Laurence Gronlund.

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

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the Girondists, he answered, " It ought to be held a sacred
principle that a patriot must do wrong three times before
we use him severely."

That was exactly the contrary to what Robespierre
thought, and nothing can better serve to distinguish the
two men ; for the latter said, that, let a man have rendered
ever so great services to the State, if he once sinned against
"virtue" he should be "spit out."

Otherwise, the six weeks were passed by Danton in the
company of his fellow-townsmen. Here as elsewhere he
was in the highest degree social. He took his meals with
open windows and doors, and it is said his neighbors stood
in crowds in the open windows to see their great fellow-
townsman eat and hear his talk.

He comes back to Paris in November. He and Camille
Desmoulins, who lived in the same small street, and passed
nearly all their leisure time in each other's homes, walked
one evening along the Seine. The setting sun rendered the
waters of the river purple. Suddenly Danton stopped.

" Look ! " and his eyes became humid, " how it looks
like blood ! The Seine runs blood ; there has been too
much spilt. Go, take thy pen, demand ckiiicncy, and I
shall support you."

Camille did write. Tlic Old Cordelier was the result,
and the noblest memento a writer could well have.

First, numl)er one appeared, then number two ; they were
read. Besides Danton, who inspired the whole enterprise,
it is said that these two numbers were shown to Robespierre
in manuscript, who approved them on the whole, and made
a few immaterial corrections.

1 84 TERROR. [Dec,

Then the famous numljcr tliree appeared. It lashed the
system of the Terror that obtained, especially the " Law of
the Suspects," under the pretence of being a translation from
Tacitus from the period of Tiberius.

The success of this magnificent satire was enormous.
People crowded round the shops of the newsdealers, and
the price of each copy rose to a dollar and more. Camille,
really a child in spirit, was childishly joyous at this success,
and going home, it is said, took his little son Horace on his
knees, and made him jump, singing, not knowing how
truthfully he prophesied, "■Edainus et bibamus eras eniin
vioriainur " (" Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we

" Do you really think," he said one day to his friend
Bruno, a future marshal of the Empire, who called to lunch
with him, " that they will attack me, me and my Old
Cordelier, for asking for a Committee of Clemency and
Justice ? for wanting to consolidate the work of our Revolu-
tion ? Why, I have the whole of France in my favor ! I
am read and applauded everywhere."

Then number four came out. In it Camille wrote, —

" Liberty ! Is it nothing but an actress from the opera,
with a red cap on? or perhaps the statue which David pro-
poses to erect, forty-six feet high ? If by ' Liberty ' you do
not mean, with me, principles, but only a piece of stone,
surely there has never been a more stupid and costly idolatry
than ours.

" No, my Liberty descended from heaven ; is neither a
nymph from the opera, nor a red cap, nor a dirty shirt. It
is happiness, equality, justice, the Declaration of Rights ; it is
our sublime constitution. Do you want me to fall at the
feet of that Liberty? spend all ray blood for it? Then open
the prisons to the tioo hundred tJioitsand citizens you call
suspects, fur in our Declaration of Rights there arc not

1793.] PITY. 185

mentioned at all any prisons of suspicion, but only prisons
of arrest. You will exterminate all your enemies by the
guillotine, but was there ever a greater folly? Can you
make one perish on the scaffold without making ten enemies
of his family and friends?"

This is too strong for the Terrorists; they bring it up in
the Jacobin Club, where Robespierre proposes to burn the
numbers, when Camille blurts out his famous reply, " Tnit
burning, Robespierre, is not answering," which makes the
latter very angry. In that meeting Danton speaks some
words to the effect that they should be careful how, in judg-
ing Camille, they make a fatal blow against the liberty of the


* * *

On the 4th of March, 1794, the H^bertists proceeded to
overt acts of insurrection. They had, in their Club of the
Cordeliers, a tableau of the Rights of Man. This they
covered with black crape ; " and," said Hebert, " it shall
remain veiled till the ' moderates ' — the Dantonists — are
destroyed." And he went farther : he called upon the
people of Paris to rise to overthrow the Revolutionary Gov-
ernment, and establish his own anarchic system by force.
His attempt failed miserably, — only his own section declared
itself willing to follow him, — and in consequence he and his
followers were arrested and brought before the Revolutionary
Tribunal. Then he had to feel the weight of the very law
he himself had been the loudest in agitating for, — the
law which allowed the Tribunal to close the defence after
the lapse of three days, though Danton, who otherwise lent
all his force and influence to the prosecution, was willing to
grant him all the latitude of defence he wished. Hebert
and party were executctl the 24th of March, from five to six
in the afternoon, as had lately become the flishion, since
executions were now looked upon as popular spectacles.

l86 TERROR. [March 24,

The people in the streets hooted and mocked him, and
applied to him the coarse and cruel vulgarities with which
he had accompanied his victims to the scaffold in his paper.
One enormity, however, was reserved for him which, like
the one done to Bailly, I verily believe would not be perpe-
trated in any other civilized country but France, and whicli
again shows the cruel disposition of Frenchmen. As Ht^bcrt
lay prostrate on the guillotine, waiting for the knife, the
executioner, Samson, — a royalist, by the way, — positively
amused the crowd by playing with his terror ; that is to say,
he allowed, several times, the knife to descend halfway, rais-
ing it again, till he finally allowed it to descend to do its
work ; and the crowd enjoyed the sport hugely.

The fact is, that Hebert's execution gave not alone great
satisfaction to the government and the Dantonists, wliom it
rid of a most dangerous fanatic, but also unbounded joy to
the royalists and counter-revolutionists. For it cannot be
denied that it was the-turning point in this tragical part of the
Revolution. Hubert was the first patriot condemned by the
Tribunal. Marat had, eleven months before, been taken be-
fore it, on the accusation of the Girondists, but he had been
triumphantly acquitted and carried away on the shoulders of
the people ; but now a patriot was condemned, and destined
to prei)are the way for so many others. Yet, even if Danton
was aware of it, he could have done nothing else ; it is just
the pity of every new movement that it is loaded with fa-
natics who often destroy it by carrying things to extremes.

It is now that Danton delivers his last address in the Con-
vention, Pache, the mayor of Paris, came, March
19, before that body, and protested in the name of tlie Com-
mune its devotedness to the national representatives. Rulil,
the president, expressed his gratification, but at the same
time reproached it with being somewhat tardy. Then
Danton rose and said, —

1794] APRIL FIFTH. 1 8/

"The national representative body should always main-
tain a worthy attitude. It ought not to mark a whole col-
lective body with its displeasure because some of them have
been guilty men. The General Council of the Commune
has come to declare its loyalty. The president has showed
himself dignified ; his answer is worthy the majesty of the
people. However, may we not have reason to fear thai
malecontents will misinterpret his expressions? In the name
of our country, I say, let us not give the least cause for
misunderstandings. If ever, when we are victors (and victory
is already an assured thing), if ever, I say, private passions
shall prevail over love of country, if ever they shall create
a new abyss for liberty, / shall be one of the first to precipi-
tate myself into it. The president has made a response full
of severe justice, but it may be misinterpreted. Let us
spare the Commune the sorrow of ha\ing been censured with

The President. " I wish to reply from the Tribune.
Come, my dear colleague, and occupy the chair meanwhile."

Danton. " No, president, speak from your seat ; you oc-
cupy it worthily. [Applause.] If my remarks have sounded
harshly, pardon them. See in me a brother who merely
has frankly stated his opinion." The report adds,

" Ruhl steps down from his seat, and throws himself into
Danton 's arms. This scene creates the liveliest enthusiasm
in the assembly."

This was Danton's last speech. During the arrest and
trial of the H^bertists his f.ite was, indeed, being sealed ; for
at that time two of Danton's closest friends, and both notaljle
members of the Convention, were arrested. They were
Herault de Sechelles, who drafted the Jacobin Constitution,
falsely charged with giving asylum to an emigrant, and re-
vealing the secrets of the Committee of Public Welfair, of
which he was a member \ and Fabrc d' Eglantine, the noted

1 88 TERROR. 1 March,

dramatic author who had invented tlie new calendar, lately
adopted. The charge against the latter was infamously out-
rageous, and is particularly damning to Robespierre, who
bears the responsibility for the murders that now follow. I'he
charge was, that he had forged a decree of the Convention in
the interest of stock-jobbers and speculators ; while the fact
was, that, so far from having forged it or any thing else, he
had been untiring, by his motions in the Convention, in ////-
masking the forgers, which flict was well known to Robe-
spierre, who had repeatedly seconded and spoken in favor of
these very motions.

