montagnarde1793: (OMSBWTF?)
[personal profile] montagnarde1793

This next one is by some random Briton or American (I forget which) who decided that it would be better to try to write something from Éléonore's point of view than to write about her in a non-fictional fashion, bizarrely enough. So these are two "letters" written to a fictional friend in the Vendée. And this time, instead of Jesus!Maxime, we get priest!Maxime. -__-;

I.

 

                                                                                                                                RUE HONORÉ, 366

                                                                                                                                                19 Nivôse, An II.

                                                                                                                                                (January 8th, 1794.)

 

                Oh my poor Jeannette! How I pity you in these terrible times in your mad province! Now that Kléber has been so victorious at Le Mans (December 12th 1793) perhaps you rebels will be at peace at last. And you are a rebel, Jeannette, you, you! I can hardly believe when I read that letter of yours that you are the same Jeannette that stayed with us in Paris five years ago. Why, how we talked then of the regeneration of the fatherland, and you were as anxious as any of us to do good to the power people we saw on our way to Vincennes. Yet now you are as ferocious an aristocrat as the maddest of the emigrants at Coblentz. Your letter is like of M. de Calonne’s pamphlets, just as fierce and nearly as foolish. If a Hébertist found it, the mad Chaumette would not have much difficulty in proving it a “Royalist emblem.”

                Yes! We have parted far asunder in these terrible five years. Papa, who was so quiet and businesslike when you remember him, is quiet still, but he goes every day to the Revolutionary jury and every night to the Jacobins. Elizabeth [Élisabeth], little Elizabeth, whom everybody scolded for being so giddy, was married six months ago to a member of the Convention, a young man from Arras named Le Bas. As for me, Jeannette, you will have to outlaw me: I am outside the law of the good people in La Vendée. Maximilian [Maximilien] Robespierre is not a mere lodger in our house, though of course he pays for his little room (the one you slept in, over the workshop): he would be too proud to take anything for nothing. He is to be my husband when these troublous days are over. I am his betrothed, and he is all the world to me. So you will see how pained I was when I read your letter and all the names you chose to call him. Can I never make you see him as I see him! I suppose I cannot, but I shall try.

                It is two years and a half now since he came to live with us. It was after the massacre of the Champ de Mars, when every one was fearing reaction. He was at the Jacobins in the evening trying to encourage the patriots, and father would have him come to us for that one night, instead of wandering off to his lodgings in the Rue de Saintonge, in the Marais. I dare say you may have heard he hid himself in fear that night. Madame Roland told her friends that she went to offer to hide him, and found him gone; but I know she never entered the Rue de Saintonge at all, and another Jacobin who came to her for shelter was told that her hotel was too exposed, and that she had no shelter to give. Indeed it was poor shelter that we had to offer him—so near the big houses in the Rue Royale, so near [La] Fayette and his guards in the Tuileries. But it was such a pleasure to have him there that we never let him leave us, except once when he went for six weeks to his home in Arras, and once when his sister Charlotte came making mischief.

                “Why was it a pleasure?” I hear you say. “Is he not the monster, the antichrist, who has ordered our priests to be imprisoned, who has murdered every one, Royalist or Girondin?”

                Perhaps you would be surprised if I told you I thought him only too conscientious, so afraid to do wrong that he sometimes takes too long in making up his mind. Yet so it is. Do not think of him as a hunter of priests, for he is nothing of the sort. He does not like their impostures, of course. I remember how angry he was last time he went to Arras, when he heard them pretend to the poor country-people that they had wrought miracles on a certain townsman, though they did not dare to mention it to his fellow-townsman who knew that no miracle had been wrought at all. And he does not care for the trivial dogmas with which religion has been overladen. You did not care about them either, Jeannette, in the old times; but I believe you like anything which is getting beaten, and dogmas have certainly had a very bad time of it lately. But if you put aside dogmas and impostures, just as in politics you must put aside the petty personal details which often obscure principles, in the true sense of the word there is no more religious man than Maximilian. His has always been a religious family. There is a tradition at Arras that they fled from Ireland for religion’s sake two hundred years ago. Maximilian was always friendly to the Chapter of Paris when he spoke in the Constituent. He spoke too in favour of larger pensions for the humble clergy. He hates the very idea of the “Feast of Reason” (fancy worshipping a woman he would not even speak to!) and all the other Hébertist excesses. I myself, I could not live without religion. I remember how in the old times you and I went together one fifteenth of August to hear the beautiful singing in the chapel of the Filles d’Assomption. I remember how pious I felt at my first communion in the convent of the Conception hard by. Now I do not care so much for ceremonies or for choir-singing, often only half-articulate like the song of the birds; but I love to meditate on the God of Nature, or to hear my love speak of Him in those wonderful tones of his. Oh, if you could hear him! I sometimes fancy him a priest himself. He is to me what the priest used to be when I was a little girl. He is always proper when others are wicked, dresses so neatly when others slouch about like slovens. He has his Old Testament—Racine, Corneille, Voltaire; and his Gospel—Rousseau. He reads them to us sometimes, not as the false priests used to drone their gospels that they were paid to preach, but so beautifully that in the pathetic parts we sometimes all burst into tears. He believes it all so thoroughly: he is so conscious of a mission to teach it. The crowds gather round him in the Jacobins, as round a great preacher to hear his text and his sermon. He says it so that one cannot disbelieve. Do you know I sometimes carry the thought further, and ask myself whether one so good and pure can become a husband to me? [that] I think he ought to be celibate as a priest? But if I told him so he would be shocked, poor man! It is contrary to the Civil Constitution of the clergy.

                Then you call him cruel. I am sure I have never seen him so. When we are walking together in the Champs Elysees with his dear dog Brount following us, we sometimes sit down and the little Savoyards come trooping round, and I never saw him send them away without giving them something. And he is so kind to us all and so thoughtful. I can see your look of horror, you proselyte of La Rochejaquelin and the Chouans! You point me to the guillotine and ask me, is not that his work?

                No, Jeannette, I do not think it is. I will allow jus this much, that I sometimes wish he had done more to keep back the others. I fancy he does not always realize the things that are done under cover of his reputation. He thinks so much of principles that he sometimes forgets facts. I have never told him so, for when we are alone together (it is not very often—every morning he is at the Committee of Public Safety, every afternoon at the Convention, every evening at the Jacobins) he always tries to escape from these terrible things and to give play to his fancy. And then he said once, à propos of poor Théroigne de Méricourt, that he thought the duty of a woman did not lie on the political platform. So I have never dared to speak. Yet I know he is troubled at heart about it all. He has done his best now and again. He saved seventy-three Girondins this time last year, and he is very proud of the letter they sent to thank him for his generous opposition to the decree proposed against them. But he is not so powerful as you think him. He is thwarted on every side. In the Committee of Public Safety, Carnot, Fouché, Collot d’Herbois, Billaud-Varennes, the two Prieurs, Robert Lintot [Lindet] and Hérault Seychelles [de Séchelles] (Danton’s man) are all against him. Barère is anybody’s friend who wants flowery writing done and will pay for it. Only Couthon and St. Just [Saint-Just] are with him. With the party so divided how can he hold his own?

                And for my own part I have not much pity for men who have met the fate they deserved. Least of all do I pity your Royalists: Louis Capet and his wife were the source of all our evils: she was so foolish, and he so false. Surely you do not praise the men who went to Coblentz and got the foreigners to invade France, or the others who stayed here and intrigued? And the Girondins did their best to make their own death inevitable. You do not know perhaps what a poor creature Roland was. “If you are inviting Roland,” Danton said once, “you must invite Madame Roland, too, for every one knows Roland is not in sole charge of his department.” And he was the best of them. Brissot was bribed. They were all mean and intriguing, and they were just as cruel as the worst of us. It was they who started the Revolutionary Tribunal. Do you remember how Isnard himself threatened Paris, this beautiful Paris, with destruction? How could they be allowed to rule when they started a mob to sing on the Boulevards, for the heads of Marat, Robespierre and Danton and all their followers?

