John S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) Abbott.

History of Mme. Roland online

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execution, and outraged by reading the violent
and disgusting diatribes poured forth against
me by hirelings of the press, who have never
once beheld me. I have wearied no one with
requests, petitions, or demands. On the con-
trary, I feel proudly equal to battle with my
own ill fortune, and it may be to trample it
under my feet.

'' Robespierre ! I send not this softened pic-
ture of my condition to excite your pity. No !
such a sentiment, expressed by you, would not
only offend me, but be rejected as it deserves.
I write for your edification. Fortune is fickle
— popular favor equally so. Look at the fate
of those who led on the revolutions of former
ages — the idols of the people, and afterward
their governors — from Vitellius to Cassar, or
from Hippo, the orator of Syracuse, down to
our Parisian speakers. Scylla and Marius pro-
scribed thousands of knights and senators, be-


sides a vast number of other unfortunate beings ;
but were they enabled to j^revent history from
handing down their names to the just execra-
tion of posterity, and did they themselves enjoy
happiness ? Whatever may be the fate awarded
to me, I shall know how to submit to it in a
manner worthy of myself, or to anticipate it
should I deem it advisable. After receiving
the honors of persecution, am I to expect the
still greater one of martyrdom ? Speak ! It
is something to know your fate, and a spirit
such as mine can boldly face it, be it as it may.
Should you bestow upon my letter a fair and
impartial perusal, it will neither be useless to
you nor to my country. But, under any cir-
cumstances, this I say, Eobespierre — and you
cannot deny the truth of my assertion — none
who have ever known me can persecute me
without a feeling of remorse.'''

Madame Eoland preferred to die rather than
to owe her life to the compassion of her ene-
mies. Could she obtain a triumphant acquit-
tal, through the force of her own integrity, she
would greatly exult. But her imperial spirit
would not stoop to the acceptance of a pardon
from those who deserved the execrations of
mankind ; such a pardon she would have torn
in fragments, and have stepped resolutely upon
the scaffold.

There is something cold and chilling in the


supports which pride and philosophy alone
can afford under the calamities of life. Madame
Koland had met with Christianity only as it
appeared in the pomp and parade of the Ca-
tholic Church, and in the openly-dissolute lives
of its ignorant or voluptuous priesthood. While
her poetic temperament was moved by the
sublime conception of a God ruling over the
world of matter and the world of mind, revealed
religion, as her spirit encountered it, consisted
only in gorgeous pageants, and ridiculous dog-
mas, and puerile traditions. The spirit of
piety and pure devotion she could admire.
Her natural temperament was serious, reflect-
ive, and prayerful. Her mind, so far as reli-
gion was concerned, was very much in the state
of that of any intellectual, high-minded, un-
corruptible Roman, who renounced, without
opposing, the idolatry of the benighted mul-
titude ; who groped painfully for some rev-
elation of God and of truth ; who at times
believed fully in a superintending providence,
and again had fears whether there were any
God -or any immortality. In the processions,
the relics, the grotesque garb, and the spiritual
terrors wielded by the Roman Catholic priest-
hood, she could behold but barefaced decep-
tion. The papal system appeared to her but
as a colossal monster, oppressing the people
with hideous superstition, and sustaining, with


its superhuman energies, the corruption of the
nobles and of the throne. In rejecting this
system, she had no friend to conduct her to
the warm, sheltered, and congenial retreats of
evangelical piety. She was led almost inev-
itably, by the philosophy of the times, to those
chilling, barren, storm-swept heights, where
the soul can find no shelter but in its own in-
domitable energies of endurance. These en-
ergies Madame Eoland displayed in such a
degree as to give her a name among the very
first of those in any age who by heroism have
shed luster upon human nature.

Under the influence of these feelings, she
came to the conclusion that it would be more
honorable for her to die by her own hand than
to be dragged to the guillotine by her foes. She
obtained some poison, and sat down calmly to
write her last thoughts, and her last messages
of love, before she should plunge into the deep
mystery of the unknown. There is something
exceedingly affecting in the vague and shadowy
prayer which she offered on this occasion. It
betrays a painful uncertainty whether there
were any superintending Deity to hear her cry,
and yet it was the soul^s instinctive breathings
for a support higher and holier than could be
found within itself.

