20000 Free eBooks
Library for Free Download eBooks and Read Online

Your last book:

You dont read books at this site.

Total books at library:
about 20000

You can read online and download ebooks for free!

Ebooks by authors: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 
Chambers, William / Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 426 Volume 17, New Series, February 28, 1852
Produced by Malcolm Farmer, Richard J. Shiffer and the PG
Online Distributed Proofreading Team.






Some characters are a puzzle to history, and none is more so than that
of Robespierre. According to popular belief, this personage was a
blood-thirsty monster, a vulgar tyrant, who committed the most
unheard-of enormities, with the basely selfish object of raising
himself to supreme power--of becoming the Cromwell of the Revolution.
Considering that Robespierre was for five years--1789 to 1794--a prime
leader in the political movements in France; that for a length of time
he was personally concerned in sending from forty to fifty heads to
the scaffold per diem; and that the Reign of Terror ceased immediately
on his overthrow--it is not surprising that his character is
associated with all that is villainous and detestable. Nevertheless,
as the obscurities of the great revolutionary drama clear up, a
strange suspicion begins to be entertained, that the popular legend
respecting Robespierre is in a considerable degree fallacious; nay, it
is almost thought that this man was, in reality, a most kind-hearted,
simple, unambitious, and well-disposed individual--a person who, to
say the least of it, deeply deplored the horrors in which
considerations of duty had unhappily involved him. To attempt an
unravelment of these contradictions, let us call up the phantom of
this mysterious personage, and subject him to review.

To understand Robespierre, it is necessary to understand the French
Revolution. The proximate cause of that terrible convulsion was, as is
well known, an utter disorder in all the functions of the state, and
more particularly in the finances, equivalent to national bankruptcy.
That matters might have been substantially patched up by judicious
statesmanship, no one doubts; but that a catastrophe, sooner or later,
was unavoidable, seems to be equally certain. The mind of France was
rotten; the principles of society were undermined. As regards
religion, there was a universal scepticism, of which the best
literature of the day was the exponent; but this unbelief was greatly
strengthened by the scandalous abuses in the ecclesiastical system. It
required no depth of genius to point out that the great principles of
brotherly love, humility, equality, liberty, promulgated as part and
parcel of the Christian dispensation eighteen centuries previously,
had no practical efficacy so far as France was concerned. Instead of
equality before God and the law, the humbler classes were feudal
serfs, without any appeal from the cruel oppressions to which they
were exposed. In the midst of gloom, Rousseau's vague declamations on
the rights of man fell like a ray of light. A spark was communicated,
which kindled a flame in the bosoms of the more thoughtful and
enthusiastic. An astonishing impulse was almost at once given to
investigation. The philosopher had his adherents all over France.
Viewed as a species of prophet, he was, properly speaking, a madman,
who in his ravings had glanced on the truth, but only glanced. Among
men of sense, his ornate declamations concerning nature and reason
would have excited little more attention than that which is usually
given to poetic and speculative fancies.

Amidst an impulsive and lively people, unaccustomed to the practical
consideration and treatment of abuses, there arose a cry to destroy,
root up; to sweep away all preferences and privileges; to bring down
the haughty, and raise the depressed; to let all men be free and
equal, all men being brothers. Such is the origin of the three
words--liberty, equality, and fraternity, which were caught up as the
charter of social intercourse. It is for ever to be regretted that
this explosion of sentiment was so utterly destructive in its
character; for therein has it inflicted immense wrong on what is
abstractedly true and beautiful. At first, as will be remembered, the
revolutionists did not aim at establishing a republic, but that form
of government necessarily grew out of their hallucinations. Without
pausing to consider that a nation of emancipated serfs were unprepared
to take on themselves the duties of an enlightened population, the
plunge was unhesitatingly made.

