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and meditation were foreign to the habits of the as-
sembly ; its decrees were passed almost at the sword's
point, and the most fiery passions had neither truce
nor interval. After having overthrown every thing
that existed, all must be reconstructed at once ; and
so high an opinion had the assembly of their own
powers, that they would willingly have undertaken
to frame a code for all nations. Historians will say
enough about the misfortunes of the revolution, but
it would be not less essential to denounce the primi-
tive faults which led to these misfortunes ; to go still
further back, — the composition of the assembly
ought to be examined, and particularly the circum-
stances in which originated the mistrust, the struggle
between the orders, the victory of the commons and
the degradation of the royal authority.

The most leading trait in the French character is
self-vanity. Each member of the assembly thought
himself equal to any undertaking. Never were
seen so many men congregated together, who fancied
themselves legislators, capable of repairing the faults
of the past, finding a remedy for all the errors of the


human mind, and securing the happiness of future
generations. Doubt of their own powers never once
found its way into their bosoms, and infallibility
always presided over their decisions. In vain did a
strong minority accuse them, and protest against
their measures ; the more they were attacked, the
more were they satisfied with their own transcendent
wisdom. When the king presumed to transmit to
them some mild remonstrances upon the decrees of
the 4th of August and the declaration of rights, they
were surprised that ministers should dare to criticise
their proceedings, and M. Necker, who was the au-
thor of the criticisms, began from that moment to
lose his influence among them.

I have been able to compare the English and
French of the same rank in life, and I have attended
assiduously the sittings of the English parliament and
those of the national assembly. There is no point
of opposition in the character of the two nations
more striking than the reserve, approaching timidity,
of the Englishman, and the confidence in himself
displayed by the Frenchman. I often used to think
that if a hundred persons indiscriminately were stop-
ped in the streets of London, and the same number
in the streets of Paris, and a proposal made to each
individual to undertake the government of his coun-
try, ninety-nine would accept the oifer at Paris and
ninety-nine refuse it in London.


Few of the speeches made in the assembly were
written by the parties who uttered them. A French-
man made no scruple of using the composition of
another, and acquiring honour by a species of public
imposture. No Englishman of character would con-
sent to play such a part. A Frenchman would put
himself forward and make any motion suggested to
him, without once troubling himself about the conse-
quences; whilst an Englishman would be afraid of
exposing himself, if he had not sufficiently studied his
subject to be able to answer every reasonable objec-
tion, and support the opinion he had advanced. A
Frenchman affirms upon very light grounds ; an
assertion costs him nothing ;— an Englishman is in no
haste to believe, and before he publicly advances a
fact, he traces it to its source, weighs his authorities,
and makes himself master of particulars. A French-
man believes that with a little wit he can stem a tor-
rent of difficulties. He is ready to undertake things
the most foreign to his habits and studies, and it was
thus that Mirabeau got himself appointed reporter to
the committee of mines, without having the slightest
knowledge concerning mines. An Englishman would
expose himself to eternal ridicule if he dared to
invade a department of which he knew nothing ;
and he is more disposed to refuse undertaking that
which he is able to perform, than to be ambitious of
doing what he knows to be beyond his powers. The


Frenchman believes that wit supplies the place of
every thing ; the Englishman is persuaded that no-
thing can be properly done without both knowledge
and practice. A French gentleman being asked if
he could play upon the harpsichord, replied, "I
do not know, for I never tried ; but I will go and
see." Now this is badinage, but make it serious ; —
for harpsichord substitute government, and for music
legislation, and, instead of one French gentleman you
would find twelve hundred.

