Danton, A Study

Chapter III. Danton at the Cordeliers.

A man who is destined to represent at any moment the chief energies of a nation, especially a man who will not only represent but lead, must, by his nature, follow the national methods on his road to power. .


His career must be nearly parallel (so to speak) with the direction of the national energies, and must merge with their main current at an imperceptible angle. It is the chief error of those who deliberately plan success that they will not leave themselves amenable to such influences, and it is the most frequent cause of their failure. Thus such men as arrive at great heights of power are most often observed to succeed by a kind of fatality, which is nothing more than the course of natures vigorous and original, but, at the same time, yielding unconsciously to an environment with which they sympathise, or to which they were born.


It is not difficult to determine the accidents of action, temperament, and locality which predispose to success in one’s own society. It is less easy to appreciate what corresponds to them under foreign conditions.


It was seen in the first chapter that Paris sums up in herself those conditions in the case of the French nation; and it was seen also (a point of peculiar importance) that Paris at the close of the eighteenth century was ill at ease—out of herself, demanding her place and yet anxious as to the means by which it might be attained.


It might be imagined that this was a kind of usurpation. Such a belief is entertained by most foreigners, and certainly it has not been lacking among the more idealist of the French Republicans. Nevertheless, such a view is erroneous, and the Girondists, for all their virtues, went (as we shall discover) against the nature of things when they would have made of Paris but one of the cities, or rather but “an aliquot voting part” of the nation. The demand of Paris was essentially reasonable, and had to be satisfied. Why? Because without her leadership not this thing or that thing would have been done, but nothing would have been done. The crowds who waited round the coaching inns in the country towns for news of the city in the great early days of ‘89, by their very attitude asked and expected Paris to move.


Paris, then, is Danton’s gate. It is up the flood of the Parisian tide that he floats. That tide rises much higher than even he had thought possible, and it throws him at last on the high inaccessible place of the 10th of August. Once there, from a pinnacle he sees all France, Just as Cromwell was the Puritan soldier till he reached power, and then became, or desired to become, the representative of England, so Danton is the Parisian Frondeur till from a place of responsibility and direction he aims partly at the realisation of French ideas, but mainly at the integrity and salvation of France itself.


Here he is, then, in the two years of active discussion that precede the elections, by an accident of ambition, Parisian; one of a group of young provincial lawyers, but the most successful of them all. Some months after his marriage, in the course of 1788[1] (we are not certain of the exact date), he moved into the house in which he lived to his death, six angry years. It was the corner house of the Cour du Commerce and the Rue des Cordeliers[2]. The house was better than that which he had inhabited in the Rue des Mauvaises Paroles, when he bought his practice; on the other hand, it was in a somewhat less expensive neighbourhood. We may justly infer, however, from the greater size of his new apartments, and from the fact that he kept his office still in the old house in the Rue de la Tixanderie, just behind the Hotel de Ville, that he had prospered in his profession, and the inference is sustained by our knowledge of the importance of his cases and his clients. As to the exact situation which he chose, it was doubtless determined by its proximity to the apartments of his friends. Here lived Desmoulins, his chief friend, a year younger than himself, coming (after his marriage in 1790) to live in the same house; for then, as now, in Paris it was not the habit to take a whole house but a flat, and Danton was on the first, Desmoulins on the second floor. Just across the river, over the Pont Neuf, was the café on the Quai de l’École which his father-in-law had kept, and above all, he was here in the midst of the youth of the schools. It was the slope of the famous hill of the University. Close by he would find the Café Procope, of which Desmoulins had written with such enthusiasm, which had once been illuminated with the little smile of Voltaire, which had heard the assertion of Diderot, and which in 1788 was noisy every night with discussion and speech and applause. All that atmosphere of debate which comes unconsciously to young men learning rose on the sides of the Mont Parnasse and centred in the room; and here in the winter of the year, in a society so entirely of his own rank that the high bourgeoisie and the noblesse knew nothing of its power, his great voice and generous face filled the circle with their energy. But there was yet no dream of revolution, still less of violence. France was waiting for great things, but they were to come of themselves, or on the wave of universal enthusiasm. The fire, however, was lit, and the group which afterwards passed from the Montagne to the scaffold of Germinal was already formed.


To all this, however, which was but the relaxation of an abundant spirit, must be added days of continual and serious work on the other side of the river. If his nights were in the Latin Quarter, his days were in the office of the Rue de la Tixanderie. A minister of the crown[3] does not intrust his family affairs to such a wastrel as the chance memoirs of opponents would make of Danton at this period, nor a lawyer who is never in his chambers, but gadding about politicising, get the conduct of one of the most important Chancery cases of his day.


There is one matter in these pre-revolutionary months which is of no very great importance, but which is well worth noticing, though the confusion apparent in our one account of it has lessened its value. There can be no doubt that Barentin, apart from his business relations, was personally intimate with Danton; and when that careful and moderate man had succeeded Lamoignon in September 1788, there was some kind of informal offer made to Danton of what we should call an official secretaryship to the minister[4]–or rather we have no name for it, for the ministry in France was not associated with legislation, but only with executive power, and therefore positions in its gifts had not the political importance they have with us.


As to the precise date of the offer, how far it was pressed, or how seriously it was made, we can have no exact knowledge. But it seems to me unwise to reject so characteristic an anecdote, and one which fits in so well with Danton’s known position, merely on the somewhat strained theory that documentary evidence alone should be admitted in history, and documentary evidence sifted by the rules of a rigid cross-examination[5].


At any rate, Danton refused it. And not only did he refuse it, but there is no trace of an attempt to use his friend’s influence or to make a political success at a time when nearly every man’s head was turned by the chances of a great social change. He felt no need of politics, and it was not till much later, after quite twelve months of action and speech, that his oratory found foothold, and he felt the imperious appetites of a new power. Success in his profession was without question the one ambition which occupied him in the close of 1788, it was an ambition closely bound up with that business sense which was a strong element in the sane and practical mind of the Champenois lawyer.


It was upon him and his group of friends, in a Paris that every day grew keener in its discussion and attention, that the long-expected decree of the 27th of December fell. There were to be elections. Paris, all pamphleteered to death, but inclining as a whole to the moderate criticism of the more practical men, was at last called upon to act.


Many conditions must be made clear before we can understand the effect of these elections upon the history of the next three years. In the first place, France was suffering from a great material evil: she was bankrupt, her agriculture was hopelessly depressed, her industries ruined, and thousands and thousands of men out of work were wandering about the streets of the cities. In the second place, the class which was going to vote for the Commons was the tax-paying class. And in the third place, the voting was by two degrees. I name these three conditions as qualifying a broad and often erroneous impression. I do not mean that the ideals were not abroad; all the world knows how bright the eyes of the young men were getting, and we are all familiar with Desmoulins, eager, passionate, stuttering but voluble, and passing from group to group as they discussed or dreamed But it is too common to read the spirit of ‘93 into those elections of ‘89, and the error is a grievous one. As well might you interpret the spirit of an eloquent man who is about to defend a just and practical cause by hearing what he said later in the day, should his opponents have taken to fists and fought him heavily for several hours.


The immediate need was fiscal; the class called upon to meet it were the middle class; the men they wore about to elect were of professional rank.


The electoral units and all corporations were asked to state their grievances before the gathering of the Parliament, and it is in these “cahiers” that the spirit of the time is best discovered. The abstractions, the phrases, the great general conceptions are found (as we might have expected, though it comes as a new thing) mainly in the complaints of the clergy and nobility; the peasant, the bourgeois, and the artisan have a more material grievance.


Thus the nobility of Caen in their cahier talk of the “National Contract” and the clergy of Forez (after some remarks on the care and cleansing of ponds) end up with an admirable little essay on individual liberty, its limits and proper extension[6], The nobility of Nantes and of Meulan talk roundly of the “rights of man,”[7] and generally this order calls for a Constitution—of which word they had in a very short time supped and dined. With lesser men the demands are rather for sublunary things, but the complaints that made Beugnot laugh give a good picture. “To have one’s dogs killed if necessary but not hamstrung, to be allowed to keep a cat, to be allowed to light a fire without paying dues, to sell one’s wine when one liked;” and from the bourgeoisie, regular trial, abolition of lettres de cachet, the old European policy that the growth of rich corporations should be checked  and much of their property confiscated, the equalisation of taxation—such are the points upon which (a mere redress) the great bulk of Frenchmen were determined. One might sum up and say, “They demanded the freedom and common justice obtainable in the modern State.” But the privileged orders, for all their phrases, resisted when the time for reform was come, and their friction lit the flame of the ideal, disastrously for themselves and happily for the world.


As for the cahier sent from the electoral district of Paris in which Danton lived, it was destroyed by the Commune when they burnt the Hotel de Ville in 1871. We know, however[8], that it demanded “the destruction of the Bastille”, a symbolic act ever present to the minds of Parisians, and, for the matter of that, by several cahiers of the provincial noblesse and clergy. There is no direct documentary evidence that Danton helped to draw up this cahier, but I cannot believe that a man of such influence in so small a space and among (comparatively) so few voters[9] had nothing to do with the framing of this document, especially when we consider the cry he gave as a boy, swimming in the river just beneath the walls of the prison[10]. There is, however, nothing to prove it, and he certainly took no memorable part in an action where all was tranquil and even tedious.


The mention, however, of the districts of Paris, and especially of that which could claim Danton, makes very necessary a view of that focus of revolutionary energy. It was called the district of the Cordeliers. It was small, one of the smallest of the sixty into which Paris was divided, yet it contained the very strongest of the brains and eloquence of its time, very few nobles, and, for the matter of that, very few of the artisans and hardly any of the proletariat. Later, when Danton threatened the reactionaries with the populace, it was not to the district of the Cordeliers, but to the Faubourg St. Marceau that he appealed; for the workmen were rare in its ancient, narrow streets, with their tall houses and little dark courts framing each some relic of the Middle Ages. Here were found many of the clergy, but above all a swarm of the young lawyers and students, the class that think high and hard and breed thoughts in others, a kind of little united clan of what was strongest in the youth of the University and the professions and the whole homogeneous group centred round Danton.


