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pledge of their success. The friends of freedom select the name
which is most useful to them, and not that by which they are the
most flattered. They are called remonsirators in America,
shepherds \n Switzerland, and gueux in the Low Countries.


speech which has elicited such strong marks of dis-
approbation, because it has not been properly under-
stood. I consent to be judged, on the merits of its
contents, by all the friends of liberty." So saying he
left the hall amid threats and furious imprecations.
I called on Mirabeau an hour after. I was over-
come by feelings of dread and disappointment, but I
found him triumphant, and reading his speech to
some inhabitants of Marseilles who were expressing
the most enthusiastic admiration of it. I must con-
fess that he paid back to the assembly the slights he
had received from them. He compared them to
wild asses, who had obtained from nature no other
faculty than that of kicking and biting. " They did
not frighten me, my dear friend," said he in a pro-
phetic tone, " and in a week you shall see me more
powerful than ever. They must come to me, when
they find themselves about to be overwhelmed by the
tempest they have themselves raised. Regret not,
therefore, the events of this evening. The thinkers
will see something very profound in my motion. As
for the fools, I despise them too much to hate them,
and will save them in spite of themselves." With

They consider the terms of reproach applied to them by their
enemies, as their proudest boast ; for they deprive such terms
of all power of humiliation, the moment they have succeeded in
coupling them with honourable deeds ! — Note by the Genevese


all this excess of pride and temporary courage, he
had not^sufficient firmness to attend at the call of the
house. He did not, therefore, vote upon the ques-
tion ; and thus it was that his name did not appear
on the list of the eighty deputies held up, to the
people, as traitors sold to the aristocracy. Even his
popularity did not suffer at the Palais Royal, whilst
Mallouet, Mounier and several others who had
maintained the same opinion less openly, were de-
livered over to popular censure.

On the following day, when Sieyes appeared in
the hall, all the members, from a spontaneous feeling
of respect, rose to receive him, and applause thun-
dered from every side. ''How contemptible!"
said Mirabeau. ^^Do they. imagine that all is over?
I should not be surprised if civil war were the fruit
of their wise decree.''

The nobles were confounded at the audacity of
the tiers-etat. They who had access to the king,
told him that all would be lost, if he did not oppose
this usurpation on the part of the commons. The
debates in the chamber of the nobility, were scenes
of infuriated madness. The decree of the tiers-etat
was termed an outrage, treachery, high treason.
The frenzy was at its height ; and the king ought
to have called all his faithful subjects to defend him,
put himself at the head of his troops, ordered the
seditious to be arrested, and dissolved the assembly.


The cause of the events which followed, was to
be traced to the excitement of party spirit, and to
the violent language which resulted from it. It is
necessary to have witnessed this ferment to compre-
hend what followed. Many historical facts, stripped
of the circumstances by which they were prepared,
seem inexplicable. The atmosphere at Versailles
was dark and scorching ; and the explosion which
was expected to follow, must needs be terrible.

At this juncture, Duroverai conceived a plan
which he mentioned to M. Mallouet, but feared to
confide to the indiscretion of Mirabeau, in whom
neither party had any confidence. This plan was,
that the king should sit as the provisional legislator
of France, and annul the decree of the commons
which constituted them a national assembly ; but
that, at the same time, he should order the nobles
and clergy to join the tiers-etat for the joint verifi-
cation of their powers, and proceed in concert for
the future. The object of this sitting was, therefore,
to do by royal authority that which the commons
had effected by setting aside the king's power: and
to decree the union of the nobles and clergy with
the tiers-etat, in order that this union should emanate
from the king, and not from the commons. This
was intended only to save appearances, for the re-
sult would be the same. But by this measure, the
nobility would not appear at the assembly under


circumstances humiliating to their pride, and it
would, moreover, put an end to those violent disputes
between the three orders, which could only end
either in the triumph of the commons, by means of
a popular movement, or in the dissolution of the
assembly, which would be the precursor of a civil

Mallouet entered warmly into Duroverai's plan,
and brought M. Necker to the same way of thinking ;
but there was no direct communication between the
latter and Duroverai.

