A Celebration of Women Writers

"Chapter IV." 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.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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MADAME DE Staël had made arrangements to quit Paris on the 2nd of September. She was ready to start when news reached her of the awful scenes being enacted in the city, and of the general excitement. Her friends urged her to postpone her departure, considering it dangerous to any person of her class to be seen driving through Paris at such a time. But this Madame de Staël refused to do, as the safety of a proscribed friend, the Abbé de Montesquiou, depended upon her movements. It had been arranged between them that he should meet her at a certain point of the route and be taken, disguised as one of her servants, across the frontier.

"My passports being all duly signed and in perfect order," she writes, "I considered my best plan of action would be to travel (in ambassadorial state) in my berline, drawn by six horses and attended by my servants in full livery. The people on seeing all this pomp would understand, [Page 27]  I thought, that I was authorised to leave Paris, and would suffer me to pass unmolested. I made a woeful mistake. Hardly had my carriage advanced four paces amid the cracking of my postillions' whips when a swarm of old hags, sorties de l'enfer, threw themselves upon my horses crying out that I was carrying off the nation's money, that I was going to join the enemy, and I know not what besides. Their cries attracted a crowd around me. My postillions were seized by fierce-looking men, and were commanded to drive me to the Assembly of my Section - the Faubourg Saint Germain.

"I had just time, whilst actually descending from my carriage, to whisper to a servant of the Abbé de Montesquiou that he must go at once to his master and acquaint him with what had happened.

"I then entered the Assembly . . . . A man who called himself the President, declared that I had been denounced for attempting to rescue proscribed persons, and that, in consequence, all my servants must be examined. This done he found that one of them was missing. (It was the servant whom I had just despatched to the Abbé.) Upon making this discovery he declared that I must be conducted by a gendarme to the Hôtel de Ville. Nothing could be more alarming than such an order. I knew that it would be necessary to drive through half Paris to get there and to leave my carriage [Page 28]  in the Place de Grève in front of the Hôtel de Ville, on the steps of which building several persons had been massacred on the 10th of August.

"My passage from the Faubourg Saint Germain to the Hôtel de Ville took three hours. I was conducted at a foot pace through a great concourse of people, whose threats and execrations pursued me the whole length of my route. Their insults were not levelled at me personally; but a grand equipage and gilded liveries represented to them the aristocrats whom they longed to exterminate . . . . I spoke to the gendarmes, who walked by my carriage, urging them to defend me, but they replied only by contemptuous or threatening gestures; the gendarme, however, who rode with me in the carriage, unlike his comrades, was touched by my situation[1] and promised to defend me at the risk of his life. The most dangerous moment of all would be the arrival at the Place de Grève, but I nerved myself beforehand for this ordeal.

"When I descended from my carriage I found myself in the midst of an armed multitude, and had to walk under an avenue of crossed pikes. As I mounted the long flight of steps, which bristled on either side with lances, a man made a thrust at me with his weapon, but the blow was parried by my friendly gendarme. Had I fallen

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[Page 29]  at that moment I should certainly have lost my life . . . . Finally I reached the hall of the Commune where Robespierre was presiding, and I breathed more freely because I had escaped the fury of the populace. But what a strange protector was Robespierre! Collot d'Herbois and Billaud Varennes acted as his secretaries . . . . The hall was full of people - men, women, and children - who were shouting at the top of their voices 'Vive la nation!'"

Madame de Staël was placed next to the Committee on a sort of platform. "I rose," she continues, "and claimed my right to leave Paris at my own free will in my capacity of wife of the Swedish Ambassador, and I pointed out (to the President) that this right had been duly recognised in my passports. At that moment Manuel entered the hall. He was greatly surprised to find me in such a position, and declared that he would himself be responsible for my person until the Commune had come to a decision respecting my fate. Then, taking me out of the terrible assembly, he placed me, together with my waiting-woman, in his own private study and locked us in. There we remained awaiting his return for six hours, exhausted with hunger, thirst, and fear. The window of the apartment looked on to the Place de Grève, and we could see the assassins as they returned from the prisons, their bare arms [Page 30]  covered with blood, and could hear their horrible shouts.

"My carriage with all its luggage had remained standing in the centre of the 'Place'; the mob were just preparing to pillage it when I noticed a tall man, clad in the uniform of the National Guard, mount the box, and heard him command the people to touch nothing. For two hours he defended my property, and I was unable to conceive why he should take an interest in so small a matter amid the horrors which surrounded us. That evening this man entered the room in which I was confined, accompanied by Manuel, and proved to be the brewer Santerre, who, later on, became so painfully notorious. It appeared that he had been present many times at the distribution of corn sent by my father to the Faubourg Saint Antoine in times of distress, and had even been one of the distributors himself, as he lived in that quarter. He was still animated by feelings of gratitude to my father . . . . As soon as Manuel saw me, he exclaimed with emotion, 'How thankful I am that I set your two friends at liberty yesterday!' In truth he was suffering bitterly under the wholesale assassination now going forward, and which he was powerless to prevent. Indeed, behind the steps of each man who acquired authority an abyss was opening, into which, if he attempted to draw back, he instantly fell. [Page 31] 

"When darkness set in Manuel took me home in his own carriage. We were stopped frequently on the way, but on my companion declaring that he was the 'Procureur' of the Commune, he was respectfully saluted and allowed to proceed. On arriving at my house Manuel informed me that a new passport was to be made out, that I should be allowed to take no one with me excepting my maid, and that a gendarme would conduct me as far as the frontier.

