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what was for some a panic, for the rest a stupefaction.


Augustine, never worthy or decided, leapt out upon the
cornice of the fayade, stood for a moment above the crowd
and then dashed himself down upon the steps of the great
porch. They picked him up yet living and carried him
into the lodge. Lescot stood suddenly up and made a
movement as though to defend his leader, but he had done
no more than rise when the end came.

For as Robespierre still sat motionless, his elbow on the
arm of his chair, his face turned downward and a little
away from the door, a boy of nineteen ran up the stair
before the rest and stood in the entry. It was Merda.
Leonard Bourdon followed close behind; but before a
sign or an order could be given Merda had raised his
pistol and fired.^ Struck full in the face, his jaw shattered
and his blood breaking over the document before him
Robespierre fell down ; St. Just that had stood by all the
while, receiving the inevitable with great dignity and
silence, knelt on one knee beside him and tried to
staunch the wound. Then in a scene whose details
have remained to us but whose impression is but a huge
confusion, the conquerors poured in and occupied the
room with numbers.

To this, which was the true end of his life, little
should be added. The long hours that remained to him
were but a confused lethargy ; dull pain, the loss of blood,
long fasting, lack of sleep drained his life dry before the
guillotine could claim it.

They took him on a stretcher to the Tuileries where
all the prisoners were gathered, and, in the room of
the Pavilion Marsan where he had supped the night
before they laid him upon the table, giving him for a
pillow a deal box, and some one handed him a pistol-case

^ See Note II. at the end of this book.


of cloth with which from time to time he feehly tried
to wipe the blood from his face.

When the sun had already risen they sent doctors to
him, who, probing his mouth and taking from it his
broken teeth, yet drew no sound from him nor any
gesture. Only his eyes, which remained bright, were
fixed upon them all the while Hke those of an animal
wounded. They bound his jaw with bandages and left
him so, for chance visitors to stare at all the long morn-
ing ; and St. Just sat by his side, his eyes red and swollen
perhaps from weeping, certainly from vigil.

During those five interminable hours Robespierre
neither moaned nor mumbled a broken word, but lay
quite silent, though at rare intervals the guards jested
about him and his wound and his coming fate. But
to this silence there was one exception, for as he attempted
to reach his garter, which cramped and numbed his
leg, an assistant, kinder than the rest, stepped forward and
loosened it for him. Then Robespierre whispered in-
distinctly with his swollen lips, " Thank you, sir." ^
Equality was dying.

It was long before noon when the prisoners were
taken away to the conciergerie ; formalities of a certain
length, the reunion of the other outlaws, the identifica-
tion of each consumed the day, and it was not till past
five of the summer afternoon that the tumbrils rolled
out of the great gates of wrought iron,

A long and useless agony marked the road to the
guillotine. So slowly went the carts, and with such
frequent shocks and stoppages from the dense crowd,
that the bare two miles of road took up nearly as many
hours. On the Quai des Lunettes, where his familiar
custom had half-endeared him to the stalls, the opticians
and their workers saw him go by, and raised no cries.
In the Rue St. Denis, the Rue de la Ferronerie, past the

^ This man told it to Petiet, who told it to Michelet.


Markets, crowded windows and the reappearance of a
luxurious world proclaimed the reaction ; but especially
in the Rue St. Honore all that society which, since
the victories, was reconquering France, made a parade
of enthusiasm — and the people echoed it.

They say that at the western end the soldiers who
had lined the whole way could not restrain the flood
of the mob ; the house fronts were filled ; there were
flowers and ceaseless acclamations. To one the Terror,
to another unclean equality, to another madness, to
another the Republic, to yet another the threat of
punishment seemed to be passing in the tumbril. But
as a fact it was only Robespierre.

He hung limp and exsanguine from the cords that
bound him to the cart ; hatless, his stock lost, his light-
blue coat dimmed with the accumulations of the night
and the dust of prisons, his white nankeen short-hose
muddy and splashed with blood, his head loose at the
neck ; he looked like a man swooning.

