simone_remy (simone_remy) wrote in melkam,

Lantern part 2

After pausing for a while to catch her breath, the illustrious lantern continued in these terms:

Now comes the time when I must mingle into these praises some just complaints. So many scoundrels have escaped me! Not that I like justice to be too speedy. You know that I gave signs of discontent during the ascent of Foullon and Bertier[1]; twice I broke the noose. I was convinced of the treason of these two rascals; but the carpenter rushed the whole business. I would have preferred an interrogation and the exposure of certain facts.

Blind Parisians, if you fail to note these facts you may perhaps allow proof of the conspiracy woven against you to wither; and since it only lends its ministry to justice and the patrie you will dishonour the lantern. My fame will pass and I will remain defiled by these murders down the centuries. See how Morande is already libelling me in his Courrier de l’Europe and in le Gazetier! I leave the burden of my vengeance to this country’s lanterns. As the passionate journalists say

‘Thank heavens my hands have committed no crime’

However, why do you put so little faith in our common proofs? The crime is clear. Can we doubt the plot against Brest? Is it not plain that there was an even more dreadful conspiracy against Paris? Haven’t many houses been marked with chalk? Didn’t they discover a huge number of sulphurous fuses?

What was the purpose of those two artillery regiments, of the100 pieces of cannon? And that influx of foreigners, the regiment of Salis-Samate, Chateauvieux, Diesback, Royal-Suisse, Royal-Allemand, Roemer, Bercheny, Esterhazy and the multitude of Hussars and Austrians, corrupted by looting and ready to wallow in the blood of a nation, so gentle, that even today they can scarcely believe in the existence of that hellish plot? But how can they not believe in it? Were there not three pieces of artillery carried right up to the terrace of a citizen of Passy because they would be suitable for firing on the Parisians, on the same quay where Charles IX[2] placed guns two hundred years ago?

Wasn’t Besenval driven into a fury by the news of the reckless dismissal of Necker because it sounded the Sicilian Vespers too soon and revealed the whole plan?[3] Didn’t Memmay, the parliamentary councillor from Besancon, unmask the iniquity of the aristocracy and the malevolence of their intentions just as dramatically?

Didn’t Flesselles send citizens from five or six districts, on Monday at midnight, to look for weapons in Chartres and other equally distant places hoping to create a slaughterhouse, and that the enlisted assassins, who were prowling around the town, seeing them without weapons, would hasten to execute their plans and be emboldened to enter the capital. Isn’t it clear that the riot in the Faubourg St. Antoine was only stirred up by the aristocrats with the aim of facilitating the troops’ advance on the capital? Who cannot see that that the French Guards and the Royal Cravate were ordered to fire on the people and to execute unarmed citizens, tipsy and scattered throughout the Reveillon Gardens, with the aim of putting the obedience of the soldiers to the test and allowing them to taste the blood of their fellow citizens? Finally, who has not heard the cannoneers admitting that they had a mobile forge with them, ready to bombard us with red hot cannon balls?

Vigilant guardians of the nation, M. Gorsas and other journalists, have observed all of our enemies’ manoeuvring from the high position of their observation tower. They have formulated their plan of attack in the Courrier de Versailles à Paris, in le Point de Jour and in other journals[4]; and I have heard from respected soldiers, general officers attached to the Prince by salaries, not held under any suspicion despite their reluctance to believe that Louis XVI, like Theodosius the Great, had been able to order a massacre like that of Thessalonika, forced to admit to themselves that it is only too true that a court as corrupt as Catherine de Medici’s is equally bloodthirsty.

So then, these little masters and mistresses, so voluptuous, dainty and perfumed, who are only seen in their private boxes at the theatre or in elegant phaetons; who fritter their time away in the pastimes of Messalina and Sappho, with the fine handiwork of Mlle. Bertin; with their exquisite suppers and the fine wines of Hungary raised their sensuous goblets to toast the destruction of Paris and the ruin of France.

