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Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 8

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The next morning the court would not run the hazard of bringing the prisoners again to the bar. They ordered the jury to find their verdict according to the new decree, and the trembling jurors did not dare to disobey. The prisoners were all condemned to the axe, and the sentence was read to them in the prison. They are said to have seized the paper, and stamped it under their feet. Some of them, especially Sechelles, affected great gaiety. Danton, so excited before, became quite calm; poor Camille Desmoulins wept for the danger menacing his wife. As they were carted to the Place de la Revolution, the rabble, who had for so many years pretended to worship them, now insulted them. Camille became so excited, that, in addressing them, he tore his shirt from his shoulders, as he poured forth imprecations on Robespierre. Danton bade him be calm, and take no notice of so vile a rabble. Chabot, to escape the public executioner, had taken a dose of corrosive sublimate, but it had only filled him with excruciating agony, and, before it had killed him, lie was dragged to the guillotine and dispatched. Danton, on the scaffold, opened his arms to embrace Sechelles, but the executioner thrust himself between them. Danton said to him, "Thou canst not prevent our heads embracing in the bottom of the basket." Thus died, on the 5th of April, 1794, these fifteen victims of the great destroying monster Robespierre; and Samson held up their heads in succession to the mob, which hurrahed as if they had never been their heroes.

Danton and Desmoulins had been amongst the very earliest revolutionists, and had continued the most unwavering. Little did they, or thousands of others, dream, in their early jubilant exultation in this renovation of the race, what it would produce for them. Neither of these two leaders could be said to be the worst of their genus, yet, in any other country, they would have passed for terrible monsters. Danton had been concerned deeply in the horrors of the September massacres; Camille, by his journal, as well as in the assembly, had urged on many a terrible deed. By this time, however, they appear to have been satiated with blood, and would gladly have seen an end of these horrors. They had both married handsome, agreeable wives. They were both become rich, and inclined to enjoy a luxurious domestic life; but, like the magician's apprentice, they had evoked a demon that they could not lay, and must all perish in his grip. " Thus," says Mignet, " perished the tardy but last defenders of humanity, of moderation; the last who wished for peace between the conquerors of the revolution, and for mercy to the vanquished. After them, no voice was heard for some time against the dictatorship of terror. It struck its silent and reiterated blows from one end of France to the other. The Girondists had wished to prevent this violent reign, the Dantonists to stop it: all perished, and the more enemies the victors counted, the more victims they had to dispatch."

The leaders of the two great parties which Robespierre resolved to annihilate being destroyed, the others, who had been imprisoned with them, were brought up, went through their mock trial, and were then led to the guillotine. These were twenty-four in number, and included Chaumette and Gobel, general Dillon, general Beysser, and the widows of Hebert and Desmoulins. Gobel, the impious archbishop who had renounced Christianity, and even Deity, for France, now called lustily for a confessor. Laflotte managed to murder Dillon and the widow of Desmoulins by his pretended plot - a plot invented to save his own neck. He appeared on the trial and followed up the charge unblushingly. Hebert's widow, who had been a nun before the revolution, sitting on the same bench with the widow of Desmoulins, said, " You, at least, are fortunate; against you there is no charge." But Laflotte soon produced one. The widow of Desmoulins was only twenty-three, and distinguished by her great beauty, gracefulness, and amiability. Her only crime was her affection for her husband. She had been constantly visiting the prison to point out their father to her children. " Young, amiable, and well informed," says Du Broca, " the widow of Camille Desmoulins, during the mock process which condemned her to death as an accomplice of her husband, loathing life, and anxious to follow him, displayed a firmness of mind that was seen with admiration, even by her judges. When she heard the sentence pronounced, she exclaimed, 'Then, in a few hours, I shall again meet my husband! and, turning to the judges, she added, ' In departing from this world, where nothing now remains to engage my affections, I am far less an object of pity than you are.' She went to execution with unaffected pleasure, dressing herself for the occasion with particular care, and striking every one by her beauty and resignation."

