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The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 27


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Luckner, a German, had been engaged with high distinction in the seven years' war. The duke of Choiseul had engaged him in the service of France. He was much attached to the new constitution, and, though getting old, was in great vigour. Rochambeau, too, had distinguished himself in the seven years' war and in America. As for La Fayette, he had retired to his estate, when he was thus called again into active service, much to the disgust of the jacobins, who heaped upon him the vilest abuse. Indeed, the jacobin club proposed that the assembly should declare itself dictator, abolish the appointments of Luckner, Rochambeau, and La Fayette, and replace them by pure patriots. But Narbonne, having obtained his supplies, lost no time in setting out on a tour through the country, to put it into a state of defence. Three armies were formed. Rochambeau, who was now ailing, and out of humour, was appointed to that stationed in Flanders, and called the army of the north; La Fayette was put in command of the central division stationed at Metz; and Luckner, of the one stationed in Alsace. Narbonne made a rapid journey, and returning, announced to the assembly that the different fortresses were fast assuming a creditable condition, and that the army, from Dunkirk to Besancon, presented a mass of two hundred and forty battalions, one hundred and sixty squadrons, with artillery requisite for two hundred thousand men, and supplies for six months. This report was received with acclamations.

War now was the great question: it was discussed in every quarter; at the clubs, in the assembly, in the council- chamber, and in the journals. All except the king and one other man appeared eager for war. The king was always averse to it, from his innate repugnance to the shedding of blood, and because it was now directed against his own brothers, his most ardent friends, and against those powers who were anxious to liberate him from his thraldom and his degradation, and once more re-establish his throne on its ancient foundation. But Louis, thinking thus, dared not reveal his genuine sentiments; he was compelled to pretend to go along with the desires of the nation. The other man who was opposed to war, and who dared to express his opinion openly and boldly, was Robespierre. The minister Narbonne wished for war, because the party which had elevated him had made him believe that it would enable him to restore the monarchy to its pristine vigour. The Girondists and the jacobins wished for it, because they believed that it would put arms into the hands of the nation, which would, in its enthusiasm, beat down foreign despots, and lead the French nation to develop itself into a republic. This republic was the especial idolatry of the Gironde and of the vehement journalists, as Marat, Brissot, Freron, and the like. There were certain of them that feared, at the same time, that it might lead to a military dictatorship in the hands of La Fayette, whom they hated, amongst whom was Camille Desmoulins. Danton, too, went for a time with the court, because, most mercenary of men, he was in its pay. But Robespierre was the most sagacious of them all. This man, who was now rising fast into a dictatorship himself, saw clearly that a war, successful or unsuccessful, must ultimately annihilate the popular power, on which he was building his ascendancy, and inaugurate a military despotism. If the war was unsuccessful, foreign armies would overrun France, and tread into the earth the new liberty; if successful, it would give the favour of the nation to aspiring military men. He knew that martial glory and ideas of aristocracy are inseparable; that the people, in their moments of grateful and proud excitement for victories, are always ready to sacrifice their wealth and their privileges to conquerors; that their national exultation is the most fatal of snares, and almost always puts their necks under the yoke of martial dominance, making all peaceful and civil virtues poor and pale in appearance; that England had had her Cromwell, and, far worse, her Monk, and a great and successful war by France would be the tomb of the constitution. Had Robespierre been as humane and noble a man as he was far- seeing, he would have been one of the greatest instead of one of the most detestable of mankind. How entirely he was right history has now taught us. This war, moreover, was destined, by the different views which they took, to break up the connection of Robespierre and the Girondists, and ultimately of the Girondists and the jacobins. Still more, to terminate in the destruction of both parties.

