페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

ishment—for this strange being never forsook a principle once formed—that principle was dwarfed into insignificance beside the mightier ones that now burned within his mind, filling hiin with a wild fanaticism, fixing his eye afar off upon the future, blinding him to the present, hurrying him on with the resistless fury of a demoniac. Sweep away King, sweep away Queen, nobles, every enemy, every rival of Maximilian Robespierre! Let every stone of Paris stream with blood, pile up corpses until they crimson the face of heaven, decimate the world so that the great Ego may triumph. Then for the millennium, the reign of peace, equality, liberty, fraternity, eternal love and good fellowship—no more hunger, no more crime, no more blood-spilling!

But this gigantic programme grew in his mind only by degrees. The cowardice of his nature would have shrunk appalled, even on the very eve of its realization, at the vision of the Reign of Terror. With the shortsightedness of all great criminals, he thought he could stay his hand at any moment The King removed, the nobles swept away, and the bloody work was done. How small a sacrifice for so grand an end! But it was the old fable of the Hydra, in this case multiplied a hundredfold; for for every head cut off, two sprang up in its place, which doubled and quadntpled until the victims had to be condemned in batches of fifty and sixty at a time, until canals of blood ran through the streets, until he was heard to cry in his solitude, "Nothing but blood—how much more—when will it end?" But it was not the cry of humanity—of that he possessed no particle; human suffering touched him not at all—to that he was utterly callous. Amidst all the frightful butchery he lived through, he never once raised his voice to save one human life. There is an anecdote told of him which will better exemplify his nature than pages of description.

A friend with whom he was most intimate, and who was sincerely attached to him, begged him to save the life of a certain prisoner who was ordered for execution. "At what hour is he to suffer?" asked Robespierre. "At eight," was the reply. "1 would most willingly oblige you, but I never rise till nine. It is impossible," answered the despot. The man was marble.

The more blood he gave to the wolves of Paris the more they clamored for. To pause in the murderous work was to be accused of reaction. Robespierre never opposed himself to the popular will, except when he imagined it might compromise his own safety; he had cast himself into the stream, and wherever it flowed he went, nor made one effort to stem its fury. The cry of the mob was still "More blood —-more blood!" And he, the butcher, never failed to supply it.

Let us for a time leave his. oublic career and look in upon his domestic life. He lives in a garret in the Rue St. Honor6. He is very poor, for amidst all his crimes this man well deserved the title bestowed upon him—the incorruptible—no bribe ever soiled his fingers. His garret is almost meanly furnished. But on the walls, on the table, on the shelves, in every nook, are portraits and busts of himself. Whichever way he turns, Ego, Ego, Ego is before him. They are so many little crucifixes at which he worships. His habits are austerely simple.

In the same house lives the family of Duplay. He is engaged to the eldest daughter Kloonore, and she adores him! Fancy a woman adoring Robespierre. But was not the filthy Marat adored by a beautiful woman who gave up husband and home for him? They, Maximilian and Eleonore, are to be married when the troubles are over; that time will never come; but to her dying day he will be her noble hero. Her youngest sister, who lived into the middle of the present century, although he destroyed her own husbani a few months after their marriage, never ceased to speak of him as the purest, most virtuous, and gentlest of men! Among his letters were found epistles from a lady of birth and fortune couched in almost idolatrous terms, and offering half her fortune to forward his principles. He is said, also, to have been much loved by his male friends.

But to return to his home. When not at the Jacobins, the evenings are passed reading some tragedy of Racine to the Duplays. Sundays and holidays are spent in some delightful trips into the country, where he wanders through the woods and meadows, talking poetry or philosophy to Eldonore, who leans upon his arm a rapt and devout listener. What a picture of calm s mplicity! Can this Robespierre and the bloody Dictator of the Commune be one and the same man? Strange, incredible as it seams, it is even so.

Mirabeau's death was Robespierre's opportunity, and he seized it; from that time his rise was sure and rapid. He hated his great rival with all the malignancy of a mean mind ; that rival's nobleness of soul and resistless eloquence crushed and humiliated him, infected him with a sense of his own littleness—debased the idol Ego with the sense of inferiority. He never spoke of him but in terms of hatred, and even after his death he demanded that his bust should be removed from the Jacobins, insinuating that his own, Robespierre's, should be placed in its stead. He could not endure to look upon even the marble image of any greatness but his own.

