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Ça ira! : or, Danton in the French revolution, a study online

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that a few minutes ago resounded with cries, curses, prayers,
and weeping, is so quiet you can licar a pin drop. The
representatives of a nation that seems to have but a day to
live occupy themselves in voting laws that now govern thirty-


five millions of men, — tables of law truly descended among
thunder and lightning !

And who is the president? H^rault de S^chelles, Dan-
ton's intimate friend. Cambac^res proposes, the Conven-
tion votes, Hdrault S^chelles proclaims, the princi^Dles which
now govern the social relations, the lives, the deaths, the
property, of Frenchmen of to-day. How, then, comes it
that the Convention is now remembered only as a destructive
body? Because another has shamelessly plundered

it of its works.

That which constitutes a civil code, in French jurisprudence
especially, are its fundamental principles. If, now, we com-
pare the Civil Code of 1793 ^'^^^ '^^'^'^ o^ 1803, we find these
fundamental principles have been taken literall}' over from
one to the other. But a nation has to be effaced in

order to glorify a man.

The labor of the Convention on its code goes on bravely,
quietly, obstinately. When the factions are tired out in strife,
when there is a moment's silence, the code re-appears, and
unites all intelligences ; and in this way the Convention gives
sixty sittings to it. It was the work complementary to that of
Aug. 4, — upbuilding and destruction, both done without fric-
tion. I note the following incidents of the discussions : —

Once the question is, whether a functionary elected by
the people to an office shall give security. Danton rises,
and says, —

" I object to security : it is absurd in theory. The respon-
sibility that is wanted is moral, not pecuniary. When the
lime comes, as we all hope it soon will, that the people select
for public functions only the talented and the virtuous, there
will be no need for financial security." So decreed.

At another time the question is as to the right of married
people over their property. Danton asks in what way the
Committee on Legislation has solved the problem.

1793] -/ GREAT WROXG. IJl

Cambarcens. "\\'e have declared that the husband shall
not be able to dispose of the common property without the
consent of his wife."

Danton. "Good ! Nothing is more reasonable."

One of the most solemn moments was when slavery was
declared abolished in the French colonies. Observe ! this
Jacobin Convention is the first sovereign authority that abol-
ishes modern negro sla\'er}'. A deputation of colored men
from the colonies is admitted to the Convention, and saluted
by the president with a kiss on the cheek. Danton seems
to have had an almost proj^hetic insight into the future, for
he says, among other things, on that occasion, —

" By sowing liberty in the New World, we shall cause it to
bear abundant fruit, and shoot profound roots there."
* * *

And why should such a convention, one moment en-
gaged in decreeing a victory, another founding museums and
schools, not create entirely new weights and measures of
capacity and distances? Tliey ilo it: they establish the
metrical system, which at last, in our days, after a hard
struggle has been victorious. From weights and

measures they deemed it but a step to a neio calendar;
Frenchmen of the last century had such a need, such a
desire, of forgetting their past, of forgetting every thing that
could remind them of former times, forgetting even the old
names of days, months, and seasons. Fabre d'Eglantine, an
author, and also friend of Danton, lays it before the Con-
vention in the fall of i 793.

Did not Nature itself sanction the French Revolution,
when the republic was proclaimed on the 2 2d of Septeml)er,
1792, the very day of the autumnal equinox? The great
French Republic is, therefore, a part of the firmament of
heaven, and ought to reckon its era from that date, as the
first day of year i. Said era lasted twche years, ll was


really the most foolish of all their conceptions, — a remarkable
instance of their unbounded conceit, to believe that all other
nations would cheerfully adopt a new calendar whereby to
regulate their most private relations, and in the framing of
which they yet had had no share.