If you stood in the Cour du Commerce in Danton’s time, and looked north to where his house made the corner of the narrow entry, you would have seen a main street only a trifle broader than the court, and running at right angles. Standing in the mouth of the narrow passage, you would have seen on the other side of the main street, and a hundred yards up it, a little fifteenth-century turret, capped with a pointed slate roof and jutting outward on round supports.[11] This was the extreme angle of an old convent called the Cordeliers.[12] Here the Franciscans had settled in St. Louis’s time, five hundred years before, but the walls you would have seen were not of the thirteenth, but rather of the early fourteenth century, while the church which flanked the street was of the sixteenth, and additions had been made of all periods. As you came out of the Cour du Commerce and went up the street, you would have the convent running all along the opposite side, from the little turret on the corner to the church of St. Come in the Rue de la Harpe, save where it was interrupted by private houses, and where it was broken in one place by a little lane leading to the hall of the University College, which the convent supported. Like so many great foundations, this rich place was in full decay, and the vaulted hall, with its dim light and resonant echoes, was given over to the meeting of the district, and later to the thunder of the voice that threw back the armies of Europe. Alone of all the mediæval buildings of the Cordeliers this hall remains to-day as the Musée Dupuytren.


There is yet one further point to be mentioned before we can make a complete picture of Danton’s position before these elections of 1789. There can be no doubt that the Masonic lodges had proved a powerful instrument in the preparation of opinion, and though our information on their formation in Paris is scanty, we can safely affirm that Danton belonged to the lodge of the “Nine Sisters,” which included such members as Sieyès or Bailly on the one hand and Collot D’Herbois on the other.[13] It would be foolish to over-estimate the influence of these societies. The subsequent history of their members proves quite clearly that the bond between them was slight (who can, for instance, reproach Desmoulins with a secret support of Bailly?), and (what is much more important) the very character of their composition disproves effectually any secret or prearranged action. The foolish Bailly, the learned Sieyès, the admirable, unpractical, high-minded Condorcet, the weak Garat, Collot D’Herbois the potential Red, all members of one lodge! They can have been little more than associations whose character of mutual help and whose opportunities of club-life (that comfort so lacking in Paris) attracted men. They were authorised, and were one of the very few kinds of refuge from a society where political discussion had decayed and where combined action was almost unknown.


This is all the importance, I think, which should be attached to them. Where men are free, and where the suffrage is open and common, secret societies may very justly be dreaded; their action will be at all times separate from that of society in general, and may be in a hidden antagonism to the will of the nation. But in a society where reunion, discussion, and all that is the blood of civic political life has been exhausted, then, like a special drug which cures, they have an excellent use. They may, in such societies, just keep alive the habit of political conversation and expectancy, and they may develop in some at least that organising spirit without which a political movement degenerates into anarchy.


This, then (to recapitulate), is Danton’s position just before the Parisian elections. He is in the midst of what are to be his group of young Revolutionary friends on the outskirts of the Latin quarter; his daily occupation is the conducting in his office on the north bank and at the Palace in the Cité of those important pleas in the highest court, which bring him into contact with the ministers, with the great corporations, and especially with the various organs of government of the old regime—for it was in cases for and against these that the Conseil du Roi came into play. His income is sufficient for his needs and for a slow but methodical payment of the price of his practice. It amounted (we may presume) to something in the neighbourhood of 25,000 francs, possibly a little less, but not much, for it was drawn from one of the most important Chancery cases of his day, and his clientele, to judge by the names which alone have reached us, was wealthy and of influence. He was thoroughly well read; he was not expecting nor planning a political career, as were so many of his friends (for instance, Desmoulins), but certain characters which he was rapidly developing, or rather discovering, in himself were preparing that career of necessity. He was learning in discussion and laughter, first that he was an orator, and secondly that his energy sufficed for a whole group of men, and that he could avoid leadership only at the expense of entire seclusion. In a time of innumerable pamphlets, he never put pen to paper outside his profession; and in days that were producing the ardent similes of Camilla, and that were just beginning to feel the ravings of Marat, he wrote nothing but three grave, learned, concise, and dull opinions, which were admirable in argument, clear in exposition, and tolerable only to elderly lawyers.


As for his politics, he was centred wholly on the outward thing. He seems to have lacked almost entirely the metaphysic. Here was France all ruined and every day approaching more nearly to disaster; let her be turned into a place where men should be happy, should have enough to eat and drink, should be good citizens to the extent of making the nation homogeneous and strong. Reform should be practical: in part ,it would require discussion, not too much of it. In part, however, its lines were laid down for it. Economics taught certain truths; let them be applied. He had read in Adam Smith certain indubitable principles of this science; let them be used. Science had in such and such matters definite remedies to offer; let them be applied. Such were his over-simple aims. He was of the Encyclopædists. Had he no beliefs, then, in his politics? Undoubtedly he had; no man could desire “the good” without feeling it. But, like all minds of his type, he refused to analyse. His dogmas were all the more dogmas because he took them so entirely for granted that he refused even to define them. At a time when all men had their first principles ready-made in words, his was rather that confused instinct which is, after all, nearest to the truth. Patriotism, good-fellowship, freedom for his activities, the satisfaction of the thirst for knowledge all these he desired in himself and for the State. And that is why you will find his great body at the head of mobs and daring criminal things when it is a question of saving the nation, or later of breaking an inquisitorial idea. It is this simplicity which makes him daring, and this concentration on a few obvious points which makes him judicious, unscrupulous, and successful in the choice of means and of phrases.


On the 24th of January 1789, the Primaries wore convened. It was the opportunity for movement, in Paris especially, since it was the first definite action after so much discussion, attention, and fever. The district of the Cordeliers met in the hall of which so much mention has been made above. But there does not seem to have been anything of importance transacted, unless we call this important; I mean the beginnings of the habit of reunion and of open discussion. For three months the place seems to have had its doors open to the first comer of the quarter. The cahier was drawn up here, and the rough foundations of what was to be the famous permanent survival of the “République des Cordeliers” were laid. But of Danton’s part in all this we have, as I have said above, no trace. We can only conjecture and infer.


It was on April 21 that the elections were finally held. The voters all met together in the central halls of their districts (churches for the most part) and elected the electors, who in their turn were to nominate the deputies for Paris. Of Danton’s role in this important action, again we know nothing. M. Bougeart[14] has taken it for granted that he was at least “president of the district,” chairman (as we should say) of the electoral meeting; but he is either in error, or else he is relying on some verbal evidence which he has not given us. We have no document to prove it, and we know that three months later Timbergue and Achimbault, two barristers of the district, were successively presidents, not Danton.[15] What we do know of importance is that the Cordeliers were among those districts which did not disperse after the elections, but maintained themselves as a permanent club. This action by the districts was of the very first importance in the history of the Revolution. It created the municipal movement in July, it made Paris an organisation, gave the town a method and a voice, and more than any other accident it placed the ladder for Danton’s feet.


The elections of Paris once completed, the gates of the Revolution are passed, and the States-General, whose Commons formulated its first principles, are definitely farmed; for Paris completed its voting much later than the provinces. The Parliament meets at Versailles, and that town presents for the next six months the centre of official interest. But since Paris is going to be, by its destiny, the heart of the reform, and since Danton is the tribune of Parish, we must, for the purposes of this biography, mention the assembly only in its relation to what passed in the capital.


The tone of Paris during the first two months of the Parliament was, as has been expressed earlier in this chapter, essentially one of ill-ease and watching. But this anxiety of the town took long to find a formula and to recognise its own nature. What Paris needed was the leadership; but to hear the confused murmur of the thousand voices, you would have thought that all her demands were for a number of more or less conflicting ideals. And yet there was no appearance of Party. One may say, by a just paradox, that her very cliques made for solidarity. The higher bourgeoisie could afford at first to ignore the group of the Latin Quarter, thinking the young lawyers and students to be merely foolish demagogues, not even dangerous. The ears of these last were closed to the confused demands of the populace, and the orators could honestly believe that ideas rather than hunger were to be the goad of change. By great good fortune their position was never wholly abandoned, and the Revolution from first to last mastered Materialism and its attendant Anarchy. Finally, the poor the out—of-work, the starving labourers of the economic crisis—standing apart from both these leading classes, could convince themselves that the great phrases meant bread, and that a constitution was allied in some vague way to a lowering of prices. They were right in that instinct, but, with the picturesque inexactitude of mobs, they fearfully under-estimated the length of the connecting links.


The place where the average of these different views could best be found was the Palais Royal. Here a great popular forum gathered in gardens which the Duke of Orleans had thrown open to the people. It was not a bad tiling that the debts of this debauchee and adventurer had led him to let out the ground-floor of the wide quadrangle, for the cafés and shops that surrounded it made it a more permanent resort than the squares or gardens could have been, and there could be a perpetual mob-parliament held from day to day. Its orators were the Dantonist group; its instigators, I fear, the unprincipled men who surrounded D’Orleans, its committee-room and centre (as it were) the Café Foy. Still, by the action of the main virtue of revolutions, the general sense of the meeting was stronger than any demagogue; for in such times society is not only turbulent but fluid, and while it will support a leader who can swim, no mortal force can give it any direction other than that which it desires.


In this great daily crowd Danton was a prominent but not a principal figure; undoubtedly (though we cannot prove it by any record) he had begun to speak in his district, and we may presume that his voice had been heard in the Palais Royal before July; for just after the fall of the Bastille his name is mentioned familiarly. But even had he desired to identify himself with the place, which is doubtful, his profession would not have permitted it. He was not briefless, unmarried, and free, like Desmoulins, but a man of three years’ standing in the highest branch of his profession; doubtless, however, he was present daily when the crowd was thickest—I mean on the holidays and during the summer evenings.


All this pamphleteering, discussion, violence, salonising, oratory, and anxious criticism, even the mob violence which hunger and bad laws had inflamed, found a head in the three famous days that followed July 12, 1789. All the world knows the story, and even were it unfamiliar it would be impossible to treat of it at any length in this book, for Danton’s name hardly touches it, and our only interest here, in connection with his life, is to discover if he took part in the street fighting; for the event itself, one of the most decisive in history, a few words must suffice.


