Danton, A Study

Chapter IV. The Fall of the Monarchy.


I have taken as a turning-point in the career of Danton the municipal change which marks the summer of 1790, concluding with that event the first chapter of his political action, and making it the beginning of a new phase. Let me explain the reasons that have led me to make such a division at a moment that is marked by no striking passage of arms, of policy, or of debate.


In the first place, a recital of Danton’s life must of necessity follow the fortunes of the capital. The spirit of the people whose tribune he was (their growing enthusiasms and later their angers)—that spirit is the chief thing to guide us in the interpretation of his politics, but the mechanical transformations of the city government form the framework, as it were, upon which the stuff of Parisian feeling is woven. The detail is dry and often neglected; the mere passing of a particular law giving Paris a particular constitution, a system not unexpected, and apparently well suited to the first year of the Revolution, may seem an event of but little moment in the development of the reform; but certain aspects of the period lend that detail a very considerable importance. In the rapid transformation which was remoulding French society, the law, however new, possessed a strength which, at this hour, we can appreciate only with difficulty. In a settled and traditional society custom is of such overwhelming weight that a law can act only in accordance with it; a sudden change in the machinery of government would break down of itself—nay, in such a society laws can hardly be passed save those that the development of tradition demands. But in a time of revolution this postulate of social history fails. When a whole people starts out to make fresh conditions for itself, every decree becomes an origin; the forces that in more regular periods mould and control legislative action are, in a time of feverish reconstruction, increased in power and give an impetus to new institutions; the energy of society, which in years of content and order controls by an unseen pressure, is used in years of revolution to launch, openly and mechanically, the fabric that a new theory has designed. Thus you may observe how in the framing of the American constitution every point in a particular debate became of vast moment to the United States; thus in our time the German Empire has found its strength in a set of arbitrary decrees, all the creation of a decade; thus in the Middle Ages the Hildebrandine reform framed in the life of one man institutions which are vigorous after the lapse of eight hundred years; and thus in the French Revolution a municipal organisation, new, theoretic, and mechanical, was strong enough, not indeed to survive so terrible a storm, but to give to the whole movement a permanent change of direction.


This, then, is the transitional character of the summer of 1790, as regards the particular life of Danton and the particular city of Paris. What the Cordeliers had fought so hard to obtain as a constitutional reform had failed. The direct action of the districts upon the municipality was apparently lost for ever, and the centre of the new system was in future to be controlled in the expression of ideas and paralysed in its action. What the Cordeliers had represented in spirit, though they had not formulated it in decrees—government by the whole people—was apparently equally lost The law of December (that which established the “active and passive citizens”) was working for Paris as for all France; and though a suffrage which admitted two-thirds of the male population to the polls could not be called restrictive, yet the exception of men working for wages under their master’s roof, the necessity of a year’s residence, and the qualification of tax-paying did produce a very narrow oligarchy in a town like Paris: the artisans were excluded, and thousands of those governed fell just beyond the limits which defined the municipal voter. Danton may receive the provincial delegates, may make his speeches at the feast in the Bois de Boulogne; but once the organ of government has been closed to his ideas, the road towards the democracy lies through illegality and revolt.


Now there is another and a wider importance in this anniversary of the fall of the Bastille. It is the point at which we can best halt and survey the beginning of the heat which turned the Revolution from a domestic reform of the French nation to a fire capable of changing the nature of all our civilisation. I do not mean that you will find those quarrels in the moment; in 1790 there is nothing of the spirit that overturned the monarchy nor of the visions that inspired the Gironde; you cannot even fairly say that there are general threats or mutterings of war, although the Assembly saw fit to disclaim them: it is a year before the fear of such dangers arises. But there is in this summer something to be discovered, namely, an explanation of why two periods differing so profoundly in character meet so suddenly and with such sharp contrast at one point in the history of the movement; it is from the summer of 1790 and onwards that the laws are passed, the divisions initiated, which finally alienate the King, from that lead to his treason, from that rouse Europe, and from the consequent invasion produce the Terror, the armies, and the Empire. The mind needs a link between two such different things as reform and violence, and because that link is not supplied in the mere declaration of war or in the mere flight to Varennes, men commit the error of reading the spirit of the Republic into the days of Mirabeau, or even of seeing temperate politics in the apostolic frenzy of ‘93. Some, more ignorant or less gifted than the general reader, explain it by postulating in the character of the French nation quaint aberrations which may be proper to the individual, but which never have nor can exist in any community of human beings.


Let me recapitulate and define the problem which, as it seems to me, can be solved by making a pivot of the anniversary of the States-General.


There are, then, in the story of the Revolution these two phases, so distinct that their recognition is the foundation of all just views upon the period. In the first, the leaders of the nation are bent upon practical reforms; the monarchy is a machine to hand for their accomplishment; the sketch of a new France is drawn, the outlines even begin to be filled by trained and masterly hands. Phrases will be found abundantly in those thirty months, because phrases are the christening of ideas, and no nation of Roman training could attempt any work without clear definitions to guide it. But these phrases, though often abstract in the extreme, are never violent, and the oratory itself of the National Assembly is rarely found to pass the limits which separate the art of persuasion from the mere practice of defiance.


In the second phase, for which the name of the Convention often stands, those subterranean fires which the crust of tradition and the stratified rock of society had formerly repressed break out in irresistible eruption. The creative work of the revolutionary idea realises itself in a casting of molten metal rather than in a forging, and the mould it uses is designed upon a conception of statuary rather than of architecture. The majestic idol of the Republic, in whose worship the nation has since discovered all its glories and all its misfortunes, is set up by those artists of the ideal; but they forget, or perhaps ignore, the terrible penalties that attach to superhuman Attempts, the reactions of an exclusive idealism.


What made the second out of the first? What made a France which had discussed Sieyès listen to St. Just or even to Hébert? The answer to this question is to be discovered in noting the fatal seeds that were sown in this summer of 1790, and which in two years bore the fruit of civil war and invasion.


In the first place, that summer creates, as we have seen, a discontented Paris—a capital whose vast majority it refuses to train in the art of self-government, and whose general voice it refuses to hear.


In the second place, it is the moment when the discontent in the army comes to a head. The open threat of military reaction on the side of a number of the officers, their intense animosity against the decrees abolishing titles, their growing disgust at the privileges accorded to the private soldiers—all these come face to face with non-commissioned officers and privates who are full of the new liberties. These lower ranks contained the ambitious men whose ability, the honest and loyal men whose earnestness, were to carry French arms to the successes of the Revolutionary wars.


In the third place, it is the consummation of the blunder that attempted to create an established National Church in France. Before this last misfortune a hundred other details of these months that were so many mothers of discord become insignificant. Civil war first muttering in the South, counter-revolution drilling in Savoy, the clerical petition of Nîmes, the question of the Alsatian estates, the Parisian journals postulating extreme democracy, the Jacobins appearing as an organised and propagandist body, the prophetic cry of Lameth—all these things were but incidents that would have been forgotten but for the major cause of tumult, which is to be discovered in the civil constitution of the clergy.


Of course, the kings would have attacked, but they were divided, and had not even a common motive. Of course, also, freedom, in whatever form it came, would have worked in the moribund body of Europe like a drug, and till its effect was produced would have been thought a poison. But against the hatred of every oppressor would have been opposed a disciplined and a united people, sober by instinct, traditionally slow in the formation of judgments, traditionally tenacious of an opinion when once it had been acquired. It would have been sufficient glory for the French people to have broken the insolence of the aggressors, to have had upon their lists the names of Marceau and of Hoche.


But with the false step that produced civil war, that made of the ardent and liberal West a sudden opponent, that in its final effect raised Lyons and alienated half the southern towns, that lost Toulon, that put the extreme of fanaticism in the wisest and most loyal minds—such a generous and easy war was doomed, and the Revolution was destined to a more tragic and to a nobler history. God, who permitted this proud folly to proceed from a pedantic aristocracy, foresaw things necessary to mankind. In the despair of the philosophers there will arise on either side of a great battle the enthusiasms which, from whencever they blow, are the fresh winds of the soul. Here are coming the heroes and the epic songs for which humanity was sick, and the scenes of one generation of men shall give us in Europe our creeds, for centuries. You shall hear the “Chant du Départ” like a great hymn in the army of the Sambre et Meuse, and the cheers of men going down on the Vengeur; the voice of a young man calling the grenadiers at Lodi and Arcola; the noise of the guard swinging up the frozen hill at Austerlitz. Already the forests below the Pyrenees are full of the Spanish guerillas, and after how many hundred years the love of the tribe has reappeared again above the conventions that covered it. There are the three colours standing against the trees in the North and the South; and the delicate womanly face of Nelson is looking over the bulwarks of the Victory, with the slow white clouds and the light wind of an October day above him, and before him the enemy’s sails in the sunlight and the black rocks of the coast.


It may be well, at the expense of some digression, to say why the laws affecting the clergy should be treated as being of paramount historical importance. They ruined the position of the King; they put before a very large portion of the nation not one, but two ideals; and what regular formation can grow round two dissimilar nuclei? Finally—a thing that we can now see clearly, though then the wisest failed to grasp it—they went against the grain of the nation.


It is a common accusation that the Revolution committed the capital sin of being unhistorical. Taine’s work is a long anathema pronounced against men who dared to deny the dogmas of evolution before those dogmas were formulated. Such a criticism is erroneous and vain; in the mouths of many it is hypocritical. The great bulk of what the Revolution did was set directly with the current of time. For example: The re-unison of Gaul had been coming of itself for a thousand years—the Revolution achieved it; the peasant was virtually master of his land—it made him so in law and fact; Europe had been trained for centuries in the Roman law—it was precisely the Roman law that triumphed in the great reform, and most of its results, all of its phraseology, is drawn from the civil code. But in this one feature of the constitution of the clergy it sinned against the nature of France. Of necessity the Parliament was formed of educated men, steeped in the philosophy of the time, and of necessity it worked under the eyes of a great city population. In other words, the statesmen who bungled in this matter and the artisans who formed their immediate surroundings were drawn from the two classes which had most suffered from the faults of the hierarchy in France.


Mirabeau, for example, has passed his life in the rank where rich abbés made excellent blasphemy; the artisan of Paris has passed his life unprotected and unsolicited by the priests, whose chief duty is the maintenance of human dignity in the poor. Add to this the Jansenist legend of which Camus was so forcible a relic, and the Anglo-mania which drew the best intellects into the worst experiments, and the curious project is inevitable.