They even could not, in spite of all they might do, make
their own peasants accept the new calendar. It is well known
with what tenacity the common people cling to habits that
have become ingrown with all their daily tasks. When even
the decimal system of weights and measures, in spite of its
evident superiority, has only in our days, after eighty years
of struggle, been accepted, how could it be expected that
a span-new calendar, luliicli abolished Sunday, could be
acceptable ? No more Sundays ! this was something the
peasants could never understand. Somewhat differ-

ent was it with the towns. For the Sundays the calendar
had substituted dccadics — every tenth day — as a holiday.
In nearly all towns the municipal officers, with their tri-
color scarfs of office, went every decadi in procession to
the churches, where in the place of the altar a tree of lib-
erty had been planted, and held, often with a great deal
of pomp, municipal " festiv^als," which all "good citizens"
attended. National hymns were sung, orators of the locality
gave vent to their eloquence, and marriages were solem-

This was a matter in which the Convention greatly wronged
the working-people, and simply in order to gratify arithmetical
fancies and hatred of the Church. To substitute every tenth
day, instead of every seventh, as a day of rest, to give them
but three instead of four holidays in the month, was to rob
them of so much of their little leisure. It was indefensible,
the more so as they really had a tender sympathy for the
working-classes, in spite of their middle-class notions about
property and the wage-system. But it was the only instance


where the Jacobin Convention knowingly did any thing to
the prejudice of the poor,

* * *

So far, then, every thing the Jacobin Convention Iiad
done or attempted in the way of social reform — excciit
the childish freak of the new calendar — had been prac-
tical and promised to be permanent. Let us repeat the
grand measures they had passed in such a short space of
time : —

The maximum.

Industrial statistics.

A most generous poor-law.

Closing the Exchange.

Land grants to the poor and to soldiers.

A splendid scheme of primary and superior education.

The Polytechnic School.

Universalization of the French language.

The code, including the abolition of slavery.

The decimal system of weights and measures.

The Great Ledger.

It was all in harmony with the programme stated as being
that of Danton in the preceding chapter, except the maxi-
mum, into which they had been forced by circumstances,
and in that they had been eminently successful. They had
so far not allowed metaphysical speculations to influence
them in action ; they had brought no translation at all of
" God's mysterious text " into the public place, except as
every day's necessities demanded it.

In other words, they had, led by Danton, practised the
policy now known by the name of " opportunism," — the
only practicable policy under the circumstances, since they
were absolutely ignorant, and could not help being ignorant,
of the society that was to be evolved. We now know that
was to be a transition society. We know that the two


principal things to accomplish were, to increase production
and productivity, and make the tnental preparation, the prep-
aration in the minds of the people, for the final change. A
third thing, otherwise resulting from the new system, was
the teaching the vmltitude new wants. In order to increase
production, it was necessary that the rich middle classes
should have supreme potuer and be enabled to practise free
competition and private enterprise to tiic utmost and //;/-
fettered. This policy of opportunism, so prudently entered
upon, would have accomplished that ; for we have seen that
the Jacobins believed as fully in these middle-class principles
as the plutocrats.

The Jacobins in that case would, if they had preserved
their power, or at least some part of their influence, have
become the good genius of the French bourgeoisie. Not
alone would they have prevented, or at least bridled, the
shameful excesses, the criminal practices, of the plutocrats :
more important it is, that they would have insisted on these
plutocrats performing their other, their incidental duties of
rulersliip. Since the middle classes accepted, courted, su-
preme power, they should have assumed all the responsi-
bilities, as the clergy and nobility had done in the Middle
Ages. They should have looked after social interests, in-
stead of which they have steadily sacrificed social interests
to personal, private interests. The Jacobins would have
secured to the poorer classes mea?is to satisfy their increased
wants. They would have " prevented gluts," and " presided
over the apportionment and distribution of wages for work
done." They would have softened the hatred of the bou7 -
geoisie for the poorer classes, and thus prevented the hatred
and the terrible feelings of revenge which these classes
now, on their side, nourish for the bourgeoisie. They would
have made our present order a smooth transition over into
the permanent social order which approaches, instead of the


violent revolution it now threatens to become. They would
have retained France at the head of progress.

But they suffered themselves to be misled by Hebert and
Robespierre, became brutal, cruel, or rather, cowardly ; in
consequence, the splendid foundation they had laid was de-
stroyed. Only a little here and there remained, as the Code,
retained under a false name to gratify a selfish individual's
vanity. Undoubtedly our days have seen other of their
works resurrected, as their educational system, because built
on eternal verities.

