Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

Critical, historical, and miscellaneous essays online

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The policy of the Jacobins, in this situation, was to
subject France to an aristocracy infinitely worse than
that aristocracy which had emigrated with the Count
of Artois — to an aristocracy not of birth, not of wealth,
not of education, but of mere locality. Thev would not
hear of privileged orders ; but they wishefl to have a



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BAR£RE. 459

privileged city. That twenty-five millions of French-
men should be ruled by a hundred thousand gentlemen
and clergymen was insufferable ; but that twenty-five
millions of Frenchmen should be ruled by a hundred
thousand Parisians was as it should be. The qualifica-
tion of a member of the new oligarchy was simply that
he should live near the hall where the Convention met,
and should be able to squeeze himself daily into the
gallery during a debate, and now and then to attend
with a pike for the purpose of blockading the doors.
It was quite agreeable to the maxims of the Mountain
that a score of draymen from Santerre's breweiy, or of
devils from Hubert's printing house, should be permitted
to drown the voices of men commissioned to speak the
sense of such cities as Marseilles, Bordeaux, and Lyons ;
and that a rabble of half-naked porters from the Fau-
bom^ St. Antoine should have power to annul decrees
for which the representatives of fifty or sixty depart-
ments had voted. It was necessary to find some pretext
for so odious and absurd a tyranny. Such a pretext
was found. To the old phrases of liberty and equality
were added the sonorous watchwords, unity and indi-
visibility. A new crime was invented, and called by
the name of federalism. The object of the Girondists,
it was asserted, was to break up the gieat nation into
little independent commonwealths, bound together only
by a league like that which connects the Swiss cantons
or the United States of America. The great obstacle
in the way of this pernicious design was the influence
of Paris. To strengthen the influence of Paris ought
therefore to be the chief object of every patriot.

The accusation brought against the leadei-s of the
Girondist party was a mere calumny. They were un-
loubtedly desirous to prevent the capital from douii-



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460 bar£;r£.

neering o\ ei the republic, and would gladly have seen
the Convention removed for a time to some provincial
town, or placed under the protection of a trusty guard,
which might have overawed the Parisian mob ; but
there is not the slightest reason to suspect them of any
design against the unity of the state. Bardre, how-
ever, really was a federalist, and, we are inchned to
beUeve, the only federalist in the Convention. As far
as a man so unstable and servile can be said to have
felt any preference for any form of government, he felt
a preference for federal government. He was bom
under the Pyrenees ; he was a Gascon of the Gascons,
01K3 of a people strongly distinguished by intellectual
and moral character, by manners, by modes of speech,
by accent, and by physiognomy, from the French of
the Seine aijfl of the Loire ; and he had many of the
peculiarities of the race to which he belonged. When
he first left his own province he had attained his
thirty-fourth year, and had acquired a high local repu-
tation for eloquence and Uterature. He had then
visited Paris for the first time. He had found himself
in a new world. His feelings were those of a banished
man. It is clear also that he had been by no means
without his share of the small disappointments and
humiliations so often experienced by men of letters
who, elated by provincial applause, venture to display
their powers before the festidious critics of a capital.
On the other hand, whenever he revisited the moun-
tains among which he had been bom, he found himself
an object of general admiration. His dislike of Paris,
and his partiality to his native district, were therefore as
strong and durable as any sentiments of a mind like his
could be. He long continued to maintain that the as-
cendency of one great city was the bane of France ;



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BAR£H£. 46]

that the superionty of taste aud intelligence ^Iiich it
was the fashion to ascribe to the inhabitants of tltat
city were wholly imaginary ; and that the nation would
never enjoy a really good government till the Alsatian
people, the Breton people, the people of Beam, the
people of Provence, should have each an independent
existence, and laws suited to its own tastes and habits.
These communities he proposed to unite by a tie similar
to that which binds together the grave Puritans of
Connecticut and the dissolute slave-drivers of Now
Orleans. To Paris he was unwilling to grant even
the rank which Washington holds in the United States.
He thought it desirable tliat tlie congress of the French
federation should have no fixed place of meeting, but
should sit sometunes at Rouen, sometimes at Bordeaux,
sometimes at his own Toulouse.

