Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

Critical, historical, and miscellaneous essays online

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Now, it is notorious that Marie Antoinette was sent
before the Revolutionary Tribunal, not at Robespierre's
instance, but in direct opposition to Robespierre's wishes.
We will cite a single authority, which is quite decisive.



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132 bar£:r£.

Bonaparte, who had no conceivable motive to disguise
the truth, who had the best opportunities of knowing
the truth, arid who, after his marriage with the Arcb^
duchess, naturally felt an interest in the fate of bis
wife's kinswoman, distinctly affirmed tliat Robespierre
opposed the trying of the Queen. ^ Who, then, was
the pereon who really did propose that the Capet family
should be banished, and that Marie Antoinette should
be tried ? Full information will be found in the Mon-
iteur,^ From that v^^luable record it appears that, on
the first of August 1793, an orator, deputed by the
Committee of Public Safety, addressed the Convention
in a long and elaborate discourse. He asked, in pas-
sionate language, how it happened that the enemies of
the republic still continued to hope for success. " Is
it," he cried, " because we have too long forgotten the
crimes of the Austrian woman ? Is it because we have
shown so strange an indulgence to the race of our an-
cient tyrants ? It is time that this unwise apathy should
cease ; it is time to extirpate from tlie soil of the Re-
public the last roots of royalty. As for the children
of Louis the conspirator, they are hostages for the Re-
public. The charge of their maintenance^ shall be
reduced to wliat is necessary for the food and keep of
two individuals. The public treasure shall no longer
be lavished on creatures who have too long been con-
sidered as privileged. But behind them lurks a woman
who has been the cause of all the disasters of France,
and whose share in every project adverse to the revolu-
tion has long been known. National justice claims its
riglits over her. It is to tlie tribunal ap]K>inted for the
trial of conspirators that she ought to be sent. It in

lO'Meara's Voice/i-om St. Helena, ii. 170.
*Momieur, 2iid, 7tb, and 9th of Aogitst, 1703.



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i5AKKKK. 483

only by striking the Austrian woman that you can make
Francis and George, Charles and William, sensible of
the crimes which their ministers and their armies have
committed." The speaker concluded by moving that
Marie Antoinette should be brought to judgment, and
should, for that end, be forthwith transferred to the
Conciergerie ; and that all the members of the house of
Capet, with the exception of those who were under the
sword of the law, and of the two children of Louis,
should be banished from the French territory. The
motion was carried without debate.

Now, who was the person who made this speech and
this motion ? It was Bardre himself. It is clear, then,
that Bar^re attributed his own mean insolence and bar-
Ijarity to one who, whatever his crimes may have been,
was in this matter innocent. The only question re-
maining is, whether Bardre was misled by liis memorj%
or wrote a deliberate falsehood.

We are convinced that he wrote a deliberate &lse-
hood. His memory is described by his editors as
remarkably good, and must have been bad indeed if he
could not remember such a fact as this. It is true that
the number of murders in which he subsequently bore
a part was so great that he might well confound one
with another, that he might well forget what part of
the daily hecatomb was consigned to death by himself,
and what part by his colleagues. But two circum-
stances make it quite incredible that the share which
he took in the death of Marie Antoinette should have
escaped his recollection. She was one of his earliest
victims. She was one of his most illustrious victims.
The most hardened assassin remembers the first
time that he shed blood ; and the widow of Louis
was no ordinary sufterer. If the question had beeij

VOL. V. 19



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434 BAR^RE.

about some milliner, butchered for hiding in her garret
her brother who had let drop a word against the
Jacobin club — if the question had been about some
old nun, dragged to death for having mumbled what
were called fenatical words over her beads — Barere's
memory might well have deceived him. It would be
as unreasonable to expect him to remember all the
wretches whom he slew as all the pinches of snufF that
he took. But, though Bardre murdered many hun-
dreds of human beings, he murdered only one Queen.
That he, a small country lawyer, who, a few years
before, would have thought liimself honoured by a
glance or a word from the daughter of so many Cae-
sars, should call her the Austrian woman, should send
her from jail to jail, should deliver her over to the
executioner, was surely a great event in his life.
Whether he had reason to be proud of it or ashamed
of it, is a question on which we may perhaps differ
from his editors ; but they will admit, we think, that he
could not have forgotten it.