They became a " faction ; " they insisted on a false inter-
pretation of "God's text," — insisted on translating it in the
light of the gospel of Jean Jacques, and on twisting France
into the shape and measure of ancient Sparta, ignoring her
whole previous history. But not that alone. Frenchmen,
as they were, they were impatient in applying this false con-
ception. It is an essential difference between Englishmen
and Frenchmen, that the former are what is called fond of
compromises, which really means that they are not in a hurry
in drawing ultimate conclusions ; the latter are unhealf/iily
logical, — as already said, deem nothing gained till they liave
realized the last conclusion of the syllogism. It was this
characteristic that caused their failure here, as it has done
at other times. Their reign became but a short episode.

On the other hand, what a blunder to draw therefrom the
conclusion that the Revolution failed ! No, the Revolution
accomplished the role assigned to it in history. Our reform-
ers who draw such a false conclusion, like these other " re-
formers," Godin of Guise and our own Henry George, are
precisely as near-sighted as the Jacobins of '93, and with
less excuse ; they all have a wrong interpretation, a false
translation, of " God's mysterious text."


Sept. 17, 1793, to July 28, 1794.

" Nothing is more difficult than to harmonize ivith the narrower fanatics oj
one's own faith."

Hebertism. —Pity.— April 5. — Danton Disinterested. — Dans le
N£ant, " Nothingness '" (?). — The Incorruptible. — " Monsieur !"

NOW the French Revolution suffers its great eclipse,
commencing with that terrible code of the Terror, the
" Law of the Suspect."

Danton had intended the stern revolutionary measures of
which he was the author to be provisional, temporary ; they
were to enable France to crush conspirators, and win vic-
tories. That having been accomplished, the feverish excite-
ment, it was supposed, would cool, and the severity of the
government would then be more and more relaxed. First
of all, the Revolutionary Tribunal would be abolished ; and
by and by the Committee of Public Welfare would give way to
a regular, liberal government, under the constitution, which
perhaps would be amended. Danton supposed all the time
he would be able, by his adroitness, to control the course
of affairs, as he had hitherto done.

But in this he was now commencing to be bitterly disap-
pointed. Ever since his refusal to assume responsibility
(though his foreign policy is steadily being pursued) he is
more and more being supplanted by Robespierre in the
committee, — or, rather, by Billaud-Varennes, as tlie power
behind llie throne, — and in tlie Commune by llebert.

1793-] HEDERTISM. 1 77

Ah, Hubert was certainly the very worst of all the revo-
lutionary chiefs, and a wholly pernicious influence ; an influ-
ence which, during the autumn months of '93, became
paramount, and overshadowed even that of Robespierre.
^Vholly pernicious it was. Marat had been hysterically,
insanely cruel, but never coarse. Hubert was equally cruel
and bloodthirsty — from calculation. But there was another
enormity of which he was guilty, — the very blackest of
offences, in my opinion, and for which, alone, he almost
deserved to be guillotined ; this : that, though refined in
personal tastes, and almost a dandy in appearance, he yet
descended so low as to address the people in the coarsest
and most vulgar language, having fallen into the gross but
common error that the work-people understand and like
such language best. He accordingly sprinkled his paper,
the Pere Duchesne, with the most atrocious obscenities,
which were copied by all the journals of Europe, in order
to show to what depths Paris had fallen. And yet Hebert
finds apologists, even in our days, who fancy they clear his
reputation by showing that his paper was not, from first to
last, obscene, but that frequently it had very readable articles
and good ideas.

Yet I firmly believe he was perfectly honest, and a patriot.
I believe that all the Jacobin chiefs were unselfish men, and
that this very quality nobly distinguishes them from the lead-
ing plutocrats of the period. But that very fact should be
a warning to us. Hebert was no rascal, but terribly wrong-
headed, — and wrong-hearted too, it may be added. He
was in that respect, and, indeed, in all others, a good repre-
sentative of our anarchists of to-day : he was a prototype
of John Most.

