnight since he had ceased to send men and women to the guillotine of Paris, at the rate of three hundred a week. He now wished to make his peace with the moderate party at the expense of the Terrorists, as he had, a year before, made his peace with the Terrorists at the expense of the moderate party. But he was disappointed. He had left himself no retreat. His face, his voice, his rants, his jokes, had become hateful to the Convention. When he spoke he was interrupted by murmurs. Bitter reflections were daily cast on his cowardice and perfidy. On one occasion Carnot rose to give an account of a victory, and so far forgot the gravity of his own character as to indulge in the sort of oratory which Barere had affected on similar occasions. He was interrupted by cries of "No more Carmagnoles!" "No more of Barere's puns!"
At length, five months after the revolution of Thermidor, the Convention resolved that a committee of twenty-one members should be appointed to examine into the conduct of Billaud, Collot, and Barere. In some weeks the report was made. From that report we learn that a paper had been discovered, signed by Barere, and containing a proposition for adding the last improvement to the system of terror. France was to be divided into circuits; itinerant revolutionary tribunals, composed of trusty Jacobins, were to move from department to department; and the guillotine was to travel in their train.
Barere, in his defence, insisted that no speech or motion which he had made in the Convention could, without a violation of the freedom of debate, be treated as a crime. He was asked how he could resort to such a mode of defence, after putting to death so many deputies on account of opinions expressed in the Convention. He had nothing to say, but that it was much to be regretted that the sound principle had ever been violated.
He arrogated to himself a large share of the merit of the revolution in Thermidor. The men who had risked their lives to effect that revolution, and who knew that, if they had failed, Barere would, in all probability, have moved the decree for beheading them without a trial, and have drawn up a proclamation announcing their guilt and their punishment to all France, were by no means disposed to acquiesce in his claims. He was reminded that, only forty-eight hours before the decisive conflict, he had, in the tribune, been profuse of adulation to Robespierre. His answer to this reproach is worthy of himself. "It was necessary," he said, "to dissemble. It was necessary to flatter Robespierre's vanity, and, by panegyric, to impel him to the attack. This was the motive which induced me to load him with those praises of which you complain. Who ever blamed Brutus for dissembling with Tarquin?"
The accused triumvirs had only one chance of escaping punishment. There was severe distress at that moment among the working people of the capital. This distress the Jacobins attributed to the reaction of Thermidor, to the lenity with which the aristocrats were now treated, and to the measures which had been adopted against the chiefs of the late administration. Nothing is too absurd to be believed by a populace which has not breakfasted, and which does not know how it is to dine. The rabble of the Faubourg St Antoine rose, menaced the deputies, and demanded with loud cries the liberation of the persecuted patriots. But the Convention was no longer such as it had been, when similar means were employed too successfully against the Girondists. Its spirit was roused. Its strength had been proved. Military means were at its command. The tumult was suppressed: and it was decreed that same evening that Collot, Billaud, and Barere should instantly be removed to a distant place of confinement.
The next day the order of the Convention was executed. The account which Barere has given of his journey is the most interesting and the most trustworthy part of these Memoirs. There is no witness so infamous that a court of justice will not take his word against himself; and even Barere may be believed when he tells us how much he was hated and despised.
The carriage in which he was to travel passed, surrounded by armed men, along the street of St Honore. A crowd soon gathered round it and increased every moment. On the long flight of steps before the church of St Roch stood rows of eager spectators. It was with difficulty that the coach could make its way through those who hung upon it, hooting, cursing, and striving to burst the doors. Barere thought his life in danger, and was conducted at his own request to a public office, where he hoped that he might find shelter till the crowd should disperse. In the meantime, another discussion on his fate took place in the Convention. It was proposed to deal with him as he had dealt with better men, to put him out of the pale of the law, and to deliver him at once without any trial to the headsman. But the humanity which, since the ninth of Thermidor, had generally directed the public councils restrained the deputies from taking this course.
It was now night; and the streets gradually became quiet. The clock struck twelve; and Barere, under a strong guard, again set forth on his journey. He was conducted over the river to the place where the Orleans road branches off from the southern boulevard. Two travelling carriages stood there. In one of them was Billaud, attended by two officers; in the other two more officers were waiting to receive Barere. Collot was already on the road.
At Orleans, a city which had suffered cruelly from the Jacobin tyranny, the three deputies were surrounded by a mob bent on tearing them to pieces. All the national guards of the neighbourhood were assembled; and this force was not greater than the emergency required; for the multitude pursued the carriages far on the road to Blois.
At Amboise the prisoners learned that Tours was ready to receive them. The stately bridge was occupied by a throng of people, who swore that the men under whose rule the Loire had been choked with corpses should have full personal experience of the nature of a noyade. In consequence of this news, the officers who had charge of the criminals made such arrangements that the carriages reached Tours at two in the morning, and drove straight to the post-house. Fresh horses were instantly ordered; and the travellers started again at full gallop. They had, in truth, not a moment to lose; for the alarm had been given; lights were seen in motion; and the yells of a great multitude, disappointed of its revenge, mingled with the sound of the departing wheels.