Paris, and especially the Palais Royal, had been watching the struggle at Versailles with gathering anger. There, twelve miles off, every purpose for which the Parliament had met, and every good thing which the elections had seemed to ensure, lay in jeopardy. Step after step the Commons had in fact, though not in their phrases, been beaten, and the promises of six months before seemed in danger, not through any known or calculable enemy, but from the sudden appearance of an opposition which the nation, and especially Paris, had ignored. The King had retreated from his position of the last December, and the privileged orders were sympathising with a growing reaction. How far all this was due to the unconstitutional and unprecedented action of the Commons in insisting on a General Assembly cannot be discussed here. Suffice it to say that, in the opinion of the nation, the new departure of the Commons was in thorough accordance with the spirit, if not with the letter, of the recent decrees; the King was held to have broken his word, and the privileged orders to have abandoned their declarations in the face of facts. The symbol, though a poor one, of the constitutional position was the personality of Necker. Conceited, foreign, and common-place, the father of an authoress whom neither Napoleon nor posterity could tolerate, Genevese and bourgeois to the backbone, this mass of impotence yet stood, by one of the ironies of history, in the place of an idol. He, the banker, was the imagined champion for the moment of that other man from Geneva, who had died of persecution ten years before, the tender-eyed, wandering, unfortunate Rousseau, between whom and him was the distance between a financier and an apostle.


While the king was changing his advisors, and even while the foreign troops—fatal error—were being massed in wretched insufficiency on the Champ de Mars (not three miles from the Palais Royal) Necker still stood like a wooden idol, a kind of fetish safeguard against force. He just prevented the growing belief in the dissolution from becoming a certitude, and on account of his attitude Paris waited. These things being so, the king began his great programme of working out the good of his people alone. Relying on the three thousand foreigners, a regiment of home troops, and practically no guns wherewith to hold in check a tortuous city of close on a million souls, the king on Saturday, July 11, dismissed Necker.


Desmoulins first brought the news, running. It was the morrow, Sunday, and the Palais Royal was crowded. He forgot his stammer and hesitancy, and shouted to the great holiday crowd in the gardens to strip the trees for emblems, led them as they marched to the Place Louis Quinze, saw the French troops defend their fellow-citizens against the mounted mercenaries, and heard during a night of terror and of civil war the first shots of Revolution.


All the next day, Monday, July 13, 1789, Paris organised and prepared. Thanks to the permanence of the assemblies in certain districts, a rough machinery was ready, and on the 14th, a Tuesday, two great mobs determined upon arms. The time is not untainted, for St. Huruge was there promising and leading, but if D’Orleans was trying to make the most of the adventure, he no more created the uprising than a miller makes the tide. One stream of men seized the arsenal at the Invalides on the west side of the town, the other going east in a smaller band demanded arms of the governor of the Bastille, a place impossible to take by assault. The demand was refused.


A body of men, however, were permitted to enter the courtyard, for which purpose the drawbridge had been lowered: once in that trap, De Launay fired upon them and shot them down. There is no evidence, nor ever will be, as to the motives of that extraordinary act; but to the general people who were gathering and gathering all about in the narrow streets, it was an act of deliberate treason, part of that spirit with which our own time is not unfamiliar, and which has ruined a hundred reforms,–I mean the sentiment that there is no honour to be kept between government and insurrection. The misfortune or crime of De Launay struck a clear note in the crowd; if after that they failed, the blow that was being struck for the Parliament would fail also. Thus it was that, under a dull grey sky, the whole of Paris, as it were, ran up together to the siege of the fortress. Curés were there gathering up their soutanes and joining the multitude, notably the man who had once been Danton’s parish priest, the vicar of St. Germains, with his flock at his heels, like the good Curé of Bazeilles in later times, or the humorous Bishop of Beauvais six centuries before. Lawyers, students, shopkeepers, merchants, the big brewer of the quarter, the pedants, the clerks in the offices, soldiers and their officers, the young nobles even—there was nothing in Paris that did not catch the fever. The castle fell at last, because its garrison sympathised with the mob (of itself it was impregnable); the old governor made a futile attempt to blow up his stronghold and his command; some few who still obeyed him (probably the twenty Swiss) fired on the mob just after the white flag had been hoisted on the Bazinière tower, and a great tide of men mad with a double treason swirled up the fortress. Second on the wall was a man with whom this book will have to deal again—Hérault de Séchelles, young, beautiful, and of great family, beloved at the court and even pampered with special privilege, the friend and companion of Danton, and destined five years later to stand in the cart with him when they all went up to the scaffold together on a clear April evening in the best time of their youth.


The Cordeliers were in the attack, and presumably Danton also, since all the world was there. But his only allusion to the scene is a phrase of his circular to the courts when he took the Ministry of Justice in 1792, and he mentions his district only without including his own name. One anecdote, and only one, connects him with the days of July. It seems that in the night of the morrow, the early morning of the 16th, he was at the head of a patrol in that sudden levy of which mention will be made in this chapter. He thought it his duty to pass into the court of the Bastille, probably in order to gather some detached portion of his command; but he was met by Soulès, whom the informal meeting at the Hotel de Ville had named governor. Full of new-fangled importance, Soulès pompously forbad him to enter, and showed his commission. Danton did a characteristic thing, part and parcel of that intense sectionalism upon which he based all his action until Paris was at last in possession of herself: for him power was from below, and the armed district had a right of passage: he called the informal commission a rag, arrested Soulès, and shut him up in the guardroom at the Cordeliers; then, with a rather larger force, he marched him back through the streets and gave him into the custody of the Hotel de Ville, whose authority for judgment he admitted. The matter would be of no importance were it not for the fact that, in the very natural and on the whole just censure which the informal municipality passed on Danton’s action, Lafayette showed an especial bitterness.[16] It was the first clash between two men one of whom was to conquer and drive out the other; and it was a typical quarrel, for Danton stood in the matter for the independence of the electoral unit and for the power of Paris over itself: Lafayette represented the principle of a strong municipality based on moderate ideas and on a limited suffrage; in other words, the compromise which was planned for the very purpose of muzzling the capital.


I have spoken of an armed force and a patrol: it is in this connection that the meaning of the days of July—for Danton and for the Revolution—must be considered. They form above all a municipal reform. Those towns of which I have spoken as being the bond of France harked back suddenly to their primitive institutions, and were organising communal government. Paris of course was the leader. Even before the taking of the Bastille, the districts had in some cases maintained their electoral colleges as a permanent committee, and these electoral colleges met at the Hotel de Ville, forming a rough government for the two nights of the revolt, and finally directing the whole movement. Such a body was of necessity too large to work. But its plans were rapidly formed. They named a committee, which was formed of electors with one citizen (not an elector) added. They invited and obtained the aid of the permanent officers of what had once been the old dying and corrupt corporation, and they thus had formed an irregular but sufficient organ of government for the city. It was not confirmed from above, nor had it, for days, any authority from the King, but it reposed on a force which was admitted in the theory of those times to be the source of power, for it was composed of men elected by the new suffrage. They had been elected for another purpose, but they were the only popular representatives present at all in Paris.


Their weakness, however, lay in this quality of theirs. Reposing merely upon power from the districts, they could not act with central authority, nor had they an armed force of their own. They could, indeed, prevent the success of the rough anarchy which threatened the Hotel de Ville itself in the early morning of July 14, before the attack on the Bastille, but they could not prevent the lynching of those against whom, the popular rage had arisen—De Launey, De Méray, De Persan As for force, they organised a huge levy of 1200 men from each of the sixty districts, a force which, with certain additions, rose to 78,000. It was in this suddenly armed militia that Danton was elected a captain (for the moment), and in connection with its duties of police on the nights following the taking of the Bastille that his quarrel with Soulès had occurred. They named Bailly their first mayor. They gave the command of the new national guard to Lafayette; on the 16th they ordered, with a pomp of trumpets in the Place de Grève, the destruction of the Bastille, in which their new governor was installed. But through all this vigorous action there is one cardinal fact to be remembered: the whole of their power was from below, not only in theory but in fact. We may construct a metaphor to express the future effect of this, and say that, at the very origin of the Revolution, the body of government in Paris was tainted by an organic weakness which no structural changes could remove, and to whose character all subsequent events for three years can be traced. It was essentially federal; feeble at the centre, continually asking leave, morally a servant and not a master; lacking above all things the supreme force, of conviction, it acted without power because it did not believe in itself. 


The history, then, of its struggle with the extremists is the history of a body attempting by compromise and ruse to attain a position whose theory it openly denies, whose moral right it will not affirm, and whose very existence is made dependent upon those whom it would coerce against their will. The municipality tried to be a strong government while it openly approved of voluntaryism, to be powerful in its acts and weak in its structure. Ultimately the centre of compromise is captured by ardent revolutionaries whom it has attempted to check, and then we get a true despotism in Paris—the terrible commune of the second period of the Republic and of the Terror.


But if the character of the new municipal government (a character which became specially prominent after the legislation of the whole system later in the year) is the special feature of the movement, its general motive is of course more important. We have called it the Reform; what occurred in the next few days was without any question the origin of the active Revolution, and a little examination of facts will show that the taking of the Bastille was not merely a dramatic incident, still less the exaggerated bagarre that certain modern special pleaders would make it, but, on the contrary, the foundation of everything. The contemporaries are proved to have been right in their view of this matter, as of so many others.


Why was this ? Because, first, in taking the Bastille, after having sacked the Invalides, the people of Paris (for it was not a particular mob, but a gathering of every possible class) held all the cannon in the city, and were thoroughly provided with small arms. They were suddenly become the masters of that insufficient camp in the Champ de Mars on which the King had relied. In open country and without artillery these seventy thousand civilians would, of course, have been so many sheep, but in the town and with a number of old artillerymen (officers and men) to work their guns, it was another matter. On and after July 14, 1789, Paris had found that possession of herself which we postulated as her first great appetite in the Revolution.


Secondly, by this sudden stroke Paris forced the Court to capitulate. At Versailles the King went bareheaded to the Assembly, gave permission for the reunion of the three orders, for a discussion of grievances before supply, for the title of National Assembly, for the formation of a constitution before the voting of fiscal measures in a word, for all that the Commons had demanded, and for the fulfilment of all the promises from which he had attempted to recede.


Thirdly, the victory, or rather the act of Paris, changed and weakened the opposition. From openly gathering troops, and boasting an approaching attack on the Parliament, they are reduced to intrigue and to the difficult business of arming in the dark. Many of the heads of the reaction (notably the Comte d’Artois) leave France in the “first emigration,” and the whole action of the uncompromising party is made weaker, and clearly unnational.


