As for Charlotte Corday, her work is accomplished; the recompense of it is near and sure.
Continuing Continuing Murders of Louis XVI and Murat; Civil War in France,
our selection from The French Revolution — A History by Thomas Carlyle published in 1837. The selection is presented in five easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Murders of Louis XVI and Murat; Civil War in France.
It is a yellow July evening, we say, the thirteenth of the month; eve of the Bastille day, when “M. Marat,” four years ago, in the crowd of the Pont Neuf, shrewdly required of that Besenval Hussar-party, which had such friendly dispositions, “to dismount, and give up their arms, then”; and became notable among Patriot men. Four years: what a road he has traveled; and sits now, about half-past seven o’clock, stewing in slipper-bath; sore-afflicted; ill of Revolution Fever — of what other malady this History had rather not name. Excessively sick and worn, poor man; with precisely eleven-pence-halfpenny of ready-money, in paper; with slipper-bath; strong three-footed stool for writing on, the while; and a squalid — Washerwoman, one may call her: that is his civic establishment in Medical-School Street; thither and not elsewhither has his road led him. Not to the reign of Brotherhood and Perfect Felicity; yet surely on the way toward that?
Hark, a rap again! A musical woman’s voice, refusing to be rejected: it is the Citoyenne who would do France a service. Marat, recognizing from within, cries, “Admit her!” Charlotte Corday is admitted: “Citoyen Marat, I am from Caen the seat of rebellion, and wished to speak with you.” “Be seated, mon enfant. Now what are the Traitors doing at Caen? What Deputies are at Caen?”
Charlotte names some Deputies.
“Their heads shall fall within a fortnight,” croaks the eager “People’s Friend” clutching his tablets to write.
“Barbaroux, Petion” writes he with bare shrunk arm, turning aside in the bath: Petion, and Louvet, and — Charlotte has drawn her knife from the sheath; plunges it, with one sure stroke, into the writer’s heart.
“A moi, chere amie!” (“Help, dear!”) No more could the Death-choked say or shriek. The helpful Washerwoman running in, there is no Friend of the People, or Friend of the Washerwoman left; but his life with a groan gushes out, indignant, to the shades below.
And so Marat, “People’s Friend” is ended: the lone Stylites has been hurled down suddenly from his Pillar — whitherward? He that made him knows. Patriot Paris may sound triple and tenfold, in dole and wail; re-echoed by Patriot France; and the Convention, “Chabot pale with terror, declaring that they are to be all assassinated,” may decree him Pantheon Honors, Public Funeral, Mirabeau’s dust making way for him; and Jacobin Societies, in lamentable oratory, summing up his character, parallel him to One, whom they think it honor to call “the good Sansculotte” — whom we name not here; also a Chapel may be made, for the urn that holds his Heart, in the Place du Carrousel; and new-born children be named Marat; and Lago-di-Como Hawkers bake mountains of stucco into unbeautiful Busts; and David paint his Picture, or Death-Scene; and such other Apotheosis take place as the human genius, in these circumstances, can devise: but Marat returns no more to the light of this Sun. One sole circumstance we have read with clear sympathy, in the old Moniteur Newspaper: how Marat’s Brother comes from Neuchatel to ask of the Convention, “that the deceased Jean Paul Marat’s musket be given him.” For Marat, too, had a brother and natural affections; and was wrapt once in swaddling clothes, and slept safe in a cradle like the rest of us. Ye children of men! A sister of his, they say, lives still to this day in Paris.[*]
[* Written in 1836-1837. — ED.]
As for Charlotte Corday, her work is accomplished; the recompense of it is near and sure. The chere amie, and neighbors of the house, flying at her, she “overturns some movables,” entrenches herself till the gendarmes arrive; then quietly surrenders; goes quietly to the Abbaye Prison: she alone quiet, all Paris sounding, in wonder, in rage or admiration, round her. Duperret is put in arrest, on account of her; his Papers sealed — which may lead to consequences. Fauchet, in like manner; though Fauchet had not so much as heard of her. Charlotte, confronted with these two Deputies, praises the grave firmness of Duperret, censures the dejection of Fauchet.
On Wednesday morning, the thronged Palais de Justice and Revolutionary Tribunal can see her face; beautiful and calm: she dates it “Fourth day of the Preparation of Peace.” A strange murmur ran through the Hall, at sight of her, you could not say of what character. Tinville has his indictments and tape papers; the cutler of the Palais Royal will testify that he sold her the sheath-knife; “All these details are needless,” interrupted Charlotte; “it is I that killed Marat.”
“By whose instigation?”
“By no one’s.”
“What tempted you, then?”
“I killed one man,” added she, raising her voice extremely (extremement), as they went on with their questions, “I killed one man to save a hundred thousand; a villain to save innocents; a savage wild beast to give repose to my country. I was a Republican before the Revolution; I never wanted energy.”
There is therefore nothing to be said. The public gazes astonished: the hasty limners sketch her features, Charlotte not disapproving: the men of law proceed with their formalities. The doom is Death as a murderess. To her Advocate she gives thanks; in gentle phrase, in high-flown classical spirit. To the Priest they send her she gives thanks; but needs not any shriving, any ghostly or other aid from him.
On this same evening, therefore, about half past seven o’clock, from the gate of the Conciergerie, to a City all on tip-toe, the fatal Cart issues; seated on it a fair young creature, sheeted in red smock of Murderess; so beautiful, serene, so full of life; journeying toward death — alone amid the World. Many take off their hats, saluting reverently; for what heart but must be touched? Others growl and howl. Adam Lux, of Mainz, declares that she is greater than Brutus; that it were beautiful to die with her: the head of this young man seems turned. At the Place de la Revolution, the countenance of Charlotte wears the same still smile. The executioners proceed to bind her feet; she resists, thinking it meant as an insult; on a word of explanation, she submits with cheerful apology. As the last act, all being now ready, they take the neckerchief from her neck; a blush of maidenly shame overspreads that fair face and neck; the cheeks were still tinged with it when the executioner lifted the severed head, to show it to the people. “It is most true,” says Forster, “that he struck the cheek insultingly; for I saw it with my eyes: the Police imprisoned him for it.”
But during these same hours, another guillotine is at work on another; Charlotte, for the Girondins, dies at Paris to-day; Chalier, by the Girondins, dies at Lyons to-morrow.
From rumbling of cannon along the streets of that City, it has come to firing of them, to rabid fighting: Nievre Chol and the Girondins triumph; behind whom there is, as everywhere, a Royalist Faction waiting to strike in. Trouble enough at Lyons; and the dominant party carrying it with a high hand! For, indeed, the whole South is astir; incarcerating Jacobins; arming for Girondins: wherefore we have got a “Congress of Lyons”; also a “Revolutionary Tribunal of Lyons,” and Anarchists shall tremble. So Chalier was soon found guilty, of Jacobinism, of murderous Plot, “address with drawn dagger on the sixth of February last”; and, on the morrow, he also travels his final road, along the streets of Lyons, “by the side of an ecclesiastic, with whom he seems to speak earnestly” — the axe now glittering nigh. He could weep, in old years, this man, and “fall on his knees on the pavement,” blessing Heaven at sight of Federation Programmes or the like; then he pilgrimed to Paris to worship Marat and the Mountain: now Marat and he are both gone — we said he could not end well. Jacobinism groans inwardly, at Lyons, but dare not outwardly. Chalier, when the Tribunal sentenced him, made answer: “My death will cost this City dear.”
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