Page images

no doubt, mere loose notes and scattered hints, which, M. Le Vasseur, junior, must permit us to think, would not have acquired much historical authenticity, even if he should have pasted or transcribed them into a volume. The difference, however, is of no great importance; as all parties are agreed that the Mémoires were not written by old Le Vasseur, as they affect to be, but that the original draft was compiled by the son, and that even that portion was all re-written, and three-fourths of additional matter supplied, by the ingenuity of Roche, who never had seen either the son or the father.

How much of the work thus doubly fabricated may really belong to the old Regicide, we must leave to the conjecture of our readers. In our own judgment, the portion is so small and so insignificant, that we should not have thought it worth while to have noticed the book at all, but that it seemed desirable to exhibit so well authenticated an instance of the system of fabrication which is now carried on so impudently in France ;* while it may not be unamusing nor uninstructive to see the kind of apology which the conscience of the father, the filial piety of the son, and the literary talents of the editor, have combined to make for a period, hitherto, as they tell us, most unjustly stigmatised as the Reign of Terror.

Having thus, however, acquainted our readers with the real history of the production, we shall, in our further observations, treat it as the work of Le Vasseur the elder—not only because it has, to a certain degree, his sanction, but also because it may be considered as expressing the sentiments of the party to which he belongs, and which has lately recovered not a little of authority in France. In fact, M. Thiers, now Secretary of State for the Home Department, in a history of the Revolution published previous to July, 1830, took much the same view of the subject that M. Le Vasseur does or is made to do; though we hear, and indeed could have guessed if we had not heard, that Thiers looks back with no great satisfaction to that foundation of his fame and fortunes. The theories of a young advocate of the Revolution are rather at variance with the duties of the minister of even a citizen-king. Not that Le Vasseur is quite so universal a panegyrist of the Revolution as M. Thiers-for he admits with great sincerity that the course of that Revolution was distinguished by at least one bloody injustice, one lamentable tragedy, in which certain friends of the author-Messrs. Danton, Robespierre, and others -were cruelly and wantonly put to death, while he himself narrowly escaped the same unworthy treatment. These victims were all des hommes énergiques, mais que n'avait jamais souillé le crime,' members of a society called the Jacobins, and of a party called the Mountain. It is the object of the book to rescue these much-injured persons from a great deal of unmerited obloquy which has, some how or other, attached itself to their proceedings.

There is in this work one instance of impudence so remarkable, that we cannot but notice it. The trial which established that Roche, and not Le Vasseur, was the real author of the book, took place after two volumes only had been published, or even written, yet the two latter volumes proceed gravely in the na of old Le Vasseur; nay, what is still droller, after the son had avowed that in 1828 the octogenarian was incapable of continuing his own notes, we find him in 1832 revived into a lively observer of, and active critic on, current events and recent publications,


Before we proceed to investigate the merits of this apology, we must premise that we are ready to give it all the weight which is arrogated to it on the score of Le Vasseur's character. The intensity of his conviction, his sincere enthusiasm, we admit without cavil; and he claims what it is not hazardous to allow to a Frenchman-courage in the field. As a man and a midwife, (his profession united these characters,) we give him his due, and are even willing to believe the story of his sacrificing the expectation of a rich inheritance to the honest maintenance of his opinion, against that of a wealthy relative, on the subject of negro slavery. We fear, indeed, that the race of rich West Indian uncles is extinct in France as elsewhere, or only survives to wind up the denouements of M. Scribe's comedies, and to supply the deus ex machiná for the relief of that ingenious dramatist's heroes and heroines. But such things were ; and, without discrediting this anecdote of M. Le Vasseur's early life, we will only add, that when any of our own Buxtons or Lushingtons can give anything like as good proof of their sincerity, we will admit their individual right to complete the robbery of the planter, and the destruction of poor Lord Seaford's remaining sugar mills.

