A BIOGRAPHICAL STUDY
IDA M. TARBELL
CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS
COPYRIGHT, 1896, BY
CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS
J. S. Cushing & Co.—Berwick & Smith
Norwood Mass. U.S.A.
To my dear Friend
MADAME CÉCILE MARILLIER
Some eight years ago I undertook a study of the women of the French Revolution, my object being merely to satisfy myself as to the value of their public services in that period. In the course of my studies I became particularly interested in Madame Roland, and when five years ago I found myself in Paris for an extended period, I decided to use my leisure in making a more careful investigation of her life and times than I had been able to do in America. The result of that study is condensed in this volume.
Much of the material used in preparing the book is new to the public. The chapter on Mademoiselle Phlipon’s relations with M. Roland and of their marriage has been written from unpublished letters, and presents a very different view of that affair from that which her biographers have hitherto given, and from that which she herself gives in her Memoirs. The story of her seeking a title with its privileges in Paris in 1784 has never before been told, the letters in which the details of her search are given never having been published. Those of her biographers who have had access to these letters have been too viiiardent republicans, or too passionate admirers of their heroine, to dwell on an episode of her career which seemed to them inconsistent with her later life.
The manuscripts of the letters from which these chapters have been written are now in the Bibliothèque Nationale of Paris. They were given to the library in 1888, by Madame Faugère, the widow of M. P. Faugère, to whom they had been given by Madame Champagneux, only daughter of Madame Roland, that he might prepare a satisfactory edition of her mother’s works, and write a life of her father. M. Faugère finished his edition of Madame Roland’s writings, but he died before completing his life of M. Roland.
Much of the material used in the book I have obtained from the descendants of Madame Roland, now living in Paris. My relations with them came about through that distinguished scholar and gentleman, the late James Darmesteter. Learning that I was interested in Madame Roland, he kindly sent me to her great-grandson M. Léon Marillier, a professor in the École des Hautes Études, of Paris. M. Marillier and his wife were of the greatest service to me, called my attention to the manuscripts which Madame Faugère had turned over to the Bibliothèque, and which had just been catalogued, and gave me for examination a large quantity of letters and cahiers from Madame Roland’s girlhood. There also I met their mother, Madame Cécile Marillier. To her I owe a debt of gratitude for sympathy and help, ixwhich I can never repay. Madame Marillier gave me freely the family legends of her grandmother, and in May, 1892, I spent a fortnight at Le Clos, the family home of the Rolands, where Madame Roland passed her happiest, most natural years. The old place is rife with memories of its former mistress, and it was there and afterwards in Villefranche that I found material for Chapters IV. and V.
I cannot close this introductory word without acknowledging, too, my indebtedness to the librarians of the Bibliothèque Nationale, of Paris. During three years I worked there almost daily, and I was treated with uniform courtesy and served willingly and intelligently. Indeed, I may say the same for all libraries and museums of Paris where I had occasion to seek information.
THE GIRLHOOD OF MANON PHLIPON
Since the days when all of the city of Paris, save a few mills, fortresses, and donjon-towers, was to be found on the Île de la Cité, the western end of that island has been the quarter of the gold and silver smiths. Here, in the olden times, when this part of the island was laid out in gardens and paths, the sellers of ornaments and metal vessels arranged their wares on the ground or in rude booths; later when peaked-roofed, latticed-faced buildings filled the space, these same venders opened their workshops in them; later still, when good King Henry IV. filled up this western end, built the Pont Neuf and put up the two fine façades of red brick and stone—mates for the arcades of the Place Royale—the same class continued here their trade. Even to-day, he who knows Paris thoroughly seeks the neighborhood of the Quai de l’Horloge and the Quai des Orfèvres for fine silverware and jewels.
Among the master engravers who in the latter part of the eighteenth century plied their trade in this 2quarter was one Pierre Gatien Phlipon. His shop was in one of the houses of King Henry’s façade—a house still standing almost intact, although the majority of them have been replaced or rebuilt so as to be unrecognizable—that facing the King’s statue on the west and looking on the Quai de l’Horloge on the north.
M. Phlipon’s shop was in one of the best situations in Paris. The Pont Neuf, on which his house looked, was the real centre of the city. Here in those days loungers, gossips, recruiting agents, venders of all sorts, saltimbanques, quacks, men of fashion, women of pleasure, the high, the low, tout Paris, in short, surged back and forth across the bridge. So fashionable a promenade had the place become that Mercier, the eighteenth-century gossip, declared that when one wanted to meet a person in Paris all that was necessary to do was to promenade an hour a day on the Pont Neuf. If he did not find him, he might be sure he was not in the city.
Engraver by profession, M. Phlipon was also a painter and enameller. He employed several workmen in his shop and received many orders, but he had an itching for money-making which led him to sacrifice the artistic side of his profession to the commercial and to combine with his art a trade in jewelry and diamonds. We may suppose, in fact, that the reason M. Phlipon had removed his shop to the Pont Neuf, instead of remaining in the Rue de la Lanterne, now Rue de la Cité, near Notre Dame, 3where he lived until about 1755, was because he saw in the new location a better opportunity for carrying on trade.
As his sacrifice of art to commerce shows, M. Phlipon was not a particularly high-minded man. He was, in fact, an excellent type of what the small bourgeoisie of Paris was, and is to-day,—good-natured and vain, thrifty and selfish, slightly common in his tastes, not always agreeable to live with when crossed in his wishes, but on the whole a respectable man, devoted to his family, with too great regard for what his neighbors would say of him to do anything flagrantly vulgar, and too good a heart to be continually disagreeable.
His vanity made him fond of display, but it kept him in good company. If he condescended to trade, he never condescended to traders, but carefully preserved the relations with artists, painters, and sculptors which his rank as an engraver brought him. “He was not exactly a high-minded man,” said his daughter once, “but he had much of what one calls honor. He would have willingly taken more for a thing than it was worth, but he would have killed himself rather than not to have paid the price of what he had bought.” What M. Phlipon lacked in dignity of character and elevation of sentiments, Madame Phlipon supplied—a serene, high-minded woman, knowing no other life than that of her family, ambitious for nothing but duty. She is a perfect model for the gracious housewife in La mère 4laborieuse and Le Bénédicité of Chardin, and her face might well have served as the original for the exquisite pastel of the Louvre, Chardin’s wife.
Madame Phlipon’s marriage had been, as are the majority of her class, one of reason. If she had suffered from a lack of delicacy on the part of her husband, had never known deep happiness or real companionship, she had, at least, been loved by the rather ordinary man whom her superiority impressed, and her home had been pleasant and peaceful.
The Phlipons led a typical bourgeois life. The little home in the second story of the house on the Quai de l’Horloge contained both shop and living apartments. As in Paris to-day the business and domestic life were closely dovetailed. Madame Phlipon minded the work and received customers when her husband was out, helped with the accounts, and usually had at her table one or more of the apprentices. Their busy every-day life was varied in the simple and charming fashion of which the French have the secret, leisurely promenades on Sunday, to Saint-Cloud, Meudon, Vincennes, an hour now and then in the Luxembourg or Tuileries gardens, an occasional evening at the theatre. As the families of both Monsieur and Madame Phlipon were of the Parisian bourgeoisie they had many relatives scattered about in the commercial parts of the city, and much animation and variety were added to their lives by the constant informal visiting they did among them.
5The chief interest of the Phlipon household was centred in its one little girl—the only child of seven left—Marie-Jeanne, or Manon, as she was called for short. Little Manon had not been born in the house on the Quai de l’Horloge, but in the Rue de la Lanterne (March 18, 1754), and the first two years of her life had been spent with a nurse in the suburbs of Arpajon. She was already a happy, active, healthy, observant child when she was brought back to her father’s home. The change from the quiet country house and garden, all of the world she had known, to the shifting panorama of the Seine and the Pont Neuf made a vivid impression upon her. The change, in fact, may be counted as the first step in her awakening. It quickened her power of observation and aroused in her a restless curiosity.
Never having known her mother until now, she was almost at once taken captive by the sweet, grave woman who guarded her with tenderest care, yet demanded from her implicit obedience. Madame Phlipon obtained over the child a complete ascendency and kept it so long as she lived. The father, on the contrary, never was able to win from his little daughter the homage she gave her mother. Monsieur Phlipon was often impatient and arbitrary with Manon. The child was already sufficiently developed when she began to make his acquaintance to discriminate dimly. While she was pliable to reason and affection, she was obstinate before force and impatience. She recognized that somehow they 6were illogical and unjust and she would endure but never yield to them. Thus among Manon’s first experiences was a species of hero-worship on one hand, of contempt for injustice on the other.
An incessant activity was one of the little girl’s natural qualities. This and her curiosity explain how she came to learn to read without anybody knowing exactly when. By the time she was four years old nothing but the promise of flowers tempted her away from her books, unless, indeed, it was stories; and with these the artist friends of M. Phlipon often entertained her, weaving extravagances by the hour, varying the pastime by repeating rhymes to her—an amusement which was even more entertaining to them since she repeated them like a parrot.
Madame Phlipon was a sincere and ardent Catholic and she took advantage of the eager activity of little Manon to teach her the Old and New Testament and the catechism. When the child was seven years old, she was sent to the class to be prepared for her first communion. Here she speedily distinguished herself, carrying away the prizes, much to the glory of her uncle Bimont, a young curé of the parish charged with directing the catechism.
M. Phlipon and his wife, delighted with the child’s precocity, gave her masters,—one to teach her to write and to give her history and geography, another for the piano, another for dancing, another for the guitar. M. Phlipon himself gave her drawing, 7and the Curé Bimont Latin. She attacked these duties eagerly,—getting up at five in the morning to copy her exercises and do her examples,—active because she could not help it.
But her real education was not what she was getting in these conventional ways. It was what the books she read gave her. These were of the most haphazard sort: the Bible in old French, to which she was greatly attached, the Lives of the Saints, The Civil Wars of Appias, Scarron, the Memoirs of Mademoiselle de Montpensier, a treatise on Heraldry, another on Contracts, many travels, dramas of all sorts, Télémaque, Jerusalem Delivered, even Candide.
The child read with passionate absorption. At first it was simply for something to do, as she did her exercises or fingered her guitar; but soon she began to feel strongly and she sought in her books food for the strange new emotions which stirred her heart, brought tears to her eyes, and awakened her to the mysteries of joy and sorrow long before she was able to call those emotions by name.
In the motley collection of books read by Manon at this period one only made a life-long impression upon her,—it was Dacier’s Plutarch. No one can understand the eighteenth century in France without taking into consideration the profound impress made upon it by Plutarch’s Lives. The work was the source of the dreams and of the ambitions of numbers of the men who exercised the greatest influence 8on the intellectual and political life of the period. Jean Jacques Rousseau declares that when he first read Plutarch, at about nine years of age, it cured him of his love of romance, and formed his free and republican character, and the impatience of servitude which tormented him throughout his life. Hundreds of others like Rousseau, many of them, no doubt, in imitation of him, trace their noblest qualities to the same source.
When little Manon Phlipon first read the Lives, the stories of these noble deeds moved her almost to delirium. She carried her book to church all through one Lent in guise of a prayer-book and read through the service. When at night, alone in her room, she leaned from the window and looked upon the Pont Neuf and Seine, she wept that she had not been born in Athens or Sparta. She was beginning to apply to herself what she read, to feel that the noble actions which aroused such depths of feeling in her heart were not only glorious to hear of but to perform. She was filled with awe at the idea that she was herself a creature capable of sublime deeds. A solemn sense of responsibility was awakened, and she felt that she must form her soul for a worthy future. When most children are busy with toys she was trembling before a mysterious possibility,—a life of great and good deeds, a possibility which she faintly felt was dependent upon her own efforts.
THE PLACE DAUPHINE IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.
Mademoiselle Phlipon lived in the second story of the house on the left.
9Once penetrated by this splendid ideal, however vague it may have been, it was inevitable that the rites of the Church, full of mysticism and exaltation, the teachings of devotion and self-abnegation, the pictures of lives spent in holy service, should appeal deeply to Manon’s sensitive and untrained consciousness. As the time of her first communion approached, and curé and friends combined to impress upon the child the solemn and eternal importance of the act, she was more and more stirred by dread and exaltation. All her time was given to meditation, to prayer, to pious reading. Every day she fingered the Lives of the Saints, sighing after the times when the fury of the pagans bestowed the crown of martyrdom upon Christians.
The necessary interruptions to her devotions which occurred in the household, disturbed her. At last she felt that she could not endure any longer the profane atmosphere; throwing herself at her parents’ feet, she begged to be allowed to go to a convent to prepare for the sacrament. M. and Madame Phlipon, touched by the zeal of their daughter, consented to let her leave them for a year.
It was not a difficult matter to find a convent suitable for a young girl of any class, in the Paris of the eighteenth century. That selected by the Phlipons for Manon stood in the Rue Neuve Ste. Étienne, a street now known as Rue Rollin and Rue Navarre. The convent, Dames de la Congrégation de Notre Dame, established in 1645, was well known for the gratuitous instruction its sisters gave 10the children of the very poor as well as for the simplicity and honesty with which the pension for young girls was conducted, a thing which could not be said of many of the convents of that day.
The instruction given by the Dames de la Congrégation was not, however, any better than that of other institutions of the kind, if the morals were. The amount of education regarded as necessary for a French girl of good family at this period was, in fact, very meagre; even girls of the highest classes being allowed to grow to womanhood in astonishing ignorance. Madame du Deffand says that in the convent where she was placed nothing was taught except “reading and writing, a light, very light tinting of history, the four rules, some needle-work, many pater-nosters—that was all.” Madame Louise, the sister of Louis XVI., did not know her alphabet at twelve, so says Madame Campan. Madame de Genlis taught her handsome sister-in-law, the favorite of the Duke of Orleans, to write after she was married. Madame de Genlis herself at twelve years of age had read almost nothing.
Manon Phlipon’s acquirements when she entered the convent, at a little over eleven years of age, were certainly much greater than those of these celebrated women at her age. It is probable that her instruction was far above that not only of the girls of her age in the school, but of the most advanced pupils, perhaps even of some of the good sisters themselves.
The superior training of the new pupil was soon 11known. The discovery caused her to be petted by all the sisterhood, and she was granted special privileges of study. She continued her piano lessons and drawing, so that she had sufficient work to satisfy her active nature and to make the leisure given her sweet. This leisure she never passed with her companions. Her frame of mind was altogether too serious to permit her to romp like a child. The recreation hours she spent apart, in a quiet corner of the silent old garden, reading or dreaming, permeated by the beauty of the foliage, the sigh of the wind, the perfume of the flowers. All this she felt, in her exalted state, was an expression of God, a proof of his goodness. With her heart big with gratitude and adoration, she would leave the garden to kneel in the dim church, and listen to the chanting of the choir and the roll of the organ.
Sensitive, unpractical, fervent, the imposing and mystic services allured her imagination and moved her heart until she lost self-control and wept, she did not know why.
During the first days at the convent, a novice took the veil,—one of the most touching ceremonies of the Church. The young girl appeared before the altar, dressed like a bride, and in a tone of joyous exaltation sang the wonderful strain, “Here I have chosen my dwelling-place, here I establish myself forever.” Then her white garments were taken from her, and cruel shears cut her long hair, which fell in 12masses to the floor; she prostrated herself before the altar, and in sign of her eternal separation from the world a black cloth was spread over her. Even to the experienced and unbelieving the sight is profoundly affecting. Manon, sensitive and overstrung, was seized with the terrible, death-in-life meaning of the sacrifice; she fancied herself in the place of the young dévouée and fell to the floor in violent convulsions.
Under the influence of such emotions, intensified by long prayers, retreats, meditation, exhortations, from curé and sisters, she took her first communion. So penetrated was she by the solemnity and the joy of the act that she was unable to walk alone to the altar. The report of her piety went abroad in the convent and in the parish, and many a good old woman whom she met afterwards, mindful of this extraordinary exaltation, asked her prayers.
Fortunately for the child’s development, this excessive mysticism, which was developing a melancholy, sweet to begin with, but not unlikely to become unhealthy, was relieved a few months after she entered the convent by a friendship with a young girl from Amiens, Sophie Cannet by name.
When Sophie first appeared at the Congrégation, Manon had been deeply touched by her grief at parting from her mother. Here was a sensibility which approached her own. She soon saw, too, that the new pensionnaire avoided the noisy groups of the garden, that she loved solitude and revery. She sought her 13and almost at once there sprang up between the two a warm friendship. Sophie was three years older than Manon; she was more self-contained, colder, more reasonable. She loved to discuss as well as to meditate, to analyze as well as to read. She talked well, too, and Manon had not learned as yet the pretty French accomplishment of causerie, and she delighted to listen to her new friend.
If the girls were different, they were companionable. Their work, their study, their walks, were soon together. They opened their hearts to each other, confided their desires, and decided to travel together the path to perfection upon which each had resolved.
To Manon Phlipon this new friendship was a revelation equal to the vision of nobility aroused by Plutarch; or to that of mystic purity found in the Church. So far in life she had had no opportunity for healthy expression. Her excessive sensibility, the emotions which frightened and stifled her, the aspirations which floated, indefinite and glorious, before her, all that she felt, had been suppressed. She could not tell her mother, her curé, the good sisters. Even if they understood her, she felt vaguely that they would check her, calm her, try to turn her attention to her lessons, to the practice of good deeds, to pious exercises. She did not want this. She wanted to feel, to preserve this tormenting sensibility which was her terror and her joy.
To Sophie she could tell everything. Sophie, too, was sensitive, devout, and understood joy and sorrow. 14The two girls shared the most secret experiences of their souls. There grew up between them a form of Platonic love which is not uncommon between idealistic and sensitive young girls, a relation in which all that is most intimate, most profound, most sincere in the intellectual and spiritual lives of the two is exchanged; under its influence the most obscure and indefinite impressions take form, the most subtile emotions materialize, and vague and indefinite thoughts shape themselves.
The effect of this relation on the emotional nature of Manon was generally wholesome. Her affection for Sophie gave a new coloring to the pleasure she found in her work, and it dispelled the melancholy which hitherto had tinged her solitude. More important, it compelled her to define her feelings so that her friend could understand them: to do this she was forced to study her own moods and gradually her intelligence came to be for something in all that she felt.
When the year which Manon’s parents had given her for the convent was up, she was obliged to leave her friend. For some time after the parting Sophie remained at the Congrégation, so that they saw each other often; but, afterwards, it was by letters that their friendship was kept up. Never were more ardent love letters written than those of Manon to Sophie. She commiserated all the world who did not know the joys of friendship. She suffered tortures when Sophie’s letters were delayed, and, like 15every lover since the beginning of the postal service, evolved plans for improving its promptness and its exactness. She read and re-read the letters which always filled her pockets, and she rose from her bed at midnight to fill pages with declarations of her fondness. This correspondence became one of the great joys of her life. All that she thought, felt, and saw, she put into her letters. The effort to express all of herself clearly compelled her to a greater degree of reflection and crystallized her notions wonderfully. Beside making her think, it awakened in her a passion for the pen which never left her. Indeed, it became an imperative need for her to express in writing whatever she thought or felt. Her emotions and ideas seemed to her incomplete if they had not been written out. In her early letters there is a full account of all the influences which were acting on her life, and of the transformation and evolution they produced.
When Manon left the Congrégation, it was with the determination to preserve not only her friend, but her piety. To do the latter, she had made up her mind to fit herself secretly to return to a convent life when she reached her majority. She had even chosen already the order which she should join, and had selected Saint François de Sales, “one of the most amiable saints of Paradise,” as she rightly characterized him, as her patron.
For the time being, however, not a little of the world was mixed with her preparations for religious 16retirement. When she came back to the Quai de l’Horloge,—her first year out of the convent was spent on the Île Saint Louis with her grandmother Phlipon,—her father and mother began gradually to initiate her into the round of life which presumably would be hers in the future. M. Phlipon took especial pride in his fresh, bright-faced daughter. By his wish she was always dressed with elegance, and she attracted attention everywhere. The tenderness with which he introduced her always touched Manon in spite of the fact that she was often embarrassed by his too evident pride in her. The two went together to all the Salons and the expositions of art objects, and M. Phlipon carefully directed her taste here where he was so thoroughly at home. It was the only real point of contact between them.
Sundays and fête days were usually devoted to promenades by the Phlipons. The gayest paths, gardens, and boulevards were always chosen by M. Phlipon. He enjoyed the crowd and the mirth; and, above all, he enjoyed showing off his pretty daughter. But she, stern little moralist, when she discovered that her holiday toilette really gave her pleasure, that she actually felt flattered when people turned to look at her, that she found compliments sweet and admiring glances gratifying, trembled with apprehension. She might forgive her father’s vanity, but she could not forgive such a feeling in herself. Was it to walk in gardens and to 17be admired that she had been born? She gradually convinced herself that these promenades were inconsistent with her ideal of what was “beautiful and wise and grand,” and she urged her parents to the country, where all was in harmony with her thoughts and feelings. Meudon, still one of the loveliest of all the lovely forests in the environs of Paris, was her favorite spot. Its quiet, its naturalness, its variety, pleased her better than the movement and the artificiality of such a place as Saint-Cloud. In the forest of Meudon her passion for nature was fully satisfied; here she could study flower and tree, light and shade.
In her love for nature Manon was in harmony with one of the curious phases of the sentimental life of the eighteenth century in France. Nature as food for sentiment seems to have never been discovered until then by the French people. One searches in vain in French literature before Bernardin de Saint-Pierre and Rousseau for anything which resembles a comprehension of and feeling for the external world—yet unaided Manon Phlipon became naturalist and pantheist. Never did Bernardin de Saint-Pierre and Rousseau, in their tramps in the environs of Paris, rejoice more profoundly over the beauties of the world, enter more deeply into its mysteries, than did she when in her girlhood she wandered in the allées of the forest of Meudon or of the Bois de Vincennes.
But Manon was to see still another side of life,—people in their relations to one another and to herself. 18Thus far she had been easily first in her little world. She had never known the time when she was not praised for her superiority. Whatever notions of equality she entertained it is certain that she had not yet discovered that Manon Phlipon was secondary to anybody else.
It was on the visits which she began to make with her relatives, that she first discovered that in the world men are not graded according to their wisdom and their love for and practice of virtue. She went one day with her grandmother Phlipon to visit a rich and would-be-great lady, Madame de Boismorel, in whose house Madame Phlipon had, for many years after her husband’s death, acted as a kind of governess. She was wounded on entering by a sentiment not purely democratic—the servants, who loved the old governess and wished to please her, crowded about the little girl and complimented her freely. She was offended. These people might, of course, look at her, but it was not their business to compliment her. Once in the grand salon she found a typical little old Frenchwoman, pretentious, vain, exacting. Her chiffons, her rouge, her false hair, her lofty manner with the beloved grandmamma Phlipon whom she addressed as Mademoiselle,—Mademoiselle to her grandmother, one of the great personages of her life so far,—her assumption of superiority, her frivolous talk, revolted this Spartan maid. She lowered her eyes and blushed before the cold cynicism of the old lady. When she was asked questions, 19she replied with amusing sententiousness. “You must have a lucky hand, my little friend, have you ever tried it in a lottery?”
“Never, Madame, I do not believe in games of chance.”
“What a voice! how sweet and full it is, but how grave! Are you not a little devout?”
“I know my duty and I try to do it.”
“Ah! You desire to become a nun, do you not?”
“I am ignorant of my destiny, I do not seek to penetrate it.”
Little wonder that after that Madame de Boismorel cautioned the grandmother, “Take care that she does not become a blue-stocking; it would be a great pity.”
Manon went home from this visit full of disdain and anxiety. Evidently things were not as they ought to be when servants dared to compliment her to her face; when her own noble ideas were greeted coldly, and when a vain and vulgar woman could patronize a sweet and bright little lady like her grandmother; when her grandmother, too, would submit to the patronage—perhaps even court it.
She was to observe still more closely the world’s practices. An acquaintance of the family, one Mademoiselle d’Hannaches, was in difficulty over an inheritance and obliged to be in Paris to work up her case. Madame Phlipon took her into her house, where she stayed some eighteen months. Now Mademoiselle d’Hannaches belonged to an ancient family, 20and on account of her birth demanded extra consideration from those about her and treated her bourgeois friends with a certain condescension. Manon became a sort of secretary to her and often accompanied her when she went out on business. “I noticed,” wrote Manon afterwards, “that in spite of her ignorance, her stiff manner, her incorrect language, her old-fashioned toilette,—all her absurdities,—deference was paid her because of her family. The names of her ancestors, which she always enumerated, were listened to gravely and were used to support her claim. I compared the reception given to her with that which Madame de Boismorel had given to me and which had made a profound impression upon me. I knew that I was worth more than Mademoiselle d’Hannaches, whose forty years and whose genealogy had not given her the faculty of writing a sensible or legible letter. I began to find the world very unjust and its institutions most extravagant.”
Mademoiselle Phlipon had scarcely become accustomed to these vanities in the society which she frequented, before she began to observe equally puzzling and ridiculous pretensions in artistic and literary circles. Through the kindness of her masters and of the friends of M. and Madame Phlipon, she was often invited to the reunions of bels esprits, so common in Paris then and now. It was not in a spirit of humiliation and flattered vanity that so independent an observer and judge as she had become, 21surveyed the celebrities she was allowed to look upon and to listen to, in the various salons to which she was admitted. She saw immediately the pose which characterized nearly all of the gatherings, the pretentious vanity of those who read verses or portraits, the insincerity and diplomacy of those who applauded. The blue-stockings who read as their own verses which they had not always written, and who were paid by ambitious salon leaders for sitting at their table; the small poets who found inspiration in the muffs and snuff-boxes of the great ladies whose favor they wanted; the bold, and not always too chaste, compliments,—verily, if they made the gatherings délicieuses, as they who followed them declared, there was a deep gulf between Manon Phlipon’s standards and those of the society which her family congratulated her upon being able to see.
It was during Mademoiselle d’Hannaches’ stay with the Phlipons that Manon made a visit of eight days to Versailles, then the seat of the French Court, with her mother, her uncle, and their guest, to whose influence indeed they owed their garret accommodations in the château. Many things shocked and humiliated her in the life she saw there, but she did not go home nearly so bitter and disillusioned as she tried to represent herself to have been, nine years later, when she told the story to posterity as an evidence of her early revolt against the abuses of the monarchy. In fact, the reflections which the week at Versailles awakened were very 22just and reasonable. We have them in a letter written to Sophie some days after her return:
“I cannot tell you how much what I saw there has made me value my own situation and bless Heaven that I was born in an obscure rank. You believe, perhaps, that this feeling is founded on the little value which I attach to opinion and on the reality of the penalties which I see to be connected with greatness? Not at all. It is founded on the knowledge that I have of my own character which would be most harmful to myself and to the state if I were placed at a certain distance from the throne. I should be profoundly shocked by the enormous chasm between millions of men and one individual of their own kind. In my present position I love my King because I feel my dependence so little. If I were near him, I should hate his grandeur…. A good king seems to me an adorable being; still, if before coming into the world I had had my choice of a government I should have decided on a republic. It is true I should have wanted one different from any in Europe to-day.”
Manon was twenty years old when she wrote this letter to Sophie Cannet. Its reasonable tone is very different from what one would expect from the passionate little mystic of the convent of the Congrégation, the sententious critic of Madame de Boismorel. In fact, Manon’s attitude towards the world had changed. By force of study and reflection she had come to understand human nature better, and to 23accept with philosophical resignation the contradictions, the pettiness, and the injustice of society. “The longer I live, the more I study and observe,” she told Sophie, “the more deeply I feel that we ought to be indulgent towards our fellows. It is a lesson which personal experience teaches us every day,—it seems to me that in proportion to the measure of light which penetrates our minds we are disposed to humaneness, to benevolence, to tolerant kindness.”
Nor had she at this time any bitterness towards the existing order of government. If she “would have chosen a republic if she had been allowed a choice before coming into the world,” she had so far no idea of rejecting the rule under which she was born. Indeed, she was a very loyal subject of Louis XVI. When that prince came to the throne she wrote to her friend: “The ministers are enlightened and well disposed, the young prince docile and eager for good, the Queen amiable and beneficent, the Court kind and respectable, the legislative body honorable, the people obedient, wishing only to love their master, the kingdom full of resources. Ah, but we are going to be happy!” Nor did her ideas of equality at this period make her see in the mass of the common people equals of those who by training, education, and birth had been fitted to govern. “Truly human nature is not very respectable when one considers it in a mass,” she reflected one day, as she saw the people of Paris swarming 24even to the roofs to watch a poor wretch tortured on the wheel. In describing a bread riot in 1775, she condemned the people as impatient, called the measures of the ministers wise, and excused the government by recalling Sully’s reflection: “With all our enlightenment and good-will it is still difficult to do well.” And again, apropos of similar disturbances, she said: “The King talks like a father, but the people do not understand him; the people are hungry—it is the only thing which touches them.” Nothing in all this of contempt of the monarchy, of the sovereignty of the people, of the divine right of insurrection.
Manon Phlipon had in fact become, by the time she was twenty years of age, a thoroughly intelligent and reflective young woman. Instead of extravagant and impulsive opinions, results of excessive emotionalism and idealism, which her first twelve years seemed to prophesy, we have from her intelligent judgments. If it was not a question of some one she loved, she could be trusted to look at any subject in a rational and self-controlled way.
This change had been brought about largely by the reading and reflecting she had done since leaving the convent. For some time what she read had depended on what she could get. Her resolution to enter a convent eventually had made her at first prefer religious books, and she read Saint Augustine and Saint François de Sales with fervor and joy. With them she combined, helter-skelter, volumes from the 25bouquinistes, mainly travels, letters, and mythology. Fortunately she happened on Madame de Sévigné. Manon appreciated thoroughly the charming style of this most agreeable French letter-writer, and her taste was influenced by it, though her style was but little changed.
This stock was not exhausted before she had the happiness to be turned loose in the library of an abbé—a friend of her uncle. It was a house where her mother and Mademoiselle d’Hannaches went often to make up a party of tric-trac with the two curés. As it was necessary always to take her along, all parties were satisfied that Manon could lose herself in a book. For three years she found here all she could read: history, literature, mythology, the Fathers of the Church. Dozens of obscure authors passed through her hands; now and then she happened on a classic—something from Voltaire, from Bossuet. Here too she read Don Quixote.
But the good abbé died, the tric-trac parties in his library ceased, and Manon had to turn to the public library for books. She chose without any plan, generally a book of which she had heard. So far her reading had been simply out of curiosity, from a need of doing something. Usually she had several books on hand at once—some serious, others light, one of which she was always reading aloud to her mother. The habit of reading, especially aloud, was one of the chief means advised by the French educators of the time for carrying on a girl’s education. 26Madame de Sévigné, Fénelon, Madame de Maintenon, L’abbé de Saint-Pierre, the authorities at Port Royal, all had made much of the practice. Manon read their treatises, and finding that she had herself already adopted methods similar to those of the wisest men and women of her country, continued her work with new vigor.
All that she read she analyzed carefully, and she spent much time in making extracts. Through the courtesy of one of the descendants of Mademoiselle Phlipon, M. Léon Marillier of Paris, I had in my possession at one time, for examination, a large number of her cahiers prepared at this period. They are made of a coarse, grayish-blue paper, with rough edges, and are covered with a strong, graceful handwriting, almost never marred by erasures or changes, much of it looking as if it had been engraved; more characteristic and artistic manuscript one rarely sees.
The subjects of the quotations in the cahiers are nearly always deeply serious. In one there are eight pages on Necessity, long quotations on Death, Suicide, the Good Man, Happiness, the Idea of God. Another contains a long analysis of a work on Divorce Legislation, which had pleased her. Buffon and Voltaire are freely quoted from.
The passages which attracted her are philosophic and dogmatic rather than literary and sentimental, or devout. In fact, Manon became, in the period between fourteen and twenty-one, deeply interested in the philosophic thought of the day. Soon she 27was examining dispassionately, and with a freedom of mind remarkable in so unquestioning a believer as she had been, the entire system of religion which she had been taught. Once started on this track, her reading took a more systematic and intelligent turn. She read for a purpose, not simply out of curiosity.
It was the controversial works of Bossuet which first induced Manon Phlipon to apply the test of reason to her faith. Soon after she began to study the Christian dogma rationally, she revolted against the doctrines of infallibility and of the universal damnation of all those who never knew or who had not accepted the faith. When she discovered that she could not accept these teachings, she resolved to find out if there was anything else which she must give up, and so attacked eagerly religious criticism, philosophy, metaphysics. She analyzed most thoroughly all she read and compared authorities with unusual intelligence.
As her investigations went on, she found that her faith was going, and she told her confessor, who immediately furnished her with the apologists and defenders of the Church, Abbé Gauchat, Bergier, Abbadie, Holland, Clark, and others. She read them conscientiously and annotated them all; some of these notes she left in the books, not unwittingly we may suspect. The Abbé asked her in amazement if the comments were original with her.
These annotations were, in fact, calculated to startle a curé interested in conserving the orthodoxy 28of a parishioner. Part of those she made on the works of the Abbé Gauchat fell into my hands with the extracts spoken of above. They are the bold, intelligent criticisms of a person who has resolved to subject every dogma to the test of reason. They are never contemptuous or scoffing, though there is frequently a tone of irritation at what she regards as the feebleness of the logic. They are free from prejudice and from sentiment, and show no deference to authority.
Another result of the curé’s loan of controversial works was to intimate to Manon what books they refuted, and she hastened to procure them one after another. Thus the Traité de la tolérance, Dictionnaire philosophique, the Questions encyclopédiques, the Bons sens and the Lettres juives, of the Marquis d’Argens, the works of Diderot, d’Alembert, Raynal, in fact all the literature of the encyclopedists passed through her hands.
Manon Phlipon did not change her religious feelings or devout practices during this period. She was living a religious life of peculiar intensity, all the time that she was deep in the examination of doctrines. The one was for her an affair of the heart, the other of the head. Her letters to Sophie, after the question of doubt had once been broached between them, are filled, now with philosophical analyses of dogma, now with glowing piety, now with severe rules of conduct. It was some time after she took to reasoning before the subject came up. Sophie’s 29own faith was troubled and she pictured her state to her friend. Manon, touched by this confidence, greater than her own had been, freely portrayed afterwards her own mental and spiritual condition. From these letters we find that she reached, very early in her study, certain conclusions which she never abandoned, and upon these as a basis erected a system which satisfied her heart and mind and which regulated her conduct.
When she first wrote Sophie she was so convinced of the existence of God for “philosophical reasons” that she declared the authority of the world could not upset her. With this went the immortality of the soul. These two dogmas were enough to satisfy her heart and imagination. She did not need them to be upright, she said, but she did to be happy. She did right because she had convinced herself that it was to her own and to her neighbor’s interest. She was happy because she had a reasonable basis for goodness and nobility, and because she believed in God and in immortality. On this foundation further study became an inspiration. “My sentiments have gained an energy, a warmth, a range,” she wrote to Sophie after reading Raynal’s Philosophical History, “that the exhortations of priests have never given them—the General Good is my idol, because it must be the result and the reasonable end of everything. Virtue pleases me, inflames my imagination because it is good for me, useful to others, and beautiful in itself. I cherish life because I feel the value of it. I use it 30to the best advantage possible. I love all that breathes, I hate nothing but evil, and still I pity the guilty. With a conduct conformed to these ideas, I live happy and tranquil, and I shall finish my career in peace and with the greatest confidence in a God whom I dare believe to be better than I have been taught.”
She had her fundamentals, but she had not by any means finished her investigations. Each system she examined, fascinated her. In turn she was Jansenist, stoic, deist, materialist, idealist.
“The same thing happens to me sometimes,” she wrote Sophie, “that happened to the prince who went to the Court to hear the pleas,—the last lawyer who spoke always seemed to him to be right.” “I am continually in doubt, and I sleep there peacefully as the Americans in their hammocks. This state is best suited to our situation and to the little we know.”
Whatever her mental vagaries, she never altered her religious practices. She did not wish to torment her mother, or to set a bad example to those who took her as a model; for instance, there was her bonne whom she desired should keep her faith. “I should blame myself for weakening it,” she said, “as I should for taking away her bread.”
Only two months before the end of her life Madame Roland summed up her religious and philosophical life in a passage of her Memoirs. It is simply a résumé of what in her girlhood she wrote at different times to Sophie. The main points of this philosophy have been given above.
LOVERS AND MARRIAGE
Until she was twenty-one years of age, Manon Phlipon’s life was singularly free from care. Her studies, her letters to Sophie, her hours with her mother, her promenades, filled it full. Suddenly in 1775 its peace was broken by the death of Madame Phlipon. Manon’s veneration and affection for her mother were sincere and passionate, her dependence upon her complete. Her death left the girl groping pitifully. The support and the joy of her life seemed to have been taken from her. But the necessity of action, her obligations to her father, the kindness of her friends, her own philosophy, finally calmed her, and she made a brave effort to adjust herself to her new duties. Her real restoration, however,—that is, her return to happiness and to enthusiasm, was wrought by a book—the Nouvelle Héloïse, of Jean Jacques Rousseau.
In the middle and in the latter half of the eighteenth century France passed through a paroxysm of sentiment. Man was acknowledged a reasoning being, to be sure, but it was because he was a sensitive 32one that he was extolled. His mission was to escape pain and seek happiness. To laugh, to weep, to vibrate with feeling, was the ideal of happiness. This sensitiveness to sentiment was shown in the most extravagant ways. Words ran out in the efforts to paint emotion. Friends no longer saluted, they fell into each other’s arms. Tears were no longer sufficient for grief, they were needed for joy. Convulsions and spasms alone expressed sorrow adequately. At the least provocation women were in a faint and men trembling. Acute sensibility was cultivated as an Anglo-Saxon cultivates reserve.
The prophet of this sentimental generation was Jean Jacques Rousseau, the hand-book he gave his followers the Nouvelle Héloïse. Here sentimentalism reaches the highest point possible without becoming unadulterated mawkishness and sensuality, if, indeed, it does not sometimes pass the limit. To France, however, the book was a revelation. Rousseau declares that Frenchwomen particularly were intoxicated by it, and that there were few ladies of rank of whom he could not have made the conquest if he had undertaken it. It is only necessary to read the memoirs of the day, to see that Rousseau tells the truth. The story that George Sand tells of her grandmother, and those Madame de Genlis relates of the reception of the book by the great ladies of the Palais Royal, are but examples of the general outburst of admiration which swept through feminine hearts.
33The Nouvelle Héloïse was a revelation in sentiment to Manon Phlipon. The severe studies of the past few years had checked and regulated the excessive and uncontrolled emotions of her girlhood. She had become an intelligent, reflecting creature. But the death of her mother had overthrown her philosophy for the moment; then came the Nouvelle Héloïse. Its effect on her was like that of Plutarch twelve years before. It kindled her imagination to the raptures of love, the beauty of filial affection, the peace of domestic life, the joy of motherhood.
Her vigorous, passionate young nature asserted itself; her mind burned with the possibilities of happiness; sentiment regained the power temporarily given to the intellect, and from that time was the ruling force of her life.
“I fear that he strengthened my weakness,” Manon wrote of Rousseau towards the end of her life, and certainly he did destroy the fine harmony that she had established between her reason and her feelings, making the latter master. She was quite right in thinking it fortunate that she had not read him earlier. “He would have driven me mad; I should have been willing to read nobody but him.”
The Nouvelle Héloïse was not, however, the first of Rousseau she had read. Émile had passed through her hands, and her religious convictions had unquestionably been influenced by the Profession of Faith of the Vicar of Savoy. But she had read him critically so far. Now all was changed. She plunged 34enthusiastically into his works. She found there clearly and fully stated what she herself had vaguely and imperfectly felt; the sentiments he interpreted had stirred her; many of the principles he laid down for conduct she had been practising. In less than a year she was defending his works to Sophie.
“I am astonished that you wonder at my love for Rousseau. I regard him as the friend of humanity, as its benefactor and mine. Who pictures virtue in a nobler and more touching manner? Who renders it more worthy of love? His works inspire a taste for truth, simplicity, wisdom. As for myself, I know well that I owe to them all that is best in me. His genius has warmed my soul, I have been inflamed, elevated, and ennobled by it.
“I do not deny that there are some paradoxes in Émile, some proceedings that our customs make impracticable. But how many profound and wholesome opinions, how many useful precepts! how many beauties to save the faults! Moreover, I confess that observation has led me to approve things that at first I treated as foolish and chimerical. His Héloïse is a masterpiece of sentiment. The woman who can read it without being better or at least without desiring to become so, has only a soul of clay, a mind of apathy. She will never rise above the common…. In all that he has done one recognizes not only a genius, but an honest man and citizen…. And a scaffold has come near being 35erected for this man, to whom, in another century, one will perhaps raise altars!”
Manon Phlipon had found in Rousseau her guide. The feminine need of an authority was satisfied. She accepted him en bloc, and to defend and follow him became henceforth her concern.
Manon’s first appreciation of Rousseau was, naturally enough, an attempt to play Julie to a fancied Saint-Preux. It is not to be supposed that this is the first time in her life that her attention was turned towards a lover. Ever since her piety began to cool under the combined effects of study and observation, and her natural vanity and love of attention began to assert themselves, she had thought a great deal of her future husband. In a French girl’s life a future husband is a foregone conclusion, and Manon, like all her countrywomen, had been accustomed to the presentation of this or that person whom some zealous friend thought a fitting mate for her. The procession of suitors that passes before the readers of her Memoirs is so long and so motley that one is inclined to believe that more than one is there by virtue of the heroine’s imagination. Manon Phlipon was one of those women who see in every man a possible lover.
The applications for her hand began with her guitar master, who, having taught her all he knew, ended by asking her to marry him. Then there was a widower who had prepared himself for his courtship by having a wen removed from his left cheek; 36the family butcher, who sought to win her regard by sending her the choicest cuts of steak, and appearing on Sunday in the midst of the Phlipons’ family promenade, arrayed in lace and fine broadcloth; and in turn all the eligible young men and widowers of the Place Dauphine. They were, without exception, peremptorily declined by the young woman through her father. Had she read Plutarch and all the philosophers, only to tie herself up to a merchant bent on getting rich and cutting a good figure in his quarter?
Her parents, flattered and amused by this cortège, did not at first try to influence Manon to accept any one, but at last her father became anxious. The disdain with which she refused all representatives of commerce annoyed him a little, too. “What kind of a man will suit you?” he asked her one day.
“You have taught me to reflect, and allowed me to form studious habits. I don’t know to what kind of a man I shall give myself, but it will never be to any one with whom I cannot share my thoughts and sentiments.”
“But there are men in business who are polished and well educated.”
“Yes, but not among those I see. Their politeness consists in a few phrases and salutations. Their knowledge is always of business. They would be of little use to me in the education of my children.”
“Raise them yourself.”
37“That task would seem heavy to me if it were not shared by my husband.”
“Don’t you think L——’s wife is happy? They have just gone out of business; they have bought a large property; their house is well kept; and they see a great deal of good society.”
“I cannot judge of the happiness of others, and mine will never depend upon wealth. I believe that there is no happiness in marriage except when hearts are closely united. I can never give myself to one who has not the same sentiments as I. Besides, my husband must be stronger than I; nature and the laws make him my superior, and I should be ashamed of him if he were not so.”
“Is it a lawyer that you want? Women are never too happy with such men; they are bad tempered and have very little money.”
“But, papa, I shall never marry anybody for his gown. I don’t mean to say that I want a man of such and such a profession, but a man that I can love.”
“But, if I understand you, such a man cannot be found in business?”
“Ah! I confess that seems to me very probable; I have never found any one there to my taste; and then business itself disgusts me.”