He and his party were, as the Girondins had been, and
as our anarchists are, partisans of the war for propagantla,
ardent partisans. It was their religion. Again, after

178 TERROR. [Sept.,

the fall of the Girondins, the Hebertists perpetuated their
"Federalism," carried it even farther; that is to say, they
wanted to do away with the supremacy of the State, and, in-
stead of it, ''municipalize " France and all Europe, — divide
them into autonomous communes, — the notion, it may lie
remembered, of Baron Cloots, who in some respects be-
longed to Hubert's party. Our modern anarchists likewise
propose, in the teeth of cvohitiou, that society be dissolved,
in order to allow the formation of small, voluntary, " autono-
mous " groups, and apparently do not reflect that these
sovereign "groups" will virtually be small States, which
experience should have taught us are far more dictatorial
than large ones. I think it, by the way, very unfortunate
that nearly all French revolutionists, of all schools, seem com-
mitted to the sovereignty of the " Commune," as opposed to
that of the nation. Lastly, like tlie Ciirondins the

Hebertists were atheists, and like our anarchists, fanatic
atheists. In the approaching montlis of November and
December they will make the hall of the Convention, and,
indeed, all Paris and France, into a madhouse, by their atlic-
istic mummeries and processions.

In all this we find many ideas common to Girondins and
Hebertists. Indeed, the difference was this : that, while tlicir
principles were identical, the former wanted them carried
out for the benefit of the plutocrats exclusively, and Hebert
for the benefit of the proletariat, the " Have-nots ; " and, if
we go to the bottom, I think we shall find the same really to
be the difference, and the only difference, between our
anarchists and our individualists, between John Most on the
one side, and Herbert Spencer and Auberon Herbert on
the other.

It was the same in regard to centralization. Hd-bert was
violently opposed to the Committee of Public IVr/fare, and
opposed to it the doctrine of unrestricted liberty, which, in

1793] HEBERTISM. 1 79

his mouth, really meant license : the government of " the
street." It was the attempt to carry this doctrine into
practice that finally doomed him. But that which,

together with his journalist obscenities, constituted his worst
crime, was what I called his " wrong-heartedness ; " was that
he, his party, and journal constantly incited to murder,
bloodshed, and outrage. He was the true father of the
Terror, though he had a rival to this distinction in Billaud,
of the committee. In that respect many of our anarchists
are, unfortunately, also too like him. It is not an uncom-
mon thing, though it will hardly be believed, to find in
French anarchist journals leading articles that openly preach
the doctrine of vengeances particidieres ; that is to say,
recommend their followers, at the breaking-out of the
revolution, by all means to obey the worst promptings of
\k\€\x private malice and revengeful feelings. It is perfectly
devilish !

It was on Sept. 1 7 that was voted this " Law of the
Suspect," the first-fruit of the spirit of Ht§bert. Billaud-
Varennes was in the chair of the Convention — as was fit.
This law was terrible, as has been said, — terrible from its
vagueness. All who by their conduct, position, words, or
writings, had shown themselves " partisans of tyranny or
enemies of liberty," all who had been refused certificates of
"civism," all functionaries who had been suspended by the
Convention or its commissioners, all former nobles, all
wives, husbands, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, sisters,
brothers, or agents of emigrants " who had not uninter-
ruptedly manifested attachment to the Revolution," were
declared " suspects," and ordered to be arrested. Lists
were immediately to be made of such persons, and their arrest
to be effected at once. No one opposed tlie passage of this
law ; there was no discussion, in fact. And Danton ? He
pursued his usual policy, that which he had carried out in

l8o TERROR. [Oct.,

regard to the decree of Nov. 19 the i)revious year: he
thought it inadvisable to oppose it in the heat of passion.
We shall see he did oppose it when he thought the time had

And now Hebert and Billaud hurry their victims to the
guillotine : the ci-devant (former) Queen ; then twenty-one
Girondin members of the Convention, who spent the night
before their execution in songs, drinking, and ril^^ldry ;
then Philip Egalit^, ci-devant Duke of Orleans ; then Bailly,
once president of the National Assembly and mayor of
Paris, executed for the part he took in the killing on the
Champ de Mars, July 17, 1791. Arrived at the usual place
of execution, it was thought fit, on reflection, that he should
meet death where he had inflicted it ; therefore he and the
guillotine were taken to the Champ de Mars, where with
genuinely Parisian refined cruelty he had to wait in a rain-
storm till the instrument of death was once more erected.
Then followed Madame Roland, Madame Elizabeth ; and
then they came xw/oiirnees, as it was styled (ovensfull).