We, therefore, confidently charge BarSre with hav-
ing written a deliberate felsehood ; and we have no
hesitation in saying that we never, in the course of any
historical researches that we have happened to make,
fell in with a falsehood so audacious, except only the
falsehood which we are about to expose.

Of the proceeding against the Girondists, Bardre
speaks with just severity. He calls it an atrocious in-
justice perpetrated against the legislators of the republic.
Ho complains that distinguished deputies, who ought to
have been readmitted to their seats in the Convention,
were sent to the scaffold as conspirators. The day, he
exclaims, was a day of mourning for France. It muti-
lated the national representation ; it weakened ttio



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BARflRE. 485

sacred principle, that the delegates of the people were
inviolable. He protests that he had no share in the
guilt. '^ I have had," he says, " the patience to go
through the Moniteur^ extracting all the charges brought
against deputies, and all the decrees for arresting and
impeaching deputies. Nowhere will you find my name.
I never brought a charge against any of my colleagues,
or made a report against any, or drew up an impeach-
ment against any." ^

Now, we affirm that this is a lie. We affirm that
Bardre himself took the lead in tlie proceedings of the
Convention against the Girondists. We affirm that he,
on the twenty-eighth of July 1793, proposed a decree
for bringing nine Girondist deputies to trial, and for
putting to death sixteen other Girondist deputies with-
out any trial at all. We affinn that, when the accused
deputies had been brought to trial, and when some
iq)prehension arose that their eloquence might produce
an effect even on the Revolutionary Tribunal, Barere
did, on the 8th of Brumaire, second a motion for a
decree authorising the tribunal to decide without hear-
mg out the defence ; and, for the truth of every one of
these things so affirmed by us, we appeal to that very
Moniteur to which Bardre has dared to appeal .^

What M. Hippolyte Carnot, knowing, as he must
know, that this book contains such falsehoods as those
which we have exposed, can have meant, when he de-
scribed it as a valuable addition to our stock of histori-
cal information, passes our comprehension. When a
man is not ashamed to tell lies about events which took
place before himdreds of witnesses, and which are re-

3 Vol. II. 407.

* McnUtttr^ 81st July, 1793, nnd Nonidi, first Decade of Bnimafre, in tbo
yMr2.



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436 dar£:re.

corded in well-knc wn and accessible books, what credit
can we give to his account of things done in comers ?
No historian who does not wish to be laughed at will
ever cite the unsupported authority of Barere as suffi-
cient to prove any fact whatever. The only thing, as
far as we can see, on which these volumes throw any
light, is the exceeding baseness of the author.

So much for the veracity of the Memoirs. In a
literary point of view, they are beneath criticism.
They are as shallow, flippant, and^ affected, as Bardre's
oratory in the Convention. They are also, what his orar
tory in the Convention was not, utterly insipid. In feet,
they are the mere dregs and rinsings of a bottle of which
even the first froth was but of very questionable flavour.

We will now try to present our readers with a
sketch of this man's life. We shall, of course, make
very sparing use indeed of his own Memoire ; and
never without distrust, except where they are con-
firmed by other evidence.

Bertrand Barere was born in the year 1765, at
Tarbes in Gascony. His father was the proprietor of
a small estate at Vieuzac, in the beautiful vale of
Argelds. Bertrand always loved to be called Bardre
de Vieuzac, and flattered himself with the hope that,
by the help of this feudal addition to his name, he
might pass for a gentleman. He was educated for the
bar at Toulouse, the seat of one of the most celebrated
parliaments of the kingdom, practised as an advocate
with considerable success, and wrote some small pieces,
which he sent to the principal literary societies in the
south of France. Among provincial towns, Toulouse
seems to have been remarkably rich in indifferent
versifiers and critics. It gloried especially in one
venerable institution, called the Academy of the Floral



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bar£:r£. 487

Games. This body held every year a grand meeting,
which was a subject of intense interest to the whole
city, and at which flowers of gold and silver were given
as prizes for od^, for idyls, and for something that was
called eloquence. These bounties produced of course
the ordinary effect of bounties, and turned people who
might have been thriving attorneys and useful apothe-
caries into small wits and bad poets. Bardre does r.ot
appear to have been so lucky as to obtain any of these
precious flowers; but one of his performances was
mentioned with honour. At Montauban he was more
fortunate. The Academy of that town bestowed on
him several prizes, one for a panegyric on Louis the
Twelfth, in which the blessings of monarchy and the
loyalty of the French nation were set forth ; and
another for a panegyric on poor Franc de Pompignan,
in wliich, as may easily be supposed, the philosophy of
the eighteenth century was sharply assailed. Then
Barere found an old stone inscribed with three Latin
words, and wrote a dissertation upon it, which pro-
cured him a seat in a learned Assembly, called the
Toulouse Academy of Sciences, Inscriptions, and Po-
lite Literature. At length the doors of the Academy
of the Floral Games were opened to so much merit.
Harare, in his thirty-third year, took his seat as one of
that illustrious brotherhood, and made an inaugural
oration which was greatly admired. He apologises for
recounting these triumphs of his youthful genius. We
own that we cannot blame him for dwelling long on
the least disgraceful portion of his existence. To send
in declamations for prizes offered by provincial acade-
mies is indeed no very useful or dignified employment
for a bearded man ; but it would have been well if
Bardre had always been so em[)I()yed.



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438 barI;re.

In 1785 he married a young lady of considerable
fortune. Whether she was in other respects qualified
to make a home happy, is a point respecting which we
are imperfectly informed. In a Httle work, entitled
Melancholy Page»^ which was written in 1797, Bardre
avere that his marriage was one of mere convenience,
that at the altar his heart was heavy with sorrowftd
forebodings, that he turned pale as he pronounced the
solemn " Yes," that unbidden tears rolled down his
cheeks, that his mother shared his presentiment, and
that the evil omen was accomplished. " My mannage,"
he says, " was one of the most imhappy of marriages."
So romantic a tale, told by so noted a liar, did not
command our belief. We were, therefore, not much
surprised to discover that, in his Memoirs, he calls his
wife a most amiable woman, and declai'es that, after he
had been united to her six years, he found her as
amiable as ever. He complains, indeed, that she was
too much attached to royalty and to the old supersti-
tion ; but he assures us that his respect for her virtues
induced him to tolerate her prejudices. Now Bardre,
at the time of his marriage, was himself a Royalist and
a Catholic. He had gained one prize by flattering the
Throne, and another by defending the Church. It is
hardly possible, therefore, that disputes about politics
or religion should have embittered his domestic life till
some time after he became a husband. Our own
guess is, that his wife was, as he says, a virtuous and
amiable woman, and that she did her best to make him
happy during some years. It seems clear that, when
circumstances developed the latent atrocity of bis
character, she could no longer endure him, refiised to
Bee him, and sent back his letters unopened. Then it
was, we imagine, that he invented the fable about liia
distress on his wedding day.



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bar£:re. 439

In 1788 Bardre paid his first visit to Paris, attended
reviews, heard Laharpe at the Lycseum, and Condorcet
at the Academy of Sciences, stared at the envoys of
Tippob Saliib, saw the Royal Family dine at Versailles,
and kept a journal in which he noted down adventures
and speculations. Some parts of this journal are printed
in the first volume of the work before us, and are cer-
tainly most characteristic. The worst vices of the writer
liad not yet shown themselves ; but the weakness which
was the parent of those vi^es appears in every line. His
levity, his inconsistency, his servility, were already what
they were to the last. All his opinions, all his feelings,
spin round and round Uke a weathercock in a whirlwind.
Nay, the very impressions which he receives through
his senses are not the same two days together. He sees
Louis the Sixteenth, and is so much blinded by loyalty
as to find his Majesty handsome. " I fixed my eyes,"
he says, " with a lively curiosity on his fine counte-
nance, which I thought open and noble." The next
time that the king appears all is altered. His Majesty's
eyes are without the smallest expression ; he has a vul-
gar laugh which seems like idiocy, an ignoble figure, an
awkward gait, and the look of a big boy ill brought up.
It is the same with more important questions. Bardre
is for the parliaments on the Monday and against the
parliaments on the Tuesday, for feudality in the morn-
ing and against feudality in the afternoon. One day
he admires the English constitution : then he shudders
to think that, in the struggles by which that constitu-
tion had been obtained, the barbarous islanders had
murdered a king, and gives the preference to the con-
stitution of Beam. Beam, he says, has a sublime con-
stitution, a beautifiil constitution. There the nobihty
and flergy meet in one hon.se and the Commons in an-



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440 HARARE.

other. If the houses differ, the King has the casting
vote. A few weeks later we find him raving against
the principles of this subUme and beautiful constitution.
To admit deputies of the nobility and clerg}' into the
legislature, is, he says, neither more nor less than to
admit enemies of the nation into the legislature.

