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The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 20

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In the midst of a raging storm of abuse and tumult lie went on - " Gentlemen, are we to remain in our present terrible condition till the year 1800? - in a condition in which neither liberty, nor property, nor the lives nor consciences of men are free a single day from the most terrible violations? Gentlemen, you must put down your inquisitorial committees of research, your laws against the emigrants, your multiplied oaths and deeds of violence, your persecution of priests, your arbitrary imprisonment of all classes of people, your criminal proceedings without evidence, the fanaticism and dominion of the clubs. But even all this is not enough to preserve public tranquillity. Licentiousness has committed such ravages; the dregs of the nation still boil up so furiously - " Here the confusion, the shouting of "down with the maligner," the uproar from the left side and the galleries were deafening, but Malouet went on, as soon as he could be heard: - " The frightful insubordination of our troops; our religious troubles; the discontents and insurrections of our colonies, which are destroying our commerce; the embarrassments of our finances, growing worse and worse every day, are motives which should induce you to reform the constitution, and render it as effective and beneficial as it is now powerless and contemptible."

This was a sketch of things far too true to be agreeable. Robespierre, on the contrary, insisted that a further extension of the popular power, by universal suffrage, was the remedy for all these troubles. He declared, that till all distinctions of money and property were abolished there could be no equality; that by the present law Rousseau, one of the greatest philosophers and legislators that ever lived, could not have a vote; but he did not remind the assembly that the bulk of the French people were no Rousseaus yet, but were utterly illiterate, and degraded by oppression and ignorance, and therefore incapable of an enlightened vote, as they were incapable of any but the most savage conduct. Petion demanded that the royal power should be still more restricted, and popular power extended according to Robespierre's recommendation. The duke of Orleans offered to resign any rights that he might possess as a member of the blood royal, on condition that he should be allowed to exercise the same rights of voting as all other citizens. He asked whether the king's relations were not men, and ought, therefore, to possess the rights of men? But Robespierre rose again, and said they were talking too much of the rights of individuals, and too little of the rights of the nation. At the same time, he did not object to give the same rights of voting to the king's relations as to all other men, for it tended to abolish distinctions; and he quoted the examples of England, Hungary, Bohemia, and other countries where the relations of the king sate in the legislative chambers. But such a doctrine was not tolerated even in Robespierre, and he was clamoured down. Barnave and Alexander Lameth exerted themselves to procure some modifications in favour of oppressed royalty, but in vain; the cote gauche, unopposed by the cote droit, which had voluntarily abandoned the right of voting, carried it triumphantly that the constitution was perfect, and was finished. So much, indeed, was conceded, that instead of fixing the year 1800 as the earliest period at which any alterations in the constitution should take place, necessary reforms might be introduced by a third consecutive assembly, when in the last two months of its session; and this was to be done without requiring the sanction of the crown. The work of reform must then be committed to a select number - two hundred and forty-nine members - who should form an assembly of revision, and in this assembly or committee those who demanded the reforms were to have no place. The number of members of the assembly at large was fixed at seven hundred and forty five and though universal suffrage was not literally conceded, yet there was a very near approach to it, for every man of twenty-five years of age, having a fixed domicile, not being a footman, or valet, and paying a direct yearly contribution to the state equal to the value of three days' labour, was endowed with the franchise. The constitution was pronounced complete on the 3rd of September, and a deputation of sixty members was appointed to present it to the king, and demand his pure and simple acceptance of it. " From that moment," says Thiers, " his freedom was restored to him; or, if that expression be objected to, the strict watch kept over the palace ceased, and he had liberty to retire whither he pleased, to examine the constitutional act, and to accept it freely." That expression will certainly be objected to by every reader. It was a cruel farce played upon the unhappy Louis. He was told that he might retire to St. Cloud, from which he had been some time ago so insultingly kept back. He was a miserable captive, dragged back from Varennes, and watched day and night, both he himself and the queen, as a cat watches mice. Yet now, as it was desirable to give a free air to his acceptance of the constitution, suddenly the strict surveillance is abandoned, the door of his trap is left open, and he is told that he may go at large. But Louis knew better; he knew that the assembly had still a string to his leg, and that if he really did endeavour to liberate himself, he would be savagely plucked back. He knew that if he exercised his own judgment on the constitution, this fawning assembly would pounce upon him like a crouching tiger; and that, if he should declare himself unable to sanction it, there would be a very short cut for him to the scaffold. Thiers himself, after telling us that he was restored to his freedom, and might go where he pleased - if we " do not object to the expression " - gives us the most sufficient reason why we should object to it. " What," he asks, " was Louis XVI. to do in this case? To reject the constitution would have been to abdicate in favour of a republic. The safest way, even according to his own system, was to accept it, and to expect from time those restitutions of power which he considered due to him." Malouet, indeed, with the same daring which prompted his speech in the assembly, advised the king to state plainly his objections to it, and to point out the vices and dangers which he saw in their constitution. Montmorin was of the same opinion; but they stood alone. Barnave and Duport knew the assembly and the jacobins too well to give the king such perilous advice. They agreed with Kaunitz, the Austrian ambassador, who had been the favourite minister of the great Maria Theresa, Marie Antoinette's mother, and who had the queen's interest deeply at heart, that the only safe plan for Louis was to accept it without any exceptions.

Accordingly, in the course of a few days, Louis wrote to the assembly that he accepted the constitution, entirely. There was a burst of applause on the reading of this message. There were loud cries of " Vive le roi!" for some obstacle on the part of Louis had been expected. La Fayette seized the opportunity of this sudden elation to propose a general amnesty for all acts committed during the revolution. This - which included a cessation of prosecutions carrying on against those concerned in the flight to Varennes - was instantly carried, and, according to Thiers, the prison doors were immediately thrown open. The king repaired to the assembly, and again swore to observe the constitution; and, according to the same author, all was joy and satisfaction. But other writers give a very different account, and, amongst them, madame Campan. This is her version: - " A deputation of sixty members waited on the king, to express to him the satisfaction that his letter had given. The queen, his son, and madame, were at the door of the chamber into which the deputation was admitted- The king said to the deputies: - 'You see there my wife and children, who participate in my sentiments;' and the queen herself confirmed the king's assurance. The apparent marks of confidence were very inconsistent with the agitated state of her mind. 'These people will have no sovereigns,' said she. 'We shall fall before their treacherous though well-planned tactics; they are demolishing the monarchy stone by stone!'

" The day after that of the deputation, particulars of their reception by the king were reported to the assembly; and they excited warm approbation. But the president having put the question, whether the assembly ought not to remain seated while the king took the oath: 'Certainly,' was repeated by many voices; 'and the king standing uncovered.' M. Malouet observed, that there was no occasion on which the nation, assembled in the presence of the king, did not acknowledge him as its head; that the omission to treat the head of the state with the respect due to him would be an offence to the nation as well as to the monarch. He moved that the king should take the oath standing, and that the assembly should be in the same posture whilst he was doing so. M. Malouet's observations would have carried the decree, but a deputy from Brittany exclaimed, that he had an amendment to make, which would render all unanimous. 'Let us decree,' said he, 'that M. Malouet, and whoever else shall so please, may have leave to receive the king upon their knees, but let us stick to the decree.'

" The king repaired to the chamber at mid-day. His speech was followed by plaudits which lasted several minutes. After the signing of the constitutional act, all sate down. The president rose to deliver his speech; but, after he had began, perceiving that the king did not rise to hear him, he sate down again. His speech made a powerful impression; the sentence with which it concluded excited fresh acclamations, cries of ' Bravo!' and 'Vive le Roi!' 'Sire,' said he, ' how important in our eyes, and how dear to our hearts; how sublime a feature in our history must be the epoch of that regeneration which gives citizens to France, a country to Frenchmen; to you, as a king, a new glory; and, as a man, a fresh source of enjoyment and of new feelings.'

" At length, I hoped to see a return of that tranquillity, which had been so long chased from the countenances of my august master and mistress. But, no! The queen had attended the sitting in a private box. I remarked her total silence, and the deep grief which was depicted on her countenance on her return. The king came to her apartment the private way. His features were much changed. The queen uttered an exclamation of surprise at his appearance. I thought he was ill; but what was my affliction when I heard the unfortunate monarch say, as he threw himself into a chair, and put his handkerchief to his eyes – 'All is lost! Ah, madame, and you are witness to this humiliation! What! You are come into France to see -----.' These words were interrupted by sobs. The queen threw herself upon her knees before him, and pressed him in her arms. I remained with them, not from any blameable curiosity, but from a stupefaction, which rendered me incapable of determining what I ought to do. The queen said to me, 'Oh, go, go!' with an accent which expressed, 'Do not remain to witness the dejection and despair of your sovereign.'

"I withdrew, struck with the contrast between the shouts of joy without the palace and the profound grief which oppressed the sovereigns within. Half an hour afterwards, the queen sent for me. She desired to see M. Goguelat, to announce to him her departure on that very night for Vienna. The new attacks upon the dignity of the throne, which had been exhibited during the sitting; the spirit of the assembly, worse than the former; the monarch put upon a level with the president, without any deference to the throne,- all this proclaimed but too loudly that the sovereignty itself was aimed at. The queen no longer saw any ground for hope from the interior of the country. The king wrote to the emperor; she told me that she would herself, at midnight, bring the letter which M. Goguelat was to bear to the emperor, to my room. During all the remainder of the day, the palace and the gardens of the Tuileries were prodigiously crowded; the illuminations were magnificent.

The king and the queen were requested to take an airing in their carriage in the Champs Elysees, escorted by the aides-de-camp and leaders of the Parisian army, the constitutional guard not being at that time organised. Many shouts of 'Vive le Roi!' were heard; but, as often as they terminated, one of the mob, who never quitted the door of the king's carriage for a single instant, exclaimed, with a stentorian voice, 'No, don't believe them: vive la nation!' This ill-omened cry struck terror into the queen; she thought it not right, however, to make any complaint on the subject, and pretended not to hear the isolated croak of this fanatic, a base hireling, as if it had been drowned in the public acclamation."

And thus the assembly, the so-called constitutional party, had given the last blow to the monarchy. They had degraded the sovereign to the lowest degree in the eyes of the nation; they had played into the hands of the furious republican party; and they were about to surrender the legislature and their new constitution into the very hands that were panting to destroy it, and to spill the blood of the king and queen, of these blind lawmakers, and one another. La Fayette and Bailly marched their national guards and their municipal officers once more to the Champ de Mars, on Sunday, the 18th of September, and there, amid the thunder of cannon, and of shouting multitudes, again proclaimed their devotion to the accomplished constitution. But, amid the rejoicings of the people, there were cries and other signs that they were rejoicing, not so much in the completion of the constitution, as in the fall of the monarchy. Amongst other significant symptoms, a shoemaker, in the Rue St. Honore, exhibited a transparency, with the words, " Vive le Roi! stil est de Jionne foil" - " Long live the king, if he keeps faith!"

At this very time, the ladies and chief officers of the court were resigning their situations because the new constitution had abolished the honours and prerogatives connected with them. It became a question with the sovereigns whether they should form their household without equerries and without ladies of honour. Nay, the lives of the sovereigns were not safe from poison. A pastrycook in the establishment, who was a furious jacobin, and whom the king had no power to displace, had been heard to say that it would be a good thing for France if the king's days were shortened. In consequence of the danger, the royal family took care to eat nothing that did not come through the hands of their faithful little knot of attendants, and dined alone, serving themselves from dumb-waiters. Yet, all the time, they were expected to look quite cheerful and confiding. Their majesties went to the opera, the Theatre Francais - the queen by herself to the Theatre Italien; at the former places they were applauded, at the latter a violent tumult arose from madame Dugazon unfortunately bowing to the queen as, in Gretry's " Evenemens imprevus," she sang " Ah! how I love my mistress! " At once arose the cry, " No mistress! no master!" and the counter cries of" Vive le Roi! Vive la Reine!" till a regular fight commenced, which was only ended by the arrival of a strong detachment of national guards. The queen never again entered a theatre.

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