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The Vieux Cordelier Translation Project!
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Le Vieux Cordelier No. VII, Final Part 
8th-Jun-2013 10:19 pm
I respond, in a word : in the time of Sulla and Marc Antony of which you speak, if it was no longer politic to speak the truth, then there was already no longer a republic. The caution, the detours, the politeness, the circumspection, all that is of the monarchy. The character of the republic is to dissimulate noting, to march straight to the point, uncovered, to call men and things by their names, and to ignore the usage of some points and some stars in their writings. The monarchy does everything in the closet, in the committees and only by secret; the republic, all at the tribune, in the presence of the people and the public, which Marat used to call to make a grand scandal. In monarchies, the basis of government is lying, deception is the secret of the state; the politics of republics is the truth. You claim in your newspaper to make war on vices, without noting persons: therefore you are no longer a republican at the tribune of the Jacobin, but a preacher and a Jesuit in the pulpit of Versailles, who speaks to royal ears in a manner to reassure them, because it is well-evident that these portraits are fantasy, and resemble no one. Instead of removing in a Christianly manner in your newspaper these six great pages of facts, if you published only one or two as a true republican, it is then the public could draw some profit from the reading of the Old Cordelier.

After putting under the eyes two or three examples, you said to him : People, take your profit of the lesson ; I don’t want to try so many people, I want to open a door of repentance, I want to spare the patriots, and even those who pretend to be so; but by learning where that all these large rowdy popular societies who, like those which I mention, can only have recourse to the word of guillotine, who call you each day to their aid, use you as the instrument of their passions, and to avenge their vanity from the lightest prick, crying without cease the people stand, as the Dominicans, when they burn an unfortunate heretic in Spain, never fail to sing Exurgat Deus, God the Father is standing! Take heed, and you will see that all these hypocrites of patriotism, all these Pharisees, all these cross-bearers, all those people who say: we are the only pure ones, we will not stay twenty Montagnards at the Convention, if they were put on display, not in the club, but in my truthful newspaper, among those republicans (if fervent) who would not pardon a small tear, he would not find one who was not a novice on August 10, no one who had not been once or Fayétiste or Brissotin, or even a royalist.

Admit that you will not dare to cite a single one of these individuals: believe me, conserve at least your reputation of honesty; admit that you do not have enough courage, or rather it would not be to admit your cowardice. Courage is not madness, and it would have been madness not to follow the counsel of Pollion: “I don’t write against those who can proscribe.” It would be only to admit that we are not republicans, but, I see it, you cannot resolve yourself to make this admission.

And yet, how to deceive on this point? I cannot conceive how one can recognize a republic where freedom of the press does not exist. Do you know what is a republican people, a democratic people? I know only one among the ancients. It’s not the Romans; in Rome, the people hardly spoke with freedom and only by insurrection, in the heat of factions, in the midst of punches, chairs, and clubs, which fell like hail around the forum; but true Republicans, permanent democrats, by principles and by instinct, were the Athenians. Not only did the sarcastic and clever people of Athens permit speaking and writing, but one sees by what remains of their theater that they had no more grand diversion than to see to play on the scene these generals, these ministers, these philosophers, these committees; and what is even more to their credit, of seeing themselves play there. Read Aristophanes, who made comedies three thousand years ago, and you will be shocked by the strange resemblance of Athens and democratic France. You will find there a Père Duchesne, as in Paris, the red caps, the ci-devant aristocrats, the orators, the magistrates, the motions of sessions absolutely like ours; you will find there the principal personages of the day; in a word, an antiquity of three thousand years of which we are contemporary. The only resemblance missing is that when the poets appeared in public at the Opera, sometimes in the guise of an old man, and sometimes in that of a young man, the author did not take even the penalty of disguising his name. And as for what he called the people, the people of Athens, far from being angry, they proclaimed Aristophanes the winner of the games, and encouraged by both cheers and garlands to laugh at their expense. As history attests, at the approach of the Bacchanalia, the judges of the theater and the jury of the arts were more occupied than all the Senate and all the Aeropagas put together, because of the great number of comedies which were sent to the contest.

Note that these comedies were so caustic against the ultra-revolutionaries and the proponents of the tribune of this time that, played under the magistrate Stratocles, 430 years before J.C , which if it had been translated would have sent its translator to the guillotine, played at the Revolutionary Tribunal, would stand the Cordeliers, by Hébert would support that the piece could only be of yesterday, the infernal invention of Fabre d'Églantine, against him Père Duchesne, and that it’s the translator who is the cause of the scarcity of food, and he would continue to swear it until the guillotine.