'*^ Divinity ! Supreme Being ! Spirit of the
Universe ! great principle of all that I feel great.


or good, or immortal within myself — whose ex-
istence I believe in, because I must have ema-
nated from something superior to that by which
I am surrounded — I am about to reunite my-
self to thy essence. " In her farewell note to
her husband, she writes, " Forgive me my es-
teemed and justly-honored husband, for taking
upon myself to dispose of a life I had consecrat-
ed to you. Believe me, I could have loved life
and you better for your misfortunes, had I been
permitted to share them with you. At present,
by my death, you are only freed from a useless
object of unavailing anguish. '^

All the fountains of a mother's love gush
forth as she writes to her idolized Eudora :
" Pardon me, my beloved child, my sweet
daughter, whose gentle image dwells within my
heart, and whose very remembrance shakes
my sternest resolution. Never would your fond
mother have left you helpless in the world,
could she but have remained to guide and
guard you.''

Then, apostrophizing her friends, she ex-
claims, "And you, my cherished friends, trans-
fer to my motherless child the affection you have
ever manifested for me. Grieve not at a reso-
lution which ends my many and severe trials.
You know me too well to believe that weakness
or terror have instigated the step I am about to


She made her will, bequeathing such trifling
sonyenirs of affection as still remained in her
possession to her daughter, her friends, and her
servants. She then reverted to all she had loved
and admired of the beauties of nature, and
which she was now to leave forever. " Fare-
well l^' she wrote, '^ farewell, glorious sun !
that never failed to gild my windows with thy
golden rays, ere thou hiddest thy brightness in
the heavens. Adieu, ye lonely banks of the
Saone, whose wild beauty could fill my heart
with such deep delight. And you too, poor
but honest people of Thizy, whose labors I
lightened, whose distress I relieved, and whose
sick beds I tended — farewell ! Adieu, oh !
peaceful chambers of my childhood, where I
learned to love virtue and truth — where my im-
agination found in books and study the food to
delight it, and where I learned in silence to
command my passions and to despise my vanity.
Again farewell, my child ! Eemember your
mother. Doubtless your fate will bo less severe
than hers. Adieu, beloved child ! whom I
nourished at my breast, and earnestly desired to
imbue with every feeling and opinion I myself

The cup of poison was in her hand. In her
heart there was no consciousness that she should
violate the command of any higher power by
drinking it. But love for her child triumphed.


The smile of Eudora rose before her, and for
her sake she clung to life. She threw away the
poison, resolved never again to think of a volun-
tary withdrawal from the cares and sorrows of
her earthly lot, but with unwavering fortitude
to surrender herself to those influences over
which she could no longer exert any control.
This brief conflict ended, she resumed her
wonted composure and cheerfulness.

Tacitus was now her favorite author. Hours
and days she passed in studying his glowing de-
scriptions of heroic character and deeds. He-
roism became her religion ; magnanimity and
fortitude the idols of her soul. With a glisten-
ing eye and a bosom throbbing with lofty emo-
tion, she meditated upon his graphic paintings
of the martyrdom of patriots and philosophers,
where the soul, by its inherent energies, tri-
umphed over obloquy, and pain, and death.
Anticipating that each day might conduct her
to the scaffold, she led her spirit through all the
possible particulars of the tragic drama, that
she might become familiar with terror, and look
upon the block and the ax with an undaunted

Many hours of every day she beguiled in
writing the memoirs of her own life. It was
an eloquent and a touching narrative, written
with the expectation that each sentence might
be interrupted by the eatrance of the execu-



tioners to conduct her to trial and to the guil-
lotine. In this unveiling of the heart to the
world, one sees a noble nature, generous and
strong, animated to benevolence by native gen-
erosity, and nerved to resignation by fatalism.
The consciousness of spiritual elevation consti-
tuted her only religion and her only solace.
The anticipation of a lofty reputation after
death was her only heaven. The Christian
must pity while he must admire. No one can
read the thoughts she penned but with the
deepest emotion.

