"Chapter III." 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.
THE BURSTING OF A STORM
BEFORE morning had dawned on August 10, the city of Paris, as we know, was in an uproar. The tocsin was clanging, and a wild mob, led by the Marseillais, was on its way to attack the Tuileries.
The palace, however, was prepared for such an attack, being well guarded both within and without by troops devoted to the royal cause. In the first assault the Swiss Guards were victorious; they routed the mob, who fled panic-stricken in all directions.
"At that moment," says Madame de Staël, "the King should have placed himself at the head of his troops, and led them boldly against his enemies. The Queen herself was of this opinion, and the courageous advice she gave her husband at this crisis does her honour and should be remembered by posterity." "Had he acted in this way," says a Girondist writer, "the great majority of the battalions of Paris would at once have declared for him, and victory for the monarchy must have been the result." [Page 16]
But Louis, who had always condemned the conduct of Charles I. in making war upon his subjects, could not, at this juncture, bring himself to follow Charles's example. Rather than defend his cause by force of arms, he chose the alternative of applying to the Assembly (now governed by the Jacobins) for its protection. Presenting himself in their midst he exclaimed, "I am come here to prevent the commission of a great crime." "He did not consider," says a well-known historian, "that in thus surrendering his person, he surrendered the State; and in resigning himself like a sheep to the slaughter, he was conducting all honest men to the same fate."
Malouet and his friends were now in the utmost peril. The first to suffer was the good Duc de Clermont-Tonnerre, who was murdered during the night of the 10th August. On the same night, whilst the assassins were actually searching for Malouet to put him to death also, a warning note reached him from the Duke's widow who, in the midst of her anguish, wrote, "Your friend and colleague is dead; he has been assassinated. France is no place for honest men - fly."
Malouet took refuge, he tells us, first in one place, then in another, his heart filled with grief for the misery inflicted on all his associates and for the treacherous imprisonment of the King and the Royal family.
Before long the "domiciliary visits" had commenced. On a certain fixed day the inhabitants of Paris, having been ordered to remain in their houses, the streets were occupied by soldiers, and the passage of the Seine guarded by armed boats. These preparations completed, a great band of armed Jacobins and Sans-culottes were let loose upon the city. They burst into every house suspected of harbouring proscribed persons, and seized all whom they could lay hands on. Men and women were thrown into prison by hundreds, and within a few days these wretched people were exterminated by the awful massacres instituted by Danton.
It was on the eve of these massacres that Malouet lay concealed in a house in the Place de l'Odéon occupied by his sister-in-law, Madame Behotte. Her landlord, who was commissaire of his section, and therefore respected by the common people, had offered to do all in his power to protect the fugitive.
"At midnight," writes Malouet, "we heard loud knocking at the hall door. The door opened and in an instant a troop of men rushed up-stairs and entered the room occupied by myself and my sister-in-law. Madame Behotte had fainted and was lying upon a sofa, whilst I leaning over her was giving her water and smelling-salts. Of the ten men who composed the search-party, two [Page 18] only knew me - our commissaire and a friendly upholsterer - the others took me for a doctor, called in to attend the sick lady. Seeing their mistake, I sustained my part with coolness. I begged the men to visit the adjoining rooms as quickly as possible, and not to return to the salon on account of the invalid. Touched by the sight of a fainting lady of an attractive countenance, they quitted the room at once, leaving me by her side. The men then proceeded to search for me in every part of the house, looking under the mattresses of the beds and into all kinds of places, whilst the honest commissaire and the good upholsterer, pale and frightened to death lest I should be discovered, kept my secret."
Thus the immediate danger was averted.
In the meantime Madame de Staël was doing all in her power to rescue such of her friends as were proscribed.
Her house, the Hotel de Suède, stood in the Rue du Bac at the corner of the Rue Grenelle. Monsieur de Staël, the Swedish Ambassador, was at that time absent from Paris, but his wife hoped that his abode would be respected as neutral ground, and not, therefore, subjected to a search. In this hope she had given temporary shelter to several fugitives.
Monsieur de Narbonne (late Minister of War) was concealed in her house when she learnt one [Page 19] morning that his name was placarded at the corner of her street as a traitor. "A few days
later," she writes, "the dreaded domiciliary visit actually took place. Monsieur de Narbonne, [Page 20] having been outlawed, must inevitably perish if discovered, and I was well aware that he would be discovered if the search were made effectually. It was necessary, therefore, at all hazards, to prevent this search from taking place."
When the emissaries of the Commune entered the salon, "I pointed out to them," continues Madame de Staël, "that they were breaking the law in searching the house of a foreign Ambassador; and, as their knowledge of geography was very limited, I made them believe that Sweden lay just beyond the frontiers of France, so that it could menace their country, if insulted, with an immediate attack . . . . I soon perceived that my words had made an impression, and I had the courage, in spite of my inward terror, to rally these men playfully upon their ill-founded suspicions . . . . While talking in this manner I conducted them back to the hall door and saw them out, thanking God in my heart for the extraordinary strength He had given me in such a moment of trial."
Shortly afterwards a certain Dr. Bollman came to the assistance of Madame de Staël. It was the same man who, a few years later, risked his life in attempting to rescue Lafayette from prison. He now proposed to provide Narbonne with a false passport, and generously offered himself to conduct him to England. The two [Page 21] gentlemen left Paris together, and four days later Narbonne was safe in London.
"On the 31st of August," writes Madame de Staël, "I was informed that Monsieur de Jaucourt (member of the Legislative Assembly) and Monsieur de Lally-Tollendal had just been taken to the Abbaye; a prison to which those persons only were sent who were destined to be handed over to the assassins."
Monsieur de Lally was a most eloquent speaker, and he employed all his powers in defending one of his fellow prisoners whose acquittal he finally obtained. Condorcet admired his genius and endeavoured to save him; and Lady Sutherland, wife of the English Ambassador, who took an active part in befriending proscribed persons, also espoused his cause.
Monsieur de Jaucourt had fewer friends in a position to help him, so Madame de Staël set to work herself with a view of obtaining his release.
"I examined," she writes, "a list of members of the Commune of Paris, for it was these men who had now become masters of the city. I knew them only by their terrible reputation, and I sought, at haphazard, for some guidance in the choice of the man to whom I should make my appeal.
"Suddenly I remembered that one of them - [Page 22] Manuel - had dabbled in literature - that he had just published Mirabeau's 'Letters,' with a preface of his own; ill-written, it is true, but which showed his ambition to figure as an author. I considered that a desire for applause might lay him open to my solicitations, and it was therefore to Manuel that I wrote requesting an audience. This he granted me at seven o'clock the next morning - rather a democratic hour, but one which I kept to the minute.
"I arrived before he had risen, and was shown into his study. I observed his own portrait hanging over his bureau, which strengthened my hope that he would be pregnable through his vanity."
There is a small portrait of Manuel, possibly this very picture, at the Musée Carnavalet in Paris, which represents him as a well-dressed, middle-aged man, with a florid, self-satisfied countenance.
"He entered the room," continues Madame de Staël, "and I had my audience. I must do him the justice, however, to say that it was by appealing to his better feelings that I won him to my purpose. I set before him the terrible vicissitudes of popularity of which we were witnessing examples every day. 'Six months hence,' I said, 'you may no longer be in power. Save Monsieur de Lally and Monsieur de Jaucourt; secure for
The day after this interview had taken place, Madame de Staël received a letter from Manuel, informing her that Condorcet had obtained the release of Lally-Tollendal, and that he had, himself, set Jaucourt free.
On the night of September 1, news reached Paris that the Prussian army of invasion had suddenly besieged Verdun, and it was realised that if that town were captured, the road to Paris itself would be thrown open to the enemy.
This news threw the populace into a state of excitement bordering almost on frenzy, and a cry arose from the violent party accusing all who were not of their number of being in league with the foreign invader. Revenge and extermination were demanded. That night the sound of the tocsin was again heard, mingling with the booming of cannon. Danton appeared before the Assembly and announced that these sounds were a call to arms, and that to vanquish their enemies all they needed was "de l'audace, encore de l'audace et toujours de l'audace!"
The massacres in the prisons at once began.
Montmorin had been arrested and was confined [Page 24] in the Abbaye. A band of assassins, armed and subsidised by the Commune, demanded entrance at this, as at the other prisons. The terrified gaolers dared not refuse to give up the keys. The band entered, and a mock trial was held before a ruffian named Maillard.
When Montmorin was dragged before this prison tribunal he calmly protested against the illegality of their proceedings. One of Maillard's underlings exclaimed, "Monsieur le President, the crimes of Montmorin are well known, let him be sent to La Force to be judged." "Yes, yes, to La Force," cried all the judges at once.
"A La Force" was a phrase they had invented to serve as a death-signal. Unaware of this, Montmorin asked for a carriage to convey him to "La Force," and was told that he would find one in the courtyard. He turned to leave, but was met by a body of assassins, who stabbed him to death.
These appalling massacres continued for more than three days and three nights, till the number of the slain amounted to 1300. The courtyards of the prisons - nay, the very roads outside their walls - were soaked in blood. Malouet, who was in hiding in the neighbourhood, tells us that, venturing to take the air on the evening of September 2, he chanced to pass beneath the walls of the Abbaye. He heard, to his horror,
Onze Soldats aux Gardes Francaises, prisonniers dans l'Abbaye St. Germain, pour fait d'insubordination, avant fait annoncer au Palais Roi que la cause de leur détention était le refus qu'ils avaient fait à Versailles de tourner leurs armes contre les Citoyens, une foule d'Ouvriers conduits par d'honnêtes Particuliers, se porta sur le champ à la Prison de l'Abbaye, les portes furent entoncées, et tous les Prisonniers délivrés.
PRISON DE L'ABBAYE
[Page 25] the cries of the victims, and, before regaining his place of shelter, had actually to cross a stream of blood!
Strange to say, in the very midst of these atrocities, occasional instances are recorded of humanity amongst the very assassins themselves. If, by chance, a prisoner were acquitted they embraced him with tears of joy, and, for the time being, seemed thankful to lay aside their awful trade, although in a few minutes they were ready to resume it.
In the meanwhile, Danton and his associates sat in council directing this carnage, and bestowing a payment of six francs a day upon the assassins for their services. "Paris," says an eye-witness, "remained mute and motionless . . . . It seemed as if some secret power - some irresistible influence - had pinioned the arms of her citizens and benumbed their energies."
1 Before six months had elapsed Manuel had perished on the scaffold.
This chapter has been put on-line as part of the
BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.