At this comparatively distant day, even with all the aids of the
recording press, we can form no adequate idea of the fervour with
which this great social overthrow was set about and accomplished. The
best minds in France were in a state of ecstasy, bordering on
delirium. A vast future of human happiness seemed to dawn. Tyranny,
force, fraud, all the bad passions, were to disappear under the
beneficent approach of Reason. Among the enthusiasts who rushed into
this marvellous frenzy, was Maximilian Robespierre. It is said by his
biographers, that Robespierre was of English or Scotch origin: we have
seen an account which traced him to a family in the north, of not a
dissimilar name. His father, at all events, was an advocate at Arras,
in French Flanders, and here Maximilian was born in 1759. Bred to the
law, he was sent as a representative to the States-General in 1789,
and from this moment he entered on his career, and Paris was his home.
At his outset, he made no impression, and scarcely excited public
notice. His manners were singularly reserved, and his habits austere.
The man lived within himself. Brooding over the works of Rousseau, he
indulged in the dream of renovating the moral world. Like Mohammed
contriving the dogmas of a new religion, Robespierre spent days in
solitude, pondering on his destiny. To many of the revolutionary
leaders, the struggle going on was merely a political drama, with a
Convention for the _dénouement_. To Robespierre, it was a
philosophical problem; all his thoughts aimed at the ideal--at the
apotheosis of human nature.

Let us take a look at his personal appearance. Visionaries are usually
slovens. They despise fashions, and imagine that dirtiness is an
attribute of genius. To do the honourable member for Artois justice,
he was above this affectation. Small and neat in person, he always
appeared in public tastefully dressed, according to the fashion of the
period--hair well combed back, frizzled, and powdered; copious frills
at the breast and wrists; a stainless white waistcoat; light-blue
coat, with metal buttons; the sash of a representative tied round his
waist; light-coloured breeches, white stockings, and shoes with silver
buckles. Such was his ordinary costume; and if we stick a rose in his
button-hole, or place a nosegay in his hand, we shall have a tolerable
idea of his whole equipment. It is said he sometimes appeared in
top-boots, which is not improbable; for this kind of boot had become
fashionable among the republicans, from a notion that as top-boots
were worn by gentlemen in England, they were allied to constitutional
government. Robespierre's features were sharp, and enlivened by bright
and deeply-sunk blue eyes. There was usually a gravity and intense
thoughtfulness in his countenance, which conveyed an idea of his being
thoroughly in earnest. Yet, his address was not unpleasing. Unlike
modern French politicians, his face was always smooth, with no vestige
of beard or whiskers. Altogether, therefore, he may be said to have
been a well-dressed, gentlemanly man, animated with proper
self-respect, and having no wish to court vulgar applause by
neglecting the decencies of polite society.

Before entering on his public career in Paris, Robespierre had
probably formed his plans, in which, at least to outward appearance,
there was an entire negation of self. A stern incorruptibility seemed
the basis of his character; and it is quite true that no offers from
the court, no overtures from associates, had power to tempt him. There
was only one way by which he could sustain a high-souled independence,
and that was the course adopted in like circumstances by Andrew
Marvel--simple wants, rigorous economy, a disregard of fine company,
an avoidance of expensive habits. Now, this is the curious thing in
Robespierre's history. Perhaps there was a tinge of pride in his
living a life of indigence; but in fairness it is entitled to be
called an honest pride, when we consider that the means of profusion
were within his reach. On his arrival in Paris, he procured a humble
lodging in the Marais, a populous district in the north-eastern
faubourgs; but it being represented to him some time afterwards, that,
as a public man, it was unsafe to expose himself in a long walk daily
to and from this obscure residence, he removed to a house in the Rue
St Honoré, now marked No. 396, opposite the Church of the Assumption.
Here he found a lodging with M. Duplay, a respectable but humble
cabinet-maker, who had become attached to the principles of the
Revolution; and here he was joined by his brother, who played an
inferior part in public affairs, and is known in history as 'the
Younger Robespierre.' The selection of this dwelling seems to have
fallen in with Robespierre's notions of economy; and it suited his
limited patrimony, which consisted of some rents irregularly paid by a
few small farmers of his property in Artois. These ill-paid rents,
with his salary as a representative, are said to have supported three
persons--himself, his brother, and his sister; and so straitened was
he in circumstances, that he had to borrow occasionally from his
landlord. Even with all his pinching, he did not make both ends meet.
We have it on authority, that at his death he was owing L.160; a small
debt to be incurred during a residence of five years in Paris, by a
person who figured as a leader of parties; and the insignificance of
this sum attests his remarkable self-denial.

Lamartine's account of the private life of Robespierre in the house of
the Duplays is exceedingly fascinating, and we should suppose is
founded on well-authorised facts. The house of Duplay, he says, 'was
low, and in a court surrounded by sheds filled with timber and plants,
and had almost a rustic appearance. It consisted of a parlour opening
to the court, and communicating with a sitting-room that looked into a
small garden. From the sitting-room a door led into a small study, in
which was a piano. There was a winding-staircase to the first floor,
where the master of the house lived, and thence to the apartment of

Here, long acquaintance, a common table, and association for several
years, 'converted the hospitality of Duplay into an attachment that
became reciprocal. The family of his landlord became a second family
to Robespierre, and while they adopted his opinions, they neither lost
the simplicity of their manners nor neglected their religious
observances. They consisted of a father, mother, a son yet a youth,
and four daughters, the eldest of whom was twenty-five, and the
youngest eighteen. Familiar with the father, filial with the mother,
paternal with the son, tender and almost brotherly with the young
girls, he inspired and felt in this small domestic circle all those
sentiments that only an ardent soul inspires and feels by spreading
abroad its sympathies. Love also attached his heart, where toil,
poverty, and retirement had fixed his life. Eléonore Duplay, the
eldest daughter of his host, inspired Robespierre with a more serious
attachment than her sisters. The feeling, rather predilection than
passion, was more reasonable on the part of Robespierre, more ardent
and simple on the part of the young girl. This affection afforded him
tenderness without torment, happiness without excitement: it was the
love adapted for a man plunged all day in the agitation of public
life--a repose of the heart after mental fatigue. He and Eléonore
lived in the same house as a betrothed couple, not as lovers.
Robespierre had demanded the young girl's hand from her parents, and
they had promised it to him.

'"The total want of fortune," he said, "and the uncertainty of the
morrow, prevented him from marrying her until the destiny of France
was determined; but he only awaited the moment when the Revolution
should be concluded, in order to retire from the turmoil and strife,
marry her whom he loved, go to reside with her in Artois, on one of
the farms he had saved among the possessions of his family, and there
to mingle his obscure happiness in the common lot of his family."

'The vicissitudes of the fortune, influence, and popularity of
Robespierre effected no change in his simple mode of living. The
multitude came to implore favour or life at the door of his house, yet
nothing found its way within. The private lodging of Robespierre
consisted of a low chamber, constructed in the form of a garret, above
some cart-sheds, with the window opening upon the roof. It afforded no
other prospect than the interior of a small court, resembling a
wood-store, where the sounds of the workmen's hammers and saws
constantly resounded, and which was continually traversed by Madame
Duplay and her daughters, who there performed all their household
duties. This chamber was also separated from that of the landlord by a
small room common to the family and himself. On the other side were
two rooms, likewise attics, which were inhabited, one by the son of
the master of the house, the other by Simon Duplay, Robespierre's
secretary, and the nephew of his host.

'The chamber of the deputy contained only a wooden bedstead, covered
with blue damask ornamented with white flowers, a table, and four
straw-bottomed chairs. This apartment served him at once for a study
and dormitory. His papers, his reports, the manuscripts of his
discourses, written by himself in a regular but laboured hand, and
with many marks of erasure, were placed carefully on deal-shelves
against the wall. A few chosen books were also ranged thereon. A
volume of Jean Jacques Rousseau or of Racine was generally open upon
his table, and attested his philosophical and literary predilections.'

With a mind continually on the stretch, and concerned less or more in
all the great movements of the day, the features of this remarkable
personage 'relaxed into absolute gaiety when in-doors, at table, or in
the evening, around the wood-fire in the humble chamber of the
cabinet-maker. His evenings were all passed with the family, in
talking over the feelings of the day, the plans of the morrow, the
conspiracies of the aristocrats, the dangers of the patriots, and the
prospects of public felicity after the triumph of the Revolution.
Sometimes Robespierre, who was anxious to cultivate the mind of his
betrothed, read to the family aloud, and generally from the tragedies
of Racine. He seldom went out in the evening; but two or three times a
year he escorted Madame Duplay and her daughter to the theatre. On
other days, Robespierre retired early to his chamber, lay down, and
rose again at night to work. The innumerable discourses he had
delivered in the two national assemblies, and to the Jacobins; the
articles written for his journal while he had one; the still more
numerous manuscripts of speeches which he had prepared, but never
delivered; the studied style so remarkable; the indefatigable
corrections marked with his pen upon the manuscripts--attest his
watchings and his determination.