It is not right to watch him thus, for the man had
passed. I will not describe the end. Perhaps Carrier
shouted behind the cart, perhaps they played some
bacchanalian thing before the empty house of Duplay,
perhaps a woman struck him in the Rue Royale. In
the great square to which the guillotine had returned
for this last sacrifice, the twenty-two were poured out in
expiation, Robespierre the last. He gave, as they
loosened his bandage, a loud cry of pain. The axe fell,
and powder shook from his hair.

Political effort in its supreme achievements or
despairs creates a certain illusion. Matters of a moment
pass for things eternal. A mere battle, a single crime,
are thought, as they stand up against and terrify the
eager mind, to have arrested in some manner the slow


purpose of God. So it was with this high combing of
the revolutionary wave.

It was imag^ined at the death of this man that the
West would abandon or attempt with an ever-diminishing
energy the solution of that awful problem of political
freedom whose complexity he had himself so little
seized. A relief ran through the kings ; the rich began
to draw breath carelessly. It was thought that the
Republic, which had certainly suffered madness, would
leave no more effect than attaches to the memory of
evil dreams.

Whatever instinct or demand had surged up from
the blind depths and origins of mankind, that primal
appetite had, it was thought, sunk back into its antique

But it is not so lightly, nor in so immediate a fashion
that change can be provoked in the development of a
civilisation. The universal reaction which men awaited
could find no stuff; the theories counter to democracy no
new philosophy in the mere falling of a sharp steel.
To-day through the wide perplexities of a world ten-
fold his own, the central thought, to which this man
was registrar and whose propagation he imagined to be
his mission, has reappeared to lead us through unknown
dangers to unknown destinies ; for we are certainly on
the threshold of the Republic.

In closing this book, I turn again to himself. I
remember his grave for a moment. His bones, buried in
a vague field of the suburbs, forgotten beneath the
dancing-floor of a common hall, were insulted for twenty
years till they were disturbed by the pickaxe in the
driving of a road for the rich, and no one knows where
they lie.

I return also to the memory of the jejune, persistent
mind which has haunted me throughout the description
of his fortunes. I fear to have done him a wrong.


SucL. men may be greater within tlian their phrases or
their vain acts display them. I know that he passed
through a furnace of which our paltry time can re-
imagine nothing, and I know that throughout this trial he
affirmed — with monotonous inefficiency, but still affirmed
— the fundamental truths which our decadence has
neglected or despised, and is even in some dens beginning
to deny.

He saw God Personal, the soul immortal, men of a
kind with men, and he was in the company of those who
began to free the world. God have mercy on his soul
and on each of ours, who hope for better things.




Throughout the second chapter of this book I have used the
" Memoirs of Charlotte Kobespierre," and as their authenticity has
been doubted, I would explain at some length how the doubt has
arisen, and upon what grounds I have taken them to be genuine.
It is a matter of great importance to such a study as this, because
the character of Robespierre can only be read in the light of his
boyhood and youth, and of that time we have no full record save
that of his sister.

The history of the " Memoirs " is this. A young revolutionary
of 1830 published after the death of Mademoiselle Robespierre
(or " de Robespierre," as she preferred to be called) a book which
did not purport to be entirely from her hand, but was his edition of
the numerous notes which she had left for the use of history, and
which, he said, had been handed to him by her executrix, Mdlle.

The principal authority for regarding the " Memoirs " as
spurious is a certain Croker, who was, in the earlier part of this
century, an historian, and an ardent critic of, the Revolution.
His fortune enabled him to make a very valuable collection of
revolutionary pamphlets and material, the greater part of which
is now in the British Museum ; and so great was his reputation
during his lifetime that he was offered some prodigious sum (I
forget how many thousand pounds) by one of the principal pub-
lishing firms of this country (I forget which) to write a history of
the Revolution.

By that process of copying which is the curse of history, his



opinion upon these " Memoirs " has been so often repeated as to
acquire a certain fixity. Yet, if his original criticism be examined,
it will be discovered that he had no better ground for it than
political bias.