Fourthly (and perhaps this is the most important point), that municipal movement, of which mention has been made above, took its rise directly from the 14th of July. The towns hear of Necker’s dismissal and of the Parisian rising by the same courier, and in a week or ten days the story is repeated all over France. Rouen, Lyons, Valence, Montpellier, Nîmes, Tours, Amiens (to cite but a few of the more prominent examples), organise a new town government. Sometimes the old hereditary or appointed body is deposed, more often it is enlarged by the addition of the electoral college of the city; occasionally it takes upon itself the task of adding to itself representatives of the three orders. Again, the towns arm themselves as Paris did; and finally, by what a contemporary called “spontaneous anarchy,” the whole network of cities has received the pulse and vibration of Paris; the National Guards are being drilled in thousands; the rusty, confused, and broken machinery of the ancien regime is replaced by a simple if rough system of local government. Moreover, since all this has been done by the people themselves, and without a command or a centralised effort, since it is natural and not artificial, it has entered into the body of the Revolution and cannot be undone.


You see, then, that the days of July gave Paris the first word, and made the spirit of sectionalism and local autonomy based upon a highly democratic theory, All these things are the conditions of Danton’s rise; they make possible, and even necessary, the society of which he is to be the guide. After the 14th of July the Cordeliers meet daily; the bell was rung above the church at nine in the morning, and an assembly of the district was held.[17] It was not yet in name the famous “club”; but when we consider the action of the popular societies in Paris, we must always remember that this, even before it regularly assumed its final name and functions, was a society organised for debate and action, and that it was the first to be established.


From its origin, this famous meeting is sharply marked in its spirit—the spirit that will later divide it not only from the moderate clubs, such as the Feuillants, but from the Jacobins themselves. In the first place, it is Parisian; it attempts no provincial propaganda; it confines itself to action in Paris, and even to its own immediate neighbourhood. In the second place, it is purely popular. But (it may be asked) were not the Jacobins in their later stage a purely popular club? No, not in the same sense. The Jacobins, as will be seen later in this book, were an organised body; the public was admitted to their galleries; but, even in the most feverish time of the Revolution, they are distinguished by a close bond from the general people. Their membership is almost exclusively confined to the politicians, and their business is inquisitorial. They preach certain political dogmas, and make it their affair to canalise the Revolutionary current; they desire to establish in France a Republican religion, as it were, and we shall see later in Robespierre their high priest and dictator.


The Cordeliers had nothing of all this. If the Royalist writers begin calling them from the  outset the “République des Cordeliers,” it is because they show the general spirit which Danton surely gave to rather than received from, his district. Freedom of opinion, the value of varied discussion, open doors, and even an intermingling with the street—such were their methods. The men who sat on the benches would vary from one hundred to three,[18] according to the interest of the debate or the value of the occasion. The number inscribed on the registers of the society were simply the whole voting strength of the district; under the limited suffrage of the time it would fluctuate round the figure six hundred; and hence we may observe that those who were so strongly touched by the contemporary movement as to add meeting and debating to their mere votes numbered a good half of the electorate. Standing grouped, or moving in and out of the far end of the hall, would be the chance-comers, the disfranchised multitude of the district—those even who had no residence in the quarter, but whom anger, interest, or curiosity might attract. It was composed of every kind of man—the pedantic but accurate Sieyès; the fastidious radical and poet D’Eglantine; the coarse, brutal, and atheistic Hébert; Desmoulins, ardent and admirably polished, linked by his style to the classics of his own country and of Rome; Legendre, the master-butcher, no great politician, but an honest friend; and, added to all these, the lawyers. There was a preponderance of the young men, the students and barristers in their thirtieth year; but take it all in all, it was the most representative, the most general of the meetings.


The society, then, from which Danton rises is marked by these characters: it tends always to defend the presence in politics of the whole people; it is Unitarian, designing above all things a common ground where Frenchmen may found the new order in harmony; and finally, it possesses nothing of the metaphysical spirit abroad at the time. It is all for action along the lines of common sentiments—the defence of the new individual liberty, the destruction as soon as may be of whatever relics of the old machinery might be spared by the fear or inertia of certain reformers.


I cannot leave what has already grown to an over-lengthy description of their political attitude without touching upon a quality of theirs, which was not indeed a principle, but which was a method of action necessarily flowing from the ideas they held. The Cordeliers are essentially “Frondeurs.”  They are rebellious and in opposition so long as the Revolution remains incomplete. They do things deliberately illegal, but which they justly consider to be in the spirit of the reform and calculated to aid its rapid development. Why was this ? Because the day after Paris had captured the position, in the very moment when the city had forced reaction into subterranean channels, her power was bridled. The King came to Paris on the 17th of July and confirmed the revolutionary appointments. Bailly is mayor, and Lafayette is commissioned head of the National Guard. In those two names you have the forces, or rather the resistances, against which Danton and the Cordeliers made it their business to fight. Both of them were amiable, both weak, and both sincere; but they belonged, the one to the high bourgeoisie, the other to the noblesse; they were both full of an intense, class-prejudice; both thought rather of the restraints to be imposed than of the great change in the midst of which they lived. The little movements that Bailly might have mistaken for an enthusiasm would arise at the sight of his telescope; the undoubted excitability of Lafayette was aroused by the public mention of his own name. Under these weaknesses .their external sign was pomposity, their political action an attempt to confine the Revolution to the middle class., Thus, later, the sixty districts are replaced by the forty-eight sections in order to jerrymander the Parisian radicals; thus Bailly tries to oppose Parisian appeals to the Parliament; and thus Lafayette not only attempts to convert the National Guard into a political army, but makes it impossible for the poor to join it.


Against all this the Cordeliers set their face. Such a partial conception of the State was the enemy of that ideal by which they lived and which has formed the Republic in France and the Jeffersonian democracy in America. Only four days after the King had worn his tricolour cockade, smiling on the balcony of the Hotel le Ville, they issue and print a resolution to use the armed force of their district at its own discretion; they do not (of course) claim to act further, but they determine to be themselves the police which shall conduct prisoners to the tribunals.[19] At the close of 1789, and especially in the succeeding year, we shall find them in the affair of Marat, of Danton’s election, of the Mandat Imperatif, and of the Châtelet continually acting in the spirit of local autonomy, and refusing to admit any central authority save that of the whole people bowing after every revolt to the Assembly, but refusing to admit the bourgeois power.


The end of July was the destruction of the feudality in France. When the towns had fallen with a shock into the new conditions, the great dust of villages rose of itself into a storm, and there passed over all the countrysides that strange panic, “The Great Fear,” whose legend alone of Revolutionary memories remains among the peasantry to-day.


The woods were full of terrors; ploughmen started out at night by bands to meet invisible armies; an unubstantial enemy threatened the thousands of little lonely villages that lie undefended on the skirts of forests or lost on the leagues and leagues of plains. In that mysterious panic the Jacquerie arose; the cowed and the oppressed, who had forgotten the generous anger which makes men brave, rose under the lash of fear. They had heard of the promises of reform, they had seen the cahiers drawn up that they might become free men, and yet the town close by had risen and armed because something had gone wrong; the King, whom they loved, was not allowed to help his people; some one was delaying or destroying their hopes, and the brigands were coining down the road. Not with committees, organisation, and battalions, as the intelligence of the towns had just done, but instinctively and with the anarchy of the torch they destroyed the skeleton idol of the old regime. Like their fathers of four hundred years before, they were out to destroy the records of their servitude, and where the records were defended the country-houses burned. But this time no vengeance followed: the wild beast was dead. When in the noisy night of the 4th of August the privileged men scattered away their rights, then that last largesse of the nobles, the “Orgy,” as Mirabeau called it, was but a gift of things already taken. After Paris, after the cities, the peasantry had suddenly stiffened the phrases by an act; perhaps it was their formless and vague energy that laid the heaviest of the foundation-stones, for we are told that in twenty years an exile returning thought that France had been re-peopled with a new kind of men.


It is not wonderful that, with such a fire just smouldering down, and with the spirit of renunciation abroad as well, a regular stream of emigration should set out. But it did not leave the opposition powerless though it deprived it of chiefs. If we consider the Court, the capital, and the Assembly in the months of August and September, the next great step (and the first in connection with which the name of Danton is directly connected) becomes clear.


At Versailles all the first part of August is taken up in voting the famous decree which consecrated the debate of the 4th. The Parliament abolished feudal dues, declaring all rights in service at an end, and establishing a period for the national purchase and subsequent abolition of the rest of the feudal dues. All the second part of August and the whole of September were occupied in drawing up the declaration of the rights of man and in decreeing the fundamental articles of the new Constitution. The National Assembly, then, as a whole, is. thoroughly the organ of France. It is not yet so divided as to arouse definite party feeling in the capital, nor to prevent on important occasions a practically unanimous vote. But there is another factor. The Court (especially the Queen) has a definite party formed; it has its correspondence with the emigrés, and they with the personalities, if not with the official organs of foreign governments. It was without any question the object of this very small and very powerful group to arrest the Revolution, and if possible to wipe out the last six months. Between and above these stands the King. Louis (we are too apt to forget it in our knowledge of what follows) still possessed far more power even than the National Assembly; not only by the political decrees of the time, but by that immeasurable force of custom, by the affection which he personally had inspired in the great bulk of men, he was a powerful king. What was his attitude? He was patriotic; he greatly sympathised with the ideas at the root of the reform; he was sensible, and saw the practical value of casting away what is broken and worn out. On the other hand, he was not brave (especially in the face of the unknown); new developments irritated him; he was (by the inevitable result of his training) determined to preserve in his own hands the bulk of power, and sometimes he was panic-stricken at a phrase or a debate which seemed to put it in jeopardy. Finally—a matter of the utmost importance with a character of such well-balanced mediocrity—the people with whom he hunted, dined, and conversed were almost all of them members of a powerful, bitter, and skilful faction, headed by the most determined and able of all—his wife, for whom he had latterly developed a marked tenderness and even respect.


This ring of courtiers, who were Louis’s evil fates, had a certain quality that gave them great power in spite of their small numbers. It must be remembered that they were of the high cosmopolitan type, those who, a generation earlier, delighted in the wit of Voltaire, who, a generation later, smiled at merely hearing the name of Talleyrand. Perhaps there was never a body better fitted to influence an isolated man by phrases, continual conversation, and intrigue.


What is the effect? That the King, always honestly intending the reform, always hesitates a little too long, with doubts that are often intellectual in origin and sometimes wise in their nature, but foolish at the moment. He hesitates to sign the decree of the 4th of August;[20] he hesitates about this and that expression in the Declaration of rights. He has a very strong reluctance to forego the absolute veto; all through September you can hear the machinery creaking, and it gets worse as the autumn advances.


