Today’s installment concludes The Reign Of Terror,
our selection from Popular History of France From the Earliest Times by François P. G. Guizot published in 1869. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
If you have journeyed through all of the installments of this series, just one more to go and you will have completed a selection from the great works of seven thousand words. Congratulations!
Previously in The Reign Of Terror.
A feeling of horror manifested itself in the Assembly, “No, not here! not here!” was the cry. A surgeon came to attend to the wounded man in the hall of the Committee of Public Safety; he recovered from his swoon, and walked alone toward his chair; until then he had been extended upon a table, a little deal box supporting his wounded head. The blood flowed slowly from his mouth, and at times he made a movement to wipe it away; his clothes and his face were smeared with it. Robespierre appeared insensible to the injuries of those who surrounded him; he made no complaint, inaccessible and alone in death as in life. They carried him to the Conciergerie, where Saint-Just and Couthon had just arrived. All had been outlawed; no procedure, no delay, retarded their execution. Saint-Just, looking at a table of the Rights of Man hanging in the hall, said, “It is I, however, who have done that.”
The Conciergerie slowly filled; with Dumas, Fleuriot, Payan, Lavalette, a large proportion of the members of the Council-General had been arrested. The prisoners already retained here were pressing to the bars of their windows, curious as to the noise that reached their ears, and the vague rumors which had already excited mortal fears among the informers. Before the room where were imprisoned Madame de Beauharnais and Madame de Fontenay (afterward Madame Tallien), a woman appeared, who, in a marked manner, held up a stone (pierre), enveloped it in her dress (robe), and then made a gesture of beheading. The prisoners comprehended, a thrill of joy pervaded their gloomy abode; all the oppressed believed themselves already delivered.
It was five o’clock, and the carts had just drawn up as usual at the gate of the prison, but this time they waited for the executioners. The procession defiled before a dense crowd; all the windows were full of spectators, all the shops were open, and joy sparkled in every countenance. Robespierre and his friends had wearied with executions the people of Paris; the sanguinary emotions to which they had been so long accustomed regained their first relish; it was Robespierre that they were about to see die. He was half stretched out in the cart, livid, and with a blood-stained cloth round his face. When the executioner snatched it from him on the scaffold, a terrible cry was heard, the first sign of suffering the condemned had given. To this shriek cries of joy responded from all around, which were repeated at each stroke from the fatal axe. In two days a hundred three executions violently sealed the vengeance of the Convocation. The justice of God and that of history bide their time.
Robespierre had successively vanquished all his enemies; clever and bold, protected and served by his reputation for virtue, seconded by the growing terror which his name inspired, he had usurped the entire power, and confiscated the Revolution for the profit of despotism. He succumbed under the blows of those who had constantly pushed him to the front; wearied or frightened by the tyranny whose vengeance they themselves dreaded. The hands which overthrew the terrible dictator were not pure hands, and revolutionary passions continued to animate many minds, but the public instincts did not err for an instant. The conquerors of the 9th Thermidor could in their turn seize upon power, and the greater number of them had had no other intention; but they might no longer spill blood at their pleasure without hindrance and without control. The culminating point of sufferings and crimes had been attained. Without wishing it and without knowing it, from envy or from fear, the “Thermidoriens,” as they began to be called, in striking down the triumvirate had changed the course of the Revolution. The nation, always prompt to concentrate upon the name of one man its affections or its hatreds, panting and lacerated as it was, began to breathe; the prisoners ceased to expect death daily; their friends already hoped for their liberty; timid people ventured forth from their hiding-places; the bold loudly manifested their joy. People dared to wear mourning for those who had died on the scaffold; widows came forth from houses in which they had kept themselves shut up; absent ones reappeared in the bosom of their families. Robespierre was no more.
The Convention had revolted almost unanimously against the tyrant; scarcely was he struck down, when it found itself again a prey to divisions. Public demonstrations of joy and relief were manifested everywhere, and this disquieted some of the leaders of the conspiracy formerly directed against Robespierre; they had thought to overthrow him in order themselves to occupy his place, and already they perceived that two tendencies were manifesting themselves in the country. The one, feeble as yet in the Convention, and with no other point of support than the remnant of the Right, disposed to retrace the course of events, and even to visit upon their authors the iniquities committed; the other, disquieted and gloomy, determined to defend the Revolution at any hazard, even though it might be at the price of new sacrifices. The small party of the Thermidorians, Tallien at their head, began to form themselves between these two irreconcilable parties. The reaction as yet bore no definite name, it did not and could not exercise any power; desired or dreaded, it was at the bottom of every thought, it influenced all decisions, often rendering them apparently contrary. The terrible glory of Robespierre, and the crushing weight that rests upon his memory, are due to the sudden transformation effected by his death. In outward semblance, and for some time longer, the customary terms were employed, but the character of the situation was radically changed.
This ends our series of passages on The Reign Of Terror (A.D. 1794) by François P. G. Guizot from his book Popular History of France From the Earliest Times published in 1869. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
We want to take this site to the next level but we need money to do that. Please contribute directly by signing up at https://www.patreon.com/history