There, Broglie, Besenval, d’Autichamp, Narbonne Fritzland, Lambesc, de Lambert, Bercheny, Condé, Conti and Artois, with maps of Paris in their hands, reveaed their joy as the cannon roared from the towers of the Bastille, as the batteries picked out their targets and victims from the heights of Montmartre and as the bombs rained down on the Palais Royal. I beg pardon of M. Bailly, an excellent citizen and the capital’s worthy mayor, but well he knows that Epaminondas, the Mayor of Thebes, as reported by Cornelius Nepos, would never swear to a lie, even to establish calm. Could he persuade anyone that Montmartre had not been uniquely designed to strike us down and that it could not be put to another use?

So, good Parisians, there was an atrocious conspiracy against you. The Gunpowder Plot, whose discovery is celebrated with an annual festival in London, was a thousand times less serious; you have escaped death only by your courage; because the traitors and scoundrels are cowardly poltroons, motivated only by egotism and self-interest and such base passions cannot give rise to great things. Patriotism alone, that is to say the love of one’s fellow man and the abnegation of self, can give birth to heroic actions. You have escaped this danger only because the guardian angel kept watch over you from the banks of the Seine and as Pope Benedict XIV said, France is the kingdom of providence.

Since treason has been proved, why not make more enquiries about the traitors? I will speak with the restraint which is appropriate for a lantern, but also with the freedom which is appropriate in a free country, fulfilling the vigilant role which must be expected from my ministry and from the eye of the great judge of France. We are holding Besenval, d’Epremesnil, Maury and the Duc de Guiche; so much the better if they are found innocent! But I am not pleased that they have let Cazalès go free. They say that his person is sacred. I will not hear that word. Do they mean to say, like the flatterer Ulpius, in Roman law said of the Prince;

He is above the law.

This is wrong; only innocence is sacred and inviolable. Innocence alone dares to face the lantern. Many journals emphasise the responsibilities of the deputies; far from forbidding them to conduct a trial if the case is lost. Are d’Epremesnil, Maury and Cazalès more inviolable than the moneylender Lentulus, the dictator Caesar or the tribune Saturninus, whose persons were all sacred? There were other people beside King Agius considered sacred. Can anyone show me, in the archives of justice, a nobler monument, one inspiring all humans with a more holy terror than the inscription which we read on a column in the Lycian temple of Jupiter? After having put to death their King Aristodemus, for betraying the country, the Arcadians had this column raised and engraved with these words:

Sooner or later, treacherous kings are punished with the aid of Jupiter. The treachery of this one here, who betrayed Messene, was finally uncovered. Great Jupiter, praise is due to you.

Why was the Marquis de Lambert released? He was weeping, and I heard a young man say to him ‘Wretch! You should have wept when you received that vile order to wipe out an entire nation if they should persist in demanding their rights. Coward! You were ready to massacre women, children and old people; you were the general of an army of executioners, but you don’t know how to die! You will not escape the lantern’ Nevertheless he has escaped me[5].

Why were Calonne, le duc de Vauguyon and so many others released? I don’t say they were guilty. The sight of the terrible scaffold and the example of a few fatal errors could frighten even the innocent. But their flight, the travesty and the circumstances are, at the very least suspicious; and there is much sense in the words which the Roman orator addressed to the patriots:

In suspicione latratote; the capitol’s geese do well to cry out in the night. We are in the shadows now, and it is right that the faithful dogs even bark at passers-by so that we do not fear thieves.

The committee dealing with crimes of lèse nation have released this one and that one, notwithstanding the public rumours which accuse them. Then the National Assembly declares that they can go free, that they can continue on their way to Botany Bay. For myself I will congratulate M. de Robespierre for opposing the release of the duc de Vauguyon with all his power. M. Glezen opposed it in an even more eloquent manner. As a member of the committee for criminal proceedings he handed in his resignation on the spot. The act speaks for itself. Respect to MM. de Robespierre and Glezen!