At Poitiers there was another narrow escape. As the prisoners quitted the post-house, they saw the whole population pouring in fury down the steep declivity on which the city is built. They passed near Niort, but could not venture to enter it. The inhabitants came forth with threatening aspect, and vehemently cried to the postillions to stop; but the postillions urged the horses to full speed, and soon left the town behind. Through such dangers the men of blood were brought in safety to Rochelle.
Oleron was the place of their destination, a dreary island beaten by the raging waves of the Bay of Biscay. The prisoners were confined in the castle; each had a single chamber, at the door of which a guard was placed; and each was allowed the ration of a single soldier. They were not allowed to communicate either with the garrison or with the population of the island; and soon after their arrival they were denied the indulgence of walking on the ramparts. The only place where they were suffered to take exercise was the esplanade where the troops were drilled.
They had not been long in this situation when news came that the Jacobins of Paris had made a last attempt to regain ascendency in the state, that the hall of the Convention had been forced by a furious crowd, that one of the deputies had been murdered and his head fixed on a pike, that the life of the President had been for a time in imminent danger, and that some members of the legislature had not been ashamed to join the rioters. But troops had arrived in time to prevent a massacre. The insurgents had been put to flight; the inhabitants of the disaffected quarters of the capital had been disarmed; the guilty deputies had suffered the just punishment of their treason; and the power of the Mountain was broken for ever. These events strengthened the aversion with which the system of terror and the authors of that system were regarded. One member of the Convention had moved that the three prisoners of Oleron should be put to death; another, that they should be brought back to Paris, and tried by a council of war. These propositions were rejected. But something was conceded to the party which called for severity. A vessel which had been fitted out with great expedition at Rochefort touched at Oleron; and it was announced to Collot and Billaud that they must instantly go on board. They were forthwith conveyed to Guiana, where Collot soon drank himself to death with brandy. Billaud lived many years, shunning his fellow-creatures and shunned by them; and diverted his lonely hours by teaching parrots to talk. Why a distinction was made between Barere and his companions in guilt, neither he nor any other writer, as far as we know, has explained. It does not appear that the distinction was meant to be at all in his favour; for orders soon arrived from Paris, that he should be brought to trial for his crimes before the criminal court of the department of the Upper Charente. He was accordingly brought back to the continent, and confined during some months at Saintes, in an old convent which had lately been turned into a jail.
While he lingered here, the reaction which had followed the great crisis of Thermidor met with a temporary check. The friends of the House of Bourbon, presuming on the indulgence with which they had been treated after the fall of Robespierre, not only ventured to avow their opinions with little disguise, but at length took arms against the Convention, and were not put down till much blood had been shed in the streets of Paris. The vigilance of the public authorities was therefore now directed chiefly against the Royalists; and the rigour with which the Jacobins had lately been treated was somewhat relaxed. The Convention, indeed, again resolved that Barere should be sent to Guiana. But this decree was not carried into effect. The prisoner, probably with the connivance of some powerful persons, made his escape from Saintes and fled to Bordeaux, where he remained in concealment during some years. There seems to have been a kind of understanding between him and the government, that, as long as he hid himself, he should not be found, but that, if he obtruded himself on the public eye, he must take the consequences of his rashness.
While the constitution of 1795, with its Executive Directory, its Council of Elders, and its Council of Five Hundred, was in operation, he continued to live under the ban of the law. It was in vain that he solicited, even at moments when the politics of the Mountain seemed to be again in the ascendant, a remission of the sentence pronounced by the Convention. Even his fellow-regicides, even the authors of the slaughter of Vendemiaire and of the arrests of Fructidor, were ashamed of him.
About eighteen months after his escape from prison, his name was again brought before the world. In his own province he still retained some of his early popularity. He had, indeed, never been in that province since the downfall of the monarchy. The mountaineers of Gascony were far removed from the seat of government, and were but imperfectly informed of what passed there. They knew that their countryman had played an important part, and that he had on some occasions promoted their local interests; and they stood by him in his adversity and in his disgrace with a constancy which presents a singular contrast to his own abject fickleness. All France was amazed to learn that the department of the Upper Pyrenees had chosen the proscribed tyrant a member of the Council of Five Hundred. The council which, like our House of Commons, was the judge of the election of its own members, refused to admit him. When his name was read from the roll, a cry of indignation rose from the benches. "Which of you," exclaimed one of the members, "would sit by the side of such a monster?" "Not I, not I!" answered a crowd of voices. One deputy declared that he would vacate his seat if the hall were polluted by the presence of such a wretch. The election was declared null on the ground that the person elected was a criminal skulking from justice; and many severe reflections were thrown on the lenity which suffered him to be still at large.
He tried to make his peace with the Directory, by writing a bulky libel on England, entitled, the Liberty of the Seas. He seems to have confidently expected that this work would produce a great effect. He printed three thousand copies, and in order to defray the expense of publication, sold one of his farms for the sum of ten thousand francs. The book came out; but nobody bought it, in consequence, if Barere is to be believed, of the villainy of Mr Pitt, who bribed the Directory to order the Reviewers not to notice so formidable an attack on the maritime greatness of perfidious Albion.
