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The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 10


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But this was but a portion of the extraordinary scenes of this day. As La Fayette quitted Paris and took his way with his national guards towards Vincennes, numbers of royalists began to flock towards the Tuileries. As it was not till the afternoon that La Fayette went away, it was not till evening that the numbers of these royalists reached the palace. Then came a report that La Fayette was killed in returning from Vincennes through the Faubourg St. Antoine, and the fierce centre grenadiers, formerly the Gardes Frangaises, conceived that it was an attempt to carry off the king. The guards rushed into the palace, and, seizing a gentleman who was going in at the same time, discovered a dagger, or, as other accounts say, a pistol, in his coat- pocket. This confirmed the suspicions, and it was augmented by a hot-headed royalist, the chevalier de St. Eime, who, on the guards approaching the royal apartment, set the door ajar, and presented a pistol at them. The king was frightened, and desired the gentlemen - many of whom belonged to the palace, or had the entree of it - to lay down their arms, and disperse. The guards did not wait for this, but commenced a rude search of the powdered-headed courtiers, and soon filled a large basket with sword-canes, daggers, and pistols. Enraged at this, they kicked or hurled marquises, dukes, counts, and chevaliers - or those who formerly bore these titles - down the stairs, and out into the gardens of the Tuileries, where the mob received them with renewed insults, till they had their clothes nearly torn from their backs. When La Fayette arrived he was greatly incensed at the duke de Villequier and other officers of the household having admitted this crowd of frantic royalists 1 during his absence. He ordered the arms to be brought out and broken to pieces in the court of the Tuileries. The next day he issued an order, blaming in severe terms the courtiers and gentlemen of the household for this occurrence. The king declared that it had been done totally without his knowledge, and he observed to La Fayette that the folly of his own friends would ruin him.

But whilst La Fayette blamed the courtiers, he was sharply blamed himself. He was very clearly placed between the two raging parties, and, by his efforts to keep them both in order, was certain to incur the hatred of both. The real cause of the disturbance at the palace was apparently owing simply to the alarm occasioned by the noise, and riot, and firing of guns with which the people of the Faubourg St. Antoine has set off for Vincennes. This had been heard all over the city, and the royalists, fearing some new violence to the royal family, had snatched up such arms as they could best carry into the Tuileries unobserved to defend it. That is the most probable explanation of the fact, and La Fayette certainly that day had shown unusual determination against both parties. Marat, however, found it too good an opportunity for damaging La Fayette not to dress it up into something monstrous. He declared that it was a scheme of La Fayette and Bailly to carry off the royal family; that, for this 1 purpose, the national guard had been corrupted, gangs of scoundrels and assassins brought from the country into the city, and that the emeute in the Faubourg St. Antoine had been excited by La Fayette himself, that the royalists might have an opportunity, whilst he was quelling it, again to rush to the palace and carry off the royal family; that, fortunately, the centre grenadiers had discovered the plot and blown it up before La Fayette's return. On the other hand, there were those who thought that Marat and his fellow-journalists, with the more rabid republicans, had been at the bottom of all these alarms, in order to frighten the assembly into passing the decree against emigration; for, a few days before, Marat had declared that there were five thousand poniards manufacturing in Paris to murder patriots with, in consequence of which a strict search was made and thirty-six poniards were discovered in a shop, These, the maker declared, were manufactured for persons engaged in the slave-trade in Africa; but, notwithstanding this assertion, and the ridiculously small number of these arms, when other daggers were found on gentlemen at the. Tuileries, a wonderful outcry was made, and this day became known as the " day of poniards."