Meanwhile in Paris two forces are at work to aid this crisis at Versailles. First, the popular societies, notably that meeting in the Palais Royal, which now is almost a Parliament, where every prominent Parisian name is heard, and whence those curious documents, parodies of the old-fashioned decrees, emanate,[21] not unfrequently with the power to cause insurrection. Secondly, the price of food, especially of flour, is rising rapidly. We have explained in the first chapter how largely the lack of food in the towns was due to vicious interference with exchange: when such is the prime cause of economic trouble, the least disturbance aggravates it to a high degree; thus it was that while the harvest was being gathered in the north, and in the south had been already stored, the supply of cereals in the capital was all but exhausted.


Thus curiously side by side (and partly overlapping) the intense political interest of the voting class and the growing misery of the populace ran fatally towards the days of October. At the Cordeliers, innocent of pedants, practical, alert, debating with open doors, there met the two revolutionary interests, those of the politicians and of the poor; and this is why they are heard so loudly in September, and why Danton and his district become famous just before the march on Versailles.


It will be remembered that the assembly of electors at the Hotel de Ville had guided Paris through the great storm of July 13-17; their powers were vague and unconstitutional, for they had been elected at first merely to choose Deputies for Paris, nevertheless it was they who had made Bailly mayor, who had nominated Lafayette, who had formed the National Guard, and who had been confirmed by the King in their functions of a provisional municipality. It was acting on this decree which gave them a right to take political initiative, that on Thursday, July 23, they had sent a circular to the sixty districts asking each to name two members. The hundred and twenty so elected were to draw up a plan for a new municipality; they met, did so, and the result of their labours was the issue on August 30th of a scheme for a new municipal system, upon which the primaries in every districts were asked to debate, Somewhat illogically, however, the complicated document was accompanied by a writ demanding the immediate election in each district of five members to form the new corporation. In other words, the primaries were asked to form a new municipality, to give it full powers, and then to debate academically upon what they had done.


It may have been only a blunder, but the Cordeliers took alarm at what certainly seemed to be a plot on the part of the Moderates, The project and the writ had reached them on Sunday August 30th; by Thursday, September 3rd, they had arrived at a decision to refuse the writ. They argued that it was absurd to ask the districts to debate on a project after its most essential part had been realised, namely, the election of deputies. On that election, its methods, the powers of the members, and so forth, the greater part of the discussions would turn, and by the time the districts had arrived at such and such conclusions, or had modified the powers of their deputies in such and such a fashion, those deputies would already have been sitting for some time as a municipal council, would be helping to frame or to modify the new municipal system on their own account. It would have been not only confusion but an encroachment on the principle by which (nominally) the districts had been consulted, viz., that the electors themselves in their districts should thrash out the new system. The Cordeliers named commissioners who examined the whole matter, and, on Saturday, the 12th, definitely rejected the writ. Nevertheless, as the other districts had all obeyed and had elected their five members each, the Cordeliers elected their five under protest[22] on the following Monday, the 14th, and sent them, bound by a strict oath, to the Hotel de Ville.


This little incident merits a very considerable degree of attention, although it has been somewhat neglected by the historians, and even by Danton’s biographers. It was the first skirmish in that decisive struggle between the democratic idea, headed by the Cordeliers, and the limited suffrage of the first municipality—a struggle which is at the root of all the action of Paris. It is the first act of Danton in an official position; in much that the Cordeliers had done he was evidently the leader, but in this document we learn that he is elected president of the district, and see his name signed.[23] And finally, there appears here, for the first time in the Revolution, the Mandat Imperatif, the brutal and decisive weapon of the democrats, the binding by an oath of all delegates, the mechanical responsibility against which Burke had pleaded at Bristol, which the American constitution vainly attempted to exclude in its principal election, and which must in the near future be the method of our final reforms. It had been raised, and Danton had raised it; for these five deputies, before being permitted to attend at the Hotel de Ville, swore to a definite plan of action whose terms were dictated at the general meeting of the district.


The struggle as it continues becomes of greater importance, until, within four months, it faces Danton himself in the Hotel de Ville; but we cannot describe its further steps until we have mentioned the next action with which the Cordeliers are associated, and in which their decisive rule is largely determined by the Revolutionary championship which this brush with authority had given them.


We have described above the various forces that were fatally converging to form the whirlpool of October the hesitancy of the King, the desperate intrigues of the Court, the intense political excitement of the Palais Royal and of the electors in Paris, the growing misery of the populace. We have pointed out how the Cordeliers, with their popular audience and popular sympathies, were at once the only great debating place in Paris and the only spot where the forces of voters and non-voters could join hands. Add to this the effect of the protest described above and of the position such a struggle gave them in the democratic movement, and their importance in the days of October becomes evident.


It was at the close of September that all these tendencies came together. Again, after three months of silence, the reaction found its voice, and the King’s uncertainty, the Court faction’s plotting, culminated in the arrival at Versailles of military reinforcements. The body-guards were doubled, and there marched in the Regiment of Flanders—a body (by the way) to whose name clings something of comedy, and whose raggedness has passed into a marching legend. This book is not the place to describe at any length what followed, save in its connection with Danton and the Club. On Thursday, October the 1st, a famous dinner was given by the body-guard to the newly arrived regiment. The Court dealt with excellent material, and with the wine and the night the admirable feelings of loyalty arose: the poor King assumed the halo of a leader to these men whose regimental traditions were knit up with the monarchy; soldiers, they appreciated his defeat, and, being comrades, they were angry at his loneliness. They greeted him with a passionate song, destroyed the three-coloured cockades, and pinned on the white ribbons; for the first time in a year enthusiasm was with the beleaguered, though it lasted but a few hours and stretched to but a few hundred of men. To Paris, hearing of it on the next day, Friday, it was a challenge, discussed, oddly enough, with some contradictions and confusions. Men talked of Bouillé, the courtier, and his frontier command at Metz; people were afraid that he would protect the King in some flight to the provinces; there ran a vague uneasiness and a fear of anarchy with the King’s disappearance; above all, in the minds of the politicians a fear of armed reaction, and in the minds of the starving a terror that the reforms which were so material to them were in jeopardy. Still, all Saturday the waters only moved at the surface, and you might have thought that Paris was incapable of any combined action.


But if the reaction contained a powerful integrating force in the Court party, Paris also possessed it in a small meeting and in one supremely energetic man. On the morning of Sunday, a day when there was leisure to read, the walls were placarded with the manifesto of the Cordeliers. It demanded an insurrection, and was signed with Danton’s name. On Monday morning they rang the tocsin at the belfry of the convent, and the battalion of the district was drawn up and armed. De Crèvecœur, their commander, prevented them marching in a body, but a number of the district determined to merge with the crowd. Meanwhile, the mob gathered from every quarter, especially the Place de Grève—a true mob this time, and accompanied, as all the world knows, by a crowd of women, poured up the Versailles road. They made a hideous night in the great space before the palace. Lafayette followed tardily with his organised volunteers, the National Guard; but on the Tuesday the palace was forced, and some of its defenders killed. The royal family came in their heavy coach down the twelve miles of falling road into Paris, and, not without some state, they entered the Tuilleries. The National Assembly followed the King into the capital.


Thus the second milestone of the Revolution was passed. Of all the revolutionary days, these were the most purely anarchic. The action was that of men hardly possessing ideas, but fixed upon a practical thing—the presence of the King in Paris. It had for its main object good, and for its method mad anger. Nevertheless, the instinct of the mob had hit the mark. Like all sudden actions, it had made issues definite which had till then been confused. It put an end once and for all to the idea of crushing the reform at its outset by force; it gave Paris a mastery over every subsequent action; of the many ways the Court party might have tried it reduced them to one only, namely, an organised secret diplomacy with the object of raising Europe against France.


As for Louis, we may honestly believe that his capture was not entirely distasteful to him: as he was less acute, so he had certainly more common-sense than his wife. If he was jealous of his dignity, which had been grievously offended, yet he was very French, patriotic, and not unwilling to see himself the object of a violent demand. Everybody saw—the King must have seen it too—that the whole uprising was monarchic. There was not any class more monarchic in France than the poor. The King as their father was an idea bred in them for centuries, and he knew that they made of him a kind of providence who could give them food; that they rose not to make him less powerful, but to make a faction impotent. And there was nothing distasteful to him in being a King of the French, seated in the midst of his great capital, and on the summit, as it were, of a new order. October did not threaten to make him less, but more of a King. It was later, in questions that affected the heart, especially in matters of religion, that the gulf opened between Louis and his people.


With the King, then, at the Tuilleries, with the Assembly some three hundreds yards off down the gardens in the riding-school of the palace,[24] we enter the long avenue by which Paris obtains the initiative in every subsequent reform. Let us turn, then, to follow once more the action of the society and the man who, between them, determine the direction of Paris for the next three years.


The quarrel which was sketched earlier in this chapter, the assault of the district upon the Moderates, continued throughout the autumn and winter. Four times running Danton is elected President,[25] and it is under his guidance that the affair proceeds. While the Assembly are making a new France at the Manège, organising the departments,[26] fixing the restricted suffrage,[27] creating the communes over all France,[28] the Cordeliers are making the spirit of a new Paris on the hill over the river; this spirit will conquer and transform the debaters in the Parliament.


On the 22nd of October they follow up their previous action. Already before the revolt they had come into collision with the municipality: in this new resolution they protest against a demand of Lafayette for regular courts-martial in the National Guard. The protest had a meaning, for Lafayette was raising an armed bourgeois power, but the motive of the Cordeliers was mainly the desire to harass the Moderates. A week later the Municipal Council gave its reply to these various encroachments on the part of the Cordeliers in a decree of the 29th of October: it condemned the action of the district in three definite points: first, its habit of passing resolutions like a small municipal body; secondly, its habit of asking the fifty-nine other districts to pass spontaneous resolutions on important matters; thirdly (and most important), its revolutionary action in demanding an oath from its delegates. In this last point the purely democratic idea on the one hand, and the senatorial theories of the Moderates on the other, came face to face, and on that point the issue turned. On the 2nd of November the district replied by a resolution denying the right of the elected to control the electors, and especially condemning the interference of the Hotel de Ville with debates in the districts. On the 12th, ten days later, they came out into the open with a resolution that was like a declaration of war against Bailly and Lafayette; they drew up a form of oath which their five deputies were to swear, and this oath bound the members of the district not only to obey the district in all its resolutions, but also to admit that they could be dismissed after being called upon three times to resign by a majority of the district. It was the full doctrine of delegacy and of the corporate will.


Only two of the five members took the oath, the rest resigned and were promptly replaced by others, and these presented themselves at the Hotel de Ville on November 16th. Condorcet was President of the municipal body, and practically everybody there was furious against the Cordeliers. They demanded a recital of the causes which had led to the dismissal of the three members, and then they insisted on hearing the terms of the famous oath that bound the five deputies. Of the two who had consented to take the oath in the first instance, one (Peyrilhe) muttered excuses, but the other (Croharé), who seems to have been more of a true Cordelier, was very proud of the position he held, and would have explained the true doctrine at great length, had not the meeting cut him short by a vigorous vote, declaring all such oaths inadmissible, sending away the three new members, and recalling those who had resigned. On the next day the municipality broke the law. It turned Croharé out, but by a very small vote, in which many abstained.[29] Of course such an action was not to be tolerated, for it would have made the majority of the municipality able to end all opposition or debate, and the mistake of Condorcet was Danton’s opportunity.


Every character he possesses is apparent in the struggle that follows. He carries it on with something of the diplomacy that later was matched against all Europe: he secures his allies and isolates his enemies: he pleads to convince and to obtain official support, not (as do so many of his contemporaries) in order to follow a line of thought. In a word, he is habile, and practically he succeeds.


Observe the quality of this action. When the district meets on the 17th (while the Commune was dismissing Croharé), Danton sees the importance of keeping its debate in bounds. That gathering, which is so enamoured of abstract rights, is suddenly bound down by the superior ability of its chairman: the discussion is made to follow points of legal technicality, and Danton imposes upon the Cordeliers so strict a discipline for one day, that two points alone emerge from the speeches, and they are precisely the two which could be used as arguments, (1.) That the Commune was provisional, and its raison d’être was the formation of a new municipal system: in such cases (say the Cordeliers) the subjects of the experiment must remain masters, and it would be absurd to take away the power of control, that later would have to be readmitted when the new municipal constitution should be sent to the districts for acceptance or rejection: in a word, they argued on the vice de raisonnement —the want of logic—in the Commune’s action. (2.) They appealed to the Assembly—that is, they recognised and submitted to the centre of national power.[30] The Assembly was in a dilemma. It was in full sympathy with the Moderates with Bailly and with. Lafayette; on the other hand, it could not; without a great loss of prestige, deny the very principles upon which its own power rested. Their committee on the subject desired a complete admission of the Cordeliers’ claim; the Assembly rejected this, and tried to compromise by saying that both parties should go back to “the state of things of November 10th”—that is, to the state of things before the oath and before the whole trouble. The compromise would not hold. The deputies thus legally reinstated all resigned (except Croharé) on account of the feeling in their district, and the Cordeliers then, with full legality, re-elected their popular champions of the Mandat Imperatif.


The Commune took its defeat ill. They tried to prove that the old members had not really resigned. They sent a committee to interview them, but the committee came back with proof that the resignation was voluntary, and finally, on November 28, the little company of democrats were sworn in to a very ungracious and unwilling Assembly, and Danton had won.


My readers must excuse so detailed an account of an event which is empty of picturesque detail and which is so small a part of that fertile winter. From the point of view of general history it is the first appearance of the Mandat Imperatif in action; and from the point of view of Danton’s rôle in the Revolution it is of the utmost importance, though it is so insignificant a catalogue of quarrels. It was Danton’s first victory, and it was decisive. It put a wedge, as it were, into the gate that he was forcing open by persistent effort; and though his final position in the administration of Paris is won after many further failures, it is a direct consequence of this success in 1789. At the same time it showed that a young, loud-voiced lawyer of the middle class could have that one necessary quality of skill lying under the coarse exterior; he could play the game with the subtlety of appreciation which, was so necessary in the terrible year of invasion, the keen aptitude of the mind which the visionaries were too unpractised, the demagogues too brutal to attain. That aptitude had appeared in Danton’s pleading, and was to make him during the war a man necessary to France.


It was a month or six weeks after these events, on some date in January which we can only fix by indirect evidence, that Danton was himself elected to represent the district. The restless society had caused a further resignation, and five new members came to the Hotel de Ville.[31] He came unimportant, effaced, known merely as a demagogue, into that municipal assembly which contained the most dignified, the most learned, and the most representative of the noblesse and higher bourgeoisie, to sit under the frowns and endure the silence, and at first the contempt, of Condorcet, of D’Espagnac, of the academicians Laharpe and Suard, the astronomer De Cassini, Lavoisier, De Moreton-Chabrillant captain of the guard, Bailly and Lafayette themselves. And in the very first hours of his presence, before he had taken the oath, an incident occurred which clinched, as it were, the disfavour in which he was regarded, and which for a year put him in the background of a council which he was destined ultimately to master. I refer to what is known as the incident of Marat.


Marat was more of a gentleman than Danton; it is also fair to say that he was nearly mad. No two men could have been more different than the learned, irritable, visionary physician and the young, healthy country lawyer who was for a moment his champion. The one has met continually the ruling class, and has suffered from its insolence and privilege; the other has known professional friends indeed of the first rank, but has passed his life with the trading middle class, and has entered perhaps during all his career in Paris not one salon, nor met perhaps one of the brilliant women of his time.


Marat presented from the outset the first problem to be faced by a people who are testing liberty. He was a journalist and pamphleteer of unbridled license, one of those who cannot find in themselves that control which, when it is absent in public writers, can only be supplanted by the cumbersome, dangerous, and necessary machinery of the Censor. Not for money, of course, nor for any unworthy motive, but for the excellent end of attaining freedom, this morbid mind poured out the wildest, the most sensational, and the most dangerous appeals.


Now the courts were in. process of transition; rapidly as the reform had marched since the summer, much of the old judicial procedure necessarily remained, and among the rest a body known as the Châtelet, whose removal was already planned, but which had to be maintained until the new system could be put in working order. It was very typical of the old regime, A body of privileged lawyers, many of them young and ignorant, holding their places by inheritance or purchase, and charged with what we may call the police of the capital. They had formerly possessed (and it had not yet been abolished in detail) the power of arbitrary arrest. They drew their name from the heavy fortress which had once defended the Pont au Change when Paris was confined to the island of the Cité; some of its walls dated at latest from the Norman siege of the tenth century, and beneath it were cellars which had for centuries been the prisons of those arrested in Paris by the city guard. It stood gloomy and strong on the site of the modern place that bears its name, dominating the close streets of the Boucherie, and possessing in its associations and its waning power all the qualities that had made the Bastille odious to the people. It may be imagined how the jurisdiction which it contained was bound to attract the chief efforts of the reformers; it could not, however, cease to exercise its functions until there was some more liberal institution to supply its place, and it came of necessity into violent collision with that spirit which was determined to break down by force what the resolutions of the Assembly had abolished in theory, but had not yet supplanted in fact.


The principal object of Marat’s tirades was the moderate town council, and especially Bailly. Moreover, the worthy astronomer was an admirable butt. He assumed a livery, and put a fine coat-of-arms on his carriage, and, while he weakly opposed the rising democracy of Paris, he was very strong in the matter of pomposity. Marat was called to the bar of the Commune to answer for these attacks upon the mayor on the 28th of September. A warrant for his arrest was made out by the Châtelet on the 6th of October, but the day was too critical for an action of police against an individual. On the 8th another warrant was sent out, and Marat fled to a hiding-place up on Montmartre, from which, like a mad prophet on a hill-top, he pamphleteered the city at his feet. His quarrels, therefore (though very different in kind) were contemporaneous with the important struggle between the Cordeliers and the Municipality which are detailed above. The two attacks began to merge in December.


Marat, on the 12th of that month, was hunted out of his retreat, and brought before a lower court, but so confused were the powers of the Châtelet in this period of its reform and extinction that the prosecution was dropped. Emboldened by this failure on the part of his opponents, he came to live and print his sheet openly in the Rue des Fossés St. Germains—that is, in the midst of the district of the Cordeliers. What followed is well known. At a moment when the struggle between the district and the Hotel de Ville is at its height, just after the scene in which Danton’s deputation had protested against the mayor’s commission to the militia officers, while the insulting irony of the term “my lord” was still ringing in Bailly’s ears, and when Danton himself had been actually elected for the district, and was present in the Municipality on the point of taking the oath—when all these causes of quarrel were, so to speak, met in one date, the Moderates determined to strike. Marat was pouring out his impossible diatribes from the territory of the rebellious district, and no opportunity could be more favourable. The Châtelet issued once more the warrant for his arrest, and this time it was supported by Lafayette, who promised to lend four thousand of the National Guard.


Now note the importance of what follows. Neither side in the struggle of the autumn had definitely won. The National Assembly had temporised, the advantage of the Cordeliers in the matter of the disputed elections had been achieved by a trick, and in the dead-lock between two principles, the central power of the Municipality and the local autonomy of the district, neither of the two theories was based upon tradition, neither even (in the confusion of rapid reforms) could justify itself by a definite pronouncement of the law. On the one side was the theory of a highly restricted suffrage, government by a class socially refined and lying with the nobility rather than with the people; this side was determined to form an army to support their politics, and it was they who, when they did act at last, achieved—but much too late—the sharp and sanguinary reaction of July 1791. On the other side was the desire for a wide, later for a universal, suffrage; a determination to emphasise in the development of the Revolutionary theory, equality and the general will, rather than order and the practical working of new laws; a political attitude which was to lead the Revolution into the intense idealism of 1792, and to end by declaring the Republic. And all this was represented in the demand which, of its nature, is the expression of extreme democracy—I mean the demand for local autonomy, the idea that an act of government is most just when it emanates not even from representatives, but from the lips of the governed themselves.