'His only relaxations were solitary walks in imitation of his model,
Jean Jacques Rousseau. His sole companion in these perambulations was
his great dog, which slept at his chamber-door, and always followed
him when he went out. This colossal animal, well known in the
district, was called Brount. Robespierre was much attached to him, and
constantly played with him. Occasionally, on a Sunday, all the family
left Paris with Robespierre; and the politician, once more the man,
amused himself with the mother, the sisters, and the brother of
Eléonore in the wood of Versailles or of Issy.' Strange contradiction!
The man who is thus described as so amiable, so gentle, so satisfied
with the humble pleasures of an obscure family circle, went forth
daily on a self-imposed mission of turbulence and terror. Let us
follow him to the scene of his avocations. Living in the Rue St
Honoré, he might be seen every morning on his way, by one of the
narrow streets which led to the rooms of the National Assembly, or
Convention, as the legislative body was called after the deposition of
Louis XVI. The house so occupied, was situated on a spot now covered
by the Rue Rivoli, opposite the gardens of the Tuileries. In
connection with it, were several apartments used by committees; and
there, by the leading members of the House, the actual business of the
nation was for a long time conducted. It was by the part he played in
one of these formidable committees, that of 'Public Safety'--more
properly, public insecurity--that he becomes chargeable with his
manifold crimes. For the commission of these atrocities, however, he
held himself to be entirely excused; and how he could possibly
entertain any such notion, remains for us to notice.

The action of the Revolution was in the hands of three parties, into
which the Convention was divided--namely, the Montagnards, the
Girondists, and the Plaine. The last mentioned were a comparatively
harmless set of persons, who acted as a neutral body, and leaned one
way or the other according to their convictions, but whose votes it
was important to obtain. Between the Montagnards and the Girondists
there was no distinct difference of principle--both were keen
republicans and levellers; but in carrying out their views, the
Montagnards were the most violent and unscrupulous. The Girondists
expected that, after a little preliminary harshness, the Republic
would be established in a pacific manner; by the force, it may be
called, of philosophic conviction spreading through society. They were
thus the moderates; yet their moderation was unfortunately ill
manifested. At the outset, they countenanced the disgraceful mobbings
of the royal family; they gloried in the horrors of the 10th of
August, and the humiliation of the king; and only began to express
fears that things were going too far, when massacre became the order
of the day, and the guillotine assumed the character of a national
institution. They were finally borne down, as is well known, by the
superior energy and audacity of their opponents; and all perished one
way or other in the bloody struggle. Few pity them.

We need hardly recall the fact, that the discussions in the Convention
were greatly influenced by tumultuary movements out of doors. At a
short distance, were two political clubs, the Jacobins and the
Cordeliers, and there everything was debated and determined on. Of
these notorious clubs, the most uncompromising was the Jacobins;
consequently, its principal members were to be found among the party
of the Montagnards. During the hottest time of the Revolution, the
three men most distinguished as Montagnards and Jacobins were Marat,
Danton, and Robespierre. Mirabeau, the orator of the Revolution, had
already disappeared, being so fortunate as to die naturally, before
the practice of mutual guillotining was established. After him,
Vergniaud, the leader of the Girondists, was perhaps the most
effective speaker; and till his fall, he possessed a commanding
influence in the Convention. Danton was likewise a speaker of vast
power, and from his towering figure, he seemed like a giant among
pigmies. Marat might be termed the representative of the kennel. He
was a low demagogue, flaunting in rags, dirty, and venomous: he was
always calling out for more blood, as if the grand desideratum was the
annihilation of mankind. Among the extreme men, Robespierre, by his
eloquence, his artifice, and his bold counsels, contrived to maintain
his position. This was no easy matter, for it was necessary to remain
firm and unfaltering in every emergency. He, like the others at the
helm of affairs, was constantly impelled forward by the clubs, but
more so by the incessant clamours of the mob. At the Hôtel de Ville
sat the Commune, a crew of blood-thirsty villains, headed by Hebert;
and this miscreant, with his armed sections, accompanied by paid
female furies, beset the Convention, and carried measures of severity
by sheer intimidation. Let it further be remembered that, in 1793,
France was kept in apprehension of invasion by the Allies under the
Duke of Brunswick, and the army of emigrant noblesse under the command
of Condé. The hovering of these forces on the frontiers, and their
occasional successes, produced a constant alarm of counter-revolution,
which was believed to be instigated by secret intriguers in the very
heart of the Convention. It was alleged by Robespierre in his greatest
orations, that the safety of the Republic depended on keeping up a
wholesome state of terror; and that all who, in the slightest degree,
leaned towards clemency, sanctioned the work of intriguers, and ought,
accordingly, to be proscribed. By such harangues--in the main,
miserable sophistry--he acquired prodigious popularity, and was in
fact irresistible.

