Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

Critical, historical, and miscellaneous essays online

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over, he was considered as what he really was, a man
of quick apprehension and fluent elocution, with no
originality, with little information, and with a taste as
bad as his heart. His Reports were popularly called
Carmagnoles. A few months ago we should have had
some difficulty in conveying to an English reader an
exact notion of the state papers to which this appella^
tion was given. Fortunately a noble and distinguished
person, whom her Majesty's Ministers have thought
qualified to fill the mast important post in the empire,
has made our task easy. Whoever has read Lord
Ellenborough's proclamations is able to form a com-
plete idea of a Carmagnole.

The effiict which BarJre's discourses at one time
produced is not to be wholly attributed to the per-
version of the national taste. The occasions on which
he rose were frequently such as would have secured to
the worst speaker a favourable hearing. When any
militarj' advantage had been gained, he was generally
deputed by the Committee of Public Safety to an-
nounce the good news. The hall I'esounded with
applause as he mounted the tribune, holding the de-
spatches in his hand. Deputies and strangers Iistene<l
with delight while he told them that victory was the



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BARfiRE. 473

order of the day ; tliat the guineas of Pitt had been
vainly lavished to hire machines six feet high, carryin<»
guns ; that the flight of the English leopard deserved
to be celebrated by Tyrtseus ; and that the saltpetre
dug out of the cellars of Paris had been turned into
tliunder, which would crush the Titan brethren,
George and Francis.

Meanwhile tlie trial of the accused Girondists, who
were under arrest in Paris, came on* They flattered
themselves with a vain hope of escape. They placed
some reliance cm tlieir innocence, and some reliance on
their eloquence. They thought that shame would
suffice to restrain any man, however violent and cruel,
from publicly committing the flagrant iniquity of con-
demning them to death. The Revolutionary Tribunal
was new to its functions. No member of the Con-
vention had yet been executed ; and it was probable
tltat the boldest Jacobin would shrink from being the
(irst to violate the sanctity which was supposed to
belong to the representatives of the people.

The proceedings lasted some days. Gensonnd and
Brissot defended themselves with great ability and
presence of mind against the vile Hubert and Ghaum-
ette, who appeared as accusers. Tlie eloquent voice of
Vergniaud was heard for the last time. He pleaded
his own cause and that of his friends, with such force
of reason and elevation of sentiment that a murmur of
pity and admiration rose from the audience. Nay, the
court itself, not yet accustomed to riot in daily carnage,
showed signs of emotion. The sitting was adjourned ;
and a rumour went forth that there would be an
acquittal. The Jacobins met, breathing vengeance.
RobesjMerre undertook to be their organ. He rose on
the following day in the Convention, and proposed a



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474 BAUfeRK.

decree of such atrocity that even among the acts of
that year it can hardly be paralleled. By this decree
the tribunal was empowered to cut short the defence
of the prisoners, to pronounce the case clear, and to
pass immediate judgment. One deputy made a faint
opposition. Barcre instantly sprang up to support
Robespierre — Barere, the federalist ; Barcre, the au-
thor of that Commission of Twelve which was among
the chief causes 'of the hatred borne by Paris to the
Girondists ; Bardre, who in these Memoii's denies that
he ever took any part against the Girondists ; Barcre,
who has the eflfrontery to declare that he greatly loved
and esteemed Vergniaud. The decree was passed ;
and the tribunal, without suffering the prisoners to
conclude what they bad to say, pronounced them
guilty.

The following day was the saddest in the sad history
of the Revolution. The suffered were so innocent, so
brave, so eloquent, so accomplished, so young. Some
of them were gi'accful and handsome youths of six or
seven and twenty. Vergniaud and GensonnS were
little more than thh'ty. They had been only a few
months engaged in public a&irs. In a few months the
fame of their genius had filled Europe ; and they were
to die for no crime but this, that they had wished to
combine order, justice, and mercy with freedom. Their
great fault was want of courage. We mean want of
poUtical courage — of that courage which is proof to
clamour and obloquy, and which meets great emergen-
cies by daring and decisive measures. Alas ! they had
but too good an opportunity of proving that they did
not want courage to endure with manly cheerfulness
tlie worst that could be inflicted by such tyrants as
St. Just, and such slaves as BarSre.