It was fit that the device of the republic were now
changed : it now became " Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, —
OR Death ! "

All these excesses grievously wounded Danton. Once,,
speaking of the H^bertists, he said, stamping with his foot,
as if crushing an insect, " This is what I would do to this
miserable crew." Some time before the Queen's execution,
the representative of Austria, who still supposed him in-
fluential, asked him to see that no harm befell her, at the
same time offering him a considerable sum of money. He
spurned the bribe, but promised to do what he could for her,
adding that her death had never entered into his thouglits.
He had once publicly recommended that she be returned to
her family. As for the Girondins, their fate almost broke his
heart. He told Carat, the tears flowing down his cheeks,

1793.] HEBERTISM. l8l

that he had done all he could to save them, but in vain.
This failure, which must have happened about the middle of
October, made him even bodily ill, it is said.

Fairness requires that something additional be said about
a man belonging to this " crew," Chaumette, the legal adviser
and representative of Paris. He, also, was a dogmatic atheist,
but with many noble qualities. He had obtained the aboli-
tion of the lash and of corporal punishment in schools ; the
suppression of lotteries, that bane of Parisians at all times ;
the closing of gambling-houses ; and the daily opening of
the libraries to the public. He furthermore procured for the
patients, who hitherto had been horribly crowded in the
hospitals, a separate bed for each, and that books be sent
them ; also the assignment of a separate building to lying-
in women ; the amendment of the atrocious treatment of
criminals ; and the founding of an asylum for the indigent
and the aged. He helped to found the Conservatory of
Music, and procured the suspension of the Vandal restora-
tion of pictures in the Louvre. Lastly he demanded equality
of burial, and wished — such a beautiful idea to a French-
man — that the winding sheet of every citizen in his coffin
should be a national flag. He was far from being a dan-
gerous man. Among anarchists of to-day similar nol)le men
are found, such as Krapotkin. Unfortunately, and most
unjustly, he became a victim of Camille's pen, and had to

share Hebert's fate.

* * *

Whether bodily or mentally sick, Danton got leave of
absence from the Convention, and retired for six weeks,
with his young wife, to his beloved birthplace, Arcis-sur-
Aube, and the society of his mother and stepfather. Tradi-
tion has preserved some information as to what he did, how
he lived, and what he said, then and there ; and it so hap-
pens that Madame Roland, in the i)rison of Saint-Pelagic,

1 82 TERROR. [Nov.,

concerns herself at the same time with Danton. By con-
trasting what she thinks Danton is about, and what he is
actually doing, we can discover how much we ought to rely
on her other slanderous statements.

She writes in her Manoires : —

" O Danton ! it is thus thou sharpenest thy knife against
thy victims. Strike ! One more will add but little to thy
crimes ; but their multitude cannot fathom thy scoundrelism,
nor save thee from infamy. As cruel as jSIarius, as frightful
as Catiline, thou surpassest them in wicked deeds."

No ; poor Danton was not sharpening any knives against
Madame Roland or anybody else. He was going about
feeding his ducks, or planting with trees a meadow behind
his house, which he wanted to convert into a garden. They
tell a story of him from these days : —

One day a laborer hired by him cut himself seriously
while at work. Every one else ran about bewildered, seek-
ing assistance ; while Danton tore his shirt in pieces, stemmed
the blood, bandaged the wound, and tlien took the work-
man up in his arms and carried him to his house, where
he had good care taken of him.

Another story, told by his son, sets in still better relief
the ravings of Madame Roland : —

Shortly after the 31st of October, the day of execution
of the Girondists, Danton was one day walking in his gar-
den, together with one of his neighbors, who afterwards
was mayor of Arcis, when some one approached them with
hurried steps, holding a paper in his hand.

" Good news ! " cried the new-comer, " good news ! "

''What is it?" asked Danton.

"The Girondists have just lost tlicir heads on the scaffold."

"And do you call that good news?" exclaimed Danton,
while his eyes filled with tears.

" Well, were they not factious? "

1793.] riTY. 183

" Factious ! Have we not all been factious ? We de-
serve death as much as they, and we probably shall have to
travel the same road."

When somebody else reminded Danton of the crimes of

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