In this state of mind, without one settled purpose or
opinion, the slave of the last world, royalist, aristocrat,
democrat, according to the prevaiUng sentiment of the
coflfee-house or drawing-room into which he had just
looked, did Barere enter into public life. The States-
General had been summoned. Bardre went down to his
own province, was there elected one of the representa-
tives of the Third Estate, and returned to Paris in
May 1789.

A great crisis, oflen predicted, had at last arrived.
In no country, we conceive, have intellectual freedom
and political servitude existed together so long as in
France, during the seventy or eighty years which pre-
ceded the last convocation of the Orders. Ancient
abuses and new theories flourished in equal vigour side
by side. The people, having no constitutional meaius
of checking even the most flagitious misgovemment,
were indemnific^d for oppression by being suffered to lux-
uriate in anarchical speculation, and to deny or ridicule
every principle on which the institutions of the state
reposed. Neither those who attribute the downfall of
the old French institutions to the pubhc grievances, nor
those who attribute it to the doctrines of the philoso-
phers, appear to us to have taken into their view more
than one half of the subject. Grievances as heavy
have often been endured without producing a revolu-
tion ; doctinnes as bold have oflen been propounded
without producing a revolution. The question, whethef



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BARERE. 441

the French nation was alienated from its old polity by
the follies and vices of the Viziers and Sultans who
pillaged and disgraced it, or by the writings of Voltaire
and Rousseau, seems to us as idle as the question
whether it was fire or gunpowder that blew up the
mills at Hounslow. Neither cause would have sufficed
alone. Tyranny may last through ages where discus-
sion is suppressed. Discussion may safely be left fre»*
by rulers who act on popular principles. But combine
a press like that of London with a government like
that <rf St. Petersburg ; and the inevitable effect will
be an explosion that wdl shake the world. So it was
in France. Despotism and License, mingled in un-
blessed union, engendered that mighty Revolution in
which the lineaments of both parents were strangely
blended. The long gestation was accomplished ; and
Europe saw, with mixed hope and teiTor, that agonis-
ing travail and that portentous birth.

Among the crowd of legislators which at this junc-
ture poured from all the provinces of France into
Paris, Bar^re made no contemptible figure. The opin-
ions which he for the moment professed were popular,
yet not extreme. His character was fair ; his personal
advantages are said to have been considerable; and,
fix)m the portrait which is prefixed to these Memoirs,
and which represents him as he appeared in the Con-
vention, we should judge that his features must have
been strikingly handsome, though we think that we can
read in them cowardice and meanness very legibly
written by the hand of God. His conversation was
lively and easy; his manners remarkably good for a
country lawyer. Women of rank and wit said that he
was the only man who, on his first arrival from a re-
mote province, had that indescribable air which it waa



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442 BAUKRE.

supposed that Paris alone could give. His eloquence,
indeed, was by no means so much admired in the cap-
ital as it had been by the ingenious academicians of
Montauban and Toulouse. His style was thought very
bad ; and very bad, if a foreigner may venture to judge,
it continued to the last. It would, however, be unjust
to deny that he had some talents for speaking and
writing. His rhetoric, though deformed by every im-
aginable fault of taste, from bombast down to buffoon-
ery, was not wholly without force and vivacity. He
had also one quality which, in active life, often gives
fourth-rate men an advantage over first-rate men.
Whatever he could do he could do without effort, at
any moment, in any abundance, and on any side of
any question. There was, indeed, a perfect harmony
between his moral character and his intellectual char-
acter. His temper was that of a slave ; his abilities
were exactly those which qualified him to be a useful
slave. Of thinking to purpose he was utterly incapable ;
but he had wonderful readiness in arranging and ex-
pressing thoughts furnished by others.

