[Not super alert right now so probably tons of mistakes - I’ll go over it more when I get back.]
LE VIEUX CORDELIER NO. 1 - Camille Desmoulins
Live free or die
Quintidi Frimaire, the second week, the second year of the republic, one and indivisible.
When those who govern are hated, their competitors will soon be admired.
O Pitt! I revere your genius! What new arrivals from France to England gave you such good advice, and such sure means of losing my homeland? You saw that you would fail against it eternally, if you did not cling to losing, in public opinion, those who, for five years, foiled all your plans. You understood that it was those who always defeated you that it was necessary to defeat; that it was necessary to accuse of corruption precisely those who you could not corrupt, and of coolness those who you could not cool down. With what success, since the death of Marat, you have pressed the work of besieging their reputation, against my its friends, its brave fellow soldiers, and the ship Argo of the old Cordeliers!Yesterday particularly, at the meeting of the Jacobins, I witnessed your progressed with dread. I felt the force of your strength even amongst us. I saw, in this cradle of liberty, a Hercules about to be suffocated by your tricolored serpents.
At last the worthy citizens, the veterans of the revolution, those who made five campaigns since 1789, those old friends of liberty, who, since July 12, walked between daggers and poisons, aristocrats and tyrants, the founders of the republic, in short, have conquered. But even this victory leaves them in pain, in thinking how it could be disputed for so long in the Jacobins!
Victory is with us because, amid the ruins of so many colossal civic reputations, Robespierre’s in unasssailed; because he lent a hand to his competitor in patriotism, our perpetual President of the “Anciens Cordeliers,” our Horatius Cocles, who alone held the bridge against Lafayette and his four thousand Parisians besieging Marat, who now seemed overwhelmed by the foreign party.
Already having gained stronger ground during the illness and absence of Danton, this party, domineering insolent in society, in the midst of the most sensitive places, the most compelling justification, in the tribunes, jeering, and in the middle of the meeting, shaking its head and smiling with pity, as in the speech of a man condemned by every vote. We have conquered, however, because after the crushing speeches of Robespierre, in which it seems that talent grows with the dangers of the Republic, and the profound impression he has left in souls, it was impossible to venture to raise a voice against Danton without giving, so to speak, a public quittance of guineas of Pitt. Robespierre, the idlers that curiosity had brought yesterday to the meeting of the Jacobins, and who sought only a speaker and a show, came out regretting those major players in the tribune, Barnave and Mirabeau, whose talent of speech is often forgotten. But the only worship worthy of your heart is what gave you all the old Cordeliers, these glorious confessors of freedom, decreed by the Chatalet and by the tribunal of the sixth arrondissement, and executed at the Champ-de-Mars. In all the other dangers from which you have delivered the Republic you have had companions in your glory; but yesterday alone you saved it.
The Nocher, in his art, learns during the storm.
I learned some things yesterday. I saw how many enemies we have. Their multitude tears me from the Hotel des Invalides and returns me to combat. I must write. I have to leave behind the slow pen of the history of the Revolution I was tracing by the fire side in order to again take up the rapid and breathless pen of the journalist and follow, at full gallop, the revolutionary torrent. A consulting deputy who no one has consulted since June 3, I leave my office and armchair, where I had all the time in the world to follow in detail our enemies’ new system, an overview of which Robespierre laid out to you and which his occupations at the Committee of Public Safety have prevented him, like me, from seizing in its entirety. I feel again what I said a year ago, how wrong I was to put aside the journalistic pen and grant intrigue the time to adulterate the opinions of the departments and corrupt that immense sea by means of a mass of journals, like many rivers that ceaselessly bringing poisoned water. We no longer have any journals that tell the truth, or at least the whole truth. I return to the arena with all of my well-known honesty and courage.
A year ago we mocked, and with reason, the so-called freedom of the English, who don’t have unlimited freedom of the press. Nevertheless, what man of good faith would dare today to compare France to England when it comes to freedom of the press? See with what boldness the Morning Chronicle attacks Pitt and his war operations! Who is the journalist in France who would dare point out the errors of our committees, our generals, the Jacobins, the ministers, or the commune the way the opposition does to that of the British ministry? And I, a Frenchman, I, Camille Desmoulins, am I not as free as an English journalist? The very idea makes me indignant. Let no one tell me that we are in a revolution and that the freedom of the press must be suspended during a revolution. Isn’t England, isn’t all of Europe also in a state of revolution? Are the principles of freedom of the press less sacred in Paris than in London, where Pitt must have such great fear of the light? Five years ago I said that it is knaves who fear the streetlamps. Can it be that when on one side servitude and venality hold the pen, and on the other freedom and virtue, that there is the least danger that the people, the judge of this combat, can pass to the side of slavery? To even fear such a thing is to insult human reason! Can reason fear a duel with stupidity? I repeat: only counter-revolutionaries, only traitors, only Pitt could have an interest in prohibiting in France the unlimited freedom of the press. And freedom and the truth can never fear the products of servitude and lies.
I know that in the handling of great affairs it is permitted to stray from the austere rules of morality: this is true but inevitable. The needs of the state and the perversity of the human heart make such conduct necessary, and have made its necessity the first maxim of politics. If a man in office were to try to say all he thought he would expose his country to certain defeat. So let good citizens not fear the intemperate wanderings of my pen. My hands are full of truths, and I will hold myself back from entirely opening them. But I will let enough escape to save France and the Republic, one and indivisible.
My colleagues were all so occupied and carried along by the whirlpool of affairs, some in committees, others on mission, that they didn’t have time to read, and some even to think. I, who was on no mission, on no committee where something had to be done, who, in the midst of this overload of labor on the shoulders of my Montagnard colleagues, have made up, almost on my own (they pass me the expression,) their committee of readers and thinkers: shall I be permitted to present the report of this committee at the end of a year, to offer them the lessons of history, the sole teacher -whatever might be said – of the art of governing, and to give them the counsels that Tacitus and Macchiavelli , the greatest politicians who ever existed, would give them?
This journal will be available twice a week, each issue will have more or less pages, depending on the abundance of material and the indulgence of my fathers of the Convention and the Jacobins for the boldness of my talkative pen, and its republican independence.
Subscribe to Desenne, printer and bookseller, at the Jardin d ‘Egalité, no 1 and 2, for the price he asked, as it is for the first time an author requests his publisher keep the earnings for himself; but it is today that La Vontaine would be right to say:
Some seek treasures, and I avoid them.