Thus was legalised the Reign of Terror, which, founded in false
reasoning and insane fears, we must, nevertheless, look back upon as a
thing, at least to a certain extent, reconcilable with a sense of
duty; inasmuch as even while signing warrants for transferring
hundreds of people to the Revolutionary Tribunal--which was equivalent
to sending them to the scaffold--Robespierre imagined that he was
acting throughout under a clear, an imperious necessity: only ridding
society of the elements that disturbed its purity and tranquillity.
Stupendous hallucination! And did this fanatic really feel no pang of
conscience? That will afterwards engage our consideration. Frequently,
he was called on to proscribe and execute his most intimate friends;
but it does not appear that any personal consideration ever stayed his
proceedings. First, he swept away Royalists and aristocrats; next, he
sacrificed the Girondists; last, he came to his companion-Jacobins.
Accusing Danton and his friends of a tendency to moderation, he had
the dexterity to get them proscribed and beheaded. When Danton was
seized, he could hardly credit his senses: he who had long felt
himself sure of being one day dictator by public acclamation, and to
have been deceived by that dreamer, Robespierre, was most humiliating.
But Robespierre would not dare to put _him_ to death! Grave
miscalculation! He was immolated like the rest; the crowd looking on
with indifference. Along with him perished Camille Desmoulins, a young
man of letters, and a Jacobin, but convicted of advocating clemency.
Robespierre was one of Camille's private and most valued friends; he
had been his instructor in politics, and had become one of the
trustees under his marriage-settlement. Robespierre visited at the
house of his _protégé_; chatted with the young and handsome Madame
Desmoulins at her parties; and frequently dandled the little Horace
Desmoulins on his knee, and let him play with his bunch of seals. Yet,
because they were adherents of Danton, he sent husband and wife to the
scaffold within a few weeks of each other! What eloquent and touching
appeals were made to old recollections by the mother of Madame
Desmoulins. Robespierre was reminded of little Horace, and of his duty
as a family guardian. All would not do. His heart was marble; and so
the wretched pair were guillotined. Camille's letter to his wife, the
night before he was led to the scaffold, cannot be read without
emotion. He died with a lock of her hair clasped convulsively in his

Having thus cleared away to some extent all those who stood in the way
of his views, Robespierre bethought himself of acting a new part in
public affairs, calculated, as he thought, to dignify the Republic.
Chaumette, a mean confederate of Hebert, and a mouthpiece of the
rabble, had, by consent of the Convention, established Paganism, or
the worship of Reason, as the national religion. Robespierre never
gave his approval to this outrage, and took the earliest opportunity
of restoring the worship of the Supreme. It is said, that of all the
missions with which he believed himself to be charged, the highest,
the holiest in his eyes, was the regeneration of the religious
sentiment of the people: to unite heaven and earth by this bond of a
faith which the Republic had broken, was for him the end, the
consummation of the Revolution. In one of his paroxysms, he delivered
an address to the Convention, which induced them to pass a law,
acknowledging the existence of God, and ordaining a public festival to
inaugurate the new religion. This fête took place on the 8th of June
1794. Robespierre headed the procession to the Champ de Mars; and he
seemed on the occasion to have at length reached the grand realisation
of all his hopes and desires. From this _coup de théâtre_ he returned
home, magnified in the estimation of the people, but ruined in the
eyes of the Convention. His conduct had been too much that of one
whose next step was to the restoration of the throne, with himself as
its occupant. By Fouché, Tallien, Collot-d'Herbois, and some others,
he was now thwarted in all his schemes. His wish was to close the
Reign of Terror and allow the new moral world to begin; for his late
access of devotional feeling had, in reality, disposed him to adopt
benign and clement measures. But to arrest carnage was now beyond his
power; he had invoked a demon which would not be laid. Assailed by
calumny, he made the Convention resound with his speeches; spoke of
fresh proscriptions to put down intrigue; and spread universal alarm
among the members. In spite of the most magniloquent orations, he saw
that his power was nearly gone. Sick at heart, he began to absent
himself from committees, which still continued to send to the scaffold
numbers whose obscure rank should have saved them from suspicion or