In the National Assembly he had no opportunity of
displaying the full extent either of his talents or of his
vices. He was indeed eclipsed by much abler men.
He went, as was his habit, with the stream, spoke
occasionally with some success, and edited a journal
called the Point du Jour^ in which the debates of the
Assembly were reported.

He at first mnked by no means among the violent
reformers. He was not friendly to that new division
of the French territory, which was among the most
im^)ortant changes introduced by the Revolution, and
was especially unwilling to see his native province dis-
membered. He was entrusted with the task of framing



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BARfeRE.

Reports on the Woods and Forests. Louis w
ceedingly anxious about this matter ; for his n
was a keen sportsman, and would much rathei
gone without the Veto, or the prerogative of r
peace and war, than without liis hunting and sh<
Gentlemen of the royal houseliold were sent to I
in order to intercede for the deer and pheasants.
was this intercession unsuccessful. The report
so drawn that Barere was afterwards accused of ]
dishonestly sacrificed the interests of the public
tastes of the court. To one of these reports he h
inconceivable folly and bad taste to prefix a pi
motto from Virgil, fit only for such essays as 1
been in the habit of composing for the Floral Gai

" Si canimus sylvas, sylva sint Consule dignae."

This literary foppery was one of the few tliii
which he was consistent. Royalist or Girondist,
bin or Imperialist, he was always a Trissotin.

As the monarchical party became weaker and w
Bardre gradually esti-anged himself more and
from it, and drew closer and closer to the repul
H would seem that, during this transition, he wa
time closely connected with the family of Orleai
is certain that he was entrusted with the guardi
of the celebrated Pamela, afterwards Lady i
Fitzgerald ; and it was asserted that he received
some years a pension of twelve thousand franc
the Palais Royal.

At the end of September 1791, the labours
national Assembly terminated, and those of tl
and last Legislative Assembly commenced.

It had been enacted that no member of the N
Assembly should sit in the Legislative Assem



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444 barRre.

preposterous and mischievous regulation, to which the
disasters which followed must in part be ascribed. In
England, what would be thought of a Pai'Hament
which did not contain one single person who had ever
sat in parUament before ? Yet it may safely be affirmed
that the number of Englishmen who, never having
taken any share in public affairs, are yet well qualified,
by knowledge and observation, to be members of the leg-
islature, is at least a hundred times as great as the num-
ber of Frenchmen who were so qualified in 1791.
How, indeed, should it have been otherwise ? In Eng-
land, centuries of representative government have made
all educated people in some measure statesmen. In
France the National Assembly had probably been com-
posed of as good materials as were then to be found.
It had undoubtedly removed a vast mass of abuses ;
some of its members had read and thought much about
tlieories of government ; and others had shown great
oratorical talents. But that kind of skill which is re-
quired for the constructing, launching, and steering of
a polity was lamentably wanting ; for it is a kind of
skill to which practice contributes more than books.
Books are indeed useful to the politician, as they are
usefiil to the navigator and to the surgeon. But the real
navigator is formed on the waves ; the real surgeon is
formed at bedsides ; and the conflicts of free states are
the real school of constitutional statesmen. The Na-
tional Assembly had, however, now served an appren-
ticeship of two laborious and eventful years. It had,
indeed, by no means finished its education ; but it was
Vio longer, as on the day when it met, altogether nlde
to political functions. Its later proceedings contain
abundant proof that the members had profited by their
experience. Beyond all doubt, there was not in France



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BARi:RE. 445

any eqnal number i^f persons possessing in an equal de-
gree the qualities necessary for the judicious direction
of public affairs ; and, just at this moment, these legis-
lators, misled by a childish wish to display their own
disinterestedness, deserted the duties which they had
half learned, and which nobody else had learned at all,
and left their hall to a second crowd of novices, who
had still to master the first rudiments of political busi-
ness. When Bardre wrote his Memoirs, the absurdity
of this self-denying ordinance had been proved by
events, and was, we beUeve, acknowledged by all par-
ties. He accordingly, with his usual mendacity, speaks
of it in terms implying that he had opposed it. There



Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical, historical, and miscellaneous essays → online text (page 33 of 84)