[Requiescat in pace, Camille. The last of the eight — seven years delayed.]
Le Vieux Cordelier No. 2
Décadi, 20 Frimaire, the Second Year of the Republic, One and Indivisible
As soon as those who govern are hated, their competitors will soon be admired.
I am reproached incessantly for my silence, so much that it is almost made out to be a crime. But if I speak my opinion, and not the sycophancy which is asked of me, what use would it have been to open my mouth and say to a great number of people: “You are fools and counter-revolutionaries,” and thus make myself two irreconcilable enemies, cracked vanity and exposed treachery, and unleash them both against me, only to lose all and gain nothing for the Republic, for the fools would not have believed me and the traitors would have been unchanged? Truth has its point of maturity, and it was still too green. Even so, I am ashamed for having been a coward for so long.
The silence of caution may command other citizens; his duties defend it to a representative. But as a soldier in line for battle, with my colleagues around the tribune, saying, without fear, that which I believe is the most useful for the French people, my silence would have been desertion. For all I have done and all I have written over five years for the Revolution; my innate love for republican government, the only constitution that suits anyone worthy of the name of man; my two brothers, the only ones I had, killed in combat for liberty, one at the siege of Maestricht and the other the La Vendée, the latter cut to pieces by the hatred that royalists and the priests have for my name; so many titles of patriotic trust remove me from all suspicion, and when I visit the wounds of the State, I am not afraid that the surgeon's probe will be confused with the dagger of an assassin.
From the first month of our session, more than a year ago, I clearly recognized what would be the greatest danger, indeed the only danger, to the Republic, and I expressed this view in a speech distributed to the Convention against its decree of October 27, passed on the motion of Gensonné, which excluded the members of all public offices for six years - a vulgar trap of the Girondists. There is nothing left for our enemies other than that which the Senate of Rome used, when, upon seeing the limited success of all of its battles against the Gracchi, realized, according to Saint-Réal, the way to defeat the patriots: to hire a tribune to outbid all that Gracchus proposed; and when he makes some popular motion, to endeavour to make a still more popular one, and thus to kill principles and patriotism through principles and patriotism pushed to the point of extravagance. The Jacobin Gracchus proposed the repopulation and partition of two or three conquered cities; the former Feuillant Drusus proposed to partition twelve. Gracchus priced bread at 16 sous; Drusus priced it at 8 maximum. This succeeded so well that in a short time the forum found that Grachus was no longer up to scratch, and it was Drusus who was in vogue. They grew cold to their true defender, who, once made unpopular, was knocked down with the leg of a chair by the aristocrat Scipio Nasica, in the first moral insurrection.
I was so convinced that it was only on this side that the patriots and the Republic could be attacked that one day I found myself in the Committee of General Defense, among all of the Brissotin and Girondist doctors, at the moment of the greatest explosion of their anger against Marat. Feigning to believe in their love for liberty, I said: "You say whatever you please. Marat, who you demand a degree of indictment against, is perhaps the only man who can save the Republic on the side that nobody suspects is vulnerable and that is nevertheless the only feasible breach for counter-revolution."
At this mention of a feasible breach for counter-revolution, you should have seen Gaudet, Brissot, and Gensonné, who then affected much contempt for my political opinions, demonstrate in crossing their arm all at once that they gave up our previous disagreement to learn of this weak side in the place where Marat had been our only entrenchment and eagerly ask me to explain. It was then one or two o’clock. The Committee of General Defense was garrisoned, at that time, by a fairly large number of deputies, and I have no doubt that my colleagues will remember this conversation very well.
"We can only laugh at your efforts," I said to them, "against the Mountain as long as you attack us through the marais and the right side. We can only be taken by the heights, by seizing the summit like a fortress - that is to say, by capturing the votes of an imprudent and inconsistent multitude through motions more popular than those of the old Cordeliers, arousing patriots hotter than us and prophets greater than Marat. Pitt begins to suspect this, and I suspect him of having sent us those two deputies who recently came to the bar with petitions that made us, the summit of the Mountain, appear to be completely moderate in comparison.”
“These petitions, one, I believe, from the boulangers and the other from a section that I don't remember, were at first widely applauded from the stands. Fortunately, we have Marat, who, through his subterranean life and indefatigable labors, is regarded as the epitome of patriotism and possesses a status so well established that it will always appear to the people that beyond what Marat proposes there can only be delirium and extravagance, and beyond his motions one must write, as the geographers of antiquity wrote at the end of their maps: Here there are no more cities or habitations; there are only deserts and savages, ice and volcanoes.And so, on these two occasions, Marat, who has no lack of genius in politics and who first saw where these petitions were tending, hastened to fight them. He needed to use only a few words, almost a shake of his head, to have the stands cease their applause. This here, I concluded, is the immense service that he alone, perhaps, can bring to the Republic. He will always prevent counter-revolution from being made through bonnets rouges, which is the only possible way to do it.”
And so, since the death of this enlightened patriot and great man, who three years ago I dared to call the divine Marat, this is the only march that the enemies of the Republic embark on; and I attest this to sixty of my colleagues! How many times have I groaned in their midst of the fatal success of this march! How many times, in the last three months, have I strongly expressed my fears, which they treated as ridiculous, although since the Revolution began seven or eight volumes testify in my favor that, even if I have not always known the people well, I have always been an acute judge of the events! Finally, Robespierre, in his first speech which the Convention has decreed to dispatch to all of Europe, has lifted the veil. It suited his courage and his popularity to adroitly slip in, as he did, the great and salutary statement that Pitt had changed his batteries; that he undertook to do by exaggeration what he could not do by moderacy, and that there are men, patriotically counter-revolutionary, who worked to form, like Roland, public spirit and push public opinion in the opposition direction - but to a different extreme, equally fatal to liberty.
Since then, in two speeches no less eloquent to the Jacobins, he has expressed himself with still greater vehemence against the intruders who, through perfidious and exclusive praises, flattered themselves by detaching him from all of his old comrades-in-arms and the sacred battalion of the Cordeliers, with whom he had so often defeated the royal army. To the shame of priests, he defended the God that they abandoned so cowardly. By rendering justice to those who, like the priest Meslier, renounced their profession because of philosophy, he put in their place those hypocrites of religion, who, having become priests for the sake of rich meals, were not ashamed to publish their own ignominy, in accusing themselves of having for a long time been vile charlatans, and coming to tell us at the bar: “Citizens, I lied for sixty years for the sake of my stomach.”
When we have deceived men for so long, we recant. Very well. But we hide our shame; we do not come to robe ourselves and we demand pardon from God and the Nation. He put in their place these hypocrites of patriotism, who, aristocrats in the Constituent Assembly and bishops known for their fanaticism, suddenly enlightened by reason, were the first to assault the Church of Saint-Roch, and by indecent farces and indignation of the majesty of the Convention endeavoured to offend all prejudices and to present our nation to Europe as a people of atheists, who, without a constitution or principles, abandon themselves to the impulse of the patriot of the day and the Jacobin in vogue, who proscribe and persecute all cults, at the same time as swearing the name of liberty. At the head of these men, who, more patriotic than Robespierre, more philosophical than Voltaire, laughing at this very true maxim: “If God did not exist, we would have to invent Him,” one finds Anarcharsis Cloots, the orator of the human race. Cloots is Prussian; he is the first cousin of the denounced Proly. He worked at the Universal Gazette where he made war on the patriots, I believe, during the time of the Champ-de-Mars. Gaudet and Vergniaud were his godparents and made him a naturalized French citizen by decree of the Legislative Assembly. In gratitude, he voted in the newspapers in favor of the regency of the virtuous Roland. After this famous vote, how can he shamelessly claim a place at the summit of the Mountain?
The patriot Cloots, in the great question of war, offered 12,000 francs to the bar in a patriotic gift for the expense of opening the campaign, in order to make sure the opinion of Brissot prevailed - who, like Cloots, wanted to make war on the human race and to municipalize it. Although he claimed to have the loins of a father of all men, Cloots seemed to have less for the Negroes, for, in time, he fought for Barnave against Brissot in the affair of the colonies, which demonstrates a changeability of principles and a predilection for whites, hardly worthy of the title “ambassador of the human race.”
On the other hand, one cannot praise too highly his indefatigable zeal to preach for the one and indivisible Republic of all four parts of the world, his fervor as a Jacobin missionary, and his desire to guillotine the tyrants of China and the Monomotapa. He never failed to date his letters during the last five years as from Paris, Capital of the Globe; and it is not his fault if the kings of Denmark and Sweden maintain their neutrality and do not resent that Paris proudly proclaims itself the metropolis of Stockholm or Copenhagen.
Well! It was this good Montagnard who the other day after supper, in a fit of devotion to reason and what he called “zeal for the house of the lord of the human race,” ran at eleven o’clock at night to awaken Bishop Gobel from his sleep to offer him what he called a civic crown and to urge him to solemnly unfrock himself the next day in front of the Convention. This was done, and this is how our Prussian Cloots gave France the signal of subversion and the example of running known to all sacristans.
Certainly I am not a sanctimonious hypocrite or a champion of priests. All earned their great income by bringing men an evil which encompasses all others, that of mass servitude, by preaching the maxim of Saint Paul,"Obey the tyrants," and by answering like the Bishop O'Neal to Jacques I, who asked him if he could draw from the wallets of his subjects, "God forbid that you cannot. You are the air we breathe." or like Tellier to Louis XIV, "You are too good a king; all of the goods of your subjects are yours." We had finished the chapter on priests and on cults which are all the same and which are all equally ridiculous, when it was said that the Tartars eat the excrement of the great Lama as sanctified treats. There is an onion head which has been revered like Jupiter. In Mogul, there is still a cow that receives more bows than the Apis bull, that has its manger decorated with diamonds and its stable vaulted with the most beautiful stones of the East, such that they must make Voltaire and Rousseau embarrassed by the honors of the Pantheon. Marco Polo shows us the custom of the inhabitants of the country of Cardandan, each worshipping the oldest in the family and giving themselves, through this, the convenience of having a god in house and at hand. At least this accords with our principles of equality: each is God in his turn. We have no right to make fun of these fools, we Europeans, who have believed so long that "we gobble a God when we swallow an oyster."
And our religion has this evil above all others: that slavery and papism are two brothers who hold each other by the hand so tightly that they never entered a country without the each other. Like all free states, by tolerating cults, had they prescribed papism alone with reason, freedom could not permit a religion that makes servitude one of its dogmas. I have always thought that at least the clergy should be cut off from the body politic; but for that it was enough to abandon Catholicism to its decrepitude and to let it end with its beautiful death, which was soon approaching. It was enough to let reason and ridicule act on the understanding of peoples and, with Montaigne, to look at churches as houses of fools which had been allowed to subsist until reason had made enough progress, lest the madmen become angry.
It worries me that I do not perceive enough of the progress of human reason among us. It worries me that our political doctors themselves do not rely on the reason of the French people to have faith that they can be freed from all cults. It takes a sick human spirit to rock the dreamy bed of superstition; and to see the processions, the festivals that are instituted, the altars and the holy sepulchres that rise, it seems to me that that we are only changing the patient's bed, except that we take away the pillows of hope of another life.
How could the learned Cloots have been ignorant of the fact that reason and philosophy had become still more common and more popular than they are in the departments, so that the underprivileged, the old, and the women can give up their old altars and the hope that attaches them there? How can he ignore that politics needs this springboard; that Trajan had so much trouble subjugating the Dacians that because of the intrepidity of the barbarians, historians say, they joined the more intimate worship of the palace of Odin, where they would receive, at the table, the price of their value! How can he ignore that that liberty herself cannot do without the idea of a profitable God, and that at Thermopylae, the famous Leonidas extorted his three hundred Spartans, promising them black broth, salad, and cheese, at the home of Hades, apud inferos cœnaturi! How can he ignore that the terror of the victorious army of Gabinius was not strong enough to contain the people of Alexandria, who almost exterminated his legions at the sight of a cat killed by a Roman soldier! And in the famous uprising of the peasants of Sweden against Gustav Eriksson, their whole petition can be reduced to this point: "Give us our bells back."
These examples prove how cautiously one should touch worship. As for me, I have said, the very day when I saw Gobel come with his bar with the double cross, which was worn in triumph before the philosopher Anaxagoras, if it was not a crime of the lèse-Montagne to doubt a president of the Jacobins and a prosecutor of the Commune, such as Cloots or Chaumette, I would be tempted to believe that, in response to the news of Barrère of September 21 that "The Vendée exists no more," the King of Prussia would have exclaimed sadly: "All of our efforts against the Republic will fail, since the heart of Vendee is destroyed," and that the skillful Luchesini, to console him, would have said: "Invincible heros, I have an idea; let me do it. I will pay some priests to call themselves charlatans; I will inflame the patriotism of others to make the same statement. There are, in Paris, two famous patriots who, through their talents, their exaggerations, and their well-known religious system, will be very well-suited to assist us and receive our impressions. It is only a question of getting our friends in France in proximity of Anacharsis and Anaxagoras to set their bile in motion and dazzle their civic spirit with the prospect of rich conquest of sacristies." (I hope that Chaumette will not complain about this edition, and the Marquis de Luchesini cannot speak of him in more honorable words.) "Anacharsis and Anaxagoras believe their are pushing the wheel of reason when in fact it is that of counter-revolution; and soon, instead of letting papism in France die of old age and starvation, ready to breathe its last breath without giving our enemies any advantage, since the treasure of the sacristies could not escape Cambon by persecution and intolerance against those who wish to liturgy and be liturgied, I urge to you to send a force of constitutional recruits to Lescure and Roche-Jacquelin. "