“Nevertheless, it is a very pleasant thing to live tranquilly at home while one’s husband carries on a good business. Look at Madame A——; she knows good diamonds as well as her husband; she carries 38on the business in his absence; she will continue to carry it on if she should become a widow; their fortune is already large. You are intelligent; you would inspire confidence; you could do what you wanted to. You would have a very agreeable life if you would accept Delorme, Dabreuil, or Obligeois.”
“Hold on, papa; I have learned too well that in business one does not succeed unless he sells dear what he has bought cheap; unless he lies and beats down his workmen.”
“Do you believe, then, that there are no honest men in commerce?”
“I am not willing to say that; but I am persuaded that there are but few of them; and more than that, that those honest men have not the qualities that my husband must have.”
“You are making matters very difficult for yourself. What if you do not find your ideal?”
“I shall die an old maid.”
“Perhaps that will be harder than you think. However, you have time to think of it. But remember, one day you will be alone; the crowd of suitors will end,—but you know the fable.”
“Oh, I shall revenge myself by meriting happiness; injustice cannot deprive me of it.”
“Ah, there you go in the clouds.”
The first of Manon’s suitors who really interested her was Pahin de la Blancherie, a bel esprit who frequented a salon where she was often seen. He had been attracted by the girl and had by a clever trick, 39which Madame Phlipon had seen fit to ignore, gained an entrance to the house. He interested Manon more than her usual callers. He had read the philosophers; he expressed noble views; he had been to America; he was writing a book. This was much better than the young man who plied a trade and repeated the gossip of the Pont Neuf, and when she learned from her father that he had asked her hand, but had been dismissed because of his lack of fortune, she told the loss rather coldly to Sophie.
“He seemed to me to have an honest heart, much love for literature and science, art and knowledge. In fact, if he had a secure position, was older, had a cooler head, a little more solidity, he would not have displeased me. Now he has gone and without doubt thinks as little of me as I do about him.”
This was nearly two years before Madame Phlipon’s death and Manon saw almost nothing of La Blancherie until some four months after her loss, when he came unexpectedly one evening to see her, pale and changed by a long illness. The sight of the young man agitated her violently. It recalled her mother, recalled, too, the fact that he alone of all her suitors had seemed worthy of her. Her agitation embarrassed him. With tears she told him her grief. He tried to console her and confided to her the proof-sheets of his forthcoming book.
Manon described the meeting to Sophie and added her appreciation of the book. “You know my 40Loisirs, do you not? Here are the same principles. It is my whole soul. He is not a Rousseau, doubtless, but he is never tiresome. It is a beautiful morality, agreeably presented, supported by facts and an infinite number of historic allusions and of quotations from many authors. I dare not judge the young man because we are too much alike, but I can say of him what I said to Greuze of his picture, ‘if I did not love virtue, he would give me a taste for it.’”
1. Manon Phlipon wrote before her marriage a series of philosophical and literary essays which she called Œuvres de loisir or Mes Loisirs. They are reflections on a great variety of subjects, generally following closely the books she read. Fragments from many of these essays are found in the letters to Sophie Cannet. It was Mademoiselle Phlipon’s habit to lend the manuscript of her productions to her intimate friends and Sophie, of course, was familiar with them all. The greatest part of the Loisirs were published in 1800 in the edition of Madame Roland’s works prepared by Champagneux.
Manon’s imagination was violently excited by this interview and she received La Blancherie’s visits with delight. Her father, however, was displeased and insisted that the young man cease coming to the house. This was all that was needed for Manon to persuade herself that she was in love. She went farther—she was convinced La Blancherie loved her, was suffering over their separation, and she shed tears of sympathy for him. She comforted herself with dreams of his noble efforts to better his situation and to win her in spite of her cruel father. She wrote Sophie long letters describing their mutual efforts to be worthy of each other, letters drawn entirely from her own fancy.
THE PONT NEUF IN 1895.
The house in which Madame Roland lived as a girl is the second of the two to the right of the picture.
41“We are trying to make each other happy by making ourselves better, and in this sweet emulation virtue becomes stronger, hope remains. If he has an opportunity to do a good action, I am sure that he will do it more gladly when he thinks that it is the sweetest and the only homage that he can render me.” All this she assumed, but she thought she had sufficient reason for her opinion. “I judge him by my own heart, nothing else is so like him. We do not see each other, but we know we love each other without ever having avowed it. We count on each other. We hasten along the path of virtue and of sacrifice that we have chosen; there at least we shall be eternally together.”
She wrote him a fervent letter, which Sophie delivered, telling him that it was not her will that he was forbidden the house. She saw that he had a card for the Mass celebrating her mother’s death. She idealized him in a manner worthy of Julie herself, without knowing anything in particular of him, and without his ever having made her any declaration.
A sentimental young woman rarely conceives her lover as he is. Certainly the actual La Blancherie was a very different young man from the paragon of stern virtue Mademoiselle Phlipon pictured, and when the creation of her imagination was brought face to face, one day in the Luxembourg, with the 42flesh and blood original, the latter made a poor showing. To begin with, he had a feather in his cap, a common enough thing in that day—“Ah, you would not believe how this cursed plume has tormented me,” she wrote Sophie. “I have tried in every way to reconcile this frivolous ornament with that philosophy, with that taste for the simple, with that manner of thinking which made D. L. B. [it is thus that she designates La Blancherie in her letters] so dear to me.” But she did not succeed. No doubt her inability to forgive the feather was made greater by a bit of gossip repeated to her the same day by a friend who was walking with her, that La Blancherie had been forbidden the house of one of her friends because he had boasted that he was going to marry one of the daughters, and that he was commonly known among their friends as “the lover of the eleven thousand virgins.”
Her cure was rapid after this, and when, a few months later, La Blancherie succeeded in getting an interview with her and represented his misfortunes and his hopes, she listened calmly, and told him, at length, that after having distinguished him from the ordinary young man, and indeed placed him far higher, she had been obliged to replace him among the large class of average mortals. For some four hours they debated the situation, and at last La Blancherie withdrew.
Manon’s first love affair was over, and she sat down with rare complacency to describe the finale 43to Sophie. She had no self-reproach in the affair. As always, she was infallible.
La Blancherie was, no doubt, an excellent example of the eighteenth-century literary adventurer. His first book, a souvenir of college life and his travels in America, was an impossible account of youthful follies and their distressing results, and seems never to have aroused anybody’s interest save Manon’s, and that only during one year. His next venture was to announce himself as the General Agent for Scientific and Artistic Correspondence, and to open a salon in Paris, where he arranged expositions of pictures, scientific conferences, lectures and art soirées. In connection with his salon La Blancherie published from 1779 to 1787 the Nouvelles de la république des lettres et des arts, and a catalogue of French artists from Cousin to 1783. Both of these works, now extremely rare, are useful in detailed study of the French art of the eighteenth century, and were used by the De Goncourts in preparing their work on this subject.
In 1788 La Blancherie’s salon was closed, and he went to London. By chance he inhabited Newton’s old house. He was inspired to exalt the name of the scientist. His practical plan for accomplishing this was to demand that the name of Newton should be given alternately with that of George to the Princes of England, that all great scientific discoveries should be celebrated in hymns which should be sung at divine services, and that in public documents 44after the words the year of grace should be added and of Newton.
In short, La Blancherie was in his literary life vain and pretentious, without other aim than to make a sensation. In his social relations he was a perfect type of le petit maître, whose philosophy Marivaux sums up: “A Paris, ma chère enfant, les cœurs on ne se les donne pas, on se les prête” (In Paris, my dear, we never give our hearts, we only lend them). Manon Phlipon’s idealization and subsequent dismissal of La Blancherie is an excellent example of how a sentimental girl’s imagination will carry her to the brink of folly, and of the cold-blooded manner in which, if she is disillusioned, she will discuss what she has done when under the influence of her infatuation.
No doubt the decline of Manon’s interest in La Blancherie was due no little to the rise of her interest at this time in another type of man,—the middle-aged man of experience and culture whom necessity has forced to work in the world, but whom reflection and character have led to remain always aloof from it.
The first of these was a M. de Sainte-Lettre, a man sixty years of age, who, after thirteen years’ government service in Louisiana with the savages, had been given a place in Pondicherry. He was in Paris for a year, and having brought a letter of introduction to M. Phlipon, soon became a constant visitor of his daughter. His wealth of observation and 45experience was fully drawn upon by this curious young philosopher, and probably M. de Sainte-Lettre found a certain piquancy in relating his traveller’s tales to a fresh and beautiful young girl whose intelligence was only surpassed by her sentimentality, and whose frankness was as great as her self-complacency. At all events they passed some happy hours together. “I see him three or four times a week,” she wrote Sophie; “when he dines at the house, he remains from noon until nine o’clock. There is perfect freedom between us. This man, taciturn in society, is confiding and gay with me. We talk on all sorts of subjects. When I am not up, I question him, I listen, I reflect, I object. When we do not wish to talk, we keep silent without troubling ourselves, but that does not last long. Sometimes we read a fragment suggested by our conversation, something well known and classic, whose beauties we love to review. The last was a song of the poet Rousseau and some verses of Voltaire. They awakened a veritable enthusiasm,—we both wept and re-read the same thing ten times.”
To this odd pair of philosophers a third was added,—a M. Roland de la Platière, of whom we are to hear much more later on. Manon began at once to effervesce. “These two men spoil me,” she declared to Sophie; “I find in them the qualities that I consider most worthy my esteem.”
But Roland and de Sainte-Lettre both left Paris, the latter retiring to Pondicherry, where he died 46some six weeks after his arrival. Before going away, however, he had put Mademoiselle Phlipon into relation with an intimate friend of his, a M. de Sévelinges, of Soissons, a widower some fifty-two years of age, of small fortune but excellent family and wide culture. This acquaintance was kept up by letter, and in a few months M. de Sévelinges asked her hand. Now Mademoiselle Phlipon had but a small dot and that was fast disappearing through the dissipation of her father, who, since her mother’s death, had taken to amusing himself in expensive ways. M. de Sévelinges had children who did not like the idea of his marrying a young wife without fortune. It was to imperil their expected inheritance. Manon appreciated this and refused M. de Sévelinges. But he insisted and they hit upon a quixotic arrangement which Mademoiselle Phlipon describes thus to Sophie:
“His project is simply to secure a sister and a friend, under a perfectly proper title. I thank him for a plan that my reason justifies, that I find honorable for both, and that I feel myself capable of carrying out…. My sentiments, my situation, everything drives me to celibacy. In keeping it voluntarily while apparently living in an opposite state, I do not change the destiny which circumstances have forced upon me, and at least I contribute by a close relation to the happiness of an estimable man who is dear to me…. How chimerical this idea would be for three-fourths of my 47kind! It seems as if nobody but M. de Sévelinges and I could have conceived it, and that you are the only one to whom I could confide it. The realisation of this dream would be delightful it seems to me. I can imagine nothing more flattering and more agreeable to one’s delicacy and confidence than this perfect devotion to pure friendship. Can you conceive of a more delicate joy than that of sacrificing oneself entirely to the happiness of an appreciative man?”
The affair with M. de Sévelinges came to nothing, and as Manon gradually ceased to think of him she became more and more interested in the M. Roland already mentioned.
M. Roland de la Platière was a man about forty-two years of age when he first met Mademoiselle Phlipon, in 1776. He held the important position of Inspector-General of Commerce in Picardy, and lived in Amiens, the chief town of the province. In his specialty he was one of the best known men in France. His career had been one of energy and patience. Leaving his home in the Lyonnais when but a boy of eighteen, rather than to take orders or to go into business as his family proposed, he had spent two years studying manufacture and commerce in Lyons, and then had gone to Rouen, where, through the influence of a relative, he had passed ten years in familiarizing himself with the methods of the factories of Normandy, at that time one of the busiest manufacturing provinces in France. M. Roland’s 48work at Rouen had not been of a simple, unintelligent kind. He had studied seriously the whole subject of manufacturing in its relations to commerce, to government, to society, and had worked out a most positive set of opinions on what was necessary to be done in France in order to revive her industries. He had already begun to write, and his pamphlets had attracted the attention of the ablest men in his department of science.
In 1764 he had been sent to look after the manufacturing interests of Languedoc, then in a serious condition, and in 1776 the position of Inspector in Picardy, the third province of the country from a manufacturing point of view, was given to him. For a man without ambition, the duties of the office were simple. They required him to see that the multitude of vexatious rules which were attached then to the making of goods and articles of all kinds, were carried out; that the regulations governing masters and workmen were observed; that the formalities attending the establishment of new factories were not neglected; that everything of significance that happened in the factories in his province was reported; and that all suggestions for improvement which occurred to him were presented. Evidently an ordinary man, well protected, could fill the position of an inspector of manufactures and have an easy life.
But M. Roland did not understand his duties in this way. The value of the position in his eyes was 49that it permitted the regulation of disputes, allowed criticism, invited suggestions, encouraged study, and welcomed pamphlets. From the beginning of his connection with Picardy he had displayed an incredible activity in all of these directions. The various industrial interests of the province were clashing seriously at the moment, and the lawyers and councils were only making the disagreement greater. Roland dismissed all interference and became himself “the council, the lawyer, and the protector of the manufacturer.” He became familiar with every master workman of Picardy, with every industry, with every process, and in the reports sent to the Council of Commerce at Paris, he attacked, praised, suggested voluminously. At the same time he was studying seriously. Nothing was foreign to his profession as he understood it, and though already he had the reputation of being a savant he went every year to Paris to do original work in natural history, physics, chemistry, and the arts.
Roland had only been long enough in Picardy to organize his office well when he began to urge the Council to try to introduce into France some of the superior manufacturing processes of other countries. The idea seemed wise and he was invited to undertake a thorough study of foreign and domestic manufacturing methods. This commission led him into many countries. Before M. Roland met Mademoiselle Phlipon, in 1776, he had been through Flanders, Holland, Switzerland, England, Germany, and France 50in pursuit of information. He had studied lace-making at Brussels, ironware at Nuremberg, linen-making in Silesia, pottery in Saxony, velvet and embroidered ribbons on the Lower Rhine, paper-making at Liège, cotton weaving and printing in England.
His observations had been limited to no special step of the manufacturing. He looked after the variety of plant which produced a thread and studied the way it was raised. He knew how native ores were taken out in every part of Europe. The processes of bleaching, dyeing, and printing in all countries were familiar to him. He understood all sorts of machines and had improved many himself. His ideas on designing were excellent and had been enlarged by intelligent observation of the arts of many countries.
On all of his travels Roland had amassed samples of the stuffs he had seen, had taken notes of dimensions, of prices, of the time required for special processes, of the cost of materials, had gathered the pamphlets and volumes written by specialists, often had brought back samples of machines and utensils. All of this he had applied faithfully in Picardy, and before the time he comes into our story he had had the satisfaction of seeing, as a result of his efforts, the number of shops in his domain tripled, the utensils gradually improved, a great variety of new stuffs made, the old ones improved, and many new ideas introduced from other countries.
At the same time the full reports made of his investigations 51had won him honors; the Academy of Science in Paris, the Royal Society of Montpellier, had made him a correspondent; the academies of Rouen, Villefranche, and Dijon, an honorary member; different societies of Rome, an associate.
He had, too, something besides technical knowledge. He was quite up to the liberal thought of the day and had ranged himself with the large body of French philosophers who were working for greater freedom in commerce, in politics, in religion. In short, M. Roland de la Platière was a man of more than ordinary value, who had rendered large services to his country. But with all his value, and partly because of it, he was not an easy man to get along with. His hard work had undermined his health and left him morose and irritable. He was so thoroughly convinced of his own ability and usefulness that he could not suffer opposition even from his superiors, and he used often, in his reports, an arrogant tone which exasperated those who were accustomed to official etiquette. A large quantity of Roland’s business correspondence still exists, and throughout it all is evidence of his pettish, unbending superiority. In fact, some very serious controversies arose between him and his associates at different times, in which if Roland was usually right in what he urged, his way of putting it was offensive to the last degree.
Roland prided himself not only on his services, but on his character. He was independent, active, 52virtuous. He admired noble deeds and good lives. He cultivated virtue as he did science and he made himself a merit of being all this. Nothing is more offensive than self-complacent virtue. Be it never so genuine, the average man who makes no pretensions finds it ridiculous and is unmoved by it. Goodness must be unconscious to be attractive.
Above all, Roland prided himself on the perfect frankness of his character, and to prove it he refused to practise the amiable little flatteries and deceits which, under the name of politeness, keep people in society feeling comfortable and kindly. Shoe-buckles were a vain ornament, so he wore ribbons, though by doing it he offended the company into which he was invited. To tell a man he was “charmed” to see him when he was merely indifferent, was a lie, therefore he preserved a silence. He would not follow a custom he could not defend philosophically, nor repeat a formality which could not be interpreted literally. By the conventional, what is there to be done with such a character? They may respect his scientific worth, but they cannot countenance such contempt for the laws of life as they understand them.
Mademoiselle Phlipon, however, was not conventional. She admired frankness and Roland’s disregard of formalities seemed to her a proof of his simplicity and honesty. She was not offended by the man’s display of character. She herself was as self-conscious, as convinced of her own worth, and as fond as he of using it as an argument. As for his 53irritability and scientific arrogance, she had little chance to judge of it. He was so much wiser than she, that she accepted with gratitude and humility the information he gave.
It was in 1776 that Roland first came to visit Manon, to whom he had been presented by Sophie Cannet, with whose family he was allied in Amiens. The acquaintance did not go far; for in the fall of that year Roland started out on one of his long trips, this time to Switzerland, Italy, Sicily, and Malta. It was his plan to put his observations into letter form and on his return to publish them. He needed some one to whom he could address the letters, who would guard the copy faithfully in his absence, and would edit it intelligently if he should never return. Manon seemed to him a proper person, and so he requested her to permit his brother, a curé in Cluny College, in Paris, to bring the letters to her. She naturally was flattered, and the letters which came regularly were a great delight to her.
Now the sole object of Roland was evidently to have a safe depot for his manuscript, yet as the trip stretched out Manon became more and more interested. Might it not be that this grave philosopher had a more personal interest in her than she had thought? Might he not be the friend she sought? Her fancy was soon bubbling in true Rousseau style. The long silences of M. Roland and the formal letters he wrote were not sufficient to quiet it. An excuse for this premature ebullition was the fact 54that Roland seemed to be the only person in her little world upon whom for the moment she could exercise her imagination. De Sainte-Lettre was dead, M. de Sévelinges had withdrawn. True, there was a Genevese of some note, a M. Pittet, at that time in correspondence with Franklin, whom she often saw. M. Pittet wrote for the Journal des dames and talked over his articles beforehand with Mademoiselle Phlipon, even answering in them objections she had made. She was flattered, it is evident from her letters to Sophie, by their relation and only waited a sign to transfer her interest to this eminent Genevese, but the sign was never given.
Another reason for her exercising her imagination on Roland was the dulness of her life at the moment. Though Manon had a large number of good-natured and devoted relatives and friends who exerted themselves to please her, she went out but little save to visit her uncle the curé Bimont. The curé lived in the château at Vincennes. Manon was a real favorite with the bizarre and amusing colony of retired officers and their wives, discarded favorites of the Court, and nobles worn out in the service, to whom a home had been given there. Some of the persons she met at Vincennes are highly picturesque. Among others were a number of Americans from Santo Domingo on a visit to an officer. She quickly came to an understanding with them, and questioned them closely on the revolution in progress in the neighboring colony.
55In Paris she went out rarely, but when she did go it was usually for a visit which, at this distance, is of piquant interest. An amusing attempt she made to see Rousseau is recounted in a letter to Sophie. Not that she was entirely original in this effort. It was the mode at the moment to practise all sorts of tricks to get a glimpse of the sulky philosopher, and Mademoiselle Phlipon, devoted disciple that she was, could not resist the temptation. A friend of hers had an errand to Rousseau, of which he spoke before her. He saw immediately that she would like to discharge it in order to see the man, and kindly turned it over to her. Manon wrote a letter into which she put many things besides the errand, and announced that she would go on such a day to receive the answer. The visit she describes:
“I entered a shoemaker’s alley, Rue Plâtrière. I mounted to the second story and knocked at the door. One could not enter a temple with more reverence than I this humble door. I was agitated, but I felt none of that timidity which I feel in the presence of petty society people whom at heart I esteem but little. I wavered between hope and fear…. Would it be possible, I thought, that I should say of him what he had said of savants: ‘I took them for angels; I passed the threshold of their doors with respect; I have seen them; it is the only thing of which they have disabused me.’
“Reasoning thus, I saw the door open; a woman of at least fifty years of age appeared. She wore a 56round cap, a simple clean house-gown, and a big apron. She had a severe air, a little hard even.
“‘Is it here that M. Rousseau lives, Madame?’
“‘May I speak to him?’
“‘What do you want?’
“‘I have come for the answer to a letter I wrote him a few days ago.’
“‘He is not to be spoken to, Mademoiselle, but you may say to the person who had you write—for surely it is not you who wrote a letter like that—’
“‘Pardon me,’ I interrupted—
“‘The handwriting is a man’s.’
“‘Do you want to see me write?’ I said, laughing.
“She shook her head, adding, ‘All that I can say to you is that my husband has given up all these things absolutely. He has left all. He would not ask anything better than to be of service; but he is of an age to rest.’
“‘I know it, but I should have been flattered to have had this answer from his mouth. I would have profited eagerly by the opportunity to render homage to the man whom I esteem the highest of the world. Receive it, Madame.’
“She thanked me, keeping her hand on the lock, and I descended the stairs with the meagre satisfaction of knowing that he found my letter sufficiently well written not to believe it the work of a woman.”
57Not all of her visits were so unsuccessful, as her description of one to Greuze shows:
“Last Thursday, Sophie, I recalled tenderly the pleasure that we had two years ago, at Greuze’s. I was there on the same errand. The subject of his picture is the Paternal Curse. I shall not attempt to give you a full description of it; that would be too long. I shall simply content myself with saying that, in spite of the number and the variety of the passions expressed by the artist with force and truthfulness, the work, as a whole, does not produce the touching impression which we both felt in considering the other. The reason of this difference seems to me to be in the nature of the subject. Greuze can be reproached for making his coloring a little too gray, and I should accuse him of doing this in all his pictures if I had not seen this same day a picture of quite another style, which he showed me with especial kindness. It is a little girl, naïve, fresh, charming, who has just broken her pitcher. She holds it in her arms near the fountain, where the accident has just happened; her eyes are not too open; her mouth is still half-agape. She is trying to see how the misfortune happened, and to decide if she was at fault. Nothing prettier and more piquant could be seen. No fault can be found with Greuze here except, perhaps, for not having made his little one sorrowful enough to prevent her going back to the fountain. I told him that and the pleasantry amused us.
58“He did not criticise Rubens this year. I was better pleased with him personally. He told me complacently certain flattering things that the Emperor said to him…. I stayed three-quarters of an hour with him. I was there with Mignonne [her bonne] simply. There were not many people. I had him almost to myself.
“I wanted to add to the praises that I gave him:
On dit, Greuze, que ton pinceau
N’est pas celui de la vertu romaine;
Mais il peint la nature humaine:
C’est le plus sublime tableau.
I kept still, and that was the best thing I did.”
In the quiet life Manon was leading her habits of study and writing served her to good purpose, and the little room overlooking the Pont Neuf, where she had worked since a child, was still her favorite shrine. Almost every day she added something to the collection of reflections she had begun under the title of Mes loisirs, or prepared something for the letters to Sophie; for these letters to her friend, outside of the gossip and narrative portions, were anything but spontaneous. Her habit was to copy into them the long digests she had made of books she read and of her reflections on these books. Among the manuscript lent me by M. Marillier I found several evidences of the preparations she made of her letters.
In spite of friends, visits, books, and letters, however, Manon was sad at this period. Her father was leading an irregular life, which shocked and irritated 59her. No two persons could have been more poorly prepared for entertaining each other than M. Phlipon and his daughter. He was proud of her, but he had no sympathy with the sentiments which made her refuse the rich husband her accomplishments would have won her. He found no pleasure in talking with her of other than ordinary events. He recognized that she felt herself superior to him in many ways, and though he probably cared very little whether she was or not, he was annoyed that she felt so.
Manon, on her part, lacked a little in loyalty towards her father, as well as in tenderness. She considered him an inferior and always had. When he took to dissipation, after her mother’s death, in spite of the honest effort she made to keep his house pleasant and to be agreeable to him, her pride, as well as her affection, was hurt, and she sometimes took a censorious tone which could not fail to aggravate the case. There were often disagreeable scenes between them, after which M. Phlipon went about with averted eyes and gloomy brow.
Manon complained to her relatives of the condition of her home, and the private lectures M. Phlipon received from them only made him more sullen. Sometimes, to be sure, there were returns to good feeling and Manon felt hopeful, but soon an extravagant or petty act of her father brought back her worry. In her despair she was even tempted to give up her philosopher and marry one of the ordinary but 60honest and well-to-do young men her friends and relatives presented.
Manon was thus occupied and annoyed when M. Roland came back from Italy in the spring of 1778. As he was much in Paris, the relation between them soon became very friendly, and he was often at the Quai de l’Horloge. But we hear almost nothing of him in the letters to Sophie. The reason was simply that M. Roland had requested his new friend to say nothing to the Cannets about his visits. Probably he foresaw gossip in Amiens if it was known he saw much of Mademoiselle Phlipon. Then, too, Henriette, an older sister of Sophie, was interested in him and he feared an unpleasant complication in case she knew of his attentions. Manon carried out his wishes implicitly in spite of her habit of writing everything to her friend. She even practised some clever little shifts to make Sophie believe that she did not see M. Roland often and then only on business connected with his manuscript, or to ask him some questions about Italian, which she had begun to study.
The frankness on which she prided herself was completely set aside—a thing of which she would not have been capable if she had not been more anxious to please her new friend than she was to keep faith with the old. Probably, too, she was very well pleased to have an opportunity to give Roland this proof of her feeling for him.
In the winter of 1778–79 Roland told her that he loved her. Manon, “en héroine de la délicatesse,” 61as she puts it, felt that in the state of her fortune, which her father was threatening to finish soon, and with the danger there was of M. Phlipon bringing a scandal on the family, it was not right for her to marry. She told all this to Roland, who agreed with her, and they hit on a sort of a Platonic arrangement which went on very well for a time. They openly declared their affection to each other; they worked and studied together; they confessed to each other that the happiness of their lives lay in this mutual confidence and sympathy. But love is stronger than philosophy, and Roland was ardent. Manon became unhappy. Was her dream going to fade? Restless and uncertain, she wrote Roland, who had returned to Amiens, of her fears, and a correspondence began which soon put an end to their Platonic idyl, and landed them amid the irritating details which attend a French betrothal. As this correspondence has never been published, and as it throws much light on the sentimental side of Manon Phlipon’s life, it is quoted from rather fully in the following pages.
Roland had laughed at her first letter complaining of his fervor. In answer she wrote him a voluminous epistle in which she traced the birth and growth of her sentimental nature.
“You laugh at my sermon, now listen to my complaints. I am sad, discontented, ill. My heart is heavy, and burning tears fall without giving me relief … I do not understand myself … but let 62me tell you once for all what I am and wish always to be.
“It is almost twenty-five years since I received life from a mother whose gentleness, wisdom, and goodness would be an eternal reproach if they were not an inspiration. The death of this loved mother caused the deepest grief I have ever known. By nature I am sensitive (should I pity or congratulate myself?); a solitary education concentrated my affections, made them more fervid and profound. I felt happiness and sorrow before I could call them by name. It was on them that I first reflected. I was active and isolated…. I was meditating when usually a child is busy with toys.
“I have often told you how I was stirred by religious ideas, and how the restless and vague sentiments which had oppressed me were finally fixed on certain determined objects. Soon I awoke to the joy of friendship, and before one would have supposed that I knew I had a heart, it was overflowing. Young, ardent, happily situated, unconscious of the clash of interests which makes men wicked, love of duty became a passion with me and the mere name of virtue aroused my enthusiasm.
“Eager to know, I began to read history. It became more and more interesting to me. The story of a brave deed excited me almost to a delirium. How many times I wept because I had not been born a Spartan or a Roman! As my horizon enlarged, I began to think about my creed, and my faith was 63overthrown. Humanity was dear to me, and I could not endure to see it condemned without distinction and without pity. I threw over the authority which would force me to believe a cruel absurdity. The first step taken, the rest of the route was soon travelled, and I examined all with the scrupulous defiance which one gives to a doctrine false in an essential point. The philosophic works that I read at this time aided me, but did not determine me to come to a decision. Each system seemed to me to have its weakness and its strength. I held to some of my brilliant chimeras; I became sceptical by an effort, and I took for my creed beneficence in conduct and tolerance in opinion.
“These changes in my ideas had no influence on my morals. They are independent of all religious system because founded on the general interest which is the same everywhere. Harmony in the affections seem to me to constitute the individual goodness of a man; the justice of his relations with his kind, the wisdom of the social man. The multiplied relations of the civil life have also, without doubt, multiplied laws and duties, and those peculiar to each one should be the first subject of his study.
“The place which my sex should occupy in the order of nature and of society very soon fixed my curious attention. I will not say what I thought of the question which has been raised as to the pre-eminence of one sex over the other. It has never seemed to me worthy of the attention of a serious mind. We 64differ essentially, and the superiority which in some respects is yours does not alter the reciprocal dependence in happiness which can only be the common work of both.
“I appreciated the justice, the power, and the extent of the duties laid upon my sex. I trembled with joy on finding that I had the courage, the resolution, and the certainty of always fulfilling them…. I resolved to change my condition only for the sake of an object worthy of absolute devotion. In the number of those who solicited (my hand), one only of whom I have talked to you (M. de Sévelinges) merited my heart. For a long time I was silent, and it was only when I realized all the barriers between us that I asked him to leave me. I have had reason since to congratulate myself on this resolution, which was painful for me beyond expression.
“Many changes have come since, but I have steadily refused to marry except for love. I have lost my fortune and my pride has increased. I would not enter a family which did not appreciate me enough to be proud of the alliance or which would think it was honoring me in receiving me. I have felt in this way a long time, and have looked upon a single life as my lot. My duties, true, would be fewer and not so sweet, perhaps, but none the less severe and exacting. Friendship I have regarded as my compensation, and I have wished to taste it with all the abandon of confidence. But you are leading me too far, and it is against that that I would protect myself.
ROLAND DE LA PLATIÈRE.
After the painting by Hesse.
65“I have seen in your strong, energetic, enlightened, practical soul, the stuff for a friend of first rank. I have been delighted to regard you as such, and to all the seriousness of friendship I wanted to add all the fervor of which a tender soul is capable. But you have awakened in my heart a feeling against which I believed myself armed. I have not concealed it. I showed it unreservedly and I expected you to give me the generous support which I needed. But far from sparing my weakness, you became each day rasher, and you have dared ask me the cause of my pensiveness, my silence, my pain. Sir, I may be the victim of my sentiments, but I will never be the plaything of any man…. I cannot make an amusement of love. For me it is a terrible passion which would submerge my whole being and which would influence all my life. Give me back friendship or fear—to force me to see you no more.
“O my friend, why disturb the beautiful relation between us? My heart is rich enough to repay you in tenderness for all the privations it imposes upon you…. Spare me the greatest good that I know, the only one which makes life tolerable to me,—a friend sincere and faithful. I have not enough of your philosophy or I have too much of another which does not resemble yours in this point only, to give myself up inconsiderately to a passion which for me would be transport and delirium.
66“My friend, come back more moderate, more reserved, let us cherish zealously, joyfully, and confidently the tastes which can strengthen the sweet tie which unites us….”
This letter threw Roland into confusion. He had taken her at her word when she suggested an intimate friendship. He had taken her at her word when she told him her affection was becoming love. He had been, perhaps, too fervent, but how was one to regulate so delicate a situation? He wrote her a piteous and helpless sort of letter in which he declared he was unhappy. Manon replied in a way which did not help him particularly in his quandary:
“In the midst of the different objects which surround and oppress me, I see, I feel but you. I hear always, ‘I am unhappy.’ O God! how, why, since when, are you unhappy? Is it because I exist or because I love you? The destruction of the first of these causes is in my power and would cost me nothing. It would take away with it the other, over which I have no longer any control.”
Even after this Roland was so obtuse that he was uncertain of her feeling for him, but finally he asked her squarely if it could be that all this meant that she loved him. Very promptly she replied: “If I thought that question was unsettled for you to-day, I should fear it would always be.” Will she marry him then, oui ou non? He asked the question despairingly, in the tone of a man who expected a scene to follow, but could see nothing else for him to do honorably. 67In a letter of passionate abandon Manon promised to be his wife. Roland was the happiest of men.
“You are mine,” he wrote. “You have taken the oath. It is irrevocable. O my friend, my tender, faithful friend, I had need of that yes.”
Manon’s joy was unbounded and she told it in true eighteenth-century style. “I weep, I struggle to express myself, I stifle, I throw myself upon your bosom, there I remain, entirely thine.” Immediately they entered upon a correspondence, voluminous, extravagant, passionate. Manon explained to Roland the beginning and the development of her affection for him, and labored to harmonize two seemingly incongruous experiences,—her interest in Roland during the time he was in Italy and the marriage she had contemplated with M. de Sévelinges. The harmony seems incomplete to the modern reader, but probably Roland was not exacting since he was sure of his possession.
In every way she tried to please him, even keeping their betrothal a secret from Sophie—this at Roland’s request. They planned, confided, rejoiced, and made each other miserable in true lover-like style. For some time the worst of their misunderstandings were caused by delays in letters, but, unfortunately, there were to be annoyances, in the course of their love, more serious than those of the postman. There was M. Phlipon; there was Roland’s family; there were all the vexatious formalities which precede marriage in France. M. Phlipon was the most serious obstacle 68to their happiness. Since his wife’s death he had been constantly growing more dissipated and common. Roland regarded him with the cold and irritating disapproval of a man convinced of his own infallibility, and M. Phlipon, conscious of his own shortcomings, disliked Roland heartily. For some time Roland refused to ask M. Phlipon for his daughter, but he counselled her to insist upon having the remnant of her dowry turned over.
She began to talk to her father of this, and he, incensed at the suspicion this demand implied, became surly and defiant. He talked to the neighbors of his desire to live alone and accused Manon of ingratitude and coldness. She held to her rights, however, and succeeded finally in having her estate settled. She found at the end that she had an income of just five hundred and thirty francs a year.
The disagreement with her father made her unhappy. She wrote Roland letters full of complaints and sighs. She saw everything black. She declared that they were farther apart than ever, that her heart was breaking. After a few weeks of melancholy she came to an understanding with her father and wrote joyously again. This occurred several times until at last Roland grew seriously out of patience with her. He told her that it was her lack of firmness that was at the bottom of her father’s conduct; that she was “always irresolute, always uncertain, reasoned always by contraries.” His letters became brief, dry, impatient. 69Finally, however, he wrote M. Phlipon, asking for Manon.
The difficulty that Roland had foreseen with his prospective father-in-law was at once realized. The old gentleman, incensed that his daughter would not give him Roland’s letters to examine before he replied, answered in a way which came very near ending negotiations on the spot. Since his daughter had taken her property into her own hands and since she refused to let him see the correspondence which had passed between her and Roland, she could enjoy still further the privileges her majority gave her and marry without his consent.
Roland wrote to Manon, on receiving this curt response, that the soul of M. Phlipon horrified him; that he loved her as much as ever, but—“your father, my friend, your father,” and delicately hinted that it would be impossible for him to present such a man to his own family. This was in September. For two months they lived in a state of miserable uncertainty. Roland accused Manon of irresolution, of inconsistency, and inconsequence; she accused him of fearing the prejudices of society, of caring less for her than for his family’s good-will. With M. Phlipon Manon alternately quarrelled and made up. Wretched as the lovers were, their letters nearly always ended in protestations of affection and appeals for confidence.
The first of November Mademoiselle Phlipon brought matters to a crisis by leaving her father 70for good and retiring to the Convent of the Congregation. She wrote Sophie, who, of course, had known nothing of her affair with Roland, but to whom she had often written freely of her trouble with her father, that she had taken this resolution in order to save her family, if possible, from further disgrace.
In going into the convent she had broken with Roland. They were to remain friends, but dismiss all projects of marriage; but they continued to write heart-broken letters to each other. She told him, “I love you. I feel nothing but that. I repeat it as if it were something new. Your agonized letters inflame me. I devour them and they kill me. I cover them with kisses and with tears.”
Roland was quite as unhappy. He had taken Manon at her word again when she declared that their engagement was at an end, and that they would remain friends; but he could not support her unhappiness; he was too wretched himself. The worst of it was that he could not make out what she wanted: “You continually reproach me,” he wrote her in November, “of not understanding you. Is it my fault? Do you not go by contraries?”—“You complain always of what I say, and you always tell me to tell you all…. You protest friendship and confidence at the moment you give me proofs of the contrary. All your letters are a tissue of contradictions, of bitterness, of reproaches, of wrangling.”
This unhappy state continued until January, when Roland went to Paris and saw Manon. Her 71sadness and her tears overcame him, and again he begged her to marry him. This time the affair was happier, and in February Manon Phlipon became Madame Roland.
Twelve years later, in her Memoirs, Madame Roland gave an account of this courtship and marriage, which is a curious contrast to that one finds in the letters written at the time. If these letters show anything, it is that she was, or at least imagined herself, desperately in love; that after having outlined a Platonic relation she had broken it by telling Roland she loved him too well to endure the restrictions of mere friendship; that she had been extravagantly happy in her betrothal, and correspondingly miserable in her liberation; and that when the marriage was finally effected she was thoroughly satisfied.
But in her Memoirs she says of Roland’s first proposal: “I was not insensible to it because I esteemed him more than any one whom I had known up to that time,” but—“I counselled M. Roland not to think of me, as a stranger might have done. He insisted: I was touched and I consented that he speak to my father.” She gives the impression that as far as she was concerned her heart was not in the affair, that she merely was moved by Roland’s devotion, and that she saw in him an intelligent companion. Of his coming to her at the convent, she says that it was he alone who was inflamed by the interview, and she gives the impression that his renewed proposal awakened in her nothing but sober 72and wise reflections: “I pondered deeply what I ought to do. I did not conceal from myself that a man under forty-five would have hardly waited several months to make me change my mind, and I confess that I had no illusions…. If marriage was, as I thought it, a serious tie, an association where the woman is for the most part charged with the happiness of two persons, was it not better to exercise my faculties, my courage, in that honorable task, than in the isolation in which I lived?”
But at the time that Madame Roland wrote her Memoirs she was under the influence of a new and absorbing passion. The love, which twelve years before had so engulfed all other considerations and affections that she could for it break up her home, desert her father, take up a solitary and wretched existence, even contemplate suicide, had become an indifferent affair of which she could talk philosophically and at which she could smile disinterestedly.
SEEKING A TITLE
The first year of their marriage the Rolands spent in Paris. New regulations were being planned by the government for the national manufactures, and Roland had been summoned to aid in the work. It was an irritating task. His principles of free trade, and free competition, were sadly ignored, even after all the concessions obtainable from the government had been granted, and Madame Roland saw for the first time the irascibility and rigidness of her husband when his opinions were disregarded.
They lived in a hôtel garni, and she gave all her time to him, preparing his meals even, for he was never well, and spending hours in his study aiding him in his work. Roland’s literary labors seem to have awed her a little at first, and she took up copying and proof-reading with amusing humility and solemnity. It was not an inviting task for a young and imaginative mind accustomed to passing leisure hours with the best thinkers of the world. Roland was writing on manufacturing arts and getting his letters from Italy ready for the printer. As always, 74he was overcrowded with work. He was particular and tenacious, careless about notes, and wrote an execrable hand,—about the most aggravating type possible to work with. But his wife accommodated herself to him with a tact, a submission, a gentleness which were perfect. He found her judgment so true, her devotion so complete, her notions of style so much better than his own, that he grew to depend upon her entirely. It was the object she had in view. She wanted to make herself indispensable to him.
Thus the first year of her marriage was largely an apprenticeship as a secretary and proof-reader. In order to be better prepared for her duties, she determined to follow the lectures in natural history and botany at the Jardin des Plantes. This study, begun for practical reasons, was in reality a delight and a recreation; for she had already a decided taste for science, and was even something of an observer. The lectures led to her forming one of the most satisfactory relations of her life, that with Bosc, a member of the Academy of Sciences, and well known in Paris for his original work. Bosc took an active interest in Madame Roland and her husband, and was of great use to them in their studies, as well as a most congenial comrade. In fact, they saw almost no one but him at this time. Absorbed in her husband and her new duties, Madame Roland relished no one who was not in some way essential to that relation. Even Sophie was neglected; only six letters 75to her during the year 1780, after the marriage, appearing in the published collection, and evidently from their contents they are about all she wrote.
The year was broken towards its close by a two months’ visit to the Beaujolais, where Roland’s family lived. That she was heartily welcomed by her new relatives and charmed by her visit, her reports to Sophie show. “We are giving ourselves up like school children to the delights of a country life,” she wrote from Le Clos, “seasoned by all that harmony, intimacy, sweet ties, pleasant confidences, and frank friendship can give. I have found brothers to whom I can give all the affection that the name inspires, and I share joyfully bonds and relations which were unknown to me.” When she returned to Paris she declared that she was delighted with her trip, that the separation from her new family was painful in the extreme, and that the two months with them were passed in the greatest confidence and closest intimacy.
From Paris they went to Amiens, which was to be their home for some time. The old city, with its glorious cathedral, its remnants of middle age life, and its industrial atmosphere, interested her but little. In fact, she never had an opportunity to get very near to it. The first year of her stay she was confined by the birth of her only child, Eudora. Good disciple of Rousseau that she was, she concluded to nurse her baby herself, in defiance of French custom, and naturally saw little of Amiens society.
76When she was able to go out, Roland’s work had become so heavy that she had little time for anything but copying and proof-reading. He was preparing a serious part of the famous Encyclopédie méthodique, the continuation of the work of Diderot and D’Alembert. Of this great undertaking four volumes—numbers 117–120—are devoted to manufactures, arts, and trades; the first three of these are by Roland, and appeared in 1784, 1785, and 1790.
The plan Roland followed in this work is an excellent example of the methodic mind of the man, bent on analyzing the earth and its contents, and putting into its proper place there each simplest operation, each smallest article. He devised an ingenious diagram in which he classified according to the historic, economic, or administrative side everything he treated—one is obliged to master this system before he can find the subject he wants to know about. A botanical analysis is play beside it. Roland’s contributions to the Encyclopédie méthodique are valuable no doubt, but one needs a guide-book to find his way through them.
Roland’s attempt to run over everything which directly or indirectly concerned his subject, and the enormous number of notes he made, encumbered his work wofully. He could not resist the temptation to use everything he had at hand, and as a result his articles are frequently diffuse and badly arranged, though always full of instruction, even if it is sometimes 77a little puerile. Neither could he resist the temptation to condemn and to argue.
But though burdened with details sometimes irrelevant, not properly and sufficiently digested, too personal, indulging in much criticism of his authorities, not to say considerable carping, the volumes on manufactures and arts are a colossal piece of work, most valuable in their day, but which never had their full credit because of the stormy times in which they appeared, and, perhaps, not a little too, because of the chaotic series of encyclopedias to which they belonged; for certainly there could with difficulty be a greater mass of information published in a more inaccessible shape than that in the Encyclopédie méthodique.
It was in arranging notes, copying, polishing, and reading proofs of articles on soaps and oils, dyes and weaving, skins and tanning, that Madame Roland spent most of her time from 1780 to 1784. A part of the work which was more happy was the botanizing they did. During their four years at Amiens, she made, in fact, a very respectable herbarium of Picardy.
Of society she saw less than one would suppose, since the Cannets were here, and since her husband occupied so prominent a place. She did, of course, see Sophie and Henriette, but not often. Roland did not wish her to be with them much, and she, obedient to his wishes, complied. They had one intimate friend—a Dr. Lanthenas that Roland had met in Italy, and who, since their marriage, had become 78a constant and welcome visitor in their home. Then there were their acquaintances in the town—but for them she cared but little.
Indeed, she was thoroughly submerged in domestic life. She seems to have had no thought, no desire, no happiness outside of her husband and her child. A great number of her letters written at this period to Roland, who was frequently away from home, have been preserved; one searches them in vain for any interest in affairs outside her house. She wrote pages of her bonnes, of the difficulty of finding this or that in the market, of the price of groceries, of the repairs to be made, above all, of her own ills and of those of Eudora, and she counselled Roland as to his plasters and potions. Her absorption in her family went so far that public questions rather bored her than otherwise, as this remark in a letter in 1781 shows:
“M. de Vin [one of their friends at Amiens] came to see me yesterday expressly to tell me of our victory in America over Cornwallis. He saluted me with this news on entering, and I was forced to carry on a long political conversation—I cannot conceive the interest that a private person, such as he is, has in these affairs of kings who are not fighting for us.”
Her calm domestic life was broken in 1784. Roland was dissatisfied at Amiens. His health was miserable. His salary was small. He was out of patience with the men and circumstances which surrounded him. His idea was to seek a title of nobility. 79Such a concession would give him the rights of the privileged, freedom from taxes of all sorts, a certain income, a position in society. He would be free to pursue his studies. There were grounds on which to base his claim. His family was one of the most ancient of Beaujolais. Then there were his services,—over thirty years of hard work, long tedious travels, solely for the good of the country.
It was decided, in the spring of 1784, that Madame Roland undertake the delicate and intricate task of presenting the matter at Versailles. In March she went to Paris, armed with the mémoire which set forth Roland’s claim. It is a collection of curious enough documents; showing how one must go back to very ancient times to find the origin of the Rolands in Beaujolais, how the name is “lost in the night of time, a tradition placing it between the eleventh and twelfth centuries.”
The memoir which presents this family tree of Roland is further strengthened by the names of the foremost of Beaujolais, testifying that it is “sincère et véritable”; and by a row of big black seals. Of actual connected genealogy the memoir goes no further than 1574. Roland, however, took a lofty tone, and declared his services were a more solid and real reason for granting his request. Evidently they had thoroughly studied the situation, had gathered all the facts which would support their case, and had enlisted all their relations of influence, so that when Madame Roland began her diplomatic career she was 80furnished with all the arms which reflection on a desired object give a woman of imagination, eloquence, and beauty.
The daily letters which they exchanged in the period she was in Paris, give a fresh and charming picture of favor-seeking in the eighteenth century. They wrote to each other with frankness and good humor of everything—rebuffs or advancement. They evidently had concluded to leave nothing unturned to secure the reward which they were convinced they deserved.
Madame Roland established herself, with her bonne, at the Hôtel de Lyon, Rue Saint Jacques, then the Boulevard Saint Michel of the Left Bank. Her brother-in-law, a prior in the Benedictine Order of the Cluny, lived near by and helped her settle; brought her what she needed from his own apartment; passed his evenings with her; did her errands, and helped her generally. She seems not to have seen her father at all.
In order to secure the grant of nobility, a favorable recommendation to the King from the Royal Counsel of Commerce, of which body the conseiller ordinaire was M. de Calonne, Contrôleur-général des finances, was necessary. To obtain this all possible recommendations must be brought to M. de Calonne’s attention; particularly was it necessary to cultivate the directors of commerce, with whom the Controller-general consulted freely, and on whom he depended for advice. They had arranged, before she left 81Amiens, a list of the people upon whom they could rely directly or indirectly for letters of introduction and for other favors.
No sooner was she settled than she began the work of seeing them. At the very commencement she encountered prejudice and irritation against Roland. One of her friends, who evidently had been investigating affairs ahead, assured her that Roland was viewed everywhere with dissatisfaction, and that the common opinion was, though he did a great deal of work, he did not know how to keep his place. One of the directors told her: “Take care how you present him to us as a superior man. It is his pretension, but we are far from judging him as such.” “Pedantry, insupportable vanity, eagerness for glory, pretensions of all sorts, obstinacy, perpetual contradiction, bad writer, bad politician, determination to regulate everything, incapable of subordination,” were among the criticisms upon her husband, to which Madame Roland had to listen.
All of these complaints she faced squarely, writing them to Roland with a frankness which is half-amusing, half-suspicious. One wonders if she is not taking advantage of the situation to tell her husband some wholesome truths about himself. She did not hesitate, in repeating these criticisms, to add frequent counsels, which support the suspicion and show how thoroughly she realized the danger of Roland’s fault-finding irritation. “Above all, as I told you before my departure, do not get angry in 82your letters, and let me see them before they are sent. You must not irritate them any more. Your pride is well enough known, show them your good nature now.”
The criticisms on Roland’s character did not disconcert her. She pressed ahead, talked, reasoned, urged, obtained promises; in short, showed herself an admirable intrigante. She was afraid of no one. “As for my rôle, I know it so well that I could defend it before the King without being embarrassed by his crown,” she wrote Roland. After she had secured what she wanted from each person, she did her best to keep them friendly; for she had decided to ask for a pension if she did not secure the letters. She succeeded admirably, even M. de Tolozan, one of the directors whom she called her “bear,” telling her one day: “You have lost nothing by this trip, Madame. We all do honor to your honesty and your intelligence, and I am very glad to have made your acquaintance.”
She seems not to have despised rather questionable methods even: “Did I not let a certain person who was asking about my family, and who was astonished that I should take so much trouble for a daughter, believe that I expected an heir in a few months? That makes the business more touching. They look at me walk and I laugh in my sleeve. I do not go so far, though, as to tell a deliberate lie, but, like a good disciple of Escobar, I give the impression without talking.”
83Whenever she was successful she was frankly delighted, and she began to think herself capable of great things in diplomacy: “If we were at Paris with just fifteen thousand livres income, and I should devote myself to business—I almost said intrigue—I should have no trouble in doing many things.” Her friends at Paris had as good opinion of her ability as she herself did. Bosc wrote Roland of her surprising finesse in managing difficult relations, in interesting people, and of turning even objections to her own credit. “In fact, she is astonishing,” he says.
But it was not easy after all. There were delays which wore out her spirit. And she experienced to the full the effects of the French vice of doing nothing on time. The continual trips back and forth to Versailles exasperated her. Then the business of each counsel was so great that even after she had gotten to M. de Calonne she was obliged to wait her turn. The money all this cost was, of course, a constant annoyance. They were poor and could not afford the carriage hire, the finery, and the presents that favor-seeking in the simplest way cost. The business of solicitation in itself was much less rasping for her than one would suspect. In fact, she seemed to enjoy it. Her successes set her writing bubbling letters to Roland. She rarely showed irritation, almost never impatience of the greatness of others, nor any sign of feeling her position as a solicitor. It was only the failure to see her cause advance rapidly that disheartened her.
84The uncertainty lasted until the middle of May, when it became evident all had been done that could be, and that the title was impossible. She decided to retire to Amiens and to return later to seek a pension. Suddenly she got a new bee in her bonnet. When making her farewell calls, she heard a bit of news which persuaded her that changes were to be made in the department of commerce by which Roland might be sent to Lyons as inspector. It was a larger and more interesting city than Amiens. It was near his home. The salary would be larger, the work easier. There was no time to consult Roland. If done at all, it must be done on the spot. She went to work and almost immediately secured her request. The directors with whom she had been laboring so long to secure the impossible, were glad enough to grant her what appeared to them reasonable. At the same time that she received word of the appointment, a letter came from Roland saying that the change to Lyons, of which she had written him as soon as it came into her head, would suit him if it would her.
Roland took this leadership and decision on the part of Madame in most excellent spirit. The change was the best that they could do, he wrote; as for the work, that would go on “in slippers.” He even showed no resentment at a curtain lecture she gave him adroitly by the way of a third person, telling him of his duties at Lyons. He cast out of the account her fears for his health and peace of 85mind. It was she who occupied him—if the change pleased her he had no other care.
Indeed, from the beginning of the campaign, Roland’s letters to his wife were full of consideration for her position, of anxiety for her health, of longing for her return. Every ache or fatigue she wrote of caused him the greatest anxiety. Throughout the correspondence, the expression of confidence, of mutual help, of tenderness, was perfect. Their interest extended to every detail of the other’s life, Madame Roland insisting upon her husband’s wearing a certain plaster for some of his ailments, and he counselling her not to come home without a new hat.
They gave each other all the news of Paris and Amiens, and there are many pages of her letters, especially, which are interesting for those studying the life of that day: thus, during her stay in Paris, two famous pieces—the Danaïdes of Gluck and the Figaro of Beaumarchais—were given for the first time, and her letters on them are long and vivid. More curious than opera or theatre is the place mesmerism takes in the letters; the Rolands had taken up the new fad, presumably to see what it would do for Roland, and were members of the Magnetic Club of Amiens; Madame Roland repeated to her husband everything she heard on the subject.
Wire-pulling, favor-seeking, letter-writing, theatre-going and Mesmer-studying were over at last, and the end of May she started home, and glad to go. The separation had been severe for them both. 86There is scarcely a letter in the two collections not marked by tenderness; many of them are passionate in their warmth and longing. It is evident that at this time Madame Roland had no life apart from her husband.
Madame Roland reached Amiens early in June. The first day of July she and her husband left for a trip in England which they had long planned. She counted much on it; for many years she had been an enthusiastic admirer of the English Constitution and its effects on the nation. Roland had been there before and was somewhat known, and naturally she saw what he thought best to show her.
The journey lasted three weeks and she wrote full notes of what she saw for her daughter. These notes were published in Champagneux’s edition of her works. They are in no respect remarkable for originality of observation, or for wit. But they are always intelligent and practical, a result, no doubt, of Roland’s companionship. They touch a wide range of subjects and they are entertaining as a look at what an eighteenth-century traveller saw. It is easy to see that Madame Roland, as most travellers do, sought to confirm her preconceived ideas. England, for her, was the country of freedom, and she saw that which was in harmony with her ideas.
It was in September of 1784 that the Rolands arrived in Beaujolais. Although Roland’s new position kept him the greater part of the time at Lyons, they settled for the winter some twenty-eight kilometres north, in Villefranche-sur-Saône. It was mainly for economical reasons that they did not go to Lyons. Roland’s mother had a home at Villefranche and they could live with her through the winter. The summers and autumns they meant to spend at Le Clos de la Platière, the family estate about eleven miles from Villefranche, which had recently come under their control. With such an arrangement it was necessary to take only a small apartment at Lyons. As M. Roland could come often to Villefranche and Le Clos, Madame planned to spend only about two months of the year at Lyons.
Villefranche, their first home in the Beaujolais, is to-day a manufacturing town of perhaps twelve thousand inhabitants. There is a wearisome commonplace about its rows of flat-faced houses, a dusty, stupid, factory atmosphere about it as a whole. It seems to 88be utterly destitute of those genre pictures which give the flavor to so many French towns, utterly lacking in those picturesque corners which make their charm.
Save Notre Dame des Marais and the hospital, it has no buildings of note, but Notre Dame des Marais makes up for a multitude of architectural deficiencies. It is an irregular fifteenth-century Gothic church whose unbalanced façade is enriched with an absolute riot of exquisite carvings. Every ogive is latticed with trefoils and flowing tracery, every niche is peopled, every line breaks into tendrils, everywhere is the thistle in honor of the house of Bourbon, everywhere are saints and angels, devils and monsters. A hundred years ago Villefranche must have been more interesting than it is now. Certainly it was more picturesque; for its towers and crenellated walls were still standing, and at either extremity of its chief thoroughfare were massive gates, doubled with iron. Its picturesqueness interfered somewhat with its comfort and sanitary condition in Madame Roland’s eyes. She detested particularly its flat roofs, its little streets, with their surface sewers. In its organization it was much more complicated than to-day, and it possessed at least one institution, since disappeared, which placed it among the leading French towns of the period, that is, an academy, one of the oldest in the realm.
The household which the Rolands entered at Villefranche was made up of Madame de la Platière, Roland’s mother, and an older brother, a priest of 89the town. The latter is a pleasant example of the eighteenth-century curé, half man of pleasure, half priest, spirited and versatile in conversation, something of a diplomat, faithful to his dogmas and duties, bon enfant in morals, but in questions of politics and religion, domineering and prejudiced.
The chanoine Roland occupied an excellent position at Villefranche. He was one of the three dignitaries of Notre Dame des Marais; he was the spiritual adviser of the sisters at the hospital, and he had been for over thirty years an Academician. With these offices, his family, and his agreeableness, he was of course received by all the families of the town and country worth knowing.
Madame Roland was on very good terms with the chanoine in all the early years in Beaujolais, caring for him when sick, making visits with him, talking with him over the fire winter evenings when Roland was away from home. No doubt he found her a welcome addition in a house which up to that time had been under the more or less tyrannical rule of his mother, a woman “of the age of the century,” and “terrible in her temper.” Madame Roland found him a welcome relief from the care of her mother-in-law, whom she seems to have regarded rather as an object for patience and philosophy than for affection. The old lady was trying. She had the child’s vice of gormandizing, and after each petite débauche, as her daughter-in-law called it, was an invalid for a few days. Then she invited recklessly, 90a habit that made much work and expense, and was particularly obnoxious to Madame Roland because the company passed all their time at cards. To see the house filled every evening with people who had not intellect and resources to entertain each other intelligently was exasperating.
All these annoyances Madame Roland repeated to her husband in the long letters she sent him almost every day. More questionable than her habit of writing these petty vexations to him was her retailing of them to Bosc, with whom she was in constant correspondence.
In spite of the drawbacks there was much brightness in the new home, much of that close intimacy which is the charm of the French interior. Madame Roland realized this and frequently painted pleasant pictures to Bosc as contrasts to the disagreeable ones she gave him.
Although Madame Roland was greeted cordially at Villefranche by the leading people, as became the wife and sister-in-law of two prominent men, she never came any nearer to what was really good and enjoyable in the place than she had in Amiens. The town displeased her, as it naturally would, since she insisted on comparing it with Paris. She amused herself in studying the soul of the place, and she found it frequently small, false, and distorted. Now an analysis of one’s surroundings is certainly amusing and instructive, but if one is to be a good neighbor and agreeable member of the society he dissects, he 91must keep his observations to himself; must place humanity and courtesy higher than analysis. Madame Roland did not do this; she showed often what she thought and felt, and became unpopular in return. Roland, too, made himself disliked in the Academy of Villefranche by his domineering ways.
The Abbé Guillon de Montléon, of Lyons, who was a fellow academician of Roland’s, relates that whenever he went to the town to attend Academy meetings, Madame Roland and her husband tried to secure him as their guest, and he suggests that this attention was due simply to the fact that they were on bad terms with their townsmen and were obliged to find their company in outsiders. It seems that a satire on a number of the leading people of the town had been sent from Paris, and that it was believed to be the work of M. and Madame Roland. Whether true or not, those who had been caricatured revenged themselves by cutting them and by ordering sent to them each day from Paris satirical epigrams and songs.
The Abbé Guillon also tells that Roland left the Academy of Villefranche in a pet because that body refused in 1788 to adopt the subject he had suggested for a prize contest—“Would it not serve the public good to establish courts to judge the dead.”
However, all that the Abbé tells of Roland must be regarded with suspicion. He wrote after the Revolution, with his heart full of bitter contempt and hatred of everybody who had been connected with 92the movement which led up to the Reign of Terror in Lyons, and, at that moment, was not capable of impersonal judgments.
Madame Roland was not much better pleased with Lyons than with Villefranche. She did not love the place too well. At Lyons she mocked at everything, she said. She was well situated there, however. Their apartment was in a fine house in a pleasant quarter, and Madame had the equipage of a friend to use when she would. She saw many celebrities who passed through the town; was invited constantly; made visits; in fact, had an admirable social position, as became the wife of one of the most active citizens of the town, and Roland certainly was that. His reputation for solid acquirements had preceded him. On arriving in Lyons he was made an honorary member of the Academy, and afterwards an active member, and from that time he constantly was at the front in the work of the institution.
In the archives of the Academy of Lyons there are still preserved a large number of manuscripts by Roland, some of these in the hand of his wife. They discuss a variety of subjects: the choice of themes for the public séances of the provincial academies; the influence of literature in the country and the capital (this paper was given a place in the published annals); the outlook for a universal language—to be French of course. One peculiar paper, to come from so dry a pen as his, is on the “Means of Understanding a Woman.” Plutarch comes in for a 93eulogy, and there is an exhortation on the wisdom of knowing our fellows. Most of the manuscripts are purely scientific, and treat the subjects in which M. Roland was particularly at home,—the preparation of hides and leather, of oils and soaps; the processes of drying. Others consider means for quickening the decaying manufacturing interests of Lyons. Altogether, it is a very honorable collection. The annals of the Academy contain also a full printed report of a contest over cotton velvet which had embroiled Roland in the North. Both sides of the discussion, which Roland’s efforts to spread the knowledge of the new industry awakened, are given.
I have examined all of these manuscripts, as well as Roland’s printed articles in the Encyclopédie, and elsewhere, for a trace of the idea the Abbé Guillon de Montléon credits to him, in his Memoirs,—that dead bodies, instead of being buried, be utilized for the good of the community, the flesh being used for oil and the bones for phosphoric acid. This idea was advanced, it is said, to settle a dispute over the cemeteries, which had long agitated Lyons; but as there is no reference to it in any of Roland’s manuscripts or printed articles, it is probable that it was never pushed to public attention, as the Abbé would have his reader believe. The story is told too naturally not to have at least a shadow of truth, and such a proposition is so like the utilitarian Roland that, if anybody in France suggested such a thing, it probably was he.
94If their life in Villefranche and Lyons was not satisfactory, that at their country home was entirely so; indeed, Madame Roland seems never to have been so happy, so natural, so charming, as she was at Le Clos, where she spent much time each year.
Le Clos is easily reached from Villefranche. One goes to-day, as one hundred years ago, in carriage, or, as Madame Roland usually did, on horseback, by one of the hard, smooth roads which have long formed a network over the Lyonnais. The road runs from the town along a narrow valley of luxuriant pasture land, strewn in May, the month in which I visited the place, with purple mints and pure yellow fleur-de-lys. On either hand are low, steep hillsides, all under cultivation, but so divided under the French system of inheritance that they look like patch-work quilts or Roman ribbons. A kilometre from town one begins to wind and climb. Hill after hill, mountain after mountain, is passed; the country opens broad and generous. There is a peculiar impression of warmth and strength produced by the prevailing color of the soil and building-material. This part of the Lyonnais is clad in a dark stone, and walls and churches, roads and fields, are all in varying tones of terra-cotta; here is the fresh, bright reddish-yellow of a plot recently cultivated and not yet planted; there the dull and worn-out brown of an ancient wall; but, though the shades are varied, the tone is never lost. The green of the foliage and fields is peculiarly dark and positive in contrast with this 95coloring of the stone. The whole makes a landscape of originality and a certain rude strength. It looks like a country where men worked and where there was little to tempt them to idleness. When one comes to Beaujolais, after the soft gray tone of the Côte-d’Or and the Seine-et-Marne, or the dull slate which prevails in Bourbonnais, the contrast is harsh and a little saddening.
It is a thickly settled country, and one passes many hamlets, all in terra-cotta, with high walls and old churches topped by Romanesque towers. At the centre of these hamlets are ancient crucifixes, some of them of grotesque carvings. On the distant hillsides are châteaux.
After climbing many hills, one passes along the side of a mountain ridge. At the end of this ridge one sees a yellow town, of some fifty houses, a château with its tower razed to the roof, and a small chapel. It is the village of Theizé.
While his eyes are still on the village, he falls into a hamlet, at the end of whose one street is a high wall and gate. It is Le Clos. Shut in by high yellow walls,—one might almost say fortifications, they are so long and so high,—the quaint country house, dating from the first of the last century, is a tranquil, sheltered spot which gives one the feeling of complete seclusion from the world. On one side of the house lies the court, with its broad grass-plot, its low wall, its long rows of stone farm, and vintage buildings; on the other, lies an English garden, planted thickly 96with maples, sycamores, and hemlocks, with lilac clumps and shrubs, with roses and vines. Enclosing this garden on two sides is a stone terrace, forming a beautiful promenade. From here all the panorama of the Beaujolais hills, mountains, and valleys opens, with their vineyards, yellow houses, forests, and here and there a tower—the bellevue of some rich nineteenth-century proprietor or the relic of some ancient château. Far beyond the farthest, faintest mountain outline rises, on clear nights, the opal crest of Mont Blanc.
To the left of garden and house are vines and fruit trees; to the right, a long lane and vegetable garden; and everywhere beyond are vines, vines, vines, to the very brook in Beauvallon at the foot of the hillside.
In Madame Roland’s time the country about Le Clos was much more heavily wooded than now. There was less of vine raising and more of grain, but many features are unchanged. These trees are of her time no doubt, these vines, these walls, and she doubtlessly gathered blossoms, as one does to-day, from the long hedge of roses panachés, the wonderful striped roses of Provence now almost unknown in France, though still rioting the full length of one of the walls of Le Clos,—fanciful, sweet things which by their infinite variety set one, in spite of himself, at the endless search of finding two alike, as in the play of his childhood with the striped grass of his grandmother’s yard.
LE CLOS DE LA PLATIÈRE.
97From the terrace she saw, as we do, in the valley at the right, the château of Brossette, the friend of Boileau; and on the hillside in front, the curious little chapel of Saint Hippolyte; and she must often have heard the story the country folk still tell of the place, how centuries ago the Saracens ravaged all the country as far as this valley, but here were driven back. The Franks, in honor of their victory, raised a chapel to Saint Hippolyte and many miracles were performed there, and the people came to the shrine in pilgrimage from long distances. Now, certain neighbors, wishing to possess this miracle-working statue of Saint Hippolyte, had it carried off, but at the moment that the person carrying the saint attempted to cross the brook in Beauvallon, the holy image jumped from his shoulder and ran at full speed back to the chapel. The pious thieves, seeing the preference of the saint, like good Christians, gave up their project.
The mountains of Beaujolais changed from faintest violet to darkest purple for her as for us, and the crest of Mont Pilate, or the Cat Mountain as the Lyonnais peasants call Mont Blanc, startled and thrilled her by its mysterious opalescent beauty when now and then it appeared on the horizon suddenly, like some celestial thing.
The house, a white, square structure, with pavilions at the corners of the court side, and red tiled roof, is unchanged without, though rearranged somewhat within. Nevertheless, there are many things to recall 98the Rolands and their immediate friends; the ancient well; the brass water-fountain; now and then a book, with Roland de la Platière on the fly-leaf, in the well-filled cases which one finds in every room; a terra-cotta bust of Roland himself (by Chinard, dated 1777); portraits of the family, including one called Madame Roland, which nobody supposes to be she; photographs of the beautiful La Tour pastels of M. and Madame Phlipon, now in the museum of Lyons; an oil of the chanoine; a few fine old arms in the collection which decorates the billiard room; a table whose top is made of squares of variegated marbles brought from Italy by Roland.
There is now and then a sign about the house of what it suffered in the Revolution; for Le Clos was pillaged then and stripped of its contents at the same time that the château above had its towers razed. On several of the heavy doors is still clinging the red wax of the official seal placed by the revolutionary officers. The chanoine’s crucifix is there, a graceful silver affair darkly oxidized from long burying, he having hid it in the garden. In the raids on the property nearly all the furniture was taken, and for many years the peasants were said to account for new pieces of furniture in their neighbors’ houses by saying, “Oh, it came from Le Clos.” Some time after the Revolution, M. Champagneux, who married Eudora, the daughter of Madame Roland, received a notice from the curé at Theizé that a sum of “conscience money” had been given him for the family.
99Life must have been then at Le Clos—a hundred years ago—much what it is now,—a busy, peaceful round of usefulness and kindliness, of generous hospitality, of unaffected intelligence. Madame Roland entered it with sentiments kindled by Rousseau. Her imagination had never been more actively at work than it had over the prospect of this country retirement. She had shed tears over the prospect of their future Clarens, its bucolic pleasures, the delicious meditations, the sweet effusions of friendship, the healthy duties. And Le Clos realized many of her dreams; largely because she took hold of the practical life of the house and farm with good-will and intelligence. She was no woman to allow work to master her,—she managed it. Nor was she weak enough to fret under it or to regard it as “beneath her.” She respected this most dignified and useful of woman’s employments and gave it intelligence and good-will. This acceptance of and cheerfulness over common duties is one of the really strong things about Madame Roland.
Some of the prettiest passages in her letters of this period are of her homely duties. She kept the accounts, directed the servants, interested herself in every detail of farm and house. She used her scientific acquirements practically for the benefit of Le Clos and its neighbors. Bosc she continually applied to for information. Now it was a remedy, “sure and easy,” against the bites of the viper, of 100which there were many in the country—and they still exist; now for the caterpillars which were troubling the apples; again it was against an enemy of her artichokes that she demanded, as a service to the province, a remedy.
She took a lively interest in agricultural discussions, and many were the flowers, from the rich flora of Le Clos, which she sent her friend to analyze, or for a confirmation of her own analysis.
Her devotion to her neighbors was genuine. In her Memoirs she speaks with pride of their love for her, and this was no meaningless recollection. Constantly in her letters there was question of service rendered to this or that one, and we see that it was not without reason that her husband was worried lest she make herself ill in caring for the domestics of Le Clos and the peasants of Boitier and Theizé.
She did more than care for them and instruct them,—she set them a good example. Especially in religious matters was she careful to do this. One who has climbed the long steep hill from Le Clos to the church at Theizé, has a genuine respect for the unselfishness of a woman who would get out of bed at six o’clock in the morning for her neighbor’s sake,—“climbing up the rocks,” she called it. This she did, though Le Clos possessed its own chapel where the curé came to say the Mass.
She exercised a delightful hospitality. Le Clos was always open for their friends. Lanthenas spent much of his time there, and one of the apartments 101still is called by his name. Bosc she was always urging to come, and she drew him many a pretty picture of their summer companies. There was now and then a friend of Bosc, from Paris, who sought them; for in those days of stage-coaches one had time to stop over en route. There were foreign and French savants who had heard of Roland and came to pay their respects, and there were the country counts and abbés.
And there were amusements besides—an occasional petit bal given by a locataire, where she danced “and contre-danced,” and, in spite of her thirty-one years, only retired at midnight from “wisdom and not from satiety.” And there was the watch-meeting which she kept with her people, and the vogue, as the Beaujolais people call their provincial fêtes. Le Clos had one peculiar to itself—a vogue existing to-day.
It is one of the events of the year at Theizé—this vogue—on Ascension Sunday and Monday. The place is invaded the day before for preparation: a stand is put up for the musicians; the wine rooms are cleared out for the lunch tables; the trees and walls are decorated; outside the gate, too, before night there is sure to establish itself one of the travelling lotteries which infest France.
The morning of Ascension Day there comes, between masses, a committee headed by a band to take possession of the place and present the fête to Madame. After dinner come the merry-makers,—young 102and old from all the country round; a friendly, pleasant company who dance and walk and talk, only quitting their sports long enough for the traditional service of cutting the brioche,—a ceremony which begins with a grave promenade of the big cake around the premises, fanfare ahead. This done, the chief of the vogue, in the midst of a respectful silence from all the two or three hundred peasants looking on, cuts the cake with a flourish so solemn that it would be worthy of a sacrifice, and passes around the pieces among the guests.
The brioches eaten, they dance again, and that until after the night falls and the stars come out and the children and the old people go home—a grave dance now and silent; for the night, the wind in the trees, the simpler music too changes the gay and romping mood of the afternoon to one of dreaminess and silence. But Monday they come back gayer than ever and the dance and romp do not end until, late in the evening, Madame declares the vogue over.
In this life at Le Clos Madame Roland’s most serious occupation was the education of her daughter Eudora. She evidently hoped to find in her little girl a second Manon Phlipon,—an infant prodigy in sentiment and taste. She discovered early that Eudora was a rollicking, mischievous, saucy youngster, who would rather frolic than study and who liked to play with her doll better than to read Plutarch. She was in despair over this lack of feeling. At the least sign of sentiment she wrote to her husband 103or to Bosc, but as a rule she could only complain of the indifference of the little miss.
She had begun by nursing her baby,—Rousseau demands it,—but when she came back from her favor-seeking at Paris the child—three years old—did not recognize her. “I am like the women who do not nurse their children; I have done better than they but I am no farther advanced.” At Le Clos she became thoroughly discouraged and decided to take up Rousseau again and study Émile and Julie on the education of children. She arrived at certain conclusions and as she was about to write her husband of them one day received a letter from him containing similar reflections. She replied with her full plan. The letter, hitherto unpublished, is very sensible.
“What a pleasure to find that we are one in our ideas as in our feelings, and for one never to have a plan that the other has not already thought of. For the last twenty-four hours I have been trying the method that you suggest with our little one. I had re-read Julie’s plan, and I had decided that we were too far away from it. Controlled by circumstances, we have either thought too much or not enough of our child. Busy in a kind of work which demands quiet, we have kept her at her tasks and her lessons, without taking time to cultivate a taste in her for them, or of choosing the times when she was the most disposed for them. When she has rebelled, and we have wanted her to be quiet, we have been 104willing to do anything to silence her, so that we could go on with our work.
“‘That which makes children cry,’ Julie says, ‘is the attention that is paid to them. It is only necessary to let them cry all day, a few times, without paying any attention to them, to cure them of the habit. If one pets them or threatens them, it has no effect. The more attention that you give to their tears, the more reason they have for continuing them. They will break themselves of the habit very soon when they see that no one takes notice; for, great and small, no one cares to give himself useless trouble.’ There, my good friend, is where we have been wrong. Julie’s children were happy and peaceable under her eyes, but they were subject to no one and only obliged to allow others the same liberty they enjoyed themselves.
“We want to be left in peace; that is just, but sometimes we constrain our child, and she takes her revenge as she can. Moreover, there is no use denying it, our little one has a strong will, and she has no sensibility and no taste. It must be that this is, in part, our fault, and because we have not known how to direct her. More than that, we risk making a still greater mistake in conquering her by force or by fear, though we have believed that it could be done in no other way. In acting thus, we are going to be unhappy, and our child is going to develop a hard and an unendurable obstinacy.
“I have resolved: first, never to get angry, and 105always to be calm and cold as justice itself when it comes to a question of correction.
“Second, never to use either whip or blow, movement or tone, which show impatience. Blows of whatever kind seem to me odious. They harden, debase, and prevent the birth of sentiment. On this score we have been guilty. When, as an infant, Eudora put her hands on something that she ought not to have touched, and did not take them off at the first word, it seemed to us that a little blow on her rebellious hand might have good effect. But that little blow has led to the whip; the child has become a torment, and we are annoyed by it; that little blow was a great mistake; it is time that we began over again, and we have not a moment to lose.
“Third, the child must be happier with us than with any one else; it is a question then of making her time pass more pleasantly when she is in our presence than it does elsewhere. That would not be very difficult if the mother was sewing or at housework, was free to talk with her sometimes and to teach her little tasks. In a library, between two desks, where severe research is going on and where silence is necessary, it is quite natural that the child grow weary; above all, if she is forbidden to sing or to chatter, and cannot play with any one.
“None of those persons who have written treatises on education have considered the student or those of a similar profession; they have treated the father or the mother as occupied solely in carrying out their 106duties, everything else being set aside for them. But the case is different here; you must carry on your work, and I am only too happy to aid you in it. I am a wife as well as a mother, and was the one before becoming the other.
“Let us try, then, while at our desks to have our child with us, and to see to it that she is happy beside us. For that we must leave her free as much as possible. If nature has not fitted her for study, let us not insist. Let us form her character as well as we can, and let the rest come by inspiration, not by punishment or caresses. Let us hold ourselves to these rules, and I am sure that the child will soon feel the justice and the necessity as well as the effect of our tenderness.
“For three days now I have not compelled her to do anything. She reads five or six times a day to amuse herself, and she seems to think that it is a good act. Without entirely lending myself to her little hypocrisy, I nevertheless pretend to be partially, at least, her dupe. In the evening she begs for music and I make a thousand excuses in order to have the lesson short, gay, and easy. The great thing is obedience. There have been scenes, I have punished her and she has wept; but I have pretended not to notice it, and have gone on with my work in perfect indifference. She has been obliged to stop some time, and it has never been very long.”
The success was something, for by another spring, when the little one was “six years six months and 107two days old,” she had commenced to dislike being blamed as much as she did being put on dry bread; she loved a caress better than her doll; reading amused her when she had nothing better to do; and she loved to write and dance,—neither of which fatigued her head,—but could not endure a story which was more than a half hour long; and was still “a hundred leagues from Robinson.”
Madame Roland’s return to Rousseau was not confined to his system of education. She went back to him at this time for inspiration. In going to Le Clos she had an ideal,—Julie at Clarens. Probably she found that in practice there was much more hard work and patient endurance in her Clarens than there were pastorals and sweet emotions. Much as she approved these stern virtues, considered abstractly, they aroused less enthusiasm when applied, and she sought her prophet; not without reward, for again and again she wrote Roland of her delight:
“I have been devouring Julie as if it were not for the fourth or fifth time. My friend, I shall always love that book, and if I ever become dévote, it is the only one I shall desire. It seems to me that we could have lived well with all those people and that they would have found us as much to their taste as we them to ours.”
And again after an evening in the chimney corner with Rousseau: “I shall read him all my life, and if ever we should be in that condition of which we no longer think, when you, old and blind, make shoe-laces 108while I do needle-work, all the books I shall want will be those of Jean Jacques. He would make us shed delicious tears and would arouse sentiments which would make us forget our lot.”
“Delicious tears” are as always her gauge of happiness. She never learned that the amount of living one is doing, cannot always be measured by the emotion one experiences.
In the days at Villefranche and Le Clos, Roland was as dear to her as ever. She served him with touching devotion, finding her greatest delight in being useful to him. The long and tiresome extracts on wool and hides, bleaching and tanning, were never too long and tiresome for her to copy, in her vigorous, beautiful hand; the numerous academic papers and public pamphlets never too numerous for her to apply all her literary skill and her enthusiasm to polishing and brightening. She arranged everything to make his life easy and to advance his work, and her affection was poured out as freely as in the days before their marriage. He is the “friend par excellence.” “I love you madly and I am disposed to snap my fingers at the rest,” she told him. Her letter-writing, in his absence, she calls “the dearest of her occupations,” and it must have been, to judge from the following letter written seven years after her marriage:
“I had told —— to go after it [Roland’s letter]. I awaited it in vain all the evening. He had forgotten to go. I sent him again when I sat down to supper. While I ate I waited, my heart was troubled. 109The servant seemed to me to be gone a long time. My heart jumped at every noise I heard at the door. Overcome, I said: News from him was never dearer, never awaited with more tender impatience. I scarcely heard what brother said and I answered yes at random. It was worse still when the package came. My heart went out to it beforehand. I examined the writing with strange haste, I opened it, I read. The mutual sentiment which inspires us leaves me incapable of feeling anything else. I scarcely spoke the rest of the evening.”
Unquestionably she believed in the endurance of this affection for Roland, so far as there is any indication in her letters. Perhaps something of the secret of the peculiar tenderness between Madame Roland and her husband at this time was that Roland was but little at home. Where the imagination has the habit of idealizing situations and persons, it is difficult to quiet it—it must have its craving satisfied. But no idealized object will resist long the friction of every-day life and the disillusion which is inevitable from constant association. Madame Roland never ceased her habit of idealization, but, fortunately, her life with Roland was so broken by his repeated absences that her imagination did still find pleasure in busying itself with him.
For several years after they went to Beaujolais there was but one break in this busy life for Madame Roland,—a trip to Switzerland taken in 1787 with her 110husband and her brother-in-law, the Curé of Longpoint. She wrote full notes of her trip for Eudora, as she had done of her trip to England. They were printed by Champagneux in the year 1800. They are less spontaneous than those on England, following almost entirely Roland’s letters of ten years before. This trip into Switzerland was to have been followed by one to Italy, which never was taken.
And so their life went on from 1784 to 1789. On the whole, it was happy, as it certainly was useful and honorable. To be sure, they were not quite satisfied. They still felt keenly that the title and privileges they had asked had been refused, and they still cherished hopes of being retired. Madame Roland, especially, kept the matter in view and worked to bring it about; thus, in September of 1787 we find her directing Roland: “Write to the bear and pay him the compliment of your encyclopedic work. I have imagined a little letter of which I send you the idea. To flatter a person’s pretensions is a means of capturing his good-will. If it is true that he has a mistress, Lanthenas must unearth her, as well as the sides on which she is accessible. They will be convenient notes to have in the portfolio, and can be used as one does certain drugs in desperate cases.”
On the whole, Madame Roland was very well off, and her life would undoubtedly have gone on thus to the end, broken after a while, perhaps, with the much desired pension; perhaps, by even the title of nobility; she then would have had the “paradise” she so much 111desired—“the pretty apartment in town and a bijou at Le Clos”; she might, on the other hand, have had her sad sentimental picture realized and Roland, blind, have made shoe-laces and she done needle-work, while they both shed delicious tears over Rousseau, had there not been something in the air which was about to take away all from him that had and to give it to him who had not; to make leaders of country lawyers, and doctors, and schoolmasters, and to send the diplomats and courtiers a-begging.
The French Revolution was coming, and to trace briefly how it grew in the Lyonnais and how our friends in particular regarded it and were drawn to side with it, is our next affair.
HOW THE ROLANDS WELCOMED THE REVOLUTION
Monsieur and Madame Roland had both, throughout their lives, been intelligent observers and critics of, as well as, to a degree, sufferers from, the financial and social causes of the French Revolution. They had both sympathized with the preliminary outbreaks of that revolution which, beginning early in the century, had recurred at intervals throughout their lives. They both had thoroughly imbibed the intellectual causes of the movement, those new ideas of Voltaire, Diderot, Helvétius, Abbé Raynal, Rousseau, which, coming after the first agitation,—there had been many a riot in Paris, in Lyons, in Rouen; the King had been warned many a time that there were still Ravaillacs; the word Révolution had been often spoken by the French of the eighteenth century before these men wrote,—had backed up the revolutionist with philosophy and logic.
Roland was but ten years old, a boy in the Lyonnais, when the war with Austria caused so much misery, and when a new levy of men and the doubling 113of the taxes desolated and irritated the province. Lyons was obliged to contribute two million livres at that time to aid the King. He was seventeen when, in 1751, the misery again became so terrible that riots occurred throughout France, and D’Argenson wrote: “Nothing but a near revolution is talked of on account of the bad condition of the government.” These things could not but have affected him. Indeed, the bad outlook at Lyons was one reason that he left home with the idea of making his fortune in America. As a boy, then, Roland had felt the financial errors of the French government.
He was at Rouen when, in 1756, the Seven Years’ War broke out. At that moment the annual receipts of the State were two hundred and fifty-three million livres, the expenses between three hundred and twenty and three hundred and thirty millions. That year Roland saw the people obliged to pay a twentieth of their revenue—the detested vingtième. No one was exempt, and no doubt the bill fell heavily on the manufacturing interests. This tax was in addition to the taille, which tormented the small proprietors of the country, and from which the nobles and clergy were free. In addition were the special taxes of which Roland must have felt the injury especially, both in the Lyonnais and at Rouen. These included the aides, or tax on drinks; the octroi, at the gate of every city; the salt-tax; the special duties on iron, leather, and paper; the impost on tobacco, cards, and oils; the custom duties at the frontier of every 114province of France, as well as at the frontier of the kingdom.
Two years later at Rouen, 1758, Roland no doubt felt the effect in his personal expenses of the result of the gift which the city, in common with all the cities, boroughs, and seignioralties of the kingdom, was obliged to pay to help on the war, and to meet which they received permission to put a tax on all drinks, on meat, hay, and wood. When one has to pay more for his wood and fire, he reflects why.
Two years later the Parlement of Rouen, in common with several others of the kingdom, flatly refused to register the royal edicts creating new taxes, declaring, with a hardihood superior even to that of the Parlement of Paris, that the system of taxation was unjust, and the people the victims of royal abuse, and suggesting audaciously a parlement of France composed of all the parlements of the kingdom. So eloquent and so free was this declaration that it was even printed and sold in Paris.
Roland’s position made him familiar with all these revolts; he heard them discussed as well as the King’s haughty, energetic reply to the deputation of the Parlement. “I am your master. I ought to punish you for the impudence of your principles. Go back to Rouen, register my decrees and declaration without further delay. I will be obeyed.”
He was touched, no doubt, by the remonstrance which the same body sent to the King in 1763: “Your people, Sire, is unhappy. Everything shows 115this sad fact. Your parlements, the only organs of the nation, repeat it unceasingly…. A deluge of taxes pitilessly ravages our towns and our provinces; the property, the industry, the person of citizens, all are a prey to these extraordinary imposts; poverty itself, and the charity which aids it, have become its tributaries and its victims. The farming out of the aides, whose rules attack all conditions and commerce in general, weighs on the poor in a most inhuman manner. The farming of the salt-tax presents a spectacle not less revolting.”
At Amiens, as inspector of manufactures, Roland had a still better opportunity to see the defects of the financial and commercial system of France. At that time, in almost all the villages of the kingdom, the exercise of the different arts and trades was concentrated in the hands of a small number of masters, united in trades-unions, who alone could make and sell certain objects. The man who wished to enter a trade could only do so by acquiring a maîtrise. To do this he must go through a long and painful apprenticeship and spend much money to satisfy the numerous imposts and exactions. Frequently a large part of the sum which he needed for setting up his shop or store was consumed in acquiring his license. Certain unions excluded all but sons of masters, or those who had married the widows of masters; others rejected all who were born in another town—foreigners, as they called them. In a number of the unions a married man 116could not be an apprentice. To practise his trade after having served his apprenticeship, a linen-dealer must pay twenty-one hundred livres; a dyer, thirteen hundred and fifty; a mason, seventeen hundred; a butcher, fifteen hundred; a potter, twenty-four hundred; and so on through all the trades of the community. One could not work if he would, unless the union gave him permission, and all classes of citizens were obliged to submit to the dictation of the unions as to whom they should hire. So narrow was the spirit of these organizations that women were not allowed to carry on even such industries as embroidery.
Worse, in Roland’s eyes, were the restrictions on the way in which an article was to be manufactured. These were so numerous that industrial genius and initiative were practically prevented, that the manufacturer could not respond to the demands of fashion and of taste, and that competition with foreign trade was largely cut off. He could make only certain stuffs. The dimensions were fixed; the dyeing and stamping must follow a certain formula; they must bear a certain mark. If by any accident, intentional or not, a stuff was turned out which did not conform exactly to the rules, the severest penalty was fixed. A system of inspection, most irritating and frequently unjust, was made of every piece of goods; even houses with long reputation for honest manufacturing were subjected to this examination, which was sometimes little more than a kind 117of spying exercised by young and incapable men who had no commercial training. A grave injustice was according the title of manufacture royale as a favor, or often, to new institutions, for a sum.
Roland clashed constantly with these regulations throughout his term in Amiens.
Mademoiselle Phlipon had likewise, in the days before her marriage, been influenced by public affairs. She was in a centre where the populace throbbed continually. A stone’s throw from her house the Parlement sat, and its every act was a sign for popular joy or discontent. There could be no demonstration without its passing largely under her windows. From the first days of her life, then, her political education commenced. A child of less intellectual curiosity and of less sensibility would not have responded to these popular outbursts. They would have made but fleeting impressions. It was different with her; she watched it all, felt the rage or joy of the people, and brooded over its meaning. There is, indeed, no more fascinating study in her life than the influence which the panorama of the Pont Neuf and the Place Dauphine had upon her.