Animated by such feelings, he was, till the close of
May 1793, a Girondist, if not an ultra-Girondist. He
exclaimed against those impure and bloodthirsty men
who wished to nuke the public danger a pretext for
(rmelty and rapine. " Peril," he said, " could be no
excuse for crime. It is when the wind blows hard, and
die waves run high, that the anchor is most needed ; it
is when a revcJution is raging, that the great laws of
moraUty are most necessary to the safety of a state."
( )f Marat he spoke with abhorrence and contempt ; of
the municipal authorities of Paris with just severity,
lie loudly complained that there were Frenchmen who
[Miid to the Mountain that homage which was due to
the Convention alone. When the establishment of the
Revolutionaiy Tribunal was first proposed, he joined
liimself to Vergniaud and Buzot, who strongly objected
to that odious measure. "It cannot be," exclaimed
Bardre, " that men really attached to liberty will iini-



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462 BAR^RB.

tate the most frightfijl excesses of despotism ! " He
proved to the Convention, after his fiashion, out of Sal-
lust, that such arbitrary courts may indeed, for a time,
be severe only on real criminals, but must inevitably
degenerate into instruments of private cupidity and re-
venge. When, on the tenth of March, the worst part
of the population of Paris made the first unsuccessful
attempt to destroy the Girondists, Barere eagerly called
for vigorous measures of repression and punishment.
On the second of April, another attempt of the Jacobins
of Paris to usurp supreme dominion over the republic
was brought to the knowledge of the Convention ; and
again Bardre spoke with warmth against the new
tyranny which afflicted France, and declared that the
people of the departments would never crouch beneath
the tyranny of one ambitious city. He even proposed
a resolution to the effect that the Convention would
exert against the demagc^ues of the capital the same
energy which had been exerted against the tyrant
Louis. We are assui*ed that, in private as in public, he
at this time uniformly spoke witli strong aversion of the
Mountain.

His apparent zeal for the cause of humanity and
order had its reward. Early in April came the tidings
of Dumourier's defection. This was a heavy blow to
the Girondists. Dumourier was their general. His
victories had thrown a lustre on the whole party ; his
anny, it had been hoped, would, in the worst event,
protect the deputies of the nation against the ragged
pikemen of the garrets of Paris. He was now a de-
serter and an exile ; and those who had lately placed
their chief reliance on his support were compelled to
join with their deadliest enemies in execrating his trea-
son. At this perilous conjuncture, it was resolved to



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barEre. 463

appoint a Committee of Public Safety, and to arm that
committee with powers, small indeed when compared
with those which itf afterwards drew to itself, but still
great and formidable. The moderate party, regarding
Barere as a representative of their feelings and opinions,
elected him a member. In his new situation he soon
began to make himself useful. He brought to the de-
liberations of the Committee, not indeed the knowledg(j
or the ability of a gi'eat statesman, but a tongue and a
pen which, if others would only supply ideas, never
paused for want of words. His mind was a mere organ
of communication between other minds. It originated
nothing ; it retained nothing ; but it transmitted every
thing. The post assigned to him by his colleagues was
not really of the highest importance ; but it was prom-
inent, and drew the attention of all Europe. When a
gi'eat measure was to be brought forward, when an ao-
cotmt was to be rendered of an important event, he
was generally the mouthpiece of the administration.
He was therefore not unnaturally considered, by per-
sons who lived at a distance from the seat of govern-
ment, and above all by foreigners who, while the war
raged, knew France only from journals, as the head of
tliat administration of which, in truth, he was only the
secretary and the spokesman. The author of the His-
tory of Europe, in our own Annual Registers, appeal?
to have been completely under this delusion.

The conflict between the hostile parties was mean-
while fast approaching to a crisis. The temper of Paris
grew daily fiercer and fiercer. Delegates appointed by
thirty-five of the forty- eight wards of the city appeared
at the bar of the Convention, and demanded that
Vergniaud, Brissot, Guadet, Gensonn^, Barbaroux,
Buzot, Potion, Louvet, and many other deputies, should



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464 bar£;re.

be expelled. This demand was disapproved by at least
three-fourths of the Assembly, and, when known in the
departments, called forth a general cry of indignation.
Bordeaux declared that it would stand by its represent-
atives, and would, if necessary, defend them by the
sword against the tyranny of Paris. Lyons and Mar-
seilles were animated by a similar spirit. These mani-
festations of public opinion gave courage to the majority
of the Convention. Thanks were voted to the peopis
of Bordeaux for their patriotic declaration ; and a ccwn-
mission consisting of twelve members was appointed fcr
the purpose of investigating the conduct of the muni-
cipal authorities of Paris, and was empowered to place
under arrest such persons as should appear to have been
concerned in any plot against the authority of the Con-
vention. This measure was adopted on the motion of
BarSre.

