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Mirabeau, from the French of Louis Barthou .. online

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intimate circle. A keen observer, absolutely disinterested,
obliging, faithful and loyal, he closely followed the events
that were moving so swiftly in France. He had made
Mirabeau's acquaintance in 1788 at a dinner given by the
Prince de Poix, Governor of Versailles. The impression
made on him then is worth quoting, as it gives us one
of the best portraits ever drawn of the renowned tribune :
"When he saw Mirabeau enter, M. de La Marck was
struck by his appearance. He was tall, squarely and
heavily built. His head, which was extraordinarily large,
was made even larger by a vast mass of curled and
powdered hair. He wore a town coat with very large
buttons of coloured stone, and shoe-buckles of an equally
exaggerated size. His whole costume was marked by
an exaggeration of the fashion of the time, which suited
but ill with the taste of the men of the Court. His features
were disfigured with pock-marks. The expression of his
countenance was sombre, but his eyes were full of fire. In
his desire for elegance he exaggerated his salutations : his
first words were ponderous and vulgar compliments. In
a word he had neither the manners nor the speech of the
society in which he found himself, and although by birth
he was the peer qf his hosts, yet it was easy to see by his
manners that he lacked the ease which comes from fre-
quenting the great world."

Mirabeau's conversation, copious and powerful, witty and

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MIRABEAU

brilliant, fortunately compensated for what was ridiculous
and second-rate in his bearing. His views on Germany, full
of sound ideas, and eloquently expressed, delighted M.
de La Marck. They became friends. The meeting of the
States-General, in which M. de La Marck represented the
bailiwick of Quesnay, brought together the two men, who
in spite of many divergencies of taste and opinion, had
so much in common, and set up a warm and confident
sympathy between them. M. de La Marck soon saw how
Mirabeau's genius and popularity could be turned to
account. Rejected by the Government, misunderstood
and despised by the Court, conscious of his power and
impatient for action, Mirabeau had no hesitation in saying,
"On the day when the King's ministers will bring them-
selves to discuss matters with me they will find me devoted
to the Royal cause and the safety of the monarchy." These
words led M. de La Marck to approach the Keeper of the
Seals, M. de Cice, Archbishop of Bordeaux, but without
result. He was not discouraged, and, understanding with
rare insight the gravity of what had happened, he did
not hesitate to turn to the Queen. Marie Antoinette
told him bluntly that she was not of his opinion: "We
shall never be so unfortunate, I think, as to be reduced
to the painful extremity of turning to Mirabeau for
help."

Meanwhile the Revolution took its course : Mirabeau
was always in the foreground. On October 5 he had pro-
tested in moderate terms, as he demanded the necessary
explanation, against the letter in which the King had
accepted with reservations the constitutional decrees and
adjourned the sanction of the Declaration of the Rights
of Man : he had especially insisted on every act of the
King's being accompanied by the signature of a Secretary
of State : "for without it the salutary law of responsibility
will always be set at nought."

P6tion had denounced the banquet of the bodyguard.

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THE TREATY WITH THE COURT

Mirabeau, without attempting to elucidate "this culpable
act," proposed to "forbid the guard holding these festivals
of spurious patriotism, which were an insult to the misery
of the people and might have fatal consequences." When
an ill-inspired member of the Right insisted on making
Petion produce a written denunciation of what had hap-
pened, Mirabeau declared that he considered such a denun-
ciation extremely impolitic, but he added : " However, if
it is insisted on, I am ready to furnish all the details and
to sign them ; but first I shall ask this Assembly to declare
that the King's person is alone inviolable, and that all
other persons whatsoever are equally subject and respon-
sible to the law." This exposed the Queen, and these
menacing words must have rung dolorously in her ears and
revealed to her the power of the man she despised.

When the Assembly was invaded Mirabeau protested
against the scandal, and forced the President to clear the
hall to save the dignity of debate. So great was his popu-
larity at that time that he was applauded even by those
whom he insisted on expelling. He procured the rejec-
tion of the proposal that the Assembly should sit in the
.King's presence. "It is not fitting to our dignity," he
declared ; " it is not even wise to desert our posts at a time
when imaginary or real dangers are threatening the public
good." Finally, on hearing that the King had returned
to Paris, he procured a decree that "the King and the
Assembly should be inseparable during the present
session." "Let me point out to the Assembly," he said,
"that a sound policy should lead it to promulgate an act of
such importance without hesitation."

Thus, during these two days, Mirabeau once more appeared
in his twofold capacity : moderate and enthusiastic, ener-
getic and far-seeing, a defender of the rights of the people,
whose excesses he condemned, indulgent with the King,
whom he knew to be more hesitating than ill-intentioned,
hard on the imprudence of the Court, whose temerity too
P 209



MIRABEAU

nearly resembled defiance. The day after the King's
enforced return to the Tuileries he went to see M. de La
Marck. "The King, the royal family, France too," he
said, "are lost if the royal family does not leave Paris.
I am evolving a plan to make them go : would it be
possible for you to go and assure them that they can count
on me ? " A few days later he produced this plan, dated
October 15. It is a capital piece of work, as strong in its
general conception as it is clear, sober, eloquent in expres-
sion. Mirabeau's ideas were expressed in it with a frank-
ness and confidence which prove his sincerity. Although
to abstract it may weaken it, yet it is too long to be cited
in full : and I may at least try, without falsifying its spirit
to present its essential details.

What was Mirabeau's aim ? To assure the success of
the Revolution, and bring it peacefully to a head, to allow
the King to form a "coalition" with his people. What-
ever the deplorable mistakes committed by the National
Assembly in its misdirected, ill-composed form, its lack of
experience and excess of numbers, it did render services of
inestimable value. It was still sustained by the gratitude
and hopes of the people. In reality there had been in its
blunders more "mistakes in administration than in prin-
ciple." The exemptions and privileges which, backed by
universal opinion, it had destroyed, could never come to
life again : the whole nation would rise up against them.
"The abolition of the feudal system was an expiation due
to ten centuries of madness." The Assembly must, there-
fore, be preserved, for the people found it good. But
neither the King nor the Assembly were free. The
"excited populace," which had brought them back to Paris,
would continue to dominate them by the "anarchical
tyranny," to which the weakness of ministers without
authority as instruments had given rein. How then was
peace to be restored to the State, power to the army, the
power of action to the executive, its true rights to the

210



THE TREATY WITH THE COURT

monarchy, the rights which were indispensable to pubUc
liberty ?

Certain worse than bad solutions, which would bring
about the most frightful consequences and the inevitable
ruin of the King, must at once be discarded. To retire
to Metz or any other place on the frontier would be to
declare war on the nation and abdicate the throne. A
King, who is the only safeguard of his people, does not
fly before his people. He accepts his people as the judge
of his conduct and principles, but he does not suddenly
break all the ties which bind them to him, nor stir up
disaffection, nor place himself in the position of only being
able to return to the seat of his Government armed, nor
will he be reduced to craving help from abroad." Mirabeau
adds: "If such a thing were to happen, I would myself
denounce the monarch."

It would be no less dangerous to withdraw to the interior
of the kingdom, appeal to the nobility and make alliance
with them. That would mean choosing between a great
people and a few individuals whom that people regarded
as their most implacable enemies.

Discarding such expedients, "it being impossible to
think of evading a great danger without danger," the
King's departure was the last resort for the public good
and his own safety. From the military, political and
economical point of view Rouen would be the most suit-
able town. The departure would be carefully planned and
would take place openly. The King would plead the
necessity for regaining his liberty in order to approach
his people more nearly, and to deprive the malcontents
of any excuse for disregarding the authority of the
Assembly's decrees. He would proclaim that he took no
less interest in the Revolution than Ihe most ardent friends
of liberty; that he, as the head of the nation, had planned
to invest it with all its rights; that, without exception or
reservation, he renewed the sanction and adherence he had

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MIRABEAU

given to the decrees of the Assembly ; that the pubHc debt
was pledged by the national honour, that the Parlements
were definitely abolished, and, finally, that, desiring to live
the life of a private individual, he would henceforth be
content with a million for his personal and family expenses.

The Assembly would be invited to attend upon the
monarch, from whom it had declared its inseparability,
and, if it refused, it would be replaced by another legisla-
ture. Proclamations, instructions, correspondence would
enlighten public opinion, and "it would soon be seen what
respect and affection for a good Prince can do for a faith-
ful and generous nation, than whose welfare nothing has
ever been desired by the Prince, who is himself as unhappy
as his people."

This "plan for the public safety," which rested on the
indivisibility of the monarch and the people, was entrusted
by M. de La Marck to Monsieur the Comte de Provence,
the King's brother, to be laid before the Court. Monsieur
made certain reservations as to the methods of execution,
but approved of the general scheme. But he refused to
communicate it to the Queen, and no doubt he did not
inform the King either, for he was afraid of his
irresolution.

Thus repulsed, rejected or misunderstood by those whose
safety he was concerned to preserve, seeing in their safety
the fate of the nation involved, Mirabeau had reason to
believe that another resource was open to him. He did
not like or respect La Fayette, whose quasi-dictatorship
did not seem to him to be justified by the intellectual gifts
or the character that he most prized. But he could not
shut his eyes to the fact that the general's popularity was
a formidable weapon. For his part, La Fayette was filled
with very strong prejudices against Mirabeau based on the
Tribune's youthful vagaries.

The departure of the Due d'Orleans, forced on the
Prince by La Fayette after the events of Octoberj violently

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THE TREATY WITH THE COURT

irritated Minabeau, who thought such despotism most
imprudent. There was very nearly an explosion. Dupont,
Alexander de Lameth and Barnave intervened and de-
manded an interview, which took place in their presence
at Passy in the house of Mme. d'Aragon, Mirabeau's
niece. There was a discussion of the general situation,
which gave rise to many fears, and of the weakness of the
Ministry, which seemed impotent to face the position.
They agreed as to the necessity of finding a substitute for
Necker in the Government, and also of replacing many
of his colleagues with members chosen from the Assembly
to the exclusion of all the deputies present. Mirabeau is
reported by Lameth to have said : "In this instance I have
not the honour of self-sacrifice, for I know that I have
raised a mountain of prejudice against me which it will take
time to demolish." Other names were discussed and
chosen. But the project came to nothing, either because
La Fayette hesitated to move against Necker, or be-
cause he could not succeed in overcoming the King's
opposition.

Thenceforward for three or four weeks there were
continued relations between Mirabeau and La Fayette,
dinners, conversations, discussions, plans. Mirabeau at
first tried to approach Necker and Montmorin, and had a
long interview with them which produced no result.
Everything, both in the attitude of the Ministry and that
of the Court, led him to La Fayette. M. de La Marck, who
had not renounced his desire to turn his friend's genius
to account; M. Talon, the Civil Lieutenant of the Chatelet,
who wanted to become a minister; M. de Cic6, the Keeper
of the Seals, who was calmly betraying his colleagues, and
M. de Semonville, a deputy, were all mixed up in nego-
tiations of which it is difficult to discover the thread.
Mirabeau's public influence was shown on October 19
when, during the first sitting of the Assembly at the
Abbaye, he procured a vote of thanks to Bailly and

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MIRABEAU

La Fayette for the attitude adopted by those "virtuous
citizens " during the recent disturbances. Two days later,
on the occasion of a vote on suppHes, Mirabeau drew up
an attack on the Ministry.

He was in great financial straits. "I find it hard to
move," he wrote on October 21 to M. de La Marck. "I
am hemmed in by minor obUgations which in the mass
are a solid wall. I am very much hampered in my social
intercourse, both because I cannot look after my affairs,
and because as long as I have any ambitious project I
cannot break up my factory. I cannot accept any solid
assistance without some office that would make it legiti-
mate : any small loan would only gratuitously compromise
me. . . ." He received a loan of 50,000 francs, partly
from La Fayette, which he repaid. As for the office, this
took the form of the promise of a great ambassadorship to
Holland or England, on which M. de Montmorin adhered.

Mirabeau preferred a post in the Ministry to an embassy.
La Fayette was hostile at first, but visibly weakened.
It appears that about the end of October he had made up
his mind to agree, and Mirabeau had reason to believe that
his dreams were about to be realized. There are two draft
ministries drawn up in his hand. He appears by name in
one. Necker was to be Prime Minister, "because he must
be made as powerless as he is incapable ; and yet preserve
his popularity with the King." La Fayette was to go to the
Council, become Marshal of France, and commander-in-
chief, so as to reconstruct the army ; Mirabeau himself was
to be appointed to the King's Council, but to have no de-
partment. His way of judging the reasons for and conse-
quences of his nomination is curious: "Minor scruples of
respect of persons," he says, "are no longer in season. The
Government must openly declare that its chief assistants
will henceforth be sound principles, character and talent."
What has become of the heaped-up prejudices which for
so long had set an insurmountable barrier round Mira-

214



THE TREATY WITH THE COURT

beau ? A little time and much skill had been enough to
demolish them. The second draft, which distinguishes
between La Fayette and the Queen, in which also Talley-
rand and Siey^s figure, does not contain Mirabeau's name,
but there is no doubt that he had assigned himself the same
part as in the first.

"Reciprocal confidence and friendship: that is what I
give and look for," he wrote to La Fayette on October 29.
He added, underlining the words : " What would you say
in case Necker threatened to go if Mirabeau were ap-
pointed? Give your mind to it." This letter proves
conclusively the support given by the General to a
Ministry which would include the Tribune.

These negotiations did not take up the whole of Mira-
beau's time, and he was careful not to neglect the Assembly
where, he knew, his greatest power lay. He took part in
several discussions. On October 14, the day after an
unjust' attack in which he had mistakenly implicated the
Comte de Saint-Priest, a Minister of State, he proposed a
law relating to riotous meetings, so as to prevent disorder,
which not only "might have the most fatal results on the
liberty and safety of citizens," but were also likely to
"compromise union and the stability of the monarchy."
Mirabeau clearly never let slip an opportunity for bringing
together and associating the two great interests to which
he had with equal zeal devoted himself. His scheme,
combined with Target's, took shape after the assassina-
tion of the baker Francois (October 20), in the famous
martial law. Before it was put to the vote, Mirabeau
made an observation which reveals his most constant pre-
occupation, about preserving "against the annihilation,"
the executive power to which he proposed to give the
necessary resources and means for becoming active and
responsible.

On October 30 he delivered a great speech during the
important debate opened a few days before by the Bishop



MIRABEAU

of Autun's proposal to give the State, in order that it
might put its finances in order, the property of which he
claimed that the clergy were not the owners but only the
usufructuaries. This was carrying to its logical conclu-
sion the thesis set forth by Turgot in his famous article
on Fondations in the Ency elope die. Mirabeau did not
entirely agree, but adopted the essential idea. The speech
he delivered is admirable in its dialectic and its juridical
argument, the force of which cannot be denied even by
those who contest its accuracy and justice. Its style bears
no resemblance whatever to Mirabeau's usual eloquence.
No doubt the Tribune called in the pen of one of his
collaborators who was more fitted than himself to deal
with such a subject. But he was expressing his own ideas.
They dominated the decree of the Assembly which placed
the ecclesiastical property at the disposal of the nation, and
allotted to every parish priest a minimum annual stipend
of 1200 francs.

Meanwhile the negotiations for the constitution of a
Ministry made no progress. The Keeper of the Seals,
who deceived everybody, paid Le Pelletier to write the
celebrated anti-Mirabeau pamphlet, Domine salvum fac
regem. La Fayette, who was "equally incapable of
breaking faith and of keeping his word ad tempus" could
not bring himself to any decision. Such hesitation made
it possible for a cabal to be formed in the Assembly
against Mirabeau. He determined to take matters into
his own hands. The weakness of the Ministry was be-
coming more and more obvious. It was doubly com-
promised by the clumsiness of its actions and its deplorable
inaction. Mirabeau still thought and said forcibly that
"the National Assembly must be made to transcend its
own measures." By attacking a Ministry whose indecision
was as dangerous to royalty as to liberty, he brought his
principles into line with the designs of his ambition. On
November 5 in the Assembly he denounced the Grand

