Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

Critical, historical, and miscellaneous essays online

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And now Bar^re had become a really cruel man.
It was from mere pusillanimity that he had perpetrated
nis first great crimes. But the whole history of our
race proves that the taste for the misery of others is a
taste which minds not naturally ferocious may too easily



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48G BAR^R£.

acquire, and whicli, when once acquired, is as strong
as any of the propensities with which we are bom. A
very few months had sufficed to bring this man into a
state of mind in which images of despair, wailing, and
death had an exhilarating effect on him, and inspired
him as wine and love inspire men of free and joyous
natures. The cart creaking under its daily freight of
victims, ancient men and lads, and fair young giris, the
binding of the hands, the thrusting of the head out of
the little national sash-window, the crash of the axe,
the pool of blood beneath the scaffold, the heads rolhng
by scores in the panier — these things were to him
what Lalage and a cask of Falemian were to Horace,
what Rosette and a bottle of iced champagne aixj to
De B^ranger. As soon as he began to speak of slaugh-
ter his heart seemed to be enlarged, and his fency to
become imusually fertile of conceits and gasconades.
Robespierre, St. Just, and Billaud, whose barbarity was
die effect of earnest and gloomy hatred, were, in his
view, men who made a toil of a pleasure. Cruelty was
no such melancholy business, to be gone about with an
austere brow and a whining tone ; it was a recreation,
fitly accompanied by singing and laughing. In truth,
Robespierre and Bardre might be well compared to the
two renowned hangmen of Louis the Eleventh. They
were alike insensible of pity, alike bent on havock.
But, while they murdered, one of them frowned and
canted, the other grinned and joked. For our own
part, we prefer Jean qui pleure to Jean qui rit.

In the midst of the ftineral gloom which overhung
Paris, a gaiety stranger and more ghastly than the hor-
rors of the prison and the scaffold, distinguished the
dwelling of Bar^re. Every morning a crowd of suit-
el's assembled to implore his protection. He came forth



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1)ak£:r£. 487

in his rich dressing-gown, went round the antechamber,
dispensed smiles and promises among the obsequious
crowd, addressed himself with peculiar animation to
every handsome woman who appeared in the circk
and comphmented her in the florid style of Gascony on
tlie bloom of her cheeks and the lustre of her eyes.
When he had enjoyed the fear and anxiety of his sup-
pliants he dismissed them, and flung all their memorials
unread into the tire. This was the best way, he con-
ceived, to prevent arrears of business from accumulating.
Here he was only an imitator. Cardinal Dubois had
been in the habit of clearing his table of papers in the
same way. Nor was this the only point in which we
could point out a resemblance between the worst states-
man of the monarchy and the worst statesman of the
republic.

Of Bardre's peculiar vein of pleasantry a notion may
be formed from an anecdote which one of his intimate
associates, a juror of the revolutionary tribunal, has
related. A courtesan who bore a conspicuous part in
die orgies of Clichy implored Barfire to use liis power
against a head-dress which did not suit her style of
lace, and which a rival beauty was trying to bring into
iashion. One of the magistrates of the capital was
summoned, and received the necessary orders. Aris-
tocracy, Barere said, was again rearing its front.
These new wigs were counter-revolutionary. He had
reason to know that they were made out of the long
&ir hair of handsome aristocrats who had died by the
national chopper. Every lady who adorned herself
with the relics of criminals might justly be suspected of
incivism. This ridiculous he imposed on the authori-
lies of Paris. Female citizens were solemnly warned
against the obnoxious ringlets, and were left to choost



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188 BARtSlE.

between tJieir head-dresses and tlieii' heads. Barere s
dehght at the success of this facetious fiction ^vas quite
extravagant : he could not tell tlie story without going
into such convulsions of laughter as made his hearers
hope that he was about to choke. There was some-
thing peculiarly tickling and exhilarating to his mind in
tliis grotesque combination of the frivolous with the
horrible, of false locks and curling-irons with spouting
arteries and reeking hatchets.