At this juncture, Robespierre was earnestly entreated by one of his
more resolute adherents, St Just, to play a bold game for the
dictatorship, which he represented as the only means of saving the
Republic from anarchy. Anonymous letters to the same effect also
poured in upon him; and prognostics of his greatness, uttered by an
obscure fortune-teller, were listened to by the great demagogue with
something like superstitious respect. But for this personal elevation
he was not prepared. Pacing up and down his apartment, and striking
his forehead with his hand, he candidly acknowledged that he was not
made for power; while the bare idea of doing anything to endanger the
Republic amounted, in his mind, to a species of sacrilege. At this
crisis in his fate, therefore, he temporised: he sought peace, if not
consolation, in solitude. He took long walks in the woods, where he
spent hours seated on the ground, or leaning against a tree, his face
buried in his hands, or earnestly bent on the surrounding natural
objects. What was the precise tenor of his meditations, it would be
deeply interesting to know. Did the great promoter of the Revolution
ponder on the failure of his aspirations after a state of human
perfectibility? Was he torn by remorse on seeing rise up, in
imagination, the thousands of innocent individuals whom, in
vindication of a theory, he had consigned to an ignominious and
violent death, yet whose removal had, politically speaking, proved
altogether fruitless?

It is the more general belief, that in these solitary rambles
Robespierre was preparing an oration, which, as he thought, should
silence all his enemies, and restore him to parliamentary favour. A
month was devoted to this rhetorical effort; and, unknown to him,
during that interval all parties coalesced, and adopted the resolution
to treat his oration when it came with contempt, and, at all hazards,
to have him proscribed. The great day came, July 26 (8th Thermidor),
1794. His speech, which he read from a paper, was delivered in his
best style--in vain. It was followed by yells and hootings; and, with
dismay, he retired to the Jacobins, to deliver it over again--as if to
seek support among a more subservient audience. Next day, on entering
the Convention, he was openly accused by Tallien and Billaud-Varennes
of aspiring to despotic power. A scene of tumult ensued, and, amid
cries of _Down with the tyrant!_ a writ for his committal to prison
was drawn out. It must be considered a fine trait in the character of
Robespierre the younger, that he begged to be included in the same
decree of proscription with his brother. This wish was readily
granted; and St Just, Couthon (who had lost the use of his legs, and
was always carried about in an arm-chair), and Le Bas, were added to
the number of the proscribed. Rescued, however, from the gendarmes by
an insurrectionary force, headed by Henriot, Robespierre and his
colleagues were conducted in triumph to the Hôtel de Ville. Here,
during the night, earnest consultations were held; and the adherents
of Robespierre implored him in desperation, as the last chance of
safety for them all, to address a rousing proclamation to the
sections. At length, yielding unwillingly to these frantic appeals, he
commenced writing the required address; and it was while subscribing
his name to this seditious document, that the soldiers of the
Convention burst in upon him, and he was shot through the jaw by one
of the gendarmes. At the same moment, Le Bas shot himself through the
heart. All were made prisoners, and carried off--the dead body of Le
Bas not excepted.

* * * * *

While residing for a short time in Paris in 1849, we were one day
conducted by a friend to a large house, with an air of faded grandeur,
in the eastern faubourgs, which had belonged to an aged republican,
recently deceased. He wished me to examine a literary curiosity, which
was to be seen among other relics of the great Revolution. The
curiosity in question was the proclamation, in the handwriting of
Robespierre, to which he was in the act of inscribing his signature,
when assaulted and made prisoner in the Hôtel de Ville. It was a small
piece of paper, contained in a glass-frame; and, at this distance of
time, could not fail to excite an interest in visitors. The few lines
of writing, commencing with the stirring words: '_Courage, mes
compatriotes!_' ended with only a part of the subscription. The
letters, _Robes_, were all that were appended, and were followed by a
blur of the pen; while the lower part of the paper shewed certain
discolorations, as if made by drops of blood. And so this was the last
surviving token of the notorious Robespierre! It is somewhat curious,
that no historian seems to be aware of its existence.