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BARfeRE. 475

They were not the only victims of the noble caus^.
Madame Roland followed them to the scaffold with a
spirit as heroic as their own. Her husband was in a
safe hiding-place, but could not bear to survive her.
His body was found on the high road near Rouen.
He had fallen on his sword. Condorcet swallowed
opium. At Bordeaux the steel fell on the necks of the
bold and quick-witted Guadet and of Barbaroux^, the
chief of those enthusiasts from the Rhone whose valour,
in the great crisis of the tenth of August, had turned
back the tide of battle from the Louvre to the Tuileries.
In a field near the Garonne was found all that the
wolves had left of Potion, once honoured, greatly in-
deed beyond his deserts, as the model of republican vir-
tue. We are far from regarding even the best of the
Girondists with unmixed admiration ; but history owes
to them this honourable testimony, that, being free to
choose whether they would be oppressors or victims,
they deliberately and firmly resolved rather to suffer
injustice than to inflict it.

And now began that strange period known by the
name of the Reign of Terror. The Jacobins had
prevailed. This was their hour, and the power of
darkness. The Convention was subjugated and re-
duced to profound silence on the highest questions of
state. The sovereignty passed to the Committee of
Public Safety. To the edicts framed by that Commit-
tee the representative assembly did not venture to offer
even the species of opposition which the ancient parlia-
ment had frequently offered to the mandates of the an-
cient kings. Six persons held the chief power in the
small cabinet which now domineered over France —
Robespierre, St. Just, Couthon, Collot, Billaud, pnd
Bar^re.



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476 BJ^RfiRE.

To some of these men, and of tliose who adhered to
them, it. is due to say that the fanaticism wliich had
emancipated them from the restraints of justice and
compassion had emancipated them also from the domin-
ion of vulgar cupidity and of vulgar fear ; that, while
'liardly knowing where to find an assignat of a few francs
to pay for a dinner, they expended with strict integrity
the immense revenue which they collected by every art
of rapine ; and that they were ready, in support of their
cause, to mount the scaffold with as m^uch indifference
as diey showed when they signed the death-warrants
of aristocrats and priests. But no great party can be
composed of such materials as these. It is the inevita-
ble law that such zealots as we have described shall col-
lect around them a multitude of slaves, of cowards, and
of libertines, whose savage tempers and licentious ap-
petites, withheld only by the dread of law and magis*
tracy from the worst excesses, are called into full activ-
ity by the hope of impunity. A faction which, from
whatever motive, relaxes the great laws of morality, is
certain to be joined by tl^ most immoral part of the
community. This has been repeatedly proved in re-
ligious wars. The war of the Holy Sepulchre, the
Albigensian war, the Huguenot war, the Thirty Years'
war, all originated in pious zeal. That zeal inflamed
the champions of the church to such a point that they
regarded all generosity to the vanquished as a sinfiil
weakness. The infidel, the heretic, was to be run
down like a mad dog. No outrage committed by the
Catholic warrior on the miscreant enemy could deserve
punishment. As soon as it was known that boundless
license was thus given to barbarity and dissoluteness,
thousands of wretches who cared notliing for the sacred
cause, but who were eager to be exempted from the



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BARfiRE. 477

police of peaceful cities, and the discipline of well-
governed camps, flocked to the standard of the faith.
The men who ha«l set up that standard were sincere^
chaste, regardless of lucre, and, perhaps, where only
themselves were concerned, not unforgiving ; but round
that standard were assembled such gangs of rogues,
ravishers, plunderers, and ferocious bravoes, as were
scarcely ever found under the flag of any state engaged
in a mere temporal quarrel. In a very similar way wa^
the Jacobin party composed. There was a small nucleus
of enthusiasts ; round that nucleus was gathered a vast
mass of ignoble depravity ; and in all that mass there
was nothing so depraved and so ignoble as Bardre.