I will permit myself to ask again: why did you not reassemble the torn up pieces of the baron de Castelnau’s letter? Why have the public not read it? You cite as an example the Athenians, who sent back, unopened, the intercepted letters from Philippe to his wife. Yes indeed, but they opened those that were addressed to the enemy. In times of war the English open all letters.

I will name M. de Clermont-Tonnerre in this quinzaine, even though he is the president and premier person of the nation[6]. The honourable member, a little too eloquently, strangely overstepped his powers when he mediated so zealously for Besen, for his uncle and for Castelnau. He told the National Assembly that the letter was entirely honest. I have read it. The part I have read is fine. Parisians, have you then said like the Greeks gathered for Themistocles ‘read it to Aristides’ Is M. de Clermont-Tonnerre your Aristides?[7] There was a law which said

Adultera ergo venefica [Adulteress, therefore deadly]

I do not want to conclude the same; he is noble therefore an aristocrat. Not pleasing to God! I myself will never forget that on Wednesday July 15th, when the noble representatives of the nation returned to town, as they passed beneath the flag of the French guards, I saw a nobleman, le vicomte de Castellane, kissing the nation’s flag in a transport of delight. I saw it, and I trembled with joy. All I want to say is that the letter which was shredded by le baron de Castelnau should be read out and publicly displayed, just as we displayed Flesselle’s letter to Delaunay, Besenval’s letter to Delaunay and the old letter from Sartine to his worthy friend Delaunay.

People say it is old news and it should be forgotten. But do you imagine that I have forgotten how a certain elector from Paris, rushing to Versailles to place these intercepted letters in the hands of de Castelnau, got there at three in the afternoon and did not return until ten in the evening? Or that I have forgotten that de Memmay, who today takes his place as a member of the commune, was loyal to Barentin and the director of the book shop? Do you imagine that I have forgotten how, in the turmoil of Sunday July 12th , when the most zealous patriots implored their president, M. de la Vigne to sound the tocsin immediately and convene the general assembly, this pusillanimous president drove them to despair with his refusal; and in spite of the bitter reproaches he suffered, from those zealous for the public good, postponed it for another twenty four hours, ignoring the general outcry and delaying the assembly which was so urgently needed and which was already several days overdue. Do you think I have forgotten that Beaumarchais was so closely linked to that honest police lieutenant le Noir? I would sooner pardon the deputy from Sainte-Marguerite. He has satirised le Comte Almaviva, the Robins, the director of the bookshop and the Chambre Syndicale. Figaro and Tarare were good pieces of theatre, politically speaking. Figaro’s monologue was an excellent work; the Persian Zoroastrians held to the belief that the good actions of those accused should be weighed in balance against the bad.

I would sooner see the Paris commune represented by citizens such as the author of Studies in Nature and Paul and Virginie. Why is it that the honours don’t penetrate deep into his retreat, and seek out this man of letters, this sage who makes nature so precious to us? Oh Virtue, must you always remain without honour? We should also not forget the philosopher who created l’an 2240, Tableau de Paris and other works perhaps more utilitarian than scintillating. But merit scorns intrigue and the same people always seem to come out on top.

I could name so many, who showed up at the last minute, or even not at all, secretly bemoaning the revolution but still daring to ask for compensation from those who were there before dawn and bore the burden alone, and envied them even the little palm leaf that was their due[8]. What does it matter to the generous patriots who braved death at the foot of the Bastille, who braved torture calling the nation to arms and the people to freedom! They are enjoying their reward, one that is truly worthy of them: they have seen the aristocrats put to flight; they see the nation set free; there is only one other thing that would complete their happiness; the conviction that the French people will not seek their chains again; that they will not fall back on another aristocracy.

It seems to me that we have not worked hard enough to eradicate all the roots of the aristocracy. Why do we still keep those epaulettes? They are an apple of discord cast into the sixty districts. We took up arms against the aristocracy, against pride, social distinctions and against the spirit of domination hoping to achieve a state which ceaselessly proclaims us all brothers; so why do we make the shoulder of a soldier different to that of an officer[9]? There was a wise order from the St Joseph district to the effect that everyone should wear the same uniform so that there should be no distinction other than length of service; how can it be that we have not thanked the author of such a decree, which would abolish the source of so many quarrels and cabals, and so much jealousy? Why hasn’t his motion been passed unanimously?