When she was eight years old she saw the smoke of burning volumes, as she looked from her window towards the Place de la Grève. It was Rousseau’s Émile going up in smoke. Every year after she saw the same suggestive sight. Now it was remonstrances against interferences by the King with the rights of the Parlement which were burned; now the 118seditious utterances of the independent parlements of Bretagne, of Rouen, of Dauphiné; now a too liberal general history of the present condition of Europe, translated from the English; now too bold reflections on feudal rights; now Voltaire’s Dictionnaire philosophique; now Holbach; now Raynal; now Helvétius. In 1775 she heard La Harpe admonished “to be more circumspect in the future,” because of a daring article he had published. These condemned authors she was beginning to read.
She began to hear from her earliest days the word révolution. It had been pronounced frequently for a long time in private, but it began to be said aloud. When she was nine years old, a Paris priest declared: “We approach a state of crisis and an age of revolutions. I believe it impossible that the great monarchies of Europe endure long.” The priest was condemned at the Châtelet across the river from her window, but his discourse was printed and scattered right and left. She heard gossip of how the Parlement had told the King that Frenchmen are free men and not slaves; and a little later it is quite possible that she saw the King on his way to the Palais de Justice, where, under the very eyes of the Parlement, he erased their rebellious decree, and declared: “It is in my person alone that the sovereign power exists; it is from me alone that my courts have their existence and their authority; it is to me alone that independent and indivisible legislative power belongs; public order emanates entirely from me.”
119In 1770 she saw bread riots and seditious pamphlets posted in Paris. In January, 1771, came the dissolution and exile of the Parlement because of its refusal to record Louis XV.’s humiliating decree abrogating its power and condemning its conduct. Little Manon saw a surging crowd of Parisians filling the palace and its neighborhood—a crowd in which, wrote one who watched it, “there was sometimes a dull silence, as in times of great calamities; sometimes a noise and a murmur like that which precedes great revolutions.”
She saw the new and detested body—organ of the King’s despotism—sitting in a veritable camp, and the walls of the palace covered with abusive inscriptions. She read, too, many of the hardy pamphlets which flooded the country after this despotic coup d’état. In them the doctrine of power residing in one individual was roundly attacked; the divine authority of kings was denied flatly, and the Constitution of England, with the example of 1688, was held up to the country. We know she followed the exciting seven months of the trial of Beaumarchais and Goëzmann. When Louis XVI. came to the throne, she shared the general joy at his promises, and doubtless felt that it was a true prophet who printed resurrexit on the statue of Henry IV., in front of her door.
When in the next year the bread riots began and across the river the people pillaged the markets, she saw much of the disorder,—people dancing with joy over a loaf they had secured; guards about the 120bakeries to give the bakers an opportunity properly to bake the bread: hungry men waiting with their eight sous, taking the loaves from the very oven; shops closed in terror, as the rioters moved from quarter to quarter.
Married, the Rolands saw together all the abuses of the realm and aided in the struggles against them. The first year of their married life Roland labored in vain at Paris with the committee which the King had summoned from the manufacturing centres of France, to obtain greater freedom in the industries, and was forced to go back to Amiens with a list of vexatious restrictions still encumbering all varieties of manufacturing.
After their marriage they were constantly cramped for money, for Roland’s salary was very small, and he had but few privileges in connection with his position. For instance, when Madame Roland was in Paris in 1784 seeking the letters of nobility, she was forced to guard her expenses with the greatest care; to avoid taking fiacres as often as possible, and to take cheap seats at the theatre. In the Beaujolais she had been forced to give up going to Lyons often, on account of the expense of life there, to stay much at Le Clos, and to administer her household with greatest economy.
There was no complaint on their part because of their poverty, but there was dissatisfaction with the system which did not reward properly a man who had given his life to the interests of his country, and 121had produced numbers of valuable works, while it took up insignificant individuals, and, through favoritism or for a round bribe, gave them easy and amply paid positions, and allowed them to keep them whatever they did or did not do; a system which, in short, justified Beaumarchais’ characterization: “Il fallait un calculateur pour remplir la place, ce fut un danseur qui l’obtint.” (An accountant was wanted in the place, a dancer received it.)
After the Rolands left Amiens, they came into personal contact with the feudal rights; for in the Beaujolais the peasant was still often obliged to give personal service to his lord. It was to the lord’s wine-press he was obliged to take his grapes, to his mill that he must take his wheat. They saw the effect of the wretched salt-tax, an indirect tax which forced every inhabitant to buy seven pounds of salt a year, and it cost eight times what it does to-day, considering the value of money. Not only was he forced to buy, he was forced to use it in certain ways,—not a grain of that seven pounds could be employed anywhere except in his table food. If he wanted to salt pork, he must buy another kind.
They probably saw, in their rides to and from Lyons, the peasants bent at their corvée, or road tax; for the peasants still made the royal roads in the Lyonnais. On an average, they gave twelve days a year, and the use of their own implements, to the highways which they rarely had the advantage of using. The terrible tolls were another unjust imposition 122from which they suffered personally. They were innumerable. Let a boat of wine attempt to go from Dauphiné, by the Rhone, Loire, and the canal of Briare, and it paid thirty-five to forty kinds of duties, not counting the entrée to Paris. From Pontarlier to Lyons there were twenty-five or thirty tolls. If Madame Roland had bought ten cents worth of wine in Burgundy, it would have cost her fifteen to eighteen sous before she got it to Lyons.
Another experience which intensified their disgust with the ancien régime was the study of the affairs of Lyons. In a report made, in 1791, on the condition of the city, Roland showed how Lyons, after having been for a long time one of the most flourishing cities of the world, because of her active and peculiar industries, and having earned a world-wide credit, attracted the attention of the government, at that time completely corrupt. The State forced the city to compromise her industries and credit in order to lend money. She borrowed again and again, and gave in return the saddest, most ruinous compensation,—the permission to tax herself. This had gone on until Lyons was bankrupt, her industries ruined, her streets full of beggars.
This condition of finances and society they had long seen, as had the whole country, must be changed or there would be an upheaval. They had even calculated on this change when Madame Roland was soliciting the letters of nobility at Paris, and the probability that when it came something 123would fall to them. Like all France, it was in a reform of the finances that they saw hope, and it was that which they demanded. They did not believe that France was hopelessly involved, but were confident that she could extricate herself by severe economies in the administration, by cutting off favoritism, by arranging a just system of taxes. Up to 1789 that was all that was demanded.
Like all France, they participated in those outbursts of joy which swept over the country at various periods in the reigns of Louis XV. and Louis XVI., when ministers of force and wisdom devised relief.
The call for the States-General, in 1788, interested them more deeply than ever in the reforms needed; the effort of the Parlement of Paris to prevent the Third Estate naming as many members as the nobility and clergy together, and to prevent their sitting together aroused them. When, however, in spite of all opposition, the King issued the edict allowing the Third Estate double representation and called for the election of members to, and the preparation of cahiers for, the coming gathering, the Rolands went to work with energy. It was on the preparation of the cahiers sent to the States-General by the Third Estate of Lyons that Roland was principally occupied, and it was with hopefulness that he saw 124the deputies and the memorials depart for Versailles, where, on May 4th, the twelve hundred representatives of the nation met to begin the work of restoring order in France and of making a constitution.
2. Memorials prepared by each of the three classes, setting forth their grievances, their demands, and the compromises they were willing to make.
At Le Clos the Rolands watched eagerly every act of the States-General, of the King, and of the people. But the drama played in Paris and at Versailles between May 4th and July 14th, turned their hopefulness to despair, their gratitude to suspicion, their generosity to resentment, their pliability to obstinacy.
Suddenly, on July 14th, the Parisians, terrified at the rumors of a conspiracy on the part of the Court which had for its object the overthrow of the pet minister, Necker, the adjournment of the National Assembly, the abandonment of reforms, and the coercion of the people by the foreign soldiers who had been massed in and around the capitol, razed the Bastille.
With the falling of the Bastille a new ideal arose, full-winged, before Madame Roland. Before the 14th of July she had no idea that out of the events she watched so eagerly anything more than a reform of the existing régime would grow; the old régime, stripped of its abuses and regulated by a liberal constitution, was all she had asked. Now all was changed; compromise, half-way measures, were at an end. Instead of reforms she demanded “complete regeneration.” She saw in the sudden uprising of the people the “sovereign” exercising “the divine right of insurrection.” It was what Jean Jacques 125Rousseau had declared in the Social Contract the people had the right to do if the government under which they were living was unjust. She seems to have gone at once to the conclusion that, since the rightful “sovereign,” had at last asserted itself, an immediate regeneration was to follow, abuses were to be wiped out, tyranny destroyed, selfishness annihilated, equality created, and the world to run at last with precision and to the satisfaction of all concerned. To her the fall of the Bastille was the revolution of society. “Friends of humanity, lovers of liberty,” she wrote afterwards, “we believed it had come to regenerate the human kind, to destroy the terrible misery of that unhappy class over which we had so often mourned. We welcomed it with transports.”
Their transports soon turned to irritation; for the immediate regeneration she had pictured was replaced by struggles more fierce than ever before.
To those of her liberal aspirations, determined on a constitutional government, recognizing the sovereignty of the people and the equality of men, two political courses were open at that moment. They could unite with the liberal party of reform in a struggle to frame a constitution; could insist while this was doing upon respect for the National Assembly; could recognize the difficulty of the situation; could respect the laws and be patient;—or they could refuse alliance with this party on the ground that reforms were no longer the need of France, but that complete regeneration must be demanded; could suspect, 126and induce others to suspect, the sincerity of all those who applied the doctrines less vigorously than they did; could encourage by excuses or tacit sympathy the riotous party which with incredible fecundity was spreading over France, explaining its actions as the lawful efforts of the sovereign people to get rid of its oppressors and to take possession of its own rights.
Madame Roland did not approve of the first party. It attempted nothing but reforms. She wanted every vestige of the old régime wiped out. She suspected it, hated it. It had proved itself unworthy and must be abolished. The real sovereign must be allowed to prepare a government. She had no particular idea of what this government should be; certainly she did not suggest a republic. She was convinced, however, that it would be a simple matter to arrange something where happiness and justice and prosperity should be the lot of all.
To obtain this ideal condition she believed riot and civil war justifiable; indeed she believed them necessary now that the fall of the Bastille had not been enough. They were necessary to keep the usurper in terror and the people suspicious. For her part, even if she were a woman and for that reason excluded from public activities, she meant to keep her friends aroused to the necessity of insurrection.
There is no doubt that the policy of Roland in the Revolution and the relations which he formed and which shaped his course of action were due to this 127determination of Madame Roland to use her influence in agitation. All their contemporaries remark her ascendency over her husband. But she did not content herself with inspiring Roland. The two friends with whom she had been so long in regular correspondence, Bosc and Lanthenas, she strove, with all her eloquence, to urge to action. “I write you now but little of personal affairs. Who is the traitor who has other interest to-day than that of the nation?” Once Bosc wrote her a story of an interesting adventure; she replied: “I do not know whether you are in love or not; but I do know this, that in the situation where we now are, no honest man can follow the torch of love without having first lit it at the sacred fire of country.” She formed new political relations—the first, with Brissot de Warville, was of particular importance to them.
The Rolands had had a slight correspondence with Brissot before the Revolution; for he, having been attracted by Roland’s writings, had sent him certain of his manuscripts as a mark of his esteem. This had led to an exchange of courteous letters, and, through one of their common friends in Paris, the relation was still further cemented, and a regular correspondence had grown up. When the Revolution came, Brissot started Le patriote français and the Rolands sent him “all,” said Madame Roland, “which, under the circumstances, seemed to us to be useful to publish.” A large number of these letters were published in the Patriote français.
128It was not only in Paris that her letters inspired by their ardent patriotism. They were in relation with a young man at Lyons, called Champagneux. The 1st of September, 1789, he started the Courrier de Lyon, a journal something in the style of Brissot’s, intended to preach the principles of 1789, and to show what was passing in the National Assembly. Madame Roland wrote often to this journal.
The most important correspondence which she carried on at this time was with Bancal des Issarts, a lawyer, formerly of Clermont, who had left his profession for politics. Bancal had been a deputy to the National Assembly, and, after the closing of the session, had returned to Clermont, where he had established a society of Friends of the Constitution. Returning to Paris, he made the acquaintance of Lanthenas and the two had planned a community in which they wished to associate the Rolands. Their idea was to buy a quantity of national property and found a retreat where they could together prosecute the work of regenerating France, while at the same time having the delights and the stimulus of intelligent companionship.
Lanthenas introduced Bancal by letter to the Rolands, and a correspondence was at once begun. Madame Roland, as a rule, wrote for both herself and her husband. Her letters are as patriotic and as passionately vindictive as those she wrote Bosc.
From the painting by Heinsius in the museum of Versailles.
129At the same time she preached to her acquaintances at Villefranche and Le Clos, and solicited subscribers for Brissot’s journal.
There was nothing vague or uncertain about her position at this moment. Her convictions, her plan of action, had been taken. It was uncompromising, unflinching war against the existing government. Twelve days after the fall of the Bastille, she wrote to Bosc: “You are occupying yourself with a municipality, and you are letting heads escape that are going to conjure up new horrors. You are nothing but children; your enthusiasm is a straw fire and if the National Assembly does not put on trial two illustrious heads, or some generous Decius does not take them, you are all mad.” She made the demand because she did not believe in the King’s and the Court’s sincerity. Every action of theirs which was liberal, a concession to the popular party, she scoffed at. Of the appearance of the King and his beautiful Queen in the Assembly she wrote: “They were abominably frightened, that is all the business shows. Before we can believe in the sincerity of their promise to agree to what the Assembly shall do, we must forget all that has passed … the King must send away all the foreign troops … we are nearer than ever to a frightful slavery if we allow ourselves to be blinded by false confidence.”
Her dissatisfaction with the National Assembly was complete. She sneered at the emotion when Marie Antoinette appeared in their midst seeking protection: “The French are easily won by the fine 130appearance of their masters, and I am persuaded that the half of the Assembly has been bête enough to be touched at the sight of Antoinette confiding her son to them. Morbleu! is it then of a child of which it is a question! It is the safety of twenty million men. All is lost if we do not take care.” The constitution displeased her, too: “We blush in reading the public papers. They are plastering up a bad constitution just as they have botched an incomplete and faulty declaration. Am I not going to see a demand for the revision of all?”
She saw clearly that it was not from the people of France, as a whole, that she would get the revision of the constitution which she asked, or a second to her demand for the heads of the king and queen. “There is only one hope,” she said, “it is in Paris. It is for you, Parisians, to give the example. By a wise and vigorous address show the Assembly that you know your rights, that you mean to preserve them, that you are ready to defend them, and that you demand that it declare them. Without such a movement all is worse than ever. It is not the Palais Royal which must do it; it is the united districts. However, if they do not respond, let it be done by whomsoever it may, provided it be in sufficient numbers to impose and to carry others by its example.” She was even ready to go a little farther and did it cheerfully: “A civil war is necessary before we shall be worth anything. All these little quarrels and insurrections seem to me inevitable; I cannot imagine 131that it is possible to come from the bosom of corruption and rise to liberty, without strong convulsions. They are the salutary crises of a severe sickness, and a terrible political fever is necessary to take away our bad humors.”
Truly, there were few better Jacobins in 1793 than Madame Roland was two months after the fall of the Bastille; for we have here in purity the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people, the divine right of insurrection, the demand for the head of Louis XVI., the call to Paris to take into her hands what the people of the country are not ready to do, even to use its power of terrorism against the Assembly, composed of the representatives of the people.
This spirit, this restless energy, never left her, though she was buried at Le Clos almost all the first eighteen months of the Revolution. She kept herself aflame by correspondence with her friends and by her propagandism among her neighbors, most of them decidedly recalcitrant. Especially did she incite herself by her reading. Writing to Bancal once she told him: “I have left all the Italian poets for the Tacitus of Davanzati. It is not permitted in a time of revolution to turn to pleasant studies, or objects remote from the public interest. If I can give a little time this winter to English, I shall read Macaulay’s history. I shall leave the historian only for the novel of Rousseau, which is perfectly suited to civism.”
She saw no danger in her doctrines. They moved 132to noble sentiments, to great aspirations. What greater good? That they incited to crimes, too, she did not admit. She was recklessly indifferent to what is; she looked only at what might be. Her eyes were turned to America, to Greece, to Rome, and not to the facts of the struggles of these countries, only to the fine actions of their heroes, the rounded phrases of their orators.
The reasonable girl who welcomed Louis XVI. to the throne, the politic woman who for years had been seeking a title and its advantages, and who had been willing to devote all her splendid power to reforming the old régime, had become suddenly inexorable in her demands, unyielding in her suspicions, fierce in her thought. She believed that one must “watch and preach to the last sigh or else not mingle with the Revolution.” It was the revolt of the idealist against compromises made in the past; resentment for wrongs suffered; the “strike back” for the title not granted, and for Roland’s talent and services unrecognized; the hope of realizing dreams of an ideal society.
Nor was it a momentary enthusiasm. Her conviction never wavered. Others as firmly founded in the doctrines as she, and as eloquent in their defence of them, hesitated sometimes, drew back with apprehension at the torrents of passion and of demagogy they were loosening on France. But she never admitted that anything but “complete regeneration” could come of their teachings. It was the woman’s 133nature which, stirred to its depths by enthusiasm or passion, becomes narrow, stern, unbending,—which can do but one thing, can see but one way; that inexplicable feminine conviction which is superior to experience, and indifferent to logic.
FIRST POLITICAL SALON
The Rolands were not long in embroiling themselves in Lyons and in the Beaujolais. Disorganization and disorder were increasing daily there, as in Paris and throughout the country. The aristocracy, clergy, and commercial portions of the community, irritated at the failure of the government to restore tranquillity, and discouraged over the delay of the National Assembly in forcing its way through the difficulties of the situation, grew hard against the Revolution. There was a universal demand for order. Disorder grew from day to day.
The conservative party was firmly convinced that the disorder was the fault of the friends of the Revolution. There was a suspicion of everybody who professed the new doctrines. Those who taught them were regarded as dangerous “agitators.” The reforms to which they had consented, and which they had left to the National Assembly, would never be made, they felt, unless the people could be quieted. They saw a general and universal catastrophe awaiting society if organization was not restored.
135On the other hand, the liberals saw in the policy of the aristocrats and clergy a plot against the people; sympathy with the Court. The disorders which occurred they attributed either to the just indignation of the long-oppressed “sovereign,” or to hired agitators, brought in by the conservative party to stir up riots, and thus cover the popular cause with odium.
On either hand there were accusations without proof, suspicions without cause, violence and hatred instead of patience and good-will. All of the generosity, the dignity, the reasonableness, which the different estates had shown a year before in the memorials which they had sent to the States-General, had disappeared.
Roland and his wife were known to be deeply in sympathy with democratic ideas, to preach them constantly. In spite of the fact that his natural relations were with the aristocratic class, Roland was active in the people’s clubs at Lyons; he was called the Mæcenas of Champagneux. He was suspected, if not of inciting to disorder, yet of sympathizing with it, and of regarding it as an instrument for forcing the Court, and driving the Assembly. He began to be considered a “suspect” by the conservatives. Such was the feeling towards him when he was a candidate for mayor, in 1789, that the most improbable stories were circulated about him. The Abbé Guillon declares in his Memoirs that Roland disguised himself and went into the taverns, begging 136the people’s votes; that he joined in their orgies and distributed among them seditious pamphlets. These charges are so inconsistent with the real character of Roland that it is not worth considering them, and they are only worth quoting as a specimen of the violent suspicions of the liberals, or révolutionnaires, held and spread by the conservative party.
About this time a question arose in which Roland took an active interest—that of the octroi. The misery of the people of Lyons demanded that it be removed. It was retained, however, and the people, desperate, rose in revolt. This uprising, said the patriots, was “spontaneous.” It was the “work of agitators,” declared the conservatives. Brissot, in the Patriote français, condemned the riot. Roland wrote, thereupon, a long letter defending it, and remarked in Lyons, one day, that there never had been a revolution yet without bloodshed. This was enough for his opponents to declare him to be the author of the insurrection. “This report has already [21 July, 1790] reached the capitol,” wrote Madame Roland to Bancal, “and in three or four quarters of Lyons, where the mercantile aristocracy is dominant, the strangest things are said against him. You judge that this storm disturbs us very little; we have seen more terrible, and would not mind it if our enemies should cause us to be called to the bar of the National Assembly. Our friend there would be like Scipio before the assembly of the people.”
137Every-day matters grew more complicated. The aristocracy, in face of the disorders, called upon the government for troops. The people, like the Parisians the year before, were exasperated at the idea of guards. At the same time rumors of an Austrian and Prussian invasion, organized by the émigrés who had been leaving France ever since the days of October 5th, irritated and frightened the Lyonnais. It was said that the enemy would enter by the way of Savoy. The idea of a counter-revolution, centred in Lyons, was spread abroad and inflamed more than ever the nervous and terrified populace.
Madame Roland was convinced of the truth of all these rumors, just as her opponents were convinced that she and her husband meant anarchy and violence by their patriotic and determined support of the people and the Revolution. In every letter to Bancal, since June 22d,—she had been writing him constantly,—she repeated her distrust. In her judgment, it was her duty to report very alarming signs. Her two principles, at this, moment, were “security is the tomb of liberty,” “indulgence towards men in authority tempts them to despotism.”
Throughout the summer and fall of 1790, the rumors of counter-revolution, accusation, denials, suspicion, terror, similar to what Madame Roland was attempting to spread among her friends, agitated Lyons; and the preparations for the elections of 138the year were made in savage excitement. Roland was again a candidate for a position in the municipality and from day to day was more detested. Madame Roland’s name was everywhere associated with his. “They write me from Lyons,” she says, “that at the mention of my name the aristocrats writhe as those possessed of devils are said to do when holy water is sprinkled on them.”
Roland was elected a member of the municipal government in spite of the machinations of the aristocrats, the power of whom had been greatly weakened by the discovery in November of an extensive royalist plot. There was no doubt of the plot this time, and the reaction in favor of the Revolution was general.
They left Le Clos after Roland’s election to establish themselves at Lyons, which they had made up their minds not to abandon until after its complete regeneration. So serious were the affairs of the city that the new municipality soon decided to send representatives to Paris to claim from the National Assembly the payment of the debt that the ancient régime had made her take upon herself. Roland was one of the deputies chosen to go. When he went up on this mission his wife accompanied him.
The opinions on the work of the Assembly which Madame Roland carried up to Paris were not friendly. She had watched its work all through the year with critical keenness. All its 139actions had been tested by her pure republican standards, and wherever they fell short had been sharply condemned. She had absolutely no sympathy with delays, with compromises, with tentative measures, and she was as aggressively suspicious of the patriotism of the members as she was of the sincerity of the aristocrats. The condition of the finances troubled her. She could see no excuse for a delay in giving the country an exact statement of the public accounts. The press had not enough liberty to please her. “A people is not free,” she declared, “and cannot become so, unless each one has the means of uncovering perfidious designs, of revealing the abuses of talent as well as of authority, of exposing the opinions of everybody, of weighing the laws in the scales of universal reason. What does it matter if one is abused, providing one is innocent and always ready to prove it? This kind of war on virtue seems to me excellent; perhaps custom and security do nothing for virtue but take away its energy. It must be attacked to be strong, and it is danger which renders it sublime.”
The manner in which the National Assembly did its work inspired her contempt. It was stupid, mere patch-work. “It jumps perpetually from one thing to another,” she complained, “and is behind with the things of the first importance without our knowing why.”
On account of this feebleness of the Assembly, 140she insisted that it must be watched; that addresses should be made to it by the clubs; that the bons esprits should unite and sketch the objects which it was suitable for the legislature to consider, to the exclusion of everything else. She failed to see that it was largely just this interference with the Assembly which was preventing its doing its work; that it was because the patriots in their zeal did not mind their own business, but encumbered the sittings with demands of the most varied character, threatened the body with disaster if it did not hear them, sent delegations on errands, now of private and selfish, now of large import, that the continuity she demanded was wanting.
They reached Paris towards the end of February, 1791, and installed themselves at the Hôtel Britannique, in the Rue Guénégaud, opposite the Hôtel des Monnaies. Here she was within easy reach of all her old neighbors, and whenever she went out on the street which opened on the quay, she could see her old home. She had not been in Paris for five years. In her intimate circle great changes had taken place. Her father had died in the rude winter of 1787–88; her uncle Bimont, the good curé of Vincennes, and the Curé Roland, whom they loved so well, who made the trip in Switzerland with them, and who had welcomed the Revolution as they did, were both dead. There was left only “the débris of a family, which in the last ten years had become almost 141extinct.” She took the greatest pleasure in going over the places where her early years had been passed, and the tears of tenderness she shed in looking on these familiar scenes delighted her. They proved that she had not allowed ambition, cares, and petty passions to dry up the springs of her soul.
Her visits to her old friends were scarcely finished before she began to devote herself to public affairs. The Assembly was sitting only a little distance from her hotel, in the Manège of the Tuileries, now destroyed, but then running along the north side of the garden, parallel with the Rue de Rivoli, and thither she went frequently, but her first impression of the body saddened and irritated her. All the opinions she had formed at Le Clos were only intensified by the nearer view.
Two years and a half afterwards, when she recalled these visits, she noted an impression which explains unquestionably something of her harshness towards the Assembly. “I saw, with secret resentment, that if reason, honesty, principle, controlled the Left, there were advantages on the Right, that I would have gladly turned over to the good cause because of their great effect on an assembly. I mean that easy and noble elocution, that nicety of expression, that polish in the tones of the voice,—if I am allowed to express myself so,—which a superior education and familiarity with good society give.”
Her pride was wounded by the evident superiority 142of the aristocrats in manner and in expression. It aroused in her an altogether illogical bitterness against them. She was irritated because she and her friends, who alone, she was convinced, understood unselfish patriotism, who alone held the doctrines in all their purity and simplicity, should yet be inferior in externals to their rivals. This distinction became a personal grievance with her.
After having followed the Assembly two months, she left a session at the end of April in anger, persuaded that it was incapable of anything but folly, and vowing never to look at it again,—an engagement she faithfully kept. At the same time she told Champagneux, with whom she and Roland were both in correspondence, that she was not going any more to the theatre: “It is much too frivolous for my taste in such serious circumstances.” And to Bancal she wrote: “In other days the fine arts and all that concern them was the greatest charm of the capital in my eyes, but now that I know that I have a country I feel differently; the solicitude of the patriot leaves but little place for matters of taste.”
To the patriotic clubs she did go, however, and one of them, the Cercle Social, especially interested her. She even sent letters to it sometimes, without signing them, however. “I do not believe that our customs permit women to show themselves yet,” she said; “they ought to inspire and nourish the good, inflame all the sentiments useful to the country, but not appear to take part in political work. They can 143act openly only when the French shall merit the name of free men; until then, our lightness, our corrupt customs, would make what they tried to do ridiculous; and would destroy the advantage which otherwise might result.” While the Cercle Social pleased them both, the Jacobins were too conservative. “The Jacobins have lost their credit, no longer doing, or doing badly, the duty that they took upon themselves, to discuss the subjects before the Assembly,” Madame Roland wrote. “They are led by their directors’ board, which is under the thumb of two or three individuals who are much more careful about preserving their own ascendency than of propagating public spirit and of serving liberty efficiently. In the club formerly so useful everything is now done by a clique.” “We have seen those precious Jacobins,” Roland wrote to Champagneux. “If objects increase in size as we approach them, it is rare that it is not the contrary with mortals.” No doubt much of their dissatisfaction with the Assembly and the public was due to the difficulty Roland had in pushing the claims of Lyons. Paris was crowded with commissioners from all the towns between Marseilles and Dunkirk, and there was the greatest trouble in getting hearings from the committee charged with such affairs, and in persuading the deputies of the department to present the business to the Assembly. Roland worked night and day almost, to push the claim of his town. “I sleep less and walk much more. Truly 144I have scarcely time to live.” He besieged the committee rooms, waiting for hours before the doors to collar his man as he entered or retired. He ate his morsel of bread alone in order to run to the Assembly, where one was obliged to arrive early in order to find a seat.
The spirit in which he went into the work was one of declared war to the aristocratic party at Lyons and to the old régime. He was determined to show up the situation, and exhorted his friends at Lyons to uncover all the rascality and pillage of the old administration. The deputies from the Lyonnais were not too sympathetic. They found the persistency, the vertu, the incessant indignation, the insistency of Roland, tiresome. After sitting so many long months, under such exciting circumstances, they were weary. They saw the difficulties of getting a hearing, too, from the Assembly.
Roland poured out all his impatience to Champagneux, who was his confidant and sympathizer. Long letters, written in his fine, nervous, execrable hand, went almost daily to Lyons. They were full of indignation at everything and everybody; especially was the delay irritating to him. “If affairs do not go backwards like the crab,” he says, “at least they go no faster than the tortoise.” The delay disgusted Madame Roland as much as it did her husband. Both committee and Assembly were blamed by her. She even wished that she were a man that she might do something herself.
145Of much more importance to their political lives at this moment than Assembly, clubs, or committee meetings, were the frequent gatherings of patriots held at the Rolands’ apartments, in the Rue Guénégaud. They were “grandly lodged,” the quarter was agreeable, and many of their friends lived but a short distance away. As Roland found it necessary to see the deputies frequently, he gathered them about him in his home. Brissot was the nucleus of the little circle. The relation with Brissot had been, up to this time, purely by correspondence. When they came to Paris naturally they were anxious to see him. They liked him at once. His simple manners, his frankness, his natural negligence, seemed in harmony with the austerity of his principles. A more entire disinterestedness and a greater zeal for public affairs were impossible, it seemed to them. He was admirable, too, as a man, a good husband, a tender father, a faithful friend, a virtuous citizen. His society was charming; for he was gay, naïve, imprudently confident, the nature of a sweet-tempered boy of fifteen. Such Brissot seemed to Madame Roland, who esteemed him more and more the longer she knew him.
Brissot brought several of his friends to see them. Among the most important of these were Pétion and Robespierre. The most interesting of the group was Buzot, of whom we shall hear much, later. To Pétion, Robespierre, and Buzot were added Clavière, Louis Noailles, Volfius, Antoine, Garran (“Cato Garran”), 146Grégoire, Garaud, and several others. In April Thomas Paine appeared. So agreeable and profitable were these informal reunions found to be that it was arranged to hold them four times a week. The guests came between the close of the sessions of the Assembly and the opening of the Jacobins. The condition of affairs in general and of the Assembly in particular was discussed; the measures which should be taken were suggested, and means of proposing them arranged; the interests of the people, the tactics of the Court and of individuals, were constantly criticised.
To Madame Roland these gatherings were of absorbing interest. She calculated carefully her relation to them, the place she ought to occupy in them, and she affirms that she never deviated from it. “Seated near a window before a little table on which were books, writing materials, and sewing, I worked, or I wrote letters while they discussed. I preferred to write; for it made me appear more indifferent to what was going on, and permitted me to follow it almost as well. I can do more than one thing at a time, and the habit of writing permits me to carry on my correspondence while listening to something quite different from what I am writing. It seems to me that I am three; I divide my attention into two as if it were a material thing, and I consider and direct these two parts as if I were quite another. I remember one day, when the gentlemen, not agreeing, made considerable noise, that Clavière, noticing 147the rapidity with which I wrote, said good-naturedly that it was only a woman’s head which was capable of such a thing, but he declared himself astonished at it all the same. ‘What would you say,’ I asked, smiling, ‘if I should repeat all your arguments?’
“Excepting the customary compliments on the arrival or departure of the gentlemen, I never allowed myself to pronounce a word, although I often had to bite my lips to prevent it. If any one spoke to me, it was after the club work and all deliberation were at an end. A carafe of water and a bowl of sugar were the only refreshments they found, and I told them it was all that it seemed to me appropriate to offer to men who came together to discuss after dinner.”
She was not always satisfied with the results of these gatherings. There were plenty of good things said, but they rarely ended in a systematic résumé. Ideas were advanced, but few measures resulted. It was fruitless conversation, in short, and she generalized: “The French do not know how to deliberate. A certain lightness leads them from one subject to another, but prevents order and complete analysis. They do not know how to listen. He who speaks always expands his own idea; he occupies himself rather in developing his own thought than in answering that of another. Their attention is easily fatigued; a laugh is awakened by a word and a jest overthrows logic.” A more just observation on French conversation would be impossible. It is its 148delight. A constant bound from one idea to another, indifference to the outcome if the attention is kept, insistence by each individual upon expressing his thought at will, with eloquence and with fantasy, lawlessness, recklessness of expression, characterize all groups of clever Frenchmen who meet to talk. But this is conversation for pleasure, not discussion for results. It was in mistaking this intellectual game of words and sentiments for reflections and reason that one of the greatest mistakes of the Rolands lay. It was these vagaries of speech in public, in private, in print (the pamphlets which poured from the press were little more than random bits of conversation and as little reflective), which kept the public, the Assembly, the Court, in a constant state of ebb and flow. But Madame Roland herself was a victim to this popular weakness. Her letters, which are almost invariably outbursts of feeling rather than of reflection, may safely be considered an index to what she was in conversation.
Another real trouble of the moment which Madame Roland notes, though she does not see that she shares it, she expressed to Bancal:
“I have had the opportunity of seeing, since my sojourn here, that it is much more difficult to do good than even reflecting men imagine. It is not possible to do good in politics, save by uniting efforts; and there is nothing so difficult as to unite different minds to work persistently for the same end. Everybody believes only in the efficacy of his own system, 149and his own way. He is irritated and bored by that of another, and because he does not know how to bend to an idea a little different from his own, he ends by going alone, without doing anything useful. For more than a century, philosophy has been preaching tolerance; it has begun to root itself in some minds; but I see little of it in our customs. Our fine minds laugh at patience as a negative virtue. I confess that in my eyes it is the true sign of the force of the soul, the fruit of profound reflection, the necessary means for conciliating men and spreading instruction, in short, the virtue of a free people. We have everything to learn on this subject.”
Madame Roland’s letters written at this period abound in similar just criticisms on the Revolutionary temper. Her remarkably virile and comprehensive intellect penetrated the real weaknesses of the movement whenever she considered men and measures impersonally. Then she grasped perfectly the meaning of things, and her observations were profound, her insight keen, her judgments wise, and her conclusions statesmanlike.
However discreet Madame Roland may have been at the gatherings in her salon, however silent she may have kept, she gained at this period a veritable supremacy over the group of patriots. There were many reasons for this. She embodied in a sort of Greek clearness and chastity the principles they professed. No one had a clearer conception of the ideal government which France should have; no one expressed 150more eloquently all this government ought to do; no one idealized the future with more imagination, more hopefulness. No one gave himself more fully to the cause than this woman who would not go to the theatre because the country was in peril; who could not look at pictures; who was ashamed to send Bancal a song in exchange for one he had sent her, because it was not grave enough for the circumstances; who was even “ashamed to write of songs.” She became in a way the ideal Revolutionary figure, a Greek statue, the type of the Republic of which they dreamed.
Her inflexibility was as great a power over her friends. They wavered, compromised, stopped at practical results instead of pushing to ideal ones. She had decision, firmness of purpose, the determination to reach the end, and her influence over them was powerful because of this unyielding attitude. Nothing daunted her. Riot and war were sacred necessities. To die was their duty. Nothing could have been more inspiring than her firmness of purpose, her superb indifference to consequences. This high attitude had something of the inspired sibyl in it. Their “Greek statue” became their prophetess. Her very cruelty was divine. It was the “wrath of the gods,” the “righteous indignation” of the moralist.
No doubt the personal charm of Madame Roland had much to do with her influence. All who knew her testify to her attractiveness. Guillon de Montléon, 151by no means a sympathetic critic, speaks of “her pleasant, piquant face, her active, brilliant mind.” Arthur Young, who saw her in 1789, describes her as “young and beautiful.” Dumont declares that to “every personal charm” she joined “all merits of character.” Dumouriez, who certainly knew all the beautiful women of his day, found her most attractive, and speaks especially of her taste and elegance in dress. Lemontey says of her: “Her eyes, her head, her hair, were of remarkable beauty. Her delicate complexion had a freshness of color which, joined to her air of reserve and candor, made her seem singularly young. I found in her none of the elegant Parisian air which she claims in her Memoirs, though I do not mean to say that she was awkward.” And he adds, she talked “well, too well.” Indeed, all her contemporaries testify to her brilliant conversation. Tissot tells of her “sonorous, flexible voice, infinite charm in talking, eloquence which came from her heart.” As the tradition in the family of Madame Roland goes, she was short and stout, possessed no taste in dress, and could be called neither beautiful, nor even pretty. However, vivacity, sympathy, and intelligence were so combined in her face, and her voice was so mellow and vibrating, that she exercised a veritable charm when she talked. She herself considered her chief attraction to be her conversational power. In one of the frequent self-complacent passages in her Memoirs, she repeats a remark of Camille Desmoulins, that he could not 152understand how a woman of her age and with so little beauty had so many admirers, and she comments: “He had never heard me talk.”
The portraits of Madame Roland, of which there are numbers, nearly all show a singularly winning and piquant face. Several good collections of these portraits are in existence. The Coste collection of Lyons contained thirty-three different engravings and medallions of her, and the print department of the Carnavalet Museum and of the Bibliothèque Nationale have both rather good specimens. By far the best collection, however, is in the town museum of Versailles—a recent donation of M. Vatel, a well-known collector of Gironde and Charlotte Corday documents and curios.
After a crayon portrait owned by the family.
153The only surely authentic portrait of Madame Roland is that facing this page. The original is in red crayon and much faded, but a faithful copy in black, well preserved, bearing the date of 1822, is in the possession of the great-granddaughter of Madame Roland, Madame Marillier of Paris. If one compares this portrait with that of Heinsius at Versailles, he will see that they have nothing in common. Heinsius’ portrait was bought in Louis Philippe’s time, and bore the name of Madame Roland up to 1865, when the placard was taken off because nothing proved that it was she. However, it still figures in the catalogue as Madame Roland, and photographs made after it are sold in all Paris shops. The director of the Versailles Gallery was preparing in 1893 to revise the catalogue, and purposed then to take the necessary steps to establish the authenticity of the painting, but as late as May, 1894, it still was marked Madame Roland. The family do not regard the picture as authentic; one point they make against it is that it is a full-face view, while, according to their traditions, Madame Roland never allowed anything but a profile to be made. It bears no resemblance to other authentic portraits, and is especially displeasing because of the full eyes, and the bold expression. These characteristics, however, Heinsius gave to all his portraits of French women; thus, the portraits of Mesdames Victoire and Adelaide at Versailles are almost coarse in expression, and in striking contrast to the other pictures of them which hang in the same gallery. The best reason for supposing Heinsius’ portrait to be Madame Roland is a sketch owned by the Carnavalet bearing the inscription M. J. Phlipon, gravé par son père à 19 ans, which strikingly resembles it.
The reproduction of the painting at the Musée Carnavalet, as well as that of the cameo head, is due to the kindness of the director, M. Cousins. The painting is a new acquisition of the museum, exhibited for the first time in April, 1892. It is more apocryphal even than the picture of Heinsius. It is a picture of the time—that of a very charming woman, but it has almost nothing in common with Madame Roland. The eyes are blue and hers were brown, the hair is lighter, the chin is not 154so round and firm, the neck is longer. Besides it is a full-face view, thus contradicting the family tradition. As for the cameo head, it is evidently made after the family picture or the engraving of Gaucher, which latter possesses all the characteristics of the former.
One other portrait should not be forgotten; it is that traced in June, 1793, on the records of the prison of Sainte Pélagie by her jailer.
Marie-Jeanne Phlipon, wife of Roland, ex-minister, aged thirty-nine years, native of Paris, living Rue de la Harpe, No. 5.
Height, five feet; hair and eyebrows dark chestnut; brown eyes; medium nose; ordinary mouth; oval face; round chin; high forehead.
A STICK IN THE WHEEL
During the months that the Rolands were in Paris, they were in constant correspondence with Champagneux at Lyons. Their letters, for the most part unpublished, show the state of mind into which French idealists worked themselves in this period. Dissatisfied because the Assembly had not been able to complete the regeneration of France in two years, suspicious of everybody whose views differed from theirs, anxious to show how reconstruction should be conducted and how easy it is to run a government if you understand the principles and possess civic virtue, this party of which the Rolands are excellent types worked incessantly to discredit the government, to arouse contempt for the work the Assembly had been able to do, and to show that Louis XVI. could not be in earnest in his declaration of fidelity to reforms instituted.
The Rolands lamented daily in their letters to Champagneux and other friends that public opinion was languishing, that the country was falling into the sleep of the enslaved, that the Assembly was 156worn out. They tried to arouse them to suspicion like their own by repeating all the alarming reports which ran the street without, of course, ever taking pains to verify their truthfulness, and by railing at them because they were inclined to feel that reforms were being brought about quite as rapidly as in the nature of the situation was possible.
It was not many months before their exasperation had reached such a pitch that they were convinced that civil war was necessary, and they began to look about for reasons with which to alarm and push on the people to it. The only adequate one they found was to persuade the country that the King was plotting with the émigrés on the border, and that they and the Austrians were watching for a chance to attack France, overturn the new government, and restore the old régime. On June 22d an event occurred which in Madame Roland’s opinion was ample proof of the truthfulness of their opinions. On the morning of that day Madame Roland opened a letter written the day before to Bancal to say: “The King and Queen have fled, the shops are closed, the greatest tumult reigns. It is almost impossible that Lafayette should not be an accomplice.”
For twenty-four hours she was in an ecstasy of patriotic hopefulness. The flight of the King was a renunciation of the contract he had made with his people in taking the oath to support the constitution. The evident duty of the country was to declare him dethroned and to establish a republic. She was so 157excited she could not stay at home, but went among her friends, urging them to immediate action.
Her fixed principle that a woman should take no part in public proceedings was laid aside now. “As long as peace lasted,” she wrote her friend, “I played a peaceable rôle and exerted that kind of influence which seems to me suitable to my sex. Now that the flight of the King has declared war, it seems to me that every one must devote himself without reserve. I have joined the fraternal societies, because convinced that zeal and a good thought may sometimes be useful in a time of crisis.”
Her joy was short. The tumult which threatened in Paris was promptly quieted by Lafayette, at the head of the National Guards. The citizens were exhorted to calm, to vigilance, to confidence in the Assembly. Madame Roland writhed under this attitude. “Is this the place to be tranquil and contented?” she cried. She and her friends, convinced that the measures to prevent a riot and restore order were directed especially at themselves, gathered at Robespierre’s, where they considered ways of driving the people to an action of which the Assembly was incapable.
In the midst of their activity the King was brought back, and to their dismay they saw that he would in all probability be kept in place without public trial. Their alarm was intense. Without the King they were convinced all would be well. Regeneration was certain if royalty could be dispensed with. 158Nothing else was preventing the adoption of a Republic. He was “worse than a stick in a wheel,” declared Roland to Champagneux.
In the mêlée of opinion which followed the King’s return, Madame Roland’s position was well defined: “To put the King back on the throne,” she wrote, “is an absurdity; to declare him incapable is to be obliged, according to the constitution, to name a regent; to name a regent would confirm the vices of the constitution at a moment when one can and ought to correct them. The most just measure would be to try him; but the country is incapable of anything so lofty as that. There is nothing to do but suspend and guard him while searching those who aided in his flight; to go on acting without royal consent and, in order to put more regularity and activity into the distribution and exercise of power, name a temporary President. In this way it would be easy to show Paris and the departments that a king is not necessary and that the machine can go on well enough without him.” This programme she was willing to “preach from the roofs,” but it was not adopted. The King was restored.
