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The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 13

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Whilst these scenes were going on all around, and the city was menaced every moment by troops, by the raving multitude, and by whole squadrons of thieves and assassins, the electors were busily employed in organising a city-guard. But, previous to entering on this task, it was necessary to establish some sort of municipal authority more definite and valid than that of the electors at large. A requisition was then presented to the provost of trades (prevöt des marchands) to take the head. A number of electors were appointed his assistants. Thus was formed a municipality of sufficient powers. It was then determined that this militia, or guard, should consist of forty-eight thousand men furnished by the districts. They were to wear not the green, but the Parisian cockade, of red and blue. Every man found in arms, and wearing this cockade, without having been enrolled in this body by his district, was to be apprehended, disarmed, and punished. And thus arose the national guard of Paris.

During these proceedings, the national assembly was sitting at Versailles in the utmost agitation. On the morning of the 13th, Mounier had risen and censured the dismissal of the ministers, and had been seconded by Lally-Tollendal, who had pronounced a splendid panegyric on Necker, and recommended an address to the king for his recall. M. de Virieu, a deputy of the noblesse, proposed to confirm by an oath the proceedings of the 17th of June; but Clermont-Tonnerre declared that unnecessary, as the assembly had sworn to establish a constitution, and, he exclaimed, " The constitution we will have, or we will perish!" In the midst of this discussion came the news of the rising of the people of Paris, on the morning of the 13th, and an address was immediately voted to the king, beseeching him to withdraw the foreign troops, and authorise the organisation of the civic guards. The duke de la Rochefoucauld said, the foreign troops in the hands of despotism were most perilous to the people, who were not in any one's hands. The address was sent, and the king returned a curt answer, that Paris was not in a condition to take care of itself. The assembly then assumed a higher tone, asserted that the present counsellors of the king would be responsible for all the calamities which might take place, and deolared itself in permanent session, that is, that it would sit day and night till the crisis was over. It appointed M. de La Fayette vice-president, in the place of the aged bishop of Vienne, who was not capable of so much exertion.

The court itself was not less agitated. It declared that the duke of Orleans had stirred up this erneute, and the fact of his bust having been carried in procession gave a colour to the charge. But the duke himself had hastened to Versailles, and pretended that he had no concern whatever in the business. He was requested to remain in the palace, and having, as they thought, the author of the insurrection under their hands, the court was more at ease. Alarming tidings continued to reach Versailles through the night. The assembly having adjourned for a short time, met again at five in the morning on this the 15th of July. As if raised above all temporary perils, it at once appointed a committee to proceed with the constitution. The members of this committee were Talleyrand, the bishop of Autun; the bishop of Bordeaux, Messrs. Lally-Tollendal, Clermont- Tonnerre, Mounier, Sieyes, Chapelier, and Bergasse. Intelligence more and more alarming continued to arrive. It was rumoured that the king would quit the place the following night, and the assembly would be left to the mercy of the foreign regiments. It was even mentioned what members of it were to be secured. It was said that the princes, the queen, and the duchesse de Polignac were walking in the orangery flattering the officers and soldiers, and causing refreshments to be distributed amongst them. There is little doubt that a grand plan of a coup-d'etat had been arranged. Paris was to be attacked on the ensuing night, that between the 15th and 16th of July, at seven points. The troops had been advanced for the purpose. Paper money had been prepared. The barracks of the Swiss guards had been stored with ammunition, and the governor of the Bastille had furnished them everything that could possibly be spared.

But the court had hesitated too long. The people had taken the start of them, and now came sounds which paralysed the court party with consternation.

The prince de Lambesc was seen galloping up the avenue at Versailles at fullest speed; the roar of cannon came from the side of Paris - the people had attacked the Bastille! A second deputation had been dispatched to the palace entreating the king to withdraw the troops from Paris; no answer had been received, and a third was sent. As it was on its way the answer to the former one came, saying the king had ordered the troops to withdraw from the Champ de Mars; and having heard of the formation of the civic guard, had appointed officers to it. The third deputation held on its way, and the king appeared much agitated, and declared that the orders to the trocps could not have produced the calamities the deputies reported. On receiving this answer the assembly adjourned for a short time, and in the evening the news of the events of the 14th arrived.

On the night of the 13th, numbers of the populace crowded about the Bastille. From that hour there were heard in different parts of Paris cries of " To the Bastille! down with the Bastille! to the Bastille!" The Bastille, the old state prison of Paris, standing near the Faubourg St. Antoine, had long had throughout Europe a horrible name. It fed not been at all the prison of the people, yet they had learnt to detest it as the gloomy instrument of royal despotism. The traditions of this horrible fortress were such as made the flesh creep and the blood run cold. It had been the living tomb of whomsoever had excited the jealousy of the monarchs by their freedom of sentiment, or had offended by their aspiring too boldly in the paths of their passions or desires. The word of an envious courtier, or a revengeful priest, or a haughty mistress, had been able to plunge into its dungeons in a moment the noblest hearts of France age after age. The mysterious story of the man in the iron mask had made the Bastille a word of horror even in the furthest wilds of Siberia. The tale of Latude, plunged into its dungeons at the instance of the king's mistress, madame de Pompadour, who had lain there for five-and-thirty years, who was liberated only by the indefatigable and heroic exertions of another woman, and who was yet living, and had told the awful tale in his memoirs, had caused a universal curse to issue from the hearts of the French people. As the inhabitants of the Faubourg St. Antoine and of the Marais saw its eight ponderous towers daily standing aloft in their view, they cursed it. These towers, six feet thick at their summits, and from thirty to forty feet at their bases, had resisted all the efforts of the great Conde to storm them. These towers rose above dungeons which had heard the groans and maledictions of thousands of sufferers, who never escaped to reveal their miseries. The fortress was surrounded by three courts, with their deep moats crossed by drawbridges. The giant walls of these courts presented solid masses without windows, having only narrow loop-holes in the towers, from which the garrison could fire on any assailant. At the feet of these ponderous walls, deep, as it were, in pits, in profound shadow, and with nothing exposed to view but the inexorable nakedness of the walls, were the promenades of the prisoners, their very senses oppressed by the Titanic solidity around them. The battlements of the towers were cut for the accommodation of cannon, which could sweep the whole Faubourg St. Antoine and the Marais, and whence from behind the solid parapet, the gunners could act in perfect security. On the face of the prison wall was a clock, supported by two figures of captives in chains, reminding the prisoners of their own condition, and recalling to them the creeping slowness of time. Besides the cannon on the towers, it had an arsenal in one of the courts, with cannon loaded with case-sliot. On the towers also were kept six cart-loads of paving-stones, cannon-balls, and masses of iron, to cast down on the heads of assailants.

Such was the place which the people now meditated attacking. The idea was not new. The demand for its destruction appeared in the instructions of the deputies, when first sent to the states-general, and it had been growing. Fortunately for the people, the greater part of the ammunition and balls had been removed to the Swiss barracks, and it contained only a garrison of thirty-two Swiss and eighty-two invalids. The governor, De Launay, has been painted by some historians as a mild and amiable man; but such is not the testimony of the best French historians. He is described as hard, stern, and avaricious. That, besides his pay of sixty thousand livres, he managed to amass yearly as much by his rapine that he supported his household at the cost of the prisoners, had reduced their food, and made a profit on their wine - which, in fact, was but vinegar, and on their few miserable articles of furniture; that the only spot where the prisoners could get a breath of free air and a gleam of sunshine, a small garden on a bastion, he had let to a gardener, and had shut them out of it. "This base and avaricious soul," says Michelet, " had that which sunk its courage: he knew that he was known; the terrible memoirs of Linguet had made De Launay famous throughout Europe. The Bastille was detested, but the governor was detested, too, personally; and when, at length, he heard the terrible cries of the people, he felt that they were as much for him as for the monstrous old dungeon, and his heart sank within him."

And now scarcely was midnight passed on this eventful 14th of July, when the throngs increased rapidly around the Bastille, and the cries grew fiercer, "Down with it!" "Let us storm it!" There were suddenly a number of muskets discharged at the sentinels on the towers. De Launay, with an officer, ascended to the battlements; he heard only the distant hum of the city, and descended again. The populace had run off to the Hospital of Invalides, to seize the thirty thousand muskets there. When they had demanded them the day before, Bezenval had coolly replied that he would write to Versailles about it. Bezsnval had then no fear. He had sent the governor, Sombreuil, a strong detachment of artillery, and he could take any assailing mob in flank, with his regiments of the Ecole - Militaire. But since then he had found that the French troops would not fight against the people; they were actually going off in numbers to join them, and the Germans and Swiss were not numerous enough to engage with the whole excited city, aided by the soldiery. At five o'clock in the morning a man entered, pale and agitated, bidding him in God's name, to make no resistance; the barriers were all burst, the people were coming for the arms, and to endeavour to prevent them would only cause torrents of unavailing blood to flow. Before nine o'clock, twenty thousand men were in front of the Invalides; the city solicitor at their head, the lawyers' clerks of the parliament of Paris in the crowd, in their old red robes; several companies of French guards, and the cure of St. Etienne-du-Mont actively marshalling the throng. Sombreuil entreated them to wait till he received his answer from Versailles, but the leader replied they had no time to lose; the crowd rushed in, and carried off twenty-eight thousand muskets and twenty pieces of cannon.

De Launay had made all necessary preparations, charged a dozen long guns on the towers with balls of a pound and a half each, disposed his little force to the best advantage. At an early hour, the committee at the Hotel de Ville dispatched a deputation to him, requesting him to draw back his guns, promising that, if he did not fire, he should not be attacked. But this was promising for a party over which the authorities at the Hotel de Ville had no power. As their deputation quitted the Bastille, a very different kind of man entered. This was Thuriot, a deputy of the district of St. Louis de le Culture. Thuriot was a man violent, audacious, destitute of human respect, unconscious of fear or pity. He was the very genius of this fiery revolution.

Twice we find him starting forth on its bloody career: once to condemn the Bastille, once to denounce Robespierre; and each time with mortal effect. Thuriot would admit of no refusal. He entered, and told De Launay that he came to summon the Bastille to surrender in the name of the people and of France. De Launay appeared confused, even terrified. He told Thuriot that he had hauled back the guns, as he had been desired; but Thuriot, desirous to spy out the strength or weakness of the place, insisted on entering the prison, and ascending to the towers. Arrived there, Thuriot saw the guns were actually drawn back, and he demanded of the garrison that they should not fire on the people. The invalides readily promised, the Swiss were silent. As they gazed from the battlements, a hundred and forty feet high, what a scene presented itself! The streets, the squares, the garden of the arsenal, all swarming with people, and the population of the Faubourg St. Antoine advancing in one black mass. The governor turned pale. He seized Thuriot by the arm, crying, " What have you done? You abuse the character of a deputy; you have betrayed me!" They stood together on the tower; De Launay had his sentinels at hand, Thuriot appeared in his power; but the immovable man said, " Monsieur, one word more, and I swear that one of us shall go headlong into the fosse!" At that moment, a sentinel approached Thuriot, saying, "For God's sake, monsieur, show yourself. The people are impatient of your delay; they are advancing to attack us." Thuriot looked over the battlements, and the people, observing him, raised a deafening shout.

As Thuriot quitted the Bastille, he said to the garrison, "I shall report at the Hotel de Ville, and the people, I trust, will send a civic guard to keep the Bastille with you." But, whilst he was gone on this errand, the crowd grew first impatient, then furious. They advanced impetuously against the first drawbridge. Two men mounted the roof of the guard-house, and, with axes, cut the chains of tho bridge, which fell down. The mass of assailants rushed forwards towards the second bridge, but were met by a discharge of musketry, which did deadly execution amongst them, and brought them to a stand. The firing proceeded at once from the towers and from the loop-holes below. A number of the assailants fell, whilst only two of the muskets fired by the people during the whole day took effect. One only of the Swiss was killed.

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Pictures for The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 13

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