Then came those days when the most barbarous of
all codes was administered by the most barbarous of all
tribunals ; whei) no man could greet his neighbours, or
say his prayers, or dress his hair, without danger of
committing a capital crime ; when spies lurked in every
comer ; when the guillotine was long and hard at work
every morning ; when the jails were filled as close as
. the hold of a slave-ship ; when the gutters ran foaming
with blood into the Seine ; when it was death to be
great-niece of a captain of the royal guards, or half-
brother of a doctor of the Sorbonne, to express a doubt
whether assignats would not fell, to hint that the Eng-
lish had been victorious in the action of the first of
June, to have a copy of one of Burke's pamphlets
locked up in a desk, to laugh at a Jacobin for taking
the name of Cassius or Timoleon, or to call the Fiflh
San»-culottide by its old superstitious name of St. Mat-
thew's Day. While the daily waggon-loads of victims
were carried to their doom through the streets of Paris,
the Proconsuls whom the sovereign Committee had sent
forth to the dopartments revelled in an extravagance of



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478 BARteE.

cruelty unknown even in the capital. The knife of the
deadly machine rose and fell too slow for their work of
slaughter. Long rows of captives were mowed down
with grape shot. Holes were made in the bottom of
crowded barges. Lyons was tamed into a desert. At
Arras even the cruel mercy of a speedy death was de-
nied to the prisoners. All down the Loire, from San-
mur to the sea, great flocks of crows and kites feaste<l
on naked corpses, twined together in hideous embraces.
No mercy was sliown to sex or age. The number of
young lads and of girls of seventeen who were mur-
dered by that execrable govemment is to be reckoned
by hundreds. Babies torn from the breaist were
tossed from pike to pike along the Jacobin ranks.
One champion of Uberty had his pockets well stufiM
with ears. Another swaggered about with the finger
of a little child in liis hat. A few months had sufficed
to degrade France below the level of New Zealand.

It is absurd to say that any amount of public danger
can justify a system like this, we do not say on Christian
principles, we do not say on the principles of a higli
morality, but even on principles of Machiavellian policy.
It is true that great emergencies call for activity and
vigilance ; it is true that they justify severity whicli, in
ordinary times, would deserve the name of cruelty.
But indiscriminate severity can never, under any cii -
cumstances, be useful. It is plain that the whole effi-
cacy of punishment depends on the care with which the
guilty are distinguished. Punishment which strikes the
guilty and the innocent promiscuously operates merely
like a pestilence or a great convulsion of nature, and
has no more tendency to prevent offences than the
cholera, or an ejirthcpiake like that of Lisbon, would
have* The energy for which the Jacobin administiti-



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BARteRE. 47!^

lion is praised was merely the energy of the Malay
who maddens himself with opium, draws his knife, and
runs a-muck through the streets, slashing right and lef\
at friends and foes. Such has never been the energy
of truly great rulers ; of Elizabeth, for example, of
Oliver, or of Frederick. They were not, indeed, scru
pulous. But, had they been less scrupulous than they
were, the strength and amphtude of their minds would
have preserved them from crimes such as those which
the small men of the Committee of PubUc Safety took
for daring strokes of pohcy. The great Queen who so
long held her own against foreign and domestic ene-
mies, against temporal and spiritual arms ; the great
Protector who governed with more than regal power,
in despite both of royalists and republicans ; the great
King who, with a beaten army and an exhausted treas-
ury, defended his little dominions to the last against
the united effculs of Russia, Austria and France ; with
what scorn would they have heard that it was impossible
for them to strike a salutary terror into the disaffected
without sending school-boys and school-girls to death by
cart-loads and boat-loads I

The popular notion is, we believe, that the leading
Terrorists were wicked men, but, at the same time,
great men. We can see notliing great about them but
their wickedness. That their policy was daringly
(HTiginal is a vulgar error. Their policy is as old as
the oldest accounts which we have of human misgov-
emment. It seemed new in France and in the eigh-
teenth century only because it had been long disused,
for excellent reasons, by the enUghtened part of man-
kind. But it has always prevailed, and still prevails,
in savage and half savage nations, and is the chief cause
which prevents such nations fi-oni making advances



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480 BARfeRE.