But, though Barere succeeded in earning the honour-
able nicknames of the Witling of Terror, and the Ana-
creon of the guillotine, there was one place where it was
long remembered to his disadvantage that he had, for
a tune, talked the language of humanity and mod-
eration. That place was the Jacobin Club. Even
after he had borne the chief part in the massacre of the
Girondists, in the murder of the Queen, in the destnic-
tion of Lyons, he durst not show liimself within tliat
sacred precinct. At one meeting of the society a mem-
ber complained that the committee to which tlie su-
preme direction of affairs was entrusted, after all •the
changes which liad been made, still contained one man
who was not trustworthy. Robespierre, whose influence
over the Jacobins was boundless, undertook the defence
of his colleague, owned tliere was some ground for what
had been said, but spoke highly of Barere's industiy
and aptitude for business. This seasonable inter[X)sition
silenced the accuser ; but it was long before the neo-
phyte could venture, to appear at the club.

At length a masterpiece of wickedness, unique, we
lliink, even among Barere's great achievements, ob-
tained his full pardon even from that rigid conclave.
The insupportable tyranny of the Committee of Public
Safety had at length brought the minds of men, and



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bar£:k£. 489

evfen of women, into a fierce and hard temper, wliicli
defied or welcomed death. The life which might be any
morning taken away, in consequence of the whisper of
u private enemy, seemed of little value. It was some-
lliing to die after smiting one of the oppressors ; it was
something to bequeath to the surviving tyrants a teiror
not inferior to that which they had themselves inspired.
Human nature, hunted and worried to the utmost, now
tamed furiously to bay. Fouquier Tinville was afi*aid
to walk the streets ; a pistol was snapped at Col lot
D'Herbois ; a young girl, animated apparently by the
spirit of Charlotte Corday, attempted to obtain an in-
terview with Robespierre. Suspicions arose ; she was
searched ; and two knives were found about her. She
was questioned, and spoke of the Jacobin domination
wiUi resolute scorn and aversion. It is unnecessary to
say that she was sent to the guillotine. Barfire declared
from the tribune that the cause of these attempts was
evident. Pitt and his guineas had done the whole.
The English Government had organised a vast system
of murder, had armed the hand of Charlotte Corday,
and had now, by similar means, attacked two of the
most eminent friends of liberty in France. It is need-
less to say that these imputations were, not only false,
but destitute of all show of truth. Nay, they were
demonstrably absurd : for the assassins to whom Bardre
referred rushed on certain death, a sure proof that they
were not hirelings. The whole wealth of England
would not have bribed any sane person to do what
Charlotte Coiday did. But, when we consider her as
an enthusiast, her conduct is perfectly natural. Even
those French writers who are childish enough to be-
lieve that the English Government contrived the infer-
nal machine and strangled the Emperor Paul have fully



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490 BAKKUK.

ac(iiiitte(l Mr, Pitt of all share in the death of Marat
and in the attempt on Robespierre. Yet on calumnies
so futile as those which we have mentioned did Barere
ground a motion at which all Christendom stood aghast.
He proposed a decree that no quarter should be given
to any English or Hanoverian soldier.^ His Carmag-
nole was worthy of the proposition with which it con-
eluded. " That one Englishman should be spared,
that for the slaves of George, for the human machines
of York, the vocabulary of our armies should contain
such a word as generosity, this is what the National
Convention cannot endure. War to the death against
every English soldier. If last year, at Dunkirk, quarter
had been refused to tliem when they asked it on their
knees, if our troops had exterminated them all, instead of
suffering them to infest our fortresses by their presence,
the English Government would not have renewed its
attack on our frontiers this year. It is only the dead
man who never comes back. What is this moral pesti-
lence which has introduced into our armies false ideas
of humanity ? That the English were to be treated with
indulgence was the pliilanthropic notion of the Brisso-
tines ; it was the patriotic practice of Dumourier. But



1 M. Hippolyte does his best to excuse this decree. His abase of Eng-
land is merely laughable. England has managed to deal with enemies of
a very different sort from either himself or his hero. One disgraceful
blander^ however, we think it right to notice.

M. Hippolyte Camot asserts that a motion similar to that of Barere was
made in the English Parliament by the late Lord Fitzwilliam. This asser-
tion is false. We defy M. Hippolyte Camot to state the date and terms of
the motion of which he speaks. We do not accuse him of intentional
misrepresentation ; but we confidently accuse him of extreme ignorance
and temerity. Our readers will be amused to learn on what authority he
lias ventured to publish such a fable. He quotes, not the Journals of the
Lords, not the Parliamentary Debates, but a ranting message of the Ez-
«*c-itiTe Directory to the Five Hundred, a message, too, the whole meaning
oi which he has utterly misunderstood.



