Le Vieux Cordelier [to Camille]
For myself I forgive you your blind and fatherly love for the revolution. You have had such a part in its birth! I wasn’t scolding your child; I wasn’t angry, I simply asked whether in the new born republic it is not permitted to make the same very humble criticisms of it such as the monarchy occasionally allowed.
You claim that Barère loves total press freedom, we don’t ask that much of him; just that he should love freedom of opinion in the national assembly. But will you dare to speak this undeniable truth, that Barère, through his famous report on the destruction of Carthage has truly achieved the miracle of resuscitating Pitt, whom everyone had thought dead after the taking of Toulon, and that inevitably on its arrival in London this fine report will restore the minister to the heights and will open all the coffers of the Carthaginians to him. How could Xavier Audouin and those other short-sighted patriots declare to the Jacobins that the Destruction of Carthage was without consequence, and could pass as the effect of the patriots’ indignation in their homes? Such a pride which does not kill.
But at the tribune of the convention, a member of the Committee for Public Safety said that it was necessary to go and destroy the English government and wipe out Carthage. Another member of the Committee for Public Safety, less short-sighted than Barère, had put forward this opinion at the Jacobins; he would claim to wage war not only on the government but on the English people, and a war to the death unless it democratised itself; in truth something which is inconceivable.
What! At the same time that Sheridan exclaimed in the House of Commons ‘The conduct of the French shows that they do not have the heart for war with the English people; they have destroyed the Brissotin party which was in favour of this war: I think they will be disposed to make peace with us on terms honourable and advantageous to the republic. I base my reasoning on my faith in the decrees in convention which state that the republic has renounced the idea of spreading its doctrine abroad and that its sole aim is to establish an internal government such as has been adopted by the French people.'
What! At the same time Robespierre in his speech to the Jacobins, without realizing it, took up the role of Brissot in nationalising the war! It is Robespierre, who so mocked Cloots for wanting to federalise Europe, who takes on the responsibility for his apostolic mission and wishes to democratise the English people! Because in the end all people in this condition and above all a proud nation like the English, whatever the vices of their constitution, say, like Sganarelle’s wife to Robert: (Molière)
‘And me, however much I wish him to beat me!’
And thus it is Robespierre who has forgotten the profound political speech, lively and irrefutable, that he made in December 1791, when almost alone, but with you, he spoke his mind so forcefully against war: It is Robespierre who forgets the emphatic statement that he made then:
‘When the fire is at our own house, is that the time to extinguish fires in other people’s houses?’
Robespierre who forgets the great truth which he proclaimed and then developed so well, that war will always be the resource of despotism, which by its very nature has no power other than in arms and gains nothing unless at the point of a sword; whereas liberty has no need of cannons and makes conquests only through peace, since she reigns not by terror but through her charms; she has no need to hide behind fortifications to seize towns; but once they see her they fall in love with her and run to her.
But will you dare to make similar connections and by these contradictions treat Robespierre to the same ridicule which he has heaped in handfuls upon you for some time now? Pitt must have a good laugh seeing that this man who called him an imbecile and a fool, at the meeting of the Jacobins [Pluviôse 10] is the same Robespierre who acts so powerfully to strengthen him in his ministry and to give Stanhope, Fox and Sheridan a good kick on the nose. Who didn’t foresee that on hearing of this speech and of Barère’s report they must say to themselves in London:
‘Ah well! Since we are Carthage, let us have the courage of the Carthaginians, let us make ropes with our hair and raise ourselves up en masse.’
Will you dare to express yourself freely in the same way on the subject of the Committee of General Security?
Will you dare to say that this committee, which imprisons the half-hearted and locks up citizens by the thousands as suspects who do not love the republic, has as its president, Vadier, the same man who on the eve of the Champ de Mars, fully supported Dandré’s motion to demand the trial of all Jacobins before the six Paris tribunes and their leader; this same Vadier who, on July 16th , said at the tribune of the National Assembly: ‘I worship the monarchy and I have a horror of republican government.’
This shameful profession of faith was recorded in the Moniteur and all the newspapers of the time, for which, on the following day, Marat portrayed him as a turncoat, the most despicable of the constituent members; and behold! Today he is the Saint Dominic of the Committee of General Security.
Will you dare to say that Vouland, secretary of the Committee of General Security was an equally confirmed royalist and a member of the famous Feuillants club, as can be seen by his appearance on the authentic official list found in the secretariat of the Feuillants club, one of the important conquests of August 10, printed by the commune’s surveillance committee?
Will you dare to say that Jagot, another terrible brother of the committee who locked up the old patriot for the hands of his clock [just the same as on his own watch] a trefoil which had some resemblance to a fleur de lys; that this same Jagot, on the eve of August 10, ran to give the legislative assembly his resignation as member of the Committee of General Security, for fear the royalists should be victorious on the following day and that he would be swept up in the inevitable proscription of Merlin, Bazire and Chabot, his colleagues on the committee; that it is the same Jagot that the entire convention saw in the first four months of the session, sitting not merely in the marsh, but completely opposed to the mountain by the side of Brissot, Barbaroux and Duperret?
Who will you still find in this so powerful Decemvirate, because the committee is composed of no more than ten members? Amongst these bit part players, the furies, who will you find?
Is it Amar the least ferocious of them all, for whom music calms the tempest of his calling, but whom the sabre suits no better than his colleagues against misled citizens, since he has been misled more than anyone else? Is it Amar whose pun everyone still remembers when he voted at the end of 1792 for the renewal of the bureau: Lalois, Chassé, Danton? (Lalois chases Danton)
Is it David, lost in pride, made the most frantic of all by his miserable ambition to see in all the papers ‘David’s Presidency’? Zeuxis walked around the Olympic Games wearing a fine purple cloak on which you could read, in letters of gold:' the painter Zeuxis.’ David, even more ridiculously vain, will have no greater pleasure than to walk round with this legend: ‘President David!’ He said ‘They will not speak so much about my Horace, or my Brutus, nor of me as a painter, posterity will speak of me as a legislator and of my presidency.’
David has dishonoured his art in forgetting that painting is the heart of genius as eloquence is its centre: He is proof that one can be a great painter with the soul of Louis XI (XVI?), and he has shut up so many in the prisons to capture a momentary popularity, to achieve fifteen days as the speaker of the Convention and to seat his fat arse on the green leather chair!
Those who are familiar with this person and the vanity, with which he is puffed up, are inclined to believe it is an eruption of pride which causes him to take aim askew. History, which will want to make a lifelike portrait of him cannot conceal this fault with the golden chains which antiquity shows coming from the lips of Nestor or Julius Caesar, in order to explain their eloquence or beneficence; She will only be able to cover it with scum, to express the rage; and the resemblance will be perfect if, just as the painter, uses a sponge to create the foam of a horse so well, she throws upon the lips of David a sponge soaked in innocent blood.
In truth David glories in this rage; he claims it is the anger of Brutus against the Royalists and the Brissotins; but it is a shame that we know this ferocious republican was the King’s painter and spent his time painting Louis XVI in quite different colours from those that you used in your verses; it is regrettable that this anti-moderate, this anti-Brissotin who could not forgive Cicero for having thought of the terror, was the mentor for a day; that this is the same David who, not so long ago, picked a great quarrel with you and if he had had strength or courage would have struck you, on account of your ‘Brissot Unmasked’; it is regrettable that we know that it is this same David, such a Brissotin, that quite recently it was necessary for Panis, in the Tuileries, working up a sweat in the heart of winter, to persuade him that Robespierre was the patriot and that he was right about Brissot.
These are the new patriots, these are the famous men who cannot believe in Magdalene and St. Augustine and who make a crime of your compassion for the patriots, for some of the brothers who have been a hundred times less misled than they.
Who will you still find in the committee, and at the head of the most violent measures? It is La Vicomterie, known for his great book ‘Crimes of the Kings’ in which he rails on every page against the arbitrary arrest of people suspected by the kings, and who, single handedly has imprisoned more people in five months than all the tyrants of whom he wrote since the foundation of the Bastille.
But you will no longer find our two old Cordeliers, Panis and Boucher-Saint-Sauveur there, these two members of the Committee of General Safety, venerated for their services and for the five years of persecution by the court which they resisted could not bear to see the wrongs which were committed there and they got out, shaking the dust from their feet.
Doubtless the good Rhul, another proven patriot whom we no longer see, distanced himself for the same motive, and gave in his resignation, but, weak like Panis and Boucher, dared not explain his motives at the tribune of the Convention.
You will still see, it is true, one old Cordelier, a white haired patriot, the excellent Rougiff. Come and see Guff …. He will tell you that he only remains there to correct much evil with a little good. Guff is estimable for sticking to his post and it is Boucher Saint Sauveur, Panis and Rhul who must be blamed for their desertion.
Will you dare to say what your colleague P. told you, that M.Heron, ci-devant privateer by profession, scum of the sea, lieutenant, first unofficial clerk and volunteer in La St-Hermandad is today the scum of the cobblestones and the great entrepreneur of arrests and freedom for the price of silver. Unattached by any employment to the Committee of General Security, he has earned possibly over a million in the six months since he has been the Cicerone of the committee pointing out and fingering the suspects in the street.
Will you dare to say that this day student, even among the clerks of the committee, is so powerful that he has dared to seize by the collar a representative of the people who reproached him with creating the same fear that Cartouche made on the highways with his pistol, in the committee’s antechamber, through the terror? This M. Heron is still not content with being relieved of the surveillance of Boucher-Saint-Sauveur and of Panis, the two venerable patriots who tendered their resignation; it is not enough for him that the good Rhul hardly ever comes to the committee.
Will you dare to say what you have learned from Guff, that he has proof in hand that this infamous Héron went into the prisons to beg for false witnesses and to try to suborn some scoundrels to send him, Guff, our dear Rougiff, this fine white haired patriot before the revolutionary tribunal.
Will you dare to say that Fabre d’Eglantine, some days before his arrest said that he had found proof, with papers in the office, that this Héron, commended to the tribune of the convention as an exquisite patriot, this Le Noir of the committee, had blank arrest warrants and lettres de cachet in his house, in which he had only to fill in the names; and that today, under the reign of law and in the fortress of democracy and equality there exists a man, appointed by no one knows who, unknown in the revolution, whom no service has recommended, who has more power over the citizens than even Dubarry through the favour of LouisXV had over the subjects of the tyrant. Such as when, taking two oranges she said:
‘Blow up Choiseul blow up Praslin’
Héron does not take oranges but undoubtedly a handful of assignats and says this one to prison, for this one freedom. Blow up d’Eglantine, blow up Guff… blow up Camille Desmoulins, M… He holds the list of proscriptions in his hand and with no other explanation, without warning, delivers a dozen deputies, old Montagnards to the guillotine. How many citizens have been imprisoned by M. Héron in the last six months?
Will you dare to say that this scoundrel who lodged with Fallope, a member of the general council of the commune, has put him in prison because… Will you dare…
Yes, if to dare it saved the republic. But what good will it do the republic if I swear to the infamy of all these obscure names. The clamour of all that wounded pride would perhaps leave me unable to remedy the ills of our patrie. Also would we find that I throw these six great caustic passages in the fire without mercy? I admit that the satire is extremely sharp, it will avenge me; it will make all Paris run to Desenne, less for the truth than for the courage and the recklessness of the censure, because one good word from its author is always better than fashion.
But thinking on the birth, progress and fall of republics, I am convinced that animosities and pride driven quarrels have harmed them as much as Philippe’s golden mule. Cicero censured Cato for listening to his inopportune conscience, which, he said, harmed freedom, and yet Cicero harmed himself a hundred times more in listening to his pride too much in publishing the second Phillippique. Cicero forgot what he himself had said twenty years before, that there were rascals like Sulla, of whom a patriot must refrain from speaking ill of and respect their memory after their death for fear that if one criticised their deeds then the state would be overthrown.
The republican who cannot sacrifice his vanity, his resentment and even truth, for love of the public good is as culpable as the man who will not sacrifice his personal interest. Avarice does no more evil to the patrie than other passions whose names are less odious. Rivalry, for example and the envy of power, love of praise and popularity. The incorruptible patriot is he who thinks of nothing but the good of the patrie, and whose ear is as closed and inaccessible to the praise of the tribunes or the flattery of subscribers, as his hands are closed to the guineas of Pitt.