In these first essays of European democracy there was, as all the world knows, a passion for election. In vain had Rousseau pointed out the fundamental fallacy of representation in any scheme of self-government The example of America was before them; the vicious temptation of the obvious misled them; and until the hard lessons of the war had taught them the truth, representation for its own sake, like a kind of game, seems to have been an obsession of the upper class in Prance They admitted it into the organisation of the Church.


Now let us look in its detail at this attempt to make of the Catholic Church in the eighteenth century a mixture of the administration of Constantine, of the presbyteries of first centuries, and of the “branch of the civil service” which has suited so well a civilisation so different from that of France.


The great feature of this reform was the attempt to subject the whole clerical organisation to the State. I do not mean, of course, the establishment of dogmas by civil discussion, nor the interference with internal discipline; but the hierarchy was to be elected, from the parish priest to the bishop; the new dioceses were to correspond to the new Departments, and, most important of all, their confirmation was not to be demanded from the Pope, but “letters of communion” were to be sent to the Head of the Church, giving him notice of the election.


This scheme passed the House on July 12, 1790, two days before the great feast of the federation. A time whose intellect was alien to the Church, a class whose habits were un-Catholic, had attempted a reformation. Why was the attempt a blunder? Simply because it was unnecessary. There were certain ideas upon which the reconstruction of France was proceeding; they have been constantly alluded to in this book; they are what the French call “the principles of ‘89.” Did they necessarily affect the Church? Yes; but logically carried out they would have affected the Church in a purely negative way. It was an obvious part of the new era to deny the imperium in imperio. The Revolution would have stultified itself had it left untouched the disabilities of Protestants and of Jews, had it continued to support the internal discipline of the Church by the civil power. It was logical when it said to the religious orders: “You are private societies; we will not compel your members to remain, neither will we compel them to leave their convents.” (In the decree of February 13, 1790.) It would have been logical had it said to the Church: “It may be that you are the life of society; it may be that your effect is evil; we leave you free to prove your quality, for freedom of action and competition is our cardinal principle.” But instead of leaving the Church free they amused themselves by building up a fantastic and mechanical structure, and then found that they were compelling religion to enter a prison. Nothing could be conceived more useless or more dangerous.


On the other hand, if this scheme as a whole was futile, there were some details that were necessary results of what the clergy themselves had done, and some which, if not strictly necessary, have at least survived the Revolution, and are vigorous institutions to-day. It might have been possible for Rome to seize on these as a basis of compromise, and it is conceivable, though hardly probable, that the final scheme might have left the Church a neutral in the coming wars. But if the councils of the Holy See were ill-advised, the Parliament was still less judicious; its extreme sensitiveness to interference from abroad was coupled with the extreme pedantry of a Lanjuinais, and the scheme in its entirety was forced upon Louis. He, almost the only pious man in a court which had so neglected religion as to hate the people, wrote in despair to the Pope; but before the answer came he had signed the law, and in that moment signed the warrant for his own death and that of thousands of other loyal and patriotic men.


While these future divisions were preparing, during the rest of the year 1790 Danton’s position becomes more marked. We find a little less about him in the official records, for the simple reason that he has ceased to be a member of an official body, or rather (since the first Commune was not actually dissolved till September) he remains the less noticeable from the fact that the policy which he represented has been defeated; but his personality is making more impression upon Paris and upon his enemies. We shall find him using for the first time moderation, and for the first time meeting with systematic calumny. He acquires, though he is not yet of any especial prominence, the mark of future success, for he is beginning to be singled out as a special object of attack; and throughout the summer and autumn he practices more and more that habit of steering his course which up to the day of his death so marks him from the extremists.


The failure of this policy, the check which had been given to the Cordeliers, and the uselessness of their protests on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd of July, had a marked effect upon the position of Danton even in his own district. He had been president when they were issued, and his friend D’Eglantine had been secretary. One may say that the policy of resistance was Danton’s, and that but for his leadership it would have been unheard. Hence, when it has notoriously failed, that great mass of men who (when there is no party system) follow the event, lost their faith in him.


Bailly is not only elected by an enormous majority in all Paris[1] on the 2nd of August, but even Canton’s own district, now become the Section of the Théâtre Français, abandoned his policy for the moment. In a poll of 580, 478 votes were given for Bailly.


In this moment of reverse he might with great ease have thrown himself upon all the forces that were for the moment irregular. The Federation of July had brought to Paris a crowd of deputies from the Departments, and to these provincials the good-humour and the comradeship of this Champenois had something attractive about it. In a Paris which bewildered them they found in him something that they could understand. In a meeting held by a section of them in the Bois de Boulogne it is Danton who is the leading figure. When the deputies of Marseilles ask for Chenier’s “Charles IX.,” it is Danton who gets it played for them at the Théâtre Français in spite of the opposition of the Court; and again it is Danton who is singled out during an entr’acte for personal attack by the loyalists, who had come to hiss the play.[2] 


The unrepresented still followed him, and he still inspired a vague fear in the minds of men like Lafayette. Innocent of any violence, he, stood (to those who saw him from a great distance) for insurrection. He was remembered as the defender of Marat, and Marat in turn annoyed by repeated mention and praise in his ridiculous journal. Note also that the time was one in which the two camps were separating, though slowly, and the rôle of a demagogue would have been as tempting to a foolish man on the Radical, as the rôle of true knight was to so many foolish men on the Conservative side. Each part was easy to play, and each was futile.


Danton refused such a temptation. He, almost alone at that moment (with the exception, in a much higher sphere, of Mirabeau), was capable of being taught by defeat. He desired a solid foundation for action. Here were certain existing things: the club of the Cordeliers, which had for a while failed him; the Friends of the Constitution, which were a growing power; the limited suffrage of Paris, which he regretted, but which was the only legal force he could appeal to; the new municipal constitution, which he had bitterly opposed, but which was an accomplished fact. Now it is to all these realities that he turns his mind. He will re-capture his place in the Section, and make of the quarter of the Odeon a new République des Cordeliers. He will re-establish his position with Paris. He will attempt to enter, and perhaps later to control, this new municipality. It was for such an attitude that St. Just reproached him so bitterly in the act of accusation of April 1794, while at the moment he was adopting that attitude he was the mark of the most violent diatribe from the Conservatives. Nothing defines Danton at this moment so clearly as the fact that he alone of the popular party knew how to be practical and to make enemies.


The month of August may be taken as the time when Danton had to be most careful if he desired to preserve his place and to avoid a fall into violence and unreason. It was the 2nd of that month (as we have said) that saw Bailly’s election, the 5th that gave Danton a personal shock, for on that date he received, for an office which he really coveted and for which he was a candidate, but 193 votes out of over 3000 present.


From that moment he devotes all his energy to reconstruction. The first evidence of his new attitude appears with the early days of September. Already the old meeting of the Cordeliers had been changed into the club, and already his influence was gaining ground again in the debates and in the local battalion of the National Guard, when the news of Nancy came to Paris.


A conflict between the National Guard and the people, an example of that with which Lafayette continually menaced Paris—the conflict of the armed bourgeoisie and the artisans, or rather of the militia used as a professional army against the people this had happened at last. It was an occasion for raving. Marat raved loudly, and the royalists gave vent to not a little complacent raving on their side. In the great question whether the army was to be democratic or not, whether reaction was to possess its old disciplined arm, it would seem that reaction had won, and France had seen a little rehearsal of what in ten months was to produce the 17th of July.


In such conditions the attitude of the Cordeliers was of real importance. During all Lafayette’s attempt to centralise the militia of Paris this battalion had remained independent; its attitude during the days of October, its defence of Marat in January, had proved this. The crisis appeared to demand from this revolutionary body a strong protest against the use of the militia as an army to be aimed against the people. Such a protest might have been the cause of an outbreak in Paris. Under these circumstances Danton—by what arguments we cannot tell (for the whole affair is only known to us by a few lines of Desmoulins)—obtained from his battalion a carefully-worded pronouncement. “For all the high opinion we have of the National Guards who took part in the affair of Nancy, we can express no other sentiment than regret for what has happened.”[3] It was moderate to the degree of the common-place, but it saved Danton from the abyss and from the street.


There followed another check in which he showed once more his power of self-control. The “Notables” corresponding something to the aldermen of our new municipal scheme in England were to be elected for Paris a little after the elections for the mayor and for the governor of the Commune. Each Section was to elect three, and Danton had so far regained his influence at home as to be elected for the Theatre Français.


Unfortunately the new constitution of Paris had been provided with one of those checks whose main object it is to interfere with direct representation. The choice of each Section was submitted to the censure or the approval of all the others. It is by the judgment which they pass that we can best judge the suspicion in which he was held by the great bulk of his equals. A regular campaign was led against him. The affair of Marat was dragged up, especially the warrant for Danton’s arrest which the Châtelet had issued six months before. That very favourite device in electioneering, the doubt as to real candidature, was used. The voter, not over-well informed in a detail of law (especially at a time when all law was being remodelled), was told that the warrant made Danton’s candidature illegal. They said he was sold to Orleans, because he had haunted the Palais Royal and because he hated Lafayette. The character of demagogue—the one thing he desired to avoid—was pinned to his coat, and alone of all the Notables he was rejected by forty-three Sections (five only voting for him) in the week between the 9th and the 16th of September.[4] 


In these five were the Postes, Invalides, Luxembourg. It was not the purely popular quarters that supported Danton, but rather the University and the lawyers.


He toot his defeat as a signal for still greater reserve, letting his name take perspective, and refusing by any act or phrase to obscure his reputation with new issues. The tactics succeeded. When, in October, a public orator was needed, they remembered him, and he presents the deputation of the 10th of November. The circumstances were as follows: —


The ministry which surrounded the King was frankly reactionary. I do not mean that it was opposed to the constitution of the moment. Perhaps the majority (and the less important) of its members would have been loath to bring back anything approaching the old regime. But there were in the Revolution not only the facts but the tendencies, and in a period when every day brought its change, the tendencies were watched with an extreme care. France may have thought, seeing the federation on the Champ de Mars and the altar where Talleyrand had said mass, that the Revolution was at an end and the new state of affairs established in peace, but those in the capital knew better; and the men immediately surrounding the King, who saw the necessary consequences of his signing the civic constitution, and the growing breach between himself and the assembly these men were on the King’s side. The affair at Nancy, which had aroused so many passions, was the thing which finally roused Parisian opinion; and at the very moment when the King is secretly planning the flight to Montmédy—that flight which six months later failed—Paris is for the first time claiming to govern the councils of the kingdom.