From what we have already said, it is obvious that those who may open these volumes, with the hope of finding in them that fund of personal details which constitutes the charm of memoirs, must be disappointed. They will discover here no counterpart to Madame d'Abrantes' trousseau or accouchement, or Napoleon's master-key of the bed-chambers of St. Cloud ! and they must content themselves with floods of declamation, and a few facts floating here and there—in gurgite vasto. We are told that the ardent patriotism which had procured our accoucheur the suffrages of his native arrondissement of St. Calais for his election to the Convention, pointed out at once his seat to be on the Mountain ; but that his acquaintances, at the commencement of his Parisian career, were few, and that he was then unknown to the leaders either of the Jacobins or the Gironde. All details as to his own private habits, all anecdotes about his personal society, all accounts of the formation of his political connexions, and, what we more lament, all personal sketches of the public


men of the day, are wanting. We could have wished it otherwise : we should have been gratified with a genuine and friendly delineation of Robespierre's powdered precision, and Danton's dishevelled ugliness; but alas! these memoirs, with the exception of the portions of them which relate to military events, and which have something amusing about them, as being put into the mouth of a man-midwife, are little more than a political treatise by M. Roche on facts with which the reader is already but too well acquainted. It must be admitted, however, that, as the grave apologist of the Mountain, he has chosen well the moment for this appeal to the tribunal of public opinion, when modern Girondes, in the incipient struggle with modern Mountains, are going the way of all justes milieus, and when German liberals are obtaining the applauses of their countrymen by — we shudder as we writeclassing St. Just and Robespierre with Jesus Christ.*

The author was at Paris in May 1790, and was one of that collection of all classes of its inhabitants which turned out with spades and wheelbarrows to prepare the Champ de Mars for the ceremony of the oath to the new constitution. We hear nothing of the incidents of that great solemnity, of its national guards standing up by thousand couples to execute quadrilles, and its mass performed with equal spirit and quite as much religious feeling by Bishop Talleyrand and three hundred priests in tri-coloured sashes. But we recommend to the perusal of M. Lafayette the comments of the author upon a certain fusillade perpetrated also in the Champ de Mars in the following year, 1791, on some four hundred zealous patriots. The old general has taken better care of his head than his coadjutor on that occasion, Bailly: the truth is, that the lighter the head the easier it is carried— Bailly's head had something in it—and we leave Lafayette to settle the matter with M. Le Vasseur as he may.

Before we get to real business, i. e., to the proceedings of the National Convention, in which M. Le Vasseur was himself an actor, we are detained for a moment by a passing allusion to the general gaol delivery of Paris, which took place in September, 1792. We have from him the assurance which, though not resident at Paris at the time, he gives without hesitation, that the exalted patriots of the Mountain never provoked those assassinations,' as the author condescends to term them.+ This assertion is, however, followed by the admission, that without doubt they might have prevented them, had they chosen to do so. Before

The tears which the boy wasted over the mischances of Don Quixote the youth has shed over the death of the sacred heroes of freedom, Agis of Sparta, Caius and Tiberius Gracchus

of Rome, Jesus of Jerusalem, Robespierre and St. Just of Paris.' (Heine's Reisebilder, or Pictures of Travel, 1832.)

+ Vol. i. p. 92. VOL. XLIX. NO, XCVII.



we admit this summary denial, even as diluted by the subsequent admission, we should be curious to know by whose order, and at whose expense, a certain M. Maillard laid in, about the first of the month, a stock of brooms, bludgeons, assommoirs, sponges, and quick-lime, which were so soon and so opportunely employed in murdering the victims and making away with the corpses. M. Le Vasseur, without enlightening us on this head, proceeds to give a somewhat vague genealogy or affiliation of these massacres, from which it would appear that they were children of Anarchy, which Anarchy was the offspring of Danton, Billaud de Varennes, &c., lawfully begotten for the purpose of producing resistance to the Prussian invasion. This theory brings the said patriots at least into the relation of grandfathers to the massaeres, and in that degree of consanguinity we leave them, preferring to dwell on those events of which Le Vasseur might have been a nearer spectator, if not a more credible witness.