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BARiCRE. 491

humanity consists in exterminating our enemies. Nc
mercy to the execrable Englishman. Such are the sen-
timents of the true Frenchman ; for he knows that he
belongs to a nation revolutionary as nature, powerful as
freedom, ardent as the saltpetre which she has jast torn
from the entrails of the earth. Soldiers of liberty,
when victory places Englishmen at your mercy, strike 1
None of them must return to the servile soil of Great
Britain ; none must pollute the free soil of France."

The Convention, thoroughly tamed and silenced,
acquiesced in Barere's motion without debate. And
now at last the doors of the Jacobin Club were thrown
open to the disciple who had surpassed his masters.
He was admitted a member by acclamation, and was
soon selected to preside.

For a time he was not without hope that his decree
would be carried into fall eflFect. Intelligence arrived
from the seat of war of a sharp contest between some
French and English troops, in which the RepubUcans
had the advantage, and in which no prisoners had been
made. Such things happen occasionally in all wars.
Harare, however, attributed the ferocity of this combat
to his darling decree, and entertained the Convention
with another Carmagnole.

" The Republicans," he said, " saw a division in red
miiform at a distance. The red-coats are attacked with
the bayonet. Not one of them escapes the blows of
the Republicans. All the red-coats have been killed.
No mercy, no indulgence, has been shown towards the
villains. Not an Enghshman Vhom the Republicans
could reach is now living. How many prisoners should
jou guess that we have made ? One single prisoner is
tlie result of the day."

And now this bad man's craving for blood had be-



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492 BARJtR£.

come insatiable. The more he quaffed, the more he
thirsted. He had begun with the English ; but soon
he came down with a proposition for new massacres.
" All the troops," he said, " of the coalesced tyrants in
garrison at Cond6, Valenciennes, Le Quesnoy, and Lan-
drecies, ought to be put to the sword unless they surren-
der at discretion in twenty-four hours. The Englisli, of
com-se, will be admitted to no capitulation whatever.
Witli the English we have no treaty but death. As
to the rest, surrender at discretion in twenty-four hours,
or death, these are our conditions. If tlie slaves resist,
let them feel the edge of the sword." And then he
waxed facetious. " On these terms the Republic is
willing to give them a lesson in the art of war." At
that jest, some hearers, worthy of such a speaker, set
up a laugh. Then he became serious again. " Let
the enemy perish," he cried ; " I have already said it
from this tribune. It is only the dead man who never
comes back. Kings will not conspire against us in the
grave. Armies will not fight against us when they
are annihilated. Let our war with them be a war of
extermination. What pity is due to slaves whom the
Emperor leads to war under the cane ; whom the King
of Prussia l^eats to the shambles witli the flat of the
sword ; and whom the Duke of York makes drunk
with rum and gin ? " And at the rum and gin the
Mountain and the galleries laughed again.

If Bardre had been able to effect his purpose, it is
difficult to estunate the extent of the calamity which he
uould have brought on the human race. No govern-
ment, however averse to ciiielty, could, in justice to
its own subjects, have given quarter to enemies who
gave none. RetaUation would have been, not merely
justifiable, but a sacred duty. It would have lioon



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BAREKK. 493

necessary for Howe and Nelson to make every French
sailor whom they took walk the plank. England has
no peculiar reason to dread the introduction of such a
system. On the contrary, the operation of Bardrf's
new law of war would have been more unfavourable
to his countrymen than to ours ; for we believe that,
from the beginning to the end of the war there never
was a time at which the number of French prisoners in
England was not greater than the number of Enghsh
prisoners in France ; and so, we apprehend, it will be
in all wars while England retains her maritime supe-
riority. Had the murderous decree of the Convention
been in force from 1794 to 1815, we are satisfied that,
for every Englishman slain by the French, at least
three Frenchmen would Imve been put to the sword
by the English. It is, tlierefore, not as Englishmen,
but as members of the great society of mankind, that
we speak with indignation and horror of the change
which Barfire attempted to introduce. The mere
slaughter would have been the smallest part of the
evil. The butchering of a single unarmed man in cold
blood, imder an act of the legislature, would have
produced more evil than the carnage of ten such
fields as Albuera. Public law would have been sub-
verted from the foundations ; national enmities would
have been inflamed to a degree of rage which happily
it is not easy for us to conceive ; cordial peace
would have been impossible. The moi*al character
of tlje European nations would have been rapidly and
(lt?eply corrupted ; for in all countries those men whose
calling is to put their lives in jeopardy for the defence
of tlje public weal enjoy high consideration, and are
considered as the best arbitrators on points of honour
and manly Ixjaring. With the standard of morality



