LE VIEUX CORDELIER no. 5 by Camille Desmoulins
VIVRE LIBRE OU MOURIR
Quintidi Nivose, first decade, year 2 of the republic, one and indivisible
Patriots you are hearing nothing. Oh my God, allow me to speak; we have not pulled down too much. [Quote from Marat]
Friends and Brothers,
St Louis was no prophet when he developed a great love for the Jacobins and the Cordeliers, two orders which, history teaches us, he cherished with a father’s tenderness. The good man did not foresee that they would give their names to two slightly different orders who would dethrone his descendants and become the founders of the French Republic – one and indivisible. After this ingratiating introduction and praise which is not mere flattery in which you all share, I hope to be allowed in the course of this pamphlet to bring to your attention a few truths which will be less agreeable to certain members.
The ship of the republic drifts, as I have said, between two reefs, moderation and extremism. I have begun my journal by professing a political faith which is intended to defend me from calumny: I have said, with Danton that to exaggerate the revolution had fewer dangers and was better than to fall short; on the course set by the ship of state it was more often necessary to come close to the rocks of extremism than the sandbank of moderation. But see how Pere Duchesne and nearly all the patriot sentinels stand on the deck with their telescope only concerned with crying: Watch out! You are touching moderation! It has been necessary for me, old Cordelier and senior Jacobin, to take charge of the difficult duty which none of the younger people wanted, fearing loss of popularity, that of crying: Beware! You are going to touch extremism! And there is the duty which my colleagues in Convention gave me, that of sacrificing my own popularity to save the ship in which my cargo was no stronger than theirs.
Forgive me, friends and brothers if I dare take up again the title of the Old Cordelier, after the club’s decree banning me from using this honourable name. Nevertheless, in truth it is unheard of arrogance in these grandchildren to rebel against their grandfather and ban him from using his own name; I want to plead my case against these ungrateful children. I want to know with whom the name resides, the grandpa or the children he has created but whom he no longer recognizes and who want to drive out of the family home. Oh hospitable gods! I will abandon the name of Vieux Cordelier when the elders of the district, not the club, forbid me; so much for you beginners who expel me without a hearing.
Hiss me as much as you like; I give it back brothers.
When Robespierre said: What difference is there between Le Pelletier and me except death? He was being modest. I am not Robespierre; but death, disfiguring the features of a man does not enhance his memory in my eyes, nor heighten the splendour of his patriotism to the point where I would believe that I had not served the republic better than Pelletier in the Pantheon, in spite of being expelled by these Cordeliers. Since I am reduced to speaking for myself, not only to give weight to my political opinions but also to defend myself, I will soon put both the denouncers and the denunciation in their proper place, in spite of the great anger of Pere Duchesne, who, as Danton says, claims that his pipe is the trumpet of cheating and when he has puffed three times around a reputation it will fall of its own accord.
It will be easy for me to show that I had to call out to the pilots of the vessel of state; Take care we are going to touch extremism. Already Robespierre and even Billaud- Varenne have recognised the danger. It is a journalist’s job to prepare public opinion; to show the reef; that is what I have done in the first four issues.
Do not judge me on a single line taken out of context. There are twenty phrases in the gospels, says Rousseau, all calling their author sublime and divine. In the same way I should not be judged on one issue but on the entirety of my works.
I read in the Public Safety Committee’s paper, an article from the Jacobin’s meeting, primidi Nivose: ‘Camille Desmoulins, says Nicolas, has come close to the guillotine for a long time; and to offer you proof it is only necessary to tell you about the steps he took with my section of the revolutionary committee to save a bad citizen we had arrested by order of the general security committee, charged with having intimate correspondence with conspirators and with sheltering the traitor Nantouillet in his own house.
Friends and Brothers you can judge, what sort of a scoundrel I wanted to save. Citizen Vaillant was accused of what? You will never guess: of giving dinner, in his own country, two leagues from Peronne, to a citizen who had been living in that town for fifteen months, and to have invited him to stay the night at his house. Is this not the absurd crime of which Tacitus spoke? A counter revolutionary crime for your farmer to give a friend of Sejanus a bed for the night. What can I say? The friends of Sejanus have been placed outside the law, Tacitus could have been wrong when he said it; but here it is too bad! More than a year ago Vaillant extended hospitality, no more than two days, to a citizen who was active then, to a citizen who was not, at that time, on the list of suspected people. It is true that this person was called Nantouillet; it is true that this Nantouillet had come, in 1791 or 92, to see Vaillant, who by the way is a cousin of mine, and this man did not show him the door even though he was a ci-devant. But Good God! Does it make you a scoundrel, a conspirator not to have chased a former nobleman away from your house two years ago? If these are crimes M. Nicolas I offer some for you to judge. I saw Andre Dumont, who is not yet suspected of moderatism, shrug his shoulders in mercy at this arrest and he set citizen Vaillant free. If I come close to the guillotine for having requested my relative’s freedom for such a minor peccadillo, what will you do to Andre Dumont, who granted the request? Is it fitting that a member of the Revolutionary Tribunal should be so lightly sent to the guillotine?
I cannot hold my tongue, and there may be some danger in having a set-to with a juror on the Revolutionary Tribunal, denunciation for denunciation. Last January I saw M. Nicolas eating a baked apple and this is no reproach. [Please God I have had a similar meal with my wife in our small house] So this was Citizen Nicolas at that time. In the first years of the revolution when Robespierre ran more dangers than any of us because his talent and popularity were so dangerous to counter revolutionaries, the patriots would not let him go out alone; it was Nicolas who accompanied him all year, and who, big and strong, armed only with a simple club was alone worth a company of musketeers.
Just as all patriots love Robespierre, so at heart Nicolas is a patriot and it is only the seduction of power and the novelty of having such a huge power of life and death in his own hands that has turned his head. We have appointed him a juror on the revolutionary tribunal and he is also a printer. Now, and here is where I wish to conclude, allowing myself no further reflection, can one believe that this sans-culotte, who lived so soberly in January was paid, in Nivose, more than 150000 francs by the revolutionary tribunal for his printing, while I, whom he accuses have not increased my savings by a denier. So it is thus that I am an aristocrat who approaches the guillotine and that Nicolas is a sans-culotte who approaches a fortune.
M. Nicolas you must challenge that personal interest which creeps in even with the best intentions. Because you are Bouchotte’s printer is that a reason that I cannot call him Georges without risking the guillotine? In 1787 I certainly called Louis XV1, my fat imbecile of a king without being locked up for it. Is Bouchotte to become a greater lord? You Nicolas, who as a companion and friend of Robespierre have influence with the Jacobins; you know that my intentions are not counter revolutionary, how can you believe the ideas held in certain committees? How could you believe them more than the speeches of Robespierre who was at school with me almost since infancy and who some days previously gave me these words of support when I opposed the calumny; that he had not known a better republican than me; that I was republican more by instinct and sentiment than by choice and that it would be impossible for me to be anything else. Tell me of anyone who could make a better recommendation?
Nevertheless some have believed Nicolas rather than Robespierre; and already in their cliques they are calling me a conspirator. It is true citizens; for five years I have conspired to make republican France happy and flourishing.
I conspired for your liberty well before July twelfth.
Robespierre has spoken to you of my lively tirade of verses, forerunners of the revolution. I conspired on the 12th July when, pistol in hand I called the nation to arms and to liberty and when I first seized this national cockade which you cannot attach to your hat without thinking of me. My enemies, or rather enemies of liberty for I can have no others, allow me to read this piece of evidence.
‘So now Camille Desmoulins appears; he must be heard; it was half past two; I came to sound out the people. My anger against the despots was turned to despair. I saw nothing but groups of people, who although keenly moved, were not sufficiently moved to revolt. Three young people seemed to me possessed of a greater courage; they were arm in arm. I saw that they had come from the Palais Royal with the same design as me; some more passive citizens were following them; Messieurs, I said to them here is the beginning of a civic gathering; one of us must commit ourselves and climb on a table to address the people.
Get up there
Immediately I was lifted to the table rather than climbing. As soon as I was there I saw I was surrounded by an enormous crowd. Here is my short speech which I will never forget.
‘Citizens! There is not a moment to lose. I come from Versailles; M. Necker has been dismissed; this dismissal sounds the tocsin for a St Bartholomew’s [massacre] of the patriots. This evening all the Swiss and German troops will leave the Champ-de-Mars and cut our throats. There is no alternative for us but to take up arms and to wear rosettes to distinguish ourselves.
I had tears in my eyes and I spoke with an energy I could never repeat. My speech was met with great applause. I continued
What colour do you want?
Someone called: You choose!
Will you have green, the colour of hope, or the blue of Cincinnatus the colour of liberty for America and for democracy?
Voices were raised; Green the colour of hope!
Then I cried out: Friends! The signal is given; the spies and police lackeys are looking at me. I will not fall into their hands alive. Then, pulling two pistols from my pocket I say; let all citizens copy me; I got down smothered with hugs and kisses; some clutched me to their hearts, others bathed me with their tears; a citizen of Toulouse, fearing for my safety, swore that he would never leave my side. In the meantime someone had given me a green ribbon; I put one first in my hat and then I gave some to those around me,’
Since then I have never ceased to conspire against tyrants, with Danton and with Robespierre. I conspired in La France Libre, in the Discours de la Lanterne aux Parisiens, in the Revolutions of France and Brabant, and in the Tribune of the Patriots. My eight volumes testify to all my conspiracies against aristocrats of all sorts, Royalists, Feuillants, Brissotins and Federalists. When you look you will see what a multitude of endorsements, the most honourable a man could receive, have come to me from all four quarters of the earth.
When you browse my writings, my opinions, my appeals, I defy anyone to find a single phrase in those eight volumes where I depart from republican principles, or deviate from a single line of The Declaration of Rights. From Necker and the two chamber system right up to Brissot and Federalism you cannot cite a single conspirator whose mask I did not rip away well before he fell. I have always been six or even eighteen months ahead of public opinion. I would be six months in advance, and would wait for you to come round to my opinion.; Where would you have found your accusations against Bailly, Lafayette, Malouet, Mirabeau, the Lameths, Petion, D’Orleans, Sillery, Brissot, Dumouriez, if I had not prefigured it all in my writing beforehand, which time has since confirmed? And although no one pays attention to it at this moment I have already told you something, which, will resound to my credit with republicans in posterity more than my works. It is that I was linked in friendship with most of these men I denounced but I never stopped pursuing them from the moment they changed sides; I was more faithful to the patrie than to friendship; love of the republic triumphed over my personal feelings; and it was necessary that they be condemned before I would offer my hand, as I did with Barnave.
It is very easy for patriots from August 10, patriots from the third or fourth year, now that money and high office are almost a disaster, to dress themselves up in incorruptibility for a day. Did Necker, at the height of his glory, and after his second recall to office look to appeal, like me, to the business of bakers? In the glory days of his fortune was Lafayette applauded by his aides de camps when they left his house and crossed his antechamber? Did those slippery, almost unavoidable traps encircle Bellechasse? Were their eyes tempted by more seductive charms? Their hands by the lure of a rich dowry? Their ambition by the opportunity of a ministry? Their indolence by a beautiful house in the Pyrenees? A more difficult test was put, that of renouncing the friendship of Barnave and Lameth and to tear myself away from Mirabeau whom I had idolised and loved like a mistress. With all their advantages they preferred to flee? Were they obliged to condemn so many of their friends with whom they had begun the revolution?
Oh people! Learn to recognise your old friends and ask your new ones who accuse me if they find a single one amongst them who could merit such a right to your confidence.
My real crime, I have no doubt, is that I said that before ten issues had come out I would again unmask more traitors, new conspirators and the cabal of Pitt who fear the revelations in my newspaper. They do not dare to pit themselves against the Old Cordelier who has taken up his pen again, distinguished by so many victories over past conspirators and they rake up worn out denunciations which Robespierre has made you trample underfoot. But let us look at the excuses for this relentless attack on me.
Some men, my enemies and secretly those of the republic are still criticising me since I defended Dillon five months ago. But if Dillon was so culpable why did you not make a judgement then? Why do you only wish to see the one general that I defended without paying regard to that crowd of generals whom I accused? If the one I defended was a traitor why would I accuse his accomplices?
If I am a criminal for having defended Dillon there is no reason why Robespierre is not a criminal too, for having defended Camille Desmoulins who defended Dillon. Since when is it a crime to defend someone? Since when is man infallible and free of error?
Collot d’Herbois himself, who without naming me, fell upon me with such severity at the last meeting of the Jacobins, and who, on the subject of the Gaillard suicide, has created and set up a real tragedy to excite the passions of the tribunes against me, has, this very day, been paid 25 livres, such is the importance Mr Pitt places on the expulsion from the society of the four denounced members; Fabre d’Eglantine, Bourdon de l’Oise, Philippeaux and me; Was not Collot Herbois himself wrong about a general who surrendered Toulon? About Brunet? Did he not defend Proly? If I wanted to retaliate against Collot I would only have to let fly with my pen, armed with facts more powerful than his denunciation. But, for the sake of the patrie, I bury my resentment of Collot’s attack on me. We are not so strong, all the true patriots together, to fight against each other and make faces at the leaders of the aristocracy[?]. I have been wrong, and can be fairly reproached for having listened too much to my wounded pride and ignoring the sharp mind of an excellent patriot – our dear Legendre. I want to show that I am not incorrigible in renouncing legitimate reprisals today. I simply warn Collot to be on his guard against deceitful compliments, and like Robespierre, to reject with scorn, the praise of Pere Duchesne, from whose lips, as all Paris has noticed, flowed nothing but sugar and honey since the return of Danton and who suddenly with the arrival of Collot d’Herbois, rediscovered his moustachios, his anger and his great denunciations against the old Cordeliers and called out boldly: ‘the giant has arrived – he will bring down the pygmies’. The publicity from this phrase could not depopularise but merely ridicule the one who was its subject if he had not disavowed the flattery of Hebert who sought to hide beneath the canon of Collot; this publicity will be the only pinprick of pride that I will allow myself against my colleague. I can still distinguish between Pere Duchesne and the good father Gerard, between Collot Chateauvieux and Hebert Contremarque
So, a long digression on the subject of Dillon, whilst for my justification I have only to observe that the best patriots were not exempt from bias; and that Collot d’Herbois himself has defended people more suspicious than Dillon; so I suggest that in fact there is not a single deputy on the mountain whom one could not reproach with some error and his own Dillon.
Forgive me my dear readers but do you believe that I am not well convinced that this general, whom you never stop throwing in my face, was a traitor?
I have said nothing, neither good nor bad, about him for six months. Three months ago I was content to pass on to Robespierre, the note he gave me about Carteaux. Well! Cartaux’s treason was proved by this note.
Note here that four weeks ago, Hebert presented to the Jacobins a soldier who came to heap pretentious praise on Carteaux and to discredit our two Cordeliers Freron and Lapoype who nevertheless had come close to taking Toulon in spite of envy and slander; because Hebert called Freron, just as he called me, a ci-devant patriot, and other names [which I can’t translate sorry]. Take note citizens that Hebert has continued to insult Freron and Barras for two months, to demand their recall to the Committee of Public Safety and to commend Carteaux, without whom General Lapoype would perhaps have retaken Toulon six weeks ago, when he had already seized Fort Pharon. Take note that when Hebert saw that he could not influence Robespierre on the subject of Freron because Robespierre knows the Old Cordeliers, because he knows Freron just as he knows me; Note that it was then that this forged letter signed by Freron and Barras arrived at the Committee for Public Safety, from where no one knows; this letter which so strongly resembled one which managed to arrive two days ago at the Quinze Vingts, which made out that d’Eglantine, Bourdon de l’Oise, Philippeaux and myself wanted to raise the sections. Oh my dear Freron it is through these coarse devices that the patriots of August 10 erode the pillars of the old district of the Cordeliers. Ten days ago you wrote to my wife ‘I dream only of Toulon where I will either perish or claim it back for the Republic; I am leaving. The cannons will start as soon as I arrive; we will win a laurel or a willow – I am prepared for one or the other’ Oh my brave Freron we both cried with joy this morning when we learned of the victory of the Republic and that we would go with laurels before you and not with willow before your ashes.
- Music:La Carmagnole
It was whilst mounting the first attack with Salicetti and Robespierre’s worthy brother that you replied to Hebert’s libel. It is the same in Paris as Marseille! I am going to cite your words because those of a victor will carry more weight than mine: In the same letter you wrote: ‘I do not know if Camille sees it the way I do but it seems to me that they want to push the people beyond their goals and to make them, without doubt, counter revolutionaries through ultra-revolutionary measures. Dissent stirs up its flames amongst the patriots. Some ambitious men who want to seize power make every effort to blacken the names of purer men of means and character, the first batch of patriots; what happened in Marseille is a proof.’ So my poor Martin at the same time you were followed by the Peres Duchesne of Paris and Bouches de Rhone? And without knowing it, by that instinct which never misleads a true republican, from two hundred leagues away we made war on the same enemies, you with your resounding voice and I with my writing! But I must break off from my discussion with you and resume my justification.
Since I am needlessly absolved from 1789, it is necessary to repeat this for the hundredth time; It is not true to say that I defended Dillon; I demanded that he should be tried; Is it not obvious that if anyone is accused of defending him it is more likely to be those who, unlike me, did not demand his trial. So the constant denunciation of Camille Desmoulins falls at the first hurdle. What little evidence there must be against me in my adversary’s bag since they are reduced to endlessly accusing me of having defended a general whose great service on the coast of Biesme no one contests?
The shortest justification is boring. To sustain your interest I mix mine with elements of satire which will only lightly touch the patriot whilst piercing through and through the counter revolutionary disguised beneath his red cap which my hand will knock off. When I leave the Convention I go back to the Vieux Cordelier; and depending on how I am affected by the meeting a touch of gaiety or sadness will appear on the page I write and in my correspondence with my subscribers. Today Barere has made me gloomy and my work this evening will reflect my melancholy.
Is it possible that a report has been directed against me with the aim of agreeing my conclusions completely? My conclusions were such that Robespierre passed as the order of the day a decree too similar to my committee of clemency. My dear colleagues it is appropriate that I have at least had the courage to open the big discussion here, and the honour of the National Assembly demands that it be taken on board. I will have the merit of having shone the first gleam of hope upon the imprisoned patriots. As far as peace is concerned the houses of suspicion resemble nothing as much as Dante’s inferno, where all hope is abandoned. I have done some good, I have merited more consideration from Barere, and he should not have struck so hard. Anyway the greatest honour for my journal is assuredly this censure from the committee of public safety which tries to stifle it, and the decree which is to be inserted into it. It accords great importance to my pen. One day posterity will judge between the suspects of Barere and the suspects of Tacitus. For the time being the patriots are going to have to put up with me; because after this serious criticism from the committee of public safety, I am ready to burn my number 3, like Fenelon making public the Papal brief which condemned the Maxim des Saints from the pulpit and tearing it up himself; and already I have forbidden Desenne from reprinting it at least without checking.
Since the committee of public safety did not hesitate to refute my number 4, to throw light, completely on their religion, I must re-establish one fact on which their reporter has altered Thucydides; I ask for an apology from Barere.
Athens was certainly not enjoying a perfect peace when Thrasybulus said in the general assembly of the people that no one would be disturbed hunted down except for the thirty tyrants. These thirty tyrants spoke for the population of Athens, who scarcely numbered twenty thousand citizens, just as our aristocrats speak for our population of twenty five million men. History clearly tells us that the wise decree put an end to civil dissent, reunited spirits and earned for Thrasybulus the title ‘restorer of the peace’
Moreover, Barere has finished a bitter criticism of the work with a public homage to the patriotism of the author. But in his naming of suspects and on the occasion of his judicious remark that there were those who instead of rejoicing at the taking of Toulon had a miserable expression, Barere could give me a different testimony. He could say the same today; finding myself dining with him I said to him ‘Those who are not cheered by the conquest of Toulon, or who are untouched by it are the truly suspicious men, whose arrest I will be the first to applaud, and not, as I read in a certain denunciation, ‘those who had luxurious lodgings’.
The impartial reader would be shocked, not to see Barere seizing my idea and making himself honoured in the convention, but in adding to this plagiarism the petty malice of telling them that I do not admit there are any suspect people. If Barere had mentioned me, if he had at least said that I shared his opinion, the most suspicious republicans would have seen that I too, I wanted the houses of suspicion and that my opinion differed only in the identification of the suspects. But I see that Barere fears the great anger of Pere Duchesne and the repeated denunciation of M. de Vieux Sac and in his report he has opened his whole hand to satire and just the little finger for praise.
Where do the splitters of the mountain want to take us with these slanders they are whispering into the ears of the patriots? What is this treachery, to single out one phrase from my number 4 and to take it completely out of context from the sense which surrounds it? Nothing could be in worse faith. Already the mountain is unrecognizable. If it was an old Cordelier like me, a genuine patriot, Billaud Varenne for example, who had berated me so sternly I would have put up with it; I would say: It is the insult of the hot headed St. Paul to the good St. Peter who has sinned! But you, my dear Barere! The happy tutor of Pamela [natural daughter of le Duc d’Orleans], the president of the feuillants! Who proposed the committee of twelve, who on the second of June put the suggestion to the committee of public safety that they should not arrest Danton! You in whom I could easily discover other faults if I wanted to rummage around for them. That you would immediately become a channel for Robespierre and that you should attack me so fiercely! I swear that this insult made me see thirty six candles and I am still rubbing my eyes. What! You accuse me of moderation! What! You, mountain comrade of June 3, are going to give Camille Desmoulins a certification of public spiritedness! Without this certificate I am going to be deemed a moderate. What do I see? I speak of myself and already in the groups they dare to suspect Robespierre himself of moderatism. Oh what a fine thing to have no principles, just to know how to blow with the wind and to be happy to be a weather vane!
Think carefully citizens, all those who accuse me of minor faults, and I guarantee that in their lives, you will find similar and grievous mistakes which nevertheless out of love of peace and solidarity, I have never reproached them with, but they accuse me of blackening the names of the patriots. I give you justice too Barere, I admire your talent, your service and also I proclaim your patriotism; concerning your mistakes, Robespierre has given you absolution and like Mr Nicolas I am not questioning the judgement of Robespierre. But what reptile is so grovelling that when he is trampled on will not stand up and bite back? And the republic cannot ask me to turn the other cheek.
All of this is no more than a domestic dispute between my friends the patriots Collot and Barere; but in my turn I am going to be angry with Pere Duchesne who calls me an intriguing wretch, an imbecile to lead to the guillotine, a conspirator who wants to open all the prisons to make a new Vendee; a sleeper paid by Pitt, an ass with long ears, ‘Wait for it Hebert! I will get to you in a moment. I will not attack you here with insults and abuse; it will be with facts. I will unmask you as I did Brissot and society can judge between us.
The ray of hope which I shone for the patriots detained in the depths of the prisons, the image of happiness coming from the French republic, which I offered in anticipation to my readers, and the single name, committee of clemency, which I mentioned, wrongly for the moment if you will, has this single word affected you like the Furies’ whip Hebert? Can you not support the idea that the nation will one day be happy and united in brotherhood? So this word clemency which I have nevertheless amended strongly by adding: leave aside the thought of an amnesty, leave aside the opening of the prisons, made you so angry that losing your senses and fainting away, you denounced me to the Jacobins for the ridiculous reason you say of having married a rich wife.
I will say only one word about my wife. I have always believed in the immortality of the spirit. After all the sacrifices I have made of my personal interests for liberty and the welfare of the people in the face of harsh persecution I told myself; there must be rewards for virtue waiting elsewhere. But my marriage is so happy, my domestic joy is so great that I fear I have received my reward on earth and I have lost my chance of immortal happiness. Now your attacks on me, your cowardly libels have given me back my hope.
On the subject of my wife’s fortune, she brought me 4.000 livres in private income that is all I possess. In this revolution, where I can claim to have played a fairly big part, where I have been a writer of polemic sought on all sides by people who found me to be incorruptible, where sometimes before August 10 people tried to buy my silence and at a high price too, well, in this revolution since I have been successively secretary general in the department of justice and people’s representative in the convention my fortune has not increase by one sou. Could Hebert say differently?
How dare you speak of my fortune, you who all Paris saw two years ago collecting tickets at the door of the Variety from where you were fired for a reason you cannot have forgotten. How dare you speak of my 4,000 livres private income, you, a sans culottes, in a nasty linen wig, with your hypocritical rag, you live in your house as luxuriously as a suspect, in receipt of 120,000 livres from minister Bouchotte for supporting the motions of Cloots and Proly in your counter revolutionary paper, as I will prove
120,000 livres for this poor sans culottes Hebert to libel Danton, Lindet, Cambon, Thuriot, Lacroix, Phillipeaux, Bourdon de l’Oise, Barras, Legendre, d’Eglantine, Freron, Camille Desmoulins and nearly all the commissars of the convention! To inundate France with his writings so likely to shape the heart and spirit! 120,000 livres! From Bouchotte! After this will anyone be surprised by that filial statement of Hebert’s at the Jacobin’s meeting ‘To dare to attack Bouchotte! [to dare to call him Georges!] Bouchotte whom no one can reproach with even the slightest fault! Bouchotte who put sans culotte generals at the head of the army, Bouchotte the most pure patriot’ I am surprised that in this transport of gratitude Pere Duchesne did not cry out ‘Bouchotte who has given me 120,000 livres since the month of June!
- Music:La Carmagnole
Le Vieux Cordelier 5
What contempt citizens will have for this impudent Pere Duchesne, when at the end of this edition number 5 they learn through a note from the treasury register that the cockroach who reproaches me for giving away free a paper which all of Paris runs to buy, received on a single day last October 60,000 francs from ‘Maecenas’ Bouchotte for 600,000 copies; the reader will see by a simple process of addition that the villain Hebert stole, on that day alone 40,000 francs from the nation.
Already there must be some indignation amongst all Patriots who can think and have some memory because when I reclaimed in my paper the freedom of the press for writers and freedom of opinion for deputies, that is to say the first principles in the rights of man, Hebert could be seen to hurl abuse at me, this cheeky climber who two months ago, at the very moment when a series of victories spurred on the revolutionary movement, when the necessity of revolutionary measures was felt by all patriots, dared to complain in his paper about the constitution and asked for the executive to be organised according to the terms of the constitutional act because it seemed to him that he could not fail to be one of the 24 members!
The least of your sins is that on a single day in the month of October you received 60,000 francs from Bouchotte for bellowing in your rag to all four quarters of France: Psaphon is a god and to libel Danton. With your numbers and your contradictions in my hand I am ready to prove that you are a scoundrel, degrading the French people and the Convention, already in the eyes of the patriots and clear sighted people you are unmasked like Brissot whose successor you have been made by the agents of Pitt and a purveyor of counter revolution by another extreme. It is easy to see that as the Girondins were of no further use to them, Pitt and Calonne would want to try using ignorance and stupidity to make this counter revolution which they could not achieve with people of character from Malouet to Gensonne.
I have no need to immerse myself in research. You who speak to me about the company I keep, did you think I wouldn’t notice that among your social circle is a woman, Rochechouart, an agent of the émigrés, and the banker Kocke in whose house you and your Jacqueline passed the fine days of summer.
Do you think that I would ignore the fact that the great patriot Hebert, after having libelled the purest men of the republic in his rag, went off joyfully with the Dutch banker Kocke, an intimate of Dumouriez, and with his Jacqueline, to drink Pitt’s wine and raise a glass to the ruin of the reputations of the founders of liberty?
Do you think I wouldn’t notice that you never said a word against such a deputy until you fell upon Chabot and Basire?
Do you believe I wouldn’t guess that you only raised this clamour against two deputies because having been enticed, perhaps without suspecting anything, into the conspiracy of your ultra-reactionaries soon seeing the evil men who were going to destroy our country, having recoiled with horror, having seemed to falter, having opposed many of the drafted decrees which were no more than distant precursors to the motions of liberticide which you and your accomplices were preparing you were keen to avoid Basire and Chabot and to abandon them before you were abandoned by them.
Do you think that no-one has told me that in 1790 and 1791 you persecuted Marat? You wrote for the aristocrats. You will not be able to deny it; you will be exposed by witnesses.
Finally do you think that I do not know for sure that you interfered with the liberty of the citizens and that I don’t remember that a colleague told me and more than twenty deputies that you had received a very large sum of money to enrich yourself, I am not sure whether it was from an émigré or a prisoner, and that since then a witness to your venality threatened to reveal it if you continued to abuse Chabot in your papers, a fact which the people’s representative Chaudron Rousseau promises us he will put before the surveillance committee? These are more serious facts than those you have imputed to me.
Consider your life, from the time when you were a respectable brother whom a doctor of our acquaintance bled for 12 sous right up to this moment where, becoming our political doctor and the quack Doctor Sangrado of the French people you have ordered such copious bleeding in return for 120,000 livres salary which Bouchotte gave you. Consider your entire life and tell me in what capacity you dare to make judgements on the Jacobins?
Is it by qualification of your past services? But when Danton, d’Eglantine and Pare, our three old permanent presidents of the Cordeliers [of the district hear], supported a seat for Marat; when Thuriot besieged the Bastille; when Freron brought out the Orator of the People; when I, almost alone, not fearing the assassins of Loustalot or the writings of Talon, dared to defend the people’s friend three years ago and to proclaim him the Divine Marat; when all those veterans whom you abuse today turned out for the popular cause, where were you then, Hebert? You were selling theatre ticket and I can guarantee that the directors complained about the receipts. I can guarantee too that you opposed the August 10 insurrection in the Cordeliers. I am also assured and you cannot deny it because there are witnesses, that you denigrated and pursued Marat in 1790 and 91; but that after his death you claimed that he had left you his mantle and you immediately became his universal heir and disciple. What is certain is that before trying to steal the inheritance of Marat’s popularity in this way you had cast off another inheritance, that of Pere Duchesne; because you have not written Pere Duchesne for two years; I do not say the Trumpet of Pere Duchesne, but the true Pere Duchesne, the memento Maury. That was another time when you took the name, the arms, and the oaths and seized all the glory as is your custom. What is certain is that you were not with us in 1789 in the wooden horse; you were never seen amongst the fighters in the first campaigns of the revolution; churlishly you were not noticeable till after the victory when, like Thersites, you distinguished yourself by denigrating the victors and carrying off the best part of the spoils; and by heating up your kitchen and your stoves for calumnies with the 120,000 francs and the coals of Bouchotte.
Will it be in the role of writer and fine intellect Hebert that you claim to weigh our reputations in your scales? Is it in your role as journalist that you claim to dictate opinion to the Jacobins? But is there anything more filthy and disgusting than the bulk of your rags? Hebert don’t you know that when the tyrants of Europe want to vilify the Republic, when they want to make their slaves believe that France is covered with the darkness of barbarity, that Paris, this city so renowned for its culture and good taste, is inhabited by Vandals; don’t you know that unfortunately it is the scraps from your rags that they publish in their Gazettes, as if you would like Pitt to believe that all the people were equally bestial and ignorant, as if we could only speak to him in an equally coarse language, as if that was the language of the Convention and the Committee of Public Safety, as if your filthy words were those of the nation; as if the Seine was a sewer of Paris.
Finally will it be in the role of sage, of a great politician, of the man to whom it is given to govern empires that you assume the right to serve us up your ultra-revolutionary ideas when the representatives of the people don’t have the same right for fear of being hounded from society? But, to give only a single example, have not three or four numbers published by Hebert following Gobel’s masquerade of dechristianisation been the main cause, through their foolish politics, for the religious sedition and murders in Amiens, Coulommiers, in the Morbihan, l’Aisne, l’Ille-et-Vilaine? Is it not Pere Duchesne, this deep thinking politician, who with his latest writings is the obvious reason that in the Vendee where official information on the 21st September said there were no more than eight to ten thousand brigands to exterminate it has already been necessary to kill more than a hundred thousand imbecilic new recruits, created by Hebert for Charrette and the royalists?
And it is this vile toady, in receipt of 120,000 livres who reproaches me for the 4,000 income from my wife! It is this intimate friend of Kocke, Rochechouart and a multitude of crooks who reproaches me for my friends! This politician without opinions and the most foolish of the patriots if he is not the most cunning of the aristocrats reproaches me for my ‘aristocratic’ writings; so says he whose rags as I will demonstrate are the delight of Coblenz and the only hope of Pitt.!
This parvenu patriot will be the eternal defamer of the original patriots! Fired from the list of theatre workers for theft this man will be expelling deputies who are the immortal founders of the republic from the roll of the Jacobins for their opinions! This writer of the charnel house will become the legislator of opinion, the mentor of the French people! No representative of the French people could feel anything for this great personage other than that he is a PRICK and a conspirator in the pay of Pitt.
‘Oh time! Oh morality! Oh freedom of the press, the last refuge of the people’s liberty, what has become of you? Oh! Freedom of thought, without which the convention will no longer exist nor yet the national representatives, what will become of you?
Society is now in a position to judge between me and my denouncers. My friends know that I am the same now as in 1789; since then I have not had a single thought that was not for the affirmation of liberty, for the prosperity and happiness of the French people and for the maintaining of the republic one and indivisible. Well! What other interests would have driven the newspaper that I put out except zeal for the public good, why else would I attract such all-powerful hatred against myself and call such implacable resentment down on my head? What did they do to me, Hebert and all those I wrote against? Did I too receive 120,000 francs from the national treasury for calumny? Or do you think that I want to reanimate the ashes of the aristocracy? Barere says that moderates and aristocrats never meet without asking ‘have you read The Old Cordelier?’ Me, a patron of the aristocrats! Of the moderates! When the ship of the republic, which sails as I have said between two reefs, comes too close to that of moderation you will see if I assist that manoeuvre; you will see if I am a moderate! I was a revolutionary before all of you. I have been more; I was a brigand, I made my name on the night of 12/13 July when General Danican and I broke open the arms warehouses to arm the first battalions of the sans culottes. Then I had revolutionary courage. Today, as a deputy of the national assembly, the courage of reason is befitting, of stating my opinion freely. I will maintain unto death this republican courage against all despots; although I do not ignore Machiavelli’s maxim, that there is no sort of tyranny wilder than that of petty tyrants.
How they despair of intimidating me with the rumours and fears of my arrest which are flying all around me! We know that these scoundrels are contemplating a May 31 [attack] against the most vigorous of the montagnards. Robespierre has already born witness to this in the Jacobins; but as he observed we will see what a difference there is between the Brissotins and the montagnards. The acclaim which the Convention received on the day of the Feast of Victory, showed the opinion of the people, and that in no way do they accept the slurs on their representatives which foreigners have tried so hard to impress on the nation. The people place their hope in the Convention and the committee of public safety, not in George and the Georgians. But in a republic whenever a citizen like Bouchotte has 300 million a month and fifty thousand positions in his gift, all the intriguers and all the birds of prey will inevitably gather around him. There is the seat of evil and we are well aware that the plague itself, with such a powerful civil list could get a place in the Pantheon.
It is up to the convention to prevent us raising one altar against another. But oh my colleagues! I will say to you, as Brutus said to Cicero: ‘We fear death, poverty and exile too much’ Nimium timemus mortem et exilium et paupertatem [let us not fear death and exile and poverty]. Is it worthwhile to prolong this life at the expense of honour? There is not one of us who has not arrived at the peak of the mountain of life. Nothing more remains for us now but to descend across a thousand unavoidable chasms, just as it is for the most obscure man. This descent will not open up unfamiliar landscapes or sights a thousand times more delightful than those that were offered to Solomon, who, amongst his seven hundred wives and surrounded with all the appurtenances of happiness would say ‘I have found that the dead are happier than the living and that the happiest man is one who was never born’ [this is full of double negatives – not sure of the full sense]
And so! When every day 1,200,000 French soldiers face enemy armies bristling with weapons of the most murderous type and still they steal victory after victory, we, deputies in the Convention who can never die like soldiers, shot in the shadows in the dead of night with no witness to our bravery; we who suffer death for the sake of liberty can it not be glorious, solemn and before the whole nation, Europe and posterity, will we be more cowardly than our soldiers? Will we be afraid to leave ourselves exposed, to look Bouchotte in the face? Will we not dare to brave the great anger of Pere Duchesne, to win the victory the French people are expecting of us; victory over the ultra-revolutionaries as well as the counter revolutionaries; victory over all the plotters, all the crooks, all the ambitious ones, all the enemies of the public good?
In spite of the divisive factions the mountain remains one and indivisible like the republic! In this third session do not let us debase the national representation. Freedom of thought or death! Let us concern ourselves colleagues not with defending our lives, like invalids, but with defending liberty and principles like republicans! And even if, which seems impossible, calumny and crime should have a moment of triumph over virtue, do you believe that, even on the scaffold, sustained by this personal belief in my country and the republic which I have loved passionately, sustained by the eternal testimony of the centuries, surrounded by the respect and regrets of all true republicans, I would want to change my agony for the fortune of this wretched Hebert who drives twenty classes of citizen and more than three thousand French people to despair in his paper, by anathematising and condemning them en masse in a common proscription; who, stunned by his calumnies needs intoxication stronger than wine and ceaselessly laps up the blood at the foot of the guillotine? What then is the scaffold for a patriot if not the pedestal of Sidney, and Jean de Witt? In a time of war, when I have had my two brothers hacked and butchered in the name of liberty, what is the guillotine if not the most glorious sabre cut of all for a deputy, the victim of his courage and his republicanism?
I have accepted, even wished for the position of deputy because I said to myself: Is there a better opportunity for glory than to regenerate a state about to perish through the vice and corruption which reign there? What could be more glorious than to introduce to it wise institutions, to make virtue and justice reign there; to preserve the honour of the magistrates as well as the freedom, lives and property of the citizens and to make his country flourish? What could be happier than to make so many other people happy? Now I will ask of true, enlightened patriots; were we as happy as we could be even in the revolution?
I could be wrong; but even so, even if I am mistaken, is that a reason for Hebert to call a representative of the people a conspirator who deserves to be guillotined for his opinion? I have seen Danton and the finest minds of the Convention, outraged by this edition of Hebert’s, exclaim ‘It is not you who is attacked here, it is the national representation, and it is our freedom of thought! And I will have no difficulty proving that with this single edition Hebert deserves the death penalty. Because after all when you make a mistake you alone cannot form a conspiracy; and the Brissotins did not die for an opinion; they were condemned for a conspiracy’
Passion will not make me deviate from my principles; I do not think that Hebert should be accused over the one edition. I persist in my belief not only that freedom of thought should be unlimited for deputies but so should freedom of the press for journalists. Allow Hebert to be the Zoile of all the old patriots and a salaried liar! But instead of blaspheming against freedom of the press he should beg mercy of this limitless freedom which is the only reason he is not going before the revolutionary tribunal to be sent to the guillotine by public opinion.
For me I do not risk the guillotine here, even in the judgement of enlightened republicans. Undoubtedly I could be mistaken:
Oh! What an author, the great god, he never goes too far away!
There is more; as soon as the committee of public safety criticized my third edition I would not be an determined heretic and I submitted to their decision like Fenelon to that of the church. But shall I confess it my dear colleagues? I reread chapter 9 of Seneca, the memorable words of Augustus, this thought of the philosopher which I will not translate so as not to be a whipping boy for the weak again; and to this fact without a reply; ‘post hoc nullis insidiis ab ullo petitus’ [from Seneca on Clemency] by this fact, in spite of Barrere’s report, my conviction that the idea of a committee of clemency was wrong escaped me. Because note well that I never spoke of a clemency of moderation, of clemency for leaders; but of this political clemency, this revolutionary clemency which distinguishes those who have only been in error. To this fact, I said, without reply, it pains me to subscribe to the censure of Barrere, and not to cry out like Galileo, condemned by the holy college of Cardinals ‘But still I feel that it turns!’
For sure in 1789, the Lantern Attorney was just as revolutionary as Hebert who at that time opened theatre boxes for the ci-devants practically bowing to the ground in his reverence. But then when I saw the ultra-revolutionary assassination of the baker Francois, faithful to my character, did I not cry out that it was the court itself, Lafayette and the Heberts of the time, the patriotic aristocrats who had committed this murder to make the lantern objectionable. This ma [himself] is still a revolutionary today who said before Barrere; we must arrest all those who do not rejoice at the taking of Toulon as suspects. This man is a revolutionary who says, like Robespierre and in terms no less powerful: If it is necessary to choose between the exaggeration of patriotism and the stagnation of moderation there will be no choice. This man is a revolutionary who advances as a first political maxim that in the management of affairs of state it is sad but inevitable to abandon strict rules of morality.
No.1 the man is a revolutionary who has gone as far as Marat in revolution, but who says: that beyond these motions and borders which have been established it is necessary to write, like the geographers of antiquity at the edges of their maps: beyond here there are no more cities or habitations; there is nothing but deserts or savages, glaciers or volcanos.
No 2 the man is a revolutionary who has said that the committee of public safety needed for a while the power of despots, and could throw a veil of gauze over the rights of man it is true and transparent. Finally the man who wrote the first and last pages of my third issue is a revolutionary; but it is regrettable that the journalists, and I know there are men of good will amongst them, have not quoted one of these passages. While the majority will take the filthy word of Pere Duchesne and only extract from my issues that which lends itself to malignity and foolishness, they would not be forbidden from looking more scrupulously at all the quotations which prove me to have the spirit of patriotism; and it is truly a miracle that on the words of Hebert and the untrue and malign statements of several of my dear journalistic colleagues, the Jacobins who remained in the club at ten o clock at night did not cry out like Vice president Brochet; what need do we have of other witnesses? And that the opinion of the jury did not declare that they had been sufficiently instructed and that in their soul and conscience I was convicted of moderation, feuillantism and brissotism.
And however wrong I was, weary of having been cowardly, of having lacked the courage to speak my mind, that is false. I have no fear that society will blame me for doing my duty. But if the cabal were stronger, I say this with a suitable feeling of pride; if I were expelled, that would be too bad for the Jacobins! What! You have commanded me to tell the tribunal what I believe to be most useful for the safety of the republic! I have said in my paper what I don’t have the physical ability to say at the tribune and you have made me a criminal? Why have you seized my books on nature? On the borders where I will go to be killed like my two brothers who died for freedom? Why have you appointed me your representative? Why have you not given me any notebooks? Is there any treachery, or barbarism like sending me to the convention to ask me what I think of the republic, to force me to speak and then to condemn me because I will not be able to tell you things as agreeably as I would like to? If you want me to tell the truth, that is to say the relative truth and what I believe, how can you reproach me even if I should be wrong? Is it my fault if my eyes are weak and if I have seen everything darkly, through the veil which the rags of Pere Duchesne have put before my imagination?
Am I to blame for not believing that Tacitus, who up to now has passed as the most patriotic of writers, the wisest and greatest political historian could be an aristocrat and driveller? What can I say Tacitus? This Brutus, whose picture you have, Hebert would chase him from society like me, because if I have had empty dreams and old reveries I have not only been with Tacitus and Machiavelli but with Loustalot and Marat, with Thrasybulus and Brutus.
Is it my fault if it seems to me that when the department of Seine and Marne, until today so tranquil, became dangerously agitated when they could no longer attend mass; when mothers and fathers, in their simplicity wept tears because they had given birth to a child they could not baptise; soon Catholics will be like the Calvinists in the time of Henri 2 saying psalms in hiding and illuminating the mind through prayer; they will be saying mass in caves when they can no longer speak under their own roofs;
We are going to be obliged to the ‘patriotic rags’ of Pere Duchesne, peddled by Georges Bouchotte, for scattering these fertile seeds of sedition and murder throughout France.
Finally is it my fault if it seems to me that subordinate powers have departed from their legal limits and exceeded them; that a commune, in place of confining itself to carrying out the law has usurped legislative power and passed actual decrees on the closure of churches, on certificates of citizenship etc. Aristocrats, Feuillants, Moderates, and Brissotins have dishonoured a word in the French language by the counter revolutionary use to which they put it. It is uncomfortable to use this word today. However, friends and brothers, do you believe you have better sense than all the historians and politicians, are you more republican than Cato and Brutus who all used this word? They all repeated this maxim; Anarchy, in making all men masters, soon reduces them to having only one master. It is this one master that I fear; it is the annihilation or at the very least the dismemberment of the republic. The committee of public safety, this committee for saving, has the cure, but I do have at least the merit of having first turned their eyes upon these most dangerous of our enemies and fairly skilfully to have taken the only counter revolution route possible.
Friends and brothers, will you make it a crime for a writer and a deputy to be afraid of this disorder, of this confusion, of this decomposition of the body politic, where we are going with the speed of a torrent which will carry us away and uproot our principles; if, in his last speech on the revolutionary government, Robespierre, whilst putting me in my place, did not, himself, throw an anchor to the fundamental maxims of our revolution on which alone freedom can be affirmed and can face the efforts of the tyrants and the times.
EXTRACTS FROM NATIONAL TREASURY REGISTERS JUNE 2 [Camille was not using revolutionary dates here]
Given to Pere Duchesne 135,000 livres
On June 2 while all of Paris had swords in hand to defend the National Convention, at the same time Hebert had his hand in the purse.
More, in the month of August, to Pere Duchesne 10,000 livres
More, on October 4, to Pere Duchesne 60,000 livres
We calculate this last haul,
Valuation of the 600,000 copies of Pere Duchesne, funded by Bouchotte at 60,000 livres:
For the first thousand.
Typesetting 16 liv
Printing 8 liv
Poor quality [rubbish] paper 20 liv
TOTAL = 44liv
Each of the other 599,000
Printing 8 liv
Paper 20 liv
TOTAL = 28 liv
First thousand = 44 liv
599,000 @ 28 liv = 16,772 liv
TRUE TOTAL COST OF 600,000 COPIES = 16,816 LIV
Which was accounted as 60,000 by Bouchotte to Hebert on October 4 1793 and which, with outrageous cynicism in his last issue Hebert calls the vital fuel to heat his stove.
Remove [as genuine expenditure] 16,816 liv
The remaining amount stolen from the nation Oct 4 1793 = 43,184 liv
Can you just picture Camille doing his sums? Did he use an abacus? Maybe he worked hard at his maths at Lycee Louis le Grand.
Or maybe he called in a favour?
- Music:Chanson du Depart
I've completed a [roughish] translation of VC5 - would it be worth posting bits of it here? also does the VCScan have VC7? sorry if this is not the place for these questions - I'm new!
(this is very much still in progress so if anyone wants to help make corrections and smooth this out it would be very much appreciated. Some parts are taken from bits already translated by Violet Methley and Frances Cashel Hoey)
Le Vieux Cordelier no. 4 by Camille Desmoulins
Live free or die
Decadi Frimaire 30, Year II of the republic, one and indivisible.
The strongest is never strong enough to be always the master, unless he transforms strength into right.
(JJ. Rousseau, Social Contract.)
Many people have disapproved of my No. 3, where, as they allege, I have been pleased to make comparisons which tend to throw the Republic and patriots into disfavour: they should, however, say the excesses of the Revolution and the professional patriots. They believe the number refuted and everybody justified in just one sentence: ‘It is well known that the present state is not that of freedom; but patience, you will be free one of these days.’
Such people apparently believe that liberty, like children, needs to go through cries and tears to get to maturity; on the contrary, it is the nature of liberty that, to enjoy it, we need only desire it. A people is free as soon as it wishes to be (we recall those were the words of Lafayette), it entered upon its full rights on the 14th of July. Liberty has neither old age nor infancy; she has but one age, that of strength and vigour; otherwise, those who are being killed for the republic would be as stupid as the fanatics in la Vendée who are being killed for the delights of heaven which they will not enjoy. When we have died in combat, are we also resurrected in three days, as is believed by those foolish peasants? No, this liberty which I worship is not an unknown deity. We are fighting in defense of the good things which she puts into the possession of those who invoke her: these good things are the Declaration of Rights, the sweetness of Republican maxims, fraternity, holy equality, and the inviolability of principles. These are the footprints of the goddess, these are the signs by which I distinguish the nations among whom she dwells.
And by what other sign would you wish that I recognize this divine liberty? This liberty, be it but an empty name? Is it only an actress of the Opera, la Candeille or la Maillard paraded about with a red cap on, or even that statue, 46 feet high, that David proposes? If by liberty you do not mean, as I do, principles, but only a bit of stone, then never has there been an idolatry more stupid and more costly than ours.
Oh my dear fellow citizens! Shall we so far debase ourselves as to fall at the feet of such divinities? No, this Liberty descended from Heaven is not a nymph of the Opera, not a red cap, a dirty shirt, or rags and tatters. Liberty is happiness, reason, equality; she is justice, she is embodied in the Declaration of Rights, in your sublime Constitution. Would you have me acknowledge her, fall at her feet, spill my blood for her? Open the prisons of those two hundred thousand citizens whom you call “suspects,” for in the Declaration of Rights there was no prison for suspected persons, but only for felons. Suspicion has no prison, it has the public prosecutor; there are no suspected persons but those who are accused of crime by the law. Do not believe that this measure would be fatal to the Republic, it would be the most revolutionary step you have ever taken.
You wish to exterminate all your enemies by the guillotine! But was there ever greater folly? Can you kill one person on the scaffold without making yourselves ten more enemies amongst his family and his friends? Do you think that these women, these old men, these egotists, these laggards of the Revolution whom you shut up, are dangerous? Of your enemies, none remain to you but the cowards and the sick; the brave and the strong have emigrated; they have perished at Lyons or in La Vendée; the rest do not deserve your anger. Those feuillants, bankers, and shopkeepers ,whom you have kept in prison since the beginning of the great duel between the monarchy and the republic, can only be compared to the population of Rome, whose indifference, during the combat between Vitellius and Vespasian, is thus described by Tacitus:
“While the action lasted the Romans gathered round the combatants like curious spectators; and as they were wont to do in the amphitheatre they applauded one while these another while those according as chance seemed to favour either party and when any portion of the combatants happened to lose ground and retreat they dragged them from the houses and gave them up to the enemy On one side nothing was seen but dead and wounded men ; on the other, theatres crowded with spectators, and inns filled with banqueters.”
Have we not in the foregoing passage a perfect portrait of our moderates, our chapelains, our signers of the famous petition of the eight and the twenty thousand, and of that intermediate multitude between the Jacobins and Coblentz who cry out according as the scale of victory descends — “Long live Lafayette and his white horse!” or who bear in triumph the bust of Marat ? It seems that the citizens of Paris bear as close a resemblance to those of Rome in the time of Vitellius, as those of Rome resembled the citizens of Athens contemporary with Plato, for whom the philosopher refused to prescribe anything in his republic, “their nature impelling them to a servile submission to the government and the stronger party.” While we were shedding our blood in the Carrousel and the Champs de Mars, the Palais Roval exhibited its shepherdesses and its Arcadia. Beside the axe of the guillotine even while filling upon the necks of royalty, the guillotine of Punchinello was also in progress, and shared the attention of the public. It was not love for the republic, but curiosity that attracted every day such a concourse of spectators to the place of the Revolution. They all wanted to see the new play which was only to have one showing.
I am sure that most of the regulars of this spectacle mocked, at the bottom of the soul, the subscribers of the Opera and the tragedy, who only could see a knife of cardboard, and actors who played dead. This was, says Tacitus, the insensitivity of the city of Rome, its denatured security and its perfect indifference to all parties. But Vespasian, the conqueror, did not imprison that entire multitude.
Similarly, believe me, worthy representatives, today that the convention has just rejected on the schemers, the tainted patriots, and the ultra-revolutionary moustaches and red caps, the great weight of the terror that it carried; today that it resumed, on its pedestal, the attitude that suited the religion of the people; the Committee of Public Safety wants a provisional government respected and strong enough to contain equally the moderates and the extremists, allow also those peaceable homebodies who were not Republicans under Louis XV, and even under Louis XVI and the Estates General, but who, from the 14th of July, and at the first shot, threw down their arms and shields des lys, and asked for mercy of the nation to let them make their four meals a day.
Like Vespasian, allow them now to follow the chariot of the triumphant by shouting the cry: Love live the Republic!
What blessings would amount then on all sides! I am of a very different opinion from those who claim that it is necessary to leave Terror on the order of the day. I am confident, on the contrary, that liberty will be assured and Europe conquered so soon as you have a Committee of Clemency. This committee will complete the Revolution, for clemency is itself a Revolutionary measure, the most effective of all when it is wisely dealt out.
Let imbeciles and rascals call me moderate, if they want to. I am certainly not ashamed not to be more outraged than M. Brutus; yet this is what Brutus wrote: You would do better, my dear Cicero, to put more effort into cutting short the civil wars than in losing your temper, and pursuing your personal resentments against the vanquished.
We know that Thrasybulus, after capturing Athens at the head of the exiles, and condemning to death those of the thirty tyrants who had not died with weapons in hand, resorted to extreme leniency towards the rest of the citizens, and even proclaimed a general amnesty. Will it be said that Thrasybulus and Brutus were Feuillants, Brissotins? I consent to pass for a modéré like these great men. This policy had taught them the maxim which Machiavelli has since professed, that, when such a crowd was involved in a conspiracy, it is smothered more surely by feigning ignorance than by seeking out all the accomplices. It is this policy, as well as his kindness, his humanity, which inspired Antoninus with these beautiful words to the magistrates, who urged him to prosecute and punish all those citizens who had taken part in the conspiracy of Attilius: I am not glad that it is seen there are so many people who dislike me.
I cannot help but transcribe here the passage that the anti-federalist quoted of Montesquieu, and which is so much on the order of the day. We will see that the genius of Caesar did not work better than the folly of our ultra-revolutionaries to create hate of the Republic, and pave the way for monarchy.
“Everyone who had ambitious plans had conspired to put disorder in the Republic. Pompey, Crassus and Caesar succeeded marvelously; and while good legislators seek to make their citizens the better, they sought to make them worse. These first men of the republic sought to tire the people of its power, and to become necessary by making extreme disadvantages of the republican government. But when Augustus had become the master, he worked to restore order, to make feelings of happiness of a single government. “
It was then that Octavius learned to skillfully reject on Antony and Lepidus the odiousness of past proscriptions, and his clemency belonged to him alone, it was this clemency with which he learned the trick of Julius Caesar, who operated the revolution, and decided, much more than Pharsalia and Actium, of the enslavement of the universe for 18 centuries. They were tired of seeing blood flowing in the Forum and around the rostrum, since the Gracchi.
Many examples prove what I said earlier, that leniency distributed wisely is the most revolutionary, most effective measure, rather than terror that is only the Mentor of one day, as is called so well by Cicero: Fear is not a lasting teacher of duty. Those who read history know that this is only the terror of the tribunal of Jeffreys, and of the revolutionary army that Major Kirch dragged after him, which led to the revolution of 1689. Jacques II laughingly called the campaign of Jeffreys that bloody tour of his walking tribunal. He did not foresee that his dethronement would terminate the end of this campaign. If we consult the list of the dead, we will see that that Chancellor of England, who left a name so abominable, was a small campaign compared to the general minister Ronsin, who may be called, after his displays, the Alexander of executioners.
Fellow citizens, it seems that a Montagnard would not be ashamed to propose the same means of public safety as Brutus and Thrasybulus, especially considering that Athens was preserved from civil war for having followed the advice of Thrasybulus , and that Rome lost her freedom for rejecting that of Brutus. However I am careful not to present to you a similar measure. Back the motion of an amnesty! A blind and general indulgence would be counter-revolutionary, at least it would be the greatest danger and of an evident impolicy, not by the reason given by Machiavelli, because “the prince must pay to bad people all at once, and the good drop by drop”, but because so big a movement imparted to the machine of government, in the opposite direction of its first impulse, might break its springs.
But as it would be dangerous and impolitical to open the house of prisoners of suspicion, the establishment of a Committee of Clemency seems to me a grand idea and worthy of the French people; erasing one’s memory of many faults, since one has erased the very time they were committed, and created a new era in which one dates only one’s birth and memories. At this expression, Committee of Clemency, what patriot does not feel his heart moved? for patriotism consists in the plentitude of every virtue, and therefore cannot exist where there is neither humanity or philanthropy, but a soul parched and dried by egotism.
O! my dear Robespierre! It is to you I address these word; for I have seen the moment when Pitt only had you to conquer, where without you the ship Argo would have perished, the Republic would have entered into chaos, and society of Jacobins, and la Montagne would have become a tower of Babel. O my old school friend! You whose eloquent words posterity will reread! remember the lessons of history of philosophy: that love is stronger, more enduring than fear; that admiration and religion were born of generosity; that acts of clemency are the ladder of pride, as was said by Tertullien, by which members of the committee of public safety have risen to the skies, men never climb thither on stairs of blood. Already you have approached closely to this idea in the measure you caused to be decreed yesterday in the meeting of the week of 30 Frimaire. It is true that it is rather a committee of justice which has been proposed.
But why would clemency become a crime in the Republic? Do we pretend to be more free than the Athenians, the most democratic people that ever existed, and who had raised an altar to mercy, before which the philosopher Demonax, over a thousand years later, was still required tyrants to prostrate themselves? I believe I have well advanced the demonstration that sound policy control such an institution. And our great teacher Machiavelli, that I am never weary of mentioning, looks at this institution as the most important and essential need for any government, the sovereign before rather abandoning the duties of the committee of general security. It is in itself especially, he recommends, that the repository of sovereignty must reserve the distribution of favors, and everything that reconciles the favor, leaving to magistrates the disposal of penalties, and everything that is subject to resentment.
Since I started my current policy, in the Vieux Cordelier, such a large number of my colleagues encouraged me by subscriptions, and did me the honor of attending my lessons, that, finding myself in the middle of so many members, I believed myself this time at the podium even of the French people. Strong with examples of the history and authority of Thrasybulus, Brutus, and Machiavelli, I have adopted, in my role of journalist, the liberty of opinion which belongs to the representative of the people in the Convention. I have expressed my opinions as to the best method of effecting a revolution in writing, since the feeble-ness of my voice and my slight oratorical powers will not permit me to develop them in another fashion. If this word of jubilee, that I risked to not be more ruthless than Moses, though he was a proud exterminator, and an infernal machine of the caliber of Ronsin, if, I say, my Committee of Clemency appears ill-sounding to some of my colleagues and savouring of moderation, to those who reproach me with being a moderate in this No. 4, I can respond, as did Marat, when, in very different times, we reproached him with over-violence in his journal : ’ Vous n’y entendez rien ; eh, raon Dieu ! laissez-moi disc : on n’en rabattra que trop.’
Hello, just noticed this existed.
Is anyone else interested in attempting to revive this community?
I have put together a VERY ROUGH english translation of the Le Vieux Cordelier no. 1, no. 4, and the second half of no. 3. I'll edit them a bit then post them here and perhaps people can help me make corrections, &c. ?
...because I dun want this comm deleted actually. Housekeeping, lj? I did work experience in the ephemera section of the Bodleian. This is more than ephemera and a lot easier to NOT GET RID OF.
So - for anyone currently watching vieux_cordelier
I confess I rather let it wither and die. Despite simlo
being such a total star and actually producing a translation!
The good news is that Archive.org is fabulous, and a lot has changed since I opened this comm...Le Vieux Cordelier, scans
...it is still in French though.
... did you know, WORRYINGLY ENOUGH, this community is the number one google result for "vieux cordelier" english translation
So here it is: part 1 of the translation. I've got about 2000 words (of French) in part 2, which is currently a very rough translation and needs to be done properly.
Here, underlined passages are those I need particular help with - either because I just can't work out what they mean... actually, mainly just that. In those cases I can't make sense of the French. But advice about anything
at all would be brilliant. Any suggestions at all. My translations have been a little loose in places, which means I may have got the sense entirely
wrong, so please, please say something. Or if you think it could be phrased better, or structured better: anything.
By the way, the footnote is Camille's own, not mine. It's one of my favourite bits, too.
Many thanks to levielan
, for huge amounts of help with rephrasing and grammar (mine is appalling). Thankyou everyone else as well, you are all wonderful and lovely and I really hope you like it!
Without further ado, I present:( Le Vieux Cordelier, Issue 3, part 1Collapse )
So...I joined this community because the Vieux Cordelier is wonderful, and because I wanted to steal your translations, but was resigned to being pretty much totally useless 'cause I can't speak any French.
However, you know Camille supposedly 'translates' Tacitus in Issue 3? Well, he says it's from Annals Book I, Chapter 72, and I HAVE Annals I, so if anyone's interested I could have a go at translating that...although be warned, my Latin-translation ability is fairly awful. I've heard that the supposed 'translation' in the issue actually bears almost no relation to the Tacitus whatsoever, but it might be quite interesting/entertaining to see just how
little resemblance there is.
Anyway, I've typed up the Latin, and if anyone would like a translation, let me know and I'll try. [And probably fail.]( Annals I.72Collapse )