The Athenians were more indulgent and no less satirical than the French; far from sending to Sainte-Pélagie, still less to the Place de la Révolution, the author who, from one end of the piece to the other, had let fly the tracts most bloody against Pericles, Cleon, Lamachus, Alcibiades, against the committees and the presidents of the sections, and against the sections en masse, caused the sans-culottes to applaud wildly, and there was no person killed by the representation of those spectators who were dying of laughter themselves.

Let no one say that this freedom of the press and of the theater cost the life of a great man, and that Socrates drank a ciguë. There is nothing in common between the Clouds of Aristophanes and the death of Socrates, which will arrive twenty-three years after the first representation, and more than twenty years after the last. The poets and the philosophers have been a long time at war: Aristophanes set Socrates on stage, as Socrates set him in his sermons: the theater will revenge itself upon the school. It’s thus that Saint-Just and Barère set you in their reports of the Committee of Public Safety, because you set them in your newspaper; but what destroyed Socrates was not the satire of Aristophanes, who never killed anyone, it was the calamities of Anitus of Melitus who alleged that Socrates was the author of famine, because having spoken of the gods with irreverence in his dialogues, Minerva and Ceres no longer made the butter and the eggs appear at the market. So do not exchange the crime of two priests, of two hypocrites, of two false witnesses, for the freedom of the press, which can never hurt and is good for all.

Charming democracy, that of the sans-culottes of Athens ! Solon didn’t pass there for a dandy; he was regarded as no less than the model of legislators, and proclaimed by the oracle as the first of the seven sages, although he had not a single qualm in confessing his penchant for wine, women, and music; and his possession of wisdom was so well-established that today we pronounce his name in the Convention and at the Jacobins as one of the greatest legislators. How many among us has a reputation of aristocrats and Sardanapalus, who has not published a similar profession of faith!

And the divine Socrates, one day encountering a somber and dreamy Alcibiades, apparently because he was piqued at a letter from Aspasia: what’s wrong with you, said the most grave of Mentors? Have you lost your shield in battle? Have you been vanquished at the camp in the race, or at the armory? Has someone sung or played the lyre better than you at the table of general Nicias? This tale indicates their mores. What amiable republicans!

To speak only of their freedom of the press, the great renown of the schools of Athens came primarily from their liberty of speaking and writing, from the independence of their schools and of their police administrators. One reads in history that when the president of the section Sophocles wanted to submit the gardens of the schools of philosophy to the inspection of the Senate, the teachers closed the class; there were no longer masters or students, and the Athenians condemned Sophocles Momoro to a fine of 24,000 drachmas for his ill-considered motion. The name of the magistrate was unknown in the schools. It’s this independence which earns the school of Athens its superiority over those of Rhodes, Miletus, Marseille, Pergamum and Alexandria. O times of democracy! O republican mores! Where are you now?

Today you have, however, the honor of being a representative of the people, a little more than just an honorable member of the parliament of England, yet it is not evident that either you or anyone have accepted the function of deputy at the charge of being infallible and never allowing yourself to be deceived in your opinions, to you it is permitted to lie to yourself, even in a single expression ; and if a word comes to escape you for another, the word of clemency for that of justice, although in truth you have only asked that of Saint-Just, justice for the detained patriots that the Convention decrees; revealed in a flick of his wand, Hébert transforms this word of clemency in the banner of a new faction, more powerful, more dangerous, and of which you are the standard-bearer!

And how dare you write and be an author, when most do not dare to be readers, when three-fourths of your subscribers, at the false reports that you had been expelled from the Jacobins, and at the slightest noise, run like distraught hares to Desenne to clear their names, in fear of being suspected of having read.

Now that you are a member of the National Convention, be in good faith: dare to shout at the Deputy Minister of War, the grand personage Vincent for example, as courageously as you did four years ago at Necker and Bailly, Mirabeau, the Lameths, and Lafayette, when you were only a simple citizen!

We accept that, following the counsel of Pollion, you do not write against those who can proscribe; but dare you mention anyone who is in credit to the Cordeliers! And, taking only an example, dare you say that Momoro, who takes himself for a patriot without blemish, and before the flood, this bold president who, wherever he occupied the chair, at the club at his section, throws a rash hand a veil on the rights of man, and incites the citizens to rebellion against the Convention and the republic, is the same Momoro the printer in 1789, to whom you addressed yourself for your Free France, and who delayed as much as he could the printing of this writing, which he no doubt referred to the police, having been assured of the prodigious influence that he would have; this same Momoro, who entitles himself First Printer of Liberty, persisted in holding prisoner in his shop, as a suspect, this revolutionary tract whose printing was completed in the month of August; and when the Bastille fell, Momoro still refused to publish, who on the 14th of July, at 11:00 in the evening, you were obligated to make uproar at the door of this great patriot and would have threatened him with the lantern, if he didn’t give you your work back that the police had consigned to him; bravo, Momoro, your great denunciation, at the opening of districts and societies, and to return your work, it was necessary to give you a pass in writing from La Fayette who had been appointed commander-general, and this order was one of his first acts of authority! This burier of patriotic writings is today regarded as one of the foremost ultra-patriots, and the arbiter of our destinies at the Cordeliers, who now expels you, you and Dufourny, to acclamation.

Yet if only the law were communal and equal for everyone; if freedom of the press had the same bounds for all citizens! You, when you said that Hébert had received 120 million livres from Bouchotte, you produced his receipts. But to Hébert, not only is it permitted to say that you came to Pitt and to Coburg, that you are in league with the famine, and it’s you who are the cause that cattle does not come from the Vendée; but it is permitted to him, to him, to Vincent, to Momoro, to demand overtly at the tribune an insurrection and to cry to arms against the Convention. Certainly, if Philippeaux, Bourdon de l’Oise, or you had demanded an insurrection against Bouchotte or Vincent, you would have been guillotined in twenty-four hours. Where is thus this level of the law which, in a republic, falls equally on all heads?

I agree that those who cry so vehemently against clemency must find themselves well-pleased that, in this occasion, the Convention has employed clemency to their benefit. Many are dead, between the Tuileries and the Champs-Elysées, who had not spoken so audaciously as certain persons at this last session at the Cordeliers, which will be preserved in the annals of anarchy. Is there anything as criminal and detrimental to freedom as this mortuary drape that Momoro, under his double presidency at the section and at the Cordeliers, throws on the Declaration of Rights, this black veil, the red flag of the club against the Convention, and the signal of the tocsin? What’s more, when they’re about, these extravagant denunciations of Hébert that Paré is a second Roland, that me, I’m sold to Pitt and Cobourg, that Robespierre is a man astray, or that Philippeaux is the cause that hens do not come from Le Mans; when it’s about, such a report that this black veil has descended religiously on the statue of liberty by the pure hands of Momoro, of Hébert, or Ronsin, of Brochet, Brichet, Ducroquet, these vestals of the revolution? Is there anything more ridiculous? The doctors are as comic with their syringes in Molière’s scene, as the Cordeliers with their flags in the last session.

But to confine ourselves to the question of the freedom of the press, without doubt it must be unlimited ; without doubt republics have for their base and foundation the freedom of the press, not the other base bestowed upon them by Montesquieu. I will always think, and I never weary of repeating, as Loustalot said, that freedom of the press existed in a country where the most absolute despotism had set in the same hands all the powers, and it alone sufficed to act as an antidote; I am even persuaded that, for a reading public, the unlimited freedom to write in any case, even in times of revolution, would not be deleterious; by this sole sentinel, the republic will be sufficiently guarded against all vices, all knaves, all intrigues, all ambitions; and in a word, I am so strongly convinced of your sentiments on the benefits of this liberty, that I adopt all your principles in this matter, as the result of my profession of faith.

But the French people en masse are not yet great enough readers of newspapers, or clearly enlightened or instructed by the primary schools which are as yet only decreed by principle, to discern just a first glance between Brissot and Robespierre. Secondly, I don’t know if human nature is composed of this perfection which supports the unrestricted freedom of speaking and writing. I doubt if in any country, in the republics as well as in the monarchies, the government can support this unrestricted freedom. Aristophanes set Cleon and Alcibiades on the stage, but I suspect that over time Alcibiades became unpopular, and that he made a 31 May against Cleon, and that does not prove the superiority of Greek democracy, and the unrestricted freedom of theater in Athens, any more than that of our theater would be proved today by a comedy against the constituents or against the municipality of Bailly. The magistrates of Athens were made of the same metal as our magistrates and administrators, and were not in the mood to suffer the comedy of Aristophanes, nor today that of Fabre d'Églantine. The law of Antimachus at Athens, against personalities, the same as the law against Decemvirs written, proves that those who had the authority at Rome or at Athens, were not more enduring than Père Duchesne and Ronsin, and we do not hear more mocking in monarchies than in republics. I know that commentators have said that Aristophanes, in the Peloponnesian War, played a principal role in the republic, by his comedies; that he was less regarded as an author to amuse the nation, than as the censor of the government; Citizen Dacier calls him the arbiter of the fatherland. But these good times for authors lasted only a short time. The writer Antimachus, at the expense of whom Aristophanes had made all the city of Athens laugh, profiting from the fear of the thirty tyrants of such a free and biting censure, succeeded finally to push through under them the law against the pleasantries to which Pericles had himself constantly opposed, although Aristophanes would not have spared himself. He managed to even give his law a retroactive effect, and our old and gouty author was very happy to be allowed to leave for a fine. The triumvirate had been allowing Cicero, sexagenarian, to compose philosophical treaties at Tusculum, and like some senators, who were friends of the republic rather than republicans and who did not have the courage to fall on their swords like Cato and Brutus, to regret liberty, to seek out the bones of the old Romans and to engrave upon his seal a dog upon the prow of a ship, seeking his master. But yet Antony could not forgive him his famous Philippic and his no. 2 of the Old Cordelier.

They were so rare, even in Rome and Athens, men who, like Pericles, bombarded by insults upon leaving the section and driven home by a Père Duchesne who did not cease to shout at him that he was a coward, a man sold to the Lacedaemonians, are master enough of themselves and tranquil enough to say coolly to their domestics: take a torch and conduct the citizen home.

When unrestricted freedom of the press doesn’t find almost insurmountable boundaries in the vanity of people in place or in credit, sound policy alone would command to the good citizen who wants, not to satisfy his resentments, but to save the nation, to limit to himself this freedom of writing, and to not make to large bites of self-love, this balloon full of air, says Voltaire, out of which have come most tempests which disturbed empires and changed the form of governments. Cicero, who reproached Cato with having done so much harm to the republic by his untimely probity, made it much more so by his eloquence than by his setbacks and his divine Philippic. One sees by the historians that in the general corruption and bereavement of Rome, which had lost in the civil wars almost all that remained of virtuous men, if they had spared Marc Antony, more altered by voluptuousness than power, the republic could have prolonged its existence by some years, and dragged still further the malady of its decrepitude. Antony had abolished the name of dictator, after the death of Caesar; he had made peace with the murderers of the tyrant. While the coward Octavian, who had hidden himself behind the chariots of his army during the time of battle, vanquished by the sublime courage of Antony, basely insulted the corpse of Brutus which had been pierced by his sword, Antony shed tears for the last of the Roman, and covered him in his armor; also the prisoners, addressing Antony, called him by the name of imperator, but had only insults and contempt for the cowardly and cruel Octavian. But the old Cicero had made Antony, by his speech, an irreconcilable enemy of the republic and of a government which, by its nature, allowed a vivid painting of his vices and the unlimited freedom to write. Cicero, feeling that he had alienated Antony beyond return, and like all men, except Cato, so rare in the human species, who have sacrificed all without politics to his safety, more than that of his country, was obliged to caress Octavian, to oppose him to Antony, and to make himself thus a worse shield than a sword. The popularity and eloquence of Cicero made the bridge on which Octavian passed the command of armies, and, having arrived there, he broke the bridge. Thus, Cicero’s intemperance of language and the freedom of the press ruined the affairs of the republic as well as the virtue of Cato. In truth, my Old Cordelier, and to finish by a word which reconciles us a little together, and to prove that if you are a pessimist, I am not an optimist, I avow that, when virtue and freedom of the press become untimely, fatal to liberty, the republic, guarded by vices, is like a young girl whose honor is only defended by ambition and intrigue, and soon corrupts the sentry.

No, my old brothers, I have not changed my principles ; I still think as I wrote in one of my first editions ; the great remedy of the license of the press is in the freedom of the press ; it’s this lance of Achilles that heals the wounds it makes. Political liberty has no better arsenal than the press. There is this difference in favor of this kind of artillery, which is that the mortars of Alton spew death as well as those of Vandermersch. It is not the same in the war of writing; there is only the artillery of the good cause which overthrows everything that comes before it. Bribe dearly all the best artillery to support the wrong cause; promise ermine and fur to the honorable senators for Mounier, Lally, and Bergasse; give eight hundred farms to J-F Maury; make Rivarol captain of the guards; oppose them with the poorest writer, with good cause, and that good man will do more than the greatest villain. They inundated France with brochures against the revolution; against all those who support it; the Marquis of Favras peddled royalist pamphlets in the barracks; what has all that produced? By contrast, Marat boasts of having made the Parisians march to Versailles, and I believe that he played a great part in that celebrated day.