A few days of stormy excitement and profound anx-
iety followed; and then came the crash. On tlie
thirty-first of May the mob of Paris rose ; the palace
of the Tuileries was besieged by a vast array of pikes ;
the majority of the deputies, after vain struggles and
remonstrances, yielded to violence, and suffered the
Mountain to carry a decree for the suspension and
arrest of the deputies whom the wards of the ci4>it(i]
had accused.

During the contest Bardre had been tossed back-
wards and forwards between the two raging factions.
His feelings, languid and unsteady as tliey always were,
drew him to the Girondists ; but he was awed by the
vigour and determination of the Mountain. At one
moment he held high and firm language, complained
that the Convention was not free, and protested against
the validity of any vote passed under coercion. At



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BARERE. 4G5

another mument he proposed to conciliate the Parisiar :
by abolishing that commission of twelve which he ha I
himself proposed only a few days before; and himself
drew up a paper condemning the very measures which
had been adopted at his own instance, and eulogieing
the public spirit of the insurgents. To do him justice,
it was not without some symptoms of shame that l.e
read this document from the tribune, where he haa so
often expressed very different sentiments. It is «aid
that, at some passages, he was even seen to blush. It
may have been so ; he was still in his novitiate of
infamy.

Some days later he proposed that hostages for the
personal safety of die accused deputies should be sent
to the departments, and offered to be himself one of
Uiose hostages. Nor do we in the least doubt that the
offer was sincere. He would, we firmly believe, have
thought himself fer safer at Bordeaux or Marseilles than
at Paris. His proposition, however, was not carried
into effect ; and he remained in the power of the victo-
rious Mountain.

This was the great crisis of his life. Hitherto he had
done nothing inexpiable, nothing which marked him out
as a much worse man than most of his colleagues in
the Convention. His v<Hce had generally been on the
sdde of moderate measures. Had he bravely cast in
his lot with the Girondists, and suffered with them, he
would, like them, have had a not dishonourable place in
hbtory. Had he, like the great body of deputies who
meant well, but who had not the courage to expose
themselves to martyrdom, crouched quietly under the
dominion of the triumphant minority, and suffered
every motion of Robespierre and Billaud to pass unop
posed, he would have incurred no peculiar ignominy.



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466 BAR^RE.

But it is probable that this course was not open to him.
He }iad been too prominent among the advei'saries of
the Mountain to be admitted to quarter without making
some atonement. It was necessary that, if he hoped
to find pardon from his new lords, he should not be
merely a silent and passive slave. What passed in pri-
vate between him and them cannot be accurately rt?-
lated ; but the result was soon apparent. The Com-
mittee of Public Safety was renewed. Several of the
fiercest of the dominant faction, Couthon ibr example,
and St. Just, were substituted for more moderate poli-
ticians ; but Bardre was suffered to retain his seat at
the Board.

The indulgence with which he was treated excited
the murmurs of some stem and ardent zealots. Marat,
in the very last words that he wrote, words not pub-
lished till the dagger of Charlotte Corday had avenged
France and mankind, complained that a man who had
no principles, who was always on the side of the
strongest, who had been a royalist, and who was ready,
in case of a turn of fortune, to be a royalist again,
should be entrusted with an important share in the
administration.^ But the chiefs of the Mountain
judged more correctly. They knew indeed, as well
as Marat, that Bar6re was a man utterly without faith
or steadiness ; that, if he could be said to have any
political leaning, his leaning was not towards them;
that he felt for the Girondist party that faint and
wavering sort of preference of which alone his nature
was susceptible ; and that, if he had been at liberty to
make his choice, he would rather have murderetl Ro-
l)espierre and Danton than Vergniaud and Gensonn^.