It would be an impertinence upon my part to attack the great
authority of Mr. Morse-Stephens, who is without question the
only Englishman thoroughly acquainted with the history of the
Revolution, and whose admirable work, the product of an Oxford
leisure, has received its reward in an American endowment ; but
Mr. Morse-Stephens will not, I think, deny that in this case he
has merely followed the authority of Croker, for on reading
Croker's MS. notes in the British Museum, I found upon the
fly-leaf of the volume Mr, Morse-Stephens' name, and I presume
that the book was once his property.

Now the argument in favour of accepting the authenticity of
these " Memoirs " is simply the argument in favour of accepting
the authenticity of any book that may be presented to you until
some conclusive evidence of chicanery or forgery can be produced.
If indeed the book had been published as proceeding entirely
from Charlotte Robespierre's own hand, then one would have
grave suspicions of the honesty of its publication, for she was
not in the habit of long consecutive literary composition, and
some parts of the style are evidently those of another hand ; but
since the book was not offered under any such guise, but frankly
edited as the compilation and working together of her notes by
another, there can be no question of false motive in the matter,
and any one desiring to suggest that the relations given in them
were not from her pen would have to prove one of three things —
either, first, that Charlotte was of a character quite different from
that which the author of these " Memoirs " betrays ; or, secondly,
that Laperronaye was so untrustworthy a man that anything pro-
ceeding from him was open to suspicion ; or finally (and this
would be the best proof of all), that in some one important part
of the "Memoirs" a statement demonstrably untrue, and one
which Charlotte and he must have known to be untrue, is made.

None of these three proofs against the authenticity of the
" Memoirs " or against their veracity exists.

Charlotte's character is perfectly well known. She had many
acquaintances throughout her long life, and the Lebas family (who

3 4


were her most intimate friends, and who occupied an honourable
position in the society of the University as late as the third
empire) have been able to give as clear and consecutive an
account of her character in her age, as the private letters and
memoirs of the Revolution give it of her youth. She was some-
what bitter and jealous ; reserved ; a little vain (there was even
some talk of a courtship with Fouche !) ; strongly attached to her
brother, and not particularly political. She could have no kind
of motive in making him out this or that save the motive of
domestic affection, which would, of course, prevent her from
including the less favourable anecdotes that might attach to his
youth, but which would not affect the neutral matter of which
the " Memoirs " are principally composed. In a word, she was
exactly the woniRU whom one would expect to leave the notes
which she did leave ; they contain not a few allusions to her
quarrels with those whom she feared were acquiring too great a
domestic influence over her brother, and in all of them she dis-
covers herself to be precisely what the tradition of her character
would make her.

Laperronaye's character is also well known ; he was a young
and enthusiastic radical, who more than once suffered at the
hands of the Restoration for his political opinions. He was,
as such enthusiasts must of their nature be, a simple man,
and while his own relation of political events would almost
certainly be exaggerated and biassed, such a cold forgery as
Croker suggests (a forgery requiring, moreover, an intimate know-
ledge of human nature, a great self-restraint, and a vast reading)
is utterly alien to such a type of mind.

As to the third method, the discovery in these " Memoirs " of
a definite falsehood, I will treat of in a moment. Meanwhile let
me examine the methods which Croker used in his analysis
of the book.

He wrote an article in the Quarterly Review, a periodical at
that time remarkable for its ability in attack, professing to review
this with other memoirs that had been sent him by the editor,
and he proceeds to the satisfaction of the middle class of his
time, but certainly to the satisfaction of no historian, to demolish
the authenticity of Charlotte's notes in the following fashion : —

In the first place he impugns the morality of the publisher.


He does not impugn it by saying this publisher upon such and
such an occasion was guilty of such and such a trick, or -wittingly
foisted such and such a forgery upon the public, he simply says : —

" In England the assertion of any man of letters or of any
respectable publisher that a work was printed from the MSS. of
a person lately deceased, would never be questioned — we regret
to repeat that it is quite the reverse in France."