The Republic which she and her friends dreamed of at this moment and did not hesitate to announce, was not in the public mind, and when they insisted upon it, they were insisting upon an individual opinion of which the country at large had no conception, and for which it had no sympathy. By her own confession both the Assembly and the Jacobins 159“went into convulsions” at the mere pronunciation of the name Republic. There were only two societies which, after the flight of the King, dared declare themselves tyrannicides,—the Cordeliers and a group of private individuals. At the Cercle Social they did discuss whether it was suitable or not to conserve kings, but at the Jacobins the very name Republican was hissed. Nevertheless they worked valiantly to spread their ideas. Robert published a pamphlet on the “Advantages of the flight of the King and the necessity of a new government or Republic.” Condorcet published a discussion “Whether a king is necessary to the conservation of liberty”; and Brissot, at the Jacobins, made a hit with a speech in which he showed that the cry that the King was inviolable and could not be tried was false; that even if inviolability were admitted it did not apply in this case; and that according to the constitution the King could and ought to be tried.
Thomas Paine was then in Paris, believing as Dumont says, that he had made the American Revolution and was called upon to make another in France. With Condorcet, Brissot, and a few others as sympathizers, Paine formed a republican society. Their first concern was to publish a journal, the prospectus of which was posted by Paine on the morning of the first of July. In it he declared that the King by his flight is “free of us as we are of him. He has no longer any authority; we no longer owe him obedience; we know him now only as an individual in the 160crowd, as M. Louis de Bourbon”; and he concluded his harangue by the announcement that “A society of republicans had decided to publish in separate sheets a work entitled The Republican. Its object is to enlighten people’s minds on this republicanism which is calumniated because it is not understood; on the uselessness, the vices, and the abuses of the royalty that prejudice persists in defending, although they may be known.” This poster made a great noise in the Assembly, where it was denounced as “worthy of all the rigor of the law.” According to Madame Roland, it was only by flattering the Assembly’s love for the monarchy and by abusing republicanism and its partisans, that it was possible to convince the body that however ridiculous the idea might be, still it was necessary to leave it free course.
Only two numbers of The Republican appeared, says Madame Roland, in her Memoirs; only one, says Moncure D. Conway, in his life of Paine. As a matter of fact, there were at least four issues, that number being in the collection of Revolutionary pamphlets in the Bibliothèque Nationale.
It was soon evident that the new cause would not be supported. Nevertheless, the new word was launched. The effect of the injudicious, impractical action of Paine, Brissot, and their friends, Robespierre described a few months later when he had broken with the Brissotins. “The mere word Republic caused division among the patriots, and gave the enemies of liberty the evidence they sought to prove 161that there existed in France a party which conspired against the monarchy and the constitution; they hastened to impute to this motive the firmness with which we defended in the Constituent Assembly the rights of national sovereignty against the monster of inviolability. It is by this word that they drove away the majority of the Constituent Assembly; it is this word which was the signal for that massacre of peaceable citizens whose whole crime was exercising legally the right of petition, consecrated by the constitutional laws. At this word the true friends of liberty were travestied as factious by perverse or ignorant citizens; and the Revolution put back perhaps a half a century. It was in those critical times that Brissot came to the society of the Friends of the Constitution, where he had almost never appeared, to propose changes in the form of government, when the simplest rules of prudence would have forbidden us to present the idea to the Constituent Assembly.”
As soon as the Rolands and their friends saw that the demand for the Republic was not welcomed by the people, they turned their efforts towards securing a trial for Louis XVI.
It seemed to be the only thing for which they were strong enough. To do this they were willing to unite with even demagogues, agitators, and with the worst elements of the people. They had only their voice and their pen, explains Madame Roland; if a popular movement came to their aid 162they welcomed it with pleasure without looking after, or disturbing themselves about, its origin. Beside they could not believe that a party made up of the idle and the violent, and led by demagogues, could be formidable. It was a force to be used when needed, and crushed when the result desired had been obtained. Even when the union of the Brissotins with the populace had produced so serious a riot as that of July 17, the “Massacre of the Champ-de-Mars,” as the radicals called it, Madame Roland did not change her views. She refused to see that the disorder was provoked in any degree by the people, and attributed the fault entirely to the Assembly and Lafayette.
The letters they wrote to their friends after the riot of the Champ-de-Mars are full of alarms and of suspicions. “In less than twenty-four hours,” Roland wrote to Champagneux, “there have been about three hundred imprisoned at the Abbaye and they are kept there in secret. People are taken up in the night. There has just passed on the Pont Neuf [it will be remembered that the Rolands were in the Rue Guénégaud and could easily see] three loaded wagons escorted by many National Guards. They say Marat is there, and different club members. Desmoulins is said to have fled; they are after Brissot. The patriotic journalists are in bad repute, and frightful charges against them are being spread. The cross of Saint Louis multiplies incredibly. The aristocrats are more sly and insolent than 163ever. It was said yesterday in the Luxembourg that this legislature could not endure more than six weeks or two months; that there would be war with the foreigners in this interval; that the King and the ministers would come out ahead; that they would displace everybody, annul everything; and that they would re-establish things on the old basis, but assuredly not less despotic than before…. There is nothing but treason, lies, poisons. Those who live in hotels, or who are served by caterers, are afraid. A great number sleep away from home. There were hundreds of deaths at the Champ-de-Mars; husbands killed their wives; relatives, relatives; friends, friends. Saint Bartholomew, the dragonades, offered nothing more horrible.”
But this is an alarmist’s letter, a repetition of rumors, not a serious effort to picture what actually occurred. Compare simply its statement of the number of killed at the Champ-de-Mars—“hundreds”—with the most trustworthy accounts, and Roland’s and his wife’s state of mind is clear. Gouverneur Morris, who was in Paris at the moment, went to the “elevation opposite”—the present Trocadéro—to see the trouble. He says there were a “dozen or two” killed; Prudhomme says fifty; the official report gives twelve killed and the same number wounded. The same exaggerated statements characterize all their letters.
Before the summer of 1791 was over Madame Roland was certain that public opinion could not be 164aroused to another revolution; that the “stick” was going to stay in the “wheel”; that the Republic could not be established. As this conviction grew on her, she lost heart. “I have had enough of Paris, at least for this time.” She wrote: “I feel the need of going to see my trees, after having seen so many dolts and knaves. One rejoices in this little circle of honest souls when his cause triumphs, but when the cabale is on top, when the wicked succeed and error is ahead, there is nothing to do but go home and plant cabbages.”
And this she decided to do very soon, for the beginning of September she left Paris for Villefranche. Everything on the trip discouraged her. She wrote Robespierre: “I find the people on the route, as in Paris, deceived by their enemies or ignorant of the true state of things; everywhere the mass is well disposed; it is just because its interest is the general interest, but it is misled or stupid. Nowhere have I met people with whom I could talk openly and advantageously of our political situation; I contented myself by distributing copies of your address in all the places through which I passed; they will be found after my departure and furnish an excellent text for meditation.”
It was even worse at Villefranche, where, on arriving, she made a tour of observation. She was convinced that the most of the inhabitants were utterly despicable, and made so by the existing social institutions; that they loved the Revolution only because it 165destroyed what was above them, but that they knew nothing of the theory of free government, and did not sympathize with that “sublime and delicious theory which makes us brothers”; that they hated the name of Republic, and that a king appeared to them essential to their existence.
She was as disgusted with Lyons for its devotion to the aristocracy. Its elections she declared detestable and the deputies nothing but enemies of liberty. The officers in the department were as badly chosen as the representatives; “if one was to judge of representative government by the little experience we have had of it so far, we cannot esteem ourselves very happy”; the elections were bought, so were the administrators, so the representatives, who in their turn sold the people. Even at Le Clos, where she went immediately for the fall vintage, there was a cloud; for the calumnies spread at Lyons about Roland when it was a question of nominating him for the Assembly, had reached the hills, and the people attributed their absence in Paris to the supposed arrest of Roland for counter-revolution. When she went out to walk she heard behind her the cry Les aristocrates à la lanterne.
Although Madame Roland sighed to escape from the “dolts and knaves” of Paris and longed for the peace of the country, the sentiment was only a passing one. The charm of the little circle she criticised so freely, the friendships she had formed, her devotion to the public cause, all these things made the absence from Paris hard to bear. On leaving she had 166hoped it would be only temporary. Roland was much talked of as a candidate for the new Assembly, and if he succeeded, it would take them back to Paris. She knew before her arrival at Le Clos that he had failed to secure the nomination. The news deepened her irritation at the condition of public affairs, strengthened the sense of oppression which the province produced, made her dissatisfied with Le Clos, her husband’s future, Eudora.
She had not seen her little daughter for seven months. She was deeply disappointed that she had changed so little. It seemed to her that she had gained nothing in the interval of separation, and that she had no idea of anything but loving and being loved. There was one way of awakening the child, however, in her judgment. She told Roland of it in one of the first letters she wrote him after reaching Villefranche, when she said: “Hasten back so that we may put our affairs in shape, and arrange to return to Paris as often as possible. I am not ambitious of the pleasures there, but such is the stupidity of our only child that I see no hope of making anything of her except by showing her as many objects as possible, and finding something which will interest her.”
For Roland, too, she felt that Paris was necessary. She was pained at the idea that he was going to be thrown back into silence and obscurity. He was accustomed to public life; it was more necessary to him than he himself thought, and she feared that his 167energy and activity would be fatal to his health, if they were not employed according to his tastes.
When Roland came back, he shared her feelings. He soon finished his affairs at Lyons, for the National Assembly had abolished the office of inspector of manufactures, and they spent the fall at Le Clos, occupied with the vintage, but they were restless. They had but little income and they turned their minds again to the idea of the pension, to which Roland’s forty years of service had certainly entitled him. If they were at Paris, perhaps it could be obtained. Then Roland’s work, which was simply the encyclopædia, would certainly be easier “at the fireside of light among savants and artists than at the bottom of a desert”; for such their retreat seemed to them. They felt the need, too, of being near the centre of affairs; they ought to be where they could “watch”; where they could help bring about the “shock” which must come soon or the public cause would be lost forever. Their dissatisfaction became so great in the end, and public affairs so exciting, that they decided to go to Paris.
WORKING FOR A SECOND REVOLUTION
But how could they justify themselves in their determination to bring about a new “shock,” a second revolution? The Revolution was finished. In the twenty-eight months that the Constituent Assembly had been in operation, it had formed a constitution, accepted by Louis XVI. in September, 1791, which had cut from the nation a score of obnoxious and poisonous social, political, and economic growths. This constitution guaranteed, as natural and civil rights, that all citizens should be admissible to place and to employment without other distinction than that of virtue and talents; that all contributions be levied equally among the people in proportion to their ability, and that the same violations of law be punished in the same way. Every man might go and come as he would, speak, write, print, what he wished. There was no limit to the right to assemble peaceably, or to make petitions. Property was inviolable. Relief for the old, the weak, the poor, was promised. Public education was to be organized. The sovereignty rested in the nation; from 169it came all the power. The constitution was represented by a legislative body, and the King could not dissolve this assembly. He was King of the French, and his person was sacred, but he was inferior to the law, and reigned by it and in its name.
Undoubtedly, as Étienne Dumont said, “the constitution had too much of a republic for a monarchy, and too much of a monarchy for a republic. The King was a hors d’œuvre. He was everywhere in appearance, and he had no real power,” but evidently here was a basis which gave every man in France a chance, and which offered the opportunity to work out a satisfactory liberal government. To refuse to work with this constitution was to continue and to increase the disorganization, the hatred, the fear, which had been agitating France for so long; it was to prevent the new government having a fair chance, and was to make any correction of the constitution impossible. How could Madame Roland justify her resolve to prevent peace?
Her ideal was not satisfied. It mattered little to her that the people were indifferent to this ideal; that they were satisfied with the constitution and asked for nothing but a chance to let it work. The satisfaction of this ideal had become a necessity, an imperative personal need. She could not give it up. It was too beautiful.
Even if she could support the idea of a constitutional monarchy, she could not believe in the sincerity 170of the king and court. “I have never been able to believe in the constitutional vocation of a king, born under despotism, raised by it and accustomed to exercise it.” She wrote in her Memoirs: “Louis XVI. would have been a man much above the average had he sincerely desired a constitution which restrained his power. If he had been such a man, he would never have allowed the events which brought about the constitution.”
In her judgment the supporters of the monarchy were “traitors,” the constitutionalists a “cabale.” This suspicion had become a disease.
While she doubted the sincerity, the patriotism, the unselfishness of all parties but her own, she had profound confidence in herself. She saw no rôle in the world she says in her Memoirs, which suited her exactly except that of Providence. She had penetration, and flattered herself that she knew a “false eye” at first glance. She and Roland were “strong in reason and in character,” but she was convinced that she was better than he. “I have as much firmness and more flexibility. My energy has more agreeable forms, but it is founded on the same principles. I shock less and I penetrate deeper.” As for the majority of the human race, it was a “poor” affair.
She not only suspected the old régime, and believed herself superior to it; she cherished a personal grievance against it. It had refused her solicitations although they were just. She did not forgive 171the humiliation. She was near enough to the Court now to feel her dependence upon it. Years before she had written to Sophie: “I love my prince because I feel my dependence but little; if I were too near him, I should hate his grandeur.” She is “too near” now, and her prophecy is realized. She “hates his grandeur.” It is a species of that resentful jealousy which distorts certain really superior natures when they find themselves in the presence of material splendor or of persons of lofty rank.
When the Rolands went up to Paris in December, 1791, they found there a number of important persons who felt as they did, members of the Legislative Assembly, which had assembled on October 1st. They found, too, that they were already allied with their friends Brissot, Robespierre, and Pétion, all three of whom held prominent public positions, Brissot being a deputy to the Assembly from Paris, and at the head of the diplomatic committee; Robespierre, criminal accuser; Pétion, mayor.
This party of new deputies whom they found so congenial were known as the Gironde from the department whence most of them had come. They were all young and all endowed with great talent. They had been brought up on Plutarch and Rousseau, and their heads were filled with noble doctrines and drafts of perfect constitutions. When they talked, it was in classic phrases. Their arguments were based on what happened in Greece and Rome. Their illustrations were drawn from ancient 172heroes. There could be no doubt of the sincerity of their patriotism, of the nobility of their aspirations, of the purity of their lives, of their anxiety to die, if need be, for France.
But they had no experience of politics, of men, or of society, save what they had gotten from short terms in provincial law offices and clubs. They had never come into contact with other forces than the petty agitations and wire-pulling of their home towns. Of the force of human passions, of the lethargy and persistence of the mass of men, of the fine diplomacy of the trained statesman, they had not a notion.
They knew their Plutarch well, to be sure; but all they had drawn from him was a glibness in making fine periods and certain lofty sentiments, a species of patriotic emotionalism by which they could move and thrill men. Of practical policy for difficult and complicated situations, like the one they had been elected to face, they had not a shadow.
In courage, in audacity, in buoyancy of spirits, in eloquence, in bright visions, in purity of life, they are all that one’s imagination could paint. A more lovable and inspiring group of young men was never called together. But there was not one of them in whom contact with the world and sober reflection, had developed the common sense, the clear comprehensive judgment, the hard determination to do his best, and the simple honesty which alone make men fit for public office.
173They were as blindly partisan as Madame Roland, and what Dumont said of Brissot was applicable to the Gironde as a whole: “He was one of those men in whom the party spirit was stronger than all moral, or rather he saw no moral save in his own party. No one had so much zeal of the convent as he. Dominican, he would have burned the heretics; Roman, he would not have been unworthy of following Cato and Regulus; French republican, he wished to destroy the monarchy and to reach his object did not shrink from calumny, persecution, or death on the scaffold.”
They all had the malady of the times,—suspicion. It had become a species of superstition with them. “One may laugh if he will,” said Dumont, “at these imaginary terrors, but they made the second revolution.” It was useless to argue with them, to give them proofs to call upon their good-will; they were suspicious and what they imagined was as real to them as if it had actually existed. They did not need proofs, mistrust never does. They were possessed by a sentiment and reason had no place.
As for their self-confidence, it was monumental. “No argument, no criticism, was listened to by them,” says Mme. de Staël. “They answered the observations of disinterested wisdom by a mocking smile. One wore himself out in reminding them of circumstances and what had led to them; if they condescended to answer, they denied the most evident facts and observations and used in opposition 174to them common maxims, though, to be sure, expressed eloquently.”
Feeling as they did, the only logical thing for them was to struggle to obtain power. If they were the “Providence” of France, it was their duty to get to the front. It was not for the sake of power that they made this effort. It was because they alone in their own judgment were sufficiently virtuous and enlightened to carry out the doctrines. They were “called” to preach liberty and a republic, and they went to their work in the same frame of exaltation and expectation as he goes who preaches the Kingdom of Heaven.
The only way in which they could arrive at power was by uniting with one of the two parties in the Assembly, with the constitutionalists or the Mountain, as the Radicals were termed. The former was composed of the well-to-do and the experienced men of the Assembly. It supported the King. It was the more honest and trustworthy, but it was accused of “aspiring secretly to increase the royal authority and to form two chambers.”
The Mountain was the party of the agitators and the street. It had the audacity, the violence, and the populace of the faubourgs. The talents, education, eloquence, refinement, of the Gironde were in harmony with the conservatives, but they could not believe that there was not a secret plot hidden under the patriotic pretensions of the constitutionalists. Their self-pride was irritated, too, by the aristocratic traditions, 175the courtly manners, and the reasonableness of the moderates. There was a subtile superiority in their wisdom, their gracious bearing, their finesse which the Girondins resented.
As for the Mountain the Girondins feared its violence, its open advocacy of bloodshed less than they did its suspicion. They wanted to be considered the purest of the patriots and they could not support the idea that there was any one who pushed farther than they in making claims for the “sovereign” and for the “divine right of insurrection.” They had not the practical sense, the experience, and the disinterestedness to judge the Mountain, to see that it was chaotic, violent, irrational. Because it called itself the representative of the poor and the suffering, they imagined that it must be virtuous, and they wished its support. They feared its opinion of them even more than they feared the skeleton in the conservative closet.
To gain its favor they were even willing to sacrifice personal dignity and delicacy. The Mountain was ragged and dirty, ill-bred and foul-mouthed, but they shared a superstition of the day that rags and dirt, little bread and a hut for a home, are signs of patriotism, and if a man is poor, therefore he must have good principles. They found the coarseness of the Mountain more endurable than the etiquette of the Court. Pétion, at his public dinners as mayor, received the Gironde. Among his guests were many “patriots” of the rudest sort, yet Condorcet, Guadet, 176Gensonné, Roland, laughed at Chabot when he put on a bonnet rouge and went through a series of low buffoonery, mocking the King, and applauded jests of “shocking grossness.”
Thus suspicion drove them from the conservative party, while fear of suspicion drove them towards the Mountain. Resentment at superior refinement turned their sympathy from the decent element of the Assembly, while a superstition about the true meaning of rags, dirt, and disorder awakened it for the wanton element.
Just as they floated between the parties of the Assembly, they vacillated between the clubs,—the Feuillants, which was for the constitution, and the Jacobins, which was for anarchy. Their object was not simply to do what was just and honorable, it was to do what would carry them into power. They must have power in order to carry their cause. To serve their party all means were justifiable. It was their uncertainty about which side would the quicker give them the leadership of the Assembly which explains their wavering over all the questions which absorbed the attention of the Legislative Assembly,—such as the questions of the unsworn priests, the immigration of nobles, and the declaration of war against Austria.
When the Rolands came up to Paris in December, the Gironde was floating between the two other parties, fearing both, suspected by both. Hate, defiance, exaggeration, were at their height. No one knew what would happen next. “You would say 177it was a fleet at anchor in a thick fog,” wrote Morris to Washington. “No one dares to put up sail for fear of running against a rock.”
When Madame Roland appeared on the scene, she had no hesitation in deciding what should be done by the Gironde. She had been too firmly convinced since the fall of the Bastille of the benefits of anarchy to fear it now. The lack of it had long been her despair. She was too suspicious of all persons of aristocratic origin to tolerate any union with the conservative party. She was too firmly convinced of the value of war as a “great school of public virtue” to hesitate about offensive operations.
Arrived in Paris, they settled in the Rue de la Harpe, where they lived very quietly, Roland occupying himself with the encyclopædia, with his plan for a pension, and with his friends. He went to the chief places of Gironde rendezvous when he had leisure, and they came to him sometimes. His chief political work, however, was at the Jacobin Club, where he was engaged on a committee.
Their life was very quiet until March, when it suddenly changed. A friend dropping in one day told Madame Roland that the patriots were to be asked to form a ministry and that as they were going to seek men of ability and courage, Roland had been thought of for a portfolio. Some days later (March 21, 1792) Brissot came to see her to inquire if Roland would accept if asked. They talked the matter over, considered its dangers, sounded its possibilities,—the 178next day Brissot was told in classic phrase that Roland’s courage did not falter, that the knowledge of his force inspired him with confidence in his ability to be useful to the country and to liberty.
The movement which had brought about the Girondin ministry had been led by Brissot. After the vetoes of the King to the decrees against the priests and émigrés, every effort had been made by the Jacobins to show that the ministry of the King was in secret sympathy with Court and émigrés, that while posing as constitutional, they were, in fact, anti-constitutional. Brissot had led this movement, and had condescended to some very low manœuvres to discredit certain members of the ministry. His plans had at last succeeded, and Louis XVI., hoping to quiet suspicion, had consented to name a cabinet which would satisfy the Girondins.
It was in this body that Roland had been asked to take the Department of the Interior. As was to be expected, the conservatives criticised the new ministers harshly from the first. Roland was pictured to the country by the Mercure as one of the principal agitators of Lyons; “no administrative talent, no experience in affairs of state, a hot head, and the principles of the times in their greatest exaggeration.” The conservative element naturally accepted this characterization; for, outside of the manufacturing world, Roland was utterly unknown. As for the Jacobin element, it was a question of how far in 179anarchy the cabinet would go; if it kept up with them, well and good; if it fell behind, then let it take care.
With Roland’s appointment, Madame Roland was at once put into a position of responsibility and power. The Hôtel of the Interior, into which they moved, was situated in the Rue Neuve-des-Petits-Champs at the point where the Rue Ventadour now opens. It was a fine building which had been arranged elegantly by Calonne for the controller-general. In going into this palace they did not give up their apartment in the Rue de la Harpe. The other ministers settled themselves as if they were to remain for life, but Madame Roland saw only the “luxury of an inn” in the gilded hôtel, and kept her modest apartment on the Left Bank, a “retreat which one must always have in mind as certain philosophers their coffins,” she told Bancal.
In no way were their habits changed by their new position. Roland was, perhaps, even a little more severe than usual, and took virtuous delight in appearing at Court with ribbons on his shoes instead of buckles, to the horror of the courtiers. They called him a Quaker in Sunday dress, with his white hair plastered down and sparsely powdered, his plain black coat, above all his unadorned shoes. Madame Roland arranged her life with strict regard for her notions of classic simplicity. She neither made nor received visits, and never invited women to dinner. Every Friday she had the members of the ministry; 180twice a week a mixed company of ministers, deputies, and persons Roland wanted to see. Rarely were there more than fifteen covers at table. One sat down at five o’clock to a meal always simple, and at nine o’clock this puritan household was closed. Of course, there was the theatre, with a loge for the minister, but it was not often that she left her duties for it.
These duties were many; for the habit of working with Roland, of copying, polishing, suggesting, begun the first year of her marriage, over the dull pages of the encyclopædia and continued at Amiens and Le Clos, was carried into the ministry of the interior. She went over the daily mail with her husband. Together they noted the disorders in the country, and together decided on the policy to pursue. She gave her opinion on every subject, and exerted an influence on every question of the ministry. This was in private. In her salon she was as quiet as in the little salon of the Hôtel Britannique; nevertheless, she was always the spirit of the gatherings; a skilful and gentle peacemaker in too hot disputes; an inspiring advocate of the most radical undertakings; an ardent defender of her own opinions.
Many of the measures to be proposed in the Assembly by the Girondins originated in her salon; much of Roland’s business with individuals was talked over in her presence. It often happened that those who had business with Roland came to her first with it.
She was especially influential when it came to 181choosing persons for the positions in the department which Roland controlled. She flattered herself on her ability to tell a true patriot, and criticised and praised candidates fearlessly. A minister of war was wanted soon after Roland’s call to the cabinet. He thought of Servan, because the man had exposed patriotic principles in a creditable book, because he had a reputation for activity, because he had lost a court position on account of civism, and above all because he declaimed bitterly against the aristocrats. They wished to found a journal to represent their party, and wanted a man “wise and enlightened” as editor. They decided on Louvet, the author of the most licentious novel of the day, because of his “noble forehead, the fire which animated his eye,” and the fine and eloquent political pamphlets he had published. Because Pache had the simplicity suitable to a republican and the manners of the ancients, because he came to his office at seven o’clock in the morning and stayed until three in the afternoon with only a morsel of bread brought in his pocket for lunch, because he was prudent, attentive, zealous as a clerk, he was thought fit to be a minister.
They mistrusted all their colleagues who lacked these qualities. In the ministry was General Dumouriez, a diplomat of skill, devoted to the constitution, skilful with men, wise with the King. He had come to see the Rolands in the Rue de la Harpe with Brissot to announce to them the call to the ministry. When he left, Madame Roland said to her 182husband: “There is a man I have seen for the first time. He has a penetrating mind, a false eye; perhaps it will be more necessary to suspect him than anybody in the world. He has expressed great satisfaction with the patriotic choice he has been charged to announce, but I should not be astonished if one day he caused you to be dismissed.”
She mistrusted Dumouriez at once because of his courtly manners, and his belief that the King was sincere in his efforts to support the constitution. There was so great a difference between him and Roland that she could not imagine the two working together. In the one she saw “uprightness and frankness personified, severe equity without any of the devices of the courtier or of the society-man.” In the other she believed she recognized “an intelligent roué, a bold knight, who sneered at everything except his own interests and his own glory.”
She did not change her idea of Dumouriez, although obliged to confess that he had more esprit than any one else in the ministry, that he was “diligent and brave,” “a good general, a skilful courtier, writing well, capable of great enterprises,” but his “manners!” they were fit only for the ministerial intrigues of a corrupt court.
Her suspicions extended to all his friends. “All these fine fellows,” she said to a friend one day à propos of Dumouriez’s followers, “seem poor patriots to me. They care too much for themselves to prefer the public good to their own interests. I 183can never resist the temptation to wound their self-sufficiency by pretending not to see the merit of which they are vainest.”
As for the good faith of the King, she would not listen to the idea. During the first three weeks of the ministry of Roland, he and Clavière were disposed to think well of the King, to have confidence in the turn things were going to take. But she would tell them when they started out confidently to the Council meetings: “When I see you go off in that way, it always seems to me that you are going to commit a sottise.” And when they came back with less done than she expected she declared the Council was “nothing but a café.” “It is disgraceful. You are in good humor because you experience no annoyance, even because you are well treated. You have the air of doing about what you wish in your departments. I fear that you are being tricked.” When they reminded her that nevertheless affairs were going well, she replied: “Yes, and time is being lost.”
At the moment that Roland was called to office the question of public tranquillity was most serious. It was not alone in the cities that riots, pillage, and bloodshed were of constant occurrence. The provinces were in many places almost uninhabitable. Roland, to cure the disorders, wrote circulars and put up posters.
For example, in his own department, Rhone-et-Loire, the question of the priests was causing more 184and more difficulty. The provocation came now from one side, now from another. In certain parishes the constitutional priests were supported by the municipality, in others the unsworn were favored. In the midst of these dissensions, births, marriages, and deaths often went unrecorded. Here a priest declaimed against the constitution and incited the people not to pay their taxes, there the National Guard and mayor combined to drive a disturber from the community. In the district of Villefranche, the constitutional clergé of “the former province of Beaujolais” brought a long complaint to the authorities: “The inhabitants of the mountains,” they wrote, “influenced by fanaticism, are in a state of insurrection. They believe the churches to be profaned by the mere presence of the sworn priests; during the services they throw stones against the doors, interrupt the services, insult the new curés in the midst of their duties, force the faithful to desert the churches…. The presbyteries are no longer a safe asylum. Those who inhabit them are forced to keep a guard; they cannot travel alone without being attacked and exposed to the greatest dangers. There is not one of them who has not been driven several times from his home. New-born children are baptized by Non-conformists without the ceremonies of the Church—the fanatical and barbarous mothers declare that they would rather choke them than permit them to be baptized by the priests.”
The religious difficulties were inflamed by the rash 185and suspicious actions of the various parties, whose wisdom and diplomacy were annulled by excessive party spirit. The whole department, in fact, was racked by religious quarrels, bitter party spirit, fear of émigrés’ plots and foreign invasion, hatred of the constitution and “patriots.”
Roland had a formula for such a situation, and when the directory of Rhone-et-Loire asked him for help to restore order, he sent it to them.
“The present troubles which agitate your department at several points,” he wrote them, April 18th, “seem to have their source in the diversity of religious opinions. This diversity of opinion is the fruit of error, and the error comes from ignorance. If, then, we enlighten men, we deliver them from prejudices, and if the prejudices were destroyed, peace would reign on the earth…. It is not by force of arms that one teaches reason…. In the first place a well-organized state has only enough troops to prevent invasions, to meet force by force, and to enable all the citizens to enjoy all the benefits of their own constitution. Second, internal order should be maintained by instruction, by public opinion, and finally by the force of the National Guards…. Elected by the people, you ought to have their confidence. Your instruction ought to produce the greatest effect, and you ought to be able through confidence and reason to form and direct public opinion. These means, used energetically and wisely, are sure. Is there a rare circumstance when they are too slow? 186You have all the public force of your department; you can use it as it is necessary, and you ought to direct it according to the circumstances. These are your means, sirs, and you rest responsible before the nation and its representatives, before the King and your constituency, for all the disorders that you do not foresee and prevent.”
One can imagine the feelings of a board of county directors harassed by daily riots, by incessant quarrels, by threats and plots, on receiving such a letter from the minister, charged with executing the laws relative to the internal tranquillity of the State. The directory must have been composed of men singularly devoid of humor, if even in their grave situation they did not laugh at Roland’s application of instruction to the Lyons street-fights.
To a department which had asked him for troops to restore order, and secure the free circulation of grain in its territory, he responded that if it was necessary to use force they must take the National Guards, and he added: “But must I counsel this step? So soon as one employs arms to execute the laws, one not only proves that he has not known how to make himself loved, but that he will never be able to do so. A constitution which is enforced by the bayonet only, is not a constitution. Other means are necessary to attach a free people to the laws that it has made…. Instruct the administrations that you direct, and if they deviate from the observation of the rules, use that sweetness which commands so 187easily, that persuasion which leads to the repentance of a fault often involuntary. It is so easy for a superior administration to make itself agreeable to those that it has under its surveillance that, in fact, I believe I might say it is always the fault of the former when harmony is broken.”
And he continued this doctrinal campaign throughout his ministry. For all the riot-ridden country he had but one formula. And while the people burnt châteaux, stoned priests, pillaged storehouses, waylaid and stole grain, murdered nobles, he serenely preached how easily the difficulty could be ended by applying the dogma. And he believed it with the incomparable naïveté of the theorist. If some one called his attention to the fact that the disorders increased in spite of his preaching, he was unmoved; that was the fault of the “stick in the wheel.” He was not dissatisfied that disorder should increase. It would show the need for a new shock.
Armed with his formulas, his forty years of service, and his “virtue,” Roland could see no reason why he was not adequate to the situation, and why he should not act as he saw best. The conviction of his own sufficiency made him tactless with those who were, in his judgment, less infallible than he. He assumed a pedagogic tone, a severe mien, a stiff, patronizing air towards them. He read them lectures, posed before them as impeccable. To men of experience, used to the world and to politics, as convinced as Roland of their own sincere desire for the 188good of France, and of the sufficiency of their own ideas, this attitude was exasperating beyond expression.
It was not long before Roland and Servan, who was charged with the portfolio of war, began to regulate the King, “to kill him by pin-pricks,” said Dumouriez. Madame Roland was responsible, to a large extent, no doubt, for their unpatriotic and traitorous conduct. Servan was as completely under her rule as Roland, and she had cured both of them of the confidence and support they gave the King at the beginning of their ministry, and convinced them of his intention to betray the constitution and restore the old régime. To deserve their support he should, she believed, withdraw the vetoes he had put to the measures against priests and émigrés.
From the beginning of the Gironde ministry matters had steadily grown worse. In April war had been declared. It had opened badly for the French and terror and suspicion were greater than ever in Paris. Religious troubles flamed up all over the provinces, made more intense by the fear of foreign invasion. As rumors ran, the army was not doing its duty; the generals were traitors; the court party was plotting to receive the Prussians, to massacre the patriots, and to overthrow the constitution. To meet the perils which threatened, Madame Roland had two measures: the proscription of the Non-conformist priests, and a camp of twenty thousand soldiers, five from each canton of France, around 189Paris, to guard the city from the attack of the foreigners.
This latter plan she persuaded Servan to present to the Assembly on June 4th without the King knowing anything of his minister’s plans and without any of the Council save Clavière and Roland being in the secret. The measure was voted by the Assembly, but it made a noise in Paris. The National Guards regarded it as a reflection on their patriotism and capacity. The Feuillants raised a petition of eight thousand names (largely of women and children, sneered the patriots), protesting against the measure. At the Assembly and at the Jacobins the measure was hotly discussed; in the club it was opposed by Robespierre, now in open rupture with the Girondins, and almost daily attacked by Brissot in the Patriote français.
The King hesitated to sign the measure when it was presented to him. In Madame Roland’s eyes this refusal was due to nothing but his disloyalty, and she advised forcing him to a decision. She was, she says, in a kind of “moral fever” at the moment, and felt the absolute necessity of some kind of action which would determine the situation. In her judgment Roland should withdraw from the ministry if the King did not sign the measures. But she wished that if he withdrew everybody should know that he did it because the King would not take his advice.
In these circumstances Madame Roland proposed to Roland to send a letter to Louis XVI., stating his 190opinions, urging the King to consent to the proscription of the priests and the camp about Paris, and warning him against the consequences of a refusal. She dashed off this letter in a single sitting, in the passion of conviction and exaltation which possessed her.
“Sire,—The present condition of France cannot long endure. The violence of the crisis has reached the highest degree; it must be terminated by a blow which ought to interest Your Majesty as much as it concerns the whole Empire.
“Honored by your confidence, and placed in a position where I owe you the truth, I dare to speak it; it is an obligation that you yourself have imposed upon me.
“The French have adopted a constitution; there are those that are discontented and rebellious because of it; the majority of the nation wishes to maintain it, has sworn to defend it with its blood, and has welcomed joyfully the war which promises to assure it. The minority, however, sustained by its hopes, has united all its forces to overthrow it. Hence this internal struggle against the laws, this anarchy over which good citizens groan, and of which the wicked take advantage to heap calumny on the new régime. Hence this discord which has been excited everywhere, for nowhere is there indifference. The triumph or the overthrow of the constitution is desired; everywhere people are eager to 191sustain it or to change it. I shall refrain from examining it, and consider simply what circumstances demand; taking as impersonal attitude as possible, I shall consider what we can expect and what it is best to do.
“Your Majesty enjoyed great privileges which you believed belonged to royalty. Brought up in the idea of preserving them, you could not see them taken from you with pleasure; your desire to recover them was as natural as your regret at seeing them destroyed. These sentiments, natural to the human heart, must have entered into the calculation of the enemies of the Revolution. They counted then on secret favor, until such times as circumstances permitted open protection. This disposition could not escape the nation itself, and it has been driven to defiance. Your Majesty has been constantly between two alternatives: yielding to your prejudices, to your private preferences, or making sacrifices dictated by philosophy and demanded by necessity; that is, either emboldening the rebels by disturbing the nation; or quieting the nation by uniting with her. Everything has its course, and this uncertainty must end soon.
“Does Your Majesty ally yourself openly to-day with those who are pretending to reform the constitution? Are you going generously to devote yourself without reserve to its triumph? Such is the true question, and the present state of things makes a solution necessary.
192“As for the very metaphysical question, are the French ripe for liberty, the discussion is of no importance here; it is not a question of judging what we shall be in a century, but of seeing of what the present generation is capable.
“The Declaration of Rights has become a political gospel, and the French Constitution, a religion for which the people are ready to die. Already violence has sometimes supplanted the law. When the law has not been sufficiently vigorous to meet the situation, the citizens have taken things in their own hands. This is why the property of the émigrés, or persons of their party, has been exposed to pillage. This is why so many departments have been forced to punish severely the priests whom public opinion had proscribed, and who otherwise would have become its victims.
“In the shock of interests, passion has controlled. The country is not a word that the imagination amuses itself in embellishing; it is a being for whom one makes sacrifices, to whom one becomes attached according to the suffering that it causes, who has been created by great effort, and raised up in the midst of disturbances, and who is loved for what it has cost as well as for what it promises. Every attack made upon it inflames enthusiasm for it.
“To what point is this enthusiasm going to rise when the enemy’s forces, united without, intrigue with those within to deal it the most fatal blows?
From a painting by an unknown artist in the Musée Carnavalet.
193“The excitement is extreme in all parts of the Empire; unless confidence in the intentions of Your Majesty calm it, it will burst forth in terrible fury. Such confidence can never be based on professions; it must have facts.
“It is evident to the French nation that the constitution will work; that the government will have the necessary strength the moment that Your Majesty sincerely desires the triumph of the constitution, sustains the legislative corps with all your executive power, and takes away every pretext for uneasiness from the people and every hope from the discontented.
“For example, two important decrees have been passed; both concern the tranquillity and the safety of the State. A delay to sanction them awakens defiance; if it is prolonged, it will cause discontent; and, it is my duty to say it, in the present state of excitement discontent may lead to the worst.
“There is no longer time to hesitate; there is no longer any way of temporizing. The Revolution has been accomplished in the minds of the people; it will be finished at the price of blood if wisdom does not forestall the evils that it is still possible to avoid.
“I know that it is imagined that anything can be done by extreme measures; but when force shall have been used to constrain the Assembly, terror spread throughout Paris, and disunion and stupor in the suburbs, the whole of France will rise in indignation, and, throwing herself into a civil 194war, will develop that sombre energy always so fatal to those who have provoked it.
“The safety of the State and the happiness of Your Majesty are intimately allied; no power can separate them; cruel anguish and certain misfortune will surround your throne, if you yourself do not found it on the constitution and if it is not strengthened by the peace which it ought to bring us.
“Thus the disposition of the popular mind, the course of events, the reason of politics, the interest of Your Majesty, make it indispensable that you unite with the legislative corps and carry out the desire of the nation; that which principle shows to be a duty, the present situation makes a necessity…. You have been cruelly deceived, Sire, by those who have sought to separate you from your people. It is by perpetually disturbing you that they have driven you into a course of conduct which has caused alarm. Let the people see that you are determined to carry out the constitution upon which they feel that their happiness depends, and you will soon become the object of their gratitude.
“The conduct of the priests in many places, the pretext which fanaticism has given the discontented, have led to a wise law against these agitators. Will not Your Majesty give it your sanction? Public peace demands it. The safety of the priests depends upon it. If this law does 195not go into force, the departments will be forced to substitute violent measures for it, as they are doing on all sides; and the irritated people will make up for it by their excesses.
“The attempts of our enemies, the disturbances in the capital, the great unrest which the conduct of your guard has excited, the situation of Paris,—all make a camp in this neighborhood necessary. This measure, whose wisdom and urgency are recognised by all good citizens, is waiting for nothing but the sanction of Your Majesty. Why is it that you delay when promptness would win all hearts? Already the efforts of the staff of the National Guard of Paris against this measure have awakened the suspicion that it was inspired by superior influence; already the declamations of certain demagogues awaken suspicions of their relations with those interested in overthrowing the constitution; already the intentions of Your Majesty are compromised; a little more delay, and the people will see in their King the friend and the accomplice of the conspirators!
“Just Heaven! have you struck the powers of the earth with blindness? will they never have other counsels than those which bring about their ruin?
“I know that the austere language of virtue is rarely welcomed by the throne; I know also that it is because it is so rarely heard there, that revolutions are necessary; I know above all that it is 196my duty to use it to Your Majesty, not only as a citizen, obedient to law, but as a minister honored by your confidence and fulfilling the functions which it supposes; and I know nothing which can prevent me from fulfilling a duty which is on my conscience.
“It is in the same spirit that I repeat what I have already said to Your Majesty on the obligation and the utility of carrying out the law which provides for a secretary in the Council. The simple existence of this law speaks so powerfully that it seems as if its execution would follow without delay; it is a matter of great importance to employ all possible means to preserve in our deliberations the necessary gravity, wisdom, and maturity; moreover, for the ministers, some means of verifying their expressions is necessary. If such existed, I should not be addressing myself in writing at this moment to Your Majesty.
“Life is nothing to the man who regards his duties as higher than everything else; after the happiness of having fulfilled them, the greatest good that he can know is that he has discharged them with fidelity; and to do that is an obligation for the public man.
“10 June, 1792. Year IV. of Liberty.”
Roland sent this letter to the King on June 11th, although he had had the idea of reading it to the Council the day before, but there was no opportunity, 197so says Madame Roland in her Memoirs. According to Dumouriez, the letter was sent earlier; for he relates that Roland read the letter at the Council, and that when he had finished it the King remarked with sang-froid: “M. Roland, it was three days ago that you sent me your letter. It was useless to read it to the Council if it was to remain a secret between us two.”
This letter was the climax to the irritating policy which the Gironde ministers had been pursuing with Louis, and he decided to dismiss them.
Servan received his discharge first. “Congratulate me,” he cried when he saw Madame Roland. “I have been put out.”
“I am piqued,” she replied, “that you are the first to have that honor, but I hope it will not be long before it is accorded to my husband.” It was not, for on the 13th Roland followed Servan. He hurried home to tell his wife.
“There is only one thing to do,” she cried with vivacity: “it is to be the first to announce it to the Assembly, sending along a copy of the letter to the King.”
The idea was put into effect at once. They were convinced that both “usefulness and glory” would result.
If this letter to the King began, as Dumouriez says, with a promise of secrecy, then to send it to the Assembly was, considering the position Roland occupied and the oath he had taken, a most disloyal 198act. But did it begin so? Madame Roland does not speak of such a promise in her Memoirs. The report of the letter given in the Moniteur contains no such opening phrase, though naturally Roland would have cut it out in sending the document to the Assembly. Many of the memoirs and newspapers of the day, however, either quote the promise or assume that the letter was private.
Dumont, in writing of Madame Roland, says that the greatest reproach that could be made upon her conduct during the Revolution was persuading her husband to publish this letter, which commenced, according to him: “Sire, this letter will never be known save to you and me.”
Mathieu Dumas says in his Souvenirs that it was confidential, and declares that it was read in the Council in the presence of the King, “although the minister had promised to keep it a secret between himself and His Majesty.” Of the presentation to the Assembly he adds: “It was a new violation of the secret that the minister had imposed upon himself. After his retreat propriety made the obligation of secrecy much more rigorous.”
The Guardian of the Constitution of June 16th called the letter “criminal” and its reading sufficient cause for delivering Roland to the public prosecutor. Among the pamphlets which the publication of the letter called forth was an anonymous one, in which the author told the minister that he was under the greater obligation to keep the secret, as he had 199promised, because the letter was an attempt to regulate the King’s private conduct and because it insinuated that His Majesty intended to betray the constitution.
The result Madame Roland had foreseen, followed the presentation of the letter to the Assembly. The reading was interrupted frequently by applause, and it was ordered printed and distributed throughout the eighty-three departments.
“Usefulness and glory” were attained. The Rolands were convinced that the letter would enlighten France; that it would serve as the shock necessary to start the movement which would crush the remnants of monarchical authority. Madame Roland retired to the Rue de la Harpe more jubilant than she had entered the Hôtel of the Interior. She had not been proud of their appointment to the ministry; she was of their dismissal.