Now her mind wanders to the hours of her
precocious and dreamy childhood, and lingers
in her little chamber, gazing upon the golden
sunset, and her eye is bathed in tears as she re-
flects upon her early home, desolated by death,
and still more desolated by that unhonored
union which the infidelity of the times tolerated,
when one took the position of the wife unblessed
by the sanction of Heaven. Again her spirit
wings its flight through the gloomy bars of the
prison to the beautiful rural home to which
her bridal introduced her, where she spent her
happiest years, and she forgets the iron, and
the stone, and the dungeon-glooms which sur-
round her, as in imagination she walks again
among her flowers and through the green
fields, and, at the vintage, eats the rich, ripe
clusters of the grape. Her pleasant household

cares, her dairy, the domestic fowls recognizing
her voice, and fed from her own hand ; her
library and her congenial intellectual pur-
suits rise before her, an en trancing vision, and
she mourns, like Eve, the loss of Eden. The
days of celebrity and of power engross her
thoughts. Her husband is again minister of
the king. The most influential statesmen and
brilliant orators are gathered around her chair.
Her mind is guiding the surging billows of
the Revolution, and influencing the decisions of
the proudest thrones of Europe.

The slightest movement dispels the illusion.
From dreams she awakes to reality. She is a
prisoner in a gloomy cell of stone and iron,
from which there is no possible extrication. A
bloody death awaits her. Her husband is a
fugitive, pursued by human blood-hounds more
merciless than the brute. Her daughter, the
object of her most idolatrous love, is left father-
less and motherless in this cold world. The
guillotine has already consigned many of those
whom she loved best to the grave. But a few
more days of sorrow can dimly struggle through
her prison windows ere she must be conducted
to the scaffold. Woman^s nature triumphs over
philosophic fortitude, and she finds momentary
relief in a flood of tears.

The Grirondists were led from their dungeons
in the Conciergerie to their execution on the


31st of October, 1793. Upon that very day
Madame Koland was conveyed from the prison
of St. Pelagic to the same gloomy cells vacated
by the death of her friends. She was cast into
a bare and miserable dungeon, in that subter-
ranean receptacle of woe, where there was not
even a bed. Another prisoner, moved with
compassion, drew his own pallet into her cell,
that she might not be compelled to throw her-
self for repose upon the cold, wet stones. The
chill air of winter had now come, and yet no
covering was allowed her. Through the long
night she shivered with the cold.

The prison of the Conciergerie consists of a
series of dark and damp subterranean vaults
situated beneath the floor of the Palace of Jus-
tice. Imagination can conceive of nothing
more dismal than these somber caverns, with
long and winding galleries opening into cells as
dark as the tomb. You descend by a flight of
massive stone steps into this sepulchral abode,
and, passing through double doors, whose iron
strength time has deformed but not weakened,
you enter upon the vast labyrinthine prison,
where the imagination wanders affrighted
through intricate mazes of halls, and arches,
and vaults, and dungeons, rendered only more
appalling by the dim light which struggles
through those grated orifices which pierced the
massive walls. The Seine flows by upon one


side, separated only by the high way of the
quays. The bed of the Seine is above the floor
of the prison. The surrounding earth was
consequently saturated with water and the ooz-
ing moisture diffused over the walls and the
floors the humidity of the sepulcher. The
plash of the river ; the rumbling of carts upon
the pavements overhead ; the heavy tramp of
countless footfalls, as the multitude poured
into and out of the halls of justice, mingled
with the moaning of the prisoners in those soli-
tary cells. There were one or two narrow
courts scattered in this vast structure, where
the prisoners could look up the precipitous
walls, as of a well, towering high above them,
and see a few square yards of sky. The gigan-
tic quadrangular tower, reared above these firm
foundations, was formerly the imperial pal-
ace from which issued all power and law. Here
the French kings reveled in voluptuousness,
with their prisoners groaning beneath their feet.
This stronghold of feudalism had now become
the tomb of the monarchy. In one of the most
loathsome of these cells, Maria Antoinette, the
daughter of the Caesars, had languished in mis-
ery as profound as mortals can suffer, till, in
the endurance of every conceivable insult, she
was dragged to the guillotine.