* * * * *

Stretched on a table in one of the anterooms of the Convention; his
head leaning against a chair; his fractured jaw supported by a
handkerchief passed round the top of his head; a glass with vinegar
and a sponge at his side to moisten his feverish lips; speechless and
almost motionless, yet conscious!--there lay Robespierre--the clerks,
who, a few days ago, had cringed before him, now amusing themselves by
pricking him with their penknives, and coarsely jesting over his fall.
Great crowds, likewise, flocked to see him while in this undignified
posture, and he was overwhelmed with the vilest expressions of hatred
and abuse. The mental agony which he must have experienced during this
humiliating exhibition, could scarcely fail to be increased on hearing
himself made the object of unsparing and boisterous declamations from
the adjoining tribune.

At three o'clock in the afternoon (July 28), the prisoners were placed
before the Revolutionary Tribunal, and at six, the whole were tied in
carts, the dead body of Le Bas included, and conducted to execution.
To this wretched band were added the whole family of the Duplays, with
the exception of the mother; she having been strangled the previous
night by female furies, who had broken into her house, and hung her to
the iron rods of her bedstead. They were guiltless of any political
crime; but their private connection with the principal object of
proscription was considered to be sufficient for their condemnation.
The circumstance of these individuals being involved in his fate,
could not fail to aggravate the bitterness of Robespierre's
reflections. As the dismal _cortège_ wended its way along the Rue St
Honoré, he was loaded with imprecations by women whose husbands he had
destroyed, and the shouts of children, whom he had deprived of
parents, were the last sounds heard by him on earth. Yet he betrayed
not the slightest emotion--perhaps he only pitied the ignorance of his
persecutors. In the midst of the feelings of a misunderstood and
martyred man, his head dropped into the basket!

These few facts and observations respecting the career of Robespierre,
enable us to form a tolerably correct estimate of his character. The
man was a bigot. A perfect Republic was his faith, his religion. To
integrity, perseverance, and extraordinary self-denial under
temptation, he united only a sanguine temperament and moderate
abilities for the working-out of a mistaken principle. Honest and
zealous in his purpose, his conduct was precisely analogous to that of
all religious persecutors--sparing no pain or bloodshed to accomplish
what he believed to be a good end. Let us grant that he was a
monomaniac, the question remains as to his general accountability. If
he is to be acquitted on the score of insanity, who is to be judged?
Not so are we to exempt great criminals from punishment and obloquy.
Robespierre knew thoroughly what he was about; and far as he was
misled in his motives, he must be held responsible for his actions.
Before entering on the desperate enterprise of demolishing all
existing institutions, with the hope of reconstructing the social
fabric, it was his duty to be assured that his aims were practicable,
and that he was himself authorised to think and act for the whole of
mankind, or specially commissioned to kill and terrify into his
doctrines. Instead of this, there is nothing to shew that he had
formed any distinct scheme of a government to take the place of that
which he had aided in destroying. All we learn is, that there hovered
in his mind's eye some vague Utopia, in which public affairs would go
on very much of themselves, through the mere force of universal
Benevolence, liberated from the bosom of Nature. For his folly and
audacity in nourishing so wild a theory, and still more for the
reckless butcheries by which he sought to bring it into operation, we
must, on a review of his whole character, adhere to the popular belief
on the subject. Acquitted, as he must necessarily be, of the charge of
personal ambition, he was still a monster, only the more dangerous and
detestable for justifying murder on the ground of principle.