                And I sometimes think we must be drifting on to more executions. How can they live together, those incompatibles! The Hébertists, atheists, madmen! I do not know so much about them, for father will not let me read the Père Duchesne.[1] But they are beyond the pale. And the Dantonists, what of them? There are some of them one cannot help but like. There is Camille. How inimitable is he and his Lucile! Yet I will tell you a story to show you the other side of his life and his party’s life. He called here one day on his way to the Jacobins and gave my sister a book to keep for him tell he came back. The poor little thing opened it: imagine her horror when she found it full of filthy pictures! Even Lucile is so free with Fréron and others, that every one but Camille suspects her. And Danton himself—one trembles to speak of him—but, as St. Just asks, “Whence comes the wealth around him?” How can we regenerate the nation unless the leaders are pure? I do not know where my poor Maximilian is drifting to among them all. I do not think he knows himself. As yet he tries to shut his eyes to their divisions and to see the best side of every one. Last night in the Jacobins there was a characteristic example. Were you in the Refectory of the Jacobins when you were in Paris? I know you went to the chapel, to see the tomb of Pierre Mignard. You can imagine how often we go, now that it is the home of the patriots. We women sit in a gallery by ourselves, with a balustrade round it. It was not high enough to prevent poor Théroigne jumping over it one day, and rushing at my Maximilian who was presiding, and who hates anything unseemly. Ah! how great he is in the Jacobins! When Mirabeau presided there and tried to stop him, he rallied the patriots round him, and the great man in his turn had only his thirty voices. When he came back from Flanders they voted him unanimously to the chair. Yet last night though he was less successful, less applauded, I thought him nobler than ever before. It was a discussion on a petty quarrel—the Phillipeaux question—in which our poor friend Camille seems to have misbehaved himself. All was confusion and miserable personalities till Robespierre got up. Then he lifted them away from little things to great, and condemned the crimes of the English government and the vices of the English constitution. At first they would not listen: Goupilleau and Lachevardière got up to ventilate some grievance as to the doings in your wretched Vendée; but at last he prevailed. He lifted them up from their squabbles to the principles they were all united on, and for the moment all went well. But how can they remain united? I often fancy they are hurrying one after another to the grave.

                Can you understand now why I love him? I see him not as the cruel strong man who looks his crime in the face, but as the man of noblest purpose, purest unselfishness in the midst of danger, the most patriotic, the best.

                It may be a delusion, Jeannette, but it absorbs the whole soul of

                                Yours ever devotedly,

                                                Éléanore Duplay.

 

II.

 

                                                                                                                                RUE HONORÉ, 366,

                                                                                                                                                1 Fructidor, An II.

                                                                                                                                                (August 17, 1794.)

 

                My dear Jeannette,—It is over. I do not know how I can write it all, and yet I must say it or my heart will break. Within the last ten days I have lost my mother, strangled by the women of evil life in the prison of Ste. Pélagie. My sister, with the little baby at her breast, has lost her husband. I have lost mine—may I call him mine? Father, brother, even my brother-in-law, away in the Haute Loire—all have been arrested! I, too, have been arrested, lest perhaps I might wander round the prison as Lucile did. Yet I do not think it was as terrible to be arrested as it was to be released. When I came back to this old house of ours, when I saw the empty workshop, and over it the little room where he had lived so long, I first began to realize that it was not all a dream.

                Oh, that little room! How plain and simple it was! The writing-table, the straw-bottomed chairs, and the little bookcase with the books we knew so well. And then the bed with the blue damask curtains with the white flowers on them, made out of an old dress of mother’s. That government spares nothing: all these little things are to be confiscated: they are to be sold at auction in the Palais Royal. At least I have his picture, the little medallion by Collet. That I must never lose. And then when I go to our own room and look out on the convent-gardens and see them, too, empty, I begin to realize how dreary is the world, It seems like a terrible dream, wherein ogre follows ogre, meaningless, formless, but terrible. At first we are walking as it were in pleasant pastures, or (shall I say?) as a Paul and Virginia [Virginie], making for ourselves a desert island in the midst of this crowded Paris. But the shipwreck came all too soon, and the wild waves have taken the wrong one.