Romilly had written a very interesting work upon
the regulations observed in the English house of com-
mons. These regulations are the fruit of long and
closely reasoned experience ; and the more they are
examined, the more worthy are they found of admi-
ration. They are rigorously enforced in an assembly
extremely jealous of innovation ; and as they are not
written, it required much pains and labour to collect
them. This little code indicated the best manner of
putting questions, preparing motions, discussing
them, telling the votes, appointing committees, — of
carrying on, in short, all the proceedings of a political
assembly. At the commencement of the meeting of
the states-general, I translated this work. Mirabeau
presented it, and deposited it upon the bureau of the
commons, at the time when it was in contemplation to
draw up a set of regulations for the national assembly.
"We are not English, and we want nothing English !"


was the reply. This translation of Romilly's work,
although printed, was not taken the least notice of;
nor did any member ever condescend to inquire how
matters were conducted in so celebrated an assembly
as the British parliament. The national vanity was
wounded at the idea of borrowing the wisdom of any
other people, and they preferred maintaining their
own defective and dangerous mode of conducting
their proceedings, of which the sitting of the 4th of
August was a painful illustration.

When Brissot talked about constitution, his fami-
liar phrase was, ^^That is what lost England."
Sieyes, Dupont, Condorcet, and many others with
whom I was acquainted, were precisely of the same
way of thinking. " How !'' once replied Duroverai,
feigning astonishment, "is England lost?" when did
you receive the news, and in what latitude was she
lost?" The laugh was against Brissot ; and Mira-
beau, who was then writing one of his speeches
against Mounier, attributed to the latter Brissot's
stupid saying, in order to have the pleasure of ma-
king him the object of Duroverai's bon mot. Mou-
nier complained of this in his first pamphlet, wherein
he points out Mirabeau's mistatements relative to a
sitting of which he professed to give a faithful account.



I HAVE not many recollections of the month of Sep-
tember. During that period I met at Mirabeau's
two men of very different characters. The first was
Camille Desmoulins, who signed several of his writings
as the attorney- general of the lantern. It must not,
however, be imagined that he excited the people to
use the lantern posts in the stead of gallows, an
abomination attributed to him by M. Bertrand de
Molleville ; — quite the reverse, he pointed out the
danger and injustice of such summary executions, but
in a tone of lightness and badinage by no means in
keeping with so serious a subject. Camille appeared
to me what is called a good fellow ; of rather exag-
gerated feelings, devoid of reflection or judgment,
as ignorant as he was unthinking, not deficient in wit,
but in politics possessing not even the first elements
of reason. Walking with him one day, I gave him
some explanations on the constitution of England, of
which he had been talking with the most profound


ignorance of the subject. Three years afterwards,
Camille, who had become a great man, by means of
his jacobinism and his intimacy with Robespierre,
and had cultivated his talents, wrote a work, in which,
giving an account of his own life since the beginning
of the revolution, he condescended, en passant, to
give me a kindly recollection by representing me as
an emissary of Pitt placed near Mirabeau to mislead
him, and as preaching the English constitution at
Versailles. I never read this work, but have been
told that it was clever, Camille being one of those
whom circumstances have led to acquire talents.

The other person whom I met at Mirabeau's was
La Clos, the author of the Liaisons Dangereuses,
This individual, belonging to the household of the
Duke of Orleans, was witty though sombre, taciturn
and reserved'; with the face and look of a conspirator,
he was so cold and distant, that although I met him
several times, I scarcely ever spoke to him. I knew
not his object in visiting Mirabeau. The events of
the 5th and 6th of July have been attributed to the
Duke of Orleans, and Mirabeau was implicated in
the conspiracy. The national assembly decreed
that there was no ground of accusation against either.
But the acquittal of the assembly is not the verdict
of history, and many doubts require still to be solved
before a correct judgment can be formed. Notwith-
standing my intimacy with Mirabeau at this period,


he never let me into the secret of his having formed
any connection with the Duke of Orleans. If then
such a fact be true, I am not aware of it. In my
recollections of the most minute circumstances,
which could not fail to betray a man so confiding and
imprudent as Mirabeau, I find not the slightest
ground for supposing him an accomplice in the pro-
ject against the court. It is true, nevertheless, that
his intimacy with La Clos might indicate some inten-
tion on the part of the duke to negotiate with him
for his services. Mirabeau sometimes visited Mon-
trouge, and once or twice, I believe, met the duke
there ; but it cannot be inferred from this that they
conspired together. I remember hearing him speak
somewhat favourably of this prince, that is to say of
his natural talents ; for in morals he said that nothing
must be imputed to the duke, who had lost his taste,
and could not therefore distinguish good from evil.
About the same time, Mirabeau said to Duroverai
and me, ^^I am quite astonished at finding myself a
philosopher, because I was born to be an adventurer.
But, who knows? They are going to tear the king-
dom to pieces; I have some interest in Provence . . . ."
Duroverai interrupted him with a laugh. " Ah ! he
already thinks himself Count of Provence." —
^^Well," replied Mirabeau, /^ many have risen from
smaller beginnings." All this was but the result of



high animal spirits, and his fervent imagination anti"
cipated nothing but ruin and overthrow.