It was the Sections that began the movement, those Sections whose action was to have been so restricted, and which, upon the contrary, were becoming the permanent organs of expression in the capital.


The Section Mauconseil on the 22nd of October sent in a petition for the dismissal of the cabinet and appealed to the National Assembly. The Section of the National Library followed suit three days later, and sent its petition not only to the Assembly but to the King. It must be remembered that the legend of a good king deceived by his advisers held at the time. Indeed, it survived the flight to Varennes; it partly survived the 10th of August, and only the research of recent times has proved clearly the continual intrigue of which the King was the head.


On the 27th Mauconseil came forward again with a petition to the mayor, Bailly, to call the general council of the Commune and consider the complaints. Fourteen other Sections backed this petition. Bailly hesitated, and while he temporised, all the forty-eight Sections named commissioners and sent them to an informal gathering at the Archbishopric.[5]


Danton was a member of this big committee and was made secretary. He drew up an address; the mayor was twice summoned to call the general council of the Commune. Hesitating and afraid, Bailly finally did so, and after a violent debate the resolution passed. Bailly was sent by the town to “present the Commune at the bar of the Assembly and demand the recall” of the Ministers of Justice, War, and the Interior—De Cicé, La Tour du Pin, and St. Priest.


Danton was taken out of the informal body to which he had acted as secretary, and asked to be the orator of the legal Commune. There followed on the 10th of November a very curious scene.


Bailly pitifully apologising with his eyes brought in the representative body of Paris. It was present for the first time in the National Parliament, and before three years were over Paris was to be the mistress of the Parliament. At present they were out of place; their demand frightened them. It needed Danton’s voice to reassure them and to bring the opposing forces to a battle.


His voice, big, rough, and deep, perhaps with a slight provincial accent, helped to strengthen the false idea that the gentlemen of the Parliament had formed. This Danton, of whom they heard so much, had appeared suddenly out of his right place—for he had no official position and the Right was furious.


Yet Danton’s harangue was moderate and sensible. There is, indeed, one passage on the position of Paris in France which is interesting because it is original, but the bulk of the speech is a string of plain arguments. This passage is as follows: —


“That Commune, composed of citizens who belong in a fashion to the eighty-three Departments (The Right, No! no!)—jealously desiring to fulfil in the name of all good citizens the duties of a sentinel to the constitution, is in haste to express a demand which is dear to all the enemies of tyranny a demand which would be heard from all the Sections of the Empire, could they be united with the same promptitude as the Sections of Paris.”[6]


For the rest, he is continually insisting upon the right of the Parliament to govern—the right, above all, of a representative body to dismiss a ministry. He had in this, as in certain other matters, a very English point of view, and certainly the arguments he used were able. But he was interrupted continually, and we get, even in the dry account of the Moniteur, a good picture of what the scene must have been like


“A dismissal which the Assembly has the right to demand.”


The Abbé Maury: “Who ever said that?” [Murmurs and discussion followed. The Abbé was called to order, when . . .]


M. Cazales remarked: “It is our duty to listen, even if they talk nonsense.”


Danton began again with: “The Commune of Paris is better able to judge the conduct of ministers than . . .”


The Abbé Maury: “Why?” [He is again calld to order.]


And so it went on. But in a duel of this kind lungs are the weapons, and Danton had the best lungs in the hall. He had also perhaps the soundest brain of any; but the Abbé Maury and his friends had chosen more rapid methods than those of arguments. The short address ended (it did not take a quarter of an hour to read), and the deputation left the Assembly. This last debated and refused the decree; yet the Commune had succeeded, for in a few days the Archbishop of Bordeaux left the Ministry of Justice, and La Tour du Pin, “ who thought that parchment alone made nobility” (a phrase of Danton’s which had upset the Eight), left the Ministry of War.


The deputation had petitioned on Wednesday, the 10th of November. Four days later he was elected head of the militia battalion in which he had served for a year.[7] There is some doubt as to whether he remained long at this post. Some antagonists talk vaguely of his “leading his batallion” in ‘92, but never as eye-witnesses. On the otter hand, there is a letter in existence talking of Danton’s resignation; but it is unsigned and undated. Only some one has written in pencil, “Gouvion, 22nd November.”[8]


At any rate, the interest of the little incident lies in the fact that it meant a meeting between Danton and Lafayette, and, as Freron remarks in his journal, “Cela serait curieux.”[9] Perhaps they did not meet.


The campaign continually directed against Danton was as active in this matter as in all others. It gives one, for instance, an insight into the management and discipline of the guards to learn that “Coutra, a corporal, went about asking for signatures against Danton’s nomination.”[10] He had just risen above the successes of his enemies. November had put him on a sure footing again, and in January he reached the place he had had so long in view, the administration of Paris.


It will be remembered that the voting was by two degrees. The electors nominated an “electoral college,” who elected the Commune and its officers. Already in October Danton had been put into the electoral college by twenty-six members chosen by his Section, but not without violent opposition. Finally, after eight ballots, on the 31st of January 1791, he became a member of the administration of the town—the twenty-second on a list of thirty-six elected. He failed, however, in his attempt to be chosen “Procureur,” and through all the year 1791 he keeps his place in the administration of Paris merely as a stepping-stone. He does not speak much in the Council. He used his partial success only for the purpose of attaining a definite position from which he could exercise some measure of executive control; this position he finally attains (as we shall see) in the following December, and it is from it that he is able to direct the movement of 1792.


The year 1791 does not form a unit in the story of the Revolution. It is cut sharply in two by the flight of the King in June. Before that event things went with a certain quietude. The tendency to reaction and the tendency to extreme democracy are to be discovered, but there can be no doubt that a kind of lassitude has taken the public mind. After all, the benefits of the Revolution are there. The two years of discussion, the useless acrimony of the preceding autumn, began to weary the voters—there is a sentiment of jovialty abroad. 


After the flight of the King all is changed. To a period of development there succeeds a period of violent advance, and of retreat yet more violent; there appears in France the first mention of the word republic, and all the characters that hung round Lafayette come definitely into conflict with the mass of the people. The action of the troops on the Champ de Mars opens the first of those impassable gulfs between the parties, and from that moment onward there arise the hatreds that are only satisfied by the death of political opponents.


In that first period, then, which the death of Mirabeau was to disturb, the 18th of April to endanger, and the flight of the King to close, Danton’s rôle, like that of all the democrats, is effaced. Why should it not be? The violent discussions that followed the affair of Nancy led, as it were, to a double satisfaction: the loyal party saw that after all the Radicals were not destroying the State; the Radicals, on the other hand, had learnt that the loyalists could do nothing distinctly injurious to the nation without being discovered. At least, they thought they had learnt this truth. They did not know how for months Mirabeau had been in the pay of the Court, and how the executive power had concerned itself with the King rather than with the nation.


A sign of this appeasement in the violence of the time (a movement, by the way, which was exactly what Danton desired) is his letter to La Rochefoucald, the president of the Department, when the successful election, which I have described above, was known. This letter, one of the very few which Danton has left, is a singularly able composition. He alludes to the mistrust which had been felt when his name was mentioned; he does not deny the insurrectionary character of the quarter of Paris which he inspired. But hie replies: “I will let my actions, now that I hold public office, prove my attitude, and if I am in a position of responsibility, it will have a special value in showing that I was right to continually claim the public control of administrative functions.” The whole of the long letter[11] is very well put; it is Danton himself that speaks, and it is hard to doubt that at this moment he also was one of those who thought they were touching the end of the reform, that goal which always fled from the men who most sincerely sought it.


He did not, however, come often to the Council to less than a quarter of its sittings, at the most; moreover, the men who composed it still looked upon him with suspicion; and when, on the 4th of May, the committees were drawn up, his name was omitted. He asked on the next day to be inscribed on the committee that contained Sieyès, and his request was granted.


The activity of Danton during these few months was not even shown at the Cordeliers; though that club occasionally heard him, it was at the Jacobins that he principally spoke.


This famous club, on which the root of the Revolution so largely depends, was at this period by no means the extreme and Robespierrian thing with which we usually associate the name. It hardly even called itself “the Jacobins” yet, but clung rather to its original name of “Friends of the Constitution.” Its origin dated from the little gathering of Breton deputies who were in the habit, while the Assembly was still at Versailles, of meeting together to discuss a common plan of action. When the Assembly came to Paris, this society, in which by that time a very large number of deputies had enrolled themselves, took up their place in the hall of the Dominicans or “Jacobins,” just off the Rue St. Honoré (Its site is just to the east of the square of Vendôme to-day.) It was a union of all those who desired reform, and in the first part of the year 1790 it had been remarkable for giving a common ground where the moderate and extremist, all who desired reform, could meet. The Rue de Broglie figures among its presidents. It was the Royalists, the extreme Court party, that dubbed these “Friends of the Constitution” “Jacobins,” and it was not till somewhat later that they themselves adopted and gloried in the nickname. It was composed not only of deputies, but of all the best-born and best-bred of the Parisian reformers, drawn almost entirely from the noble or professional classes, and holding dignified sessions, to which the public were not admitted.


Almost at the same moment, namely, towards the autumn and winter of 1790, two features appeared in it. First, the Moderates begin to leave it, and the schism which finally produced the “Feuillants” is formed; secondly, there come in from all over France demands from the local popular societies to be affiliated to the great club in Paris. These demands were granted. There arises a kind of “Jacobin order,” which penetrates even to the little country towns, everywhere preaches the same doctrine, everywhere makes it its business to keep a watch against reaction. These local clubs depended with a kind of superstition upon the decrees of what, without too violent a metaphor, we may call the “Mother House” in Paris; it was this organisation that aroused the apathy of provincial France and trained the new voters in political discussion, and it was this also that was later captured by Robespierre, who, like a kind of high priest, directed a disciplined body wherever the affiliated societies existed.


Danton first joined the society at the very moment when this double change was in progress, in September 1790. His energies, which were employed in the club to arrange the difficulty with the Moderates (if that were possible), were also used (to quote a well-known phrase) in “letting France hear Paris.” The Cordeliers had been essentially Parisian; steeped in that feeling, Danton spoke from the Rue St. Honoré to the whole nation.