Robespierre had now cut down all the enemies that he most dreaded. " One only power," says Alison, very expressively, " now remained - alone, terrible, irresistible. This was the power of death, wielded by a faction steeled against every feeling of humanity, dead to every principle of justice. In their iron hands order resumed its sway from the influence of terror, obedience became universal from the extinction of life. Silent and unresisted they led their victims to the scaffold, dreaded alike by the soldiers who crushed, the people who trembled, and the victims who suffered. The history of the world has no parallel to the horrors of that long night of suffering." As for Robespierre, cowardly as he was ferocious, he was ready to shrink from the very terrors which he inspired; but that gloomy fanatic of hell, St. Just, urged him on, saying, "The vessel of the revolution can only arrive safely in port by ploughing its way boldly through a red sea of blood!"

The boldest assassins hastened to submit to the now victorious Moloch, Robespierre. Even butcher Legendre, who had ventured to speak for Danton in the convention, now crawled at the minister's feet, and declared that he had been deceived in Danton and others: he was convinced of their guilt. He declared that he had received anonymous letters, urging him to assassinate Robespierre, but that he would bring all such letters to the committee of public safety. All hastened to follow his example, and crouch before the relentless tyrant. To strengthen the hands of the police, the names of all ministerial offices were abolished, and twelve commissions were created instead, the commissioners being chosen from the most servile and unquestioning of slaves. Herman, who had shown himself so resolute a tool at Danton's trial, was made chief commissioner of police and tribunals, and all the commissioners were made dependent on the committee of public safety. And so the work of destruction went on. One hundred and twenty-three heads fell in the month of March, nearly three hundred in the month of April! Amongst these were D'Espreménil, who figured in the early revolution; Malesherbes, the brave old advocate of Louis XVI., who never could be forgiven even that professional act. He was executed with nearly all his family; his daughter and granddaughter; his sons and grandsons; and his sons-in-law, the Lamoignons, and Chateaubriand, the celebrated author of that name, escaping only by being abroad in America. These brutes spared no genius or science. The great chemist, Lavoisier, was dragged out of his laboratory, and when he begged for a few days' respite, saying that he was on the very verge of a discovery which would benefit mankind, Tinville told him the republic did not want chemists and savans.

From the wealthy and distinguished, the reign of terror now descended to the very lowest and most obscure. They who had exulted in the murder of all that was elevated, now felt the axe every day coming nearer their own necks, and it must soon be a question whether Robespierre should annihilate all France, or his beloved sans culottes should put an end to him. In the month of May three hundred and twenty-four heads fell in the Place de la Revolution. Seven thousand prisoners were in the dungeons of Paris, and the number throughout France exceeded two hundred thousand! The whole country was a nation of cannibals, one devouring another. We have no description of hell, even by the most imaginative poets, which is half so terrible as France at this moment. Of all the conceivable antics of demons, Dante himself could present none like those of French regenerated Citizens. There men used to go through the prisons frequently at night to terrify the captives by the expectation that they were coming for fresh batches for the scaffold. Thus they were tortured by want of sleep, or a moment's repose. Fresh crowds of prisoners were daily driven in from the provinces, and sixty or seventy a day were marched to the guillotine. The revolutionary army of Ronsin was disbanded, and these ruffians took up the trade of informers and victim-catchers. They were everywhere, and a most profitable trade they made of it, for they extorted all they could by terror, and then plundered the poor wretches of their last penny, or last piece of decent clothing, before they carried them off. These villains were in the coffee-houses, the promenades, the theatres; every one fancied himself overheard and watched; they penetrated into the obscurest streets and faubourgs, and poverty was no longer a protection. Driven to desperation by their fears, people now committed suicide in shoals. The following statement of Alison's is by no means overcharged: -

