“Reality seen through a prism”
A LIGHT IN THE GLOOM; OR, THE POLITICS OF THE PAST.
AN OLD MAN’S TALE
Eldest of things, divine Equality!
Wisdom and Love are but the slaves of thee,
The Angels of thy sway, who pour around thee
Treasures from all the cells of human thought,
And from the Stars, and from the Ocean brought,
And the last living heart whose beatings bound thee:
The powerful and the wise had sought
Thy coming, thou in light descending
O’er the wide land which is thine own
Like the Spring whose breath is blending
All blasts of fragrance into one,
Comest upon the paths of men!—
Earth bares her general bosom to thy ken,
And all her children here in glory meet
To feed upon thy smiles, and clasp thy sacred feet.
O Spirit vast and deep as Night and Heaven!
Mother and soul of all to which is given
The light of life, the loveliness of being,
Lo! thou dost re-ascend the human heart,
Thy throne of power, almighty as thou wert
In dreams of Poets old grown pale by seeing
The shade of thee;—now, millions start
To feel thy lightnings through them burning:
Nature, or God, or Love, or Pleasure,
Or Sympathy the sad tears turning
To mutual smiles, a drainless treasure,
Descends amidst us;—Scorn and Hate,
Revenge and Selfishness are desolate—
A hundred nations swear that there shall be
Pity and Peace and Love, among the good and free!
[The writer has transposed these two verses.]
After an illness of many weeks, I again resume my narrative. Though weakened in body, my mind still dwells upon performing this task, so long interrupted, yet so dearly cherished. My soul seems to shrink from annihilation, and longs to leave at least this memorial to connect me, however feebly, with the past. What tidings is this, my children, you have just brought me? Can it be true that my aged years are again gladdened with the news that France is revolutionised—that the children of the dead giants have in 1848 emulated their sires of 1792,—that the Republic, one and indivisible, is again emplazoned on Liberty’s flag, to the terror of the tyrants of Europe? Thrice have I seen Liberty in the ascendant in France. Oh! that I might see it triumphant in Britain,—then should I close my eyes in happy slumber. Liberty! Equality! and Fraternity! how sweetly the syllables glide off the tongue. How harmoniously they sound on the awakened ear, each a spirit of glorious music—united, a heavenly chorus. Liberty! oh, what melody there is in the word!—melody sweeter by far than the singing of birds in the dripping blossoms of an apple bough when all nature has been refreshed by the summer shower. Melody, did I say? That is, indeed, a high and tender theme, flowing softly over the strings of the heart, when every pulse beats in unison. But Liberty is more than melody: it is the deepest, grandest harmony; it is the glad voices of assembled millions; it is the glorious pulse-beating of an enraptured and enfranchised universe! Equality! the feeling grows and gathers on me as I pronounce and ponder on the word; it is the first, the primeval music which gave a soul to the world! It widens and spreads until it includes the mighty whole; it is the strong flow of a thousand rivers into the vast ocean; it is absorbed into that which receives it; it is gathered into that which gave it birth! Fraternity! softer and more pleasant than the cooing of the wood-d0ove when the whole forest is redolent with song; it swells and swells upon the bursting soul; it mounts and mounts unto the gates of heaven, and all the stars sing glad hosannahs, for Peace and Goodwill are again installed in the human heart, their native dwelling-place! My trembling nerves can scarce record the raptures of my heart. I have awakened from the dreams of death to a glorious life! May treachery never blight this glowing prospect,—may that which hath put forth its blossoms so auspiciously never be destined to die of canker in its bud! The storms of Europe will shake it not: its only danger is from the larvae of insects that breed and fatten on its bloom. But away with dismal anticipations. May this glorious trinity in unity become the Religion of regenerated Europe,—may every man become its priest, every woman its vestal, and every child its worshipper! This event but heightens my desire that the brief part I have played in this mighty struggle should not be lost to you, my children. Who knows what events even a few hours may bring forth. The Revolution of 1830 gave England the Reform Bill. What may we not anticipate from the Revolution of 1848? May we take advantage of these teeming events,—may no disunion among the people or cowardice among the leaders step between them and the power that would seem to be within their grasp.