The only cireumstance I know to his disadvantage,
was his preparing a work which he concealed from
us. When the assembly quitted Versailles, to meet
at Paris, Duroverai and I having called at Mira-
beau's, who was already gone, to collect some papers
which concerned us jointly, le Jay arrived in a trav-
elling dress, and had a van at the door. He seemed
much agitated, and had some difficulty in making us
comprehend the cause. He had been somewhere to
fetch the edition of a book which had been printed
clandestinely, ought to have arrived a week sooner,
and which he was now afraid of taking to Paris.
" What edition ? What book ? What is it about?"
— " Why," replied le Jay, ^^ it is the book against
royalty." — " Against royalty, pray bring us a copy."
It was a small volume, with a preface by Mirabeau,
and the name of the author. I do not remember
the precise title, but I think it was '^ On Royalty,^
extracted from MiltonP It was an abridgement or
translation from Milton. Detached passages had
been united, and a complete body of doctrine formed
from the republican writings of the great English
poet. I recollect seeing Mirabeau occupied about
this translation with his friend Servan, governor of
the pages, who, like all the inhabitants of Versailles,


•was hostile to the court. Servan was afterwards
minister of war. After the events of the 5th and
6th of October, such a publication by a member of
the national assembly was not only a libel, but an act
of high treason. We were the more annoyed at
this conduct, because the first suspicions of Mira-
beau's intimate acquaintances would have fallen
upon us, as being naturally inclined to republican-
ism, and being, moreover, familiar with the English
language. ^ But independently of our own feelings,
Mirabeau's situation was calculated to alarm us dread-
fully. Duroverai put le Jay into such a fright that
he already fancied himself in the Chatelet or La
Tournelle. He consented to every thing we pro-
posed, and we brought the whole edition into the
house, and burned it the same day. Le Jay saved
about a dozen copies. This expedition over, he re-
turned to Paris, and gave an account to his wife of
the dangers he had incurred, together with the man-
ner in which we had got him out of the scrape.
Madame le Jay, who had placed great dependence
upon this libel, fell upon the poor husband, called
him a fool, and made him feel at the same time
her double superiority in strength and intelligence.
She next went to Mirabeau, and denounced Durov-
erai ; but Mirabeau had too much sense not to per-
ceive that the book would have proved his ruin, had
it been published. All he wanted v/as to keep it in


reserve against a future favourable opportunity ; but
he had behaved too ill in the business to dare to re-
proach us with the loss of a few thousand francs,
I confess that on reflecting since upon this affair, the
time at which it occurred — the delay of the edition,
and the week earlier when it ought to have arrived —
le Jay's journey to fetch it, and the secrecy which he
was enjoined to preserve — I am sometimes tempted
to think that the work w^as associated with some im-
portant events, and that Mirabeau was iw the secret
of the occurrences of the 5th and 6th of October.
But on the other hand, I know that this compilation
was begun long before, and that Mirabeau's rage for
publishing was so great that it often got the better of
all prudential considerations. The best conclusion
at which I can arrive, after deliberately weighing
every circumstance, is that, taking it for granted
that the insurrection of Versailles was conducted by
the Duke of Orleans, La Clos was too able a tactician
to place the whole affair at Mirabeau's discretion,
but had engaged him conditionally with only a partial
confidence, and left a wide loop-hole to creep out at.
It is impossible not to think that there was some con-
nexion between them. <^^ Instead of a glass of brandy,
a bottle was given." This is the figure by which
Mirabeau explained the movement of Paris, upon
Versailles. I presume that if the king had fled,
Mirabeau v^ould have proclaimed the duke of Or-


kans lieutenant-general of the kingdom, and would
have become his prime minister. Such a scheme
might easily find place in a brain like Mirabeau's,
and his subsequent anger against the Duke of Orleans
might lead to the idea that he had been deceived in
his expectations. M. de Lafayette is perhaps ac-
quainted with the secret of these events, originating,
perhaps, in the spontaneous rising of the people, ex-
cited by a dread of famine which had, for the time
being, produced a real famine.

I w^as at Versailles, and saw part of what passed.
But I know nothing in particular, neither did I see
any thing that could characterise either a settled
plan or a conspiracy. I can even say that when the
event occurred, it was not explained in the same
manner as it has since been. The people attributed
the dearth to the aristocracy. The aristocrats, they
said, destroyed the corn before it reached maturity,
paid the bakers not to work, suspended trade, and
threw the flour into the rivers ; — in short, there was
no absurdity too gross to appear improbable. The
popular journals did not cease to circulate the gross-
est falsehoods. The arrival of a new regiment at
Versailles had renewed the public alarm. The fete
which had been given at the palace to the ojficers,
was inconceivably imprudent. It could not be term-
ed a conspiracy, because people do not conspire at
• a public banquet of five hundred persons ; but seve-


ral anti-popular songs were sung, the national cockade
insulted, the infant dauphin led about, and the
king and queen, yielding to the enjoyment of these
testimonies of affection, increased, by their presence,
the general enthusiasm. At any other period, it
would not have been imputed as a crime, that the
young officers of the king's guard should become
animated at a banquet, and display their affection
for the royal family. The cloud which hung over
this unhappy family, and the misfortunes which
threatened them, were a fresh stimulus to the feelings
of chivalrous honour which pervaded the bosoms of
these young nobles, devoted, by profession, to the
defence of their sovereign. But when the particu-
lars of this banquet were made public, with every
possible exaggeration, it was construed into an in-
tention of rendering the revolution odious, and of
forming a fresh league for the king's defence, and
was therefore denounced in the assembly as evidence
of a court conspiracy against the people. The cote
droit was furious, and inveighed against the calumny.
Mirabeau, whom Servan had excited, threw himself
into the midst of the tumult, and declared that he
was ready to name the principal author in the im-
pious fete, provided it were decreed beforehand
that the king's person was sacred and inviolable.
This single expression, which cast a direct accusa-
tion upon the queen, threw the cote droit into con- '


sternation, and made the democrats themselves fear
that they had gone too far.

If, on this occasion, Mirabeau had adopted the
most generous line of policy, and opposed the popu-
lar rage, it would have been easy to give another
colour to this circumstance, and place those testimo-
nies of affection for the king in a favourable point of
view. He might have openly complained of its being
supposed that the entire assembly did not participate
in these marks of affection, and have proposed a sim-
ilar fete, at which the king should appear surrounded
by all the representatives of France. He might, at
the same time, have asked for the removal of the
regiment of Flanders, whose presence was unneces-
sary. But it must be admitted that this assembly,
though very prodigal of their expressions of attach-
ment to the king, had never yet shown it by any
tangible act.

The dearth which kept the people in a state of
effervescence, and the banquet scene at the chateau
appeared, at the time, sufficient to account for the
insurrection at Paris, and the invasion at Versailles.

It was not till afterwards that a plot was imagined
and attributed to the duke of Orleans. This suspi-
cion acquired consistency when it was known that
M. de Lafayette had insisted upon the duke leaving
Paris and proceeding to England. The secret of
this intrigue has never transpired, but I recollect that


two years after, in a confidential conversation with
M. de Talleyrand, bishop of Autun, that prelate ut-
tered these remarkable words : " The Duke of Or-
leans is the slop-pail into which is thrown all the
filth of the revolution /"

