European Statesmen

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It became, of course, an object of ambition to Count Mirabeau to have a seat in this illustrious assembly. To secure this, he renounced his rank, became a plebeian, solicited the votes of the people, and was elected a deputy both from Marseilles and Aix. He chose Aix, and his great career began with the meeting of the States-General at Versailles, the 5th of May, 1789. It was composed of three hundred nobles, three hundred priests, and six hundred deputies of the third estate,--twelve hundred in all. It is generally conceded that these representatives of the three orders were on the whole a very respectable body of men, patriotic and incorruptible, but utterly deficient in political experience and in powers of debate. The deputies were largely composed of country lawyers, honest, but as conceited as they were inexperienced. The vanity of Frenchmen is so inordinate that nearly every man in the assembly felt quite competent to govern the nation or frame a constitution. Enthusiasm and hope animated the whole assembly, and everybody saw in this States-General the inauguration of a glorious future.

One of the most brilliant and impressive chapters in Carlyle's "French Revolution"--that great prose poem--is devoted to the procession of the three orders from the church of St. Louis to the church of Notre Dame, to celebrate the Mass, parts of which I quote.

"Shouts rend the air; one shout, at which Grecian birds might drop dead. It is indeed a stately, solemn sight. The Elected of France and then the Court of France; they are marshalled, and march there, all in prescribed place and costume. Our Commons in plain black mantle and white cravat; Noblesse in gold-worked, bright-dyed cloaks of velvet, resplendent, rustling with laces, waving with plumes; the Clergy in rochet, alb, and other clerical insignia; lastly the King himself and household, in their brightest blaze of pomp,--their brightest and final one. Which of the six hundred individuals in plain white cravats that have come up to regenerate France might one guess would become their king? For a king or a leader they, as all bodies of men, must have. He with the thick locks, will it be? Through whose shaggy beetle-brows, and rough-hewn, seamed, carbuncled face, there look natural ugliness, small-pox, incontinence, bankruptcy,--and burning fire of genius? It is Gabriel Honore Riquetti de Mirabeau; man-ruling deputy of Aix! Yes, that is the Type-Frenchman of this epoch; as Voltaire was of the last. He is French in his aspirations, acquisitions, in his virtues and vices. Mark him well. The National Assembly were all different without that one; nay, he might say with old Despot,--The National Assembly? I am that.

"Now, if Mirabeau is the greatest of these six hundred, who may be the meanest? Shall we say that anxious, slight, ineffectual-looking man, under thirty, in spectacles, his eyes troubled, careful; with upturned face, snuffing dimly the uncertain future time; complexion of a multiplex atrabilious color, the final shade of which may be pale sea-green? That greenish-colored individual is an advocate of Arras; his name is Maximilien Robespierre.

"Between which extremes of grandest and meanest, so many grand and mean, roll on towards their several destinies in that procession. There is experienced Mounier, whose presidential parliamentary experience the stream of things shall soon leave stranded. A Petion has left his gown and briefs at Chartres for a stormier sort of pleading. A Protestant-clerical St. Etienne, a slender young eloquent and vehement Barnave, will help to regenerate France,

"And then there is worthy Doctor Guillotin, Bailly likewise, time-honored historian of astronomy, and the Abbe Sieyes, cold, but elastic, wiry, instinct with the pride of logic, passionless, or with but one passion, that of self-conceit. This is the Sieyes who shall be system-builder, constitutional-builder-general, and build constitutions which shall unfortunately fall before we get the scaffolding away.

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