towards civilisation. Thousands of deys, of beys, of
pachas, of rajahs, of nabobs, have shown themselves as
great masters of statecraft as the members of the Com-
mittee of PubUc Safety. Djezzar, we imagine, was
superior to any of them in their new line. In fact,
there is not a petty tyrant in Asia or Africa so dull or
so unlearned as not to be fully qualified for the business
of Jacobin police and Jacobin finance. To behead
people by scores without caring whether they are
guilty or innocent ; to wring money out of the rich
by the help of jailers and executioners ; to rob the
public creditor, and to put him to death if he remon-
strates ; to take loaves by force out of the bakers'
shops ; to clothe and mount soldiers by seizing on one
man's wool and linen, and on another man's horses
and saddles, without compensation ; is of all modes of
governing the simplest and most obvious. Of its mo-
rality we at present say nothing. But surely it requires
no capacity beyond that of a barbarian or a child. By
means like those which we have described, the Com-
mittee of Public Safety undoubtedly succeeded, for a
short time, in enforcing profound submission, and in
raising immense funds. But to enforce submission
by butchery, and to raise funds by spoliation, is not
statesmanship. The real statesman is he who, in
troubled times, keeps down the turbulent without un-
necessarily harassing the well-affected ; and who, when
great pecuniary resources are needed, provides for the
public exigencies without violating the security of prop-
erty and drying up the sources of future prosperity.
Such a statesman, we are confident, might, in 1793,
have preserved the independence of France without
shedding a drop of innocent blood, without plundering
a single warehouse. Unhappily, the Republic was



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BARllKE. 481

subject to men who were mere demagogues and in no
sense statesmen. They could declaim at a club. They
could lead a rabble to mischief. But they had no skill
to conduct the affairs of an empire. The want of skill
they supplied for a time by atrocity and blind violence.
For legislative ability, fiscal ability, military ability,
diplomatic ability, they had one substitute, the guillo-
tine. Indeed their exceeding ignorance, and the bar-
renness of their invention, are the best excuse for their
murders and robberies. We really believe that they
would not have cut so many throats, and picked so
many pockets, if they had known how to govern in
any other way.

That under their administration the war against the
European Coalition was successfiilly conducted is true.
But that war had been successfully conducted before
tlieir elevation, and continued to be successfully con-
ducted after their fall. Terror was not the order of
the day when Brussels opened its gates to Dumourier.
Terror had ceased to be the order of the day when
Piedmont and Lombardy were conquered by Bona-
parte. Tihe truth is, that France was saved, not by
the Committee of Public Safety, but by the energy,
patriotism, and valour of the French people. Those
high qualities were victorious in spite of the incapacity
of rulers whose administration was a tissue, not merely
of crimes, but of Uunders.

We have not time to tell how the leaders of the sav-
age faction at length began to avenge mankind on each
other ; how the craven Hdbert was dragged -wailing and
trembling to his doom ; how the nobler Danton, moved
by a late repentance, strove in vain to repair the evil
which he had wrought, and half redeemed the great
vol*. ▼. 21



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182 BARtlRE.

crime of September by manfttllj encountering death in
the cause of mercy.

Our business is with BarSrc. In all those things l:e
was not only consenting, but eagerly and joyously for-
ward. Not merely was he one of the guilty adminis-
tration. He was the man to whom was especially
assigned the office of proposing and defending outrag*^
on justice and humanity, and of fiimishing to atrocious
schemes an appropriate garb of atrocious rodomontade.
Bardre first proclaimed from the tribune of the Conven-
tion that terror must be the order of the day. It was
by Barfere that the Revoluticmary Tribunal of Paris
was provided with the aid of a public accuser worthy of
such a court, the infamoas Fouquier Tinville. It was
Bardre who, when one of the old members of the Na-
tional Assembly had been absolved by the Revolution-
aiy Tribunal, gave orders that a fresh jury should be
summoned. " Acquit one of the National Assembly ! "
he cried. " The Tribunal is turning against the Revo-
lution." It is unnecessary to say that the prisoner's
head was soon in the basket. It was Bardre who
moved that the city of Lyons should be tiestroyed.
" Let the plough," he cried from the tribune, " pass
over her. Let her name cease to exist. The rebels
are conquered ; but are they all exterminated ? No
weakness. No mercy. Let every one be smitten.
Two words will suffice to tell the whole. Lyons made
war on liberty ; Lyons is no more." When Toulon
was taken Bar6re came forward to announce the event.
** The conquest," said the apostate Brissotine, ** won
by the Mountain over the Brissotines must be com-
memorated by a mark set on the place where Toulon
once stood. The national thunder must crush the
house of everv trader in the town " When Camille