Barere had been about three years at Bordeaux when he received intelligence that the mob of the town designed him the honour of a visit on the ninth of Thermidor, and would probably administer to him what he had, in his defence of his friend Lebon, described as substantial justice under forms a little harsh. It was necessary for him to disguise himself in clothes such as were worn by the carpenters of the dock. In this garb, with a bundle of wood shavings under his arm, he made his escape into the vineyards which surrounded the city, lurked during some days in a peasant's hut, and, when the dreaded anniversary was over, stole back into the city. A few months later he was again in danger. He now thought that he should be nowhere so safe as in the neighbourhood of Paris. He quitted Bordeaux, hastened undetected through those towns where four years before his life had been in extreme danger, passed through the capital in the morning twilight, when none were in the streets except shop-boys taking down the shutters, and arrived safe at the pleasant village of St Ouen on the Seine. Here he remained in seclusion during some months. In the meantime Bonaparte returned from Egypt, placed himself at the head of a coalition of discontented parties, covered his designs with the authority of the Elders, drove the Five Hundred out of their hall at the point of the bayonet, and became absolute monarch of France under the name of First Consul.
Barere assures us that these events almost broke his heart; that he could not bear to see France again subject to a master; and that if the representatives had been worthy of that honourable name, they would have arrested the ambitious general who insulted them. These feelings, however, did not prevent him from soliciting the protection of the new government, and from sending to the First Consul a handsome copy of the essay on the Liberty of the Seas.
The policy of Bonaparte was to cover all the past with a general oblivion. He belonged half to the Revolution and half to the reaction. He was an upstart and a sovereign; and had therefore something in common with the Jacobin, and something in common with the Royalist. All, whether Jacobins or Royalists, who were disposed to support his government, were readily received—all, whether Jacobins or Royalists, who showed hostility to his government, were put down and punished. Men who had borne a part in the worst crimes of the Reign of Terror, and men who had fought in the army of Conde, were to be found close together, both in his antechambers and in his dungeons. He decorated Fouche and Maury with the same cross. He sent Arena and Georges Cadoudal to the same scaffold. From a government acting on such principles Barere easily obtained the indulgence which the Directory had constantly refused to grant. The sentence passed by the Convention was remitted; and he was allowed to reside at Paris. His pardon, it is true, was not granted in the most honourable form; and he remained, during some time, under the special supervision of the police. He hastened, however, to pay his court at the Luxembourg palace, where Bonaparte then resided, and was honoured with a few dry and careless words by the master of France.
Here begins a new chapter of Barere's history. What passed between him and the Consular government cannot, of course, be so accurately known to us as the speeches and reports which he made in the Convention. It is, however, not difficult, from notorious facts, and from the admissions scattered over these lying Memoirs, to form a tolerably accurate notion of what took place. Bonaparte wanted to buy Barere: Barere wanted to sell himself to Bonaparte. The only question was one of price; and there was an immense interval between what was offered and what was demanded.
Bonaparte, whose vehemence of will, fixedness of purpose, and reliance on his own genius were not only great but extravagant, looked with scorn on the most effeminate and dependent of human minds. He was quite capable of perpetrating crimes under the influence either of ambition or of revenge: but he had no touch of that accursed monomania, that craving for blood and tears, which raged in some of the Jacobin chiefs. To proscribe the Terrorists would have been wholly inconsistent with his policy; but, of all the classes of men whom his comprehensive system included, he liked them the least; and Barere was the worst of them. This wretch had been branded with infamy, first by the Convention, and then by the Council of Five Hundred. The inhabitants of four or five great cities had attempted to tear him limb from limb. Nor were his vices redeemed by eminent talents for administration or legislation. It would be unwise to place in any honourable or important post a man so wicked, so odious, and so little qualified to discharge high political duties. At the same time there was a way in which it seemed likely that he might be of use to the government. The First Consul, as he afterwards acknowledged, greatly overrated Barere's powers as a writer. The effect which the Reports of the Committee of Public Safety had produced by the camp fires of the Republican armies had been great. Napoleon himself, when a young soldier, had been delighted by those compositions, which had much in common with the rhapsodies of his favourite poet, Macpherson. The taste, indeed, of the great warrior and statesman was never very pure. His bulletins, his general orders, and his proclamations, are sometimes, it is true, masterpieces in their kind; but we too often detect, even in his best writing, traces of Fingal, and of the Carmagnoles. It is not strange, therefore, that he should have been desirous to secure the aid of Barere's pen. Nor was this the only kind of assistance which the old member of the Committee of Public Safety might render to the Consular government. He was likely to find admission into the gloomy dens in which those Jacobins whose constancy was to be overcome by no reverse, or whose crimes admitted of no expiation, hid themselves from the curses of mankind. No enterprise was too bold or too atrocious for minds crazed by fanatacism, and familiar with misery and death. The government was anxious to have information of what passed in their secret councils; and no man was better qualified to furnish such information than Barere.