I will not encumber my tale with the details of my proceedings in France any further than is necessary to connect them with my future career. We presented our Address to the Convention on the second day of its sitting: it was accepted in the true spirit of enthusiasm, and we received a fraternal embrace from Petion, the President. We also delivered the Address entrusted to us to the Jacobin Society, and were equally well received. Tallien presided. Couthon, one of the Deputies for paris, delivered a reply to our Address, which, for eloquence, was equal to anything of that description I had yet heard in France. When he commenced, seeing the tribune which was in the centre of the hall unoccupied, I turned my head in amazement, and discovered the orator in the gallery. Couthon is about thirty-five years old, and is possessed of great abilities; but unfortunately, by an attack of paralysis, has completely lost the use of his lower limbs. He is compelled to be drawn to the Convention or Jacobins in a chair, and is then carried to his seat. He is the only member at either place who is allowed to speak without mounting the tribune, which is a raised seat like a pulpit. Never did I see a countenance so beautiful as that of Couthon; the sweetest smiles played round his fine lips; an inexpressible aspect of kindness, with a shade of sorrow or resignation, tempered the light of his fine eyes, and stole into your heart with a force irresistible; whilst his silver, flute-like voice, pouring forth a strain of fervid eloquence, completed the charm of this strange man, who, sitting in his seat, occasionally fondled a little spaniel which he carried in his bosom, and which always accompanied him to the Convention or elsewhere. The angelic features and voice of Couthon appeared to me to be still more soft and pleasing when seen in contrast with those of his colleagues, for Nature has been unkind to most of the Parisian Deputies. He now sat beside Danton, and I could not help thinking of Lucifer before and after his fall. Couthon, according to the Girondists, is a giant in crime,—a complete reveller in blood. I cannot, I will not believe it. Yet strange as it is, that many of the most violent and most compromised of the Mountain, in the late massacre of the prisoners, are distinguished for their love of birds and animals. Chaumette had an aviary, to which he devoted his leisure; Fournier carried on his shoulders a pretty little squirrel, attached by a silver chain; Panis delighted in the company of two golden pheasants; and Marat devoted his spare moments to the rearing of doves. The following anecdote is related of Sergent, one of the most relentless of men:—A lady came to implore his protection for one of her relations confined in the Abbaye prison. Sergent refused his aid. On retiring, she trod on the paw of his favourite spaniel. Sergent turned round, and passionately exclaimed, “Madam, have you no humanity?” Strange, says the philosopher, are the vagaries of human nature! Nay, it is not so; these men were naturally kind and benevolent, condemned to struggle in a conflict where death or imprisonment was compelled either to be dealt out or received, self-preservation forced them to be cruel, but the bright feelings of their nature burst out on every opportunity where their own safety, and what many deemed of more consequence, the safety of the republic, was not in danger; and their hours of leisure were spent according to the dictates of their nature, the heart feeling glad of a medium on which to expend its kindness. To this feeling may be attributed deeds of generosity and acts of humanity which drew tears from the eyes of both actors and spectators, performed by the very men who immoolated the prisoners in September, and who, after seeing captives home to their relatives, and shedding tears of congratulation and sympathy with them, returned again to complete their bloody work on those whom they deemed really criminal with greater zest than before! Of such natures as these, the worst or the best of human beings may be formed, according to the times and the circumstances into which they are thrown. On the visit to the Jacobins I saw the celebrated Mademoiselle Theroigne, the only female member of this society, elected for her bravery in the attack upon the Tuileries on the 10th August, where she made herself conspicuous by rallying those that fled, and attacked the guards twice at the head of the Marseillese. She seems to be about thirty-two years old, and somewhat above the middle size; she was dressed in a kind of English riding habit, with a jacket similar to the uniform of the National Guards. Her example and the enthusiasm with which she is everywhere received