The plan of the royal session was adopted by the
king, but M. Necker's arguments in its favour were
made subservient to a modification which certainly
he never intended. After an animated discussion
in the council, the Count d'Artois and his party
triumphed ; and it was resolved that the decree of
the commons should be annulled, but without enjoin-
ing a union of the orders. Thus was the real object
of the measure done away, and nothing but its form
remained. M. Necker had aimed at combining
democracy with royalty ; but this measure had only
invested aristocracy with despotism. The forms of
authority which, with propriety, might be used to
ennoble a necessary act of condescension, became
revolting, when employed in an act of violence
which the king had no means of following up. Not
but the royal session in itself, when fairly considered,


will be found to contain the strongest concessions
which monarch ever made to his subjects; and which,
at any other period, would have called forth their
warmest gratitude/ When a prince is powerful,
every thing he grants is a gift, every thing he does
not take, is a favour; but if he be weak, that which
he grants is only a debt due — that which he refuses
to comply with, an injustice. *

The commons determined to be a national assem-
bly. Nothing less would satisfy them. If the
government chose to oppose this, they should have
prepared the means of doing so ; but to annul the
decrees, and excite popular ferment, without taking
a single precaution, without even having a party in
the assembly, was an act of madness which led to
the overthrow of the monarchy. Nothing is more
dangerous than to stimulate a weak man to acts be-
yond his strength ; for when resistance to his will
has shown his real weakness, he has no resource left.
Thus was the royal authority degraded, and even
the people discovered the secret of the king's want
of power.

The measures attendant upon the royal session were
as badly combined as if they had related to the acts
of unruly school-boys. The hall of the states-gene-
ral was closed for three or four days, A display of
soldiers imparted to this measure the appearance of

OF MlltABEAU. 105

violence. The deputies, driven from their hall at
the point of the bayonet, met in the famous Jeu-de-
Paumef or Tennis-court, where they swore never to
separate, until they had obtained a constitution.

Even the eighty members forming the minority
who had opposed the decree, took this oath ; for being-
ignorant of what was going on, they imagined that
the king was about to dissolve the states-general ;
andMirabeau, then labouring under the same mistake,
spoke so energetically against such dissolution, that
even his greatest enemies began to look upon him
as a giant, whose strength, in the present crisis of
aifairs, had become necessary to them. This scene,
— where fear was masked by an appearance of bold
determination — where the most timid became the
most violent — must have been witnessed to convey an
adequate conception of the evils it produced in the
course of the revolution. The alarmed deputies
were for ever alienated from the king's government ;
the oath was a tie of honour, and from that day, the
deputies of the tiers-etat were confederated against
the royal authority. This appearance of persecu-
tion redoubled the popularity of the commons, and
the Parisians were alarmed at their danger. The
Palais-Royal was a scene of absolute frenzy ; and dark
rumours seemed to menace the lives of some of the
most distinguished individuals at court. In a hazy
horizon, objects cannot be seen as they really are.


The alarmed populace became suspicious and active,
nor could any subsequent conciliatory measures of the
court restore the public confidence. Such was the
true origin of that burning excitement so carefully
kept alive by two classes of men, the factious and the

The day after the meeting at the Jeu-de-Paume^
the deputies, still excluded from their hall, in which
preparations were being made for the king's sitting,
presented themselves at the door of several churches,
but were not admitted. The sight of the represen-
tatives of the nation thus seeking an asylum and finding
none, increased the popular discontent. At length
they entered the church of St Louis, where a doubt-
ful majority of the clergy, headed by the Archbishop
of Vienne, the Archbishop of Bordeaux, and the
Bishop of Chartres, joined the deputies of the tiers-
etat amid transports which the approaching danger
rendered sincere. Greetings, applauses, pathetic
speeches, and even tears, announced that all were
united heart and hand against a common peril ; and
the conduct of the clergy on this occasion was the
more meritorious because it was voluntary. Who
would have anticipated at this period, that very
shortly after, an ecclesiastic would be unable to ap-
pear in public without suffering the most degrading

On the day of the royal session, I went to the pal-


ace to witness the splendid pageant. I well remember
the hostile and triumphant looks of many individuals,
in their way to the chateau. They thought their
victory sure. I saw the king's ministers, whose emo-
tion, though they aifected unconcern, was but too
apparent. The attitude of the Count d'Artois was
haughty ; the king seemed pensive and sad. The
crowd was great, and the silence profound. When
the king got into his carriage, there were rolling of
drums and flourishes of trumpets, but not a sign of
approbation from the people, and fear alone prevented
an explosion of popular discontent. At length the
vast procession began to move. The royal household
and its officers, the guards, infantry and cavalry,
proceeded towards the hall of the states-general, in
which the three orders assembled were defying each
other with looks of mute indignation, and impatiently
awaiting the result of this important day. Never
had passions so violent, and so diametrically opposed
to each other, been before pent up in so small a space.
The ceremony was precisely the same as on the open-
ing of the states- general, but what a difference was
there in the feelings of the assembly ! The day of
the first ceremony was a national festival, — the, re-
generation of political freedom ; but now, the same
pomp which had delighted every eye, was covered
with a veil of terror. The sumptuous dresses of
the nobles, the magnificence of regal state, and the


splendour of royal pageantry, seemed the accompani-
ment of a funeral procession.

I was not present at the sitting, and have obtained
my knowledge of what passed from the recital of
others ; but I know, that when the king and nobles
had withdrawn, the comnioifs attempted to disguise
their consternation. They began to perceive the
consequences of the decree they had so unheedingly
promulgated, and found that they had now no other
alternative than to subjugate the monarchy, or basely
recall their act. No one had yet attempted to
speak, when a message from the king ordered them
to separate. It was then that Mirabeau uttered
those famous words which form an epoch in the revo-
lution, and which roused the sunken spirits of the
assembly.* The deliberation assumed a decisive
character, and the royal sitting was termed a bed of
justice. This called to mind how the parliaments
had always acted on such emergencies — how often
the latter had dared to annul the orders given to
them by the king in person, and succeeded, by their
perseverance, in triumphing over the court. Before
the deputies separated, they confirmed their decree,
and renewed the oath of the Jeu-de-Paume; and
scarcely had the king entered the palace, when the
proceedings of the royal session were cancelled.

* " Go, tell your master that we are here by the power of the
people, and nothing but the force of bayonets shall drive lis
hence !"


One circumstance which encouraged the resistance
of the deputies, was that M. Necker had not attended
the king on this occasion. He w^as the only minister
not present, and his absence seemed to mark his
disapprobation of the measure. His popularity
thence prodigiously increased, and the people con-
sidered him as their safe-guard against the storm.
The assembly, who afterwards became jealous of the
people's affection for him, because they wanted to
engross it all to themselves, felt it their interest at
that period, to make him a public idol, and, with
his name, to counterbalance the court. His absence,
however, originated in a very simple cause. There
was a certain M. de Riol, who called himself a
Chevalier and wore some Swedish order,— a very
significant personage, who contrived to thrust him-
self every where. Although a subaltern, he lived
on terms of great familiarity with M. Necker. We
had become acquainted with this individual, who
called upon us on the very day of the royal session.
He assured us that he had found M. Necker on the
point of setting out for M. de Montmorin's, in order
to proceed to the palace, and accompany the king
to the assembly ; but that he (Riol) conjured him to
do no such thing, as he would inevitably have to
share in the odium of the measure, and would be un-
able to do any good in future. Riol added, that he
had carried his zeal so far as to tell Necker he would


rather break one of his arms or legs, than suifer him
to proceed; and that Madame Necker, in great
agitation, having joined her entreaties to his, M.
Necker at last yielded. I have no reason either to
doubt or to confirm this fact ; but if it be true, M.
Necker suffered his determination, on so important a
matter, to be influenced by a very insignificant per-
sonage.* It is, however, certain, that a witless man
often communicates his fears in a more persuasive
manner than an intellectual one ; and his gestures
sometimes produce a stronger effect than either rea-
son or eloquence. But surely M. Necker was not
to blame for not sanctioning, with his presence, a
measure in furtherance of which his speeches had
been insidiously used, after changing the vital part
of the plan he had proposed.