216



THE TREATY WITH THE COURT

Provost of Marseilles, whose measures, directed against the
plotters of sedition, were contrary to the recently promul-
gated decrees. He blamed the ministers for this situation,
and pointed out the danger of having an executive power
which was "hostile to the legislative body instead of
being auxiliary to it." The conclusions which he had put
to the vote of the Assembly, which was jealous of its
prerogative and susceptible to his flattery, came very near
to being a defiant vote of censure. He was right in
regarding it as a "battle won." The game, he thought,
had taken a giant stride. Would La Fayette at last under-
stand, make up his mind and act ? Mirabeau assured him
of his "personal fidelity," and asked for ^^ carte blanche
for the composition of a really powerful Ministry in which
there would be not the slightest suspicion of tolerance."
So great was his confidence that he even went so far as
to give the General to understand "in the hurly-burly
such a Ministry might even come into being without him."
Thus prepared for the excitement of Necker's dismissal,
having made or thinking he had made all his arrangements,
sure of himself and sure of success, Mirabeau began the
fight on November 6 by means of what he called a tactical
evolution. The question of finance was the order of the
day. He plunged into it with a vehement and skilful
speech in which he called ministers to account for the
scarcity of specie, the abuses of the Caisse d'Escompte, the
insufficiency of the reserve of capital : he declared that the
"reign of illusions was past," and, among other measures,
he demanded the establishment of a central treasury in-
tended only for the debt and under national control. After
having shown the advantages of such an institution for the
public credit and the creditors of the State, he asked why
the nation had not the credit it deserved. He alluded to a
memorandum of the ministers who, by way of self-defence,
had revealed all the diseases of the State, and thus given
rise to dangerous alarms. These "sad misunderstandings "

217



MIRABEAU

would never have been produced if the ministers had not
been absent from the Assembly, and if the executive power
and the legislative body, regarding each other as enemies,
had not been afraid to discuss together all the affairs
of the nation. Thus under cover of a technical discussion
and on the occasion of a mere incident, the serious ques-
tion whether a minister could belong to the National
Assembly was introduced. Already on September 29 in a
debate on the responsibility of ministers, Mirabeau had
touched on it. His paper, the Courrier de Provence, had
dealt with it several times in a series of remarkable articles.
The time had come for its solution. Mirabeau applied
himself to it with as much moderation as force, invoking
the example of England, displaying the manifold advan-
tages of an assiduous collaboration between the Assembly
and ministers chosen from its midst, dismissing "frivolous
fears, vain phantoms and the suspicious timidity which
rushes into every trap in its dread of falling into them."
Among the conclusions which he placed before the
Assembly the aim of the third was to procure a decision
that "his Majesty's ministers should be invited to take
part in the deliberations of the Assembly until the Con-
stitution should fix the rules to be followed with regard
to them."

The motion thus presented formally assured the par-
ticipation of ministers in the labours of the Assembly, and
indirectly, but in the affirmative, cut across the question
whether if ministers were selected from the Assembly they
could continue to be members of it. There was little
immediate opposition; it was supported by the Comte de
Clermont-Tonnere and postponed for a day. This ad-
journment was enough to destroy the impression produced
by Mirabeau 's speech and to compromise the success of
his proposal. Decisions come to in the night are not
always the best. The cabal formed against Mirabeau had
regained confidence and audacity. A deputy reminded him

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THE TREATY WITH THE COURT

that when there had been a discussion on a loan of thirty
millions, he had asked that the debate should not be con-
ducted in the presence of ministers. The contradiction
was, perhaps, only apparent. But the Assembly fastened
on it. When personal questions arise principles easily lose
their authority. A young deputy, Lanjuinais, proposing
the establishment of the incompatibility between the func-
tions of a minister and the mandate of a representative,
and the prohibition of the appointment to the Ministry
of a deputy who has resigned his seat, was aimed directly at
Mirabeau. "An eloquent genius leads and subjugates
you. What would he not do if he were a minister?"
From that moment "brutal, savage hatred" was let loose.
Mirabeau faced it with admirable courage and address.
The speech he delivered in opposition to the prohibitive
motion of Blin and Lanjuinais, in its imperious and deci-
sive brevity, displays irresistible suppleness and vigour of
argument. No serious objection could be put forward
against him. But in all assemblies it only too often
happens that party passions and personal prejudice
triumph over the clearest reason. Mirabeau found it so.



Online LibraryLouis BarthouMirabeau, from the French of Louis Barthou .. → online text (page 17 of 29)