                He had been ill at ease for months past. He saw the faction of selfish men ever growing stronger. As one after another died, he saw others start up. It seemed hopeless to make the general will prevail against the selfish individual interests. The people, to whom we looked, in whom we believed—the men of the faubourgs, that he was fighting for—seemed demoralized ever since Hébert’s orgies. It all was hopeless. As if to gather strength for a last effort he wished to escape from it all for a while, and commune, as he said, with Nature and with me. So for three weeks he seldom went even to the Jacobins but wandered off with me to the long walks at Versailles. I said I loved to see those trees growing wild that had been so long clipped and made to look false like the painted ladies of the Court; but somehow he loved order so well and system that I think he would like to have had them clipped again, though clipped perhaps in a different way from the King’s gardener’s fashion. It was so in everything. He did not love disorder as some do. He longed to see the people build up a rule—a firm, humane rule. He was often sick at heart to see how hard it was, with war and rebellion and want on every side. Yet he never lost faith. Even on the last day, the ninth Thermidor, he went to the Convention hopeful. Father was sad and I was sad, but he would have me go to hear him conquer. And so I was in the Convention through that fatal day. I had not been there so often as I had been at the Jacobins. The meeting-place of the friends of the Constitution has been the same for three years and more. The National Assembly had changed from place to place. Somehow I never felt so much at home there—perhaps because he did not—and least of all on that last day. Oh, Jeannette! it was like hell! Tallien was in the chair, but no man kept order. St. Just arose, and with his strangely beautiful boy’s face went to the tribune. The cowards would not hear him, and he stood still with his dreamy eyes on fire and his strong mouth resolute, fixed, facing them all. Tallien interposed, but not for fairness’ sake. “To end the divisions of the assembly,” he said—and the words remain in my ear as he hissed them out—“I demand that the veil be rent once and for all.” And then the assembly roared its hoarse applause. The demons round Collot d’Herbois shouted, and the frogs of the marsh croaked. And Tallien went on and ended: “I am armed with a dagger, if the Convention has not the courage to decree the impeachment of Robespierre.” Maximilian rushed to the tribune, pale, angry, but not afraid. I think they still feared the effect of his eloquence; and lest the frogs should not croak loud enough Tallien kept sounding his bell, while my poor love went back to his place, and then again to the tribune, and again to his place. Tallien proposed the arrest of Henriot [Hanriot] and every one likely to aid us in the city. And lastly, when they had cut off all help from him, Luchet rose to propose Robespierre’s arrest. Augustine [Augustin], his brave brother, was ready. He called out for leave to share his brother’s death, and they did not refuse him. And young M. Le Bas, Elizabeth’s husband, and Couthon and St. Just were condemned with them. M. David, the painter, cried out: “I will drink the hemlock with thee, Robespierre!” It sounded very fine, but I do not like David. He is too coarse, too loud, and not very earnest, I think. I like poor Greuze better, though no one looks at his pictures now.

                Yet still the Convention seemed unable to put its vote into effect. The guards would not advance: they could not be made to do the demon’s work. But quietly and sternly Maximilian arose and of his own will obeyed the Assembly. I never saw him again.

                I do not know whether it all happened just as I have told it. It is all blurred in my memory already. I think I heard Collot d’Herbois, the actor, speaking, while poor mother helped me out. We were not long together before we were dragged off each to a separate prison—she forever! I lay in prison all through the struggle in the night time, all through the tenth, when he fell. Perhaps it is as well I did not see the poor shattered body borne past our house, and the brutal women stopping to jeer at us. They kept me in prison a little longer and then turned me out: I was not worthy to die with him!

                Ah! Jeannette, you do not know how black the world is now that he no longer lightens it: how meaningless Rousseau seems, when he is no longer here to expound him: how hopeless the outlook of the fatherland now that he no longer encourages us. The soldiers may win battles perhaps, but for what? Whether we conquer or are beaten we shall be ruled without principle. Think not that the Church will be better treated now that he is gone. It was he who sometimes protected the poorer clergy. Do you fancy there is any religion in Collet [Collot] d’Herbois and Billaud Varennes [Billaud-Varennes]? They say that they will give the priests no pay at all for the future. They are atheists: they hated the feast of the Supreme Being: they are guilty of the worst executions, and not for the country’s sake but to serve their private ends.

                I cannot write more, Jeannette. Do you know that maxim of Nicolas Chamfort: “Life is a long illness, from which sleep relieves us every sixteen hours: sleep may ease us: death alone can cure.”

                Till then, Jeannette,

                                                Thine,

                                                                Éléanore.



[1] The organ of the Hébertists.

Profile

montagnarde1793: (Default)
montagnarde1793

October 2014

S M T W T F S
   1234
5678 91011
12131415161718
19202122 232425
262728293031 

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios