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Robespierre von Morley, John (eBook)

  • Verlag: Merkaba Press
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Robespierre

In the old Flemish town of Arras, known in the diplomatic history of the fifteenth century by a couple of important treaties, and famous in the industrial history of the Middle Ages for its pre-eminence in the manufacture of the most splendid kind of tapestry hangings, Maximilian Robespierre was born in May 1758. He was therefore no more than five and thirty years old when he came to his ghastly end in 1794. His father was a lawyer, and, though the surname of the family had the prefix of nobility, they belonged to the middle class. When this decorative prefix became dangerous, Maximilian Derobespierre dropped it. His great rival, Danton, was less prudent or less fortunate, and one of the charges made against him was that he had styled himself Monsieur D'Anton. Robespierre's youth was embittered by sharp misfortune. His mother died when he was only seven years old, and his father had so little courage under the blow that he threw up his practice, deserted his children, and died in purposeless wanderings through Germany. The burden that the weak and selfish throw down, must be taken up by the brave. Friendly kinsfolk charged themselves with the maintenance of the four orphans. Maximilian was sent to the school of the town, whence he proceeded with a sizarship to the college of Louis-le-Grand in Paris. He was an apt and studious pupil, but austere, and disposed to that sombre cast of spirits which is common enough where a lad of some sensibility and much self-esteem finds himself stamped with a badge of social inferiority. Robespierre's worshippers love to dwell on his fondness for birds: with the universal passion of mankind for legends of the saints, they tell how the untimely death of a favourite pigeon afflicted him with anguish so poignant, that, even sixty long years after, it made his sister's heart ache to look back upon the pain of that tragic moment. Always a sentimentalist, Robespierre was from boyhood a devout enthusiast for the great high priest of the sentimental tribe. Rousseau was then passing the last squalid days of his life among the meadows and woods at Ermenonville. Robespierre, who could not have been more than twenty at the time, for Rousseau died in the summer of 1778, is said to have gone on a reverential pilgrimage in search of an oracle from the lonely sage, as Boswell and as Gibbon and a hundred others had gone before him. Rousseau was wont to use his real adorers as ill as he used his imaginary enemies. Robespierre may well have shared the discouragement of the enthusiastic father who informed Rousseau that he was about to bring up his son on the principles of Emilius . 'Then so much the worse,' cried the perverse philosopher, 'both for you and your son.' If he had been endowed with second sight, he would have thought at least as rude a presage due to this last and most ill-starred of a whole generation of neophytes.

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    Format: ePUB
    Kopierschutz: AdobeDRM
    Seitenzahl: 117
    Sprache: Englisch
    ISBN: 6610000019670
    Verlag: Merkaba Press
    Größe: 145 kBytes
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Robespierre

II

The Girondins were driven out of the Convention by the insurgent Parisians at the beginning of June 1793. The movement may be roughly compared to that of the Independents in our own Rebellion, when the army compelled the withdrawal of eleven of the Presbyterian leaders from the parliament; or, it may recall Pride's memorable Purge of the same famous assembly. Both cases illustrate the common truth that large deliberative bodies, be they never so excellent for purposes of legislation, and even for a general control of the executive government in ordinary times, are found to be essentially unfit for directing a military crisis. If there are any historic examples that at first seem to contradict such a proposition, it will be found that the bodies in question were close aristocracies, like the Great Council of Venice, or the Senate of Rome in the strong days of the Commonwealth; they were never the creatures of popular election, with varying aims and a diversified political spirit. Modern publicists have substituted the divine right of assemblies for the old divine right of monarchies. Those who condone the violence done to the King on the Tenth of August, and even acquiesce in his execution five months afterwards, are relentless against the violence done to the Convention on the Thirty-first of May. We confess ourselves unable to follow this transfer of the superstition of sacrosanctity from a king to a chamber. No doubt, the sooner a nation acquires a settled government, the better for it, provided the government be efficient. But if it be not efficient, the mischief of actively suppressing it may well be fully outweighed by the mischief of retaining it. We have no wish to smooth over the perversities of a revolutionary time; they cost a nation very dear; but if all the elements of the state are in furious convulsion and uncontrollable effervescence, then it is childish to measure the march of events by the standard of happier days of social peace and political order. The prospect before France at the violent close of Girondin supremacy was as formidable as any nation has ever yet had to confront in the history of the world. Rome was not more critically placed when the defeat of Varro on the plain of Cannæ had broken up her alliances and ruined her army. The brave patriots of the Netherlands had no gloomier outlook at that dolorous moment when the Prince of Orange had left them, and Alva had been appointed to bring them back by rapine, conflagration, and murder, under the loathed yoke of the Spanish tyrant.

Let us realise the conditions that Robespierre and Danton and the other Jacobin leaders had now to face. In the north-west one division of the fugitive Girondins was forming an army at Caen; in the south-west another division was doing the same at Bordeaux. Marseilles and Lyons were rallying all the disaffected and reactionary elements in the south-east. La Vendée had flamed out in wild rebellion for Church and King. The strong places on the north frontier, and the strong places on the east, were in the hands of the foreign enemy. The fate of the Revolution lay in the issue of a struggle between Paris, with less than a score of departments on her side, and all the rest of France and the whole European coalition marshalled against her. And even this was not the worst. In Paris itself a very considerable proportion of its half-million of inhabitants were disaffected to the revolutionary cause. Reactionary historians dwell on the fact that such risings as that of the Tenth of August were devised by no more than half of the sections into which Paris was divided. It was common, they say, for half a dozen individuals to take upon themselves to represent the fourteen or fifteen hundred other members of a section. But what better proof can we have that if France was to be del

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