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Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 9


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The avengers being slain, Robespierre went, surrounded by his Strike-hards, first to the jacobin club, and then to the Convention, to receive their congratulations. The whole trembling crowd of slaves were vociferous in their pretended joy at his delivery; and none so loud as butcher Legendre, who still dreaded Robespierre's vengeance for his defence of Danton. He declared that the God of free men had thrown his shield over Robespierre and Collot d'Herbois. It was intimated that the Supreme Being had saved Robespierre, out of gratitude for his having acknowledged his existence! From this moment the prostration of the republic at the feet of this wretch was complete. It was no longer said the committee wills it, but Robespierre wills it. Tinville now menaced men, not with the committee, but with Robespierre. The people in the crowded prisons recognised now only one tyrant and oppressor - Robespierre. The foreign potentates cal led the French soldiers " Robespierre's soldiers! " and this name occurs in a proclamation of the duke of York's. Robespierre was now the acknowledged dictator of France: his merciless butcheries and his fiendish cunning had made him the king of terrors; he had actually usurped that name from Death. He was surrounded by a crowd of women, who paid him the most sickening adulations, and he seemed to live in au actual delirium of vanity. A peer of France bas left us a most curious picture of him at this time, when about twenty heads per day were wing off at his command. He used to meet this nobleman at night in the gardens of the Tuileries, and insist on chatting with him on literature, care- fully avoiding any political topic, and showing the utmost anger when such topics were alluded to. " The reader," says the nobleman, " may figure to himself what I must have felt, when, tête-à-tête with him after the horrors of the day, I was obliged to talk with him about Homer, Tasso, or Rousseau, or to analyse Cicero, Montaigne, or Rabelais, with this man whose Lands were drenched with blood!"

He was enamoured of Ossian, and at the same time delighted in the buffooneries of Scarron, which lie quoted amid peals of maniac laughter; his terrified listen shuddered at this laughter, which seemed that of a fiend. This writer gives also a portrait of the personal appearance of this sanguinary tyrant, and of the terror in which he was all his life. " He was particular about his linen being very fine and white. The woman who took care of it was frequently scolded on this account, and I have witnessed some curious scenes between him and his laundress. He would have his frills plaited with extreme neatness; he wore waistcoats of delicate colours - pink, light blue, chamois, elegantly embroidered. - The dressing of his hair took him a deal of time; and he was very difficult about the colour and cut of his coats. Ho had two watches; wore several costly rings on his fingers, and had a valuable collection of snuff-boxes. His elegant appearance formed a singular contrast with the studied squalidness of the other jacobins. But bold as he was in speech, he trembled with fear at the least danger. He did not like to be left alone in the dark. The slightest noise made him quake, and terror was expressed in his eyes. I had in my room a skull, which I used for the study of anatomy; it was so disagreeable to him that he made me put it away, that he might never see it again. I was confounded at such a proof of weakness, which occasioned me profound reflections."

It was probably this excessive cowardice, this tormenting of a terrible conscience, that made him dread to deny the existence of God; for he certainly paid no regard to God's laws. But he, no doubt, looked forward to his fate, if there should be one, and he determined, whilst he was every day destroying His creatures, to propitiate God, and so resolved to restore the recognition and worship of the Supreme Being.

Accordingly, on the 7th of May, he had appeared in the tribune, with a speech carefully prepared on the subject. He declared that the republic was virtue; the anti-republicans were vices, instigated by kings. Anarchists, corrupt men, and atheists, were the agents of Pitt. He did not assert the existence of God as a fact not to be denied, but as a useful political theorem, which had been maintained by Zeno and the stoics, by Cicero, Cato, and other great Romans. The Encyclopaedists, lie said, denied God, because they were pensioned despots, whilst declaiming against despotism. He said that a nation ought to discourage atheism and encourage deism, not as authors of systems, " but as legislators, seeking what principles are most suit- able to man in a state of society." He then launched5 says Thiers, " into ideas truly grand and moral. ' What signify to you, O legislators! the various hypotheses by which certain philosophers explain the philosophy of nature t You can leave all these subjects to their everlasting disputes. Neither is it as metaphysicians nor as theologians that you ought to view them. In the eyes of the legislator, all that is beneficial to the world, and good m practice, is truth. The idea of the Supreme Being and of the immortality of the soul is a continual recall to justice; it is, therefore, social and republican."