And after Mirabeau's death the Revolution advanced with giant steps. His deathbed prophecy was soon realized: "I carry away with me the funeral of the monarchy," he said; "its remnants will become the prey of the factions." The flight of the King and his recapture were the most important events; it was upon the occasion of the latter event that Robespierre, supported by the Jacobins, first openly declared for a Republic. From that time he fiercely opposed any attempts to show the slightest favor to the unhappy Louis. When the petition to the Assembly was drawn up to force the abdication of the King, he incited on the furious mob who raved for its signature. But when the troops appeared he betrayed the most abject cowardice, flying at the first volley, and hiding himself from every one. But the storm passed away, and then he was to be found at his old post at the Jacobins, inflaming the people against the rich and the great. It was a fanaticism of envy and egotism; everything that obscured his glory must be swept away.

Robespierre led men whither they would go, but he had not the courage to take an initiative step. He was the midwife to men's secret and half-conscious thoughts.

When Barbaroux, the leader of the Marseillaise, sounded him to head the conspiracy which culminated in the slaughter of the ioth of August, he threw out hints that the Dictatorship should be vested in him. He was always hankering after the Dictatorship; it was the dream of his life, the pinnacle of his ambition; and yet, although it was afterwards offered him over

and over again, he feared to take it. Had the unanimous voice of the nation conferred the honor, or could he have swept away every man of power who opposed his elevation, he would have grasped it; but cowardice was more powerful even than ambition, and so the grand object of all his crimes was never attained. To pave the clear road to this end, he sent Camille, Danton, Hcbert, and hundreds of other fellow-assassins to the block. But the Hydra still sent forth new heads, that crushed him at last.

From the massacre of the ioth of August, as well as from that of the 2d of September, he kept aloof. His craven heart shrank from the actual contact with blood.

Of every great crime of the Revolution he was the originator. He it was who first demanded the death of Louis, of Marie Antoinette, and the wholesale murder of the Girondists. He it was who was President of the Committee of Public Salvation, from which appointment his absolute power may be dated. He it was who established La Terreur, with its six thousand men and twelve hundred artillery, sworn to execute the revolutionary laws. He it was who instituted the loi des suspects, by which any one might be arrested at the will of the Commune; he it was who, in three months, raised the number of prisoners in the Paris gaols from twelve hundred to eight thousand. Apologists say that his signature to death-warrants is the most infrequent of any of the heads of the revolutionary tribunal. But he was the moving power; Couthon, St. Just, and the others, were but instruments. Fiend that he was, he howled with rage when he could not blast and foul even the memories of his victims. When he was told of the noble answer of Marie Antoinette to a hideous stain that Hubert would have fixed upon her, he shattered the plate from which he was eating with impotent rage, exclaiming, "That fool Hebert! It is not enough that she is really a Messalina, but he must also make her an Agrippina, and give her in her last moments a public interest!" Even a thought bestowed upon the dead he regarded as something robbed from himself.

Royalty was no more, the nobles were no more. Mirabeau was dead; Camille and Danton and Hobert had perished ; he was Dictator in all but name—the name he feared. Now did he attempt to crush out anarchy, but he had not the courage, the power of mind, to make a governor of men. He said of himself: "I was not made to rule—I was made to combat the enemies of the people."

Amidst the horrible slaughters of the Reign of Terror, he busied himself to reestablish religion, read a report on the relation between religion, moral ideas, and republican principles, and discoursed eloquently upon the immortality of the soul and the existence and goodness of a God. Gave the Feast of the Supreme Being, that solemn mockery which, for the moment, excited Paris to enthusiasm, but which proved the first step of his fall. The Convention murmured, "Now we have destroyed our tyrants, this man would set a God over us."

If ever a man should have set his face against the idea of an avenging God, it was Robespierre. But so absorbed was he in his abstractions and self-glorifications, that I query if he did not, even in his inmost heart, regard himself as the most immaculate of men.

St. Just now openly urged him to proclaim himself Dictator. The gloomy looks of the Convention scared him, and he dared not; but the fear stimulated him to further acts of despotism—to more bloodshed. The result was the law of the twentysecond prairial, by which members of the Convention could be tried by the Committee of Public Safety, without being brought before the Revolutionary Tribunal. By this means did he hope to free himself of every opponent. Now came the trying of the victims in the terrible batches, the bloodiest climax of the Reign of Terror. But, emboldened by his pusillanimity and lack of vigor, his enemies day by day grew more numerous and more vigorous. Threatening letters were sent him; plots were hatched against his life; two attempts were made to assassinate him; but nothing could rouse courage in him—terror paralyzed him. He absented himself from the Convention; his house was guarded by Jacobins ; he never stirred abroad unaccompanied by armed men. In vain the Jacobins spurred him to attack the Convention, with offers of support to the death; he temporized, and hesitated, and shrank; his own coward heart was his Nemesis. At length he took courage to appear before the Convention,

and read a. long defence—he could never speak effectively without long preparation —in which he elaborately eulogized and defended his own conduct, and bitterly attacked his enemies. But his long absence and irresolution had given those enemies a crushing power. Cambon, Billaud, Varennes, and Panis fiercely denounced him; he was defeated.