It was into a cell adjoining that which the
hapless queen had occupied that Madame Bo-


land was cast. Here the proud daughter of the
emperors of Austria and the humble child of
the artisan, each, after a career of unexampled
vicissitudes, found their paths to meet but a
few steps from the scaffold. The victim of the
monarchy and the victim of the Eevolution
were conducted to the same dungeons and per-
ished on the same block.

The Conciergerie.



The day after Madame Eoland was placed
in the Conciergerie;, she was visited by one of
the notorious officers of the revolutionary
party, and very closely questioned concerning
the friendship she had entertained for the
Girondists. She frankly avowed the elevated
affection and esteem with which she cherished
their memory, but she declared that she and
they were the cordial friends of republican lib-
erty ; that they wished to preserve, not to
destroy, the Constitution. The examination
was vexatious and intolerant in the extreme. It
lasted for the three hours, and consisted in an
incessant torrent of criminations, to which she
was hardly permitted to offer one word in re-
ply. This examination taught her the nature
of the accusations which would be brought
against her. She sat down in her cell that
very night, and, with a rapid pen, sketched
that defense which has been pronounced one
of the most eloquent and touching monuments
of the Eevolution. It so beautifully illustrates



the heroism of her character, the serenity of her
spirit, and the beauty and energy of her men-
tal operations, that it will ever be read with
the liveliest interest.

" I am accused," she writes, '^ of being the
accomplice of men called conspirators. My
intimacy with a few of these gentleman is of
much older date than the occurrences in con-
sequence of which they are now deemed rebels.
Our correspondence, since they left Paris, has
been entirely foreign to public affairs. Prop-
erly speaking, I have been engaged in no polit-
ical correspondence whatever, and in that re-
spect I might confine myself to a simple denial.
I certainly cannot be called upon to give an
account of my particular affections. I have,
however, the right to be proud of these friend-
ships. I glory in them. I wish to conceal
nothing. I acknowledge that, with expressions
of regret at my confinement, I received an in-
timation that Duperret had two letters for me,
whether written by one or by two of my friends,
before or after their leaving Paris, I cannot say,
Duperret had delivered them into other hands,
and they never came to mine. Another time I
received a pressing invitation to break my chains,
and an offer of services, to assist me in effect-
ing my escape in any way I might think proper,
and to convey me whithersoever I might after-
ward wish to go, I was dissuaded from listen-


ing to such proposals by duty and by honor :
by duty, that I might not endanger the safety
of those to whose care I was confided ; and by
honor, because I preferred the risk of an un-
just trial to exposing myself to the suspicion
of guilt by a flight unworthy of me. When I
consented to my arrest, it was not with the in-
tention of afterward making my escape. With-
out doubt, if all means of communication had
not been cut off, or if I had not been prevented
by confinement, I should have endeavored to
learn what had become of my friends. I know
of no law by which my doing so is forbidden.
In what age or in what nation was it ever con- 1
sidered a crime to be faithful i^to those senti-l
ments of esteem and brotherly affection whichj
bind man to man ?

" I do not pretend to Judge of the measures
of those who have been proscribed, but I will
never believe in the evil intentions of men of
whose probity and patriotism I am thoroughly
convinced. If they erred, it was unintention-
ally. They fall without being abased, and I
regard them as being unfortunate without being
liable to blame. I am perfectly easy as to their
glory, and willingly consent to participate in
the honor of being oppressed by their enemies.
They are accused of having conspired against
their country, but I know that they were firm
friends of the Eepublic. They were, however.


humane men, and were persuaded that good
laws were necessary to procure the Kepublic the
good will of persons who doubted whether the
Kepublic could be maintained. It is more diffi-
cult to conciliate than to kill. The history of
every age proves that it requires great talents
to lead men to virtue by wise institutions, while
force suffices to oppress them by terror, or to
annihilate them by death. I have often heard
them assert that abundance, as well as happi-
ness, can only proceed from an equitable, pro-
tecting, and beneficent government. The om-
nipotence of the bayonet may produce fear, but
not bread. I have seen them animated by the
most lively enthusiasm for the good of the
people, disdaining to flatter them, and resolved
rather to fall victims to their delusion than to
be the means of keeping it up. I confess that
these principles and this conduct appeared to
me totally different from the sentiments and
proceedings of tyrants, or ambitious men, who
seek to please the people to affect their subju-
gation. It inspired me with the highest es-
teem for those generous men. This error, if
error it be, will accompany me to the grave,
whither I shall be proud to follow those whom
I was not permitted to accompany.