What she and her friends expected would follow the dismissal of the Girondin ministers, was a popular uprising, forcing the King to reinstate them. The disturbance did not come of itself, and they set about to prepare one—the artificial and abortive riot of the 20th of June. On this date fell the anniversary of the oath of the Tennis Court, and the citizens of the faubourgs Saint Antoine and Saint Marcel had asked permission to celebrate it by presenting petitions to the Assembly and to the King, and planting a tree of liberty. In the effervescence of public spirit such a demonstration might easily be turned 200into a riot, and there was opposition to it from the authorities; however, the Gironde succeeded in securing the permission.
On the 20th, the petitioners assembled, a motley crowd of men, women, and children, armed and carrying banners, and marched to the Assembly, where they demanded admission. It was against the law, but Vergniaud and Guadet contended that it should be granted. It was, and eight thousand persons filed through the hall.
From the Assembly they pressed to the palace of the King, broke down the doors, invaded the rooms, surrounded Louis XVI., put the red cap on his head, but they did not strike. There was no popular fury. There were cries of Sanction the decrees, Recall the patriotic ministers, Away with the priests, Choose between Coblentz or Paris, but there were no blows. For the people, the affair was simply a species of Mardi-gras, and when they were tired of gazing at the splendors of the palace and at the poor King, who, fearless and patient, let them surge about him, they retired. The King was still king, the decrees were not signed, the ministers were not recalled. Said Prudhomme in his report of the day: “Paris is in consternation, but it is at seeing that this day has not had the effect that the friends of liberty promised themselves.”
The reaction was terrific. Lafayette left his army and hurried to Paris to protest before the Assembly and to demand measures against the Jacobins. 201The Feuillants rallied their friends for a desperate effort. The Court—openly contra-revolutionary now—worked with the émigrés to make a coup which would sweep out entirely the new régime.
The patriots were not idle. In their supreme last struggle, never did Girondin eloquence and intrigue run higher. The open contra-revolutions in Paris and the foreign enemies now each day nearer the city were reasons enough for action. By a burst of magnificent eloquence Vergniaud secured a vote from the Assembly that the country was in danger, and a call upon France to enlist for its defence. A movement of superb patriotism followed the declaration. Here was an unmistakable enemy. Vague alarms were at an end. The foreigners were actually approaching the capital, and anybody could understand that they were not wanted. The irritated, harassed country opened its heart and poured out its blood,—young and old, weak and strong, even women and girls, offered themselves.
But this was a movement against foreign invasion—not against the remnants of monarchical authority. The result looked uncertain. Consternation and despair seized the Rolands. They foresaw the triumph of the Court, the hope of a republic lost, and they calculated on what course the patriots ought to pursue if the émigrés and their allies reached Paris and combined with the Court to restore the old régime.
Walking one day in the Champs-Élysées with Lanthenas, Roland met two Southerners who were 202in Paris on a commission from their department. Their names were Barbaroux and Rebecqui. Since the opening of the Revolution they had been active in the cause of the patriots in Marseilles, Arles, and Avignon. The overthrow of the Girondin ministry had alarmed them. Roland’s letter to the King had inspired them with warm admiration for his courage and patriotism.
Like all the young blood of the country, they were planning action against the dangers which threatened. Their plans were well advanced when they met Lanthenas and Roland. The latter wished to discuss the situation seriously with them, and the next day Barbaroux went to the Rue de la Harpe. Madame Roland was with the ex-minister, and the three were not long in understanding each other. Barbaroux soon won their confidence by his enthusiasm and eloquence. He was young, but twenty-five, and of a beauty that won him the name of Antinoüs from Madame Roland. He was animated, too, by a fiery scorn of “tyrants,” “courts,” and “kings,” as unbelieving as Madame Roland in the sincerity of any party outside his own, profoundly convinced of his call to reverse the monarchy, and already with a record of services rendered to the Revolution. The Rolands found him “active, laborious, frank, and brave,” and they opened their hearts to him on the means of saving France.
“Liberty is lost,” cried Roland, “if the plots of the courts are not immediately checked. Lafayette is 203meditating treason in the North. The army of the centre is disorganized, in want of munitions, and cannot stand against the enemy. There is nothing to prevent the Austrians being in Paris in six weeks. Have we worked for three years for the grandest of revolutions only to see it overthrown in a day? If liberty dies in France, it is forever lost to the rest of the world. All the hopes of philosophy are deceived. The most cruel tyranny will reign upon the earth. Let us prevent this disaster. Let us arm Paris and the departments of the North. If they fail, let us carry the statue of liberty to the South. Let us found somewhere a colony of independent men.”
His words were broken by sobs. Madame Roland and Barbaroux wept with him. Rapidly then the young man sketched his plan. It was Roland’s own. Arm Paris; if that failed, seize the South.
A map was brought out and they traced the natural boundaries of the new State. The Vosges, the Jura, the Loire, and a vast plain between mountains and river divide France. The plain they would take for a camp; the river and mountains could be easily defended. If this position was lost, there was a second boundary; on the east, the Doubs, the Ain, the Rhone; on the west, the Vienne, the Dordogne; in the centre, the rocks and rivers of Limoges. Farther still was Auvergne, the mountains of Velay, the Cévennes, the Alps, Toulon. “And if all these points were forced, Corsica remained,—Corsica where 204Genovese and French had not been able to naturalize tyranny.”
As they traced the boundaries, they devised plans for fortifications and for mobilizing the army, but they concluded their council by the decision that a final effort must be made to save Paris. There must be another revolt if possible; the King must be deposed and a convention called which would give France entire a republic. Barbaroux was ready with a plan to help bring this about and he left them, promising to bring a battalion and two pieces of cannon from Marseilles.
They understood that it was an insurrection that he meant to prepare, but they did not hesitate. All the violence, excess, passion, fear of Paris must be excited this time; there must not be another 20th of June; the stick must come out of the wheel now or never; and indifferent to the possibility that the passion they proposed to use might assert its right to help rule if it helped create, confident in the sufficiency of their theory and of themselves, they awaited the promised insurrection.
But not all of their friends were so serene. Several members of the party had begun to realize the force of the popular fury they had been arousing. They began to feel nervous at the prospect in Paris of the horde of Marseillais Barbaroux had called. The bloodthirstiness of the Cordeliers clubs began to revolt them. They were forced to admit that Marat’s journal was more influential than their own. 205They saw, too, a threatening thing—hitherto the insurrectionary element had been more or less chaotic, it was now well organized and it had at its head a man whom they feared, Danton. What if the mob should refuse to retire after the overthrow of the King? Would anarchy be an improvement on monarchy? Would a sans-culotte be a more enlightened administrator than an aristocrat?
Vergniaud, Guadet, and Gensonné tried to frighten Louis XVI. into recalling the ministers by telling him how formidable the threatened insurrection appeared to them to be, and by assuring him that it might be avoided by restoring the Girondins. Brissot in the Assembly denounced “the faction of regicides, which wishes to create a dictator and establish a republic.” He declared that men who were working to establish a republic on the debris of the constitution were worthy to be “smitten by the sword of the law.” If the King was guilty he should not be deposed in haste, but a commission should be appointed to investigate the affair thoroughly. Pétion, who, as mayor, had aided in bringing about the 20th of June, became frightened, and counselled calm.
But this sudden change could effect nothing now. It was too late for the Girondins to do anything but join with the Jacobins, making a pretence to leadership, although already feeling it slipping from them.
Towards the end of July the allied force summoned France to lay down her arms. Suspicion was at its height. Excitement and disorder were increased by 206the arrival of the Marseillais on July 30th. Either the allies would reach Paris and save the Court, or Paris must lay hands on the Court and go out and subdue the allies. There was no certainty of which it would be. At heart every faction was fearful. The King, the Court, Lafayette, the allies, the émigrés, the Feuillants, Girondins, Jacobins, Cordeliers, faubourgs, all hesitated. Something was coming. What was it? There is no period of the Revolution of such awful tension as this,—the months between the fall of the Gironde ministry and the 10th of August.
In this exciting period it was the party of insurrection which organized most thoroughly and most intelligently. The leaders who had taken this organization upon themselves were Barbaroux, Danton, Camille Desmoulins, Santerre. They worked through municipal organizations, which, instituted since the Revolution, were turbulent, impetuous, fierce; these were the forty-eight sections into which Paris had been divided, and in nearly all of which the officials were sympathizers with insurrectionary methods of getting what they wanted. Under the influence of the cry the Country is in danger, Paris must act, the sections had aroused the people within their limits. During the first days of August, frequent reunions were held in the Place de la Bastille, at which the most alarming rumors of the treachery of the King and the approach of the enemy were circulated. These sections sent deputations to the Assembly with incendiary 207addresses. They patrolled the Tuileries lest the executive power escape, they said in unintentional irony. They fraternized with the Marseillais, over whom the enthusiasm in revolutionary circles was constant. They swore repeatedly in their gatherings to save the country.
By the 9th of August, the populace was in a tumult of alarm and of exaltation. They were persuaded that they were the providence of France, and they believed every man who did not join them was a traitor. It had taken a long time to work up the sections of Paris to the united effort which Madame Roland had demanded from them in 1789, but it was done at last, and they were as convinced of the falsity of everybody but themselves, and of their own call to save the country, as ever Madame Roland herself had been.
The 9th of August the ferment was perfect, and the order was given for sounding the tocsin. At that moment the sections decided that three commissioners should be appointed in each quarter of Paris to unite with the Commune, with full powers to devise prompt means of saving the country. The insurrectionary force thus had a legal representation. This representation received at the Hôtel de Ville by the regular municipal council, on evening of August 9th, had before morning superseded it, and was the governing force of Paris. It was a transfer of power, probably with the acquiescence of the legal municipality, glad to escape from 208the turmoil of things. The new body, to be known as the Commune, was composed of men almost without exception unknown outside of their neighborhoods, and there only for agitation and violence.
While the new Commune was settling itself at the Hôtel de Ville, the populace it represented was in motion. The force with which the Court and constitutional party attempted to control the movement was insufficient, and in part unreliable. In a few hours the leaders of the opposing force had been disposed; Mandat, the commander of the National Guards, had been murdered; Pétion had been “chained by ribbons to his wife’s side”; Louis XVI. and his family had taken refuge in the Assembly; the Swiss guards, who had attempted to defend the château, had been ordered by the King to retire to their barracks, and had been murdered as they went; the château had been invaded.
The mob filled not only the Tuileries, but the Manège where the Assembly sat. That body, composed the 10th of August of Girondins and Jacobins alone, the constitutionals absenting themselves, found itself under the pressure of a new force,—the populace. They had worked for fifty days to arouse it. They had allowed it to organize itself. They had permitted it to do the work of the day. But what were they going to do with it now? Could they use it? Was there not a possibility that it may use them? In any case, the objects for which the insurrection had been prepared must be attained and the 209suspension of Louis XVI. was voted; the Gironde ministers, Roland, Servan, and Clavière, were returned, Danton, Monge, and Lebrun being added to them.
Madame Roland’s policy had been carried out to the letter; the united sections had acted; the King was out of the way; the patriots were in power.
Madame Roland’s plan had carried. Since the beginning of the Revolution she had urged it. In 1789 when she called for “two illustrious heads,” for “the united sections and not the Palais Royal”; throughout 1790 in her demands for “blood, since there is nothing else to whip you and make you go”; in her incessant preaching of civil war; in her remonstrances in 1791 against the seizure of Marat’s sheets, against the arrest of the turbulent, against shutting the doors of the Assembly on those who prevented it doing its work; in the Hôtel of the Interior scoffing at Roland’s weakness in believing in the sincerity of Louis XVI.; in urging Servan to present his plan for a camp of twenty thousand soldiers around Paris without the King’s knowledge; in writing the letter to the King and in pushing Roland to present it to the Assembly; in encouraging Barbaroux in his preparations for the 10th of August,—she had preached the necessity and the wholesomeness of insurrection.
Throughout this period there is not a word to show 211that she hesitated about the wisdom of her demand. She was convinced, and never wavered. It was her conviction which held Roland. It was her inspiration that fired the Gironde. Now that the force that she had evoked was organized, logically she must unite with it.
Roland began his ministry consistently enough. Within twelve hours after his appointment he had changed every one in his bureaux suspected of sympathy with the constitution. He wrote immediately to the departments describing the Revolution and sending copies of “all the laws and all the pieces relative to the great discoveries of the 10th of August,” and lest the people should not hear of them, he urged the curés and officials to read them aloud whenever they could secure a gathering of people.
Everywhere in the departments he upheld the Jacobin party. Thus at Lyons where the directory of Rhone-et-Sâone had been continually at war with the municipality because of its moderation, the former body was deposed and the latter put into power with the compliment that in all cases it had maintained peace and tranquillity in spite of the fanaticism of the enemies of the Revolution. Chalier, who came to Paris to represent the municipality,—Chalier, who believed that calm could only be obtained in Lyons by filling the streets with “impure blood” and who led in the horrible massacres of the city,—was, through Roland’s influence, sent home “with honors.”
212Never was Roland’s energy greater. He worked twenty hours out of twenty-four, and even his four hours of repose were often interrupted. By the 20th of August he was able to present the Assembly with a report on the condition of France. In all his work he was logically in harmony with the Second Revolution.
But Roland soon found himself hindered in his activity by an important part of the insurrectionary force which had produced the 10th of August,—the Commune of Paris. The commissioners who had been sent to the Town Hall the night of the 9th, with orders from their sections to devise means to save the country, had refused to go away; large numbers of violent Jacobins had joined the body, among them Robespierre and Marat. The regular municipality had disappeared.
The Commune believed that there was more need of it now than ever. The passions which had been excited to call it into being were more violently agitated than ever. The body felt, and rightly, that only the greatest vigilance would preserve what had been gained on the 10th of August; for now, as never before, the aristocratic and constitutional part of France was against the Jacobin element; now more than ever the allied powers felt that it was the business of kings to reinstate Louis XVI. The Commune understood the force against it, saw that only audacious and intrepid action would conquer it, and went to work with awful energy to “save the country.”
213The tocsin was set a-ringing: the conservative printing offices were raided; passports were suspended; barriers were put up; those who had protested against recent patriotic measures were declared unfit for duty; the royal family was confined in the Temple; lists of “suspects” were made out; houses were visited at night to surprise plots, seize suspected persons, examine papers, and search for firearms; a criminal court of commissioners from the sections was chosen; the guillotine was set up in the Carrousel. So much for the interior. To meet the enemy without they seized horses and ammunition, set up stands where volunteers could be enrolled, put every able-bodied man in Paris under marching orders. All of this with a speed, a resolution, a savage sort of fury which terrified the aristocrats, inflamed the populace, rejoiced Marat, and alarmed the Assembly.
From the first Roland found himself in conflict with this new body. He was the law now, and they were called to act above all law. They had a reason, the same that he had held for many months,—the divine right of taking things into your own hands and compelling people to be regenerated according to your notion. But Roland had reached the point where all the essentials in his scheme of regeneration had been gained—the Commune had not. Suddenly he who had been the vigorous champion of revolutions for removing sticks from government wheels, found himself the “stick in the wheel.” If he demanded 214information of the Commune, he did not receive it. If he complained of its irregularities, he was called a traitor. If he called attention to the law, he was ignored. All through August Roland and the Commune continued to irritate and antagonize one another.
There was one man through whom they might have been reconciled,—Danton, he who, with Robespierre and Marat, formed the triumvirate of the new party of Terror. Danton represented the insurrectionary idea in the ministry and it was through him alone that Roland and the Gironde might have worked with the Commune.
But from the first Madame Roland would have nothing to do with Danton. When it was announced to her that he had been chosen to the ministry, she told her friends: “It is a great pity that the Council should be spoiled by this Danton, who has so bad a reputation.” They told her that he had been useful to the Revolution; that the people loved him; that it was no time to make enemies; that he must be used as he was. She could do nothing to keep him out, but she was not convinced of the wisdom of the choice.
He sought her at once; for after the suspension of the King, Danton never ceased to repeat that the safety of France lay in union,—in an effort of all parties against the foreign invaders. “The enemy is at our door and we rend one another. Will all our quarrels kill a Prussian?” was his incessant warning. 215Few days passed that he did not drop into the Hôtel of the Interior; now it was for the Council meeting, to which he came early, hunting her up in her little salon for a chat before the meeting began: again he dropped in on the days she was unaccustomed to receive, begging a cup of tea before he went to the Assembly. Fabre d’Eglantine often accompanied him. It was not a warm welcome they received. They talked to her of patriotism, and she replied in a tone of superiority and with a tinge of suspicion which was evident enough to Danton and his colleague and could not fail to irritate them. She gave them to understand that she saw through them, that she felt herself incorruptible, and that no consideration would induce her to unite with an element she suspected.
Danton soon realized her inflexibility and before the end of August he had ceased his visits. Madame Roland had refused the only mediator between Gironde and Mountain, and in so doing had lighted another interior blaze. She was too intelligent a woman for one to suppose that she did not see the danger in further disunion. Why then for the Republic’s sake, for humanity’s sake, did she not unite with him?
The only reason she gives is the physical repugnance that Danton inspired in her. She confessed that no one could have shown more zeal, a greater love of liberty, a livelier desire to come to an understanding for the sake of the public cause, than he. 216Certainly she had based her judgments thus far in the Revolution on such indications, but Danton was of a different nature from the men who surrounded her. A volcanic animal tremendous in passions as in energy, in intellect, in influence. She says that never did a face seem to her to show brutal passion so perfectly. Her imagination had been awakened. All her life she had been the plaything of this imagination, and every face that came under her eyes had been read, its owner’s character analyzed and his rôle in life assigned. Danton she figured poniard in hand, exciting by voice and gesture a troup of assassins more timid or less bloodthirsty than he. She could not conquer the effect of this vision and for this reason she refused his proffer of reconciliation.
Had Danton offended her by some coarse familiarity? The best reason for rejecting this explanation of her dislike is that she says nothing about it. If an unwarranted gallantry had ever occurred, we may be positive that she would not have kept it to herself. The “confessions” of her Memoirs make such an interpretation impossible; even her friend Lanthenas was not spared on this score. It is impossible to suppose that Danton would have been.
For the first time, Madame Roland found herself face to face with a man who was an embodiment of the insurrectionary spirit. Hitherto that spirit had been an ideal, a theory, an unseen but powerful force which was necessary to accomplish what she 217wanted. Personally she had never come in contact with it. She had idealized it as an avenging spirit, “terrible but glorious,” cruel but just, awful but divine. That this force had an end to reach, a personal ambition to satisfy, an ideal to attain, that it might come into conflict with her, she had not calculated. In her plan it was simply an avenging fire which she could use, and which, when she had had enough of it, she could snuff out.
But now she saw an insurrection as a bald fact. Danton was a positive, living incarnation of her doctrine. Instead of rhapsodizing over the “divine right of insurrection,” he organized the slums into brigades; instead of talking about Utopia, he gave the populace pikes and showed them how to use them. His policy was one of action. It was a fearful bloody policy, but it was definite and practical, and a logical result of what Madame Roland had been preaching.
The revolt she experienced against Danton’s brutality made her unwilling that the insurrectionary force should be longer recognized. She suddenly became conservative, as the radical who has gotten what he wants always must. She was jealous, too, for her party. They were the patriots, and they must be the ruling element in the new government. It would be a shame to share their power with so terrible a Hydra. It was but a little time before Roland under her influence was at cross-purposes with Danton in the Council. 218Roland was destined to run athwart a more relentless and savage enemy than Danton could ever be,—Marat, l’Ami du Peuple; that Marat the destruction of whose journal by the “satellites of Lafayette” Madame Roland had complained of but a year ago. The most violent and uncontrolled type of the Revolutionary fury, Marat had won his following by his daring l’Ami du Peuple, where in turn he had bombarded every personality of the Revolution who seemed to him to favor anything but absolute equality, who worked to preserve any vestige of the old régime, or who hesitated at any extreme of terrorism. In the spring of 1792, the “Brissotine faction” had been his target. His complaint against it was the making of the war. Roland he had practically ignored, for until now Roland had been the defender of Marat’s methods.
The 11th of August Marat had had his people carry off from the national printing office four presses,—his due, he claimed, for those that the old régime had confiscated. It was a bit of lawlessness that Roland felt he should rebuke. It was a first point against the minister. Soon after the Department of the Interior received a large amount of money for printing useful matter. Marat considered his productions of the highest importance to the country. He asked for fifteen thousand livres. Roland replied wisely that it was too large a sum for him to give without knowledge of the object to which it was to be put, but that if Marat would send him his manuscripts 219he would submit them to a council to see if they were suitable to be published at the expense of the nation. But this was questioning the purity of Marat’s patriotism, submitting to scrutiny the spokesman of the people, and Marat was angry. He felt, as Roland had since the beginning of the Revolution, that the right to cry out against all that he suspected, and to voice all the terrors that swarmed in his head, was unlimited and divine.
Thus Roland had antagonized the Commune, Danton, and Marat, before the September massacres, but he had done nothing to show the public that he would not support their policy. On the second day of the massacres, however, acting on the advice of Madame Roland, he put himself in open conflict with them.
It was on the second day of September that the riot began. Revolted by the barbarity of the slaughter, stung by the insult offered them in a raid on their hôtel, half-conscious, too, that they must do something or their power would slip from them, they determined on the 3d, that Roland should protest to the Assembly against the massacre. But to protest was to put himself in antagonism with the Commune, with Robespierre, Marat, Danton. It was to make himself forever a suspect, to take his life in his hand. But that was immaterial to Roland and to his wife. To die was part of the Gironde programme, and they were all of them serenely indifferent to death if they could only serve the public by dying. 220Roland wrote a letter to the Assembly, which is an admirable specimen of the way in which he applied theories to situations which needed arms and soldiers—a letter of platitude and generalities. He called attention to the danger of disorganization becoming a habit; explained where power legally belonged, and what the duties of the people were in circumstances like those they then faced. As for the massacre, he said: “Yesterday was a day over whose events it is perhaps necessary to draw a veil. I know that the people, terrible in vengeance, showed a kind of justice. They do not seize as victims all who fall in their way. They take those whom they believe to have been too long spared by the law, and whom they are persuaded in the peril of the moment should be sacrificed without delay. But I know that it is easy for agitators and traitors to abuse this effervescence, and that it must be stopped. I know that we owe to all France the declaration that the executive power was unable to foresee and prevent these excesses. I know that it is the duty of the authorities to put a stop to them or to consider themselves crushed. I know, further, that this declaration exposes me to the rage of certain agitators. Very well, let them take my life. I desire to save it only to use it for liberty, for equality.”
These were bold words considering the situation. They were an open defiance to the Mountain. They showed that the Minister of the Interior, hitherto the enemy of the party of Order, had put himself at the 221head of that party; that he had suddenly determined that he was going to snuff out the candle he had gone to so much pains to light. He did not consider it a serious task. It was only a question of appealing to the people. “The docile people at the voice of their legislators will soon feel that they must honor their own work and obey their representatives.”
The next day, September 4th, Roland wrote to the commander general of the National Guard, Santerre, to employ all the forces that the law gave him to prevent that either persons or property be violated. He sent him a copy of the law and declared that he threw the responsibility of all future disorder on Santerre. It was fully two days after this however, before the massacre was stopped.
Before the end the revolt of the Rolands was complete and terrible. They, with the Gironde, were, indeed, very much in the position of keepers of wild beasts, who, to clear their gardens of troublesome visitors, let loose the animals. The intruders are driven out, but when they would whistle in their beasts they find themselves obliged to flee or to be torn in pieces in turn. “We are under the knife of Robespierre and Marat,” Madame Roland wrote on the 5th of September, and a few days later:
“Marat posts every day the most frightful denunciations against the Assembly and the Council. You will see both sacrificed. You will believe that is possible only when you see it done, and then you will 222groan in vain over it. My friend Danton directs everything, Robespierre is his mannikin, Marat holds his torch and his knife; this fierce tribune reigns and we are only waiting to become its victims. If you knew the frightful details of this affair,—women brutally violated before being torn to pieces by these tigers, intestines cut off and worn as ribbons, bleeding human flesh eaten…. You know my enthusiasm for the Revolution. Well, I am ashamed of it. It is stained by these wretches. It is become hideous. It is debasing to remain in office.”
She had begun to experience one of the saddest disillusions of life,—the loss of faith in her own undertaking, to see that the thing she had worked to create was a monster, that it must be throttled, that it was too horrible to live.
The massacre was scarcely ended before Marat attacked Roland. He called him a traitor trying to paralyze the means necessary to save the country; his letter to the Assembly he stigmatized as a chef-d’œuvre of cunning and perfidy; he accused him of securing the nomination of as many Brissotins as possible, of scattering gold by the handful to secure what he wanted; again it was “opium” he was scattering to hide his conspiracy with the traitors of the National Assembly. Madame Roland was immediately brought to the front in Marat’s journal, he giving her the credit of her husband’s administration.
“Roland,” he says, “is only a frère coupe-choux that his wife leads by the ears. It is she who is the 223Minister of the Interior under the direction of L’Illuminé L’Anténas, secret agent of the Guadet-Brissot faction.” In the same number of his journal there is an article under the heading “Bon mot à la femme Roland,” where she is accused of squandering national funds and of having Marat’s posters pulled down.
The quarrels between the various factions of the republicans were so serious before the end of September that the best men of all parties saw the imperative need of sacrificing all differences and antagonisms, in order to combine solidly against the enemies of the new régime.
Roland made overtures to Dumouriez, then at the head of the army, and was welcomed. Danton did his best to persuade the Girondins to forget the September massacres, and turn all their attention to protecting the country. A portion of the party was ready to compromise, but others refused; they were the circle about Madame Roland. Dumouriez, who came to Paris after the important victory of Valmy in September, did his best to reconcile her. In his judgment, “there was but one man who could support the Gironde, save the King and his country,—that man was Danton,” but he was unsuccessful in spite of his diplomacy.
The experiences of September, the desperate condition of affairs, the need of concentrating the entire force of the nation against the invaders, the disorganization which was increasing on account of the dissension among the patriots, the impotence of Roland, 224the power of the Commune,—all seemed calculated to force Madame Roland to compromise with the insurrectionary force as represented by Danton. That she would not see the necessity of it, that she, so intelligent when she was unprejudiced, so good a politician when she undertook a cause, should refuse the only relation which could have enabled the Gironde to keep the direction of the new government, was no doubt due partly to the fact that she was at this time under the influence of the deepest passion of her life.
A woman in love is never a good politician. The sentiment she experiences lifts her above all ordinary considerations. All relations seem petty beside the supreme union which she desires. The object of her passion becomes the standard for her feelings towards others. She is revolted by natures which are in opposition to the one which is stirring hers. The sentiments, the opinions, the course of action of her lover, become personal matters with her. She is incapable of judging them objectively. She defends them with the instinctive passion of the animal, because they are hers. Intelligence has little or nothing to do with this defence. Even if she be a cool-headed woman with a large sense of humor and see that her championship is illogical, she cannot give it up.
Engraving of Buzot by Nargeot, after the portrait worn by Madame Roland during her captivity.
225Madame Roland’s antipathy to Danton was intensified by her love for a man who was in every way his opposite. The reserved, cold dignity of the one made her despise the tempestuous oratory of the other. His ideals and theories made Danton’s acts and riots more odious. His refinement and melancholy put in insupportable contrast the brutality and joviality of the great Commune leader. She could not see Danton’s importance to the success of the Second Revolution, when absorbed in a personality so different. All political tactics and compromises seemed to her insignificant, trivial, unworthy in connection with her great passion. Undoubtedly, too, she hoped to see her lover take a position in the new legislature,—the Convention,—of which he was a member, which would make the Gironde so strong that it would not need Danton.
BUZOT AND MADAME ROLAND
In the spring and summer of 1791, which the Rolands spent at the Hôtel Britannique, they formed many relations which lasted throughout the Revolution. In this number was a member of the Constitutional Assembly, François-Nicolas-Léonard Buzot, a young man thirty-one years of age, coming from Evreux, in Normandy. Buzot had had the typical Gironde education, had been inspired by the Gironde heroes, and had adopted their theories.
Like Manon Phlipon at Paris, Vergniaud at Bordeaux, Barbaroux at Marseilles, Charlotte Corday at Caen, Buzot had lived an intensely sentimental life, nourishing himself on dreams of noble deeds and relations; like them, he had become devoted to a theory of complete regeneration; and like them, he had proudly flung himself into the Revolution, aspiring, inexperienced, impassioned, and confident.
Son of a member of the court of Evreux, Buzot became a lawyer in that town, and took an active interest with the liberal and enlightened part of the community in the political struggles of the Revolution. 227When the notables were called together in 1787, he was elected one of them. He aided in naming the deputies to the States-General, in preparing the petition which the Third Estate sent to that body, and later was elected a deputy. But his real political cares began in the Constituent Assembly, where he sat with the extreme Left. His attitude towards the confiscation of the property of the clergy is a specimen of his radicalism at this period. “In my judgment,” he declared, “ecclesiastical property belongs to the nation,” and this was at a moment when the right of the clergy to hold property had not been seriously questioned.
When the Rolands came up to Paris in the spring of 1791, they found Buzot allied with that part of the Assembly most sympathetic to them and he supported, during the time they spent in the city, the measures which they advocated.
He lived near the Rolands, and soon became a constant visitor at the house. His wife, an unattractive woman of no special intellectual cast, was nevertheless amiable and sincere and the four fell into the habit of visiting back and forth and of often going in company to call on Pétion and Brissot.
Madame Roland was more and more attracted by Buzot’s character as she watched him in the little circle. He not only held the same theories as she, but he developed them with ardor and a sort of penetrating and persuasive eloquence which stirred her sympathetic, oratory-loving nature. His courage was 228endless, and it was combined with a pride and indifference to popular opinion, which harmonized with her notion that the ideal was to be kept in sight rather than the practical means of working towards it. His suspicion of others, even of some of their associates, based as it was on sentiments of patriotism, struck her as an evidence of unusual insight.
Buzot had less of that gay versatility which annoyed her in many of her circle, and which seemed to her inconsistent with the serious condition of public affairs. His nature was grave and he looked at life with a passionate earnestness which gave a permanent shade of melancholy to his conduct and his thoughts. In affairs of great importance he became tragic in his solemn concern. In lighter matters he was rather sober and reflective. It was an attitude towards life which appealed deeply to Madame Roland.
The gentleness of Buzot’s character, the purity of his life, his susceptibility to sentiment, the strength of his feelings, his love for nature, his habit of revery, all touched her imagination and caused her to select him from the circle at the Hôtel Britannique as one possessing an especially just and sympathetic nature.
When she left Paris, in the middle of September, 1791, she found the parting with Buzot and his wife most trying. She was more deeply attached to them than she knew. But if the two families were to be separated, they were not to lose sight of each other. A correspondence was arranged between them, which soon fell quite into the hands of 229Madame Roland and Buzot, as the correspondence had done before between the Rolands and other of their friends. Almost nothing remains of the letters exchanged between them from the middle of September, 1791, when she returned to Villefranche, and September, 1792, when Buzot went back to Paris, a member of the Convention from Evreux, where he had been acting as president of the civil court.
But it is not necessary to have the letters to form a clear idea of what they would be. Letters had always been a means of sentimental expansion for Madame Roland. She wrote, as she felt, invariably in the eloquent and glowing phrase which her emotion awakened; now with pathos and longing, frequently with the real grace and playfulness which her more spontaneous and natural moods caused. Her letters were invariably deeply personal. It was her own life and feelings which permeated them, and it was the sentiments, the interests, the tastes of her correspondent, which she sought to draw out and to which she responded. An intimate and sympathetic correspondence of this sort, even if the pretext for it and the present topic of it is public affairs, as it was in this case, soon takes a large part in a life. Close exchange of thought and sentiment, complete and satisfactory, is, perhaps, the finest and truest, as it is the rarest, experience possible between a man and a woman. When once realized, it becomes infinitely precious. Madame Roland and Buzot poured out to each other all their ambitions and dreams, their joys 230and their sorrows, sure of perfect understanding. At this time the thoughts which filled their minds were one, their emotions were one; both relied more and more upon the correspondence for stimulus.
To Buzot, harassed by petty criminal trials, and married to a woman who, whatever her worth, could never be more to him than his housekeeper and the mother of his children, this intimacy of thought, and hope, and despair appeared like a realization of the perfect Platonic dream, and Madame Roland became a sacred and glorified figure in his imagination.
But if a man and woman carry on such a correspondence for a few months and then are suddenly thrown into constant intercourse, their relation becomes at once infinitely delicate. It is only experience, wisdom, womanly tact, and an enormous force of self-renunciation which can control such a situation and save the friendship.
When Buzot and Madame Roland first met at the end of September, 1792, she was ill prepared for resistance. The Revolution had suddenly appeared to her fierce, bloody, desperate,—a thing to disown. She could no longer see in it the divinity she had been worshipping. Her disillusion had been terrible. The impotence and languor which follow disillusion enfeebled her will, weakened her splendid enthusiasm, and threatened to drive her to the conclusion that all effort is worthless.
It must have been already evident to her that the men upon whom she relied as leaders were inefficient. 231Roland, who had been the idol of the people until since the installation of the Commune, was utterly powerless to cope with the new force. She saw him reduced to defending his actions, to answering criticisms on his honesty; she felt that he was no longer necessary to the public cause; it was a humiliation to her, and her interest in Roland lessened as his importance decreased. Brissot had no influence; with a part of the Gironde, Vergniaud, Gensonné, Guadet, she was not intimate; Robespierre was alienated; Danton she had refused to work with. But in Buzot there was hope. He had no record at Paris to hurt him. There were infinite possibilities in his position in the new Convention. Why should he not become the leader of the party, the spirit of the war between Gironde and Mountain, the opponent of Danton, the incarnation of her ideals? The hope she had in him as her spokesman, as a saviour of the situation, intensified the interest she felt for him as a friend and comrade.
Personally, too, apart from all public questions, Buzot attracted her. His noble face, elegant manners, careful toilette, pleased her. She was a woman to the tips of her fingers, and Buzot’s courtly air, his deference to her, his attentions, flattered and satisfied her. She found in him something of that “superiority,” that “purity of language,” that “distinguished manner,” the absence of which she had regretted in the patriots of the Constituent Assembly when she first came up to Paris. He presented, too, 232a relief to Roland’s carelessness in dress, to his indifference to conventionalities. This superiority was the more attractive because it was in a man so young. Buzot’s youth explains something of the ideality of the relation between them. A woman who preserves her illusions, her enthusiasms, her sentiments, as Madame Roland had, up to thirty-eight, rarely finds in a man much older than herself the faith, the disinterestedness, the devotion to ideals, the purity of life and thought which she demands. She is continually shocked by his cynicism, his experience, his impersonal attitude, his indifference. Life with him becomes practical and commonplace. It lacks in hours of self-revelation, in an intimacy of all that she feels deep and inspiring; there is no mystery in it—nothing of the unseen. But with a young man of a character and nature like Buzot, she finds a response to her noblest moods, her most elevated thoughts.
A young man sees in a relation with a woman of such an elevation of thought as Madame Roland the type of his dreams, the woman to whom sentiments and ideals are of far more importance than amusement and pleasure—the woman capable of great self-sacrifice for duty, of untiring action for a noble cause, of comprehension of all that is best in him, of brave resistance to temptation—and yet a woman to the last, dainty in her love of beauty, flattered by his homage, untiring in her efforts to please him, capable of a passion wide as the world.
233Buzot’s relation to Madame Roland must have been the dearer to her because at the moment the intimacy which she had had with several of her friends was waning. With Roland working twenty hours out of the twenty-four, tormented by false accusations, conscious of his helplessness, irritated by dyspepsia and over-work, there could have been very little satisfactory personal intercourse. Their relation had come to the point to which every intimate human relation must come, where forbearance, charity, a bit of humorous cynicism, courage, self-sacrifice, character, and nobility of heart must sustain it instead of dreams, transports, passion. She was incapable of the effort.
Bosc was an old friend and a loving one, but their friendship had reached the stage where all has been said that could be, and while there was the security and satisfaction in it which comes from all things to which one is accustomed,—and it was necessary to her no doubt,—there was no novelty, no possible future.
Bancal was interested in a Miss Williams, and since he had made that known to Madame Roland, she had been less expansive. No woman will long give her best to a man who holds another woman dearer.
Lanthenas, who had been for years their friend, to whom she had given the title of “brother” and received in a free and frank intimacy, had begun to withdraw his sympathy.
When Buzot came to Paris, it was natural and 234inevitable that they should see much of each other. All things considered, it was natural, inevitable, perhaps, that love should come from their intimacy; but that Madame Roland should have prevented the declaration of this love we have a right to expect when we remember her opinions, her habit of reflection, and, above all, her experience.
Madame Roland had never accepted, other than theoretically, the idea which at the end of the eighteenth century made hosts of advocates,—that love is its own justification; that any civil or religious tie which prevents one following the dictates of his heart is unnatural and wrong. Nor did she accept for herself the practice then common in France, as it is still, and as it must be so long as marriage remains a matter of business, of keeping marriage ties for the sake of society, but of finding satisfaction for the affections in liaisons of which nobody complains so long as they are discreet, to use the French characterization. Her notions of duty, of devotion, of loyalty, were those of the Nouvelle Héloïse and allowed only marriage based on affection and preserved with fidelity to the end. Her theory of life and human relations would not allow her to be false to Roland. With such opinions she could not allow Buzot to declare the affection he felt.
Had she been an inexperienced woman, such a declaration might have come naturally enough without any reproach for her; she would have been unprepared for it. Madame Roland was not inexperienced. 235She knew all the probability there was of Buzot loving her and she was too skilled in the human heart to believe herself incapable of a new love.
Already she had been absorbed by passions whose realization at the moment had seemed necessary to her life. Her Platonic affection for Sophie Cannet was of an intensity rarely equalled by the most ardent love. For La Blancherie she had been ready to say that if she could not marry him she would marry no one. Roland, before their marriage, she had overwhelmed by her passion, and since she had followed him incessantly with protestations of affection. Certainly she knew by this time that impassioned love may grow cool and that the heart may recover its fire and vehemence.
Nor had all her experience been before her marriage. She had not the excuse of those married women who suppose, in the simplicity of their innocence and purity, that once married there is no deviation of affection or loyalty possible, and who, when circumstances throw them into relations where a new passion is awakened, are overpowered by shame and surprise.
Her relations with different ones of her friends after her marriage had reached points which ought to have taught her serious lessons in self-repression and in tact. Bosc, with whom she was in correspondence from the time the Rolands left Paris for Amiens, became deeply attached to her. Their relation seems to have become more tender during the time that she 236spent in Paris seeking a title, and this quite naturally because of the loss Bosc suffered then in the death of his father, and because of the very practical aid she had given him in taking care of his sister. Their correspondence, which, while she was at Amiens, was gay and unrestrained, an ideal correspondence for two good friends and comrades, later grew more delicate. Bosc was jealous and moody at times and caused her uneasiness and sorrow. When they passed through Paris, on their way to Villefranche, in September, 1784, he found at their meeting some reason for discontent in their relation with a person he disliked, and left them abruptly and angrily.
The quarrel lasted some two months and was dismissed finally with good sense by Madame Roland telling Bosc playfully, “Receive a sound boxing, a hearty embrace, friendly and sincere—I am hungry for an old-fashioned letter from you. Burn this and let us talk no more of our troubles.”
After this whenever Bosc became too ardent in his letters, or inclined to jealousy, she treated him in this half-playful, half-matronly style. Her principle with him remained from the first to the last that there could be between them no ignorance of the question of their duty.
The experience with Bosc had taught her the strong probability that a man admitted to such intimate relations would, at some period in the friendship, fall more or less in love; and it had shown her, too, that it is possible for a woman to control this 237delicate relation and insure a healthy and inspiring relation. In short, Madame Roland had reason to congratulate herself, as she did with her usual self-complacency, on her wisdom and her tact in handling l’ami Bosc. Whether she would not have been less wise if she had been less in love with her husband, or Bosc had been of a different nature, a little less dry and choleric, it is not necessary to speculate here.
She was quite as happy in directing her relations with Dr. Lanthenas, whom it will be remembered Roland had picked up in Italy before their marriage, who had come back with him, who had visited them often at Amiens, and who had lived with them at Le Clos, where an apartment on the first floor is still called Lanthenas’ room. He was associated in all their planning, and in 1790, when Roland, disgusted with the turn politics had taken, sighed for Pennsylvania, Lanthenas suggested that the Rolands, and one of his friends at Paris, Bancal des Issarts, and he himself should buy a piece of national property—the State had just confiscated some millions’ worth of clerical estates and was selling them cheap—and should establish together a community where they could not fail to lead an existence ideal in its peace, its enthusiasm, its growth.
This Utopia was discussed at length in their letters, and several pieces of property near Lyons and Clermont, where Bancal lived, were visited. Roland was thoroughly taken with the idea, but Madame Roland, while she saw all the advantages, discovered a 238possible danger. If she had been able to resist the siege to her heart by Bosc and Lanthenas, even to win them over as allies, her relation with Bancal des Issarts had taken almost immediately a turn more serious for her. She was herself touched and interested, and her policy when she felt her heart moved was most questionable. Instead of concealing her feelings and mastering them, she poured them out to Bancal himself in a way to excite his sympathy and to inflame his passion. Indeed, the turn their correspondence took in a few months reminds one forcibly of the letters of Manon Phlipon to M. Roland in the days when, feeling herself moved by his attentions, she drew a declaration out of him by portraying a state of heart which no man who was as decidedly interested as Roland was, could resist.
It was the new community which troubled her. Bancal had shown himself so eager for it, she herself saw such a charm in it, that she became alarmed. To a letter of Bancal’s, which we can suppose to have been fervid, but which was not so much so that Roland was annoyed by it, it being he who had received it and sent it on to her, she replied: “My mind is busy with a thousand ideas, agitated by tumultuous sentiments. Why is it that my eyes are blinded by constant tears? My will is firm, my heart is pure, and yet I am not tranquil. ‘It will be the greatest charm of our life and we shall be useful to our fellows,’ you say of the affection which unites us, and these consoling words have not restored my 239peace. I am not sure of your happiness and I should never forgive myself for having disturbed it. I have believed that you were feeding it on a hope that I ought to forbid. Who can foresee the effect of violent agitations, too often renewed? Would they not be dangerous if they left only that languor which weakens the moral being and which makes it unequal to the situation? I am wrong. You do not experience this unworthy alternative, you could never be weak. The idea of your strength brings back mine. I shall know how to enjoy the happiness that Heaven has allotted me, believing that it has not allowed me to trouble you.”
She was quite conscious of her inconsistency, but with the feminine propensity for finding an excuse for an indiscretion, she charged it on the construction of society,—a construction which, it should be noted, she had years ago convinced herself to be necessary, and which she had repeatedly accepted, so that there was not the excuse for her that there is for those who have never reflected that human laws and codes of morals are simply the best possible arrangement thus far found for men and women getting on together without a return to the savage state, and have never made a tacit compact with themselves to be law-abiding because they saw the reason for being so.
“Why is it,” she writes, “that this sheet that I am writing you cannot be sent to you openly? Why can one not show to all that which one would dare 240offer to Divinity itself? Assuredly I can call upon Heaven, and take it as a witness of my vow and of my intentions; I find pleasure in thinking that it sees me, hears me, and judges me…. When shall we see each other again? Question that I ask myself often, and that I dare not answer.”
Bancal went to Le Clos, and evidently, from passages in their subsequent letters, there passed between them some scene of passion.
Later, Bancal went to London to propagate the ideas of the patriots, but Lanthenas and Roland became anxious that he return to Paris to help them there. Madame Roland dared not advise him to return, though she could not conceal her pleasure at the idea that he might, and that, too, after she was again at Paris.
“Do as you think best,” she wrote; “at any rate I shall not have the false delicacy to conceal from you that I am going to Paris, and shall even push my frankness to confessing that this circumstance adds much to my scruples in writing you to return. There is, in this situation, an infinite number of things which one feels but cannot explain, but that which is very clear, and which I say frankly to you, is that I wish never to see you bend to light considerations or to half affections. Remember that if I need the happiness of my friends this happiness is attached, for those who feel like us, to an absolute irreproachability.”
Inscription written by Madame Roland on the back of the portrait of Buzot which she carried while in prison.
241It was by this constant return to the subject that she kept the relation between herself and Bancal “interesting.” It was by holding up her duty—the necessity of “virtue”—that she provoked him. It was the “coquetry of virtue” which Dumouriez found in her.
But when Madame Roland went up to Paris she found other interests, new friends. Bancal received less attention, and he, occupied in making new friends, gave less attention; gradually the personal tone dropped from their letters, and by the fall of 1792 the correspondence had become purely patriotic. The friendship became of still less moment to Madame Roland when Bancal revealed to her his love for Miss Williams, a young English girl who had been attracted to Paris by the Revolution, and there had become associated with the Girondins.
The affair with Bancal des Issarts proves Madame Roland to have had no more discretion than an ordinary woman when her heart was engaged, and drives one to the reluctant conclusion that in her case, as in the majority of cases, she was saved from folly by circumstances.
By experience and by reflection, then, she was armed. Indeed, on whatever side we regard the revelation of her love to Buzot, she was blamable save one—and that of importance. In the general dissolution of old ideas, in the return, in theory, to the state of nature, which intellectual France had made, every law of social life, as every law of government, had been traced to its origin, and its reasonableness 242and justice questioned in the light of pure theory. Marriage had come under the general dissection. Love is a divine law, a higher wisdom. It is unjust, unreasonable, unnatural, to separate those who love because of any previous tie. It is the natural right of man to be happy.
This opinion in the air had affected Madame Roland. She found it “bizarre and cruel” that two people should be chained together whom differences of age, of sentiment, of character, have rendered incompatible; and although she would not consent to take advantage of this theory and leave Roland, it justified her in loving Buzot and in telling him so.
It was not only the new ideas on love and marriage which influenced her. In the chaos of laws, of usages, of ideas, of aspirations, of hopes in which she found herself, there seemed nothing worth saving but this. The Revolution was stained and horrible. Her friends were helpless, she herself seemed to be no longer of any use,—why not seize the one last chance of joy? When the efforts and enthusiasms of one’s youth suddenly show themselves to be but illusions, and the end of life seems to be at hand, can it be expected that human nature with its imperious demand for happiness refuse the last chance offered? Remember, too, that never in the world’s history had a class of people believed more completely in the right to happiness, never demanded it more fully.
At all events Madame Roland and Buzot declared their love. But this was not enough for her; she felt 243that she could not deceive Roland and she told him that she loved Buzot, but that since it was her duty to stay with him (Roland) she would do it, and that she would be faithful to her marriage vows. All considerations of kindliness, of reserve, of womanly tenderness, of honor, should have dictated to Madame Roland that if she really had no intention of yielding to her love, as she certainly never had, it was useless and cruel to torment Roland at his age, with failing health, and in his desperate public position, with the story of her passion. He loved her devotedly, and she had incessantly worked to excite and deepen this love—to be told now that she loved another must wound him in his deepest affections. But she had a sentimental need of frankness. She loved expansion; she must open her heart to him. In doing it she heaped upon the overburdened old man the heaviest load a heart can carry, that of the desertion of its most trusted friend and companion, and that after years of association and almost daily renewal of vows of love and fidelity.
Absorbed by her passion, she found it unreasonable and vexing that Roland should take her confession to heart, that he did not rejoice over her candor and accept her “sacrifice” with gratitude and tears. In her Memoirs she says of Roland’s attitude towards the affair:
“I honor and cherish my husband as a sensitive daughter adores a virtuous father, to whom she would sacrifice even her lover; but I found the man 244who might have been my lover, and while remaining faithful to my duties, I was too artless to conceal my feelings. My husband, excessively sensitive on account of his affection and his self-respect, could not endure the idea of the least change in his empire; he grew suspicious, his jealousy irritated me. Happiness fled from us. He adored me, I sacrificed myself for him, and we were unhappy.”
Such was the delicate and painful situation in which Madame Roland, Buzot, and Roland were placed during the struggle between the Gironde and Mountain. We might expect despair and indifference from them in the face of the enormous difficulties in the Convention. But they never faltered. Their courage was superb from first to last. Furthermore, there is no sign left us of distrust and irritation towards one another. Buzot supported Roland in every particular. Madame Roland and her husband were associated as closely as ever in public work. Roland and Buzot, both of them, were held to an almost Quixotic state of forbearance and strength by the exalted enthusiasm of this woman of powerful sentiments and affections. Neither of the men ever looked upon her with dimmed love and respect. In spite of all she made them suffer, inspired by her faith in their virtue, they accepted a Platonic life à trois, and for many months were able to work together.
THE ROLANDS TURN AGAINST THE REVOLUTION
Upon Roland the effect of the atrocities of September, and the consciousness of his own powerlessness, was terrible. His health was undermined; he could not eat; his skin became yellow; he did not sleep; his step was feeble, but his activity was feverish; he worked night and day. Having a chance to become a member of the new legislative body, the Convention to meet September 21st, he sent in his resignation as Minister of the Interior. The resignation raised a cry from the Gironde, and hosts of anxious patriots urged him to remain.
In the session of September 29th, the question came up in the Convention of inviting Roland, and those of his colleagues who had resigned with him, to remain in office. His enemies did not lose the opportunity to attack him. Danton even went so far as to say: “If you invite him, invite Madame Roland too; everybody knows that he has not been alone in his department.”
This discussion, and the discovery that his election as deputy would be illegal, persuaded Roland to 246withdraw his resignation. He announced his decision in an address which was an unmistakable arraignment of the Commune and the Mountain, an announcement that the Minister of the Interior, in remaining in office, remained as their enemy. He abandoned in this same address an important point of his old policy. Formerly it had been to Paris that he had appealed. She alone had the energy, the fire, the daring to act. The rest of the country was apathetic, passionless; but now he says Paris has done all that is necessary. She must retire, “must be reduced to her eighty-third portion of influence; a more extensive influence would excite fears, and nothing would be more harmful to Paris than the discontent or suspicion of the departments—no representations, however numerous, should acquire an ascendency over the Convention.”
At that particular moment no policy could have been more antagonistic to the Parisian populace. They were “saving the country.” None but a traitor would oppose their efforts. Roland not only declared that they must cease their work; he called for an armed force drawn from all the departments and stationed about Paris to prevent the city from interfering with the free action of the Convention. The suspicion which before the 10th of August he had applied to the constitutional party he now turned upon the party which had produced that day; the measure he had proposed to prevent the treason of the Court, he now proposed as a guard against the excesses of the patriots.
247He ran a Bureau of Public Opinion, which scattered thousands of documents filled with the eloquent and vague teachings of the Gironde schools. He urged the pastors to stop singing the Domine Salvum fac Regnum, and to translate their services into French; he discoursed upon how and when the word citizen should be used, advised a national costume, suggested that scenes from the classics be regularly reproduced in public to stir to patriotism, that fêtes celebrating every possible anniversary be instituted; but chiefly he defended himself against the charges of his antagonists, extolling his own impeccability and the exactness of his accounts. No sadder reading ever was printed than the campaign of words Roland carried on during the four months he struggled against the Mountain. Fearless, sincere, honest, disinterested as he was, he was still so pitifully inadequate to the situation, so ridiculously subjective in his methods, that irritation at his impotence is forgotten in the compassion it awakens.
While Roland carried on his Bureau of Public Opinion and defended his character, Buzot, in the Convention, fought the Mountain more openly and more bitterly. He had no excuse whatever for the excesses of September; no veil to draw over the first twenty-four hours, no patience, no thought of compromise with Robespierre and Danton, the leaders of the Commune. To his mind they were murderers pure and simple, and the country was not worth saving, if it could not be saved without them. 248In Roland’s case there is always the feeling that if the Commune had regarded him as necessary, obeyed his directions, let him run his Public Opinion Office to suit himself, and ceased maligning his character, he would have condoned their massacre as one of the unhappy but necessary means of insuring the Revolution; that if these “misled brothers,” as he called them, had recognized their mistake, he would have opened his arms to them. Never so with Buzot. Sensitive, idealistic, indifferent to public applause, from the first he took a violent and pronounced position against the Mountain, and refused to compromise with them. It was not hatred alone of the excesses. It was sympathy with Madame Roland, who had revolted against the Revolution. From the day at Evreux, when he received a letter from her, telling of her disgust and disillusion, and setting up a new cause,—the purification of the country of agitators and rioters,—Buzot’s ideas on the policy of Terror changed. When he came up to the Convention he immediately made a violent attack on Robespierre, declared that the Mountain was the most dangerous foe of the country, that Paris was usurping the power of France, and he never ceased his war.
The measure which Madame Roland had suggested a few months before to protect Paris, the patriots, and the Assembly against the aristocrats, he now proposed to thwart the activity of Paris and the Commune,—a guard drawn from all the departments 249for the defence of the Convention. Naturally, this drew upon him the hatred of the sections and leaders, and he was accounted in the Convention, from the 1st of October, the avowed opponent of the Terrorists.
Nothing intimidated him. He followed up the proposition for a guard by a demand for a decree against those who provoked to murder and assassination. Systematically he refused to believe in the sincerity of Robespierre and Danton,—they were usurpers aiming at dictatorship. When in March they sought to organize a revolutionary tribunal, Buzot, furious and trembling, declared to the Convention that he was weary of despotism. He signalled the abuses that were made all over France by the revolutionary bodies, and violently attacked members of the Jacobin society and of the Mountain, denouncing them as infamous wretches, as assassins of the country. It was not only murder of which he accused them,—it was corruption. “Sudden and scandalous fortunes” were noted among the Terrorists in the Convention,—and he demanded that each deputy give the condition and origin of his fortune.
In all these measures Buzot was in harmony with Roland, and he fought the minister’s cause in the Convention so far as possible. Indeed, it came to be a sort of personal resentment he showed when Roland was attacked in the body, and once he went so far that they cried out to him, “It is not you we 250are talking about.” It was a lover’s jealousy against anything which harmed his lady.
But while attacking the Terrorists Buzot was obliged to prove his patriotism, to show that he was a republican, and a hater of the monarchy. He did it by radical measures. While insisting on an armed force to protect the Convention, he demanded the perpetual banishment of the émigrés, and their death if they set foot in France. A few weeks later he demanded that whosoever should propose the re-establishment of royalty in France, under whatsoever denomination, should be punished by death; afterwards he asked the banishment of all the Bourbons, not excepting Philippe of Orleans, then sitting in the Convention.
When it came to the question of the death of Louis XVI., Buzot wished that the King be heard and not condemned immediately; when he came to vote, it was for his death with delay and a referendum that he decided.
But no amount of violence against the royalists could now prove him a patriot. That which made a patriot in the fall of 1792 was an altogether different thing from what made one in the spring of 1792. Buzot, with the Gironde, was suspected. It was not enough that he opposed the old régime and approved a Republic, he must approve the vengeance of Terrorism and support the Terrorists. But he could not do it. He was revolted by the awful excess, and he underwent a physical repulsion which 251was almost feminine and made any union with the party impossible, whatever the demands of politics were.
As a matter of fact, the Mountain feared Buzot but little. His irritability, haughtiness, lack of humor, made him of small importance as a leader in the Gironde. He could not move the Convention as Vergniaud; he had none of the wire-pulling skill of Brissot; he was important chiefly as the spokesman of Madame Roland’s measures. Buzot’s intimate relations to the Rolands seem to have been well understood. The contemptuous way in which Marat treated him shows this. Marat called him frère tranquille Buzot; and sneered at him for “declaiming in a ridiculous tone”; said the frère tranquille had a pathos glacial; called him le pédant Buzot; the corypheus of the Rolands.
In this chaotic and desperate struggle neither Roland nor Buzot were more active than Madame Roland. She had become a public factor by Marat’s accusations, and by Danton’s sneers in the Convention. She kept her place. At home she was as active as ever in assisting her husband. Many of the official papers of this period, which have been preserved, are in her hand, or have been annotated by her. Important circulars and reports she frequently prepared, and Roland trusted her implicitly in such work. She was his adviser and helper in every particular of the official work, and at the same time saw many people who were essential 252to them. This social activity brought down Marat’s abuse. She was “Penelope Roland” for him, and in one number of the journal under the head “Le Trantran de la Penelope Roland,” he wrote: “The woman Roland has a very simple means of recruiting. Does a deputy need her husband for affairs of the department, Roland pretends a multiplicity of engagements and begs to put him off until after the Assembly,—‘Come and take supper with us, citizen and deputy, we will talk of your business afterwards.’ The woman Roland cajoles the guests one after the other, even en portant la main sous le menton de ses favoris, redoubles attention for the new-comer, who soon joins the clique.”
Marat professes to have this from a deputy who had visited her. It is abusive and false, but it is well to remember that a year before Madame Roland had not hesitated to believe and repeat equally ridiculous stories of Marie Antoinette. Indeed, Madame Roland had the same place in the minds of the patriots of the fall of 1792, that the Queen had a year before in the minds of the Gironde. “We have destroyed royalty,” says Père Duchesne, “and in its place we have raised a tyranny still more odious. The tender other half of the virtuous Roland has France in leading-strings to-day, as once the Pompadours and the Du Barrys. She receives every evening at the hour of the bats in the same place where Antoinette plotted a new Saint Bartholomew with the Austrian committee. Like the former Queen, 253Madame Coco (the name Père Duchesne usually gives Madame Roland), stretched on a sofa, surrounded by her wits, reasons blindly on war, politics, supplies. It is in this gambling-den that all the announcements posted up are manufactured.”
In December she was even obliged to appear before the Convention. Roland had been accused of being in correspondence with certain eminent émigrés then in England, and to be plotting with them the re-establishment of the King. One Viard was said to be the go-between, and to have had a meeting with Madame Roland. Roland was summoned to answer the charge and, having responded, demanded that his wife be heard. Her appearance made a sensation in the Convention, and she cleared herself so well of the charges that she was loudly applauded, and was accorded the honors of the session. The spectators alone were silent and Marat remarked, “See how still the people are; they are wiser than we.”
At the beginning of the year 1793, the danger of mob violence was added to the incessant slanders by Hébert and Marat. “Every day,” says Champagneux, who was then employed by the minister, “a new danger appeared. It seemed as if each night would be the last of her life, as if an army of assassins would profit by the darkness to come and murder her as well as her husband. The most sinister threats came from all sides. She was urged not to sleep at the Hôtel of the Interior.”
At first the alarm was so great on her account 254that she yielded to her friends’ wishes, but she hated the idea of flight. One evening the danger was such that every one insisted on her disguising herself and leaving the hotel. She consented, but the wig they brought did not fit, and in a burst of impatience she flung the costume, wig and all, into the corner and declared she was ashamed of herself; that if any one wanted to assassinate her, he might do it there; that she ought to give an example of firmness and she would. And from that day she never left the hotel until Roland resigned on January 22d.
The little apartment in the Rue de la Harpe was waiting them. To leave the Hôtel of the Interior was no trial to them privately. No one could have been more indifferent to considerations of position and surroundings. Their convictions of their own right-doing made them superior to all influences which affect worldly and selfish natures. It is impossible for such people as the Rolands to “come down” in life. Material considerations are so external, so mere an incident, that they can go from palace to hut without giving the matter a second thought. But retirement did not mean relief. Roland’s reports which he had made to the Convention, and which he felt justly were a complete answer to the charges against him, were unnoticed. He begged the body repeatedly to examine them. He urged his ill-health and his desire to leave Paris as a reason, but no notice was 255taken of him. To Roland this neglect seemed insolence. He felt that he deserved honorable recognition. He craved it, and was irritated and discouraged when he did not receive it.
It was evident, too, that his retirement from office had not made his enemies forget him. They followed him as they had priests, émigrés, and nobles, and Marat repeatedly denounced him as connected with the opposition to the Mountain.
It was horrible for them to watch day after day the struggle going on in the Convention between Gironde and Mountain. Day by day the condition of the former grew more desperate, their defeat and the triumph of the policy of vengeance more certain. The most tragic part of the gradual downfall of the Gironde was not defeat, however. It was disillusion—the slow-growing and unconfessed suspicion that their dream had been an error. It was Buzot who felt this most deeply. In his Memoirs he confesses that gradually he grew convinced that France was not fitted for the Republic they had dared to give it, and that often he had been at the point of owning his mistake:
“My friends and I kept our hope of a Republic in France for a long time,” he writes; “even when everything seemed to show us that the enlightened class, either through prejudice or guided by experience and reason, refused this form of government. My friends did not give up this hope even at the period when those who governed the Republic 256were the most vicious and the vilest of men, and when the French people could be least counted on…. For myself, I avow that I despaired several times of the success of this project so dear to my heart. Before my expulsion from the Convention, not wishing to betray my conscience or my principles, I was on the point, several times, of retiring from a position where all the dangers, even that of dishonoring my memory, left me no hope of doing good; where even our obstinate and useless resistance did nothing but increase the error of good citizens on the true situation of the National Convention. A kind of self-love which was honored by the name of duty kept me at my post in spite of myself. My friends desired it and I stayed…. It is useless to deny it—the majority of the French people sighed after royalty and the constitution of 1790. There were only a few men with noble and elevated souls who felt worthy of having been born republicans, and whom the example of America had encouraged to follow the project of a similar institution in France, who thought in good faith to naturalize it in the country of frivolities and inconstancy. The rest—with the exception of a crowd of wretches without intelligence, without education, and without resources, who vomited injuries on the monarchy as in six months they will on the Republic, without knowing any reason why—the rest did not desire it, wanted only the constitution of 1791, and talked of the true republicans as one talks of extremely sincere fools. Have the events of the 20th of June, the suffering, the persecution, the assassinations which have followed them, changed the opinion of the majority in France? No; but in the cities they pretend to be sans-culottes; those that do not are guillotined. In the country the most unjust requisitions are obeyed, because those who do not obey them are guillotined; on all sides the young go to war, because those who do not go are guillotined. The guillotine explains everything. It is the great weapon of the French government. This people is republican because of the guillotine. Examine closely, go into families, search the hearts if they dare open to you; you will read there hate against the government that fear imposes upon them. You will see there that all desires, all hopes, turn towards the constitution of 1791.”
The prison, called the Abbaye, where Madame Roland passed the first twenty-four days of her imprisonment.
257That Buzot should have remained until the end with the Gironde, when convinced, as he here says, that their efforts for a Republic were contrary to the will of the country, and when, too, he was revolted against the excesses its establishment was causing, he explained fully, when he wrote: “My error was too beautiful to be repented of;” and again, when he says: “Our dream was too beautiful to be abandoned.”
The terrible whirlpool had dragged away hopes, ambitions, dreams, from them. Into it went, too, some of their most valued friends; men whom they 258had raised to positions of importance, but who now that they saw the party defeated abandoned them through fear and disillusion. At the same time that they were experiencing all the force of their disillusion, the relation between Roland and his wife was becoming terribly tense and painful. They felt that they must bring it to an end in some way, must get away from Buzot, and they resolved to go to the country. In May Roland wrote, for the eighth time, to the Convention, begging that the report on his administration be examined. His letter was not even read to the body. It became more and more probable that threats which had followed them a long time would take effect soon, and Roland be arrested. Madame Roland decided that she ought not to remain in Paris with her daughter any longer, as Roland could escape more easily if they were at Le Clos. Her health, too, sadly altered by the storm of emotions which she had passed through, demanded a change.
The passports permitting them to leave Paris had been delayed some days, and just as she received them she fell ill. She was not herself again when the 31st of May came. This day was for the Gironde what the 10th of August had been for the King.
During the latter half of May the Convention had been the scene of one of the maddest, awfulest struggles in the history of legislative bodies, and the victory had throughout leaned towards the Terrorists. They were decided, and audacious. The indecision, 259the platitudes, the disgust, of the Gironde weakened the party constantly. The struggle was ended by the riot of May 31st. Before the contest was over the Convention had voted the expulsion and trial of twenty-two members of the Gironde. Again the stick was out of the wheel, and the Republic was to roll.
Roland was not in the number that the Mountain could strike through the Convention. It had a much more direct and simple, a more legal, method of reaching him. Its Revolutionary committee had already been in operation some time. Its work was arresting those who stood in the way of the Republic. That Roland did, Marat had proved time and again, and now that the time had come to rid the country of the Gironde in toto, it would never do to let him escape.
It was on the afternoon of May 31st that the arrest of Roland was made at their apartment in the Rue de la Harpe. Arrests at this period were so arbitrary a matter, the sympathy or resentment of the officers and spectators had so much to do with their execution or non-execution, that it is not surprising that Roland by his own protestations and arguments, and by the aid of the good people of the house who were friendly to him, was able to induce the officer in charge to leave his colleagues and go after further orders.
Madame Roland took advantage of the delay to attempt a coup d’état, go to the Convention, secure 260a hearing, present Roland’s case, and trust to her beauty, her wit, and her eloquence to obtain his release. In her morning gown, for she was only just off her sick-bed, she sprung into a cab and drove to the Carrousel. The front court was filled with armed men; every entrance was guarded. With the greatest difficulty she reached the waiting-room and attempted to get a hearing from the president. A terrible uproar came from the Assembly, and after a long wait she learned what it meant,—the demand for the arrest of the twenty-two was being made.
She sent for Vergniaud and explained the situation. She could hope for nothing in the condition of affairs in the Assembly,—he told her the Convention was able to do nothing more. “It can do everything,” she cried; “the majority of Paris only asks to know what ought to be done. If I am admitted, I shall dare say what you could not without being accused. I fear nothing in the world, and if I do not save Roland, I shall say what will be useful to the Republic.” But what use to insist in this chaos? Not Vergniaud, not Buzot, not the Gironde as a body, had the power at this final moment to secure a hearing. She was forced to give it up and retire; not so easy a matter through the suspicious battalions guarding the approaches to the château. She was even obliged to leave her cab at last and go home on foot.
Back in the apartment she found that Roland had escaped. She went from house to house until she 261found him. They talked over the situation, he concluded to fly, she decided to go again to the Convention, and they parted.
In spite of weakness and fatigue Madame Roland made, that night, another attempt to reach the Convention. But when she reached the palace the session was closed. After infinite difficulty from the citizens who guarded the Tuileries she reached her home again. She had seated herself to write a note to Roland when, about midnight, a deputation from the Commune presented itself, asking for Roland. She refused to answer their questions, and they retired, leaving a sentinel at the door of the apartment and at that of the house. She finished her letter and went to bed. In an hour she was awakened. Her frightened servant told her that delegates from the section wanted to see her. With perfect calm she dressed herself for the street and passed into the room where the commissioners waited.
“We come, Citoyenne, to arrest you and put on the seals.”
“Where are your orders?”
“Here,” says a man drawing an order of arrest from the Revolutionary committee of the Commune. No reason of arrest is assigned in the document, which still exists, and the order given is to place her in the Abbaye to be questioned the next day. She hesitated. Should she resist? But what was the use? She was in their eyes mise hors de la loi and she submitted, not sorry at heart perhaps, to be put into a 262position where she could resist publicly the tyranny of her enemies. Reinforced by officers from the section, and by fifty to a hundred good sans-culottes come to see that the officers do their duty according to their sovereign will, the commissioners placed seals on boxes and doors, windows and wardrobes. One zealous patriot wanted to put one on the piano. They told him it was a musical instrument. Thereupon he contented himself with pulling out a yardstick and taking its dimensions.
In this ignorant, vulgar, and violent crowd she came and went serenely, preparing for her imprisonment. She even noted with amusement their curiosity and stupidity. It was morning when she left her weeping household. “These people love you,” said one of the commissioners, as they went downstairs. “I never have any one about me who does not,” she replied proudly.
Two rows of armed men extended from the doorway across the Rue de la Harpe to the carriage, waiting on the other side of the street. She looked about as she came out, at all this display of force, at the crowd of curious Parisian badauds who watched the scene, and with conscious dignity she advanced “slowly considering the cowardly and mistaken troop.” It is a short five minutes’ walk from where Madame Roland lived to the prison of the Abbaye and she soon was within the walls.
Two days later, June 2d, the arrest of Buzot was decreed by the Convention. He was seized but escaped 263from his guards, and fled from Paris to Evreux, where he was well received by the department which believed that the Convention had been forced into its decree against the twenty-two. Roland in the meantime had reached Amiens. The three were never to see one another again. The cause which brought them together had separated them forever.
It was the morning of the first day of June, 1792, that Madame Roland was taken to the Abbaye. The imprisonment then begun lasted until November 8th, the day of her death. The record we have of her life during these five months is full and intimate.
Separated from her child, her husband in flight, her friends persecuted by the Commune, she herself only just off a sick-bed, confined in a prison which had been from the beginning of the Revolution a centre of riot and the floors of whose halls and courts were still warm with the blood of the massacre of September, the cries of à la Guillotine following her from the street, it would not have been strange if her courage had failed, if she had paled before the fate which she knew in all probability awaited her. But from the beginning to the end of her long durance she showed a proud indifference to the result, an almost reckless audacity in braving her enemies, a splendid courage in suffering. She was serene, haughty, triumphant, a man, not a woman.
She declared that she would not exchange the moments 265which followed her entrance into the Abbaye for those which others would call the sweetest of her life. Indifferent to her surroundings, she sank into a revery, reviewing her past: there was nothing to make her blush, she felt, even if her heart was the scene of a powerful passion. She calculated the future and with pride and joy felt that she had the courage to accept her lot, to defy its rigors. “What can compare to a good conscience, a strong purpose,” she cries. There is nothing in her situation which is worth an instant of unrest. Her enemies shall not prevent her loving to the last, and if they destroy her she will go from life as one enters upon repose. And this high serenity endured even when, twenty-four days later, she suffered one of the most cruel and unnecessary outrages of the Revolution. On June 24th, she was freed. Hurrying home to the Rue de la Harpe, she flew into the house “like a bird,” calling a gay good-day to her concierge. She had not mounted four steps of her staircase before two men who had entered at her heels called:
“What do you want?”
“In the name of the law we arrest you.”
That night she slept in the prison of Sainte Pélagie, only a stone’s throw from the convent where as a girl she had prepared for her first communion.
The bitter disappointment of reimprisonment did not bend her spirit. “I am proud,” she wrote, some hours after her rearrest, “to be persecuted at a 266moment when talent and honor are being proscribed. I am assuredly more tranquil in my chains than my oppressors are in the exercise of their unjust power. I confess that the refinement of cruelty with which they ordered me to be set at liberty in order to rearrest me a moment afterwards, has fired me with indignation. I can no longer see where this tyranny will go.” This indignation was so bitter that the first night in her new prison she could not sleep. It was only the first night, however. To allow herself to be irritated by the injustice of her enemies was to be their dupe. She would not give them that satisfaction, and this intrepidity endured to the end.
There are several reasons for her really phenomenal fortitude. At the bottom of it was no doubt the fact that material considerations had no influence on her when they came into conflict with sentiments and enthusiasms. An ordinary woman would have paled with fear at the sound of women shouting into her carriage à la guillotine; the crowded halls of the Abbaye, the tocsin sounding all night, the brutality of the officers and guards, would have sickened her soul; the narrow and dirty staircases, the bare and foul-smelling rooms, would have revolted her delicacy; the dreadful associations filled her with shame and disgust. But Madame Roland found inspiration in the thought of enduring all this. She would not allow her soul to be moved by filth and noise, and she moved serenely among the lowest outcasts. 267These things were externals, mere incidents in life. They had no real importance in themselves. She would use them to school her soul to more steadfast endurance,—certainly she would never allow them to interfere with her soul’s life.
A stolid and unimaginative mind might have endured her position with equal calm; a dull and sluggish nature might have been equally indifferent to the revolting sights; but never was an imagination more responsive, a nature more vibrant and sensitive than hers. It was no lack of life and vigor. She was brave and indifferent because the fact of being so stirred her imagination. This sort of endurance seemed to her worthy of a hero of antiquity. Her whole nature was kindled by the thought of being superior to circumstances, of thwarting her enemies by her courage.
The training of her whole life helped her to carry out this idea. Rousseau never drilled and trained Émile more rigidly in the doctrine of submitting to necessity than she had herself. The more severe her trial, the higher her courage rose. This she felt was a supreme test, a martyrdom worthy of a Greek. Her classic conception of patriotism was satisfied by the thought that she, like the ancients, was in prison for the country and would undoubtedly die for it.
Her imprisonment made her a prominent actor, too, in the tragedy. Hitherto she had been behind the scenes, an influence recognized, to be sure, by all parties, but acting through others. A woman’s place 268was not in public, she believed, and she conformed carefully to her idea. But in serious natures, feeling deeply their individual responsibility, there is a demand for action. So long as Roland was minister she had ample chance to satisfy her patriotic longings for helping. But after his retirement and since the Gironde had been so demoralized that Buzot could do little or nothing, she had felt bitterly her impotence.
Now all was changed; she was in the fight, not as the amanuensis of her husband, the inspirer of her friend, but as an independent actor. She must show an example of how a patriot should endure and die, and she must strike a blow for truth whenever she had a chance. What she did and said would not only have its influence to-day, it would be quoted in the future. This conviction of her obligation to help the cause and make herself a figure in history, exalted her mind. She took a dramatic pose, and she kept it to the end. If there was a shade of the theatrical in it,—and there is almost always such a shading in Madame Roland’s loftiest moods and finest acts,—there is so much indifference to self, hatred of despotism, contempt of injustice, courage before pain, that the lack of perfect naturalness is forgotten.
From the beginning of her imprisonment she lost no opportunity to give a lesson in civism to those about her. To the guard who brought her to the Abbaye, and who remarked on leaving her that if 269Roland was not guilty it was strange that he absented himself, she said that Roland was just, like Aristides, and severe, like Cato, and that it was his virtues which had made his enemies pursue him. “Let them heap their rage on me. I can brave it and be resigned; he must be saved for his country, for he may yet be able to render great service.”
She neglected no opportunity of obtaining her liberty, not so much for the sake of liberty as that it gave her a means of expressing her opinions. By the advice of Grandpré, an inspector of prisons, protected formerly by Roland, and who hurried to her aid the first day of her imprisonment, she wrote to the Convention. In a haughty tone she described her arrest, the fact that no motive for it was given, the indignities and illegalities she had suffered, and demanded justice and protection.
So severe was the letter that Grandpré, after consulting Champagneux, brought it back to her to soften a little. After reflection she consented. “If I thought the letter would be read,” she told Grandpré, “I would leave it as it is, even if it resulted in failure. One cannot flatter himself that he will obtain justice of the Assembly. It does not know how to practise to-day the truths addressed to it, but they must be said that the departments may hear.”
Grandpré did his best to have her letter read at the Convention, but in the turmoil of the early days of June there was nothing to be obtained from this body save through fear or force. Madame Roland, 270hearing that the section in which she lived had taken her and Roland under its care, wrote to thank them, and to suggest that they try to secure a reading of the letter. But she took care that they should feel that she was no tearful suppliant: “I submit this question to your judgment; I add no prayer; truth has only one language; it is to expose facts; citizens who desire justice do not care that supplications should be addressed to them, and innocence does not know how to make them.”
The letter was read at the section and debated, but the Terrorists from other quarters filled the hall, and by their menaces prevented any effectual interference by those disposed in Madame Roland’s favor. Grandpré insisted that she should write to the ministers of justice and of the interior. She despised the weakness and mediocrity of both, and declared she would write nothing unless she could “give them severe lessons.” Grandpré found the letters she prepared humiliating, and persuaded her to change them. Even after the changes they were intensely hostile and contemptuous, anything but politic.
The “lessons” she gave in her letters she never failed to put into any conversation she had with public officials. One of these conversations she relates. It was with a committee of five or six persons who had come to look after the condition of the prisoners.
“Are you satisfied with your quarters? Have you any complaints to make of your treatment. Do you want anything?”
“I complain because I am here and I ask to be released.”
“Isn’t your health good? Are you a little dull?”
“I am well and I am never dull. L’ennui is a disease of an empty soul and a mind without resources, but I have a lively sense of injustice. I complain because I have been arrested without reason, and am detained without being examined.”
“Ah, in a time of revolution there is so much to do that one cannot accomplish everything.”
“A woman to whom King Philip made about the same answer told him, ‘If you have not the time to do justice you have not time to be king.’ Take care that you do not force oppressed citizens to say the same thing to the people, or rather to the arbitrary authorities who are misleading them.”
She had soon a more serious task than administering gratuitous rebukes and repeating high-sounding maxims. It was in defending herself against calumnies and accusations. She did it with spirit and clear-headedness, as was to be expected, and frequently in a tone of contemptuous asperity and superiority that could not fail to be exasperating.
It was on June 12th that she was questioned. She 272was asked if she knew anything about the troubles of the Republic during and after Roland’s ministry, or of the plan to make a Federal Republic; who were the persons who came to her salon; if she knew any traitors, or was allied with friends of Dumouriez; what she knew of Roland’s Public Opinion Bureau and his plan for corrupting the provinces; and lastly where was Roland. The committee got very little satisfaction out of their victim. They accused her of sharpness and evasion, and probably the accusation was just. The interview indicated to Madame Roland the complaint of the Commune against her, and showed her more clearly than before that there was no definite reason for her arrest. She was a suspect; that explained all.
To vague accusations was added direct calumny. Père Duchesne had not forgotten la reine Roland, and one morning she heard cried under her cell window: Visit of Père Duchesne to the citoyenne Roland in the prison of the Abbaye. The details of the pretended visit were cried so that she could hear them and at the same time the people collected in the market of Saint Germain, held by the side of the prison, were exhorted to avenge the wrongs Madame Coco had done them. The article was in Hébert’s most offensive and ribald style and told how its author, visiting the prison, was taken by Madame Roland for a brigand from La Vendée; how she rejoiced with him over the losses of the Republic; told him that aid was coming from Coblentz and 273England, and assured him that the contra-revolution had been brought about through Roland.
At first, hot with indignation at these calumnies, she tried to defend herself, but she soon saw that to besiege the Revolutionary authorities any longer was not only useless, but humiliating. It was better suited to her proud courage to ignore them, and she found in her silence and disdain a source of inspiration and strength.
While natural courage, long schooling in self-denial, submission to necessity, superiority to material considerations, intense patriotism, a desire to vindicate herself to posterity, explain her remarkable fortitude in her imprisonment, they do not her triumph. The exaltation she found in her prison was that of love, a love which duty had thus far forbidden her even to think of, but which now she felt she dared yield to. Her jailers had become her liberators.
In the documents which Madame Roland addressed from her prison to “posterity” there are frequent allusions to her passion for one whose name she concealed. In the collection of letters she left for friends, under the head of “Last Thoughts,” is a passionate and exultant farewell addressed to one whom “I dare not name, to one whom the most terrible of passions has not kept from respecting the barriers of virtue.” She bids him not to mourn that she precedes him to a place where “fatal prejudices, arbitrary conventions, hateful passions, and all kinds of tyranny are ended, where one day they can love each 274other without crime, and where nothing will prevent their being united.”
That Buzot was meant, remained a secret of the family for seventy years after Madame Roland’s death. Her biographers frequently speculated as to whom the object of her passion was. Lairtullier, writing in 1840, quotes her portrait of Barbaroux and apostrophizes her thus: “Femme, voilá ton secret trahi.” Servan and Vergniaud have been named as possibly her hero. The truth came out in 1864, when a bouquiniste of the Quai Voltaire advertised for sale a quantity of French Revolution papers among which were mentioned five letters of Madame Roland to Buzot. He had bought them from a young man whose father was an amateur of bouquins. Evidently they had been wandering among lovers of old papers since the day they had been taken from the dead body of Buzot. Those letters offered for sale were bought by the Bibliothèque Nationale.
They paint, as no published letters, the exultation of love, its power to lift the soul above all ordinary influences, free it from accepted laws and conventionalities, to strengthen it until it glories in suffering, if by that suffering it can yield itself to love. They show, too, how noble and pure a conception of such a passion Madame Roland had. It must not interfere with duty. Neither Roland must be betrayed, nor the country neglected; if either happened, the crown of their passion would be broken. Its glory and joy was not in abandon, but in endurance.
275It was three weeks after she was confined in the Abbaye before she heard from Buzot. Her first letter to him bears the date of June 22d. Buzot was at that time at Evreux, exhorting the people to take part in a movement of federalism to arouse the departments to act against the usurpation of Paris. She wrote in response to the first letters from him which her friends had been able to get to her.
“How often have I re-read them! I press them to my heart; I cover them with kisses; I had ceased to hope for them!… I came here proud and calm, praying and still hoping in the defenders of Liberty. When I learned of the decree against the Twenty-two, I cried, ‘My country is lost!’ I was in the most cruel anguish until I was sure of your escape. It was renewed by the decree against you; they owed that atrocity to your courage. But when I found that you were at Calvados, I recovered my calm. Continue your generous efforts, my friend. Brutus on the fields of Philippi despaired too soon of the safety of Rome. So long as a republican breathes and is free, let him act. He must, he can, be useful. In any case, the South offers you a refuge; it will be an asylum for the country. If dangers gather around you, it is there that you must turn your eyes and your steps; it is there that you must live, for there you can serve your fellow-men and practise virtue.
“As for me, I know how to wait patiently for the return of the reign of justice, or to undergo the last 276excesses of tyranny in such a way that my example shall not be vain. If I fear anything, it is that you may make imprudent efforts for me. My friend, it is by saving your country that you deliver me. I do not want my safety at its expense, but I shall die satisfied if I know you are working for your country. Death, suffering, sorrow, are nothing to me. I can defy all. Why, I shall live to my last hour without spending a single moment in unworthy agitation.”
She went over life in the Abbaye, and told him what she knew of her family and friends. Of Roland she said:
“The unfortunate Roland has been twenty days in two refuges in the houses of trembling friends, concealed from all eyes, more of a captive than I am myself. I have feared for his mind and his health. He is now in your neighborhood. Would that were true in a moral sense! I dare not tell you, and you alone can understand, that I was not sorry to be arrested…. I owe it to my jailers that I can reconcile duty and love. Do not pity me. People admire my courage, but they do not understand my joys. Thou who must feel them, savest their charm by the constancy of thy courage.”
One would believe it a quotation from a letter of Julie to Saint-Preux. The 3d of July she sent another letter:
“I received your letter of the 27th. I still hear your voice; I am a witness to your resolutions; I share the sentiments which animate you. I am proud 277of loving you and of being loved by you…. My friend, let us not so forget ourselves as to say evil of that virtue which is bought by great sacrifice, it is true, but which pays in its turn by priceless compensations. Tell me, do you know sweeter moments than those passed in the innocence and the charm of an affection that nature recognizes and that delicacy regulates; which honors duty for the privations that she imposes upon it and gathers strength in enduring them? Do you know a greater advantage than that of being superior to adversity and to death; of finding in the heart something to enjoy and to sweeten life up to the last sigh? Have you ever experienced better these effects than in the attachment which binds us, in spite of the contradictions of society and the horrors of oppression? I have told you that to it I owe my joy in my captivity. Proud of being persecuted in these times when character and honesty are proscribed, I would have supported it with dignity, even without you, but you make it sweet and dear to me. The wretches think to overwhelm me by putting irons upon me—senseless! What does it matter to me if I am here or there? Is not my heart always with me? To confine me in a prison—is it not to deliver me entirely to it? My company, it is my love! My occupation, it is to think of it!… If I must die, very well. I know what is best in life, and its duration would perhaps only force new sacrifices upon me. The most glorified instant of my existence, that in which I felt most deeply that exaltation 278of soul which rejoices in braving all clangers, was when I entered the Bastille that my jailers had chosen for me. I will not say that I went before them, but it is true that I did not flee them. I had not calculated on their fury reaching me, but I believed that if it did, it would give me an opportunity to serve Roland by my testimony, my constancy, and my firmness. I would be glad to sacrifice my life for him in order to win the right to give you my last sigh.”
She sent for his picture, and writes, July 7th:
“It is on my heart, concealed from all eyes, felt at every moment, and often bathed in my tears. Oh, I am filled with your courage, honored by your affection, and glorying in all that both can inspire in your proud and sensitive soul. I cannot believe that Heaven reserves nothing but trials for sentiments so pure and so worthy of its favor. This sort of confidence makes me endure life and face death calmly. Let us enjoy with gratitude the goods given us. He who knows how to love as we do, carries within himself the principle of the greatest and best actions, the price of the most painful sacrifices, the compensation for all evils. Farewell, my beloved, farewell.”
On July 7th, she wrote Buzot the last letter, so far as we know, that he received from her. In it all the exultation of her ardent passion, all the force of her noble courage, are concentrated.
“My friend, you cannot picture the charm of a prison where one need account only to his own heart for the employment of his moments! No annoying 279distraction, no painful sacrifice, no tiresome cares; none of those duties so much the more binding on an honest heart because they are respectable; none of those contradictions of law, or of the prejudices of society, with the sweetest inspirations of nature; no jealous look spies on what one feels, or the occupation which one chooses; no one suffers from your inaction or your melancholy; no one expects efforts or demands sentiments which are not in your power; left to yourself and to truth, with no obstacles to overcome, no friction to endure, one can, without harm to the rights and to the affection of another, abandon his soul to its own righteousness, refind his moral independence in an apparent captivity, and exercise it with a completeness that social relations almost always change. I had not looked for this independence…. Circumstances have given me that which I could never have had without a kind of crime. How I love the chains which give me freedom to love you undividedly, to think of you ceaselessly! Here all other occupation is laid aside. I belong only to him who loves me and merits so well to be loved by me…. I do not want to penetrate the designs of Heaven, I will not allow myself to make guilty prayers, but I bless God for having substituted my present chains for those I wore before. And this change appears to me the beginning of favor. If He grants me more, may He leave me here until my deliverance from a world given over to injustice and unhappiness!”
“Do not pity me,” she wrote to Buzot in her letter 280of June 22. She was not to be pitied. Life and death were kinder to her than to most of those upon whom fall the supreme misfortune of loving where conventionalities and law forbid love to go. It took the struggle from her hand and prevented the disillusion which she must have undergone had she lived. There is no escaping the conclusion that she would have ultimately left Roland for Buzot. Her idealization of all relations, persons, and ideas which stirred her; her imagination from infancy, given full play; her passionate nature, which she knew but poorly, though flattering herself that she was entirely its mistress; her confidence in the superiority of sentiment and in herself,—would have unquestionably pushed her to a union of some sort with Buzot. She was happy to be guillotined when she was, otherwise she must have inevitably suffered the most terrible and humiliating of all the disillusions of a woman,—the loss of faith in herself, in the infallibility of her sentiments, in her incapability to do wrong.
There is a much more natural and simple side to Madame Roland’s five months in prison than this one of exaltation and endurance, which, when viewed apart, sometimes becomes a little fatiguing. If one regards only the heroine, her self-sufficiency is a bit irritating at moments, much as one must admire it. It is the arrangement of her life, her occupations, her amusements, which appeal most to ordinary minds, and which perhaps are a better index to her real 281force of character than her exalted periods and professions.
When first taken to the Abbaye she was obliged to be alone in her cell, to take a tiny room with dirty walls and a heavily grated window. It opened on a disagreeable street, and below she could hear by night the cries of the sentry; by day, the hawking of Père Duchesne’s journal, and the rudeness of the market people, cries sometimes directed against herself. Nevertheless she decorated the little cell so gayly with flowers and books that her jailers called it Flora’s Pavilion.
At the Abbaye about fifty cents a day were allowed each prisoner for his expenses, although he could spend more if he had it. Madame Roland decided to amuse herself by making an experiment,—to see to what she could reduce her fare. Bread and water was served her for her déjeuner; for dinner (one hundred years ago the French dined at noon) she ate only one kind of meat, with a salad; in the evening, a little vegetable, but no dessert. After a time she got on without wine or beer. “This régime,” she explained, “had a moral end, and as I should have had as much aversion as contempt for a useless economy, I commenced by giving a sum to the poor, in order to have the pleasure, when eating my dry bread in the morning, of thinking that the poor souls would owe it to me that they could add something to their dinners.”
When she went to Sainte Pélagie, she found her 282life a little different. There the State gave nothing in money for the prisoners, who even paid for their beds. All that was furnished them was a pound and a half of bread and a dish of beans each day. She made arrangements with the concierge of the prison to furnish her meals which were about as simple as at the Abbaye. The prison itself she found most disagreeable. In fact, Sainte Pélagie, which exists to-day, though condemned to destruction, is the most gloomy and forbidding building in Paris. Its mere presence in the quarter where it stands gives a dreary and hopeless air to the street. The inmates of the prison at the period when Madame Roland was confined there were of such a character that she was subjected to the most disgusting annoyances. In the corridor from which her cell opened, their rooms separated from one and another only by thin partitions, were numbers of abandoned and criminal women. So obscene and revolting were they that she rarely left her room, though she could not shut out their noise.
From this pandemonium the concierge succeeded in saving her for a time, giving her a large chamber near her own, where she even had a piano; but the inspectors, once aware of the favor, ordered her back into the noisy corridor. Even there, however, she had her pleasures,—her flowers and her books. The first Bosc supplied her; the second she bought, or begged from her friends. She had Thompson, Shaftesbury, an English dictionary, Tacitus, and 283Plutarch. She bought pencils and drew a little every day; altogether it was a busy life. Her day was arranged regularly. In the morning she studied English, the essay of Shaftesbury on virtue, and Thompson; after that she drew until noon. Then she had serious work, for, conscious that her imprisonment might end in her death, she resolved at its outset to set down as fully as she should have time to, the facts in the political life of Roland, and to explain her own relations to him. It is from the material that she was able to write in this five months and get to her friends, that most of what we know of her life comes.
The first undertaken was her Historical Notes, written at the Abbaye. These she did, so rapidly, she says, and with such pleasure, that in less than a month she had manuscript for a volume. It was a summary of her public life, and an estimate on the people she had known during it. She had, herself, a very good opinion of the production: “I wrote it with my natural freedom and energy, with frank abandon and with the ease of one who is free from all private considerations, with pleasure in painting what I had felt and seen, and, finally, with the confidence that in any case it would be my moral and political testament. It had the originality which circumstances lent it, and the merit of reflections born from passing events, and the freshness which belongs to such an origin.”
The manuscript was confided to Champagneux, 284who was still in the Department of the Interior, but he, arrested, confided it to a person who, frightened lest it should fall into the hands of the inspectors, threw it into the fire. “I should have preferred to have been thrown there myself,” said Madame Roland, when she heard of this disaster.
Not all of the Historical Notes were destroyed, however, the account of her own and her husband’s arrest, of her first days at the Abbaye, and a brief sketch of their official life being saved.
It was more than a month after she was imprisoned at Sainte Pélagie before she determined to do over the task. The new undertaking included a series of portraits and anecdotes drawn from her political life, an account of her second arrest, and of the first and second ministries. At the same time that she wrote this, she prepared her private Memoirs,—a detailed history of her life up to 1777,—and notes on the time between her marriage and the Revolution. She intended to add to her Memoirs the story of her relations with Buzot, giving the origin and progress of her passion, but she was never able to finish it.
To this literary budget, already large, she afterwards added several short manuscripts,—a set of “Last Thoughts,” a number of letters, and a comment on the accusation made by the Mountain against the Gironde, that it was guilty of a conspiracy against the unity and the indivisibility of the Republic, and the liberty and safety of the French people.
285Almost all of this matter was given to Bosc, who, thanks to the concierge of Sainte Pélagie, was allowed to see her twice a week, up to the middle of October. But Bosc was proscribed later, and obliged to flee. Unwilling to trust the treasures he held to another, he hid the manuscripts in the crevice of a rock in the depths of the forest of Montmorency, where they remained eight months. Later, these papers were given to Eudora. They remained in the family until given to the Bibliothèque Nationale, where they now are.
The difficulties under which she wrote were, of course, great. It was essential that she should elude her guardians. She had no notes. She was surrounded by a ribald and noisy company. But these disadvantages only acted as spurs. She took delight in carrying on this forbidden work under the eyes of her persecutors. So rapidly did she write that in twenty-four days she produced two hundred pages of manuscript, including all the early part of her Memoirs. The words seemed to flow from her pen. The bulky manuscript of seven hundred pages, preserved at the Bibliothèque Nationale, is a marvel of neatness and firmness. The grayish pages are filled evenly from margin to margin in her beautiful characteristic hand, and there is scarcely a blot or erasure, scarcely a correction, save those made by Bosc, who published the first edition of the Memoirs in 1795.
In style, the political writings are always clear 286and positive; often they rise to a real eloquence. Written as they were under the force of the most powerful emotions, unbiassed judgments cannot be expected. She was defending her husband primarily in this work, and she did it with the more earnestness and warmth because she felt, as she wrote Buzot, that this was one way of compensating him for the sorrow she had caused him.
Her judgments on men are not always just. Indeed, they cannot be called judgments, they are simply her feelings towards those persons at the moment she wrote. Her indignation against the wrongs done her and her party is so intense that often her tone is irritated, contemptuous, impatient. The arrangement is not systematic, as, indeed, it was impossible to be, under the circumstances, and her pen bounds from one character to another,—from hero to agitator, from apostrophe to anecdote,—in a sort of reckless, impassioned hurry. The whole gallery of the Gironde and its opponents, from 1791 to 1793 pass before us, every one stamped with a positive, definite character.
That she poses throughout the narrative is unquestionable. It is to posterity she speaks, and she wished to appear in the eyes of the future as she believed herself to be,—the apostle of the ideas of liberty, equality, and fraternity, the incarnation of patriotism, the most perfect disinterestedness, and the highest fortitude.
It was Madame Roland’s plan, in writing her personal 287Memoirs, to cover her whole life, and to follow Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions. Although the work was never completed, we have the first twenty-five years. The charm of the narrative is irresistible. Never, even in the gayest and most natural of her letters to Bosc and Roland, was Madame Roland’s pen so happy as in these Memoirs of her youth. They sparkle with mirth and with tenderness. Never did any one appreciate better his own youth, nor idealize it more lovingly. To her these souvenirs are radiant pictures, and she sketches them one after another, with a full appreciation of all their attractiveness.
Her early masters, her suitors, her youthful enthusiasm, Sophie, the Convent des Dames de la Congrégation, Meudon, Vincennes, La Blancherie, her mother, the Salon, river, Luxembourg, her toilettes, duties, sorrows, joys, the whole flows in a steady, sparkling stream, vivid with color, pulsating with life. She relives it all, and without reflection or hesitation pours out everything which comes into her mind. So full and natural are these Memoirs that they are really the most attractive material we have of the life of her class in the eighteenth century.
In all Madame Roland’s dramatic life there is no more attractive picture than that which the writing of her Memoirs brings up: this splendid, passionate woman, glorying in her love and her courage, sitting day after day before the little table in her prison cell, oblivious to the cries and oaths which rise about her, 288indifferent to discomfort, forgetful of everything but the souvenirs which her flying pen records, and which bring smiles and tears by turn to her mobile face. Here we have none of the stilted, prepared style of her early writings, none of the pose of the political memoirs. It is self-complacent, to be sure, and we feel that she is making herself out to have been a most extraordinary young girl, but one cannot help forgiving her, she makes herself out so charming. However, if one is interested in finding out the woman as she really was, he must not trust too fully to her interpretations. She was so interested in herself, idealized herself so thoroughly, was so serious in her self-confidence, so devoid of self-reproach, that she was oblivious to her own inconsistencies and inconsequentialities.
Rousseau’s Confessions were the model of her Memoirs. The result was that she related some experiences which good sense and taste, not to say delicacy, ought to have forbidden her to repeat to any one, above all, to the public. These passages in her Memoirs are due to her slavish following of Rousseau. She was incapable of exercising an independent judgment in a matter of taste, of opinion, of morals, where Rousseau was concerned, so completely had she adopted him. When she came to writing her life, she dragged to light unimportant and unpleasant details because Rousseau had had the bad taste to do the same before her. The naïveté, with which these things are told, will convince any one that cares to examine the Memoirs that they mean nothing but she had taken the foolish engagement to tell everything she could remember about her life.
THE CONCIERGERIE IN 1793.
Prison where Madame Roland passed the last eight days of her captivity, and from which she went to the
guillotine. Pont au Change in the foreground.
289The Memoirs, as well as her daily life, her letters, her attitude towards the authorities, show her courage. But they show, too, the anguish which shook her from time to time. More than once her firm, brilliant narrative is broken suddenly—the sentence unfinished—to record some new outrage against her friends, and as she expresses indignantly her horror and her grief at the usurpers who are ruling France, one can almost hear the sob which shook her, but to which she would not yield. Here and there the gray pages of her beautiful manuscript are spotted by tear stains. Even now, a hundred years and more after it all, one cannot read them and see how, in spite of her iron will, her splendid courage, her heart was sometimes so heavy with woe that her tears would fall, without a choking in the throat and a dimness of the eyes.
One crisis after another indeed followed throughout her imprisonment,—the arrest of the Twenty-two; her own release and rearrest; the pursuit of Buzot; her friends and Roland’s declared suspect, imprisoned, driven from Paris, sometimes even guillotined because of their relations to her; the trial in October of the members of the Gironde; her summons to the trial as a witness, but the failure to call her,—a call which she had awaited, “as a soul in pain awaits 290its liberator,” she said, so did she desire to have the chance to render one last service to these friends, in whom she believed so strongly, whom she deemed so trusty; her anxiety for Eudora; the execution in October of the Twenty-one; above all, her despair for her country, for France, which permits the dishonor and murder not of “her children, but of the fathers of her liberty.”
The saddest phase of this dark side of her imprisonment was the growing conviction that she and the patriots had been wrong. At last she saw what she did when in 1791 she spurned the Assembly. She acknowledged now that she would have disdained the members of the National Assembly less, if she could have had an idea of their successors. She had learned to regret Mirabeau, whose death then had seemed to her well both for his glory and for the cause of liberty. “The counterpoise of a man of that force was necessary to oppose the crowd of puppets and to preserve us from the domination of the bandits.” She had learned that men may profess, but when their interests and ideals are in opposition it is the former which wins. She had discovered, at last, that to demand speedy and immediate regeneration of society is to break the laws of the universe; that to take away from men what the ages have given them is simply to restore them to the primitive state of teeth and claws, to let loose the passions the centuries have tamed. She saw that in politics, in society, in individual relations, the ideal is the 291inspiration; the realization, the laborious effort of centuries. She acknowledged that in Plutarch she glided over the storms of the Republic, “forgot the death of Socrates, the exile of Aristides, the condemnation of Phocion.” She was willing at last to say with Sully, “C’est très difficile de faire le bien de son pays”; to confess that “if it is permitted to politics to do good through the wicked, or to profit by their excesses, it is infinitely dangerous to give them the honor of the one, or not to punish them for the other.”
Under the pressure of all these woes she sometimes felt her resolution weaken. What wonder that when she heard, in October, that Buzot and his friends, now escaped to the Gascogne, were being tracked so closely that their arrest was sure, she determined to kill herself? “You know the malady the English call heart-break,” she wrote; “I am attacked hopelessly by it and I have no desire to delay its effects.” It seemed to her now that it was weak to await the blow of her tyrants—their coup de grâce she called it—when she could give it to herself. Why should she allow them to see how bravely she could die—they who were incapable of understanding her courage? Three months ago a noble public death might have served for something. To-day it was pure loss. All this she wrote to Bosc. She consented, however, to accept his decision as to whether she ought or not to take her own life, charging him to weigh the question as if it were impersonal.
292This letter to Bosc bears the date of October 25th. On October 31st, the condemned Girondins were beheaded. On November 1st, Madame Roland, who because of Bosc’s arguments had abandoned her resolution to suicide, was conveyed to the Conciergerie, a prison which in those days was but a transfer to the cart which led to the guillotine.
But could she not have been saved? She had friends who would have gladly dared death for her. All Paris knew of her imprisonment—was there no lover of justice to intercede? Her friends had tried to save her. Buzot and Roland both contrived many plans; she repulsed them all. They were too foolhardy to succeed; they might implicate those who would interest themselves in carrying them out, or perhaps ruin guardians who had been kind to her—of these she would hear nothing. Her old friend, Henriette Cannet, then a widow, came from Amiens, succeeded in reaching her in prison, insisted on changing garments with her and on remaining in her place. She would not consent; she would rather “suffer a thousand deaths” than run the risk of causing that of a friend. And then what did release mean? Merely the taking on of her old chains. “Nothing would stop me if I braved dangers only to rejoin you,” she wrote Buzot; “but to expose my friends and to leave the irons with which the wicked honor me, in order to take on others that no one sees—there is no hurry for that.”
Madame Roland, throughout her imprisonment, had 293hoped for a popular uprising, a revolt against tyranny, coming from Paris or the departments, which would release her and her friends. She never got thoroughly over her illusion that the people, as a mass, were the ones that were to reconstruct France; never realized fully how the people are simply a passive unit, asking only to be let alone, to be allowed to live as they can without interference; that they have no initiative, that when they act it is because they have been aroused by leaders working on them systematically, appealing to their wants, their desires, their reason sometimes, but more often inflaming their passions. She never appreciated, save dimly, the fact that throughout the Revolution, so far, the revolt of the people had been prepared by agitators,—prepared as she and her friends wished to make the 20th of July, did make the 10th of August. The people know she is imprisoned; if they reflect at all, they know that probably it is unjust, but they are cautious. They have seen, ever since the Revolution commenced, that he who tries to prevent outrage is sure to be the first to be punished. They have concluded wisely that the only safe plan is to let the belligerents fight it out, to follow as well as they can their usual occupations, and to say nothing. The mass of the Parisians go on as usual. The Terror has become a part of daily discussion, a part of the city’s spectacles,—that is all. People buy and sell as usual, the theatres do not close, not even the Sunday promenade is omitted. They even take advantage of events to 294give a livelier interest to their amusements. The theatres, the fairs, the cafés chantants, the maker of songs and engravings, draw their subjects from the quarrels of the Assembly, the persecutions of the Commune, the events of the prisons and of the guillotine. They even use it to advertise their wares: The real estate agents announce, “in the new state of Kentucky, and the ancient state of Virginia, lands in a country free from despotism and anarchy.” The potter improves the chance, and turns out plates and cups and saucers by the thousands, suitable for all the varying tastes and shades of opinion; there is elegant Sèvres with a bonnet rouge for the rich patriot; there is a vive le roi, with a sceptre, for the monarchist; there is a guillotine for the bloodthirsty; there is a coarse and vulgar joke for the ribald. The cloth-maker prints patriotic scenes on his curtain stuff; the handkerchief-maker decorates with transcriptions of the droits des hommes; the hat-maker turns out idealized bonnets rouges suitable for the street or opera; the fan-maker illuminates with king or sans-culottes, according to taste; the very manufacturer of playing-cards takes off the time-honored king and queen and knave, and replaces them with heroes, philosophers, and Revolutionary emblems. Cabinet-maker, jeweller, shoemaker, weaver, all turn the Revolution to account. For whether justice reign or fall, the world must go on, and while the few wrestle with the pains of progress, of achievement, of aspiration, the mass looks on and calculates what effect the struggle will have on the price of bread.
DEATH ON THE GUILLOTINE
The inmates of the Conciergerie were still shivering under the horror of the death of the twenty-one Girondins when Madame Roland appeared among them. Her coming was an event which awakened the liveliest interest. For eight months she had been the most influential woman in France. She was the recognized inspiration of the party which had wrecked the monarchy and established the Republic, which had been conquered by the force it had called to life. To the majority she was but a name. They all knew that her death was a foregone conclusion. They felt that she, too, knew it, and they watched, many of them with curiosity—for numbers of the inmates were of constitutional and royalist sympathies—for signs of revolt and of weakness. Never, however, had she been calmer, never more serene.
The prisons of Paris were at that time terribly overcrowded and poorly cared for. It was the custom to confine people together without any regard to their character or lives. “On the same straw, and behind 296the same bars,” writes an inmate, “the Duchesse de Grammont and a handkerchief thief, Madame Roland and a wretch of the streets, a sister and a habitué of Salpétrière. The quarrelling and the obscenity were often terrible. But from the time of her arrival the chamber of Madame Roland became an asylum of peace in the bosom of this hell. If she descended into the court, her simple presence restored good order, and the unhappy women, on whom no known power had longer any influence, were restrained by the fear of displeasing her. She gave money to the most needy, and to all counsel, consolation, and hope.”
Over many of the prisoners she exercised a kind of spell. “I experienced every day a new charm in listening to her,” says Comte Beugnot, a fellow-prisoner who, rare thing, escaped to write his memoirs; “less from what she said than from the magic of her manner.” “We were all attentive about her in a kind of stupefied admiration,” declares Rioffe.
The next day after her arrival she was questioned for the first time; two days later she underwent a second examination. She had gone into the tribunal in her usual serene way. She came back deeply moved, her eyes wet. The interrogation was indeed most trying. The questions were so couched that in answering them honestly she condemned herself. Did she not entertain Brissot, Barbaroux, Buzot, Pétion, in conference? She must admit it, and explain the “conference” as she would, the Revolutionary tribunal used her admission as a confession of a 297criminal relation. A letter written to a person, whom she knew but slightly, and who had tried to secure a reading of her letters to the Convention, was used as evidence against her. It was useless to declare that she simply tried through this correspondent to reach the ear of the authorities and to obtain news of her friends. Her friends have been guillotined as traitors to the country, or are in open rebellion at this moment, conspiring for the destruction of the Republic. This person, if he were a patriot, would not have been in communication with them. If she were loyal, she would not want news of them. Let her try to explain and they accuse her of evasion. Roland’s office for creating public opinion was brought up. Was she not the directress of this pretended Bureau of Public Opinion, whose end was evidently to attack the doctrines in their purest source and to bring about the destruction of the Republic by sowing disorder? It was useless to explain the tame and harmless nature of this department of Roland’s work—a department established by public decree; for they accused her of outraging truth when she did, and told her that everybody knew that the correspondence carried on by the perfidious minister had for its principal object to bring the departments to Paris and to spread calumnies against the faithful representatives of the people. They asked her the whereabouts of Roland, and when she refused to tell they informed her that she was in rebellion against the law.
298It was evident, indeed, that whatever she might say was useless. She was the friend of the Gironde, and the last of the race must be exterminated just as royalist and émigré had been. The world was being made over, and all who objected to the transformation and wished to fight for another order must be put out of the way. There was not room enough in France any longer for people of different ways of looking at things.
The night after her second interrogation, Madame Roland wrote a defence to read before the tribunal, in which she indignantly denied the accusations against her friends, and declared herself honored to perish for her fidelity to them. The defence was in her haughtiest, most uncompromising style, and showed her at the very end as resolute, as proud, as triumphant, as ever. But this defence was written in the heat of indignation at her examination, and for the hearing of the judges she despised. Away from her persecutors, many times during the days which followed, her strength failed and her fellow-prisoners remarked, almost with awe, that she had been weeping. The woman who served her told them: “Before you she collects all her strength, but in her chamber she remains often hours at a time, leaning against the window, weeping.”
On the 7th of November, the witnesses against Madame Roland appeared. There were three of them;—her faithful bonne, for thirteen years in her service, and who during her imprisonment had 299dared every danger to be useful to her, a governess of Eudora’s, and a domestic. The weight of their testimony was simply that the Girondins had frequented the house.
That night Madame Roland’s lawyer, a courageous young man, Chauveau-Lagarde by name, who was ambitious to defend her, came to consult with her. She listened calmly to him and discussed several points of her defence. When he rose to go she drew a ring from her finger and, without a word, gave it to him. The young man divined the farewell. “Madame,” he cried, “we shall see each other to-morrow after the sentence.”
“To-morrow I shall not be alive. I know the fate which awaits me. Your counsels are dear to me, but they might be fatal to you. They would ruin you without saving me. Let me never know the sorrow of causing the death of a good man. Do not come to the court, I shall disown you, but accept the only token my gratitude can offer. To-morrow I shall exist no more.”
The next day, November 8th, was her trial. When she came out from her cell to await for her summons to the court, Comte Beugnot joined her. “She was clad carefully in white muslin, trimmed with blonde and fastened by a girdle of black velvet.” He says: “Her face seemed to me more animated than usual. Its color was exquisite and she had a smile on her lips. With one hand she held up the train of her gown; the other she had abandoned to a crowd of prisoners 300who pressed near to kiss it. Those who understood the fate which awaited her sobbed about her and commended her to God…. Madame responded to all with affectionate kindness. She did not promise to return, she did not say she was going to her death, but her last words to them were touching counsels. She begged them to have peace, courage, hope, to practise those virtues which are fitting for misfortune. An old jailer, called Fontenay, whose good heart had resisted the practice of his cruel trade for thirty years, came to open the gate for her, weeping. I did my errand with her in the passage. She answered me in a few words and in a firm tone. She had commenced a sentence when two jailers from the interior called her to the tribunal. At this cry, terrible for another than her, she stopped and, pressing my hand, said: ‘Good-by, sir, let us make peace, it is time.’ Raising her eyes, she saw that I was struggling violently to keep back my tears. She seemed moved and added but two words, ‘Have courage.’”
The accusation waited her. It was a charge of having “wickedly and designedly participated in a conspiracy against the unity and indivisibility of the Republic, against the liberty and surety of the French people, by collecting at her home the principal leaders of this conspiracy, and carrying on a correspondence with them tending to facilitate their murderous projects.” She was not allowed to read her defence, and the judgment was pronounced at once. She was convicted 301of being one of the authors, or accomplices, in a “horrible conspiracy against the unity and indivisibility of the Republic, the liberty and surety of the French people,” and was sentenced to be punished by death.
When she came out from the tribunal the cart awaited her in the prison court.
Standing on the Pont au Change and looking down the Seine, is one of those fascinating river views of Paris where a wealth of associations disputes with endless charm the attention of the loiterer. The left of the view is filled by the Norman Towers of the Conciergerie, the façades of the prison, the irregular fronts of the houses facing on the Quai de l’Horloge, and ends in an old house of Henry IV.’s time. It is the house where Manon Phlipon passed her girlhood. When the cart drove across the Pont au Change, Madame Roland had before her the window from which, as a girl, she had leaned at sunset, and “with a heart filled with inexpressible joy, happy to exist, had offered to the Supreme Being a pure and worthy homage.”
She faces death now as she faced life then. The girl and the woman, in spite of the drama between, are unchanged: the same ideals, the same courage, the same faith. Not even this tragic last encounter with the home of her youth moves her calm; for she passed the Pont Neuf, writes one who saw her, “upright and calm,—her eyes shining, her color 302fresh and brilliant,—a smile on her lips, trying to cheer her companion, a man overwhelmed by the terror of approaching death.”
It was a long and weary jolt in the rough cart from the Pont Neuf, where M. Tissot saw her passing, “erect and calm,” by the Rue Saint Honoré to the Place de la Concorde, then Place de la Guillotine. The hideous, howling crowd followed and cursed her. But nothing earthly could reach the heights whither she had risen. At the foot of the guillotine, so tradition goes, she asked for a pen to write the thoughts which had arisen in this awful journey to death, but it was refused. Sanson, the headsman, in a hurry, pressed her to mount the short ladder which led to the platform; for there was a grim guillotine etiquette which gave her the right to die first, but she asked him to give her place to her cringing companion and spare him the misery of seeing her die. Sanson demurred. It was against his orders. “Can you refuse a lady her last request?” she said, smiling, and he, a little shamefaced, consented.
Then her turn came. As they fastened her to the fatal plank, her eyes fell on a colossal statue of liberty erected to celebrate the first anniversary of the 10th of August. “O liberté,” she cried, “comme on t’a jouée.” Then the axe dropped, the beautiful head fell; Madame Roland was dead.
THOSE LEFT BEHIND
Madame Roland was dead, but she had left behind the three beings dearest and closest to her,—her husband, her child, and her lover.
Roland fled from Paris, as we have seen, on the night of May 31st. He succeeded in reaching Amiens, where he had lived many years and where he had many friends; but though more than one home was opened to him the surveillance of the Mountain was such that he thought it wise to leave the town. From Amiens he went westward to Rouen, where he easily found shelter. He was here on June 22d, when Madame Roland wrote her first letter to Buzot. The life he led there was miserable in the extreme. He constantly feared to be arrested; he felt that he was jeopardizing the lives of his hosts by his presence; he fretted under the contempt and false accusations which the Mountain continued to rain upon him; and, above all, he was tortured by his inability to do anything to insure the future of his child or to effect the release of his wife.
This anxiety had not grown less with time. The 304events of the summer and the fall of 1793 only increased day by day his misery and apprehension. The news of the death of the twenty-one Girondins in October seemed to turn to bitterness the last drop of his hope. A heavier blow awaited him. That happened which must have seemed to his simple soul the impossible,—his wife was guillotined. When the fatal word reached him, she had been dead for several days. As the news was given him he fell, stricken with a blessed unconsciousness. When he recovered himself, his distress was so great that he resolved to put an end to his days. In vain did the friends who had sheltered and cared for him all these months urge him to give up his resolution. He would not listen to them, but with perfect serenity laid before them two plans which he felt he might follow. The first savored strongly of Madame Roland’s influence: it was to go incognito to Paris, appear in the Convention, make an unexpected speech in which he should tell them the truths he felt they ought to hear, and then ask them to kill him on the guillotine where his wife had lost her life. The second was to kill himself.
ROLAND DE LA PLATIÈRE.
From a drawing by Gabriel.
305One consideration alone deterred him from carrying out his first plan. The property of persons guillotined was confiscated by the State. If he should die in this manner, Eudora would be left penniless, and Roland abandoned the idea. There remained nothing for him but suicide. On the evening of November 15th, he bade his friends good-by, and left Rouen by the route to Paris. About four leagues from Rouen, in the hamlet of Baudoin, he left the highway, entered the roadway leading to a private house, seated himself on the ground on the edge of the avenue, and deliberately ran a cane-sword into his breast. His death must have been immediate; for passers-by, next morning, seeing him there leaning against a tree, thought he was sleeping. When the truth was discovered, a deputy from the Convention, who happened to be at Rouen, went at once to the spot and took possession of the papers on his person. The only one of importance was a note which ran:
“Whoever finds me lying here, let him respect my remains. They are those of a man who died as he lived, virtuous and honest.
“The day is not far distant when you will have to bear a terrible judgment; await that day; you will act then in full knowledge of causes, and you will understand the meaning of this advice.
“May my country soon abhor these crimes and return to humanity and kindliness.”
On another fold of the paper was written:
“Not fear, but Indignation.
“I left my refuge as soon as I heard that my wife had been murdered. I desire to remain no longer in a world covered with crime.”
Eudora Roland, born October 7, 1781, was twelve years old at the time of her mother’s death. Separated 306the night of the arrest, the two never saw each other again. Happily, there were warm and faithful friends ready to take care of her as soon as her serious situation was known. Bosc, who throughout Madame Roland’s imprisonment showed himself of the most fearless and tender devotion, went to the apartment in the Rue de la Harpe soon after the arrest, and took the little girl to the home of a member of the Convention, Creuzé-la-Touche. Here she remained until a few days before her mother’s death. Then it became evident that, in sheltering Eudora, Madame Creuzé-la-Touche was compromising the safety of her family, and she was compelled to place her charge in a pension. She was not received there, even, until her name had been changed. All this was a great grief to Madame Roland in her last days. She understood only too well now that her child was in danger of suffering her own fate. She wrote an anxious letter to “the person charged with the care of my daughter,” and to Eudora herself she wrote a courageous adieu:
“I do not know, my little girl,” she wrote, “that I shall ever see or write to you again. Remember your mother, that is the best thing I can say to you. You have seen me happy in doing my duty and in serving those who were suffering. There is no better life.
“You have seen me tranquil in misfortune and captivity. I could be so because I had no remorse, and only pleasant memories of the good I had done. 307Nothing else can sustain one in the sorrows of life. Perhaps you will never experience trials like mine, but you must prepare for others. A busy, active life is the best safeguard against danger, and necessity, as well as wisdom, will compel you to work seriously.
“Be worthy of your parents. They leave you a noble example. If you follow them, you will not live in vain.
“Farewell, dear child. I nursed you at my breast. I would inspire you with my aspirations. The day will come when you will understand the effort I am making to be strong as I think of your sweet face.
“Would that I could fold you to my breast!
“Adieu, my Eudora.”
It was Madame Roland’s last letter to her child. Bosc, who had been allowed to visit her twice a week throughout the fall, was now forbidden to see her. Letters had to be smuggled in and out of the prison, and she soon ceased to have any trustworthy news of her loved ones. Six days after the above letter, she wrote to Bosc:
“My poor little one! Where is she? Tell me, I beg of you. Give me some details that I may picture her to myself in her new surroundings.”
It was too late. In less than a week after this letter she was in the Conciergerie.
After the death of M. and Madame Roland, Eudora was taken in charge by Bosc, who, in 1795, published the first edition of Madame Roland’s Memoirs, 308to help in her support. Legend has it that Bosc even wanted to marry the child. Later a marriage was arranged for her with a brother of Champagneux of Lyons, the old friend of the Rolands.
After the Revolution, Madame Champagneux recovered her father’s property, and Le Clos, the family estate, near Villefranche, came into her possession. This property is still in the family, being owned by one of Madame Champagneux’s granddaughters, Madame Cécile Marillier of Paris.
All of the papers of Madame Roland, which had been confided to Bosc, were given by him to Eudora, and she seems to have experienced a certain resentment towards her mother when she found that she had told posterity so frankly that her only child lacked in depth of sentiment and keenness of intellect. This feeling only intensified her admiration for her father, and when Lamartine’s History of the Girondins appeared, she was deeply indignant at the way in which he belittled M. Roland in order to make the figure of Madame Roland more brilliant. It was with the hope that Lamartine’s influence could be counteracted, that she urged a friend, a grand-nephew of Bosc, M. P. Faugère by name, to take possession of all the family papers, and prepare a work which would justify the memory of Roland. M. Faugère was already busy with a new edition of the Memoirs, but he promised Madame Champagneux to do the work on M. Roland as soon as that was finished. The Memoirs he completed, and 309his edition is by far the best published; but though he began the study of Roland he died before finishing it. The family papers remained in the possession of Madame Faugère, who, in 1888, turned over the most important of them to the Bibliothèque Nationale.
Madame Champagneux lived to be nearly seventy-seven years old, dying in Paris July 19, 1858. The last years of her life were clouded by the death of one of her daughters, a loss from which she is said never fully to have recovered.
Of the three left behind, the fate of Buzot was saddest. At the moment that he escaped to Evreux, the northwest departments felt that the Convention had been coerced into the decree against the Gironde and there was a general revolt against the tyranny of Paris. Buzot and his friends who had escaped decided, on sounding this feeling, that it was sufficiently wide-spread and profound to justify them in undertaking a campaign against the Convention and in favor of federalism. Buzot began by speaking in the cathedral at Evreux and here he was joined by Pétion, Barbaroux, and Louvet. The agitators were not long unmolested. The Convention turned its fiercest anathemas against the “traitors,” as it called them, and the Revolutionary authorities of the northwest were ordered to crush them. At first they fled into Brittany, evidently hoping to find a vessel there for America, but disappointed in this, they made their way to Gascogne, where one of their number had friends.
310While Buzot was escaping, the patriotic saviours of their country were exhausting themselves in fantastic efforts to show their hatred of his “treason.” His house was demolished amid civic rejoicings. His effigy was burned and riddled with bullets in the process. On the walls near his residence could be still read a few years ago an inscription written in the excitement.
“Buzot le scélérat trahit la liberté;
Pour ce crime infâme, il sera decapité.”
This effectual and dignified way of dealing with a political opponent reached its climax on December 30, 1793, when Evreux held a fête of rejoicing over the recapture of Toulon. The cathedral in which, six months before, Buzot had spoken had become a “temple of reason and philosophy.” On the altars were the busts of Marat, Lepelletier, and Brutus, where once were the forms of Virgin and Child and peaceable saint. The latter had been transferred to the Place de la Fédération, where, together with effigies of Buzot and other local celebrities who had refused to believe and vote as the authorities desired, they were burned.
In the mean time Buzot had escaped to Saint Émilion, where, for some three months, he and his friends were concealed. They busied themselves, when their places of hiding permitted it, with writing their memoirs. Buzot discussed his political career and made a violent, often vindictive, attack 311on his opponents. There is no direct avowal, in his work, of his love for Madame Roland, but one feels throughout the despairing, passionate passages the struggling of a great emotion, stifled, but not dead. It is said that when the news of Madame Roland’s death reached Buzot, his friends thought he had gone mad, and it was many days before the violence of his grief was calmed.
At the beginning of 1794 the refugees were obliged to change asylums, and went to the house of a hair-dresser in Saint Émilion, where they stayed until June of that year. At that time, however, the Revolutionary authorities of Bordeaux decided that they were not doing their whole duty in saving the country, and began a house-to-house search throughout the department. Buzot, with his friends, Pétion and Barbaroux, were forced to fly. After days of fatigue and fear and hunger, the end came. Barbaroux, thinking he was discovered, attempted to shoot himself, but succeeded only in wounding himself, and was captured.
Just how death came to Buzot no one knows; for when his body was found it lay beside that of Pétion in a wheat-field, half-eaten by wolves.
In unconscious irony the peasants have since called the field the champ des émigrés.
Appel à l’impartiale postérité. Par la citoyenne Roland, femme du ministre de l’intérieur. 1795.
Œuvres de J. M. Ph. Roland, femme de l’ex-ministre de l’intérieur. 1800. 3 vols.
Mémoires de Madame Roland, avec une notice sur sa vie. Par MM. Berville et Barrière. 1820. 2 vols.
Mémoires de Madame Roland. Par Ravenel. 1840. 2 vols.
Lettres inédites de Mademoiselle Phlipon. Adressées aux demoiselles Cannet. Par M. Auguste Breuil. 1841.
Mémoires particuliers de Madame Roland. Par M. François Barrière. 1855. 1 vol.
Mémoires de Madame Roland, écrits durant sa captivité. Par M. P. Faugère. 1864. 2 vols.
Mémoires de Madame Roland. Par C. A. Dauban.
Lettres de Madame Roland (Mademoiselle Phlipon) aux demoiselles Cannet. Par C. A. Dauban. 1867. 2 vols.
Étude sur Madame Roland et son temps, suivie des lettres de Madame Roland à Buzot. Par C. A. Dauban. 1864.
Lettres autographes adressées à Bancal des Issarts. Publiées par Henriette des Issarts et précédées d’une introduction par Sainte-Beuve. 1836.
Papiers de M. et Madame Roland, Nouvelles acquisitions françaises, Bibliothèque Nationale. 4 vols. In this collection are over 250 unpublished letters of Madame Roland, a large number by Roland, a voluminous academic and political correspondence, many communications to the 314academies, the documents for establishing the genealogy of the Roland family, and many other papers.
Manuscript contributed to the Academy of Lyons by Roland. Now in the library of the Academy at Lyons.
Published Reports of the Academy of Lyons. 1785–1790.
Lettres écrites de Suisse, d’Italie, de Sicile, et de Malte. Par M. … à Mademoiselle … à Paris, en 1776, 1777 et 1778. 1782. 6 vols.
Dictionnaires des Manufactures des Arts et des Métiers in the Encyclopédie Méthodique. 4 vols. By Roland.
Madame Roland. By Mathilde Blind. 1886.
Four Frenchwomen. By Henry Austin Dobson. 1890.
Tableau de Paris. Par Mercier. 1783–1789.
Le Nouveau Paris. Par Mercier. 6 vols. 1795.
Paris tel qu’il était avant la Révolution. Par M. Thiéry. An IV.
État ou Tableau de la ville de Paris. Par de Jéze. 1761.
Dictionnaire historique de la ville de Paris et de ses environs. Par Hurtant et Magry. 1779.
Tableaux des Mœurs. 1600–1880. Par Paul Lacombe. 1887.
L’an 1789. Par Hippolyte Gautier. 1888.
Paris en 1789. Par Albert Babeau. 1890.
La vie privée d’autrefois. Par A. Franklin. 17 vols. 1887–1895.
Mémoires inédits de Mme de Genlis. 1825. 10 vols.
Mémoires de Mme d’Épinay.
La femme au XVIIIme Siècle. Par Edmond et Jules de Goncourt. 1874. 2 vols.
L’Éducation des femmes par les femmes. Par Octave Gréard. 1887.
315L’Art du XVIIIme Siècle. Par Edmond et Jules de Goncourt. 1874. 2 vols.
Causeries du Lundi. Par Sainte-Beuve.
Études sur la littérature contemporaine. Par Edmond Scherer.
Extrait du journal de mes voyages. 1776. 2 vols. Par Pahin de la Blancherie.
Nouvelles de la République des lettres et des arts. 8 vols. 1779–1787. Par Pahin de la Blancherie.
Émile—Les Confessions—La Nouvelle Héloïse—Contrat social. Par J. J. Rousseau.
Histoire Parlementaire. Par Buchez et Roux. 32 vols.
L’Esprit public au XVIIIme Siècle. Par Charles Aubertin. 1872.
L’Esprit Révolutionnaire avant la Revolution. Par Felix Rocquain.
Les causes financières de la Révolution française. Par Charles Gomel. 1893.
De l’administration Provinciale et de la réforme de l’impôt. Par Letrosne. 1779.
Le Paysan sous l’Ancien Régime. Par Ferdinand Brunetière. Revue des Deux Mondes. Avril, 1883.
La Vie Rurale dans l’Ancienne France. Par Albert Babeau, 1883.
Procés verbaux de l’assemblée provinciale de Lyon. 1787.
Lettres de l’intendant du Lyonnais pendant 1780–1789.
Cahiers du Tiers État, de la noblesse, et du clergé de Lyon aux États Généraux, 1789.
Almanach Royal de France.
Almanach National de France.
Dr. Rigby’s Letters from France in 1789.
316Procés Verbaux. Assemblée Nationale, 1789–1791. 76 vols.
Letters written in France. H. M. Williams. 1796.
Histoire littéraire de la Convention Nationale. Par E. Maron. 1860.
L’eloquence parlementaire pendant la Révolution française. Par F. A. Aulard. 1885–1886. 2 vols.
Catalogue d’une collection d’ouvrages historiques sur la Révolution française. Par E. Gonon.
Les Origines de la France contemporaine. Par A. Taine. 1878–1885. 3 vols.
Considérations sur les principaux événements de la Révolution française. Par Madame la baronne de Staël. 1843.
Letters and Speeches of Thomas Paine during the French Revolution.
Diary and Letters of Gouverneur Morris. 1888. 2 vols.
Mémoires et correspondance (de Mallet du Pan) pour servir à l’histoire de la Révolution française. 1851. 2 vols.
Histoire de la société française pendant la Révolution. Par Edmond et Jules de Goncourt. 1854.
De l’autorité de Rabelais dans la révolution présente et dans la constitution civile du clergé. Par Pierre Louis Ginguené. 1791.
La démagogie en 1793 à Paris. Charles Aimé Dauban. 1868.
Souvenirs sur les deux premières assemblées. Par E. Dumont.
Mémoires sur la Révolution. Par D. J. Garat. 1795.
J. P. Brissot député du département d’Eure et Loire à ses commettans, sur la situation de la Convention Nationale, sur l’influence des anarchistes, et les maux qu’elle a causés, sur la nécessité d’anéantir cette influence pour sauver la République. 1794.
Histoire Musée de la République française depuis l’Assemblée des notables jusqu’à l’empire. Avec les estampes, médailles, 317caricatures, portraits historiques et autographes remarquables du temps. Par Jean Challamel. 2 vols. 1842.
La société des Jacobins, Recueil de documents pour l’histoire du club des Jacobins de Paris. Par. F. A. Aulard. 1889–1895. 5 vols.
Journal d’un bourgeois de Paris pendant la Terreur. Par Edmond Biré. 1884.
Légendes révolutionnaires. Par Edmond Biré. 1893.
Mémoires du comte Beugnot, ancien ministre (1783–1815). Publiés par le comte Albert Beugnot. 1868. 2 vols.
Englishmen in the French Revolution, 1789–1795. By John G. Alger. 1889.
Glimpses of the French Revolution. By John G. Alger. 1894.
Le culte de la Raison et le culte de l’Être Suprême. Par F. A. Aulard. 1892.
Études et leçons sur la Révolution française. Par F. A. Aulard.
Dumouriez. Vie et Mémoires. 1822. 4 vols.
Mémoires inédits de Pétion et Mémoires de Buzot et de Barbaroux. Par C. A. Dauban. 1866.
Charlotte de Corday et les Girondins. Par Charles Vatel. 1864–1872.
Histoire de la faction de la Gironde. Par Camille Desmoulins.
Les Girondins, leur vie privée, leur vie publique, leur proscription et leur mort. Joseph Guadet. 2 vols. 1861.
Recherches historiques sur les Girondins. Par Charles Vatel. 2 vols.
Histoire des Girondins et des Massacres de Septembre. A. de Granier de Cassagnac. 1860. 2 vols.
Protestation contre le livre intitulé Histoire des Girondins et des Massacres de Septembre. Par Joseph Guadet. 1860.
La Légende des Girondins. Par E. Biré. 1881.
318Histoire des Girondins. Par A. de Lamartine. 1847. 8 vols.
La Grande Encyclopédie. Vol. 18. Les Girondins. Par H. Monin.
Les ministres de la République Française. Roland et Madame Roland. Par le Baron de Girardot. 1860.
Histoire de Lyon et des anciennes provinces du Lyonnais. Par Eug. Fabrier. 1846. 2 vols.
Almanach de la ville de Lyon et des provinces du Lyonnais. Par Forez et Beaujolais. 1784–86.
Histoire de Villefranche. Par Hippolyte Laplatte.
Bibliographie Historique de la ville de Lyon. Par Gonon. 1845.
Histoire de Lyon. Par Ballydier.
Histoire du commerce de l’industrie des fabriques de Lyon. Par C. Beaulieu. 1838.
Histoire de la ville de Lyon pendant la Révolution. Par l’Abbe Guillou de Montléon.
Les premières années de la Révolution à Lyon. Par Maurice Wahl. 1894.
Courrier de Lyon.
Le Patriote Français.
Le Gardien de la Constitution.
L’Ami du Peuple.
Journal de la République Française.
Mercure de France.
Le Père Duchèsne.
Correspondance du ministre de l’intérieur Roland avec le Général Lafayette.
Lettre au Roi.
Lettre de Junius à Roland.
Lettre à M. Roland.
Lettres sur le ministère de Roland.
Rapport relatif au 20 Juin.
Adresse au peuple français.
Ni Marat ni Roland. Opinion d’Anarcharsis Cloots. 1792.
Réponses au Prussien Cloots par Roland, Kersaint, Guadet, et Brissot.
L’ex-ministre de l’intérieur au président de la Convention Nationale.
Observations de l’ex-ministre Roland sur le rapport fait contre lui par le député Brival.
Lettres et pièces intéressantes pour servir à l’histoire des ministres de Roland, de Servan et de Clavière.
Conversations et correspondance de M. Champy avec M. Roland.
À M. Roland de la Platière sur sa “Lettre au Roi,” 17 Juillet, 1792.
Almanach des Bizarreries Humaines. Par J. C. Bailleul. 1889.