For these reasons the First Consul was disposed to employ Barere as a writer and as a spy. But Barere—was it possible that he would submit to such a degradation? Bad as he was, he had played a great part. He had belonged to that class of criminals who filled the world with the renown of their crimes; he had been one of a cabinet which had ruled France with absolute power, and made war on all Europe with signal success. Nay, he had been, though not the most powerful, yet, with the single exception of Robespierre, the most conspicuous member of that cabinet. His name had been a household word at Moscow and at Philadelphia, at Edinburgh and at Cadiz. The blood of the Queen of France, the blood of the greatest orators and philosophers of France, was on his hands. He had spoken; and it had been decreed that the plough should pass over the great city of Lyons. He had spoken again; and it had been decreed that the streets of Toulon should be razed to the ground. When depravity is placed so high as his, the hatred which it inspires is mingled with awe. His place was with great tyrants, with Critias and Sylla, with Eccelino and Borgia; not with hireling scribblers and police runners.
"Virtue, I grant you, is an empty boast; But shall the dignity of vice be lost?"
So sang Pope; and so felt Barere. When it was proposed to him to publish a journal in defence of the Consular government, rage and shame inspired him for the first and last time with something like courage. He had filled as large a space in the eyes of mankind as Mr Pitt or General Washington; and he was coolly invited to descend at once to the level of Mr Lewis Goldsmith. He saw, too, with agonies of envy, that a wide distinction was made between himself and the other statesmen of the Revolution who were summoned to the aid of the government. Those statesmen were required, indeed, to make large sacrifices of principle; but they were not called on to sacrifice what, in the opinion of the vulgar, constitutes personal dignity. They were made tribunes and legislators, ambassadors and counsellors of state, ministers, senators, and consuls. They might reasonably expect to rise with the rising fortunes of their master; and, in truth, many of them were destined to wear the badge of his Legion of Honour and of his order of the Iron Crown; to be arch-chancellors and arch-treasurers, counts, dukes, and princes. Barere, only six years before, had been far more powerful, far more widely renowned, than any of them; and now, while they were thought worthy to represent the majesty of France at foreign courts, while they received crowds of suitors in gilded antechambers, he was to pass his life in measuring paragraphs, and scolding correctors of the press. It was too much. Those lips which had never before been able to fashion themselves to a No, now murmured expostulation and refusal. "I could not"—these are his own words—"abase myself to such a point as to serve the First Consul merely in the capacity of a journalist, while so many insignificant, low, and servile people, such as the Treilhards, the Roederers, the Lebruns, the Marets, and others whom it is superfluous to name, held the first place in this government of upstarts."
This outbreak of spirit was of short duration. Napoleon was inexorable. It is said indeed that he was, for a moment, half inclined to admit Barere into the Council of State; but the members of that body remonstrated in the strongest terms, and declared that such a nomination would be a disgrace to them all. This plan was therefore relinquished. Thenceforth Barere's only chance of obtaining the patronage of the government was to subdue his pride, to forget that there had been a time when, with three words, he might have had the heads of the three consuls, and to betake himself, humbly and industriously, to the task of composing lampoons on England and panegyrics on Bonaparte.
It has been often asserted, we know not on what grounds, that Barere was employed by the government not only as a writer, but as a censor of the writings of other men. This imputation he vehemently denies in his Memoirs; but our readers will probably agree with us in thinking that his denial leaves the question exactly where it was.
Thus much is certain, that he was not restrained from exercising the office of censor by any scruple of conscience or honour; for he did accept an office, compared with which that of censor, odious as it is, may be called an august and beneficent magistracy. He began to have what are delicately called relations with the police. We are not sure that we have formed, or that we can convey, an exact notion of the nature of Barere's new calling. It is a calling unknown in our country. It has indeed often happened in England that a plot has been revealed to the government by one of the conspirators. The informer has sometimes been directed to carry it fair towards his accomplices, and to let the evil design come to full maturity. As soon as his work is done, he is generally snatched from the public gaze, and sent to some obscure village or to some remote colony. The use of spies, even to this extent, is in the highest degree unpopular in England; but a political spy by profession is a creature from which our island is as free as it is from wolves. In France the race is well-known, and was never more numerous, more greedy, more cunning, or more savage, than under the government of Bonaparte.
Our idea of a gentleman in relations with the Consular and Imperial police may perhaps be incorrect. Such as it is, we will try to convey it to our readers. We image to ourselves a well-dressed person, with a soft voice and affable manners. His opinions are those of the society in which he finds himself, but a little stronger. He often complains, in the language of honest indignation, that what passes in private conversation finds its way strangely to the government, and cautions his associates to take care what they say when they are not sure of their company. As for himself, he owns that he is indiscreet. He can never refrain from speaking his mind; and that is the reason that he is not prefect of a department.
In a gallery of the Palais Royal he overhears two friends talking earnestly about the King and the Count of Artois. He follows them into a coffee-house, sits at the table next to them, calls for his half-dish and his small glass of cognac, takes up a journal, and seems occupied with the news. His neighbours go on talking without restraint, and in the style of persons warmly attached to the exiled family. They depart; and he follows them half round the boulevards till he fairly tracks them to their apartments, and learns their names from the porters. From that day every letter addressed to either of them is sent from the post-office to the police, and opened. Their correspondents become known to the government, and are carefully watched. Six or eight honest families, in different parts of France, find themselves at once under the frown of power without being able to guess what offence they have given. One person is dismissed from a public office; another learns with dismay that his promising son has been turned out of the Polytechnic school.
Next, the indefatigable servant of the state falls in with an old republican, who has not changed with the times, who regrets the red cap and the tree of liberty, who has not unlearned the Thee and Thou, and who still subscribes his letters with "Health and Fraternity." Into the ears of this sturdy politician our friend pours forth a long series of complaints. What evil times! What a change since the days when the Mountain governed France! What is the First Consul but a king under a new name? What is this Legion of Honour but a new aristocracy? The old superstition is reviving with the old tyranny. There is a treaty with the Pope, and a provision for the clergy. Emigrant nobles are returning in crowds, and are better received at the Tuileries than the men of the 10th of August. This cannot last. What is life without liberty? What terrors has death to the true patriot? The old Jacobin catches fire, bestows and receives the fraternal hug, and hints that there will soon be great news, and that the breed of Harmodius and Brutus is not quite extinct. The next day he is close prisoner, and all his papers are in the hands of the government.
To this vocation, a vocation compared with which the life of a beggar, of a pickpocket, of a pimp, is honourable, did Barere now descend. It was his constant practice, as often as he enrolled himself in a new party, to pay his footing with the heads of old friends. He was at first a Royalist; and he made atonement by watering the tree of liberty with the blood of Louis. He was then a Girondist; and he made atonement by murdering Vergniaud and Gensonne. He fawned on Robespierre up to the eighth of Thermidor; and he made atonement by moving, on the ninth, that Robespierre should be beheaded without a trial. He was now enlisted in the service of the new monarchy; and he proceeded to atone for his republican heresies by sending republican throats to the guillotine.
Among his most intimate associates was a Gascon named Demerville, who had been employed in an office of high trust under the Committee of Public Safety. This man was fanatically attached to the Jacobin system of politics, and, in conjunction with other enthusiasts of the same class, formed a design against the First Consul. A hint of this design escaped him in conversation with Barere. Barere carried the intelligence to Lannes, who commanded the Consular Guards. Demerville was arrested, tried, and beheaded; and among the witnesses who appeared against him was his friend Barere.
The account which Barere has given of these transactions is studiously confused and grossly dishonest. We think, however, that we can discern, through much falsehood and much artful obscurity, some truths which he labours to conceal. It is clear to us that the government suspected him of what the Italians call a double treason. It was natural that such a suspicion should attach to him. He had, in times not very remote, zealously preached the Jacobin doctrine, that he who smites a tyrant deserves higher praise than he who saves a citizen. Was it possible that the member of the Committee of Public Safety, the king-killer, the queen-killer, could in earnest mean to deliver his old confederates, his bosom friends, to the executioner, solely because they had planned an act which, if there were any truth in his own Carmagnoles, was in the highest degree virtuous and glorious? Was it not more probable that he was really concerned in the plot, and that the information which he gave was merely intended to lull or to mislead the police? Accordingly, spies were set on the spy. He was ordered to quit Paris, and not to come within twenty leagues till he received further orders. Nay, he ran no small risk of being sent, with some of his old friends, to Madagascar.
He made his peace, however, with the government so far, that he was not only permitted, during some years, to live unmolested, but was employed in the lowest sort of political drudgery. In the summer of 1803, while he was preparing to visit the south of France, he received a letter which deserves to be inserted. It was from Duroc, who is well known to have enjoyed a large share of Napoleon's confidence and favour.
"The First Consul, having been informed that Citizen Barere is about to set out for the country, desires that he will stay at Paris.
"Citizen Barere will every week draw up a report on the state of public opinion on the proceedings of the government, and generally on everything which, in his judgment, it will be interesting to the First Consul to learn.
"He may write with perfect freedom.
"He will deliver his reports under seal into General Duroc's own hand, and General Duroc will deliver them to the First Consul. But it is absolutely necessary that nobody should suspect that this species of communication takes place; and, should any such suspicion get abroad, the First Consul will cease to receive the reports of Citizen Barere.
"It will also be proper that Citizen Barere should frequently insert in the journals articles tending to animate the public mind, particularly against the English."
During some years Barere continued to discharge the functions assigned to him by his master. Secret reports, filled with the talk of coffee-houses, were carried by him every week to the Tuileries. His friends assure us that he took especial pains to do all the harm in his power to the returned emigrants. It was not his fault if Napoleon was not apprised of every murmur and every sarcasm which old marquesses who had lost their estates, and old clergymen who had lost their benefices, uttered against the imperial system. M. Hippolyte Carnot, we grieve to say, is so much blinded by party spirit that he seems to reckon this dirty wickedness among his hero's titles to public esteem.