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494 BAREUK.

established in the military profession the genei'al stand
ard of morality must to a great extent sink or rise. It
is, therefore, a fortunate circumstance that, during a
long course of years, respect for the weak and clemency
towards the vanquished have been considered as quali-
ties not less essential to the accomphshed soldier than
personal courage. How long would this continue to
be the case, if the slaying of prisoners were a part of
the daily duty of the warrior ? What man of kind
and generous nature would, under such a system,
wilUngly bear arms ? Who, that was compelled to
bear arms, would long continue kind and generous ?
And is it not certain that, if barbarity towards the
helpless became the characteristic of mihtaiy men, the
taint must rapidly spread to civil and to domestic life,
and must show itself in all the dealings of the strong
with the weak, of husbands with wives, of employers
with workmen, of creditors with debtors ?

But, thank God, Bar^re's decree was a mere dead
letter. It was to be executed by men very different
from those who, in the interior of France, were the
instruments of the Committee of Public Safety, who
prated at Jacobin Clubs, and ran to Fouquier Tinville
with charges of incivism against women* whom they
could not seduce, and bankers from whom they could
not extort money. The warriors who, under Hoche,
had guarded the walls of Dunkirk, and who, under
Kleber, had made good the defence of the wood of
Monceaux, shrank with horror from an office more
degrading than that of the hangman. ** The Conven-
tion," said an officer to his men, " has sent orders that
all the English prisonera shall be shot." " We will not
shoot tliem," answered a stout-hearted sergeant. ^ Send
them to the Convention. If the deputies tike pleasure



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BARtoE. 496

m killing a prisoner, they may kill him themselves, and
eat him too, like savages as they are.'' This was the
sentiment of the whole army. Bonaparte, who thor-
oughly understood war, who at Jaffa and elsewhere
gave ample proof that he was not unwilling to strain
the laws of war to their utmost rigour, and whose
hatred of England amotmted to a folly, always spoke
of Harare's decree with loathing, and boasted that the
army had refused to obey the Convention.

Such disobedience on the part of any other class of
citizens would have been instantly punished by whole-
sale massacre ; but the Committee of Public Safety was
aware that the discipline which had tamed the unwaiv
Hke population of the fields and cities might not answer
in camps. To fling people by scores out of a boat,
and, when they catch hold of it, to chop off their fingers
with a hatchet, is undoubtedly a very agreeable pastime
for a thorough-bred Jacobin, when the sufferers are, as
at Nantes, old confessors, young girls, or women with
child. But such sport might prove a little dangerous
if tried upon grim ranks of grenadiers, marked with the
scars of Hondschoote, and singed by the smoke of
Fleurus.

Bardre, however, found some consolation. If he
could not succeed in murdering the English and the
Hanoverians, he was amply indemnified by a new and
fast slaughter of his own countrymen and country-
women. If the defence which has been set up for tlie
members of the Committee of Public Safety had been
well founded, if it had been true that they governed
with extreme severity only because the republic was in
extreme peril, it is clear that the severity would have
diminished as the peril diminished. But the fact is,
that those cruelties for which the public danger is made



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49t> BAR&RK.

a plea became more and more enormous as the danger
became less and less, and readied the full height when
there was no longer any danger at all. In die autumn
of 1793, there was undoubtedly i*eason to apprehend
that France might be unable to maintam the straggle
against the European coalition. The enemy was tri-
umphant on the frontiers. More than half the depart-
ments disowned the authority of the Convention. But
at that time eight or ten necks a day were tliought an
ample allowance for the guillotine of the capital.
In the sunmier of 1794, Bordeaux, Toulon, Caen,
Lyons, Marseilles, had submitted to the ascendency of
Paris. The French arms were victorious under the
Pyrenees and on tlie Sambre. Brussels had fallen.
Prussia had announced her intention of witlidrawing
fi'om the contest. The Republic, no longer content
with defending her own independence, was b^inning
to meditate conquest beyond the Alps and the Rhine.
She was now more formidable to her neighbours than
ever Louis the Fourteenth had been. And now the
Revolutionary Tribunal of Paris was not content with
forty, fifty, sixty heads in a morning. It was just
after a series of victories, which destroyed the whole
force of the single argument which has been urged in
defence of the system of terror, that the Committee of
Public Safety resolved to infuse into that system an
ejiergj- hitherto unknown. It was proj)osed to recon-
stract the Revolutionary Tribunal, and to collect in tlie
space of two pages the whole revolutionary jurispru-
dence. Lists of twelve judges and fifty jurors were
made out from among the fiercest Jacobins. The
substantive law was simply this, that whatever the
tribimal should think pernicious to the republic was a
capital crime. The law of evidence was simply this,



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BAEERE. 497

that whatever satisfied the jurors was sufficient proof.
The law of procedure was of a piece with every thing
else. There was to be an advocate against the pris-
oner, and no advocate for him. It was expressly
declared that, if the jurors were in any manner con-
vinced of the guilt of the prisoner, they might convict
him without hearing a single witness. The only pun-
ishment which the court could inflict was death.

Robespierre proposed this decree. When he had
read it, a murmur rose from the Convention. The
fear which had long restrained the deputies from
opposing the Committee was overcome by a stronger
fear. Every man felt tlie knife at his throat. '* The
decree," said one, " is of grave importance. I move
tliat it be printed, and that the debate be adjourned.
If such a measure were adopted without time for con-
sideration, I would blow my brains out at once." The
motion for adjournment was seconded. Then Bar^re
sprang up. *' It is impossible," he said, " that there
can be any difference of opinion among us as to a law
like this, a law so favourable in all respects to patriots ;
a law which insures the speedy punishment of con-
spirators. If there is to be an adjournment, I must
insist that it shall not be for more than three days."
The opposition was overawed ; the decree was passed ;
and, during the six weeks which followed, the havock
was such as had never been known before.

And now the evil was beyond endurance. That
timid majority which had for a time supported the Gi-
rondists, and which had, after their fall, contented itself
with registering in silence the decrees of the Committee
of Public Safety, at length drew courage from despair.
Leaders of bold and firm character were not wanting,
men such as Fouch^ and TalHen, who, having been



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498 BAKERE.

long conspicuous among the chiefe of the Mountain,
now found that their own lives or lives still dearer to
them than their own, were in extreme peril. Nor could
it be longer kept secret that there was a schism in the
despotic committee. On one side were Robespierre,
St. Just, and Couthon ; on the other, Collot and Bil-
laud. Bardre leaned towards these last, but only leanetl
towards them. As was ever his i^hion when a great
crisis was at hand, he iawned alternately cm both pai*-
tiea, struck alternately at both, and held himself in
readiness to chant the praises or to sign the death-war-
rant of either. In any event his Carmagnole was
ixjady. The tree of liberty, the blood of traitors, the
dagger of Brutus, the guineas of Perfidious Albion,
would do equally well for Billaud and for Robespierre.

The first attack which was made on Robespierre was
indirect. An old woman named Catherine Th^t, half
maniac, half ini])ostor, was protected by him, and ex-
ercised a strange influence over his mind; for he was
naturally prone to superstition, and, having abjured the
faith in which he had been brought up, was looking
about for something to believe. Bardre drew up a re*
port against Catherine, which contained many fiicetioos
conceits, and ended, as might be expected, with a mo-
tion for sending her and some other wretched creatures
of both sexes to the Revolutionary Tribunal, or, in
other words, to death. This report, however, he did
not dare to read to the Convention himself. Another
member, less timid, was induced to father the cruel buf-
foonery ; and the real autJior enjoyed in security the
dismay and vexation of Robespierre.

Bardre now thought that he had done enough on one
side, and that it was time to make his peace with tlie
other. On the seventh of Thermidor, he pronounced



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BARfeRE. 499

in tlie Convention a panegyric on Robespierre. " Thai
representative of the people," he said, " enjoys a repu-



Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical, historical, and miscellaneous essays → online text (page 37 of 84)