*' My defense is more important for those who
wish for the truth than it is for myself. Calm
and contented in the consciousness of having


done my duty, I look forward to futurity with
perfect peace of mind. My serious turn and
studious habits have preserved me alike from
the follies of dissipation and from the bustle of
intrigue. A friend of liberty, on which reflec-
tion had taught me to set a just value, I beheld
the Revolution with delight, persuaded it was
destined to put an end to the arbitrary power I
detested, and to the abuses I had so often la-
mented, when reflecting with pity upon the in-
digent classes of society. I took an interest in
the progress of the Eevolution, and spoke with
warmth of public affairs, but I did not pass the
bounds prescribed by my sex. Some small tal-
ents, a considerable share of philosophy, a de-
gree of courage more uncommon, and which
did not permit me to weaken my husband's en-
ergy in dangerous times — such, perhaps, are the
qualities which those who know me may have
indiscreetly extolled, and which may have made
me enemies among those to whom I am unknown.
M. Roland sometimes employed me as a secre-
tary, and the famous letter to the king, for in-
stance, is copied entirely in my handwriting.
This would be an excellent item to add to my
indictment, if the Austrians were trying me,
and if they should have thought fit to extend a
minister's responsibility to his wife. But M.
Roland long ago manifested his knowledge of,
and his attachment to, the great principles of


political economy. The proof is to be found in
his numerous works published during the last
fifteen years. His learning and his probity are
all his own. He stood in no need of a wife to
make him an able minister. Never were secret
councils held at his house. His colleagues and
a few friends met once a week at his table, and
there conversed, in a public manner, on matters
in which every body was concerned. His writ-
ings, which breathe throughout a love of order
and peace, and which enforce the best principles
of public prosperity and morals, will forever
attest his wisdom. His accounts prove his in-

*' As to the offense imputed to me, I observe
that I never was intimate with Duperret. I
saw him occasionally at the time of M. Eoland's
administration. He never came to our house
during the six months that my husband was no
longer in office. The same remark will apply
to other members, our friends, which surely
does not accord with tho plots and conspiracies
laid to our charge. It is evident, by my first
letter to Duperret, I only wrote to him because
I knew not to whom else to address myself, and
because I imagined he would readily consent to
oblige me. My correspondence with him could
not, then, be concerted. It could not be the
consequence of any previous intimacy, and
could have only one object in view. It gave


me afterward an opportunity of receiving ac-
counts from those who had just absented them-
selves, and with whom I was connected by the
ties of friendship, independently of all political
considerations. The latter were totally out of
the question in the kind of correspondence I
kept up with them during the early part of their
absence. Xo written memorial bears witness
against me in that respect. Those adduced
only lead to the belief that I partook of the
opinions and sentiments of the persons called
conspirators. This deduction is well founded.
I confess it without reserve. I am proud of
the conformity. But I never manifested my
opinion in a way which can be construed into
a crime, or which tended to occasion any dis-
turbance. Now, to become an accomplice in
any plan whatever, it is necessary to give
advice, or to furnish means of execution. I
have done neither. There is no law to con-
demn me.

*' I know that, in revolutions, law as well as
justice is often forgotten, and the proof of it is
that I am here. I owe my trial to nothing but
the prejudices and violent animosities which
arise in times of great agitation, and which are
generally directed against those who have been
placed in conspicuous situations, or are known
to possess any energy or spirit. It would have
been easy for my courage to put me out of the


reach of the sentence which I foresaw would
be pronounced against me. But I thought it
rather became me to undergo that sentence. I
thought that I owed the example to my coun-

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Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Mme. Roland → online text (page 13 of 15)