« AnteriorContinuar »
work at military equipments for the volunteer forces, who were to march in defence of their country. Amidst those singular preparations, Danton, the minister of justice, impressed upon the assembly the necessity of taking some step which would strike terror into any friends of the royalists who might still remain in Paris. “We must,” he exclaimed, in a voice of thunder, “dare, and dare, and dare again.” An awful meaning, it will be found, was hidden under these words. Four or five thousand persons (some writers make the number even larger) were thrown into the prisons of Paris, accused, without any form of examination, of being attached to the enemy's cause. These arrests took place during the three last days of August. On the 2nd of September following, a scene occurred which will long be remembered as one of the most appalling records presented by history, of the depravity of the human heart. Twenty-four priests, committed on mere suspicion to the prison of the Abbaye, were dragged from their carriages, and cut to pieces by the bloodthirsty mob. This was, however, but the beginning of horrors. Repairing to the various prisons, the mob waited outside, while a few of their leaders entering in, called for the registers of the prisoners, and formed an extempore court for their trial. No tedious formalities, so often complained of as the accompaniments of law, were, on this occasion at least, observed. A common room in the prison served as the court; and a table, having on it a drawn sword, bottles of spirits, and tobacco pipes, supplied the place of the usual insignia of the judicial bench. The judge was some ruffian, hastily selected from the mob, and the officers were others of the insurgents, whose hands and shirts were stained with human blood. Before this dreadful tribunal the unhappy prisoners, old and young, rich and poor, were rapidly hurried, when a word or a nod decided their fate. The slightest proof of the accused having, in any manner, however remote, sympathised with the cause of royalty, was sufficient to doom him to destruction. Instead of sentence of death being pronounced upon the prisoner, by a refinement of cruelty, he was led to the door of the prison as if for the purpose of being liberated. It was only then that he saw the full extent of his calamity. Outside the prison door were ranged a bloodthirsty mob, armed with pikes, swords, and axes, who hewed the unhappy captive to pieces D.
the moment he made his appearance. Some of the king's Swiss guard were among the first thrust out to slaughter at one of the prisons. Their cheeks, which had witnessed unblanched the approach of danger in the hour of battle, grew pale at the awful scene before them. After, in vain, supplicating for mercy, one of them, folding his arms, exclaimed," My comrades, since it must be so, I will go first,” and plunging boldly forward into the sea of pikes, perished by a hundred wounds.
The more moderate members of the Legislative Assembly tried in vain to stop this scene of carnage. The massacre continued for three days, and nearly five thousand victims sank beneath its violence. Upon a transaction of so awful a character comment is almost unnecessary. It displays, in an affecting manner, the depravity of the human heart. It was in the eighteenth century, and in the midst of a city distinguished for its refinement, that these scenes of horror took place. Civilization may polish the surface of society, but it requires a stronger and a holier principle to restrain its corruptions. It was in the name of liberty that these unhallowed deeds were perpetrated. The sequel, however, but too truly showed that
the French people of that generation were utterly unable to comprehend the meaning of that blessed privilege. Their savage passions overpowered every principle of reason and humanity, and, while glorying in having destroyed the fetters of despotism, they proved themselves to be the abject slaves of sin, cruelty, and corruption. The crimes, however, of these ferocious men did not go unpunished. As we proceed in the course of this history, we shall perceive that Providence, with even-handed justice, made the violence which they committed, to return upon their own heads. The cup of trembling which they gave to others to drink, they had themselves to drain to the very dregs. May the lesson so dearly bought by France not be lost on our own country! May the attempts of wicked men amongst us to rouse the passions of the lower orders, and to stimulate them to deeds of wickedness, be defeated in time to come, as they have happily been in the days that are past! and upon all classes of our countrymen may the conviction be more and more impressed, that crime and violence can never advance, though they may greatly retard, the cause of genuine liberty!
The National Convention meets—The king brought to trialHeroism of Malesherbes-Scenes during the trial—The king condemned to death-His execution-State of parties in France after the king's death-The Girondists-Marat, Danton, and Robespierre-Attack on the Girondists-Trial and execution of their leaders-Marat assassinated by Charlotte CordayReflections.
DURING the massacres of September, detailed in the last chapter, the king and his family were protected from violence in consequence of a tricolor ribbon being stretched before the gate of their prison, as an emblem of their being under the special guardianship of the nation! Their inviolability did not, however, continue long. Upon the meeting of the new assembly, (which was termed the National Convention,) France was declared a republic, and some of the more violent party eagerly demanded that the king should be brought to trial, as the grand enemy of the revolution. It became the fashion of