"Chapter II." by Constance Hill
From: Juniper Hall: A Rendevous of Certain Illustrious Personages during the French Revolution Including Alexandre D'Arblay and Fanny Burney by Constance Hill. London & New York: John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1904.
A KING AND HIS PEOPLE
ON the 14th of July, 1792, the Fête of the Federation, together with the third anniversary of the taking of the Bastille, was to be celebrated in Paris. A great concourse of people had arrived from all parts of the kingdom, and were assembled in the Champ de Mars.
Madame de Staël, who was an eye-witness of the proceedings, tells us that "the throng of armed men looked as if they had met together for a riot rather than a fête." They had little fear of being controlled by the civic authorities, since Péthion, Mayor of Paris, was their ally and favourite, and to do him honour the Marseillais were "seen wearing, in their ragged caps" the motto of " Péthion ou la mort." They marched in triumph past the low platform upon which the King and the royal family were stationed, shouting "Vive Péthion!" A feeble cry in the midst of the uproar was heard of "Vive le Roi!" "The words sounded like a last farewell, or as a parting benediction." [Page 6]
"The Queen's face," continues Madame de Staël, "wore an expression which will never be effaced from my memory. Her eyes were full of tears. The splendour of her attire and the dignity of her bearing contrasted strangely with the wild appearance of the people around her, from whom she was separated only by a few soldiers of the National Guard.
"The King had to leave the royal daïs and to proceed on foot to an altar erected at the further end of the Champ de Mars, where, for a second time, his oath to maintain the constitution was to be taken. His countenance and his whole bearing, as he walked, were impressive. On other occasions one might have wished him to assume a more lofty dignity of demeanour, but, at this moment, to remain perfectly simple and natural was sublime. I watched his powdered head as it moved through the mass of surrounding black heads, while his coat, gilt and embroidered as in former days, was conspicuous among the costumes of the common people that pressed around him. When he mounted the steps of the altar it seemed to me that we were looking upon a saintly victim who was offering himself as a voluntary sacrifice."
"The Queen, with the Dauphin close beside her," writes another eye-witness, "stood motionless on the platform, following the King's proceedings [Page 7] through a field-glass, whilst the ruffians around her were shouting vehemently, 'À bas l'Autrichienne! à bas Monsieur et Madame Veto!' There was one moment of intense anxiety. As the King was ascending the steps his foot slipped so that he nearly fell, and, until his head was again visible above the crowd, it was fully believed that he had been struck down."
"When he had taken the oath," continues Madame de Staël, "the King descended the steps, and, passing again through the disorderly ranks of the armed men, returned to the daïs and seated himself between his wife and children. After that day his people saw him no more until he stood before them on the scaffold."
It was during this same month of July that Malouet received a letter from Madame de Staël begging him to come to her house upon a matter of importance. "I went," he tells us in his Memoirs, "and found her much agitated. 'The King and Queen are lost,' she exclaimed, 'unless they can be rescued at once, and I offer myself as their rescuer. Yes, myself, though they look upon me as their enemy I would risk my life to save them. Listen to me,' she continued, 'they have confidence in you. This is my plan.'
"'There is an estate to be sold near to Dieppe. I will purchase this estate and I will take with [Page 8] me, in my journeys between Paris and Dieppe, a man who has a face and figure not unlike the King's - I can count absolutely on his fidelity - I will also take a woman of the age and general appearance of the Queen, and I will take my own little son, who is of the same age as the Dauphin. When people have noticed my travelling twice with these attendants it will be easy for me, the third time, to take the royal family in their stead. Madame Elizabeth can represent my second waiting-woman. There is no time to lose. If you can undertake to lay my proposal before the King, you must bring me his answer this very night, or to-morrow morning.'"
"This project," continues Malouet, "appeared to me to be an excellent one, as excellent indeed as the feelings which had prompted it. I went immediately (to the Tuileries) in search of Monsieur de la Porte, told him all that I had just heard, and arranged that he should bring me, by a secret staircase, into the King's presence.
"I waited in a small room while Monsieur de la Porte went forward to announce my arrival. After the lapse of half an hour I saw him descending the stairs with a sorrowful countenance. The King and Queen, fearing that I might press them to accept Madame de Staël's proposal, did not even wish to see me. He said they were determined to accept of no service from Madame de [Page 9] Staël, though thanking her for her generous offer. They had good reasons, they declared, for desiring to remain in Paris, and also for believing that no imminent danger was to be feared. Monsieur de la Porte then told me, in confidence, that they were carrying on negotiations with the leading Jacobins."
Deeply concerned at receiving this intelligence, Malouet endeavoured to convince his friend of the folly of such a course, and pointed out to him the fact that the Jacobins were doing all in their power, at that very time, to bring about the deposition of the King. He then proceeded to disclose another plan of escape. This plan, which had been carefully thought out and matured by himself, Montmorin and the Duc de Liancourt, was to get the King, and his family to Rouen, where a yacht was then in readiness to carry them to Havre or, if necessary, to England. Liancourt was Governor-General and Commandant of Normandy, and was stationed at Rouen, where he had four regiments under his command. He had, before this, generously offered to place almost his whole fortune at the King's service. This scheme seemed likely to be successful, as Normandy was well disposed towards the royal cause.
It was therefore arranged between Malouet and Monsieur de la Porte, that Malouet should [Page 10] write a letter to the King, giving him a detailed account of the Rouen scheme, and giving him at the same time positive proofs of the dangers of his present situation. Monsieur de la Porte undertook to deliver the letter himself. Communication by letter was considered safest, as personal intercourse with the King was becoming more and more difficult because the Tuileries was full of Jacobin spies, who were denouncing Malouet, Montmorin, and their friends as the "Comité Autrichien."
"My letter," writes Malouet, "was placed by Monsieur de la Porte in the King's hands after he had dined, and when he was seated with the Queen and the Princess Elizabeth in the Queen's parlour. The King read it without uttering a word, but he walked up and down the room in a hurried manner, showing great agitation of mind. The Queen inquired from whom the letter had come. His Majesty replied, 'It is from Monsieur Malouet. I do not read it to you, because it would give you pain. He is devoted to us; but there is exaggeration in his alarms and but little security in his plan of escape. We shall see how matters go. There is no need, as yet, for me to take a hazardous step. The affair of Varennes is a warning.'
"The Queen and Madame Elizabeth made no [Page 11] answer, and the general silence and embarrassment continuing, Monsieur de la Porte felt bound to retire. When he related to me and to Monsieur de Montmorin what had passed the latter exclaimed, 'We must take our own course now, or we shall all be massacred, and that before long.'
"At two o'clock the following morning, the Baron de Gilliers entered my bed-chamber in a state of consternation. He was the confidential friend of Madame Elizabeth, and this Princess had sent for him at midnight and said to him: 'We are in ignorance, both the Queen and I, of what Monsieur Malouet has written to the King, but the King is so moved, so agitated that we want to know the purport of his letter. Go to Monsieur Malouet and beg him on my behalf to confide the matter to you, or to send me the draft, or at least a memorandum, of its contents.' I gave Monsieur de Gilliers the draft of my letter, and he carried it to the Princess Elizabeth. When she had read it she remarked, 'He is right; I think as he does. I should prefer his plan to all others, but we are bound to another course. We must wait patiently. God knows what will happen!'"
Malouet continues, "This narrative affects me deeply as I write, and those who will read what I am writing will surely be affected in the same way. The King's ruin was brought about," he [Page 12] adds, "not merely by his indecision, but by a certain unhappy tendency in his character which disposed him to place only half confidence in those he really esteemed, and to give his full confidence to no one."
The Oueen, who was unlike her husband in most respects, resembled him, as Malouet points out, in this sad defect of character. The time had been when she had put her confidence in Malouet himself. When, after the return from Varennes, he presented himself at the Tuileries to do homage to the humiliated King and Queen, Marie Antoinette turned to the Dauphin and said,
"My son, do you know this gentleman?"
"No, my mother," replied the child.
"It is Monsieur Malouet," she said; "never forget his name."
But now she had her agents whom she but half trusted, and who were continually changed. Sometimes it was with a member of the Girondist party that she was in secret correspondence; now, turning to the Jacobins for help, it was with Danton himself that she was holding private communication.
Bertrand de Moleville, in his Memoirs, tells us that he also urged the King to adopt the Rouen scheme, but without success. Marie Antoinette, he says, opposed it because, unhappily, she was
[Page 13] prejudiced against the Duc de Liancourt and therefore mistrusted his loyalty.
Undaunted by repeated failure, Malouet and his friends continued to work in the King's cause. He tells us that he, Montmorin and Malesherbes, together with Lally-Tollendal, Gouverneur Morris, Monsieur de Clermont-Tonnerre, Bertrand de Moleville and others of their party conferred frequently together to arrange the details of some plan of escape that the King might consent to adopt. Or to induce him to do what was still better - namely - to take vigorous measures even at this eleventh hour to quell revolt. But Louis rejected all their schemes, for he still trusted in the delusive promises of the Jacobins, and therefore refused alike to quit Paris or to resort to measures of defence.
On August 7 the friends met together for the last time. They now knew that the great rising, to take place on the 10th was completely organised, and were determined to make a final effort to save the King and his family.
Malouet describes the friends as gathered together in the garden of Montmorin's house, towards the evening of August 7, "sadly communing with each other over the horrible situation." Malesherbes proposed, as a means of averting assassination, that the King should [Page 14] go to the Assembly, demand its protection, and request that a council of regency might be appointed to take the direction of affairs until law and order could be restored. He had hardly finished speaking when a messenger arrived, in all haste, from the Tuileries with a packet, sent by the King to Monsieur de Montmorin. It contained letters from Guadet and Vergniaud (the Girondists), making the very same proposal.
Monsieur de Montmorin, in his reply to the King, spoke of "the humiliation of adopting such a course," but said if the King could not bring himself to agree to any plan of either flight or defence, he feared this last "despairing step" must be taken.
The friends left Montmorin at a late hour. "On separating," writes Malouet, "we bid each other a last farewell."
1 Joseph Weber, a foster-brother of Marie Antoinette.
1 This estate, called Lamotte, bordered the sea-coast.
1 Late Minister of Foreign Affairs.
1 Late Minister of Marine.
1 American Ambassador.
This chapter has been put on-line as part of the
BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.