Such were the grounds on which Robespierre condescended to allow the Supreme Being to be readmitted to his oavii world. He did, indeed, ask his hearers what advantage the theory of atheism and annihilation had over this theory, but lie did no more than State it as a good political theory; lie did not pretend that it must be admitted because it was an eternal truth. He assured them that the acknowledgment of a Deity need not encourage priestcraft, because the priests were but quacks, and very different was the God of Nature from the God of the priests. His proposal was received with acclamations, as it would have been, by this creeping and affrighted crew, had it been just the opposite of what it was. A decree was immediately passed acknowledging the Supreme Being; and these noble senators evidently thought that God was very much obliged to them for acknowledging his existence, and transferring to him the homage they had lately been paying to courtezans dressed up as the goddesses of Nature, Reason, and Liberty!

Robespierre then declared that the people needed festivals, and immediately it was decreed that every decade should be celebrated as a festival. The Supreme Being had the honour of leading off, and lie was to be followed by the human race, the French people, the love of country, agriculture, necessity, misfortune, posterity, and various other qualifies and sentiments; each had one decade in the year, and the Supreme Being had one dedicated to him amongst them. It hardly seemed a restoration, after ail, but the erection of a pantheon of worshipable things, with the Supreme Being at the head of them. His first festival was fixed for the 20th of Prairial, or 8th of June. The painter David, who had designed the imagery of the festivals of Reason, of Nature, and Liberty, was commissioned to prepare the scenes and ceremonies of the festival of the Supreme Being. This was enacted in the gardens of the Tuileries. Robespierre, in his sky-blue coat and most showy waistcoat, and carrying in his hand a grand bouquet of flowers mixed with ears of wheat, led the procession. He appeared beside himself with vanity and with the intoxication of power. David had erected an artificial mount, on the top of which Robespierre, as high priest of the restored Deity, and the whole of the convention, were to stand; but he had made it too small, and there was much crowding and cursing amongst those who could not get a place. There stood the statues of Atheism and Deism, as well as the veiled statue of Wisdom, and a torch was handed to Robespierre to burn the statues of Atheism and Deism at the moment that the statue of Wisdom was un veiled; but, unfortunately, the smoke from the burning of the two images of the repudiated qualifies blackened Wisdom, so that she looked more like a demon than a divine creature. The whole appeared rather like a burlesque on the Deity than a festival in his honour, and all around Robespierre were Couthon, Billaud-Varennes, and almost all his colleagues, fanatics in atheism, jesting at his folly, or denouncing his festival as the restoration of superstition and slavery. But the multitude which had rushed to congratulate the national assembly on the abolition of the Supreme Being, How rushed to the convention to congratulate it on the sublime idea of his restoration. The jacobin club went in procession for the same purpose, and now proposed that it should be made banishment to deny the existence of God -, but this was opposed. There was again a general embracing and kissing amongst the members of the convention, the jacobins, and the mob in the galleries, just as there was at the proclamation of atheism. Addresses flowed in from all parts; the section of Marat appeared at the bar of the convention, and its leader addressed it as follows: - O beneficent mountain! protecting Sinai! accept our expressions of gratitude and congratulation for all the sublime decrees which thou art daily issuing for the happiness of mankind. From thy boiling bosom darted the salutary thunderbolt which, in crushing atheism, gives us genuine republicans the consolatory idea of living free in the sight of the Supreme Being, and in expectation of the immortality of the soul! The convention for ever! " Many in their addresses thanked the convention for restoring the Supreme Being, and hope to man, as if that miserable body could really either depose or reinstate God, extinguish or rekindle the hope of immortality! " From that day," says Thiers, "the words Virtue and Supreme Being were in every mouth. Instead of the inscription to Reason, placed on the fronts of all churches, there was now inscribed, 'To the Supreme Being.' The remains of Rousseau (as the advocate of the Deity) were placed in the Pantheon, his widow presented to the convention, and a pension bestowed on her."