It was natural that this rumour of an attempt to carry off the king should draw the public attention to the collection of the emigrants on the frontiers, who were reported to be expecting Louis's arrival amongst them. On the 22nd of March Mirabeau mounted the tribune, and demanded a committee of inquiry on this subject. He said it was reported that there were only seven thousand troops posted to defend the provinces of the Upper Rhine, and two thousand to defend those of the Lower Rhine, and that it was notorious that there was a league of tyrants preparing to invade France, and trample under foot its infant liberties. The committee was appointed, Mirabeau being one of the members; but this was his last appearance in the assembly. He had worn out his constitution by luxury and debauchery, and was dying. His final display was in the jacobin club. He went to combat the reports that had been raised against him for his opposition to the decree against emigration. He went there on the evening of the 28th of March, and delivered an energetic speech, declaring that he would stand by the jacobins, even to ostracism. The next morning he could not rise from his bed. It was obvious to his friends for months that he was fast going. He had never ceased his extravagant indulgences nor his Herculean labours. He spent his days in incessant exertions in preparing for the assembly, having a number of literary men preparing speeches for him, and in delivering these amid all the excitements of that place; thence he would adjourn to the hot and foul atmosphere of the jacobin club, to fresh debates and excitements; thence to the supper-table, where he did not, like his brother, thence called Tonneau Mirabeau, or Barrel Mirabeau, indulge in much wine, but in all the other pleasures of the table. All this time he was engaged in impetuous talk, and he closed his day, at a late hour, amongst a number of opera girls, on whom he lavished the money received from the court for the salvation of the monarchy. Gigantic as was his frame, and robust as was his constitution, this course of life must, as his friend Dumont told him, have killed any other man long before. For some time, his face had assumed a ghastly paleness, his eyes were sunk in his head, and it was only under the excitement of the tribune that a delusive flush covered this hue and stricture of death.

But Mirabeau himself believed that he was not sinking from premature exhaustion, but from poison. He said, three months before he died, that he felt as if poisoned; as if he were consuming by a slow fire. He was seized by frequent fainting-fits, and by attacks of repletion in the head and eyes; yet he would apply leeches, and insist on going to the assembly with wet bandages round his neck to Stop the bleeding. Nor was he alone in the idea that he was poisoned. The complaint at last assumed the character of inflammation of the bowels. Every one was astonished at the sudden breaking down of this Samson; the court, which placed its last hope in him, of keeping the assembly and the rabid jacobins in check till they could escape, were confounded. The author of the "Memoires d'un Pair de France " positively asserts that he was poisoned, and gives this circumstantial account of it. In 1793, he says, Robespierre, at a moment when he was off his guard, ventured to boast of the share he had taken in that crime. Two parties, he observed, were then labouring to accomplish the ruin of the king; a third wished it without declaring it; all of them were concerned to see Louis XVI. inclined to a cordial reconciliation with the constitution; and all dreaded the sound advice which Mirabeau had it in his power to give. It was well known that this man was the only person capable of directing affairs in such a manner as to keep the factions within the limits which they hoped to pass. As the issue of any attempt to strip him of his popularity was uncertain, it was thought better to dispatch him; but, as no assassin was to be found, it was necessary to have recourse to poison. Marat furnished the receipt for it; it was prepared under his superintendence, and he answered for its effects. How to administer it was the next question. At length it was resolved to choose the opportunity of a dinner, at which the poisonous ingredients should be introduced into the bread or wine, or certain dishes of which Mirabeau was known to be fond. Robespierre and Petion undertook to see the execution of this atrocious scheme, and were assisted by Fabre d'Eglantine and two or three other subordinate Orleanists. Mirabeau had no suspicion of this perfidy; but its effects were manifested immediately after a party of pleasure at which he had grossly indulged. He was soon aware that he was poisoned, and told his intimate friends so, and especially Cabanis, to whom he said, " You seek the cause of my death in my physical excesses; you will find it rather in the hatred borne me by those who wish for the overthrow of France, or those who are afraid of my ascendancy over the minds of the king and queen." It was impossible to drive it out of his head that his death was not natural; but great pains were taken to prevent this opinion from getting abroad.

Whether he died by poison or not, those parties we have named had the strongest reasons to get rid of him, and the particular persons were capable of any crime. In any case, he was dying; but he would not allow Cabanis to call in any other physician. Cabanis was strongly recommended to Mirabeau from his having endured a savage treatment in his youth from his father and friends, similar to his own. He had resided in the house of the once beautiful and accomplished widow of Helvetius, where he had associated with Franklin, Jefferson, Turgot, Holbach, Condillac, Diderot, d'Alembert, and even Voltaire, the man of a former generation. When Cabanis desired to call in Dr. Petit, he told him that, if he recovered, he would have all the merit, and Petit carry away all the reputation; but at length Petit was called in, and could do nothing to save him.