The question was debated at the jacobin club on the 12th of December. Brissot, the leader of the Gironde, declared absolutely and ardently for war. He declared that war was necessary to consolidate liberty, and to clear the constitution of all taint of despotism; that the reputation of France demanded that she should chastise and disperse that congregation of brigands at Coblentz, which kept alive the insolence of the aristocrats, and that she should humble those foreign despots who were perpetually menacing French liberty; that they had the power to do this magnificently, and they must do it! This speech was received by a tempest of acclamation from all sides. Robespierre alone stood forth to call in question this universal feeling. He was for a time overwhelmed by clamour; but, with the unconquerable pertinacity of his character, he rose above all the tumult, and, instead of being dry, didactic, and merely pompous in his speeches, he now became animated and eloquent. The very men who resisted him became admirers, and Freron, in his Orateur du Peuple, said, " Preserve these speeches; they are masterpieces of eloquence that should be preserved in every family, in order to reach future generations." At first, Robespierre rejected bluntly the idea of war, but at length he exclaimed, " I am conquered; I also demand war! What do I say? I demand a war more terrible, more implacable than you demand! I demand it, not as an act of prudence, of reason, of policy, but as an act of despair. I demand that it shall be deadly, heroic, such as the genius of Liberty declares against all despotism; such as the people of the revolution under their own leaders would render it; not such as intriguing cowards would have it, or as the ambitious generals and traitorous ministers would carry it on. Frenchmen! heroes of the 14th of July! who, without guide or commander, yet acquired your liberty, come forth, and let us form that army which you tell us is destined to conquer the universe. But where is the general - where that imperturbable defender of the rights of the people, who, born with a hatred to tyrants, has never breathed the poisonous air of courts, whose virtue is attested by the hatred and disgrace of palaces; this general, whose hands, guiltless of our blood, are worthy to bear before us the banner of freedom; where is he, this new Cato, this third Brutus, this unknown hero? Let him appear, he shall be our leader; but where is he? Where are the soldiers of the 14th of July, who laid down, in the presence of the people, the arms furnished them by despotism? Soldiers of Chäteau-Vieux, where are you? Come and direct our efforts. Alas! it is easier to rob death of his prey than despotism of its victims! Citizens! conquerors of the Bastille, come! Liberty summons you, and assigns you the honour of the first rank. Ye are mute. Misery, ingratitude, and the hatred of the aristocracy have dispersed you. For whole years you have demanded arms; you have been refused uniforms; you have been condemned to wander from department to department, the derision of ministers, the contempt of patricians, who see you only to eüjoy your distress." Continuing in this strain, he again demanded where was the minister worthy to conduct this war, the general to command in it? Were they Narbonne and La Fayette? "The very word," he exclaimed, " has broken all the charm! Adieu, victory and independence of the people! if the sceptres of Europe shall ever be broken, it will not be by such hands."

Robespierre, by this ruse of rhetoric, had brought the people to that point where he was so omnipotent. He thus enabled himself to cast the most deadly suspicions on all who were to work out this war. He declared all these heroic illusions deadly pitfalls. That war was the mortal foe of liberty; that those who recommended it sought in it only treasonable plots against the revolution, for not all the patriotism in the world, all the subtlest political commonplaces, could alter the nature of things. He called upon all true patriots to measure with a steady eye the depth of the abyss to which they were approaching; and he finished by declaring that, with the palatine of Posnia, he preferred the storms of liberty to the serenity of slavery.

Louvet and Brissot strove to move Robespierre, but in vain. There ensued a rupture betwixt the Girondists and Robespierre, whilst Marat and Desmoulins seized the opportunity to reopen the past life of Brissot, and to embitter the discussion. The cordeliers supported Robespierre, for they were, like Desmoulins, afraid of La Fayette's rising, through war, into a military dictatorship, and crushing both jacobins and cordeliers. Danton, in the pay of the court, vacillated betwixt the two parties. He declared that he was not against war, but against the men who were to manage it; that the policy of the kings would drive them into war, so that war France must have; but he desired the people not to precipitate it till they were sure of the fitness of the executive and the commanders.

At this moment, the duke of Orleans, seeing the dangerous lengths to which the jacobins, and especially the Girondists, were driving, and that there was little disguise as to the preparations for a republic, endeavoured to reconcile himself to the court, and to assist in checking the rapid tendency to the destruction of the monarchy. He had made a similar endeavour under the constituent assembly; his present attempt was doomed to be still more disastrous. This is Bertrand de Molleville's account of the circumstance: - " I made a report on the same day to the council of the visit paid me by the duke of Orleans, and of our conversation. The king determined to receive him; and, on the next day, he had a conversation with him of more than half an hour, with which his majesty appeared to be much pleased. 'I think, like you,' said the king, ' that he is perfectly sincere, and that he will do all that lies in his power to repair the mischief which he has done, and in which it is possible that he may not have taken so large a part as we have imagined.'

" On the following Sunday he came to the king's levee, where he met with the most humiliating reception from the courtiers, who were ignorant of what had passed, and from the royalists, who were in the habit of repairing to the palace in great numbers on that day, to pay their court to the royal family. They crowded around him, making believe to tread upon his toes, and to thrust him towards the door, so as to prevent his entering. He went down stairs to the queen, whose table was already spread. The moment that he appeared, a cry was raised, on all sides, of 'Gentlemen, take care of the dishes!' as though they had been sure that his pockets were full of poison. The insulting murmurs which his presence everywhere excited forced him to retire without seeing the royal family. He was pursued to the queen's staircase, where some one spat upon his head, and several times upon his coat. Rage and vexation were depicted in his countenance, and he left the palace convinced that the instigators of the outrages which he had received were the king and queen, who knew nothing of the matter, and who, indeed, were extremely angry about it. He swore implacable hatred against them, and but too faithfully kept this horrible oath. I was at the palace that day, and witnessed all that I have here related." Thus did the imbecile aristocrats who surrounded Louis continually destroy every chance of his better fortunes.

Whilst the king's friends were thus every day ruining him by their mad acts, the clubs and the assembly were urging on the war spirit. In the assembly the Girondists carried the sway; but in the clubs the supporters of Robespierre ruled, and they were hostile to almost every man in the executive or at the head of the army. They relied on the support of the mob, now called the sansculottes, men without breeches; and this ragged party, detesting everything of an orderly or aristocratic stamp, were urged on by Marat, Prudhomme, and Desmoulins, in their journals. They all agreed in denouncing Brissot, the opponent of Robespierre; but Brissot, on the other hand, was supported by Guadet, Gensonne, Vergniaud, Condorcet, and all the Gironde party- This party laboured incessantly for the war; and, on the 21st of December, Leopold, the emperor of Austria, furnished them with an excellent pretext for demanding an instant declaration. Leopold had declared, in reply to the request of Louis, that all menaces against France should cease, " that the sovereigns had united for the maintenance of public tranquillity, and the honour and safety of the crowns." On this there was a loud outcry in the assembly amongst the Girondists. It was thus clear, they said, that there was a conspiracy of the monarchs against France; that the ministers knew of it, and had concealed it. On the 25th Louvet demanded that the emigrant princes should be condemned for contumacy, since they had refused the king's request, that they should lay down their arms and return to France; and that war should be declared against all the enemies of the revolution. He was supported by Isnard; but Guadet thought they had better wait a week longer; and the question was adjourned to the 1st of January, On the 29th Brissot asserted that the kings were afraid of commencing war with France, and that, therefore, the emigrants might be at once dispersed, and that it ought to be done. On the 31st, the last day of the year, Louis sent his minister for foreign affairs, Duport, to communicate a message from the emperor, stating that the elector of Treves, alarmed at the menaces of France, had consulted him, and that he had ordered marshal Bender to advance with his army to the elector's defence. Louis professed to be greatly indignant at this reply, but, instead of admitting that it justified an immediate declaration of war, he said he would make one more energetic protest, and that, in case it did not produce the desired effeot, he would be ready - in rather vague language - to maintain the dignity and security of the nation. The Feuillants raised some sounds of applause, but the Gironde expressed extreme disgust, and the abbé Fauchet and Goupilleau proposed that, on the coming new year's day, the usual visits of felicitation and compliment to the king should be omitted. Even the moderate Pastoret coincided with this, and it was accordingly decreed. With the abolition of this last token of respect towards the monarch, and with renewed preparations for war, the generals each hastening to their respective commands, closed the year 1791.

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Pictures for The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 27

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