It is with the end of March that he begins to be heard, in a speech attacking Collot d’Herbois; for that unpleasant fellow was then a Moderate. It is apropos of that speech that the “Sabbots Jacobites” give us the satirical rhyme on Danton, which recalls his face when he spoke, looking all the uglier for the energy which he put into his words:


“Monsieur Danton,

Quittez cet air farouche,

Monsieur Danton,

On vous prendrez pour un démon.”[12] 


On the 3rd of April it was known in Paris that Mirabeau was dead. He had been killed with the over-work of attempting to save the King from himself. A masterly intrigue, a double dealing which was hidden for a generation, had exhausted him, and in the terrible strain of balancing such opposite interests as those of France, which he adored, and Louis, whom he served, his two years of struggle suddenly fell upon him and crushed him. He smiled at the sun and called it God’s cousin, boasted like a genius, gave a despairing phrase to the monarchy, demanded sleep, and died.


Danton had always, from a long way off, understood his brother in silk and with the sword. On this day he passionately deplored the loss. Like all Paris, the Jacobins forgot Mirabeau’s treason, and remembered his services when the news of his sudden death fell upon them. From their tribune Danton spoke in terms in which he almost alone foretold the coming reaction, and he was right. The King, hardly restrained from folly by the compromise of the great statesman, plunged into it when his support was withdrawn. He had been half Mirabeau’s man, now he was all Antoinette’s.


It was the fatal question of religion that precipitated the crisis. Louis could not honestly receive the Easter communion from a constitutional priest. On the other hand, he might have received it quietly in his household. He chose to make it a public ceremony, and to go in state to St. Cloud for his Easter duties. It was upon April 18th, a day or two more than a fortnight after Mirabeau’s death, that he would have set out. As one might have expected, the streets filled at once. The many battalions of the National Guard who were on the democratic side helped the people to stop the carriage; in their eyes, as in that of the populace, the King’s journey to St. Cloud was only part of the scheme to leave Paris to raise an army against the Assembly.[13]


On the other hand, those of the National Guard who obeyed Lafayette[14] could not, by that very fact, move until Lafayette ordered them. Thus the carriage was held for hours, until at last, in despair, the King went back to the Tuilleries.


Meanwhile, what had occurred at the Hotel de Ville? The testimony is contradictory and the whole story confused, but the truth seems to have been something of this kind. Lafayette certainly called on the administration of the Department and asked for martial law. Bailly as certainly was willing to grant it. Danton was called from his rank and came to oppose it; but did he end the matter by his speech? Camille Desmoulins[15] says so, and draws a fine picture of Danton carrying the administration with him, as he carried the club or the street. But Desmoulins is often inaccurate, and here his account is improbable. Danton’s own note of the circumstance (which he thought worthy of being pinned to his family papers) runs: “I was present at the Department when MM. the commandant and the mayor demanded martial law.” Nothing more.


Desmoulins makes another mistake when he attributes to Danton the letter which was written to the King, and which was sent on the night of the 18th; it reproached him for his action, sharply criticised his rejection of constitutional priests. It was not Danton, it was Talleyrand (a member also of the Department) who wrote this letter.


It is probable that Danton and Talleyrand knew each other. Talleyrand was a good judge of men, and would have many strings to his bow—we know that he depended upon Danton’s kindness at a critical moment in 1792—but the style of the letter is not Danton’s, and the document as we find it in Schmidt is definitely ascribed to Talleyrand.


This is all we can gather as to his place in the popular uprising to prevent the King’s leaving Paris. A placard of some violence issued from the Cordeliers, saying that he had  “forbidden Lafayette to fire on the people;”  but Danton disowned it in a meeting of the Department.


This much alone is certain, that the 18th of April had finally put Danton and Lafayette face to face, and that in the common knowledge of Paris they would be the heads of opposing forces in the next crisis. But their rôles turned out to be the very opposite of what men would have predicted. It was Lafayette who shot and blustered, and had his brief moment of power; it was Danton who made a flank movement and achieved a final victory. For the next crisis was the flight of the King.


It would be irrelevant to give the story of this flight in the life of Danton. Our business is to understand Danton by following the exact course of his actions during June and July, and by describing exactly the nature of the movement in which his attitude took the form which we are investigating.


Two things command the attention when we study the France of 1791. France was monarchic and France was afraid. History knows what was to follow; the men of the time did not. There lay in their minds the centuries of history that had been; their future was to them out of conception, and as unreal as our future is to us. You may notice from the very first moment of the true Revolution a passion for the King. For most he is a father, but for all a necessary man. They took him back to Paris; they forced him to declarations of loyalty, and then, with the folly of desire, accepted as real an emotion which they had actually dictated. Such was the movement of the 4th of February 1790; such the sentiment of the Federation in July of that year. And the people understood his reluctance in taking communion from a nonjuring priest, however much the upper class might be astonished. What no one understood was that only Mirabeau stood between the Crown and its vilest temptations; only his balance of genius, his great and admirable fault of compromise, prevented Louis yielding to his least kingly part, and while he lived the king of the French preferred the nation to his own person. But Mirabeau was dead. They did well to mourn him, those who had smelt out his treason and guessed the weakness of the artist in him; they did well to forgive him; his head misunderstood France, but his broad French shoulders had supported her. The 18th of April was a direct consequence of his death; the 21st of June was a fall through a broken bridge: Louis had yielded to himself.


Well, France was also afraid. This democracy (as it had come to be), an experiment based upon a vision, knew how perilous was the path between the old and the new ideals. She feared the divine sunstroke that threatens the road to Damascus. In that passage, which was bounded on either side by an abyss, her feet went slowly, one before the other, and she looked backward continually. In the twisting tides at night her one anchor to the old time was the monarchy. Thus when Louis fled the feeling was of a prop broken. France only cried out for one thing—“Bring the King back.” Tie up the beam—a makeshift—anything rather than a new foundation.


Here is the attitude of Danton in this crisis. France is not republican; his friends in Paris are. He inclines to France. It was Danton more than any other one man who finally prepared the Republic, yet the Republic was never with him an idea. The consequences of the Republic were his goal; as for the systems, systems were not part of his mind. At the close of this chapter we shall see him overthrowing the Crown; he did it because he thought it the one act that could save France; but the Crown as an idea he never hated: he lived in existing things.


These were the reasons that made him hesitate at this date. A man understanding Europe, he saw that the governments were not ready to move; a man understanding his own country, he saw that it would have the King in his place again; a man, on the other hand, who had met and appreciated the idealists, he saw that the Republic already existed in the mind; and a man who understood the character of his fellows better than did any contemporary, he saw that the men who were bound to lead were inclined to a declaration against the King. He suffered more than his action should have warranted, and he goes through a sharp few days of danger on account of association and of friends in spite of all his caution.


When Louis was known to have fled, and when Paris, vigilant beyond the provinces, and deceived by the declaration of April, had undergone its first wave of passion, the word Republic began to be spoken out loud. The theorists found themselves for once in accordance with public humour; and against the keenness, if not the numbers, of those who petitioned for the deposition of the King on his return, there stood two barriers—the Assembly and the moderate fortunes of the capital, Danton lived with the former, thought with the latter, and was all but silent.


The bust of Louis XIV. before the Hotel de Ville was broken; men climbed on ladders to chisel off the lilies from the palaces, and there soon appears a new portent: some one cries out, “Only a Republic can defend itself at the last.”


To this somewhat confused cry for a Republic came the very sharp announcement from no less a person than Condorcet. Condorcet, the moderate and illumined, was also half a visionary, and there had always floated in his mind the system of contract by which England had excused the movement of 1688, but which France took seriously. England had for him the attraction which it had for all the professionals of that date—an attraction which lasted till the disasters of 1870, and which you may yet discover here and there among those who are the heirs of Lamartine. England had given them Locke, and Condorcet’s reasoning on the Kings flight[16] reads like a passage from the Bill of Rights. Yet he was a good and sincere man, and died through simplicity of heart.


On the 4th of July, ten days or more after the King had been brought back to Paris,[17] it was Condorcet who made the demand for the Republic; in a speech at Fauchet’s club he asked for a National Convention to settle the whole matter. He wrote so in the papers[18] all through July, and even after the affair of the Champ de Mars he continued his agitation.


Now how do we know Danton’s attitude? The Cordeliers presented a petition of June 21st itself and demanded the Republic. It is largely from this document that the error has arisen. But Danton was not then with the Cordeliers; his name does not appear. It is at the Jacobins that he is heard, and the Jacobins took up a distinctly monarchical position. They all rose in a body on the 22nd and passed a unanimous vote in favour of the constitution and the King.[19] Danton was present when this vote was passed, and he had just heard the hissing of the Cordeliers' petition; he was silent. Thomas Payne is demanding the Republic in the Moniteur; Sieyès replies for the monarchy;[20] even Robespierre tardily speaks in favour of ideas and against change of etiquette, Marat shouts for a dictator;[21] Danton, almost alone, refuses to be certain. On June 23rd he spoke at the Jacobins in favour of a council to be elected by the Departments immediately, but he proposed nothing as to its actions; it was merely his permanent idea of a central, strong power.


Lafayette amused himself by arresting people who repeated this in the street, but Lafayette hated Danton blindly. Nothing republican can be made of a speech which his enemies said was “a loophole for Orleans.”


Danton attacked Lafayette: he saw persons more clearly than ideas, and Lafayette was Danton’s nightmare. He was that being which of all on earth Danton thought most dangerous, the epitome of all the faults which he attacked to the day of his death; in Louis, in Robespierre, “The weak man in power.” He drove him out of the Jacobins on the 21st, and later in the day gave the cry against his enemy in the street, which the fears of the Assembly so much exaggerated.


For the events of the twenty-four hours had all added to his natural opposition to Lafayette, and as we relate them from Danton’s standpoint, we shall see this much of truth in the idea that he led the movement, namely, that the three days of the King’s flight and recapture, while they put Lafayette into a position of great power, made also Danton his antagonist, the leader of the protest against the general’s methods. It is the more worthy of remark that in such conditions the word “Republic” never crossed his lips.


At eleven o’clock at night on the Monday of the King’s flight, Danton and Desmoulins were coming home alone from the Jacobins. Each remarked to the other the emptiness of the streets and the lack of patrols, and at that moment, when the evasion was little suspected, each was in a vague doubt that Lafayette had some reason for concentrating the National Guard.[22] Desmoulins will even have it that he saw him enter the palace, as the two friends passed the Tuilleries.


The next morning at the Cordeliers Danton cried out against Lafayette for a moment, and then at the Jacobins he made the speech that has been mentioned above. Continually he attacks the man who was preparing a counter-revolution, but I do not believe he would have attached the least importance at that moment to a change in the etiquette of government. Thus, as the Department was sent for by the Assembly in the afternoon, Danton came later than his colleagues, provided himself with a guard, and as he crossed the Tuilleries gardens he harangued the people, but against Lafayette, not against the King.


Now, to make sure of this feature, the duel between Lafayette and Danton, and to see that it is the principal thing at the time, turn once more to the scene at the Jacobins, and compare it with Lafayette’s Memoirs, and you will find that Danton was the terror of the saviour of two worlds, and that it was upon Lafayette that Danton had massed his artillery.


Here is Danton at the Jacobins, sitting by Desmoulin’s side; he goes to the tribune and speaks upon the disgrace and danger that the Moderates have brought about. When Lafayette entered during the speech, he turned upon him suddenly, and launched one of those direct phrases which made him later the leader of the Convention: “I am going to talk as though I were at the bar of God’s justice, and I will say before you, M. Lafayette, what I would say in the presence of Him who reads all hearts. . . . How was it that you, who pretend to know nothing of me, tried to corrupt me to your views of treason? . . . How was it that you arrested those who in last February demanded the destruction of Vincennes? You are present; try to give a clear reason. . . . How was it that the very same men were on guard when the King tried to go to St. Cloud on the 18th of April were on guard last night when the King fled? . . . I will not mention the 6000 men[23] whom you have picked as a garrison for the King, only answer clearly these three accusations. For in their light you, who answered with your head that the King should not fly, are either a traitor or a fool. For either you have permitted him to fly, or else you undertook a responsibility which you could not fulfil: in the best case, you are not capable of commanding the guard. . . . I will leave the tribune, for I have said enough.”[24]


This is clear enough in all conscience to show what was Danton’s main pre-occupation in the days of June 1791. And if, upon the other hand, you will turn to Lafayette’s Memoirs, the third volume, the 83rd and following pages, you will find that Danton was Lafayette’s pre-occupation, and that he makes this moment the occasion to deliver the most definite and (luckily) the most demonstrably false of his many accusations of venality. He tells us that he could not reply because it would have “cost Montmorin his life;” that Montmorin “had the receipt for the 100,000 francs;” that Danton had been “reimbursed to the extent of 100,000 francs for a place worth 10,000,” and so forth. We know now exactly the amount of compensation paid to him and his colleagues at the court of appeal,[25] and we know that Lafayette, writing a generation later, animated by a bitter hatred, and remembering that somebody had paid Danton something, and with his head full of vague rumours of bribing, has fallen into one of those unpardonable errors common to vain and vacillating men. But at this Juncture the main point that should be seized is that Danton was taking the opportunity of the King’s evasion to attack Lafayette with all his might, and that a generation later the old man chiefly remembered Danton as leading the popular anger which the commander of the guard thought himself bound to repress. It is this that will explain why Danton, who so carefully avoided giving the word for the Republican “false start,” was yet marked out, fled, and returned to lead the opposition.


The Cordeliers followed Danton’s lead. They got up a petition,[26] signed by 30,000 in Paris, demanding that the affair should be laid before the country, but not demanding the abolition of the monarchy. Memdar, their president, declared himself a monarchist. But the petition, though read at the Assembly, was not adopted, and, on the 9th of July, the Cordeliers presented another. Charles de Lameth (who was president that fortnight) refused to read it. The Assembly, in other words, was dumb; it was determined (like its successor a year later) to do nothing—an attitude which (for all it knew) might be very wise, and those who were following Danton determined upon a definite policy. On Friday the 15th, at the Jacobins, it was determined to draw up a petition, which begged that the Assembly should first recognise Louis as having abdicated by his flight, unless the nation voted his reinstatement, and secondly (in case the nation did not do so), take measures to have him constitutionally replaced. Now the constitution was monarchist.


The petition was to be taken to be read at the Champ de Mars on the altar, and there to obtain signatures. It was drawn up by Danton, Sergent, Lanthanas, Ducanel, and Brissot, who wrote it out and worded most of it. The events that follow must be noted with some care, because on their exact sequence depends our judgment of Lafayette’s action and of Danton’s politics.


On Saturday[27] the 16th, about mid-day, a deputation of four from the Jacobins came to the Champ de Mars. The petition was read by a little light-haired Englishman on one side, and by a red-haired Frenchman in a red coat on the other; picturesque but unimportant details. Danton leapt on to the corner of the altar, and read it again to the thick of the crowd. The signatures were written in great numbers, and when the completed document was about to start for the Assembly, when the deputation that was to take it was already formed, it was suddenly spread abroad that the Assembly had passed a vote exonerating Louis.


The Jacobins were appealed to, and replied that under the conditions the petition which they had drawn up could not be presented. The Cordeliers, however, lost their tempers, and Robert determined to draw up a new petition. Now in this second action Danton took no part. It was this new petition that (signed by Robert, Peyre, Vachard, and Demoy) was drawn up hastily in the Champ de Mars on Sunday the 17th, to this that the 6000 signatures were attached, and this which demanded a “Convention to judge the King.” There followed the proclamation of martial law, the appearance of Lafayette and Bailly in the Champ de Mars with the red flag, the conflict between the National Guard and the crowd, and all that is called the “Massacre of the Champ de Mars.”


That petition was not signed by Danton.[28] He was not even present,[29] as we know from his speech on his election to be “Substitut-Procureur,” and especially from the fact that in the fortnight of terror, when the red flag stood over the Hotel de Ville, when the democrats were arrested or in hiding, when the door of the Cordeliers was shut and nailed, and when the Radical newspapers were suppressed, no warrant of arrest could be issued, because there existed nothing definite against him. Lafayette was determined, however, to act in a military fashion, and on the 4th of August the arrest of Danton was ordered, on some other plea which he alludes to in his speech of the next January, but the exact terms of which have not come down to us.


He had left Paris at once when he saw that Lafayette had practically absolute power for the moment. He first went to his father-in-law’s, Charpentier, at Rosny-sur-Bois, and then escaped to Arcis. Before the warrant was actually made out, Lafayette had sent a man to watch him at Arcis. He was “giving a dinner. It would need a troop of cavalry to arrest him. Everybody was on his side.”[30]  Marseilles and Bar spoke up for him. But the attack only grew stronger. On the 31st of July he moved again to Troyes, to the house of Millaud, of his father’s profession, and a friend, because he feared a new arrival from Paris who seemed a spy.[31] He was there when the warrant was sent down to the “procureur” for the arrest, the official in question was Beugnot, and Beugnot told Danton jocularly that he would not arrest him. He did not think this a sufficient guarantee, and as his stepfather, Recordain, was off to England to buy some machinery for a cotton-mill that he thought of starting, Danton went to England with him, and remained in this country for a month, staying in the house of his stepfather’s sons, who were established in  London. It was in the last days of July or the first days in August[32] that he arrived, and he did not return to Paris until the appointment of his friend Garran de Coulon as President of the Court of Appeal. He appears again at the Jacobins on the 12th of September; some say he was in Paris on the 10th.[33]


It would be of the utmost interest to know how he passed those thirty or forty days. Unfortunately there is no direct evidence as to whom he met or what negotiations he entered into. As to his English acquaintances, his letters from Priestley and Christie, the relations he had with Talleyrand, and their common diplomacy for the English alliance all these properly belong to Danton in power, the minister directing France after August 1792, and it is in that place that they will be dealt with. Of historical events in his voyage we have none, and there is no more regrettable gap in the very disconnected series of ascertained facts concerning him.


On his return, he discovered that the Section of the Théâtre Français had named him a member of the electoral college which sat at the Archbishop’s palace. Many members of this Assembly had been arrested, or had fled during Lafayette’s violent efforts of reaction in August and September. The new Parliament which had just met did not decree an amnesty (as it was asked to do on the 5th of September), but it was of course far more democratic than the old Assembly, and it was understood to be tacitly in favour of the return of those whom Lafayette had driven out. Following Danton’s example, they slowly came back; but a curious incident shows how much of the danger remained.


On the 13th of September the Parliament, at the desire of the King, voted the amnesty. While it was actually voting, a constable called Damien got into the gallery of the hall in which Danton and the electors were debating, and sent a note to the president asking him to allow the arrest. The president and the electoral college (who did not like Danton, by the way, and who would not give him more than forty votes when it came to electing members for Paris) yet ordered the arrest by Damien, and it was only when they learnt of the amnesty that, on Danton’s own motion, he was released.


It has just been said that Danton failed to be elected: let us point out the conditions under which the Legislative met, that short Parliament of one year which made the war, and saw to its dismay the end of the monarchy.


The Legislative was not elected in one of those moments of decision which were the formative points of the Revolution. It came upon a very curious juncture, and showed in all its first acts a marked indecision.


The members were chosen under the action of a peculiar combination, or rather confusion of emotions. The King had fled, had been recaptured. France, of many possible evils, had chosen what she believed to be the least when she reinstated him. “The New Pact” was accepted even by those who had spoken of the Republic in July. Condorcet, who had led the civic theorists towards the Republic, leads them also now in this movement of reconciliation. Again, these were the first elections held since the middle class and the peasantry had been given the suffrage over the heads of the artisans: it was the most sober part of France that dictated the policy of the moment. The divisions that the King’s flight had laid bare, the sharp reaction and terror of the Champ de Mars—all these were forgotten.


Thus the Parliament will not have Garran-Conlon for its first president, and yet on the next day passes the extreme democratic etiquette as to the reception of the King should he visit the Assembly. Next day it repeals this, and when the King does visit the Assembly, he is met by an outburst of loyalty and affection.


As to parties, the power lay, as it always does in a French Assembly, with the centre—some three hundred men, unimportant, of no fixed idea, unless indeed it were to keep the Legislative to the work for which it had been elected, that is, to keep it moving moderately on the lines laid down for it by the constitution of 1791.


The right, well organised, loyal and brave, was Feuillant; that is, it was monarchic and constitutional, but more monarchic than constitutional. It was the support of Lafayette, and on the whole the centre would vote with it on any important occasion.


But there sat on the left a group less compact, full of personal ambitions and personal creeds, containing almost all the orators whose names were to make famous the following year. It was but a group of 130 men, even if we include all those who signed the register of the Jacobins when the Assembly met; yet it was destined, ill-disciplined as it was, part wild and part untrue, to lead all France. Why? Because the King was to make impossible the action of the Moderates, because his intrigue made Frenchmen choose between him and France, and in the inevitable war the men who were determined to realise the Revolution could not but be made the leaders.


As has been said above, Danton was not elected. The electoral college, of which he was a member, chose Moderates for the most part, such as Pastoret and De Quincy, and the narrow suffrage represented the true drift of Parisian feeling only in the case of a few—De Séchelles, Brissot, Condorcet, and a handful of others. But though Danton did not sit in the Legislative he was free for action in two other directions, which (as it turned out) were the commanding positions in the great changes that came with the war. He was free to attain an administrative position in the municipality of Paris, and he was free to use his power of oratory at the Jacobins.


As to the first, it came with his moderate but important success in the municipal elections at the close of the year. Bailly, frightened out of place, half-regretting his action of the Champ de Mars, had resigned, and Pétion, on November 16th, was elected in his place. Only ten thousand voted, and he obtained 6700 votes. On the same day the Procureur of the new Commune was to be elected. A Procureur under the new system was a position of the greatest importance. He was, so to speak, the advocate of the town, its tribune in the governing body, and with his two substitutes (who aided and occasionally replaced him) was meant to form a kind of small committee whose business was to watch the interests and to define the attitude of the electorate whenever those interests were in jeopardy or that attitude was opposed to the policy of the elected body. These three positions were dangerous, but would lead to popularity, and perhaps to power, if they were directed by a certain kind of ability. It was precisely such a power, the quality of a tribune, that Danton knew himself to possess.


His candidature for the principal position was cordially supported by the Cordeliers, but the Jacobins were divided, and they hesitated. Manuel was elected, and Danton obtained only the third place. This vote, however, was not decisive, and there was a second ballot on December the 2nd. In this Manuel was definitely elected.


Cahier de Gerville (the second substitute) was made Minister of the Interior, and Danton, on December 6th,[34] was elected to his place by a majority of 500 over Collot d’Herbois. It was from this position that he prepared the 10th of August, and it was still as substitute that he remained side by side with, the insurrectionary commune, and lending it something of legal sanction when the King was overthrown.


Let me, before leaving this point, define exactly the position in which his new dignity placed him. Three men were charged with the advocacy of public opinion, the Procureur and his two substitutes. Manuel, who was elected to the principal position, was energetic, kindly, and conscientious, but a man of no genius; he was good to Madame De Staël in the days of September, as is apparent from her rather contemptuous description of how she appealed to him for safety; he did his very best (with no power in his hands) to stop the massacres at that same time. He was fond of work, and a little pompous in his idea of office; he was, therefore, a man who would only leave his substitutes the less important work to do and, from close by, would have been the dominating member of the three. On the other hand his lack of decision and of initiative effaced him in moments of danger or of new departures, and it is thus his second substitute who seems to lead when seen from a distance, from the point of view of the people, who only look round when there is a noise.


The first substitute was Desmousseaux, He had not resigned, and had therefore not been re-elected. Forming part of the old Commune, and in office since the winter of 1790, he was a Moderate by preference and long tradition.


As for Danton himself, standing third in the group, it was for him a position of honour and of dignity. That part of him which was so capable of high office and so desirous of an opportunity to act was well served by the election. It seemed to put a term to the misconceptions which his person, his faults, and the course of the Revolution had created. But the great stream of events moved him at their will. This office wherein he desired to appear settled at last, to show himself an administrator rather than a leader of unreasoning men, was precisely suited in case of danger to call out those other qualities which had made him despised by many whom he himself respected, and had aroused against him hatred—a passion which he himself had never allowed to arise from anger.


If the spirit of 1791 had been kept, and if after so many false promises the Revolution had been really accomplished, then the official, or, if you will, the statesman, would have appeared in him. I can see him in the difficulties which even a settled kingdom would have had to meet, convincing his contemporaries as he has convinced posterity. He was the man to impress on others the true attitude of Europe—the only diplomat among the patriots. His disadvantages were of the kind that are forgotten in the constant proof of ability; and his learning, which was exactly of the kind to be used in the new regime (a knowledge of languages, of law, of surrounding nations, a combination of detail and of comprehension)—this learning would have made necessary a man so popular with the people to be ruled, and, in the matter of the heart, so honestly devoted to his country. Had France, I say, by some miracle been spared her Passion, and had she been permitted to be happier and to do less for the world, then as the new regime settled into the lower reaches of quiet and content, I believe Danton would have remained for us a name, perhaps less great, but certainly among the first. England has been permitted. She has been given good fortune, and no fate has asked her to save civilisation with her blood, and therefore in England we are accustomed to such careers; men whose origin, whose exterior, and whose faults might have exiled them, have yet been seen to rise from the municipal to the imperial office, because they were possessed of supreme abilities, and because they devoted those abilities to the service of England. They have died in honour.


I will not discuss what it was that made the war. There are no causes. Burke raved like a madman, but then so did Marat, The King was alienated by the clerical laws, but nothing is an excuse for treason. Pilnitz was an affront and even a menace, but it was not a declaration of war. There were peoples behind the kings, as Mayence tragically proved; and if France fought intolerable evils, she also seemed the iconoclast when she put out the altar-lamp, which she is lighting again with her own hand. There are no causes. Only, if you will look and see how Europe has lived, and how our great things have been done, you will find nothing but armies upon armies marching past, and our history is an epic whose beginning is lost, whose books are Roncesvalles and Cortenuova and Waterloo, and whose end is never reached. The war came, and with it a definite necessity to choose between France and the Crown. In that crisis Danton is thrown back upon insurrection. He, who desired men to forget the days of October, was compelled to the 10th of August because he was aroused. Even the massacres were attached to his name, and there still trails after him an easy flow of accusation, only a little less sordid or less terrible.


To follow his action during the first months of 1772 [sic], to hear his speeches on the war, and to note his policy, we must leave him at his post in the Commune (where we shall find him again when Paris rises in the summer), and see how he stands for the Mountain at the Jacobins.


This club was now definitely the organ of the left. It was after Danton had been elected, but before he was definitely installed in office,[35] on the 14th of December, a week after the former and five weeks before the latter event, that the debate on the war was begun at the Jacobins, —a debate of the first importance, because it opened the breach between the Girondins and the Mountain, between the orators who insisted on going to meet Europe, and even on a war of propaganda, and the reformers who wished Europe to take the first step, who dreaded war or who thought a war of aggression immoral. At the head of these last was Robespierre. But it is not too much to say that in the first months of the year Danton was more important at the Jacobins than Robespierre. What was his attitude? It was part of the general policy upon which he had determined: he compromised. In his first motion on the 14th of December, he attacked the idea of declaring war. On the 16th he still attacked it, but in other terms. “I know it must come. If any one were to ask me, ‘Are we to have war?’ I would reply (not in argument, but as a matter of fact), ‘We shall hear the bugles’” But the whole speech is taken up with an argument upon its dangers, and especially upon “those who desire war in the hope of reaction, who talk of giving us a constitution like that of England, in the hope of giving us, later, one like that of Turkey.”


In March and April, the months when the war was preparing and was declared, he was silent. And we can understand his silence when we turn to his speech in the Commune when he was given office. He alludes to the false character given him; he speaks of the reputation which his past actions in Paris had given; he says things that indicate a determination to play the part of a Moderate, and to see whether in his case, as in that of so many others, there would not be permanence in the compromise of the last six months. But there rankled in his mind the insults of the men with whom he sat, Condorcet’s disavowal in his paper of so much as knowing Danton, and he made a peroration which at the time offended, but which possesses for us a certain pathos. “Nature gave me a strong frame, and she put into my face the violence of liberty. I have not sprung from a family which was weakened by the protection of the old privileges; my existence has been all my own; I know that I have kept and shown my vigour, but in my profession and in my private life I have controlled it. If I was carried away by enthusiasm in the first days of our regeneration, have I not atoned for it ? Have I not been ostracised? . . . I have given myself altogether to the people, and now that they are beyond attack, now that they are in arms and ready to break the league unless it consents to dissolve,[36] I will die in their cause if I must, . . . for I love them only, and they deserve it. Their courage will make them eternal.”


This outburst is the one occasion of his public life in which Danton spoke of himself, and it has the ring of genuine emotion; for in all his harangues he preserved, both before and after this, an objective attitude, if anything too much bent upon the outward circumstances.


Thus, when the notes came to go between the Austrian and the French governments, he was silent. He fears that France is unprepared; he fears that the King is betraying the nation. How much he was a traitor was not known till a far later period; but when at least it is proved that something is undermining the French people, that, apart from the defeats and the lack of preparation, there is treason, then he leaves his silence. The policy of the Moderate acting in a settled state is no longer possible to any one; the court and the nation stood one against the other, and one side or the other must be taken by every man. Then he put off the conventions which he respected, and which he regretted to the end; he went back into the street; he headed the insurrection, destroyed the monarchy; for twelve months he took upon himself all the responsibility of errors in his own policy, and of crime in that of his associates. He saved France, but at this expense, that he went out of the world with a reputation which he knew to be false, that he saw his great powers vulgarised, and that he could never possess, either in his own mind or before the world, not even in France, his true name. The whole of this tragedy is to be found in his trial, and here and there in the few phrases that escape him in the speeches or with his friends. If you sum it up, it comes to this paraphrase of a great sentence: Son nom était flétri mais la France était libre.


It was upon April the 18th that the new Girondin ministry received the note from Vienna rejecting the French proposals of a month before. The poor King, who had been protesting his loyalty to the nation in Paris, had been protesting in Vienna the necessity of sending an army to save him, and Austria gave this reply. On April 20th the Assembly declared war with practical unanimity[37] upon “the King of Hungary and of Bohemia.” But the phrase was useless. You might as well put a match into gunpowder and say, “It is the sulphur I am after, not the charcoal.” Prussia joined, and within a year we shall see all Europe at war with France, in a war that outlawed and destroyed.


Danton was right. France was hopelessly unready. She had not learnt the necessary truth that the soldier is a man with a trade. The orators had mistaken words for things; honest and great as they were, they had fallen in this matter into the faults common to small and dishonest verbiage. The rout and panic under De Dillon, his murder by the troops, the occupation of Quiévrain, came one upon the other. Paris was full of terror and anger in proportion to the greatness of the things she had done, which now seemed all destroyed. “We said and did things that should have convinced the world; we were to be a people unconquerable from our love of liberty, and we appear a beaten, panic-stricken lot—volunteers and babblers who cannot stand fire.”


The King dismissed the Girondin ministers, even sent Dumouriez away, heard Roland’s remonstrance, knew that the Assembly was more and more against him; but he remained calm. There was a plan of the simplest. There was to be nothing but a few days of monotonous marching between the allies and Paris. Lafayette with his army of the centre was on his side. The Assembly decreed a great camp of 20,000 men under Paris, and the disbanding of the guard; the guard was disbanded, but the King vetoed the decree. Lafayette wrote his letter menacing the Parliament with his army; the reaction seemed in full success and the invaders secure, when Danton reappeared.


On the 18th of June he found the old phrases against Lafayette at the Jacobins. “It is a great day for France; Lafayette with only one face on is no longer dangerous.” He did not make, but he permitted the 20th of June; and as Paris rose, and the immense mob, grotesque, many-coloured, armed with all manner of sharp things, passed before the Assembly and into the Tuilleries, it might have been a signal or a warning. The excited citizen makes a poor soldier, but if Paris moves the whole great body of France stirs. Such giants take long to be fully awake, and it is a matter of months to drill men; still it is better to let great enemies sleep. There was in that foolish, amiable crowd, with its pleasure at the sight of the King, its comic idea of warning him, something serious underlying. Danton will be using it in a very short time; for there are points of attack where mobs are like machine-guns—ridiculous in general warfare, but very useful indeed in special conditions, and in these conditions invincible. This something serious was that vague force (you may call it only an idea) which you will never find in an individual, and which you will always discover in a mass—the great common man which the French metaphysicians have called “La Peuple;” that, drilled, is called by the least metaphysical an army.


A week later Lafayette appeared. He demanded the right to use the army, and July opened with the certainty of civil war.


July is the month of fevers; the heat has been moving northward, and all France is caught in it. The grapes fill out, and even in Picardy or in the Cotentin you feel as though the Midi were giving her spirit to the north. July made the Revolution and closed it. A month that saw the Bastille fall and that buried Robespierre is a very national time.


If you overlook France at this moment, you may see the towns stirring as they had stirred three years before; it is from them that the opposition rises—especially from Marseilles. A crowd of young men dragging cannon, the common-place sons of bourgeois, whom the time had turned into something as great as peasants or as soldiers, surged up the white deserts along the Rhone, passing the great sheet of vineyards that slopes up the watershed of Burgundy. As they came along they sang an excellent new marching song. When they at last saw Paris, especially the towers of Notre Dame from where they just show above the city as you come in from Fontainebleau, and as the roads came in together and the suburbs thickened they sang it with louder voices. On the evening of the 30th they came to the gates, and the workmen of the south-eastern quarter began to sing it and called it the “Marseillaise.” No one can describe music; but if in a great space of time the actions of the French become meaningless and the Revolution ceases to be an origin, some one perhaps will recover this air, as we have recovered a few stray notes of Greek music, and it will carry men back to the Republic.


For ten days the insurrection grew. In a secret committee which the Sections formed, men violent like Fournier, or good soldiers like Westermann, or local leaders of quarters like Santerre—but all outside the official body organised the fighting force, and at their head the one man who held the strings of the municipality—Danton. The Assembly had heard Vergniaud’s angry speech, but it had also confirmed the constitution and the monarchy in the “baiser Lamourette.” Paris had to work alone, and the King, seeing only Paris before him, filled the Tuilleries, and stood by with a small garrison to repress the mere movement of the city—“something that should have been done in ’89.”


It was on a Paris thus enfevered, doubtful, nursing a secret insurrectionary plan, but full of men who hesitated and doubted, having still many who were loyal, that there fell[38] the document which the King had asked of his friends but which he must, on seeing it, have regretted—the manifesto of the commander of the allies. This extraordinary monument of folly is rarely presented in its entirety. It is only in such a form that its fall monstrosity can be appreciated, and I have therefore been at pains to translate for my readers the rather halting French in which Charles William proposed to arrest the movements of Providence. It ran as follows[39]:—


“Their Majesties the Emperor and the King of Prussia having given me the command of the armies assembled on the French frontier, I have thought it well to tell the inhabitants of that kingdom the motives that have inspired the measures taken by the two sovereigns and the intentions that guide them.


“After having arbitrarily suppressed the rights and the possessions of the German princes in Alsace and Lorraine, troubled and overset public order and their legitimate government, exercised against the sacred person of the King and against his august family violence which is (moreover) repeated and renewed from day to day, those who have usurped the reins of the administration have at last filled up the measure by causing an unjust war to he declared against his Majesty the Emperor, and by attacking his provinces in the Netherlands.


“Several possessions of the German Empire have been drawn into this oppression, and several others have only escaped from, a similar danger by yielding to the imperious threats of the dominant party and its emissaries.


“His Prussian Majesty with his Imperial Majesty, by the ties of a strict and defensive alliance, and himself a preponderant member of the Germanic body (sic), has therefore been unable to excuse himself from going to the aid of his ally and of his fellow State (sic). And it is under both these heads that he undertakes the defence of that monarch and of Germany.


“To these great interests another object of equal importance must be added, and one that is near to the heart of the two sovereigns: it is that of ending the domestic anarchy of France, of arresting the attacks which are directed against the altar and the throne, of re-establishing the legitimate power, of giving back to the King the freedom and safety of which he is deprived, and of giving him the means to exercise the lawful authority which is his due.


“Convinced as they are that the healthy part of the French people abhors the excesses of a party that enslaves them, and that the majority of the inhabitants are impatiently awaiting the advent of a relief that will permit them to declare themselves openly against the odious schemes of their oppressors, His Majesty the Emperor and His Majesty the King of Prussia call upon them to return at once to the call of reason and justice, of order, of peace. It is in view of these things that I, the undersigned, General Commander-in-Chief of the two armies, declare—


“(i) That led into the present war by irresistible circumstances, the two allied courts propose no object to themselves but the happiness of France, and do not propose to enrich themselves by annexation.


“(2) That they have no intention of meddling with the domestic government of France, but only wish to deliver the King, and the Queen, and the Royal Family from their captivity, and procure for his Most Christian Majesty that freedom which is necessary for him to call such a council as he shall see fit, without danger and without obstacle, and to enable him to work for the good of his subjects according to his promises and as much as may be his concern.


“(3) That the combined armies will protect all towns, boroughs, and villages, and the persons and goods of all those that will submit to the King, and that they will help to re-establish immediately the order and police of France.


“(4) That the National Guard are ordered to see to the peace of the towns and country-sides provisionally, and to the security of the persons and goods of all Frenchmen provisionally, that is, until the arrival of the troops of their Royal and Imperial Majesties, or until further orders, under pain of being personally responsible; that on the contrary, the National Guards who may have fought against the troops of the allied courts, and who are captured in arms, shall be treated as enemies, and shall be punished as rebels and disturbers of the public peace.


“(5) That the generals, officers, non-commissioned officers, and privates of the French troops of the line are equally ordered to return to their old allegiance and to submit at once to the King, their legitimate sovereign.


“(6) That the members of departmental, district, and town councils are equally responsible with their heads and property for ill crimes, arson, murders, thefts, and assaults, the occurrence of which they allow or do not openly, and to the common knowledge, try to prevent in their jurisdiction; that they shall equally be bound to keep their functions provisionally until his Most Christian Majesty, reinstated in full liberty, has further decreed; or until, in the interval, other orders shall have been given.


“(7) That the inhabitants of towns, boroughs, and villages who may dare to defend themselves against the troops of their Imperial and Royal Majesties by firing upon them, whether in the open or from the windows, doors, or apertures of their houses, shall be punished at once with all the rigour of the laws of war, their houses pulled down or burnt. All those inhabitants, on the contrary, of the towns, boroughs, and villages who shall hasten to submit to their King by opening their gates to the troops of their Majesties shall be placed under the immediate protection of their Majesties; their persons, their goods, their chattels shall be under the safeguard of the laws, and measures will be taken for the general safety of each and all of them.


“(8) The town of Paris and all its inhabitants without distinction shall be bound to submit on the spot, and without any delay, to the King, and to give that Prince full and entire liberty, and to assure him and all the Royal Family that inviolability and respect to which the laws of nature and of nations entitle sovereigns from their subjects. Their Imperial and Royal Majesties render personally responsible for anything that may happen, under peril of their heads, and of military execution without hope of pardon, all members of the National Assembly as of the Districts, the Municipality, the National Guards, the Justices of the Peace, and all others whom it may concern. Their aforesaid Majesties declare, moreover, on their word and honour as Emperor and King, that if the Palace of the Tuilleries be insulted or forced, that if the least violence, the least assault, be perpetrated against their Majesties, the King, the Queen, and the Royal Family, and if steps be not at once taken for their safety, preservation, and liberty, they, their Imperial and Royal Majesties, will take an exemplary and never-to-be-forgotten vengeance, by giving up the town of Paris to military execution and to total subversion, and the guilty rebels to the deaths they have deserved. Their Imperial and Royal Majesties promise, on the contrary, to the inhabitants of Paris to use their good offices with his Most Christian Majesty to obtain pardon for their faults and errors, and to take the most vigorous measures to ensure their persons and goods if they promptly and exactly obey the above command.


“Finally, since their Majesties can recognise no laws in France save those that proceed from the King in full liberty, they protest in advance against any declarations that may be made in the name of his Most Christian Majesty, so long as his sacred person, those of the Queen and of the Royal Family, are not really safe, for which end their Imperial and Royal Majesties invite and beg his Most Christian Majesty to point out to what town in the immediate neighbourhood of his frontiers he may judge it best to retire with the Queen and the Royal Family, under good and sure escort that will be sent him for that purpose, in order that his Most Christian Majesty may be in all safety to call to him such deputies and counsellors as he sees fit, call such councils as may please him, see to the re-establishment of order, and arrange the administration of his kingdom.