I have said that Robespierre must bear the responsibility
of Danton's execution, and that is simply because it could
not have been effected without his sanction and even active
support. If Robespierre had said, " No," Danton would have
lived. Robespierre, moreover, was the person that princi-
pally benefited by the fall of his friend. But when histo-
rians, and especially those Positivists who have done so
much to rehabilitate Danton, insist that his execution was
Robespierre's work from beginning to end, that Robespierre
had first conceived the idea and initiated it, I deny it. It
must be noted that Robespierre had, at least a dozen times
after Danton's popularity began to wane, while his own was
in the ascendant, taken Danton's part, and taken it warmly,
even furiously. To have done so when at the same time
he meditated his death, would stamp Robespierre as a
most scoundrelly hypocrite, which there is no evidence he
was. Further, Robespierre had no reason to wish Danton's
removal ; the latter being, as we have seen, without any
ambition at all. Danton was well aware of this, and used to
say, "All will go well as long as people say ' Robespierre and
Danton,' but I shall be in danger if they ever commence to
say ' Danton and Robespierre.' '• And at no time did Danton
charge Robespierre with being the author of his misfortune.

1794. J APRIL FIFTH. 1 89

He well enough knew that his most dangerous enemy was
Billaiid-Varenncs. Yes, it was 15illaud who pursued Dan-
ton with an implacable hostility, and did not tire, till at last
he had persuaded Robespierre to give his consent to Dar.-
ton's loss ; and he lived long enough to heartily repent of
his act. Billaud was three years older than Danton ; a
lawyer, like him ; had been second only to Marat in egging
on to the September massacres ; entered the Convention as
a member from Paris, and became immediately known
as one of the chiefs of the Mountain. He entered the Com-
mittee of Public Welfare on the 6th of September, and took
part in all its future patriotic labors, but also, and that as a
leader, in all its terrorism. For while he undoubtedly was
a patriot, and, as the future showed, a man of inflexible recti-
tude, moreover, a man of untiring industry when working
under leadership, he was also a bloody, implacable Terrorist,
That determined his hostile attitude to Danton. It was on
principle that he pursued Danton : it was the hatred of the
Terrorist to the man of pity. And that hatred dated already
from the September massacres. It is Courtois de I'Aube
who, in his notes on the Revolution, has given us this
insight : " It will, no doubt, astonish a great many people
when I say that one of the sources of the hatred they
nourished towards Danton was simply that he had not, in
the days of 2d and 3d of September, played the part they
wished him to play, and that from this moment he was
looked upon as a man without revolutionary character.
Many patriots may remember that these complaints came
often from the mouth of Billaud." It is because Danton
had shown himself heretofore a man of pity, and because he
is now the chief of the party of clemency, that he perishes.
At the time of the arrest of Fabre d'Eglantine, Billaud
let these words of menace esca])e him : " Damnation to him
who has sat at the side of Fabre [to wit, Danton], and who

1 90 TERROR. [March,

is yet his dupe." A little later, in full committee, he pro-
poses, without any circumlocution, tlie arrest of Danton.
But Robespierre is not yet won over : he is still almost
scandalized ; he rises, and cries out in a fury to Billaud,
"Wilt thou then destroy all the best patriots? " That there
may be no doubt of Billaud's being the responsible author,
here are words he uttered after the fall of Robespierre : " If
the death of Danton be a crime, I accuse myself of it, for I
was the first to denounce Danton. I have said, ' If Danton
continues to live, liberty will be lost ; ' " and " Danton is the
only representative of the people whose punishment I have
caused, because he seemed to me the most dangerous con-
spirator." Let him, then, have the honor of his fateful

But, undoubtedly, after Robespierre had allowed himself
to be persuaded to kill off Danton, he hunted him to his
death in the most odious manner. He not only dished up
the stale charges of their common enemies, the Girondists,
as to his honesty, but especially made it a crime in Danton
that he was a whole man, delighting in the enjoyments of
life, and liking to satirize his own Puritanic notions. One
of the most remarkable of his accusations is this : that Dan-
ton once clasped the sister of Robespierre's bride, with
whom he had years of acquaintance, ro'and her waist, saying,
"There is one thing that will cure you, my little friend, and
that is, to get a husband." At this time it is said

that Danton had an interview with Robespierre, in which he
tried to get the latter away from the influence of Billaud.
Toward the conclusion Danton said something to the effect
that it was well enough to be terrible towards royalists and
conspirators, but that it was even more important to dis-
tinguish between the innocent and the guilty. " And dost
thou say that one innocent has perished?" flared up Robe-
spierre. " What ! not one innocent ? \\'hat saycst thou,

I794-] APRIL FIFTH. 191

Paris? " addressing the l)ailifr of the Revohitiunary Tribunal,
wlio was present.

From this time, and to his last moment, many of Dan-
ton's remarks that have been preserved are most touching,
and all of them, with but very few exceptions, are in a noble
vein ; while Robespierre's conduct and remarks become
inexpressibly mean. ^Vhen Danton's friends warned him
of his danger, and implored him to act, he said, " No ; I
would rather be guillotined than guillotine others." When
they implored him to flee the country, he made a reply
which Frenchmen have not forgotten to this day, even if
forgetting its author : '•' Do we, then, carry our country on
the bottom of our shoe-soles? "

In the still hour of the night of March 30, 1794, the
three committees, of Public Welfare, of Public Security, and
on Legislation, met together, when, on the motion of Saint-
Just, Robespierre's henchman, the order for the arrest of
Danton, Camille Desmoulins, and Lacroix: was signed.
Carnot, the great war minister, remarked, " These are
only suspicions ; you have not a single proof," but signed
anyway. Robert Lindet, a Dantonist, and Ruhl, an Alsa-
tian, refused to sign ; the former saying, " I am here to work
for my country, not to kill off patriots." In the early morn-
ing of March 31 the three Conventional were arrested in
their homes, and taken to Luxembourg Palace.

On entering the prison the first words of Danton were,
" At length I perceive that in revolutions the supreme
power ultimately rests with the most abandoned." Still, if
Danton had not thrown off responsibility, this would prob-
ably not have been so here. At all events, this is
what must be prevented for the future, and which can be
prevented by men of good tuill organizing themselves for
effecting the changes that clearly must be made.

One of the first prisoners he met there was another Con^

192 TERROR. [March 31,

vcntional, the American Thomas Paine, to wliom lie gave
his hand, saying, in Enghsh, " What you have done for the
hai^piness and hberty of your country, I have in vain at-
tempted to do for mine. I have been less fortunate, but not
more guilty." They were put into the room that the
Girondins had occupied. There he said with energy, " It
was just a year ago that I caused the Revolutionary Tribunal
to be instituted. I beg pardon for it of God and man. My
object was to prevent new September massacres, and not to
let loose a new scourge upon mankind." Then, giving v\ay
to his contempt for his colleagues who were murdering
him, he exclaimed, "These brother Cains know nothing
about government. I leave every thing in a frightful dis-
order." For a moment he showed regret at having taken
part in the Revolution, saying it was much better to be a
poor fisherman than to govern men.

The next day the Convention is informed of the arrest,
effected over night, and its formal assent asked to taking the
accused before the Revolutionary Tribunal. The C^^nvention
is thunderstruck. Legendre, Danton's faithful lieutenant
on Aug. 10, makes the motion that he be heard at the bar
of the Convention in his own defence. If that had been
granted, Danton's voice and his good cause undoubtedly
would have righted matters. But a mere sneer of Robe-
spierre negatives the motion, showing at once the great
ascendency he had now acquired, and liis contemptible
meanness. " Legendre," he said, " has talked of Danton
because he thinks a privilege attaches to that name. \Ve
want to know of no privileges at all ; tve want no idols.
It is a bi-each of equality to render more favor to one citizen
than to another."

The " trial," so called, is not worth discussing, for it was
no trial at all. It is worth noting, to his honor, that Paris,
the bailiff of the Tribunal, with splendid courage came for-

1794.] APRIL FIFTH. 1 93

ward and embraced the accused, his friends, on tlieir entrance.
The accusation against them, tluit they luui conspired to
restore the monarchy, was, of course, arrant nonsense. They
were convicted without a particle of evidence against them ;
without one of the score of witnesses in their favor, that they
called for, being permitted to appear ; with their mouths bru-
tally shut by a special law passed for the occasion ; and they
were condemned to death, all as a matter of course. It is
at this moment that Camille, in impotent rage at the shame-
less farce, tears some documents to pieces and throws them
at the heads of the jurors ; and these are the " bullets of
bread " which Carlyle, in his history, makes the accused, in
their " levity," throw in the faces of their judges !

At the moment of hearing his sentence Danton said these
memorable words : " I feel a consolation in believing that
the man who is to die as chief of the faction of the merciful,
will find grace in the eyes of posterity." How harsli these
words should grate in the ears of " posterity " !

Tlie next afternoon, at the usual hour, the fatal cart, with
Danton and his friends, passed the usual route. But this
time there was no jeering. There was perfect stillness
everywhere. The people felt that their friends were passing
by them ; but how it all came about, they did not seem to
understand at all. The cart went past the house where
Robespierre lived ; all the shutters were closely drawn. At
that moment Danton looked up at the windows, and broke
out, " Imbecile ! He kills me, and I am the only man who
could save him." There is certainly nothing that sliows
Robespierre's imbecility so much as not to be able to see
that Hebert's execution formed a terrible crisis ; that, while
it was imperatively necessary to get rid of him, it was more
than ever necessary to protect the rest of the patriots.

Then the heads of the Dantonists commence to drop in the
fateful basket. At length steps forth Herault de Sechelles,

194 TERROR. [Aprils,

the handsome nobleman wlio liad been such a true friend
of the people, with a rose in his hand. He wants to em-
brace Danton, but is prevented by the executioner. " You
stupid ! " says Danton, " you cannot prevent our heads from
kissing each other in yonder basket." A curious coin-

cidence characterizes the period perfectly. There was then
played in the theatres of Paris a piece which represented the
y?/^ of Aug. 10, 1793. The Convention was shown assem-
bled on the Place de Bastille, with its president, none other
than Herault de S^chelles, drinking a toast in water to
Nature. At the very hour when the actor who represented
Herault drank to Nature, the true Ht^rault, a short distance
away, laid his head on the block as a traitor to the father-
land. What a contrast !

Then came Camille, who, in rage, had torn nearly all his
clothes from his body, cursing Robespierre, who had been
for twenty years his friend, and a few years ago was a witness
to his marriage with the handsome Lucile. " What

a style and what a handsome wife he had ! " they yet say in
France, when speaking of him, as they often do. Indeed,
the personal and polemical journalism which is such an
abuse in that country, comes chiefly from the admiration
which young French journalists feel for poor Camille, his
style — and his wife.

Last came Danton himself. At the foot of the scaffold
he seemed moved, and was heard to lament, " () my dearly
loved wife, whom I shall see no more ! " 'I'hen he checked
himself, saying, " Danton, no weakness ! "

A man who happened to be an eye-witness, and who
has written his reminiscences, describes his last moment
thus : —

"Danton was the last to appear upon the platform, red
with the blood of his friends. At the foot of the horrible
statue [of Liberty], whose enormous mass was outlined

1794] APRIL FIFTH. 1 95

against the sky, I saw the tribune stand, hke one of Dante's
shadows, half illumined by the dying sun, looking ralhcr as
if newly arisen from the tomb than ready to go into it.
Nothing was ever seen more brave than the demeanor
of this atlas of the Revolution, more formidable than the
expression of the face which defied the axe, than the bear-
ing of the head which, though about to fall, seemed still to
dictate laws. Terrible picture ! time will never efface it
from my memory. I perfectly comprehend the feeling which
inspired him to utter his last words, — these terrible words,
that I could not hear, but which were repeated in trembling
horror and admiration : ' Do not forget,' he said to the exe-
cutioner, ' to show my head to the people. It is good to
look at.' " '

Thus ended the statesman of the Revolution, the patriot
par excellence, the disinterested hero ; so young, and yet so
strong and wise ; so able to organize, create, and govern !

But Billaud-Varennes lived to repent. Three months
afterwards he contributes to Robespierre's fall. On April i,
1795, ^^ i^ himself condemned, for some words in favor of
the masses, by the Girondins of the Convention, to depor-
tation to Cayenne. There he lives as an agriculturist, and
is the only one who peremptorily refuses the amnesty of
Bonaparte. His wife had secured a divorce from him ; mar-
ried a second time, a wealthy man ; becomes a widow ; and
then she invites Cillaud to come and share her wealth. He
refuses this offer also, with the words, " There are faults
that are unpardonable." At the time of the Restoration
he moves to Hayti, where he dies. In his later days he
used to say, " I had too direct a share in Danton's death,

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