Such were the two forces opposed to one another in the affair of Marat—forces which, if not in all France, were in Paris at least the two great camps of the Revolution. Already the district had declared its intention to protect the liberty of the press within its boundaries,[32] and had been wise enough to specially condemn Marat’s violence; already had it named a committee of five to see that no arbitrary arrest should take place in its territory,[33] when Lafayette sent his militia, cavalry and infantry, on the 22nd of January to help the arrest of Marat. Not content with the 3000 men thus employed, he clinched the matter with cannon, placing a couple of pieces at the end of the Rue des Fossés St. Germains.[34] He was determined to settle things by force, and beat the extremists with their own weapons. His effort did not find force opposed to it, as he had hoped; it broke itself in the most unexpected manner upon the legal ability of Danton.


The district might have raised, all told, 1500 men, and it possessed two pieces of artillery; but Danton was far too wise to use them in such a cause as that of defending Marat. A street fight, and one in which the Cordeliers would have been infallibly beaten, would have ruined the future chances of their politics. He armed no one, and did not add a single man to the small guard which each district kept permanently drilled, but he assigned them as their guard-room for the week the ground-floor of Marat’s house. Then he went there himself with his four companions on the newly elected committee, and awaited developments.


The great body of the National Guard were massed in their blue and white at the end of the street, their two pieces sweeping it, and there was opposed to them nothing but a small crowd and few arguments. Through their ranks, and accompanied by a small detachment, came the two officers or policemen of the Châtelet.[35] They presented their writ, and Plainville, the commander of the little detachment that accompanied them, asked to be allowed to place sentries at the door. The commissioners gave them leave with the greatest pleasure in the world, but when the officers presented their warrant, the opportunity which Danton had been waiting for with some anxiety presented itself. With a slovenliness that was part and parcel of the old regime, the Châtelet had not made out a new warrant, but had issued the old one which had done duty on the 8th of October.


Now, since that date the Assembly had passed several important changes in the criminal law, notably one in the same month October which declared that “no warrant for arrest can be issued against a householder save in case of those charges which, if proved, would lead to imprisonment.”[36] A very obvious principle; but in France of the old regime to seize a man, hold him, and even to let him go without trial, merely for some purpose of the police, was permitted, and the Châtelet may have acted upon this tradition. Add to this the fact that the Assembly had created elective councils in each district to watch the interest of every inhabitant arrested in criminal cases,[37] and it is easily apparent that the Châtelet had committed a great blunder, the value of which a man trained in the courts and quick to seize an error in procedure immediately recognised.


Danton affirmed that the writ was illegal, offered to prove it, and led the officers of the Châtelet to the hall of the district. There he had the new procedure read to them, compared it with the date of their warrant, and so confused the minds of those simple men that they signed a proems-verbal which declared that, after hearing such reasons, they doubted how they should act. They came back escorted by Fabre D’Eglantine through an angry crowd, and were received by the officers of the National Guard with some heat. They stood firm, however, and refused to pursue the arrest until they could consult with those who sent them, and finally the difficulty was removed by Danton’s promising to appeal to the National Assembly and to abide by its decision. The terms were accepted, the sentries left Marat’s door, and the troops withdrew.


All this debate and turmoil had taken up the morning and the luncheon-hour, the Rue des Fossés St. Germains was evacuated in the early afternoon, and by four o’clock of that day, 22nd of January 1790, Danton and his companions were pleading their cause at the bar of the House. It was the old policy of resorting to the National Assembly as the last place of appeal, and of using this principal result of the Revolutionary movement as a weapon against the Parisian Moderates. The Assembly found itself in the old dilemma, and adopted the old compromise. By its theory it was democratic j all its phrases and many of its decrees were based on the “Contrat Social,” but by its personnel and its connections it was naturally allied to the high professional class, to the Baillys and the Lafayettes. It instructed Target (the President of the fortnight) to write to the district; he condemned the attitude of the Cordeliers, but Parliament “ relied upon their patriotism to execute the will of the Assembly.” The district, true to its policy, at once submitted. They sent Legendre and Testulat to tell the commander of the forces (who had re-entered the Rue des Fossés) that they had no longer the right to prevent the arrest; whereupon he sent in the police and awaited Marat in the street below. The house was empty, and Marat was on his way to England, a country with which he was not unfamiliar, and the vices of whose constitution had already furnished a theme for his too facile pen.


Such are the details of the story of the famous Friday in the district of the Cordeliers, events which put Danton’s name into some prominence, but which also showed him to the most educated of his time, and therefore to posterity, in something of a false light. He appears as the friend of Marat, a man for whom he felt no sympathy, to whom he was immeasurably superior, and whom he had supported only because Marat’s quarrel was a tactical opportunity against the Moderates. To have been from the outset admitted by, the cultured would have been difficult to him—it would have needed tact, self-effacement, and silence. For he showed by nature just those rough gestures and loud, ill-chosen phrases which should be the sign of a foolish and dangerous man; of what underlay it, of his learning, his patriotism, and his common-sense he was to give plenty of proof; but so violent were the prejudices he had raised that only great length of time has effaced the false impression of his first appearance on the scene of politics. We can see the statesman clearly, but his contemporaries never quite pierced the medium that had gathered round him; here and there a just and noble man, as was Condorcet, would admit his own misconception, but to the bulk of the gentlemen in power he was and remained the demagogue.


Two years of careful action fail to clear him, because, being already one of those whose superficial qualities repel the close attention necessary to a just opinion, he had also the misfortune to enter the arena from the wrong door. Those who were most with him adored him, the great bulk of his district-voters signed a fervent declaration in his favour, and later his immediate friends are willing to die with him. But the class with which at heart he had most in common held aloof; he had succeeded twice in a pitched battle with them; they apologise for his acquaintance, vilify him in their letters, and if his name has emerged from all this error, if he has been given his statue in a time of social order and reconstruction, it is because this man, who never wrote, who left only a confused legend of his personality, saved his country when it was at war with the whole world, and such actions compel history to inquiry and restitution.


On the 23rd, the day after the trouble, he was sworn in to the reluctant Commune, and there follow two long years[38] of patient attempt to gain the place for which he feels himself fitted, but years (on the whole) of disappointment, and in which his real position in Paris (I mean the prominence he held in the thoughts of men) contrasts curiously with the little part he played.


1790 contains so great a portion of the Revolution, and sows the seed of so much future division and civil war, that it seems ridiculous to confine oneself to the description of the restricted action of one man who had not yet even attained power. It will be necessary, however, to make a survey of this restricted action in order that we may comprehend the greater rôle of Danton in the two years that follow.


Danton came, then, with Legendre and the three others into a city Council very much opposed to him and to the district whose spirit he had formed. He was not often heard, and there is no doubt that he deliberately tried to purchase by silence the more just and equable judgment of such men as he respected, but who knew him only by unfavourable report. For the bulk of the Assembly he cannot but have felt contempt; they had no instinct of he revolutionary tide; even when they were attempting to check the movement that Danton represented, they were inefficient and unworthy opponents, from whom his eye must have wandered inwards to the great battles that were preparing.


In the eight months during which he was a member of the Provisional Commune, that is, from January to September 1790, his name appears in the debates but a dozen times.[39] More than half of these are mention of committees upon which his common-sense and legal training were of service; in one only, that of February 4, does he speak on a motion, and that is in support of Barr to admit the public when the oath was taken: one other (that on the 19th of March concerning the formation of a “grand jury”) would be interesting were it not that the whole gist of the debate was but a repetition of the much more significant discussion at the Cordeliers. Finally, there is one little notice which is half-pathetic and half-grotesque: he is one of the committee of twenty-four charged with the duty of “presenting their humble thanks, with the mayor at their head,” to the King for giving the municipality a marble bust of himself. But every entry is petty and unimportant: Canton at the Provisional Municipality of 1790 is deliberately silent—he can do nothing.


If we turn, however, to a field in which he was more at home, we find him during that year more than ever the leader of the Cordeliers, which itself becomes more than ever the leader of Paris.


There are two important features in the part he plays at the assemblies of the district during the spring and summer in which he was a silent member of the Commune. First, the affair of his arrest; secondly, his campaign against what may be called “the municipal reaction.”


As to the first, it is a very minor point in the general history of the Revolution, but it is of considerable influence upon the career of Danton himself. When the affair of Marat was (or should have been) forgotten, the Châtelet, with that negligence which we have seen them display in the business of the warrant for Marat’s arrest, saw fit to launch another warrant, this time for the arrest of Danton himself. Once more that unpopular and moribund tribunal put itself on the wrong side of the law, and once more it chose the most inopportune moment for its action. It was on the 17th of March,[40] nearly two months after the affair—two months during which Danton had been hard at work effacing its effects upon his reputation—that the warrant was issued, and the motive of arrest given in the parchment was of the least justifiable kind. In the district meeting of the day, when the police officers had been taken to the hall of the Cordeliers, and had had the changes in the law read out to them, Danton had made use of a violent phrase: its actual words were not known; some said that he had threatened to “call out the Faubourg St. Antoine, and make the jaws of the guard grow white.” Other witnesses refused to attribute those words to him, but accused him of saying, “If every one thought as I do, we should have twenty thousand men at our back;” his friends admitted that some angry and injudicious speech, such as he was often guilty of, had escaped him, but they affirmed that he had added, “God forbid that such a thing should happen; the cause is too good to be so jeopardised.”


Whatever he said (and probably he himself could not accurately have remembered), the place and the time were privileged. It was a test case, but the logic of such a privilege was evident. Here you have deliberative assemblies to which are intrusted ultimately the formation of a government for Paris: what is said in such a constituent meeting, however ill-advised, must in the nature of things be allowed to pass; if not, you limit the discussion of the primary, and if you limit that discussion you vitiate the whole theory upon which the new constitution was being framed. It must be carefully remembered that we are not dealing with deliberative bodies long established, possessed of the central power, and holding privilege by tradition and by their importance in the State; we are dealing with the elementary deliberative assemblies in a period which, rightly or wrongly, was transforming the whole State upon one perfectly definite political theory—namely, that these primary assemblies were the only root and just source of power. When, therefore, Parisian opinion rose violently in favour of the president of a district so attacked, when three hundred voters out of five signed a petition in Danton’s favour, when he was re-elected president of the district twelve days after the issue of the warrant, it was because the whole body of the electors felt a great and justifiable fear of what was left of the old regime. The Châtelet had acted so, not from a careful appreciation of public danger—to fend off which temporary powers had been given it—but because it was blind with old age; because it dated from a time and was composed of a set of men who hated all deliberative assemblies, and it was justly thought that if such actions were justified, the whole system of revolutionary Paris was in danger.


As though in proof of the false view that the Châtelet took of their man, on the 19th of March, two days after the warrant was issued, Danton was urging the replacement of the Châtelet by a .Grand Jury; he had an admiration and a knowledge of the old English system, and it was against a man attempting so wise a reform that the last relic of the old jurisprudence was making an attack.


An appeal was lodged with the National Assembly, and Anthoine read a long report to the Assembly upon May 18. This report was strongly in favour of Danton. It was drawn up by a special committee—not partisan in any way—and after examining all the evidence it came to this conclusion against the Châtelet. Nevertheless the House, a great body of nearly a thousand men, to most of whom the name of Danton meant only a loud Radical voice, hesitated. To adopt the report might have irretrievably weakened the Châtelet, and the National Assembly was extremely nervous on the subject of order in Paris. It ended by an adjournment. The report remained in Danton’s favour; he was not arrested, but the affair was unfortunate for him, and threw him back later at a very important occasion, when he might have entered into power peaceably himself and at a peaceable time.


But while this business was drawing to its close, during the very months of April and May which saw his partial vindication, another and a fax more momentous business was occupying the Cordeliers—a matter in which, they directed all their energy towards a legal solution, but in which, unfortunately for the city, they failed.


Ever since the days of October—earlier if you will—there had been arising a strong sentiment, to which I have alluded more than once, and which, for lack of a better name, may be called the Moderate reaction in Paris. It is difficult to characterise this complex body of thought in one adjective, and I cannot lengthen a chapter already too prolonged by a detailed examination of its origin and development. Suffice it to say that from the higher bourgeoisie (generally speaking), from those who were in theory almost Republican, but whose lives were passed in the artificial surroundings of wealth, and finally from the important group of the financiers, who of all men most desired practical reform, and who of all men most hated ideals; from these three, supported by many a small shopkeeper or bureaucrat, came a demand, growing in vigour, for a conservative municipal establishment—one that should be limited in its basis, almost aristocratic in quality, and concerned very much with the maintenance of law and order and very little with the idea of municipal self-government.


It is a character to be noted in the French people, this timidity of the small proprietor and his reliance upon constituted authority. It is a matter rarely observed, and yet explaining all Parisian history, that this sentiment does not mark off a particular body of men, but, curiously enough, is found in the mind of nearly every Frenchman, existing side by side with another set of feelings which, on occasion, can make them the most arrant idealists in the world.


For the moment this intense desire for order was uppermost in the minds of those few who were permitted to vote. In the Cordeliers it was the other character of the Parisian that was emphasised and developed. They were determined on democracy, like everybody else; but, unlike the rest, they were not afraid of the dangerous road. They were inspired and led by a man whose one great fault was a passionate contempt of danger. On this account, though they are taxpayers and bourgeois, lawyers, physicians, men of letters and the like, they do all they can to prevent the new municipal system from coming into play, but they fail.


Now, consider the Assembly. That great body was justly afraid, of Paris; indeed, the man who was head and shoulders above them all—Mirabeau—was for leaving Paris altogether. The Assembly, again, had the whole task of re-making France in its hands, and it could not but will that Paris, in the midst of which it sat, should be muzzled. Through all the debates of the Provisional Commune it could easily be seen that Bailly and Lafayette were winning, and that the Parliament would be even more Moderate than they. Three points were the centres of the battle: first, the restricted suffrage which was to be established;[41] secondly, the power which was to be exercised over the new Commune by the authorities of the Department; thirdly, the suppression of those sixty democratic clubs, the districts, and their replacement by forty-eight sections, so framed as specially to break up the ties of neighbourhood and association, which the first of the Revolution had developed. It was aimed especially at the Cordeliers.


Against the first point the Cordeliers had little to say. Oddly enough, the idea of universal suffrage, which is so intimate a part of our ideas on the Revolution, was hardly thought of in early 1790. Against the second they debated, but did not decree; it was upon the third that they took most vigorous action. The law which authorised the new municipal scheme was passed on May the 27th, and, faithful to their policy, the Cordeliers did not attempt to quarrel with the National Assembly, but they fought bitterly against the application of the law by Bailly and his party. The law was signed by the King on June the 27th, and on the same day the mayor placarded the walls, ordering an immediate installation of the new system. The 27th was a Saturday. Within a week the new sections were to be organised, and on the Monday, July 5, the voting was to begin. The very next day, the 28th, the Cordeliers protested in a vigorous decree, in which they called on the fifty-nine other districts to petition the National Assembly to make a special exception of the town of Paris, to consider the great federation of July 14, which should be allowed to pass before the elections, and finally to give the city time to discuss so important a change. All through the week, on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd of July, they published vigorous appeals. They were partially successful, but in their main object—the reconstruction of the aristocratic scheme and the arousing of public spirit against it—they entirely failed. Bailly is elected mayor on August 2 by an enormous majority—practically 90 per cent. The old districts disappear, and, like every other, the famous Cordeliers are merged in the larger section of the Theatre Français. It may not sit in permanence; it may not (save on a special demand of fifty citizens) meet at all; it is merely an electoral unit, and in future some 14,000 men out of a city of nearly a million are to govern all. The local club, directing its armed force and appealing to its fellows, is abolished. Danton then has failed.


But, as we shall see later, the exception became the rule. No mechanical device could check the Revolution. The demand for permanent sections is continuous and successful. From these divisions, intended to be mere marks upon a map, come the cannon of the 10th of August, and it is the section of the Theatre Français, wherein the traditions and the very name of the Cordeliers were to have been forgotten, that first in Europe declared and exercised the right of the whole people to govern.


If I may repeat a common-place that I have used continually in this book, the tide of the Revolution in Paris was dammed up with a high barrier; its rise could not be checked, and it was certain to escape at last with the force and destructive energy of a flood.


[1] 1 From the Almanack Royal of 1788. Dr. Bobinet, whose opportunities of information, are unique, tells us that he first moved into the Rue des Fosse’s St, Germams, and later into the Cour du Commerce, some time in 1790. The statement as to the first direction is unaccompanied by any authority, but Dr. Bobinet possesses a letter with this address on it; nowhere the definite information of an official list seems to me of the greatest weight.


[2] See Appendices II. and VII. Some rooms look on the Rue des Cordeliers, some on the Cour du Commerce.


[3] De Barentin. See preceding chapter and Appendix V. He became Danton’s client just before the decree that summoned the States-General


[4] Sécretaire du Sceau.


[5] See Appendix V., Bousselin. The anecdote is little esteemed by Aulard, but is admitted to be of value by other biographers. Aulard relies for his opinion upon the undoubted errors in the matter of date. But Bousselin may have been right in the main, though (writing many years after) mistaken in the matter of a month or so.


[6] E. Champion, La France en 1789. Esprit des Cahiers in La Revolution (Hist. Generale, viii.).


[7] Ibid


[8] Aulard, who quotes Chassin, Les Elections de Paris, vol. ii. p. 478. M, Aulard tells us that M, Chassin saw the document himself before the war.


[9] Less than six hundred.


[10] Appendix V.


[11] This description is taken from a contemporary water-colour sketch which I have seen in the collection of Dr. Robinet.


[12] See Appendix I.


[13] See the discussion of the somewhat meagre authorities in Robinet, Danton, Homme d'État, pp. 37-40.


[14] Documents authentiques pour servir à Histoire de la Révolution Française Danton, par Alfred Bougeart. Brussels, 1861 (La Croix, Van Meenen & Cie.).


[15] Aulard, who quotes Charavay, Assemblée electorale de Paris.


[16] Chassin, Les Elections et les Cahiers de Paris, iii. 580-581, on which this whole scene is based.


[17] Aulard, Revue de la Révolution Française, February 14, 1893.


[18] See the figures given in the petition against Danton’s arrest, p. 108.


[19] This decree was passed by the Cordeliers on Tuesday, July 21, 1789. It is not so unreasonable as it might seem, for but two days afterwards (July 23rd) the informal municipal body recognises the necessity of new city elections.


[20] Signed 21st September; promulgated 3rd November.


[21] An excellent example is on p. 45 of Danton, Homme d'État.


[22] Their names were Peyrilhe, De Blois, De Granville, Dupré, Crocharé. They can be found, with all the decrees touching this business, in Danton, Homme d'État (Robinet, 1889), p. 248. Printed, like all the Cordeliers' decrees, by Momoro in the Rue de la Harpe, and signed, “d' Anton.”


[23] It may be remembered that Bougeart (p. 69) claims the presidency for Danton at the very beginning of '89. The error of this has been pointed out. On the other hand, Aulard says he was not President till October. This is another error. There is at least one earlier document that of September, quoted on the preceding page.


[24] They had sat for a while at the Evéché, on the Island of ,the Cité, while the Manège was being prepared.


[25] Rev. de Paris, xxiii. p. 20.


[26] November 11th and 12th.


[27] 22nd of December.


[28] 12th November and 14th of December.


[29] 31 against 20 (Aulard, from Journal de la Cour et de la Vitte, p. 518).


[30] Danton, Homme d'État, pp. 256, &c. Signed, “d' Anton.”


[31] Danton, his friend Legendre, Testulat, Sableé, and Guintin. Several authorities have placed Danton’s election in September 1789 instead of January 1790, an error due (probably) to following Godard’s list, which was published in 1790, but bore the title, “Members of the Commune elected since September 1789.”


[32] Marat’s presses were hidden in a cellar of the Cordeliers now situated tinder the house of the concierge of the Clinique.


[33] January 19th.


[34] The Rue des Fossé’s was (and is, under its new name) remarkably straight for an old street. Cannon could be used.


[35] Their names were Ozanne and Damien; the same Damien, I believe, who committed the blunder of September 13, 1791 See p. 150.


[36] Article 9 of the decree of October 8 and 9, 1790.


[37]Notables-adjoints,” to the number of seven in each district Danton himself was elected on to such a body in May or June 1790, and served for a few months.


[38] That is, till his election as substitute to the Procureur in December 1791.


[39] January 25, 28; February 4, 16; March 3, 5, 13, 19; June 15, 19, 23. Aulard, Rev. Française, February 14, 1893, pp. 142-143.


[40] It is this warrant which has probably misled one biographer as to the date of the “Affaire Marat.” (Danton, Homme d'État, p. 67: “En mars survint 1'affaire Marat.")


[41] That is, of course, the inclusion of Paris into the general scheme of December 1789—a scheme that enfranchised the peasants, but created an oligarchy in the towns.