" Before the fall of Robespierre put a stop to the murders, arrangements had been made for increasing the daily victims from eighty to one hundred and fifty. An immense aqueduct to remove the gore had been dug as far as the Place de St. Antoine, and four men were daily employed in emptying the blood of the victims into that reservoir. It was three in the afternoon when the melancholy procession usually set out from the Conciergerie. The higher orders, in general, behaved with firmness and serenity, and silently marched to death. The pity of the spectators was in a particular manner excited by the bauds of females led out together to execution. Fourteen young women of Verdun, of the most attractive forms, were cut off together. 'The day after their execution,' says Riouffe, 'the court of the prison looked like a garden bereaved of its flowers by a tempest.' On another occasion, twenty women of Poitou, chiefly the wives of peasants, were placed together on the chariot; some died on the way, and the wretches guillotined their lifeless remains. One kept her infant in her bosom till she reached the foot of the scaffold; the executioner tore the baby from her breast, as she suckled it for the last time, and the screams of maternal agony were only stifled with her life. In removing the prisoners from the gaol of the Maison Lazare, one of the women declared herself on the point of being delivered of a child. The hard-hearted gaoler compelled her to move on; she did so, uttering piercing shrieks, and at length fell on the ground, and was delivered of a child in the presence of her persecutors! Such accumulated horrors annihilated all the charities and intercourse of life. Passengers hesitated to address their most intimate friends on meeting. The extent of the calamity rendered men suspicious even of those they loved most. Every one assumed the coarsest dress and the most squalid appearance. An elegant exterior would have been the certain forerunner of destruction. Night came, but with it no diminution of the anxiety of the people. Every family early assembled its members. With trembling looks they gazed around the room, fearful that the very walls might harbour traitors. The Sound of a foot, the stroke of a hammer, a voice in the street, froze all hearts with terror. If a knock was heard at the door, every one in agonising suspense expected his fate. Unable to endure such protracted misery, numbers committed suicide." Such was the climax of this revolution, which was to make all earth a paradise!

Amongst the victims of this frightful period was the amiable princess Elizabeth, the sister of Louis XVI. She was found to correspond with her brothers abroad, and was brought up on the 9th of May. On being asked her name and rank, she boldly replied, "I am Elizabeth of France, and the aunt of your king." Though she was compelled to witness the execution of twenty-four victims before they gave her her turn, she met her fate with heroic firmness. The class now going daily to the guillotine were chiefly tailors, shoemakers, hairdressers, butchers, farmers, publicans; the axe had about cleared off all of superior rank. Yet, now and then, a more prominent victim still was found. Two attempts were made at this moment to get rid of Robespierre by assassination. On the 21st of May, one Ladmiral - who had been a lottery commissioner at Brussels, and who was about fifty years of age - lay in wait all day for Robespierre in the gallery of the committee of public welfare; but not meeting with him, he returned home, and watched for Collot d'Herbois, who lodged in the same house with him. Collot coming home at midnight, Ladmiral fired at him on the staircase with a pistol, but missed him. He was secured, but not before he had fired again and severely wounded one Geffroy, a locksmith. When questioned as to his accomplices, he denied that lie had any, and only regretted not having killed one or other of these scoundrels, as, then, he should have the admiration of all France, and his name would have lived in history. Barrère made a fine speech in the convention, declaring Ladmiral instigated by Pitt.

The next day, Robespierre's life was attempted by a woman; it was evident that his time was coming. Robespierre lodged at the house of a carpenter, named Duplaix, in the Rue St. Honoré. This carpenter, or, more probably, cabinet-maker, had three daughters, one the mistress of Robespierre, another the wife, or mistress, of Lebas, one of Robespierre's creatures, and the third was married to, or lived with, another member of the convention. Both the mother and daughters were of a blood-thirsty nature worthy of such connection. The mother was conspicuous amongst the tricoteuses de la guillotine, or knitters of the guillotine, because these women sate daily to witness the executions whilst they knitted! The daughters of Duplaix, if they did not go to the guillotine, enjoyed themselves by watching the trains of victims as they passed along the street to execution. Robespierre spent all his spare time in this family, along with one Nicolas, a printer, Arthur, a stationer, and others of a like grade, all dependent upon him.

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