The Austrian government has for some years been exerting itself, in
connection with the clergy, for the improvement and spread of
education in all the provinces of the empire, being anxious to do all
in their power to save the country from those excesses which are so
often found in connection with ignorance. As an Englishman, living in
friendly intercourse with members of the imperial family, and many
persons high in the administration, I am happy to avow my thorough
conviction, that such, pure and simple, is the object held in view in
the establishment of schools throughout the empire, and above all, in
that of the infant schools, which are now planted in every place where
there exists a sufficiency of population. I have all along taken a
deep interest in these little seminaries in the kingdoms of Bohemia
and Hungary, and am highly sensible of the liberal and humane
principles on which they are conducted.

Each contains from two to three hundred children, between one and a
half and five years of age, all of them being the offspring of the
humbler classes, and many of them orphans. All are instructed in the
same room, but classed apart; that is, the girls occupy one half of
the apartment, and the boys the other, leaving an avenue between them,
which is occupied by the instructors. The boys are under the
superintendence of a master, and the girls under that of a mistress.
Both, however, teach or attend to the various necessities of either,
as circumstances may require. Infants too young to learn, and those
who are sent, either because they are orphans, or because the extreme
poverty of the mother obliges her to do outwork, are amused with toys
and pictures, all, however, of an instructive nature, and which the
elder children delight to exhibit and explain to them in their own
quaint little ways. I have frequently seen an infant, scarcely able to
walk, brought in for the first time, and left on one of the benches of
the school-room, surrounded by those already initiated. The alarm its
new position occasioned to the little creature, at thus suddenly
finding itself abandoned by the only person with whom it was familiar,
in the midst of a multitude of unknown faces, can easily be imagined.
A flood of tears was the first vent to its feelings, accompanied by a
petulant endeavour to follow its parent or nurse. It was immediately,
however, surrounded by a score of little comforters, who, full of the
remembrance of past days, when their fears and their sadness were in
like manner soothed and dissipated, would use a thousand little arts
of consolation--one presenting a toy or picture, another repeating
what has almost become a formula of kindly re-assurance, till smiles
and sunshine would succeed to tears and clouds upon that little brow,
and confidence and content to fear and mistrust. I have often seen the
day thus pass with neophytes as a dream, only to be broken when the
parent or nurse, returning to take them home, found them in the centre
of a little joyous group, the gayest of the gay!

One, after all, cannot wonder at this change, when he contrasts the
scenery of the interior of an infant school with that of the
generality of poor homes. The child, making, as it were, its first
voyage in life, has here been introduced, not merely to a society
conducted on principles of gentleness and kindness, but to a fairyland
of marvels for the fascination of its intellectual faculties. From the
ceiling to the _dado_--the wainscotted space at the base, for in
Hungary this old arrangement is still maintained in its fullest
form--the walls are covered with pictures of scripture scenes and
objects in natural history; while the _dado_ itself, terminating above
in a shelf, exhibits busts, stuffed animals, and pots of flowers--the
whole place, indeed, being a kind of museum, specially adapted for the
enjoyment as well as instruction of the young. At first, filled with
wonder and delight, the infant begins to study the meaning and
character of these objects: after a short attendance, you find they
can tell the names of many, and speak many things regarding them. One
day, while attending a Bohemian infant school, which was dismissing,
and as I was examining some of the birds upon the shelf, a little hand
was insinuated into mine, as if to get it warmed--as is often done by
children--when, looking down, I beheld a bright, intelligent face,
apparently eager to make some communication. 'Tuzok, tuzok!'
('Bustard, bustard!') said a little voice. Encouraged by my smile,
there was immediately added: 'Ez tuzok, ez mazzar honban, tisza fetöl
jönn;' ('That is a bustard from Hungary, from the river Teiss.')
Another little one, attracted by this observation, pointed to the
elephant, and said in German: 'Und der ist elephant: er kommt von
weiten, von ausland--_von morgenland_!' ('And that is the elephant: it
comes from far, from a foreign land--from the _morning-land_!')--that
is, the East!

The children learn the first rudiments of religion, duty and obedience
to their parents and teachers, spelling, &c. After the expiration of
the time allotted to them here, they are sent to the normal schools,
where they are instructed in all the various branches of education
which are necessary to fit them for any situation or profession for
which their several talents seem to have destined them.

All parents of the lower classes are _compelled_ by law to send their
children to school at a certain age.

Pages: | 1 | | 2 | | 3 | | 4 | | Next |

Library mainpage -> Chambers, William -> Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 426 Volume 17, New Series, February 28, 1852