Let us be weary of repeating, to the honor of printing, that this is not the best general, but the best cause which triumphs in the battles in which we defeat the enemies of freedom and the nation. But, however incontestable are these principles, the freedom of speaking and writing is not an article of the Declaration of Rights more sacred than the others, all of which are supported to the most imperious and first of laws, the safety of the people; the freedom to come and go is also one of the articles of this Declaration of Rights; must we then say that the émigrés have the right to come and go, to leave the republic and return? The Declaration of Rights says also that all men are born and die free; do we thus conclude that the Republic ought not recognize the ci-devant aristocrats, and deal with suspects; that all citizens are equal before the committees of general security? That would be absurd; it would be equally absurd, if the revolutionary government had no right to restrict the freedom of property, and the opinion of the press, freedom to shout: long live the king or to arms, and insurrection against the Convention and the republic. I have especially doubted the theory of my no. 4 on the unrestricted freedom of the press, even in times of revolution, when I saw Plato, his head so well organized, so full of politics, of legislation and of knowledge of measures, demand as his first condition (in his treaty on laws, book 4) that in the city for which he proposed to make laws, there would be a tyrant (which is another thing entirely from the Committee of Public Safety and the Committee of General Security), and that it is necessary for citizens to have a preliminary government to succeed at rendering them happy and free.

But, even when the revolutionary government, by its nature, does not circumscribe to citizens the freedom of the press, the health of the body politic suffices to convince a patriot to limit this liberty by himself. I didn’t have to look far to find the example of Cicero, which I cited only a moment ago. What stronger evidence is there of the necessity of sometimes suppressing the truth and adjourning the freedom of the press, than that which is offered this moment in our current political situation!

It was three months ago that Robespierre said he had counter-revolutionaries among us; of even our veteran Jacobins, venerable by their medallions and their scars, all the best citizens, Boucher, Sauveur, Raffron, Rhull, Julien de la Drôme, Jean Bon Saint-André, Robert Lindet, Charlier, Bréard, Danton, Legendre, Thuriot, Guffroy, Duquesnoy, Milhaud, Bourdon de l'Oise, Fréron, Drouet, Dubois-Crancé, Simon, Le Cointre de Versailles, Merlin de Thionville, Ysabeau, Tallien, Poulletier, Rovère, Perrin, Calès, Musset, les deux Lacroix, and even Billaud-Varenne, Barère, Jay de Sainte-Foix, Saint-Just, C. Duval, Collot d'Herbois, although they were the last to agree ; I would have named almost all the Mountain, if I had wanted to make a roll call : all, and it would be easy to show, the newspapers at hand, all told, at the Jacobins, or the Convention, the same thing in other words as Maure, three months ago, that popular patriotic societies had risen like mushrooms, and their ultra-revolutionary creed was very keen to reverse the revolution.

Charmed at seeing so many of my recommendable colleagues come to the idea which had been forming in my head for more than a year, that if the hope of counter-revolution is not a chimera and a mania, it would only be by the exaggeration that Pitt and Coburg could do what they had tried unsuccessfully for four years by moderation, at the first lifting of shields, three months ago. In seeing some of my colleagues whom I esteem the most, famous patriots back into battle against the royalist army within, outrun the second line of ultra, who came to the aid of the first line of Feuillants or the moderates; and as I have always been on the same plan, and of all the parties, I still wanted to be of such a beautiful expedition.

I saw that this revolution that Pitt has not been able to enact for four years, with such men of spirit, is undertaken today by ignorance, with the Bouchottes, the Vincents, and the Hébertistes.

I saw a system predicated upon defamation against all the old patriots, all the most proven republicans; there is not a commissioner of the Convention, almost not even a montagnard who has not been libeled in the pages of the pages of Père Duchesne; the imagination of new conspirators had failed to invent a plan of counter-revolution; the first day Ronsin would come to the Convention, as Cromwell in parliament at the head of a handful of proud reds, and repeating the words of Pere Duchesne, we would have charged absolutely the same speech as the Protector: "You are jean-foutres, the cowards, the gourgandines, of Sardanapalus, knaves, who drink the blood of the poor people, who have people to do their dirty work while the poor people are hungry, etc.. etc.. "

I saw that the Hébertistes were evidently in coalition, at least indirectly with Pitt, because Pitt holds his principle force in the pages of Hébert’s journal, and has only to make certain insensitive motions, and to reprint the pages of the Père Duchesne, to crush the party of the opposition, and close the people to all those who, in the three kingdoms, call for a revolution, in showing the delirium of these pages, and repeating this speech to the English: “Will you now be jealous of this liberty of the French; do you like this goddess spoiled with blood, whose high priests Hébert, Momoro and their ilk, dare to ask that the temple be constructed, as that of Mexico, from the bones of three million citizens, and cry without cease, at the Jacobins, at the commune, at the Cordeliers, as the Spanish priests at Montezuma? The gods are thirsty! ... "
. . . bonjour.