It is difficult to see why Croker was at the paius of going
further. If French publishers are notorious rogues, it is evident
that any book proceeding from a French firm lies under grave
suspicion, and the onus jprohandi in the matter of its genuineness
lies upon the firm that has the temerity to issue the book.
According to this theory it would be necessary for every French
publisher to issue as a preface to all posthumous and most con-
temporary works a complete and exhaustive proof that in each
particular case he had acted honestly.

But though this assertion of Croker's (had he seriously in-
tended to propound it dogmatically), would have been sufficient
for his whole argument, he has the grace to go into a little more
detail, and attacks the honesty of Laperronaye. The basis of
his distrust of Laperronaye is that Laperronaye was a radical,
and was prosecuted by the Government for his political opinion.
There is not a single atom of proof produced by Croker to show
that Laperronaye was a dishonest man, saving the fact that he
was a radical and that he suiTered such prosecution. I will
admit that I ' >und it a trifle disconcerting to discover that some
men regard as criminals all young liberals who live by lecturing
and their pen. He does not say, " Laperronaye once forged this
or that," nor does he even bring forward what is usually easy to
bring forward in the case of violent politicians, examples of his
exaggeration or misstatements ; he simply says that Englishmen
will always look with suspicion upon those who are prosecuted
by monarchic or oligarchic governments for their political opinions.
A postulate so puerile, and one so destructive to the credit of the
whole English historical school, would seem incredible did not
one know the kind of man who was writing and the kind of
audience for which he wrote ; nevertheless it is the only argu-
ment this astonishing man brings forward to destroy the value
of Laperronaye's edition, so far as its author is concerned.


I turn now to the more serious part of his argument : the
part in which he attempts to prove special points in order to establish
his view. I give them in their order, and I think my readers will
admit that they are not particularly convincing.

Pirst he says that Laperronaye could not have had the
" Memoirs " because Mdlle. de Robespierre's whole property was
left in her will to her host and friend Mdlle. Mathon. The ab
surdity of this should be evident on the face of it. People
bequeath their literary property every day to those who will have
to call in aid for its editing and publication. But it becomes still
more absurd when one knows, what Croker apparently did not, but
what at that time many living men could have told him, that
Laperronaye was an intimate friend of the house, that he was in
continual conference with Mdlle. de Robespierre, and that Mdlle.
Mathon made no protest against the appearance of the book.

Secondly, he complains that the style is in many parts " con-
tinually smelling of the three great days" of 1830, "no more like
what a poor old recluse would have hammered out than it is to
Marot or Rabelais." This is rank nonsense. If he is alluding to
the phrases that proceeded from Laperronaye's own pen, of course
they smell of 1830, just as this book which I have written smells,
or at least I hope it smells, of the year 1901. But if he is
alluding to the phrases which are supposed to proceed from
Mdlle. de Robespierre herself and to form parts of her notes, I
can only say that it is utterly unfounded. It is not very easy to
distinguish the slight differences of style that arise in the lifetime
of one person. Mdlle. de Robespierre may have kept strictly in
her old age to the phrases of 1793, or she may have, as most
people do, altered a little with the time ; but the simple words
in which her brother's youth is noted down belong to no par-
ticular kind of modern French style. They are perfectly straight-
forward and plain. There is not an expert in the world that
could decide from the words or their order at what time between
1760 and 1840 they may have been written.

Thirdly, he says that her age (she was over seventy) "was
rather late to set about writing memoirs." This again is non-
sense. I repeat, the book does not profess to be of Mdlle.
Robespierre's own composition ; it professes only to be an editing
and putting together of a mass of notes which she had jotted


down in the course of a great number of years, and Croker's
contention that the mention of Levasseur's " Memoirs " (a book
that only appeared in 1829) proves the book a forgery, has not the
least weight, since there is no reason that a woman over sixty
should not take note of the literature of her time. If some
elderly English lady were now leaving a number of notes
of, let us say, the Indian Mutiny (which is further from us
than the Revolution was from 1829), it is ridiculous to imagine
that she would be incapable of noting some important book upon
the subject which had appeared this year, and which seemed to
her to be libellous or false in connection with the character of
some actor in that episode whose reputation she had at heart.

