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Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 10


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Whilst his enemies were thus labouring with indefatigable energy to prepare his destruction, Robespierre was living as if he had abandoned all further thoughts of public life. He shut himself up in the house and park which had belonged to one of his victims, and, surrounded by women of the most degraded class, he gave himself up to the most abandoned sensuality. He received daily numbers of letters, filled with the wildest adoration, but these were mingled with others uttering the most direful imprecations, the most terrible threats. He was assured that the writers were watching him, night and day, though lie thought himself thus shut up secure from them, and that their vengeance was certain. All this time, Robespierre's agents, Fouquier-Tinville and Dumas, the président of the tribunal, were executing the decree of the 10th of June with horrible energy. Never had the terror been so great in Paris, in the prisons, and throughout France. From fifty to sixty heads a-day had fallen since the passing of the decree. " That goes well," said Tinville; " heads fall like tiles; but it must go better next decade. I must have four hundred and fifty at least! "

At this moment Guffroy, a deputy from Arras, denounced, in the committees of public safety and welfare, the atrocities of Joseph Lebon, who was one of the pro-consuls of the north of France, and, who, like Carrier at Nantes, had been rioting in the blood of the people of Arras, St. Pol, St. Omer, and other towns. He had acted more like a mad devil than a man. He had held the most extravagant orgies with the judges and members of the club during the executions, inviting the headsman to his table, and doing him great honour. He had stood in his balcony to witness the executions that he had ordered, and caused Ça ira to be played during the time. When the Austrians were approaching Cambray, he had hastened there and beheaded the chief inhabitants of the town as aristocrats, and so boasted that he had saved Cambray. It was in vain that the inhabitants of Arras, to whom Robespierre owed great obligations, endeavoured to gain admittance to him, to induce him to stop the demoniac cruelties of Lebon. Guffroy, therefore, insisted on his being called to account. Guffroy, defeated in his endeavours with the committees, appealed to the convention, but it decided that Lebon had deserved well of the republic; that he had used forms somewhat harsh, but that he had saved Cambray, and much was to be forgiven to a zealous servant of the republic. The only result was that Lebon was confirmed in his murderous proceedings, and Guffroy was set down for a troublesome fellow. The fact was that Robespierre, Couthon, Billaud-Varennes, Collot d'Herbois, and the rest of them, however much they might hate each other, were all on a par in sanguinary ferocity.

Both of the present antagonistic factions had their spies on each other, and it was reported that Robespierre's hair-dresser had accidentally seen a list of his proscribed enemies, amounting to forty, prepared for Fouquier-Tinville. No time was to be lost. Barrère and his faction determined to strike a decisive blow at Robespierre; and the mistress of Tallien, a madame Fontinai, having been arrested, and thrown into the Luxembourg, he volunteered to commence the attack on Robespierre in the convention. On the other hand, Robespierre's adherents saw that they must be prepared to prevent this attack, by at once striking down their enemies. Henriot, originally a footman, but who, for his ruthless conduct in the September massacres, had been made commandant of the national guard, told Robespierre that they must destroy the opposing faction or be destroyed, and that lie was ready, with his guards, to support the attempt. Robespierre hesitated, but St. Just arriving from his mission to the army in the north, said the only word for the occasion was - " Dare! " Meantime, Barrère, Fouché, Collot d'Herbois, and that faction, had won over the Plain - or as it was now called the Maraies, or Marsh, with Grenouilles and Crapauds, or Frogs and Toads - to their party, and Tallien was urged to make his charge. As he did not act quickly enough for the impatience of the faction, Lecointre, of Versailles, seeing Robespierre, at length, once more in his place in the convention, on the 26th of July commenced the attack. Robespierre had made a long speech, complaining of the calumnies circulated against him during his six weeks' retirement, indulging the feelings of nature. Lecointre rose, and moved that the speech be printed. This was the signal for a fierce onslaught upon him, and a denunciation of his crimes. Barrère, Vadier, Bourdon de l'Oise, and others, broke out upon him; and Cambon, the chief of the committee of finance, whom Robespierre, in his speech, had called a rogue, exclaimed, " The day is at length come for pulling off masks, and speaking the truth! " This was followed by a terrible cannonade of accusations from one after another of the Barrère and Collot d'Herbois faction. Charlier moved that the speech of Robespierre should be referred to the committees of public safety and welfare. " What! " cried Robespierre, " to the very men that I have accused as enemies of their country? " There was a loud cry of "Name! name those you have accused!" The uproar became tremendous, and amidst its hurly-burly Robespierre and Couthon stole away, and hastened to the jacobin club. There they were received with acclamations. Robespierre read them his speech, and declared that his enemies were become so strong that he could not escape them - he must die. "You shall not die!" shouted the jacobins. "I will die with thee," exclaimed David the painter; "I will drink hemlock with thee! " Henriot counselled that they should at once seize their enemies as they were in the council-chamber of the committee, and said he was ready. This advice was strongly seconded by Payan, procureur of the commune, and Duplaix, Robespierre's host, but Robespierre himself again hesitated, and thought himself and party in the convention yet strong enough to send them all to the guillotine, as they had done the Girondists.