But though Robespierre had proclaimed the reign of the Supreme Being, he had not the least intention that it should on that account be any the more a reign of mercy. In his speech at the festival of the Supreme Being, he declared that the republic must be still further purged - that they must remain inexorable. On this point he and all his colleagues were agreed, but they were agreed in nothing else. They immediately broke into fresh schisms, as would necessarily be the case with such men, who must go on exterminating one another to the last. Robespierre, St. Just, and Couthon, still hung together; but Barrère, Collot d'Herbois, Billaud-Varennes, and most of the other members of the committees of public welfare and public safety, were in the very act of rushing. into opposition, and commencing a struggle with the triumvirate, Robespierre, Couthon, and St. Just to the death. Fear alone re- strained them; but this fear was soon expelled by another, the fear that, if they did not exterminate these men, these men would speedily exterminate them. They saw preparations already in progress for it. The last remaining defences of the liberty of the citizen were being knocked down by them. Couthon, at the instigation of Robespierre, introduced a decree, on the 10th of June, but two days after the festival, dividing the revolutionary tribunal into four tribunals, each having its président, vice-president, judges, and jury; or, in other words, the decree erected four tribunals instead of one, so as to do four times the work. The new public accusers, officers, and jurymen, were all named. Duplaix, the carpenter, Robespierre's host and friend, was continued in his profitable post as juryman. Coffinhal, Sellier, and Naulin, were the additional accusers. The jurymen who were to dispose formally of the lives of their fellow-citizens, were tradesmen of the most ordinary grade, - shoe makers, hatters, and clerks in public offices. It was declared that the object of this multiplied machinery was to punish the enemies of the republic. The power of sending the accused to these tribunals was to reside in the two committees of public safety and public welfare, to the individuals on public missions, and to the accusers. To complete the revolting audacity of the decree, it proposed that where the tribunals possessed material or moral proof of guilt, they should not require witnesses. This was to put every man at the mercy of his enemies, and to cut away the last fragment of defence. There was a profound silence as Couthon read the draft of this decree; numbers were horrified, but afraid of expressing dissent, lest they should be charged with moderatism, a charge of fatal import. Ruamps, a low scoundrel, however, declared, that if this decree passed, he would blow out his brains. There was an attempt, on the part of Barrère, Lecointre of Versailles, and some others, to procure an adjournment, but Robespierre protested violently against it, telling the members it was what they had been clamouring for months, and it was carried. Such was the terror created by this new law, that more than sixty members of the convention ceased to sleep at their own houses.

Robespierre and Couthon called for the heads of Tallien, Bourdon of the Oise, Thuriot, Rovère, Lecointre, Panis, Monestier, Legendre, Frèron, Barras, and a number of others. It was necessary to combine for mutual defence. At this conjuncture they discovered that Robespierre was held in great repute by a small sect of fanatics, at the head of whom was one Catherine Theot, a French Johanna South- cote, who imagined that she was going to give birth to a new Messiah. Her worshippers, who had, probably, through one of their number, an ex-Carthusian monk, named Dom Gerle, discovered that Theos, in Greek, meant God, had changed the t at the end of the name into an s, thus making her Catherine Theos, or Catherine God. She was familiarly called the Mother of God.

Vadier, Vouland, and others, who were amongst the proscribed, sent a spy into the society of these fanatics, arrested Catherine and Dom Gerle, and found on the monk a certificate of civism given him by Robespierre, and in Catherine's bed a letter purporting to be written by her to her beloved son and chief prophet, Robespierre. This last was probably forged, for Catherine could not write at all, but it served its purpose, and Robespierre gave new force to the charge by opposing the prosecution of' the so-called Mother of God and the monk. Barrère drew up the report against the accused, in which he ridiculed the poor deranged woman by many satirical touches, much to the amusement of the convention. The report was read by Vadier, and it proceeded to make many charges against Dom Gerle besides that of his worship of this crazy woman. Robespierre resisted the printing of the report. He represented the insane reveries of these fanatics as matters not of laughter and ridicule, but of serious condemnation, as calculated to demoralise; and that, to print the report containing so much allusion to their fallacies, and in such a flippant strain, was only to spread the mischief by encouraging atheism. But the convention ordered the report to be printed and disseminated, and the accused to be handed over to the tribunal. Robespierre, mortified at the resistance to his will, retired from the convention and the committee of public welfare, and brooded on his revenge in secret. He, no doubt, calculated that, by allowing Barrère, Billaud- Varennes, and Collot d'Herbois to take the lead in the copious blood shedding that still went on, he should, in a while, be able to turn upon them with a fierce charge, and destroy them. Couthon was therefore left alone to contend with this host of enemies, and he found them too much for him, for every day they were growing bolder, and more deter- mined to rid themselves of Robespierre and his colleagues. They were active in spreading about all sorts of calumnies in secret against Robespierre. They represented that the son of God to be born meant really Robespierre himself, whom the woman Theot had called her beloved son in the letter ascribed to her; and that his restoration of the Supreme Being was only a cover for his own assumption of a dictatorship. The pretence was too absurd for any but a nation of atheists, but it served to excite wild suspicions.

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