Barere was, at the same time, an indefatigable journalist and pamphleteer. He set up a paper directed against England, and called the "Memorial Antibritannique". He planned a work entitled, "France made great and illustrious by Napoleon." When the Imperial government was established, the old regicide made himself conspicuous even among the crowd of flatterers by the peculiar fulsomeness of his adulation. He translated into French a contemptible volume of Italian verses, entitled, "The Poetic Crown, composed on the glorious accession of Napoleon the First, by the Shepherds of Arcadia." He commenced a new series of Carmagnoles very different from those which had charmed the Mountain. The title of Emperor of the French, he said, was mean; Napoleon ought to be Emperor of Europe. King of Italy was too humble an appellation; Napoleon's style ought to be King of Kings.
But Barere laboured to small purpose in both his vocations. Neither as a writer nor as a spy was he of much use. He complains bitterly that his paper did not sell. While the "Journal des Debats", then flourishing under the able management of Geoffroy, had a circulation of at least twenty thousand copies, the "Memorial Antibritannique" never, in its most prosperous times, had more than fifteen hundred subscribers; and these subscribers were, with scarcely an exception, persons residing far from Paris, probably Gascons, among whom the name of Barere had not yet lost its influence.
A writer who cannot find readers generally attributes the public neglect to any cause rather than to the true one; and Barere was no exception to the general rule. His old hatred to Paris revived in all its fury. That city, he says, has no sympathy with France. No Parisian cares to subscribe to a journal which dwells on the real wants and interests of the country. To a Parisian nothing is so ridiculous as patriotism. The higher classes of the capital have always been devoted to England. A corporal from London is better received among them than a French general. A journal, therefore, which attacks England has no chance of their support.
A much better explanation of the failure of the "Memorial" was given by Bonaparte at St Helena. "Barere," said he to Barry O'Meara, "had the reputation of being a man of talent: but I did not find him so. I employed him to write; but he did not display ability. He used many flowers of rhetoric, but no solid argument; nothing but coglionerie wrapped up in high-sounding language."
The truth is that, though Barere was a man of quick parts, and could do with ease what he could do at all, he had never been a good writer. In the day of his power he had been in the habit of haranguing an excitable audience on exciting topics. The faults of his style passed uncensured; for it was a time of literary as well as of civil lawlessness, and a patriot was licensed to violate the ordinary rules of composition as well as the ordinary rules of jurisprudence and of social morality. But there had now been a literary as well as a civil reaction. As there was again a throne and a court, a magistracy, a chivalry, and a hierarchy, so was there a revival of classical taste. Honour was again paid to the prose of Pascal and Massillon, and to the verse of Racine and La Fontaine. The oratory which had delighted the galleries of the Convention was not only as much out of date as the language of Villehardouin and Joinville, but was associated in the public mind with images of horror. All the peculiarities of the Anacreon of the guillotine, his words unknown to the Dictionary of the Academy, his conceits and his jokes, his Gascon idioms and his Gascon hyperboles, had become as odious as the cant of the Puritans was in England after the Restoration.
Bonaparte, who had never loved the men of the Reign of Terror, had now ceased to fear them. He was all-powerful and at the height of glory; they were weak and universally abhorred. He was a sovereign; and it is probable that he already meditated a matrimonial alliance with sovereigns. He was naturally unwilling, in his new position, to hold any intercourse with the worst class of Jacobins. Had Barere's literary assistance been important to the government, personal aversion might have yielded to considerations of policy; but there was no motive for keeping terms with a worthless man who had also proved a worthless writer. Bonaparte, therefore, gave loose to his feelings. Barere was not gently dropped, not sent into an honourable retirement, but spurned and scourged away like a troublesome dog. He had been in the habit of sending six copies of his journal on fine paper daily to the Tuileries. Instead of receiving the thanks and praises which he expected, he was drily told that the great man had ordered five copies to be sent back. Still he toiled on; still he cherished a hope that at last Napoleon would relent, and that at last some share in the honours of the state would reward so much assiduity and so much obsequiousness. He was bitterly undeceived. Under the Imperial constitution the electoral colleges of the departments did not possess the right of choosing senators or deputies, but merely that of presenting candidates. From among these candidates the emperor named members of the senate, and the senate named members of the legislative body. The inhabitants of the Upper Pyrenees were still strangely partial to Barere. In the year 1805, they were disposed to present him as a candidate for the senate. On this Napoleon expressed the highest displeasure; and the president of the electoral college was directed to tell the voters, in plain terms, that such a choice would be disgraceful to the department. All thought of naming Barere a candidate for the senate was consequently dropped. But the people of Argeles ventured to name him a candidate for the legislative body. That body was altogether destitute of weight and dignity; it was not permitted to debate; its only function was to vote in silence for whatever the government proposed. It is not easy to understand how any man who had sat in free and powerful deliberative assemblies could condescend to bear a part in such a mummery. Barere, however, was desirous of a place even in this mock legislature; and a place even in this mock legislature was refused to him. In the whole senate he had not a single vote.