The Jacobins still stood by him, and that very night a conspiracy was formed. The Convention was to be attacked by armed force, taken prisoners, and Robespierre to be proclaimed Dictator. But even in that terrible crisis his coward heart failed him; at the last moment he refused to head the movement—he had not even the courage of a wolf brought to bay. His friends were disgusted, but would not give way ; with his will, or against his will, they resolved to carry out their programme.

The next clay he again appears before the Convention; but, ere he can open his lips, Billaud swoops down upon him like a tiger, and, in a fiery speech, reveals to his confreres the Jacobin conspiracy. Fierce and indignant murmurs break from every mouth, swelling each moment, until they rise into a terrible shout of " Down with the Tyrant!" Up springs Tallien, crying, in a voice of thunder, "I was present at the Jacobins; 1 heard the plot for the formation of the army of this second Cromwell, and I armed myself with this dagger, to pierce his heart if you have not the courage to order his arrest!" As he speaks Tallien makes a movement as though he would stab the culprit, who shrinks and cowers before the glittering steel. Louder and louder rise the acclamations; other speakers follow—all in the same strain. In vain does Robespierre implore a hearing, his voice is drowned with "Down with the Tyrant!" He springs upon the benches; "The Shades of Danton and Camille repel you!" cry a score of voices. He rushes to the President, shrieking, 11 Will you hear me!" Fists are shaken in his face; he supplicates, grovels, yells with the agony of fear, rushes from one to tne other. He is driven back with curses and deafening howls. His voice cracks and fails him, then in his ears ring the terrible words, "The blood of Danton clwkes y»u J" He is arrested.

But, in the mean time, the Jacobins are up and doing. As the gendarmes bring forth their prisoner he is torn from them, agatnst his will, and carried off to the Hotel de Ville. Fear has paralyzed him. He will not present himself to the people; he will not proclaim himself Dictator; he will not sign a paper calling on the people to revolt; he will not even countenance revolt; he is in a coma of terror. At the news of the rescue the troops of the Commune muster quickly. Drunken Henrior, at the head of his soldiers, dashes through the streets of Paris shouting to the people to revolt; but they are tired of the worship of their bloody Moloch, and his own men turn their cannon upon the H6tel de Ville, throw down their arms, and disperse.

It is night. Within a dimly lit apartment of the H6tel de Ville sit Robespierre, and his brethren St. Just, Couthon, L6bas —the wolves are caged at last. The death-knell of la Terreur is ringing. St. Just and I.cbas look bold and defiant; Couthon, with his angel face and silvery voice and withered limbs, anxious, but resigned ; the sickly rays of the candle fall full upon the hideously cadaverous features of Robespierre. He has a loaded pistol and poison before him ; but this worshipper of the bloody virtues of Rome cannot imitate the old heathen heroism, and die with his fortunes. With shaking limbs and twitching face he listens to the murmurs, the momentarily increasing stir, the surge of the multitude without. The sharp report of a pistol rings through the room—Lebas has shot himself through the heart, and falls dead. Henriot rushes in to cry that all is lost; Coffinhal, with an epithet of disgust, hurls him out of the window into the court below, where he lies a lifeless mass. The soldiers are battering at the door; it gives way with a crash, and in they rush. A shot is fired, and Robespierre's head falls upon the table; it has broken his jaw. All the conspirators are captured. The cold ghostly light of the dawn is just breaking as the senseless bloody form of the Incorruptible is borne out into the streets upon a litter. It is carried to the Tuileries and laid upon a table, while the Convention in the next room decide his fate. As the day advances crowds flock to the Tuileries as to a raree-show, and fill the chambers wherein lies the once terrible King of la Terreur—terrible no longer, but an abjecr, shrunken, revolting-looking object. He lies upon his side. From the broken jaw

oozes out the dark blood, and creeps over the livid face, dropping into the gaping mouth, and filling it with clotted gore ; he has half bandaged the wound, and the blood-stained handkerchief contrasts horribly with the corpse-like features. And the foul mob—to gain whose favor and applause he has shed torrents of blood— does it commiserate with him, weep over him, do all it can to soothe his anguish? Hear this, all ye who court its favor!— ye modern Communists of France, who would fain be imitators of this man ; ye would-be Republicans of Fngland, who so long to follow in the steps of your French brothers! It spat upon him, mocked his groans, pricked him with knives; there was not one who would raise the cup of water that stood beside him to his burning, cracking lips! I wonder what he thought of the Republican doctrines for whose sake he had sold his soul at that moment.