' See the PublicUte of the 14th July, 1793. Marat was stabbed on tho
dveniiig of the 13tb.



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BARJ^RE. 467

But they justly appreciated that levity which made liim
incapable alike of earnest love and of earnest hatred,
and that meanness wliich made it necessary to him to
have a master. In truth, what the planters of Carolina
and Louisiana say of black men with flat noses and
woolly hair was strictly true of Barere. The curse
of Canaan was upon him. He was bom a slave.
Baseness was an instinct in him. The impulse which
drove him from a party in adversity to a party in
prosperity was as irresistible as that which drives the
cackoo and the swallow towaixls the sun when the dark
and cold months are approaching. The law which
doomed him to be the humble attendant of stronger
spirits resembled the law which binds the pilot-fish to
die shark. " Ken ye," said a Arewd Scotch lord, who
was asked his opinion of James the First, " Ken ye a
John Ape? If I have Jacko by the collar, I can
make him bite you ; but if you liave Jacko, you can
make him bite me." Just such a creature was Barfero.
In the hands of the Girondists he would have been
eager to proscribe the Jacobins ; he was just as ready,
m the gripe of the Jacobins^ to proscribe the Girondists*
On the fidelity of such a man the heads of the Moun-
tain could not, of course, reckon ; but they valued their
conquest as the very easy and not very dehcate lover
in Congreve's lively song valued the conquest of a
prostitute of a different kind. BarSre was, hke Chloe,
(alse and common ; but he was, like Chloe, constant
while possessed; and they asked no more. They
needed a service which he was perfectly compe^
tent to perform. Destitute as he was of all the "^alents
both of an active and of a speculative statesman, he
could with great facility draw up a report, or make a
speech on any subject and on any side. If other



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4G8 BAUtUE.

people would fiimisli facts and tliouglits, he vould
always ftimish phrases ; and this talent was absolutely
at the command of his owners for tlie time being.
Nor had he excited any angry passion among ♦Jiose to
whom he had hitherto been opposed. They felt no
more hatred to him than they felt to the hoi:ses which
dragged the cannon of the Duke of Brunswick and of
the Prince of Saxe-Coburg. The horses had only
done according to their kind, and would, if they fell
into the hands of the French, drag with equal vigour
and equal docility the guns of the republic, and tliere-
fore ought not merely to be spared, but to be well fevl
and curried. So was it with Bardre. He was of a
nature so low, that it might be doubted whether he
could properly be an olgect of the hostility of reason-
able beings. He had not been an enemy ; he wa* not
now a friend. But he had been an annoyance ; and
he would now be a help.

But, though the heads of the Mountain pardon^
this man, and admitted him into partnership with them-
selves, it was not without exacting pledges such as made
it impossible for him, &lse» and fickle as he was, ever
again to find admission into the ranks which he had
deserted. That was truly a terrible sacrament by which
they admitted the apostate into their communion. They
demanded of him that he should himself take the most
prominent part in murdering his old finends. To refuse
was as much as his life was worth. But what is life
worth when it is only one long agony of remorse and
shame? These, however, are feelings of which it is
idle to talk, when we arc considering the conduct of
such a man as Bardre. He undertook the task, mount-
ed the tribune, and told the Convention that the time
was come for taking the stem attitude of justice, and



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IIAKEKE. 469

for striking at all conspirators without distinction. He
then moved that Bnzot, Barbaroux, Potion, and thir-
teen other deputies should be placed out of the pale of
the law, or, in other words, beheaded without a trial ;
and that Vergniaud, Guadet, Gensonnfi, and six others,
should be impeached. The motion was carried without
debate.

We have already seen with what effrontery Harare
has denied, in these Memoirs, that he took any part
against the Girondists. This denial, we think, was the
only thing wanting to make his infamy complete. The
most impudent of all lies was a fit companion for the
foulest of all murders.