Fourthly, he makes great case of Robespierre's being spoken
of as belonging to two successive parliaments, and calls this "a
slip of Laperronaye's youthful memory." This again is absolutely
puerile. Whether the inaccurate phrase is Laperronaye's or Mdlle.
de Robespierre's is immaterial, it is just such an error as would
never appear in a forgery, and as would appear in rough authentic
notes jotted down from memory. Every child in a French
school knows that Robespierre was not a member of the second,
but only of the first and third parliaments of the Revolution ;
Mdlle. de Robespierre knew it, and Laperronaye knew it as well
as Croker (for instance) would know that the short peace of
Amiens interrupted the Great War, of which one nevertheless
talks and writes as a continuous struggle of twenty-two years.

It is evident that upon such arguments as the above one could
prove any authority in the world to be doubtful, but there is in the
■whole of this long article just one clear bit of evidence, and only
one, and as might be expected it goes against Croker's contention.
He speaks of the letter upon p. 126 (of the i8th of Messidor of
the year II.) as obviously false from the terms of recrimination in
which it is written; it is an angry and almost passionate com-
plaint against the way she is neglected. Croker asks whether
it is possible to believe that such a letter would have been sent to
Maximilian, "who was her brother's master and hers."

It was published by Courtois (when that enemy officially
edited the papers seized in Robespierre's house) as being addressed
to Maximilian. On the face of it, it is improbable that Charlotte
would have addressed such a letter to Maximilian, and Croker


should have known that Courtois very often omitted matter in
order to turn the collection against Eobespierre. He cannot be
called a serious critic who accepts without verification anything
which may tend to support his one theory, yet this is just what
Croker did. If Croker had looked up the original in the
archives he would have found that the letter was not written to
Maximilian but to Augustine ; it is he, her younger brother,
whom Charlotte is reproaching for not visiting her on his return
from the South, and we know that she had a standing quarrel
with him which Eobespierre was always trying to settle.

I think I have sufficiently shown that Croker is utterly
unreliable, and as it is principally upon Croker's authority that
doubts have been cast upon these " Memoirs " I think it will also
be admitted that, until something more definite can be brought
against them, the " Memoirs " must be taken as our principal source
of information upon Robespierre's childhood and youth. I cannot
refrain, however, from concluding by quoting a characteristic
pencil note which Croker has himself added in the spirit of an
exegi monumentum on the margin of his precious essay : —

"/^ is now admitted,''^ he writes, "that the Quarterly Review
was right, and that these ' Memoirs ' ivere a r/ross fabrication, but if
it had not been for this exposure they might still have passed for

There, in a nutshell, is the spirit which always runs through
this kind of falsification of history. A writer, popular for some
momentary reason, develops a long process of reasoning upon
certain postulates which he affirms with commendable vigour,
but which he does not himself take the trouble to prove. B, C,
and D, eminent and reliable men who have heard that A is an
authority, and who are writing upon some cognate subject, come
across this point ; they have no time to look up the whole of the
authorities ; they turn to an index and they discover that the
only man who has treated of it is A. They run rapidly through
his conclusions and admit them into their own narratives. Their
work, since it is valuable upon any matter which they have
examined, is read by the general public ; the single point so
quoted is accepted with the rest, and at last the false conclusion
arrived at by one charlatan in this one matter is perpetuated on
the well-founded authority of a dozen honest man with whose
labours it is intermixed.




There will perhaps be among my readers a certain number
who are familiar with modern Paris, and I take it that they will
find some interest in the discovery of the exact sites mentioned in
this book. The original buildings have nearly all disappeared;
their emplacements, however, are worth tracing.

The Jacobins. — The Dominican Convent of the Eue St.
Honor^, in whose chapter or refectory the club originally met,
in whose library they held their sessions until May '91, and in

Online LibraryHilaire BellocRobespierre → online text (page 30 of 32)