Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

It was at this time that the Girondins were struggling with prodigious courage and eloquence against their enemies of the Convention. The Jacobins would, they believed, force the Republic upon La Gironde only to precipitate France into a bloody anarchy. The great dangers of liberty, the odious tyranny of the populace of Paris in the place of the legal sovereignty of the nation represented by its deputies; the arbitrary imprisonments; the assassinations of September, the oath of the 10th of March, the insurrection of the 30th and 31st of May; the expulsion and prosecution of the purest part of the Assembly; their scaffold, and the prospect that with them liberty would ascend the steps; the virtue of Roland; the youth of Fonfrède and of Barbaroux; the despairing cry of Isnard; the constancy of Buzot ; the integrity of Pétion, the idol who became the victim; the tribune martyrdom of Lanjuinais, at which nothing was wanting to equal the fate of Cicero, but the tongue of the orator nailed to the Rostra; lastly, the eloquence of Verginaud, the hope of all good citizens, the reproach to all bad, becoming suddenly stilled, leaving upright men to their discouragement, and the wicked to their villainies; in the place of these men either great or interesting, who seemed as if they were defending at the breach the last ram parts of soci. ety, and the sacred hearths of the citizens, was Marat, one of the dregs and lepers of the people triumphing over laws by sedition, crowned by impunity, carried in the arms of the faubourgs to the tribune, taking the dictatorship of anarchy, spoliation, and assassination, and threatening independence, property, life, and liberty in the departments: all these convulsions, and excesses, and terrors, had greatly excited the provinces of Normandy.

The presence in Calvados of the proscribed and fugitive deputies, coming to appeal to liberty against oppression, and to inflame the departments for the purpose of raising up avengers for their country, had increased to adoration the attachment of the city of Caen for the Girondins, and its execration of Marat. The more English than Roman opinions, the Attic and temperate republicanism of La Gironde, formed a contrast to the cynicalness of the Maratists. What had been desired in Normandy before the 10th of August was much less the downfall of the throne than an equalized constitution of the monarchy. The city of Rouen, the capital of this province, was attached to the person of Louis XVI., and had offered him an asylum before his fall. The execution of this prince had distressed and humbled the good citizens. The other towns of this part of France were rich, industrious, and agricultural. Peace and navigation were necessary to their prosperity. The love of the king for agriculture, his enlightened predilection for navigation, his endeavors to increase the naval strength of France, his order for the construction of vessels in the road of Brest, the wonderful works at the port of Cherbourg, the voyages be had made in the interior and on the coast to visit and revive all our ports, his studies with Turgot to favor industry and to free commerce, had left in the hearts of the Normans esteem for his name, sympathy for his misfortunes, horror of his murderers, and a secret wish for the re-establishment of a government that united the security of a monarchy with the liberty of a republic. Thus arose the admiration of the Girondins, men of the constitution of 1791; thus arose the hopes that were placed upon their re-establishment and their vengeance. Patriotism was wounded, virtue was tarnished, liberty died in them.

The already wounded heart of Charlotte Corday felt all these blows levelled at her country, and grief, despair, and courage were united in one heart. She saw the ruin of France; she saw the victims; she fancied she saw the tyrant. She swore to herself that she would avenge the victims, punish the tyrant, and save all. For some days she brooded over her resolution, without knowing what deed her country demanded of her, and what chain of crimes most urgently required cutting off. She studied things, men, and circumstances, that her courage might not be deceived, and her blood not spilt in vain.

The Girondins Buzot, Salles, Pétion, Valady, Gorsas, Kenélégau, Mollevault, Barbaroux, Louvet, Giroux, Bussy, Bergoing, Lesage (d'Eure-et-Loire), Meilhan, Henri Larivière, and du Chastel had been, as we have said, for some weeks assembled at Caen. They were engaged in fomenting the general insurrection of the departments of the north, in combining it with the republican insurrection of Brittany, in recruiting the battalions of volunteers, in directing them to the army of Puisaye and Wimpfen, which was going to march to Paris, and in keeping up in the local administrations the fire of the indignation of the departments which was to consume their enemies. The deputies, who had been so often insulted by Marat, naturally placed the Montagne and the Commons under the opprobrium of the name of their enemy. This odious name raised up avengers, and produced an

In arming themselves against the omnipotence of Paris and the dictatorship of the Convention, the youth of the departments believed they were rising against Marat alone. Danton and Robespierre, who had not signalized themselves so much in the last movements against La Gironde, possessed in the eyes of the insurgents neither the importance, nor the authority over the people, nor the sanguinary delirium of Marat. They left the names of these two great Montagnards in the shade, that they might not wound the esteem that these more popular men still preserved among the Jacobins of the departments. The mass were deceived, and saw tyranny and freedom in one man only. Charlotte was deceived like the rest. The shadow of Marat eclipsed the whole republic.

The Girondins, whom the city of Caen had taken under its care, were lodged all together in the palace of the old administration. The seat of the federal government had been taken there with the insurrectional commission; assemblies of the people were held there, and the citizens, and women even, crowded to look upon and to hear the first victims of anarchy, the last avengers of liberty. The names so long predominant of Pétion, Buzot, Louvet, and Barbaroux spoke more strongly than their discourses to the imagination of Calvados. The vicissitudes of revolutions, which ex. bibited to a town of the republic, as exiles and supplicants, the orators who had overturned the monarchy, raised up the people of Paris, and filled the tribune and the nation with their voice, moved the spectators, and made them feel proud to avenge their illustrious guests. The words of these men intoxicated them; they named them; they pointed to Pétion, the king of Paris, and to Barbaroux, the hero of Marseilles, whose youth and beauty heightened his eloquence, his courage, and his misfortunes. The people went forth crying to arms, and urging sons, husbands, and brothers to enlist in the battalions. Charlotte Corday, surmount. ing the prejudices of her rank and the timidity of her sex and of

her age, ventured several times to attend these meetings with some friends. She was remarked for her silent enthusiasm, which heightened her feminine beauty : she betrayed her interest by her tears only. She wished to see those she desired to save. The situation, the words, the countenances of these first apostles of liberty, almost all young, were engraven upon her heart, and made her devotion to their cause more personal and more passionate.

General Wimpfen, summoned by the Convention to fall back upon Paris, had just replied that he would not march there excepting at the head of sixty thousand men, not to obey an usurping power, but to re-establish the integrity of national representation and to avenge the departments. Louvet addressed vehement proclamations to the towns and villages of Morbihan, the Cotes-du-Nord, Mayenne, Ille-et-Vilaine, Loire-Inférieure, Finisterre, Eure, Orne, and Calvados. “The strength of the departments now on its way to Paris,” he said, “ does not go to seek enemies to fight, but it goes to fraternize with the Parisians, it goes to strengthen the tottering statue of liberty! You citizens who see this phalanx of friends passing along your roads, through your towns and villages, fraternize with them. Do not allow monsters thirsting for blood to establish themselves among you for the purposes of arresting them on their march.” These words produced thousands of volunteers. More than six thousand were already assembled in the town of Caen. On Sunday, the 7th of July, they were reviewed by the Girondine deputies and by the authorities of Caen, with all the ceremony calculated to electrify their courage. This spontaneous assemblage rising, with arms in their hands, to go to die and avenge liberty for the insults of anarchy, recalled to mind the patriotic insurrection of 1792, drag. ging to the frontiers all who would not live without a country.

Charlotte Corday, seated on a balcony, was a witness of the enlisting and the departure. The enthusiasm of the young citizens giving up their homes to go and fight for the violated hearths of national representation, and to brave the musket and the guillo. tine, hardly came up to hers. She thought it still too cold. She was indignant at the small number that this review had added to the regiments and battalions of Wimpfen. There were only about twenty on that day.

It is said that her enthusiasm was softened by a secret but pure attachment felt for her by one of the young volunteers who thus tore themselves from their families, from their mistresses, perhaps from life. Charlotte Corday had not been insensible to this concealed love, but she overcame her feelings of pure gratitude by feelings more sublime.

The young man's name was Franquelin. He silently adored the youthful republican. He kept up a correspondence with her full of reserve and respect. She answered with the melancholy and tender modesty of a young girl who had only misfortune for her dower. She had given her portrait to the young volunteer, and had permitted him to love her, at least to love her picture. M. de Franquelin, carried away by the general excitement, and sure of obtaining a look of approval as he armed himself for liberty, had enlisted in the Caen battalion. Charlotte could not help trembling and turning pale as she saw the battalion defile for departure. Tears stood in her eyes. Pétion, who was passing under the balcony, and who knew Charlotte, was astonished at her weakness, and spoke to her: “Would you wish them," he said, “not to go?” The young girl blushed, kept her answer in her heart and retired. Pétion did not understand her distress. The future revealed it. Young Franquelin, after the crime and execution of Charlotte Corday, retired to a village in Normandy, having received a death-blow himself from the rebound of the axe that severed the head of her he adored. Alone with his mother he languished for some months, and died requesting that Charlotte's portrait and letters might be buried with him. The picture and the secret lie in the grave.

PART II.

After the departure of the volunteers, Charlotte had but one Chought: to anticipate their arrival at Paris, to spare their noble blood, and to render their patriotism unnecessary, by being before

« PředchozíPokračovat »