The next morning, the 27th of July, there was a strong muster of the antagonists in the convention. St. Just had secured the tribune on pretence of reading a report on the army of the north, and its victories; but he was interrupted by Tallien, who, in a fiery speech, declared that the convention was in danger, and that it was time that the veil which concealed the horrid mystery should be torn down. This was followed by deafening applause from both the right and the Plain, and Billaud-Varenne started up and stated what had taken place in the jacobin club over-night; that that society had avowed its determination to butcher the whole convention! "I see," he cried, " one of them sitting there on the mountain! " There was a fierce cry of " Turn him out," and the man was kicked out of the place. The majority of the convention were on their feet whirling their bats round their heads, and bellowing " Long live the convention! Long live the committee of public welfare! " In vain did Robespierre rush to the tribune and shriek to be heard. Collot d'Herbois, who was that day président, rang his bell violently in his ears, and the furious shouting of " Down with the tyrant!" drowned his voice. Tallien rushed to the tribune, and, flourishing a dagger in the face of Robespierre, shouted - " If the convention will not strike the tyrant, I will! " Robespierre, beside himself, and now treated as he had treated so many others, ran frantically about, foaming at the mouth, and trying to get a hearing; but Collot d'Herbois kept up the deafening clamour of his bell, and the deputies their shouting, " Down with the tyrant! Death to the triumvirs! " At length Barrère came forward - Barrère, who, on returning from the convention a few days before, threw himself into a chair, exclaiming - " This Robespierre is insatiable; he will not be satisfied with less than all our heads! " Barrère now called for the arrest of Henriot, and that Fleuriot, the mayor, and Payan, the procureur, should be called to the bar to render an account of the state of the capital. His motions were carried at once; and then a number of the members of the committees charged Robespierre one after another with sacrificing his colleagues, Danton and the rest. Vadier would have charged him with favouring Catherine Theot, and her impious vagaries; but Tallien cried, " Keep to the question " - and again Robespierre rushed to the tribune, saying, " I will bring you to the question! " Collot d'Herbois being worn out with his exertions, Thuriot seized the bell, and rang it with fresh force. Robespierre was nearly choked with his rage. " It is the blood of Danton that is choking him! " shouted Garnier. " Danton! " exclaimed Robespierre, " is it Danton? Then, cowards, why did you not defend him?" Here the younger Robespierre demanded to be associated with his brother. " Yes," cried Frèron, who had been fellow-student with Robespierre at the College of Louis Quinze, " vote! vote! arrest them both! " Thuriot put the question, and it was carried by acclamation. The members whirled their hats, and shouted - " Long live liberty! Long live the republic! The tyrant is no more! " On hearing this, Robespierre said, " The brigands have triumphed! the republic is lost! " These were the last words of the monster in the convention. A decree was immediately added for the arrest of Couthon, Lebas, and St. Just, and they were hurried out of the hall to the committee rooms, and thence to five different prisons.

Whilst this fierce contest had been going on, Robespierre's last batch of victims went to the guillotine. Amongst them were a son and daughter of the great naturalist, Buffon; Roucher and Chenier, the especial poets of the revolution, the latter of whom promised to become its historian. These two poets went to the scaffold reciting the verses of Racine; and, on mounting it, Roucher struck his forehead, exclaiming " To die so young! There was something there! " A few weeks more would have swept off all the literary talent of France.