BarSre, however, had not yet earned his pardon.
The Jacobin party contained one gang which, even in
that party was pre-eminent in every mean and every
savage vice, a gang so low-minded and so inhuman that,
compared with them, Robespierre might be called mag-
nanimous and merciful. Of these wretches, Hubert
was perhaps the best representative. His favourite
amusement was to torment and insult the miserable re-
mains of that great family Which, having ruled France
during eight hundred years, had now become an object
of |Mty to the humblest artisan or peasant. The influ-
ence of this man, and of men like him, induced the
Conunittee of Public Safety to determine that Marie
Antoinette should be sent to the scaffold. BarSre was
again summoned to his duty. Only four days after he
liad proposed the decrees against the Girondist deputies
he again mounted the tribune, in order to move that
the Queen should be brought before the Revolutionary
Tribunal. He was improving fast in the society of his
new allies. When he asked for the heads of Vergniaud
&nd P<3tion he had spoken like a man who had some



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470 lURfiRK.

slight sense of Ins own guilt and degradation : he had
said little ; and that little had not been violent. The
office of expatiating on the guilt of his old friends he
had left to Saint Just. Very different was Barere's
second appearance in the character of an accuser. He
now cried out for blood in the eager tones of the true
and burning thirst, and raved against the Austrian
woman with the virulence natural to a coward who
finds himself at liberty to outrage that which he has
feared and envied. We have ah'eady exposed the
shameless mendacity with which, in these Memoirs, he
attempts to throw the blame of his own guilt on the
guiltless.

On the day on which the fallen Queen was dragged,
already more than half dead, to her doom, Bar^re
regaled Robespierre and some other Jacobins at a tav-
ern. Robespierre's acceptance of the invitation caused
some surprise to those who knew how long and how
bitterly it was his nature to hate. " Robespierre of the
party ! " muttered Saint Just. " Bare re is the CMily
man whom Robespierre has forgiven." We have an
account of this singular repast from one of the guests.
Robespierre condemned the senseless brutality with
which Hubert had conducted the proceedings against
the Austrian woman, and, in talking on that subject,
became so much excited that he broke his plate in the
violence of his gesticulation. Bar^re exclaimed that
the guillotine had cut a diplomatic knot which it might
have been difficult to untie. In the intervals between
the Beaune and the Champagne, between the ragout of
thrushes and the partridge with truffles, he fervently
preached his new political creed. " The vessel of the
revolution," he said, ** can float into port only on waves
of blood. We must begin with the members of the



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BARERE. 471

National Assembly and of the 'Legislative Assembly.
That rubbish must be swept away."

As he talked at table he talked in the Conven-
tion. His peculiar style of oratory was now formed.
It was not altogether without ingenuity and liveliness.
But in any other age or country it would have been
thooght unfit for the deliberations of a grave assembly
and still more unfit for state papers. It might, per
liaps, succeed at a meeting of a Protestant Association
in Exeter Hall, at a Repeal dinner in Ireland, after
men had well drunk, or in an American oration on the
Fourth of July. No legislative body would now en-
dure it. But in France, during the reign of the Con-
vention, the old laws of composition were held in as
much contempt as the old government or the old creed.
Correct and noble diction belonged, like the etiquette
of Versailles and the solemnities of Notre Dame, to an
age which had passed away. Just as a swarm of
ephemeral constitutions, democratic, directorial, and
consular, sprang firom the decay of the ancient mon-
archy ; just as a swarm of new superstitions, the wor-
ship of the Goddess of Reason, and the fooleries of the
Theo-philanthropists, sprang from the decay of the
ancient Church ; even so out of the decay of the an-
dent French eloquence sprang new fisishions of elo-
quence, for the understanding of which new grammars
and dictionaries were necessary. The same innovating
q>irit which altered the common phrases of salutation,
which turned hundreds of Johns and Peters into Scsev-
olas and Aristogitons, and -which expelled Sunday and
Monday, January and February, Lady-day and Christ-
mas, from the calendar, in order to substitute Decadi
and Primidi, Nivose and Pluviose, Feasts of Opinion
and Feasts of the Supreme Being, changed all the forms



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472 BARilRE.

of official correspondence. For the calm, guarded, and
sternly courteous language which governments had
long been accustomed to employ, were substituted puns,
interjections, Ossianic rants, rhetoric worthy only of a
schoolboy, scurrility worthy only of a fishwife. Of tlie
phraseology which was now thought to be peculiarly
well suited to a report or a manifesto Barfire had a
greater command than any man of his time, and, during
the short and sharp paroxysm of the revolutionary
delirium, passed for a great orator. When the fit was



Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical, historical, and miscellaneous essays → online text (page 35 of 84)