Mirabeau was made acquainted by Claviere, who
could not keep a secret, with the true origin of the
royal session. He complained of it to me in terms
of indignation. " Duroverai," said he, ^^did not
think me worthy of being consulted. He looks upon

* Impartiality forces us to state that Madame de Stael, in her
*• Considerations on the French Revolution," (Chap 20) attri-
butes M. Necker's absence to a determination previously taken,
in consequence of the changes made in his plan ; and according
to the same authority, M. Necker replied to the wish, expressed
by the court, that he should be present at the royal session, by
tendering his resignation.


me, I know, as a madman with lucid intervals. But
I could have told him beforehand what would be the
fate of his plan. It is not wdth such an elastic tem-
perament as that of the French, that these brutal
forms must be resorted to. And what kind of man
is this M. Necker, that he should be trusted with
such means ? You might as well make an issue in a
wooden leg as give him, advice ; for he certainly
could not follow it.'' /ind getting warmer as he
proceeded, he conclu^led with these remarkable
words, " It is thus that kings are led to the scaf-



At this period great agitation commenced among
the people. I have no doubt that there were meet-
ings to promote insurrection, paid declaimers, a
great deal of money distributed, and that the primary
agents of the directors at Versailles, were more nu-
merous among the minority of the nobles, than in
the tiers-etat. I will not, indeed, venture to assert,
that I am acquainted with particulars ; but I firmly
believe that the deputies of the tiers-etat acted, at
this momentous crisis, with very little concert among
themselves. There was a commencement of organi-
zation only among the deputies from Brittany, who
had already been somewhat drilled into the tactics of
popular assemblies, by their public disputes in their
native province. So far as I was able to ascertain,
the Breton club, which was acquiring great impor-
tance, had been got up by the minority of the nobles ;
but there will be no complete history of the revolu-
tion, until some member of this party publishes the


secret memoirs of its transactions. I well remember
an anecdote of that period. I one day encountered
Sieyes, who had just quitted a meeting composed of
Bretons, and of members belonging to the minority
of the nobles. He mentioned no names, but said,
*^ I will return to those men no more. Their poli-
tics are too cavernous, and they propose crimes
instead of expedients."

Duport and the Lameths had the reputation of
having machinated the revolution of Paris. It was
easy for the Duke of Orleans to put the centre dis-
tricts in motion. He was like a spider in the midst
of his web. But I know nothing of these events,
except through public channels. Mirabeau was not
connected with them. His fiery and ungovernable
temper disqualified him for coalitions. His ideas
were not sufiiciently connected, nor did he inspire
sufficient confidence to become a chief, and he had
too much pride to play a subordinate part. He
therefore remained independent ; envious to an ex-
cess of every rising influence, epigrammatic by
wholesale, a retail dealer in flattery, and alienated
from his colleagues by his contempt for some, and
his jealousy of others. I often went to Paris with
him, and I am convinced that he had no share in the
rising of the Parisians.

They who would account for the French revolu-
tion, by attributing it to concealed machinators; are


mistaken. Such machinators did certainly not pro-
duce the public feeling ; they only took advantage
of it. It is true, that they excited and directed it ;
but it is absurd to suppose that any conspirators, at
this period, could have caused so sudden and violent
an impulse ; — one, in short, so vast as to include,
simultaneously, the whole French nation. Every
one was in motion at Paris; even the coldest and
most calculating participated in the phrenzy of the
moment. The whole popular mass was in a state of
extreme caldescence. A word from the Palais
Royal, an accidental movement, the merest trifle, in
fine, might cause a general commotion. In such a
state of things, tumult begets tumult, and the disease
of the evening is aggravated next day.

Although the details are somewhat eifaced from
my recollection, I yet well remember the interval
between the royal session and the mournful appari-
tion of the king, at the assembly, when he came to
deliver himself up, or rather to place his person in
deposit there, after the capture of the Bastille. I
recollect this period as one of trouble, confusion,
and obscurity. False alarms were given, people
knew and did not know, orders were given and re-
voked, every thing was attempted to be guessed at
and explained, and a motive was attributed to the
most indiiferent actions. The palace was watched ;
spies were placed every where, and each trifle was


made of consequence. There were insurrections at
Versailles, originating, not in a preconcerted plan,
but in a suspicious and irascible disposition. Mean-
time, the three orders remained divided, and had
assumed hostile attitudes. The court sent troops to
quell these insurrections. Versailles was filled with
foreign soldiers, and military measures seemed every
where adopted. There were whispers of a change
of ministry, and the new names mentioned did not
tend to tranquillize the commons. So much bustle
on the part of the court, could be intended only to
enforce obedience to the royal session, either by re-
moving the assembly to a greater distance from
Paris, its proximity to which was dangerous, or by
dissolving it altogether, if this could be done without
the risk of a civil war, the idea of which made the
king shudder. But whatever were the intentions
of the court or of those who conducted its aifairs,
such intentions were certainly not in unison with
those of the king; there was an alarming secrecy in
the whole conduct of the court party; secret prepa-
rations were discovered, and plans seemed to be in a
course of development, but no result was ever per-
ceived. Such conduct raised general indignation,
and the fermentation at Paris was dreadful.

Reybaz and Claviere returned from Paris, and
assured us that it would be impossible to contain the


people. They urged Mirabeau to stand forward
upon this occasion. " If/' said they, '^ the tiers-etat
were wrong in voting themselves a national assembly,
still it is a measure which cannot now be recalled,
without degrading the representatives of the people,
and affording a complete triumph to the insolence of
the aristocracy. Should the states- general be dis-
solved, a national bankruptcy must be the inevitable
consequence. The people will rejoice at this, because
the government will reduce the taxes ; there will be
then no further difficulty, and the cause of freedom
will be lost." I am certain, that at this period, the
creditors of the state, a very numerous and active
body, who were all powerful at Paris, were acting in
direct opposition to the court, because they perceived
but too plainly, that if the government declared a
national bankruptcy, the deficit would be thought no
more of, and the words states- general j, constitutiony
and sovereignty of the people , totally forgotten.

It was at length discovered, that agents of the
court were sounding the regiments recently arrived
at Versailles, and likewise the French guards, in
order to ascertain how far their fidelity to the govern-
ment might be depended on. There was now no
time to be lost, and it was thought necessary that the
king himself should be warned of these manoeuvres,
the object and danger of which were probably con-


cealed from him. These points were introduced by
Mirabeau into his famous speech upon the removal
of the troops. Tliis speech was a sort of abstract of
every thing that had been said upon the subject,
during our private conferences. I wrote it, arid
Duroverai drew up the resolutions containing the
proposed measure. One of these resolutions called
upon the king to establish a militia of citizens. It
was the only one rejected by the assembly, though,
perhaps, it was the most important. Duroverai saw
that if the people took up arms, the royal authority
would be annihilated; but if the king himself armed
the citizens, such a choice of men and oJBicers might
be made, that this institution, like the English mili-
tia, would be a bulwark against insurrection, without
alarming the advocates of liberty. The last of these
resolutions was to present an address to the king,
relative to the removal of the troops. A committee
was appointed to draw up this address; for the
assembly sent every thing to committees, in order to
give as little importance as possible to individuals.
But as writing in common is the most difficult of all
conjunct functions, Mirabeau was requested by the
committee to make a draft of the address. Anima-
ted by the success of the speech, and full of the sub-
ject, encouraged, moreover, by the flattery and
aifectionate caresses of Mirabeau, whom the applause

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Online LibraryEtienne DumontRecollections of Mirabeau → online text (page 6 of 22)