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BARJ^RE. • 488

Desmoulins, long distinguished among th^ republicans
by zeal and ability, dared to raise his eloquent voice
against the Reign of Terror, and to point out the close
analogy between the government which then oppressed
France and the government of the worst of the Caesars,
Bar^re rose to complain ot' the weak compassion which
tried to revive the hopes of the aristocracy. " Who-
ever," he said, " is nobly bom is a man to be suspected.
Every priest, every frequenter of the old court, every
lawyer, every banker, is a man to be suspected. Every
person who grumbles at the course which the Revolu-
tion takes is a man to be suspected. There are whole
castes already tried and condemned. There are call-
ings which carry their doom with them. There arc
rdadons of blood which the law regards with an evil
eye. Republicans of France ! " yelled the renegade
Girondist, the old enemy of the Mountain — " Repub-
licans of France ! the Brissotines led you by gentle
means to slavery* The Mountain leads you by strong
measures to freedom. Oh I who can count the evils
which a false compassion may produce? ** When the
friends of, Danton mustered courage to express a wish
that the Convention would at least hear him in his own
defence before it sent him to certain death, the voice of
Barire was the loudest in opposition to their prayer.
When the crimes of Lebon, one of the worst, if not the
very worst, of the vicegerents of the Committee of Pub-
lic Safety, had so maddened the people of the Depart-
ment of the Nortli that they resorted to the desperate
expedient of imploring the protection of the Convention,
Barfere pleaded the cause of the accused tyrant, and
threatened the petitioners with the utmost vengeance
of the government. " These charges," he said, " have
been suggested by wily aristocrats. The man who



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4^4 - BARilRE.

crushes the enemies of the people, though he may be
hurried by his zeal into some excesses, can never be a
proper object of censure. The proceedings of Lebon
may have been a little harsh as to form." One of the
small irregularities thus gently censured was this :
Lebon kept a wretched man a quarter of an hour un-
der the knife of the guillotine, in order to torment him,
by reading to him, before he was despatched, a letter,
the contents of which were supposed to be such as
would aggravate even the bitterness of death. " But
what," proceeded Bar^re, '' is not permitted to the ha-
tred of a republican against aristocracy ? How many
generous sentiments atone for what may perhaps
seem acrimonious in the prosecution of public enemies ?
Revolutionary measures are always to be spoken of
with respect. Liberty is a virgin whose veil ^ it is not
lawful to lift."

After this, it would be idle to dwell on fects which
would indeed, of themselves, suffice to render a name
infamous, but which make no perceptible addition to
the great infamy of Barere. It would be idle, for
example, to relate how he, a man of letters, a member
of an Academy of Inscriptions, was foremost in that
war against learning, art, and history wliich disgraced
the Jacobin government; how he recommended a
general conflagration of libraries ; how he proclaimed
that all records of events anterior to the Revohition
ought to be destroyed ; how he laid waste the Abbey
of St. Denis, pulled down monuments consecrated by
the veneration of ages, and scattered on the wind the
dust of ancient kings. He was, in truth, seldom so
well employed as when he turned for a moment from
making war on the living to make war on the dead.

Equally idle would it be to dilate on his sensual



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barb:k£. 485

excesses. That in Bar^re, as in the whole breed of
Neros, Caligulas, and Domitians whom lie resembled,
voluptuousness was mingled with cruelty; that he
withdrew, twice in every decade, from the work of
blood to the smiling gardens of CHchy, and there forgot
public cares in the madness of wine and in the arms of
courtesans, has often been repeated, M. Hippolyte
Camot does not altogether deny the truth of these
stories, but justly observes that* Bardre's dissipation was
not carried to such a point as to interfere with his
industry. Nothing can be more true. Bardre was by
no means so much addicted to debauchery as to neglect
the work of murder. It was his boast that, even
during his hours of recreation, he cut out work for the
Revolutionary Tribunal. To those who expressed a
fear that his exertions would hurt his health, he gaily
answered that he was less busy than they thought.
",The guillotine," he said, "does all; the guillotine
governs." For ourselves, we are much more disposed
to look indulgently on the pleasures which he allowed
to himself than on the pain which he inflicted on his
neighbours.

" Atque utinam his potiiis nogis tota ilia dedisset
Tempora sieyitis, claras quibus abstolit urbi
Illustresquo anlmas, impuue oc vindice nullo."

An immoderate appetite for sensual gratifications is
undoubtedly a blemish on the fame of Henry the
Fourth, of Lord Somera, of Mr. Fox. But the vices
of honest men are the virtues of Bar^re.



Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical, historical, and miscellaneous essays → online text (page 36 of 84)