Such treatment was sufficient, it might have been thought, to move the most abject of mankind to resentment. Still, however, Barere cringed and fawned on. His letters came weekly to the Tuileries till the year 1807. At length, while he was actually writing the two hundred and twenty-third of the series, a note was put into his hands. It was from Duroc, and was much more perspicuous than polite. Barere was requested to send no more of his Reports to the palace, as the Emperor was too busy to read them.
Contempt, says the Indian proverb, pierces even the shell of the tortoise; and the contempt of the Court was felt to the quick even by the callous heart of Barere. He had humbled himself to the dust; and he had humbled himself in vain. Having been eminent among the rulers of a great and victorious state, he had stooped to serve a master in the vilest capacities; and he had been told that, even in those capacities, he was not worthy of the pittance which had been disdainfully flung to him. He was now degraded below the level even of the hirelings whom the government employed in the most infamous offices. He stood idle in the market-place, not because he thought any office too infamous, but because none would hire him.
Yet he had reason to think himself fortunate; for, had all that is avowed in these Memoirs been known, he would have received very different tokens of the Imperial displeasure. We learn from himself that, while publishing daily columns of flattery on Bonaparte, and while carrying weekly budgets of calumny to the Tuileries, he was in close connection with the agents whom the Emperor Alexander, then by no means favourably disposed towards France, employed to watch all that passed at Paris; was permitted to read their secret despatches; was consulted by them as to the temper of the public mind and the character of Napoleon; and did his best to persuade them that the government was in a tottering condition, and that the new sovereign was not, as the world supposed, a great statesman and soldier. Next, Barere, still the flatterer and talebearer of the Imperial Court, connected himself in the same manner with the Spanish envoy. He owns that with that envoy he had relations which he took the greatest pains to conceal from his own government; that they met twice a day; and that their conversation chiefly turned on the vices of Napoleon; on his designs against Spain, and on the best mode of rendering those designs abortive. In truth, Barere's baseness was unfathomable. In the lowest deeps of shame he found out lower deeps. It is bad to be a sycophant; it is bad to be a spy. But even among sycophants and spies there are degrees of meanness. The vilest sycophant is he who privily slanders the master on whom he fawns; and the vilest spy is he who serves foreigners against the government of his native land.
From 1807 to 1814 Barere lived in obscurity, railing as bitterly as his craven cowardice would permit against the Imperial administration, and coming sometimes unpleasantly across the police. When the Bourbons returned, he, as might have been expected, became a royalist, and wrote a pamphlet setting forth the horrors of the system from which the Restoration had delivered France, and magnifying the wisdom and goodness which had dictated the charter. He who had voted for the death of Louis, he who had moved the decree for the trial of Marie Antoinette, he whose hatred of monarchy had led him to make war even upon the sepulchres of ancient monarchs, assures us, with great complacency, that "in this work monarchical principles and attachment to the House of Bourbon are nobly expressed." By this apostasy he got nothing, not even any additional infamy; for his character was already too black to be blackened.
During the hundred days he again emerged for a very short time into public life; he was chosen by his native district a member of the Chamber of Representatives. But, though that assembly was composed in a great measure of men who regarded the excesses of the Jacobins with indulgence, he found himself an object of general aversion. When the President first informed the Chamber that M. Barere requested a hearing, a deep and indignant murmur ran round the benches. After the battle of Waterloo, Barere proposed that the Chamber should save France from the victorious enemy, by putting forth a proclamation about the pass of Thermopylae and the Lacedaemonian custom of wearing flowers in times of extreme danger. Whether this composition, if it had then appeared, would have stopped the English and Prussian armies, is a question respecting which we are left to conjecture. The Chamber refused to adopt this last of the Carmagnoles.
The Emperor had abdicated. The Bourbons returned. The Chamber of Representatives, after burlesquing during a few weeks the proceedings of the National Convention, retired with the well-earned character of having been the silliest political assembly that had met in France. Those dreaming pedants and praters never for a moment comprehended their position. They could never understand that Europe must be either conciliated or vanquished; that Europe could be conciliated only by the restoration of Louis, and vanquished only by means of a dictatorial power entrusted to Napoleon. They would not hear of Louis; yet they would not hear of the only measures which could keep him out. They incurred the enmity of all foreign powers by putting Napoleon at their head; yet they shackled him, thwarted him, quarrelled with him about every trifle, abandoned him on the first reverse. They then opposed declamations and disquisitions to eight hundred thousand bayonets; played at making a constitution for their country, when it depended on the indulgence of the victor whether they should have a country; and were at last interrupted, in the midst of their babble about the rights of man and the sovereignty of the people, by the soldiers of Wellington and Blucher.
A new Chamber of Deputies was elected, so bitterly hostile to the Revolution that there was no small risk of a new Reign of Terror. It is just, however, to say that the king, his ministers, and his allies exerted themselves to restrain the violence of the fanatical royalists, and that the punishments inflicted, though in our opinion unjustifiable, were few and lenient when compared with those which were demanded by M. de Labourdonnaye and M. Hyde de Neuville. We have always heard, and are inclined to believe, that the government was not disposed to treat even the regicides with severity. But on this point the feeling of the Chamber of Deputies was so strong that it was thought necessary to make some concession. It was enacted, therefore, that whoever, having voted in January 1793 for the death of Louis the Sixteenth, had in any manner given in an adhesion to the government of Bonaparte during the hundred days should be banished for life from France. Barere fell within this description. He had voted for the death of Louis; and he had sat in the Chamber of Representatives during the hundred days.
He accordingly retired to Belgium, and resided there, forgotten by all mankind, till the year 1830. After the revolution of July he was at liberty to return to France; and he fixed his residence in his native province. But he was soon involved in a succession of lawsuits with his nearest relations—"three fatal sisters and an ungrateful brother," to use his own words. Who was in the right is a question about which we have no means of judging, and certainly shall not take Barere's word. The Courts appear to have decided some points in his favour and some against him. The natural inference is, that there were faults on all sides. The result of this litigation was that the old man was reduced to extreme poverty, and was forced to sell his paternal house.
As far as we can judge from the few facts which remain to be mentioned, Barere continued Barere to the last. After his exile he turned Jacobin again, and, when he came back to France, joined the party of the extreme left in railing at Louis Philippe, and at all Louis Philippe's ministers. M. Casimir Perier, M. De Broglie, M. Guizot, and M. Thiers, in particular, are honoured with his abuse; and the King himself is held up to execration as a hypocritical tyrant. Nevertheless, Barere had no scruple about accepting a charitable donation of a thousand francs a year from the privy purse of the sovereign whom he hated and reviled. This pension, together with some small sums occasionally doled out to him by the department of the Interior, on the ground that he was a distressed man of letters, and by the department of Justice, on the ground that he had formerly held a high judicial office, saved him from the necessity of begging his bread. Having survived all his colleagues of the renowned Committee of Public Safety, and almost all his colleagues of the Convention, he died in January 1841. He had attained his eighty-sixth year.
We have now laid before our readers what we believe to be a just account of this man's life. Can it be necessary for us to add anything for the purpose of assisting their judgment of his character? If we were writing about any of his colleagues in the Committee of Public Safety, about Carnot, about Robespierre, or Saint Just, nay, even about Couthon, Collot, or Billaud, we might feel it necessary to go into a full examination of the arguments which have been employed to vindicate or to excuse the system of Terror. We could, we think, show that France was saved from her foreign enemies, not by the system of Terror, but in spite of it; and that the perils which were made the plea of the violent policy of the Mountain were to a great extent created by that very policy. We could, we think, also show that the evils produced by the Jacobin administration did not terminate when it fell; that it bequeathed a long series of calamities to France and to Europe; that public opinion, which had during two generations been constantly becoming more and more favourable to civil and religious freedom, underwent, during the days of Terror, a change of which the traces are still to be distinctly perceived. It was natural that there should be such a change, when men saw that those who called themselves the champions of popular rights had compressed into the space of twelve months more crimes than the Kings of France, Merovingian, Carlovingian, and Capetian, had perpetrated in twelve centuries. Freedom was regarded as a great delusion. Men were willing to submit to the government of hereditary princes, of fortunate soldiers, of nobles, of priests; to any government but that of philosophers and philanthropists. Hence the imperial despotism, with its enslaved press and its silent tribune, its dungeons stronger than the old Bastile, and its tribunals more obsequious than the old parliaments. Hence the restoration of the Bourbons and of the Jesuits, the Chamber of 1815 with its categories of proscription, the revival of the feudal spirit, the encroachments of the clergy, the persecution of the Protestants, the appearance of a new breed of De Montforts and Dominics in the full light of the nineteenth century. Hence the admission of France into the Holy Alliance, and the war waged by the old soldiers of the tricolor against the liberties of Spain. Hence, too, the apprehensions with which, even at the present day, the most temperate plans for widening the narrow basis of the French representation are regarded by those who are especially interested in the security of property and maintenance of order. Half a century has not sufficed to obliterate the stain which one year of depravity and madness has left on the noblest of causes.
Nothing is more ridiculous than the manner in which writers like M. Hippolyte Carnot defend or excuse the Jacobin administration, while they declaim against the reaction which followed. That the reaction has produced and is still producing much evil, is perfectly true. But what produced the reaction? The spring flies up with a force proportioned to that with which it has been pressed down. The pendulum which is drawn far in one direction swings as far in the other. The joyous madness of intoxication in the evening is followed by languor and nausea on the morrow. And so, in politics, it is the sure law that every excess shall generate its opposite; nor does he deserve the name of a statesman who strikes a great blow without fully calculating the effect of the rebound. But such calculation was infinitely beyond the reach of the authors of the Reign of Terror. Violence, and more violence, blood, and more blood, made up their whole policy. In a few months these poor creatures succeeded in bringing about a reaction, of which none of them saw, and of which none of us may see the close; and, having brought it about, they marvelled at it; they bewailed it; they execrated it; they ascribed it to everything but the real cause—their own immortality and their own profound incapacity for the conduct of great affairs.