The character and situation of the Girondists at the opening of the National Convention are depicted in the first chapter :" that celebrated party, which, with excellent intentions and great talents, dragged us,' says the author, towards complete ruin by its narrow ambition and vindictive obstinacy. After a severe, and, at last, successful opposition to the court, the king, by a strange concurrence of circumstances, was obliged to accept them as ministers: they gut into power and place, and wielded, to their own purposes, and with all the insolence that belongs to the masters of majorities, the powers of the Legislative Assembly; the dissolution of that body, and the election of that reformed chamber, the National Convention, were made under their auspices. And on the meeting of the Convention, the cheers of a majority equally awaited them.

• Brilliant in talent, learned in theories, skilful in intrigues, masters not only of the Convention, not only of public opinion, but of that which governed both—the club Jacobins, they deemed, after the 10th of August, that France was in their hands. Flushed with, the triumphs of the past, and without an apprehension for the future, in calling together the National Convention,--that assembly which they had modelled at their pleasure,—they never dreamed that a party independent of themselves could ever count a majority on the lists of its members.'- vol. i., p. 53.

The Feuillans,--the Tories of the hour,-had fallen before them. That tardy conservative, Mirabeau, was already in the Pantheon, whence his body was so soon torn, to make room for Marat. A few men, undistinguished for talent, as yet unprac. tised in debate, with no qualifications but those of energy and patriotism,-by which is meant a thirst of blood and a craving for


absolute power, were all that could be mustered to oppose the eloquence of Vergniaud, the rigid virtue of Roland, and the political ability of Brissot. The Mountain were yet as comparatively inferior in importance, as far as the Convention was concerned, to Messrs. Hume and O'Connell, as Vergniaud was superior in eloquence to Lord Althorp. And yet these able leaders of opposition, these practised declaimers against corruption, these Prototypes of all modern Reformers, when placed by their own reformed parliament at the helm of the state, found themselves, and were found by the country, utterly unable to manage it. Fast runners as they had been in the race of patriotism, they were yet to be surpassed by men of swifter foot and better wind. A few months !-and the vote of that assembly, which they now ruled with absolute sway, consigned their heads to the executioner, and their memory to the execration of all true patriots, and, we must seriously add, to the contempt of posterity.

How did all this happen? The solution is to be found in the next paragraph :-

• The club of the Jacobins was the thermometer of public opinion. After the 10th of August, they (the Girondists) almost to a man abandoned that society, whose services they had extolled as long as it had applauded their views, but which they now regarded only as a resort of faction from the moment it had ceased to think as they did.' -vol. i. p. 59. More of the Jacobins anon.


to another event of the French Revolution, with respect to which we anticipated, with some curiosity, the observations of M. Le Vasseur-an event at which, we know, he assisted, and on which we expected him to rest a strong claim on the respect of all patriots-we mean the trial and condemnation of Louis XVI. Great, then, was our surprise when, instead of a demonstration of the propriety of that measure, or even a vague eulogy of its wisdom and justice, we found that it did not come within his canvass- -qu'il n'entrait


dans son cadremto advert to it. Is it that the glory of this exploit was shared by other than the professed men of the Mountain? Can any jealousy of Vergniaud's vote for blood, that vote which • astonished to stupefaction' even the galleries by which it was dictated, have induced this silence? The writer might have recollected, if this be his reason, that Vergniaud's vote was no more than sufficient to counterbalance the criminal weakness' he had displayed on the previous question of the appel au peuple. He might have quoted from his speech on that question such passages as these, which would appear, did not his subsequent conduct belie the supposition, to have been uttered with a sincere and sacrilegious intention of defrauding the great altar of pa

D 2


« PreviousContinue »