If the French are such a vain people that distinctions are vital to them let the Assembly create a national order; an honour which might be awarded to those who distinguish themselves by an heroic action. But right now I am asking all those gentlemen, aristocrats without realizing it, whom we meet in the streets wearing their epaulettes, why do they want to be different from other men? And what fine and generous action has accorded them this right? In a bourgeois military conscription, at a time when we scarcely recognise ourselves, when the epaulette cannot still be a token of merit and courage, surely to wear it on one’s shoulder is no more than an admission of ambition and intriguing, at the very least it is a label saying ‘aristocrat’, for what is aristocracy if not the mania for superiority without cause? Nature has already placed too many inequalities amongst humanity without the need for more illusions to be introduced.

This attack on epaulettes has led me far from my subject. Let us return to the National Assembly and the Crime Committee. I have another little anecdote. I don’t know which district informed the committee that the abbé de Vermond was to be found in a place where all that was needed to arrest him was authorisation from the twelve, but amongst them was a bishop who abhorred the sight of blood[10] and M. Tronchet, the president of the bar. The result was that they ignored this affair. So gentlemen, is this for me to concern myself with? How can the National Assembly, to whom we can truly say that all power has been given, doubt that she has as much right to pronounce on public order as some minor functionary? Voltaire’s old King Bélus said that when no one could marry his daughters they must seek husbands for themselves. When the people cannot get justice, they will seize it for themselves. Thus I have seen citizens today running frantically around me crying out ‘Oh lantern, lantern!’

Far be it from me to wickedly disparage the nation’s representatives and an assembly such as has never before existed in the world, an assembly so worthy, enlightened and fired with such patriotism. These are our legislators and our oracles[11]. But mistrust is the mother of security. Good people of Paris, where will you be if you put your faith in the fine words of these people, who say that the soldiers and the canons are only advancing on you to protect your shops from being looted or to act as police? The aristocracy are still alive. The Tarquins are abroad searching for Porsenna. How Porsenna trembles and he knows that France does not lack men just as brave as Mutius. People of France, the enemies of the public good, despairing of ever conquering you if you want to be free, have adopted the tactic of making liberty distasteful to you through too much licence. With this aim they have unleashed against the people these hordes of brigands, these madmen who rob and lay waste the provinces. It is not the people who commit such robberies; it is not the people, whom I have seen faithfully returning the gold and the jewels of Flesselles, Delaunay, Foullon and Bertier; it cannot be the same people who, in Paris, executed such swift, exemplary justice against those crooks who were caught red handed, and who, at Versailles, dragged a parricide to the scaffold. It is these brigands, bribed by a faction, these men without abode and the dregs of humanity who have been unleashed on France[12]. So many of them strut about our towns; they mingle with groups of citizens; they crowd into the Palais Royale. It is they who have so boldly demanded the heads of Lafayette and Bailly.

[1] Details of the deaths of these two men can be found on line or in books about the period

[2] Charles IX was involved in the action of firing on the people

[3] The Sicilian Vespers is the name given to the successful rebellion on the island of Sicily that broke out in 1282 against the rule of the French king Charles I,

[4] See Appendix to Lantern part 2 for Camille’s own footnote

[5] See Appendix to Lantern part 2 for Camille’s own footnote

[6] See Appendix to Lantern part 2 for Camille’s own footnote

[7] See Appendix to Lantern part 2 for Camille’s own footnote

[8] See Appendix to Lantern part 2 for Camille’s own footnote

[9] See Appendix to Lantern part 2 for Camille’s own footnote

[10] See Appendix to Lantern part 2 for Camille’s own footnote

[11] See Appendix to Lantern part 2 for Camille’s own footnote

[12] See Appendix to Lantern part 2 for Camille’s own footnote

Tags: camille desmoulins, lantern
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