produced a great in elevating the spirit of the devoted women of this gallant nation. She is a dashing woman, with a fine martial air; in fact, David, as celebrated for his ultrs-democracy as for his inimitable paintings, could find no better model for the representation of the Goddess of War than this heroic female. On this as on every other occasion she was warmly greeted by both the males and females in the gallery, and before the sitting concluded we had the pleasure of an introduction to her. The Jacobins meet in the great hall of the Convent of the Jacobin Monks in the Rue Honore. The name they gave themselves was the “Societie de Amis de la Constitution,” but they are generally called Jacobins. They consist of about 1,400 members in Paris, besides having branches inevery considerable place in the kingdom. A. Lameth and M Dupont were the projectors of the branch societies, which renders this club of such vast importance. The Jacobins have their presidents, secretaries and hall-keepers similar to the Convention, and in interest and attention vie with that body; an example that ought not to be without its effect upon British Reformers; denied any share of representation in St. Stephen’s, they might monopolize the representation of the masses without. It was from the same individuals being members both of the Convention and the Jacobins that the rivalry arose between them which ultimately produced such baneful fruits. Robespierre, Danton, Marat, and Camille Desmoulins possess equal influence with the country through the means of the Jacobins, as Roland, Brisset, Vergniaud, and Condorcet do through the Convention. As no Minister could be a member of the Convention, Danton, who was Minister of Justice, after the 10th of August resigned that office, preferring to be in the Convention; Roland, on the contrary, resigned his seat in the Convention, preferring to remain Minister of the Home Department. They may at this crisis be looked upon as the leaders of the two opposing parties in that Assembly, Robespierre not having at this period much influence in that body. The first cause of open rupture was a motion of Kersaint, a plain speaking man, who had been in the navy. “That the promoters of the assassinations of the prisoners in September should be brought to condign punishment.” In this he was supported by Baissot, Vergniaud, and the whole of the party afterwards called the Girondists, from the majority coming from the department called the Gironde, but then called by Marat in nhis journal “Le Ami de Peuple” Rolandists and Brissottines. Condorcet at this juncture rather leaned to Danton, but with ultimately joined the Girondists. This party openly accused Robespierre, Marat, Panis, Collot de Herbois, Manuel, and others, with being the authors of this measure, and accused Danton, as Minister of Justice, with not having used sufficient energy in suppressing the riots. These were serious charges, and gave rise to that bitter animosity which was never slaked until the whole of the actors fell victims to their insane rivalry. The talented, the gifted Girondists were the first to fall; and many of them, driven by their resentments into treachery, fell justly and without deserving our pity. Danton, Robespierre, and the other leaders of the Mountain (so called from their occupying the highest seats in the Convention Hall) fell no less surely victims to the revenge of the Gironde, and the jealousy of their own compeers. Paine was allied by sympathy and feeling with the Gironde, whilst mine were with the Mountain, so that an estrangement took place between us. In the Convention the Girondists were far more numerous than the Mountain; and the Plain, or those who occupied the centre seats, generally acted with them—Barrere was the leader of the centre party—but to counterbalance this advantage in the Jacobins, the influence of Robespierre, Danton,, and Camille Desmoulins, was daily growing more supreme; there they had only to be heard to be admired and their advice followed. Camille Desmoulins, though yielding to his great friends and political instructors in all matters of importance, was nevertheless the most loved and popular of the trio; the young, gay, witty, and eloquent, equally ready with his sword, his tongue, or his pen, he was a true son of the people—the life and heart of their convivial parties—the connecting link between the intellectual and the sensual—the soul and body of the Mountain party. Alas! he fell by his own perverse generosity, but a nobler soul never bowed beneath the ill-starred bloodshed of these furious times.
[Transcribed from a microfilmed copy of The People’s Paper at The Working Class Movement Library in Salford: https://www.wcml.org.uk/]