The following, so far as my recollection serves me^
was Mirabeau's conduct during these two days. On
the fifth, we dined with M. Servan, in the palace
called les Petites-Ecuries, in which, as governor of
the pages, he had apartments. We could see from
the windows opening upon the great square, the ar-
rival of the Parisian multitudes, including the pois-
sardes or fish women, and the market porters. This
crowd demanded nothing but bread. The regiment
of Flanders and the national guard were drawn up
outside the external enclosure of the chateau. The
king's guards, both cavalry and infantry, were formed
within the great and lesser courts. There was a
tumultuous movement among the crowd, the cause
of which we could not well distinguish. Mirabeau
was not long with us ; nay, I have an idea that he
did not stay to dinner. Though the crowd was
great, and there was no knowing what might happen,
we walked about every where. We saw the king's
carriages go off through unfrequented streets, and
thought they were conveying the royal family to a
place of safety. Tired of wandering, I went to the
assembly at about eight o'clock in the evening. The


hall presented a curious spectacle. It had been
invaded by the people from Paris, and was quite full
of them. The galleries were crowded with women
and men armed with halberts, bludgeons and pikes.
The sitting was suspended, but a message came from
the king, calling upon the president to resume it,
and send a deputation to the chateau. I went to
Mirabeau, whom I found in bed, although it was not
eleven o'clock. He rose, and we returned to the
assembly. When we arrived, the president was ex-
hausting his strength in a fruitless endeavour to obtain
silence. Mirabeau immediately raised his voice, and
called upon the president to make the assembly
respected, and order the strangers in the hall to quit
the members' benches, which they had invaded.
It required all Mirabeau's popularity to succeed.
By degrees the populace withdrew, and the deputies
began to discuss some clauses of the penal code. In
the gallery in which I was sitting, there was a pois-
sarde who assumed superior authority, and directed
the motions of about a hundred women, awaiting her
orders to make a noise or be silent. She called
familiarly to the deputies, and said, '^ Who is speak-
ing yonder? Make that babbler hold his tongue!
We do not want his speechifying ; we want bread !
Let our little mother Mirabeau speak ; we should
like to hear him!" Our little mother Mirabeau be-
came the cry of the whole band ; but Mirabeau was


not a man to show off on such occasions, and his pop-
ularity never made him lose sight of his dignity.

About midnight, an aide-de-camp announced the
arrival of M. de Lafayette, at the head of the national
guard of Paris, and every one now thought himself
safe. The soldiers of the national gUard had re-
newed their oath of fidelity to the law and the king,
and the multitude, on being made acquainted with
the king's assurances, became calmer. About two
in the morning, we left the assembly, which was still
sitting. On awaking some hours after, a confused
account was given me of what had occurred ; of the
invasion of the chateau, and the disarming of the
guards. These events were then attributed to mis-
understandings, imprudences and chance quarrels.
Mirabeau went early to the assembly, and I was in-
formed that he opposed a compliance with the king's
desire of removing the assembly to the chateau, as
the only means of keeping the multitude in cheek.
The pretended dignity, which he put forward as a
reason for sending only a deputation, certainly ap-
peared suspicious. Was that a time to consult eti-
quette ? Was there a duty more imperious than that
of forming a living rampart around the monarch in
danger? Certain it is, that had a conspiracy against
the king really existed, and Mirabeau been an ac-
complice, he could not have behaved otherwise than
he did. But, on the other hand, how happened it.


that the assembly, who surely were not in the plot,
all so instantly concurred in bis opinion ? This is a
reason for believing that he had only taken advan-
tage of the general feeling, and that his motion was
not premeditated. There was, at this time, a marked
opposition between the court and the national assem-
bly, because the king had given but a half sanction
to the declaration of the rights of man, and to the
explanatory decrees of the 4th of August. The as-
sembly was mean enough, on this occasion, to take
advantage of the disorder, and call upon the king
for his full and unqualified consent ; just as if his
refusal had been one of the causes of the insurrec-
tion. Mounier presided on that day ;— Mirabeau
was very jealous of him, and had, perhaps, no other
motive, even without being conscious of it, than a
desire to get the better of Mounier, and injure him,
by representing his opinions as derogatory from the
national dignity. I did not, at the time, make these

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Online LibraryEtienne DumontRecollections of Mirabeau → online text (page 9 of 22)