It was five o'clock in the evening when the convention adjourned to dine. It met again at seven. It then learned that Henriot and Payan had refused to surrender to their messenger; that Henriot was on horseback galloping through the faubourgs to raise them against the convention, and to effect the rescue of Robespierre and the other accused; but that he had been seized, and conveyed to the hall of the committee of general safety. There, Coffinhal, vice- president of the jacobins, rushing in, sword in hand, at the head of some companies, liberated him. Once more on horseback, Henriot prepared 'to muster forces and Surround the Tuileries, in which the convention was sitting. Then came the news that the prisoners were all liberated, and assembled at the Hôtel de Ville, guarded by a great force of the sections. Barras was at once appointed to command the forces in the interest of the convention; to seize again the accused and Henriot, who were all outlawed. Seven other deputies were put under Barras's command, and he immediately went out to collect guards and post them around the Tuileries, whilst the other deputies went to arouse the sections on behalf of the convention. Barras succeeded in posting guards around the palace, and Leonard Bourdon, one of the seven appointed deputies, then led a number of battalions against the Hôtel de Ville. He found a vast crowd of guards, gendarmes, and artillerymen drawn up in front, but they soon decided for the convention. When Henriot rushed out to harangue them, they cried, " The Convention for ever! " and the drunken brute, Henriot, hearing this, said, " What! do rascally gunners, who saved me a few hours ago, desert me now? " When he reported this to the conspirators, Coffinhal, in a rage, exclaimed - "This is all through thy cowardice, villain!" and, seizing him, he threw him headlong out of the window. He fell upon a heap of dirt, or, as some say, into an open sewer, and was taken up with the younger Robespierre, who had thrown himself out of a window, and was, apparently, dead. Before Bourdon could force his way into the Hôtel de Ville, the accused tried to kill themselves. Lebas succeeded in shooting himself; Couthon, who had crept under a table, stabbed himself, but so faint-heartedly as only to make a slight wound; St. Just was even more tender of himself, though he had never spared others; lie held a knife in his hand, but made no use of it; Robespierre put a pistol to his mouth and fired, but the bullet only broke his jaw, but did not kill him. When Bourdon broke into the room he was found sitting bleeding in a chair. The municipal officers were bustling to take off their scarfs, but they were commanded to leave them where they were. Payan, Dumas, Fleuriot, Coffinhal, and others were secured, and they were all conveyed in triumph to the convention; the wounded stretched on hand-barrows. Loud cries of " Liberty for ever! Down with the tyrants! " resounded through the hall, when it was announced that Robespierre and the rest were at the door. They were not brought in, but ordered for execution, no trial being necessary, on account of their outlawry. It was about three o'clock of a splendid July morning as they were conveyed to the Conciergerie. They were taken first, however, to the hall of the committee of public welfare, where Robespierre was laid on a table, and his head propped up with some pieces of paste-board. He had on the same sky-blue coat, embroidered waistcoat, and nankeen breeches which he wore at the festival of the Supreme Being. He preserved a dogged silence; and as the blood flowed from his shattered face he continued to stanch it with the canvas bag which had contained his pistol bullets. When the surgeon entered to dress his wound, he slid from the table, and staggered to a chair, in which he seated himself. He underwent the dressing without a groan.

The next day an immense crowd assembled to see the prisoners carried to the guillotine. It had lately been erected in the Place de la Bastille, but it was now ordered again to the Place de la Revolution, where the king and queen, and so many of Robespierre's own victims, had suffered. As they went along, throngs crowded about the cart to see the fallen tyrant, and the gendarmes pointed him out with their swords. He was pursued by the howling mob, who had formerly yelled as fiercely at his victims, and now charged him with the blood of them all. Troops of women who had danced at the deaths of those that he had sent to the scaffold, now danced the Carmagnole round the cart as it paused before the house of Duplaix, where he had lived. A woman, breaking from the crowd, rushed close to him, exclaiming, " Murderer of all my kindred, your agony fills me with transport! Descend to hell, pursued by the curses of every mother in France! " When they reached the place of execution, Robespierre was first shown to the people, and then laid down on the scaffold with the bloody and nearly dead bodies of his brother and Henriot. The batch consisted of twenty-one, and Robespierre was executed last of all. When he was raised up to be led to the guillotine, he presented a most ghastly figure - his sky-blue coat covered with blood and dirt, his stockings slipped down about his heels, his face livid as death, and tied up in a bandage. The executioner plucked the bandage away, and let the jaw fall. He gave a dreadful yell, which Struck every heart with horror, and the next moment was put under the axe. Samson held up the hideous head to the people, who shouted with delight, and then went away singing. One poor man, as he gazed on that head, said, " Yes, Robespierre, you said true - there is a God! "

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