"The next day Tallien[1] came to me, charged by the Commune to accompany me as far as the barrier. When he entered my salon several proscribed persons were with me. I begged him not to denounce them and he gave me his word he would not do so, a promise which he kept.

"I had some difficulties to encounter in the outskirts of Paris, but as I passed further and further from the city the waves of the great storm seemed to have spent themselves, and when I, at last, reached the mountains of the Jura not a sight nor a sound recalled the awful turmoil of which Paris was the theatre."

But we must return to the turmoil to complete the story of the escape of Malouet whom, the reader will remember, was last heard of as living in concealment first in one part of Paris and then [Page 32]  in another. He was unusually tall of stature, and this fact made it difficult to obtain a false passport describing a man of similar dimensions.

Malouet writes, "One day a tall young man came to the house of my sister-in-law. 'Madame,' he said, 'I am in search of M. Malouet, but it is in order to save him. I am the son of M. de Boyne, late Minister of Marine. I have full credit in my Section and journey to and from my house at Neuilly every day carrying with me a free pass. I have brought this pass for M. Malouet. When he is once outside Paris we will procure him another.' I was brought face to face with this young man whom I embraced with emotion. He gave me his papers and instructed me how to proceed.

" . . . On arriving at the barrier of La Conférance the guard at once arrested me, in spite of my free pass, and led me before the Committee of the Section of Roule, who were then holding a meeting. Here I called to mind Milton's description of an assembly in the infernal regions, for nothing could be more hideous than the scene before me. A hundred or more persons, some arrested and denounced, others accusing them, were huddled together round a long table covered with green baize, upon which lay piles of swords and daggers. Twenty 'patriots,' with their shirt sleeves rolled back, some holding [Page 33]  pistols and others holding pens in their hands formed the Committee. They were all speaking at once, hurling abuse or threats at each other and calling out the words "traitor, conspirator, to prison, to the guillotine!" The excited spectators, screaming and gesticulating, seemed ready to fly at each other's throats.

"My entrance was the signal for a general mélée, in the midst of which, however, I was able to effect my escape; and this through the mercy of the President, who was an honest man though surrounded by wild beasts. One of the most vehement of the assembly, brandishing his sword to strike an antagonist, paused on seeing me, and exclaimed, 'There's Malouet!' But his opponent seized this moment of inaction to fell him to the ground. Seeing my denouncer thus laid low, the President quickly signed my passport and whispered to me, 'Citizen, fly!' I needed no second injunction to do this, but slipped out of the hall and down the stairs.

"That same evening I reached Gennevilliers and was hospitably received by my friend Madame Coutard - a lady distinguished by rare goodness and generosity. She lived quietly in the country under the protection of her own cook, who was an ardent Jacobin, but who, nevertheless, adored his mistress. This man, who was a member of the Council of his Section and in league with [Page 34]  assassins was pitiless to aristocrats in general, but he made exception in favour of Madame Coutard and also of her friends, whose persons were sacred in his eyes. Thus her house became a sure refuge, and the good lady was sheltering at this very time three nuns from Meaux and two priests of her own parish as well as myself."

On the third day after Malouet's arrival, the cook appeared in the salon to warn the company to retire to their several apartments as he was about to receive a visit, in that very room, from a friend of his - a member of the Commune of Paris and one of the Commissaires of the prisons. "Madame Coutard and I," writes Malouet, "retired to a small parlour with a door opening into the salon; I therefore overheard the whole conversation of the two friends.

"The Commissaire, it appeared, was himself one of the judges who had presided over the massacres in the prison of the Abbaye. He described to his friend the various reasons which had moved the judges to order this prisoner to be slaughtered and that one to be spared . . . . The man seemed to have felt some twinges of conscience, for he spoke indignantly, at any rate, of the men employed to perpetrate the massacres. They belonged, he said, to the class of common labourers and street porters. Arms had been given to each one and a daily allowance of [Page 35]  six livres. He, as the Municipal Commissaire, had been charged with the giving out of these wages, and he confessed to his friend that he had shuddered to hear many of these men demand double or treble payment as a reward for having slaughtered a larger number of victims than had fallen to the share of their comrades."

After remaining a few days with Madame Coutard, Malouet was enabled to proceed on his journey. At Amiens he could count upon assistance, since a friend and former colleague in the Constituent Assembly - a M. Le Roux - was at the head of its Municipal Council. "This friend had been told," writes Malouet, "that I was massacred in the 'Abbaye.' When he beheld me he embraced me with tears of joy." M. Le Roux provided the fugitive with fresh passports and carefully concealed his identity from the other members of the Council, all of whom he said were in league with the Commune of Paris.

Having encountered some further difficulties, both at Arras and Boulogne, Malouet at last found himself safely on board a packet bound for Dover. "When the vessel had fairly set sail," he writes, "and all fear of Municipal visits and arrests were over, I noticed some persons creeping out of berths where they had lain concealed beneath mattresses, and I recognised the Bishop of Coutance, M. de Monciel, and the ex-Minister, [Page 36]  M. La Tour-du-Pin . . . . On landing at Dover I blessed the hospitable shores of England - a country in which true liberty reigns. My first feelings were those of unbounded joy, but they were quickly succeeded by the sad recollection of all the sorrow and suffering that lay behind me in my own country."

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1 Madame de Staël was at that time in delicate health.

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1 The same man who later on delivered France from Robespierre.


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom