Page images


The man escaped. The shouts continued. In presence of that tumult, says Bailly, who presided, the assembly remained firm and worthy; as patient as strong, it waited in silence till that turbulent band had exhausted itself with shouting. An hour after midnight, the deputies being less numerous, voting was formally postponed till the morrow.

On the following morning, at the moment of voting, the president was informed that he was summoned to the chancellerie to receive a letter from the king. This letter, in which

he reminded them that they could do nothing without the concurrence of the three orders, would have arrived just at the right moment to furnish a text for the hundred opponents, to give rise to long speeches, and unsettle and disaffect many weak minds. The Assembly, with royal gravity, adjourned the king's letter, and forbade its president to leave the hall before the end of the meeting. It wanted to vote and voted. The different motions might be reduced to three, or rather to two :-

1st. That of Sieyes-National Assembly.

2ndly. That of Mounier-Assembly of the Representatives of the Major part of the Nation, in the absence of the Minor part. The equivocal formula of Mirabeau was equivalent to Mounier's, as the word people could be taken in a limited sense, and as the major part of the nation.

Mounier had the apparent advantage of a judicial literalness, an arithmetical exactness, but was fundamentally contrary to justice. It brought into symmetrical opposition, and compared, as on a level, two things of an enormously different value. The Assembly represented the nation, minus the privileged; that is to say, 96 or 98 hundredths to 4 hundredths (according to Sieyes), or 2 hundredths (according to Necker). Why should such an enormous importance be given to these 2 or 4 hundredths? Certainly not for the moral power they contained; they no longer had any. It was, in reality, because all the large properties of the kingdom, the two-thirds of the lands, were in their possession. Mounier was the advocate of the landed property against the population,-of the land against man: -a feudal, English, and materialist point of view. Sieyes had given the true French formula.

With Mounier's arithmetic and unjust justness, and with



Mirabeau's equivocation, the nation remained a class, and the fixed property-the land-constituted also a class in face of the nation. We remained in the injustice of antiquity; the Middle Ages was perpetuated-the barbarous system by which the ground was reckoned more precious than man; and the land, manure, and ashes, were the liege lords of the mind.

Sieyes, being put to the vote at once, had near five hundred votes for him, and not one hundred against him.* Therefore the Assembly was proclaimed National Assembly. Many cried, Vive le Roi!

Two interruptions again intervened, as if to stop the Assembly, -one from the nobility, who sent for a mere pretext; the other from certain deputies, who wanted to have a president and a regular bureau created before everything else. The Assembly proceeded immediately to the solemnity of the oath. In presence of a multitude of four thousand deeply affected spectators, the six hundred deputies, standing in profound silence, with up-raised hands and contemplating the calm, honest countenance of their president, listened to him whilst reading the formula, and exclaimed: "We swear." A universal sentiment of respect and religion filled every heart.

The Assembly was founded; it existed; it lacked but strength, the certainty of living. It secured this by asserting the right of taxation. It declared that the impost, till then illegal, should be collected provisionally "till the day of the separation of the present Assembly. This was, with one blow, condemning all the past and seizing upon the future.

[ocr errors]

It adopted openly the question of honour, the public debt, and guaranteed it.

And all these royal acts were in royal language, in the very formulæ which the king alone had hitherto taken : "The Assembly intends and decrees."

Finally, it evinced much concern about public subsistences. The administrative power having declined as much as the others, the legislature, the only authority then respected, was forced to interfere. It demanded, moreover, for its committee of subsistence, what the king himself had offered to the

• Four hundred and ninety-one votes against ninety. Mirabeau durst not vote either for or against, and remained at home.



deputation of the clergy,—a communication of the information that would throw a light upon this matter. But what he had

then offered, he was no longer willing to grant.

The most surprised of all was Necker; he had, in his simplicity, believed he could lead the world; and the world was going on without him. He had ever regarded the young Assembly as his daughter-his pupil; he warranted the king that it would be docile and well-behaved; yet, behold, all on a sudden, without consulting its tutor, it went alone, advanced and climbed over the old barriers without deigning even to look at them. When thus motionless with astonishment, Necker received two counsels, one from a royalist, the other from a republican, and both came to the same thing. The royalist was the intendant Bertrand de Molleville, an impassioned and narrow-minded intendant of the ancien régime; the republican was Durovray, one of those democrats whom the king had driven from Geneva in 1782.

It is necessary to know who this foreigner was, who, in so serious a crisis, took so great an interest in France, and ventured to give advice. Durovray, settled in England, pensioned by the English, and grown English in heart and maxims, was, a little later, a chief of emigrants. Meanwhile, he formed a part of a little Genevese coterie which, unfortunately for us, was circumventing Mirabeau. England seemed to be surrounding the principal organ of French liberty. Unfavourable towards the English till then, the great man had allowed himself to be taken by those ex-republicans,-the self-termed martyrs of liberty. The Durovrays, the Dumonts, and other indefatigable writers of mediocrity, were ever ready to assist his idleness. He was already an invalid, and going the very way to render himself worse and worse. His nights destroyed his days. In the morning he remembered the Assembly and

* These Genevese were not precisely agents of England. But the pensions they received from her, the monstrous present of more than a million (of francs) that she made them to found an Irish Geneva (which remained on paper),-all that imposed on them the obligation to serve the English. Moreover, they became two parties. Yvernois became English and our most cruel enemy; Clavière alone was French. What shall we say of Etienne Dumont, who pretends that those people, with their leaden pens, wrote all Mirabeau's orations? His Souvenirs bear witness to a base ingratitude towards the man of genius who honoured him with his friendship.



business, and collected his thoughts; he had there, ready at hand, the English policy, sketched by the Genevese; he received it with his eyes shut, and embellished it with his talent. Such was his readiness and his lack of preparation, that, at the tribune, even his admirable language was occasionally only a translation of the notes which these Genevese handed to him from time to time.

Durovray, who was not in communication with Necker, made himself his officious counsellor in this serious crisis.

Like Bertrand de Molleville, his opinion was that the king should annul the decree of the Assembly, deprive it of its name of National Assembly, conmand the union of the three orders, declare himself the Provisional Legislator of France, and do, by royal authority, what the Commons had done without it. Bertrand believed justly, that, after this coup d'état, the Assembly could but dissolve. Durovray pretended that the Assembly, crushed and humiliated under the royal prerogative, would accept its petty part, as a machine to make laws.*

On the evening of the 17th, the heads of the clergy, Cardinal de Larochefoucauld, and the Archbishop of Paris, had hastened to Marly, and implored the king and the queen. On the 19th, vain disputes in the Chamber of the nobility; Orleans proposed to join the Third, and Montesquieu to unite with the clergy. But there was no longer any order of the clergy. The very same day, the curés had transferred the majority of their order to form a union with the Third, and thus divided the order into two. The cardinal and the archbishop return the same evening to Marly, and fall at the feet of the king: Religion is ruined!" Next, come the Parliament people: "The monarchy is lost, unless the States be dissolved."

[ocr errors]

A dangerous advice, and already impossible to follow. The flood was rising higher every hour. Versailles and Paris were in commotion Necker had persuaded two or three of the

Compare the two plans in Bertrand's Mémoires and Dumont's Souvenirs. The latter confesses that the Genevese had taken good care not to confide their fine project to Mirabeau; he was not informed of it till after the event, and then said with much good sense: "This is the way kings are led to the scaffold."

106 ministers, and even the king, that his project was the only means of salvation. That project had been read over again in a last and definitive council on Friday evening, the 19th; everything was finished and agreed: "The portfolios were already being shut up," says Necker, "when one of the royal servants suddenly entered; he whispered to the king; and His Majesty immediately arose, commanding his ministers to remain in their places. M. de Montmorin, sitting by my side, said to me: We have effected nothing; the queen alone could have ventured to interrupt the Council of State; the princes, apparently, have circumvented her.


[ocr errors]

Everything was stopped: this might have been foreseen; it was, doubtless, for this that the king had been brought to Marly, away from Versailles and the people; and, alone with the queen, more affectionate and liable to be influenced by her, in their common affliction for the death of their child. A fine opportunity, an excellent chance for the suggestions of the priests! Was not the Dauphin's death a severe judgment of Providence, when the king was yielding to the dangerous innovations of a Protestant minister?

The king, still undecided, but already almost overcome, was contented to command (in order to prevent the clergy from uniting with the Third Estate) that the hall should be shut on the morrow, (Saturday June 20th); the pretext was the preparations necessary for a royal meeting to be held on the Monday.

All this was settled in the night, and placarded in Versailles at six in the morning. The president of the National Assembly learned, by mere chance, that it could not be held. It was past seven when he received a letter, not from the king (as was natural, the king being accustomed to write with his own hand to the president of the Parliament), but simply a notice from young Brézé, the master of the ceremonies. It was not to the president, to M. Bailly, at his lodgings, that such a notice ought to have been given, but to the Assembly itself. Bailly had no power to act of himself. At eight o'clock, the hour appointed the night before, he repaired to the door of the hall with a great number of deputies. Being stopped by the sentinels, he protested against the hindrance, and declared the meeting convened. Several young members made a show of

« PreviousContinue »