A form of trial is gone through, and then the wild Couthon and the lest are tied down in a cart and jolted off to la mere Guillotine. Paris is irantic with joy. Before the cart dance the women, shouting and singing with demoniac glee. As it passes through the streets the friends and relations of his dead victims troop out to meet it with yells of frantic joy, to curse its ghastly burden, body and soul, and to pray to God to cast him into hellfire. As he mounts the scaffold the executioner tears off the bandage from his face; the shattered jaw falls, and there leaps from his throat such an unearthly yell, as though the fiends had already their claws upon his soul. He looks down, shuddering, upon the sea of heads; it waves and surges, as though it would sweep away the scaffold, and up from its cruel depths rises a howl of execration. Ferocious joy is upon every face; every mouth gapes for his blood. No look of pity; all merciless—as himself. He has sown the dragon's teeth, and behold the harvest! The knife falls, and the head of Maximilian Robespierre rolls into the basket.

What a contrast is this picture to the death of Mirabeau! The one ever opposed himself to the unreasoning fury of the mob; the other ever glutted it—a lf -sson that all legislators should lay to heawt I have endeavored, as far as mvtf1 space would allow, to give an imparti?thl portrait of this extraordinary criminal. I have attempted neither to whiten nor to blacken his memory. Intense envy, egotism, and the worship of an idea were the source of all his crimes. He had no natural thirst for murder, like Marat and Danton ; he was simply callous—utterly devoid of all human pity—using murder as a means towards an end. The man who abstracts himself from humanity, and becomes the fanatic of an idea, is more dangerous than a hundred Neros. Had he lived fifty years before his time, he would have lived and died a respected and respectable citizen. He would have been an ardent opponent of all blood-spilling—a theoretical republican, sighing at times

over the impossibility of carrying out his theory, but resigned to contemplate it as a theory. A cold, self opinionated man he would still have been, but endowed with every virtue that the correct world loves to praise. You meet such men every day; they abound in every community. Had he possessed physical and moral courage, and a more expansive political creed, he might have become a great, wise, though severe ruler; but, lacking those qualities, he became a scourge of God—the most wholesale and atrocious murderer, and the most revolting, contemptible, and utterly redeeinless criminal of ancient or modern times!

North British Review. MR. TENNYSON'S POETRY.

[Concluded from page 726, Vol. XIII.]

"In Memokiam" was Mr. Tennyson's next poem. The introduction bears the date 1849. The poem was published in 1850. It is analogous to a series of sonnets, and is addressed to a friend, Arthur Hallam, who had died at Vienna seventeen years before. The metre is the same throughout—quatrains of lines of eight syllables each, the first and last lines rhyming together, and the two middle ones. Each number consists of three, generally four, sometimes as many as thirty (Ixxxiv.) of these stanzas. The form then is as wide as possible from that of (he strictly defined and invariable sonnet; but the whole spirit of the poem is the spirit of the sonnet as understood by Dante, Petrarch, and Shakespeare. The sonnet is devoted to the philosophy of love. Whether the chosen object of love is a real mistress idealized, as Dante's and Petrarch's, or a real mistress realized, as Spenser's, or one quite ideal, as Drayton's, or a living man, like Shakespeare's friend, or a dead mistress, as in Petrarch's second series of sonnets, or a dead friend, as in "In Memoriam," makes no great matter to the course of the poem. The subject is always the scale or ladder of love ; whether this is approached in a preestablished scholastic manner, as was apparently the case with Dante and Petrarch, perhaps even with Shakespeare, or whether the method is evolved from the isolated self-consciousness of the individual poet, an analogous result is always obtained.

The courses of the human affections proceed by rules as really as the processes of the human reason. There is a logic of love as truly as there is a logic of deduction or induction. From the nature of the case its rules are not capable of so intelligible an exposition as the rules of the logic of reasoning; but Plato has sketched their movement as really as Aristotle has exhibited the movement of apprehension, judgment, and syllogism; and the great sonneteers have exhibited this movement in its concrete expression with as much mastery and clearness as that with which philosophers and men of science have exhibited the applications of logic to observed facts. The sonneteers of the sixteenth century were generally copyists of each other and of Petrarch; Mr. Tennyson's originality consists in this—that he has taken their main thought, and translated it out of mediaeval objectivity and definiteness into the subjectivity of modern idealism and the indefiniteness of the Lake school. That he has made a profound study of the sixteenth century models appears from many turns of thought and expression. One instance will serve to show the direction in which these imitations may be looked for. Shakespeare twice in his sonnets uses the expression "fool of time" for an entity which like a weather-cock changes with changing circumstances, and goes through its movements like a windmill by the impact of external force, not by its own self-deter

« 이전계속 »