“Lastly, I engage myself, in my own private name and in my aforesaid capacity, to cause the troops under my command to observe everywhere a good and exact discipline, promising to treat with mildness and moderation all well-meaning subjects who may show themselves peaceful and submissive, and to use force with those only who may be guilty of resistance and of recalcitrance.


“It is for these reasons that I require and exhort, in the strongest and most instant fashion, all the inhabitants of this kingdom not to oppose themselves to the march and operations of the troops under my command, but rather to give them on all sides a free entry and all the good-will, aid, and assistance that circumstances may demand.


“Given, at our headquarters of Coblentz, July 28.


(Signed) “CHARLES WILLIAM FERDINAND, Duke of Brunswick-Lunebourg.”


With that weapon the insurrection was certain of all Paris. Mandat, who had replaced Lafayette at the head of the armed force in the town, was still loyal to the King; he organised, as far as was possible, the forces that he could count upon. The other side also prepared, and the movements had all the appearance of troops entrenching themselves before battle.


Danton went to Arcis and settled an income on his mother in case of his death, came back to Paris, and on the night of August the 9th the Sections named commissioners to act. They met and formed the “insurrectionary commune.” At eight the next morning they dissolved the legal commune, kept Danton, and directed the fighting of the morning.


Meanwhile the King had gathered in the Tuilleries about 6000 men, and depended very largely upon the thick mass of wooden buildings in the Carrousel for cover. The Swiss Guard, whom the decree had removed, were only as far off as Rueil, and were ordered into Paris, over 1500. They were the nucleus, and with them some 2000 of the National Guard, 1500 of the old “Constitutional Guards,” and a group of “Gentils-hommes.” Mandat had ordered a battery of the National Guard’s artillery to keep the Pont Neuf; they revolted and joined the people, and Mandat himself, the chief of the defence, was killed on the steps of the Hotel de Ville. Danton, who had not slept, but had lain down in Desmoulin’s flat till midnight, had been to the Hotel de Ville since two in the morning, and he took before posterity—in his trial—the responsibility of Mandat’s death. He did more. He acted during the short night (a night of cairn and great beauty, dark and with stars) as the organiser and chief of the insurrection. Especially he appoints Santerre to lead the National Guard. On these rapid determinations the morning broke, and the first hours of the misty day passed in gathering the forces.


Meanwhile all morning the King had waited anxiously in the Tuilleries gardens, and asked Roederer, like a king in comic opera, “when the revolt would begin.”


All night the tocsin had sounded, but the people were slow to gather—“le tocsin ne rend pas”—and it was not till the insurrectionary commune had done its work that a great mob, partly armed, and in no way disciplined, came into the Carrousel.


Westermann (riding, as was Santerre) came up to parley with the Swiss Guard; he asked them in German (which was his native tongue, for he was an Alsatian) to leave the Tuilleries, and promised that if the guard retired and left the palace un-garrisoned the people would also retire. The Swiss—the only real soldiers in Paris—replied that they were under orders, and when Westermann retired to the crowd they opened fire.


Antoinette had said, “Nail me to the Palace,” and even Louis, timid and uncertain, thought that the chances were in his favour. Let only this day succeed, and the city could be kept quiet till the allies should arrive; that had been the boast in the Royalist journal of August 1st; it was Louis’s hope now.


Had the Carrousel been a little more open, the battle might have ended in favour of the garrison, but the numerous buildings, on the whole, helped the attack, and the Swiss, unable to deploy, fought, almost singly, a very unequal fight. There were no volleys except the first. Rapid individual firing from the doors and windows of the palace, the crowd pressing up through the narrowest space (but at a loss of hundreds of lives), and finally, by the end which gave on the “Grande Galerie” the Tuilleries were forced, the garrison killed, and only a small detachment of the Swiss Guard retreated through the gardens, firing alternate volleys, and saving themselves by an admirable discipline.


But while the issue was still doubtful, Louis and his family had gone slowly through the same gardens to the Riding-school, and had taken refuge with the Assembly. The noise of the fusillade came sharply in at the windows, and the event was still uncertain when the Parliament received the King and promised him protection. The president opened for him a small door at the right of the chair, and the King and Queen and their children watched the meaningless resolutions through a grating as they sat in the little dark box that gave them refuge. The debate, I say, lacked meaning, but the battle grew full of meaning as they heard it. The shots were less frequent, the noise of the mob—the roar—was suddenly muffled in the walls of the palace. The crowd had entered it. Then came the few sharp volleys of the retreating guard right under the windows of the Manège, and finally the firing ceased, and the Assembly knew that their oath was of no value, and that the Tuilleries had fallen. Louis also knew it, eating his grotesque roast chicken in the silent and hidden place that was the first of his prisons. He saw in the bright light of the hall many of the faces that were to be the rulers of France, but for himself, in his silence, he felt all power to be gone. He had become a Capet—there was truth in the Republican formula. There had been played—though few have said it, it should be said—a very fine game. The stakes were high and the Court party dared them. They played to win all that the Kings had possessed, and for this great stake they risked a few foolish titles without power. The game was even; it was worth playing, and they had lost. But the man who had been their puppet and their figure-head hardly knew what had happened. Perhaps the Queen alone comprehended, and from that moment found the proud silence and the glance that has dignified her end. In her the legend of the lilies had found its last ally, but now the great shield was broken for ever.


So perished the French monarchy. Its dim origins stretched out and lost themselves in Rome; it had already learnt to speak and recognised its own nature when the vaults of the Thermae echoed heavily to the slow footsteps of the Merovingian kings. Look up that vast valley of dead men crowned, and you may see the gigantic figure of Charlemagne, his brows level and his long white beard tangled like an undergrowth, having in his left hand the globe and in his right the hilt of an unconquerable sword. There also are the short, strong horsemen of the Robertian house, half-hidden by their leather shields, and their sons before them growing in vestment and majesty, and taking on the pomp of the Middle Ages; Louis VII., all covered with iron; Philip the Conquerer; Louis IX., who alone is surrounded with light: they stand in a widening interminable procession, this great crowd of kings; they loose their armour, they take their ermine on, they are accompanied by their captains and their marshals; at last, in their attitude and in their magnificence they sum up in themselves the pride and the achievement of the French nation. But time has dissipated what it could not tarnish, and the process of a thousand years has turned these mighty figures into unsubstantial things. You may see them in the grey end of darkness, like a pageant all standing still. You look again, but with the growing light and with the wind that rises before morning they have disappeared.


[1] He received 12,550 votes, the great bulk of the limited suffrage. Forty-nine odd votes were cast for Danton, but he was obviously not candidate (Aulard).


[2] Ami du Peuple, No. 192.


[3] Revolutions de France et Brabant, tom. x. p. 171.


[4] There is a misprint (a very rare thing with this careful historian) in footnote No. 3, p. 231, of M. Aunlard’s article on Danton in the Rev. Française for March 14, 1893. For “November” we should read “September,” for we know that the voting was over on September 16. See Robiquet, Personnel Municipal, p. 373, and the evidence on all sides that a new poll was ordered on September 17 in his Section.


[5] This big building in the island next Notre Dame disappeared in the restorations of Viollet le Duc. It was often used in the revolutionary period for public meetings, and even the Assembly sat there for a few days after entering Paris in October, and while the Riding-School was being prepared for it.


[6] Montieur, Old Series, No. 316 (1790).


[7] M. Aulard says “somewhere between the 10th and the 15th,” and “nous n'avons pas la date precise.” He has probably overlooked L’Ami du Peuple, No. 290, “Le 14 de ce mois Danton a été nommé à la place du Sieur Villette.”


[8] Aulard. The other biographers all assume that he did not resign.


[9] Orateur du Peuple, vol. iii. No. 24.


[10] Ibid., vol. vi. No. 27.


[11] The letter will be found in M. Etienne Charavay’s Assemblée Electorate, p. 437.


[12] I quote from M. Aulard, Rev. Française, March 14, 1893.


[13] Note that Lafayette in his Memoirs (vol. iii. p. 64) talks of Danton “at the head of his battalion.” I doubt an error on the part of a soldier whose business it was to know his own command.


[14] e.g. that of the quarter of the Carmelites (ibid.).


[15] Revolutions de France et Brabant, No. 74.


[16] See his Collected Works, vol. xii pp. 264, 265.


[17] M. Aulard points out an error in Condorcet’s own note (xii. p. 267), where it is mentioned as the 12th of July; but the Bouche de Fer of the 10th gives us the above date over these two speeches.


[18] He wrote a funny little letter (among other things) to the Républicain of July 16, describing a “mechanical king,” “who is practically eternal.”


[19] See Socéité des Jacobins, vol. ii. p. 541.


[20] Moniteur, July 16, 1791.


[21] Ami du Peuple, June 22, 1791.


[22] Révolutions de France et de Brabant, No. 82.


[23] This is not a rhetorical exaggeration. It indicates, as will be seen later in the chapter, the very number that finally formed the garrison of the palace—a point not hitherto noticed, and well worth remembering, for it shows how Lafayette’s accusations are half the truth. He had approached Danton, and he had told him many of his plans. Danton had not acceded, but he used the knowledge.


[24] Révolutions de France et de Brabant, No. 82.


[25] Appendix II.


[26] On June 24.


[27] I follow Aulard in this as to the general scheme, and largely as to authorities also.


[28] Aulard is my authority for the fact that the actual text of this second petition disappeared in 1871, when the Hotel de Ville was burnt by the Commune, but that Berchez saw it before that event, and carefully drew up a list of the principal names. Danton is not among them.


[29] The Courrier Français of July 22 asks if “the man in holland trousers and a grey waistcoat was Danton,” but says nothing more.


[30] See the letter published in the Rev. Française, April 1893, p. 325.


[31] Orateur du Peuple, viii. No. 16. Not over-trustworthy.


[32] Possibly later. Beugnot seems to speak as though Danton was still in Troyes on at least as late a date as the 6th of August (Mémoires, i. pp. 249-250).


[33] Since writing the above I notice that M. Aulard in the same article quotes a remark of Danton’s in the Electoral Assembly of September 10th. This is taken from the procès verbal of the Assembly, and M. Gharavay communicated it to M. Aulard.


[34] His election was not declared till the 7th, but was known on the 6th.


[35] January 20, 1792.


[36] I see in that phrase all Danton’s attitude upon the war.


[37] There was a minority of seven.


[38] Perhaps as early as the evening of the 28th.


[39] This account is translated from the Moniteur, August 3, 1792.