As soon as the people knew of his danger they continued to maintain a constant crowd before his house; and the court sent messenger after messenger to learn the condition of the hour. Mirabeau, hearing some noise in the street, inquired what it was. He was told that it was the constant stream of people coming to inquire after him. He was greatly gratified at this, and said it had been sweet for him to live for the people, and it would be sweet to die amongst them. He spoke with great complacency of what he had accomplished, and regret that his vast schemes should thus be suddenly cut asunder. From this moment, feeling that he must go, to use the words of Talleyrand, who was with him, "he dramatised his death; " that is, he said or did everything for effect. He called Talleyrand to his bed-side and gave him a speech on the subject of wills, which the assembly was about to discuss. Though this, like many other of his Speeches, Dumont, his friend, says were not written by himself, but by M. Reybaz for him, he charged Talleyrand to read it to the assembly, as his own legacy to it. " It will be curious," he said, " to hear a man speaking against wills, who is no more, who has, too, just made his own;" and, he might have added, who had nothing to leave.

Being seized with violent pains in his head, though his extremities were now dead, he called to Teutch, his valet, and said, " Raise my head - the greatest in France! You will never have such another head to raise." He talked to Talleyrand of the plans of England, and said, " That is the minister of preparation; he governs with threats; if I should live, I would give him some trouble." The priest of his parish came to offer his attendance, which he politely declined, saying, with a smile, he would gladly accept him, but that he had his ecclesiastical superior, the bishop of Autun, always with him. He desired the windows to be opened. " My friend," he said to Cabanis, "I shall die to-day. All that can now be done is to envelope one's self in perfumes, to cover one's self with flowers, to surround one's self with music, and thus sink quietly into everlasting sleep!"

Thus Mirabeau had flattered himself with that eternal annihilation so dear to the profligate debauchee; and this became the favourite doctrine of those Frenchmen who were boasting of being engaged in the regeneration of the human race. Diderot had raised the cry of "Ecrasez l'lnfame!" or, " Down with the infamous Christ!" and the finest substitute which these proud reformers could find for Christianity, which was an eternal protest against their sensuality and their sanguinary crimes, was eternal death. Within two years, they had inscribed over the gates of every cemetery in France, " Death is an eternal sleep!"

But savage pangs interrupted this philosophical arrangement of perfumes, and flowers, and music, as the prelude to perpetual nothingness; and the unhappy man exclaimed, " You have promised to spare me needless suffering. My tortures are insupportable. I have still within me a hundred years of strength, and not a moment's courage. Give me opium!" When they hesitated, he demanded it with fresh violence, and, as he could no longer speak, he snatched a piece of paper, and wrote on it " dormir " - to sleep. To satisfy him, they gave him a draught, which they said contained opium. He drank it off, believing it to be mortal; appeared satisfied, and in a moment afterwards expired. He was in his forty-second or forty-third year.

As soon as it was known that Mirabeau was dead, there was great lamentation. The shops were all closed, and the people put a stop to all private dances and merry-makings. The jacobins resolved to wear mourning for him for eight days, to attend his funeral, to celebrate the anniversary of his death in all coming years by assuming mourning, and to place a bust of him in their hall. The assembly resolved to attend his funeral in a body; and Pastoret, one of their own members, appeared at the head of a deputation from the administration of the department of Paris, and made a proposition that the church of St. Genevieve should be converted into a Pantheon, in which should be deposited the remains of the great men and benefactors of France who should have died since the era of liberty; that Mirabeau should be the first, and that Descartes, whose remains lay in the old church of St. Genevieve, as well as those of Rousseau and Voltaire, should be admitted, because, although they died before this period, they had essentially contributed to it. This was assented to, and the assembly ordered that there should be inscribed over the portal the words, " Aux grands hommes la patrie reconnaissante" (To great men the grateful country).

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Pictures for The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 10

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