The Worlds Famous Orations. Continental Europe (3801906). 1906.
II. His Last Speech
Maximilien Marie Isidore Robespierre (175894)
Born in 1758, died in 1794; elected a Deputy to the States-General in 1789; leader of the Extreme Left in the Assembly and one of the chief orators of the Jacobin Club; after the death of Mirabeau, his influence increasing, opposed the Girondists; became a member of the Committee of Public Safety and was closely identified with the horrors of The Reign of Terror; finally overthrown and put to death.
THE ENEMIES1 of the Republic call me tyrant! Were I such they would grovel at my feet. I should gorge them with gold, I should grant them impunity for their crimes, and they would be grateful. Were I such, the kings we have vanquished, far from denouncing Robespierre, would lend me their guilty support. There would be a covenant between them and me. Tyranny must have tools. But the enemies of tyrannywhither does their path tend? To the tomb, and to immortality! What tyrant is my protector? To what faction do I belong? Yourselves! What faction, since the beginning of the Revolution, has crushed and annihilated so many detected traitors? You, the peopleour principlesare that faction! A faction to which I am devoted, and against which all the scoundrelism of the day is banded!
The confirmation of the Republic has been my object; and I know that the Republic can be established only on the eternal basis of morality. Against me, and against those who hold kindred principles, the league is formed. My life? Oh, my life I abandon without a regret! I have seen the Past; and I foresee the Future. What friend of his country would wish to survive the moment when he could no longer serve itwhen he could no longer defend innocence against oppression? Wherefore should I continue in an order of things, where intrigue eternally triumphs over truth; where justice is mocked; where passions the most abject, or fears the most absurd, override the sacred interests of humanity? In witnessing the multitude of vices which the torrent of the Revolution has rolled in turbid communion with its civic virtues, I confess that I have sometimes feared that I should be sullied, in the eyes of posterity, by the impure neighborhood of unprincipled men, who had thrust themselves into association with the sincere friends of humanity; and I rejoice that these conspirators against my country have now, by their reckless rage, traced deep the line of demarcation between themselves and all true men.
Question history, and learn how all the defenders of liberty, in all times, have been overwhelmed by calumny. But their traducers died also. The good and the bad disappear alike from the earth; but in very different conditions. O Frenchmen! O my countrymen! Let not your enemies, with their desolating doctrines, degrade your souls, and enervate your virtues! No, Chaumette, no! Death is not an eternal sleep! Citizens! efface from the tomb that motto, graven by sacrilegious hands, which spreads over all nature a funereal crape, takes from oppressed innocence its support, and affronts the beneficent dispensation of death! Inscribe rather thereon these words: Death is the commencement of immortality! I leave to the oppressors of the people a terrible testament, which I proclaim with the independence befitting one whose career is so nearly ended; it is the awful truth: Thou shalt die!
Note 1. From the speech delivered in the Convention on July 26, 1794, the day before Robespierres arrest and two days before his execution. One of the masterpieces of Robespierre. Of Robespierre as an orator, Lamartine says: Destitute of exterior graces and of that gift of extemporaneous speaking which pours forth the unpremeditated inspirations of natural eloquence, Robespierre had taken so much pains with himselfhe had meditated so much, written and erased so much; he had so often braved the inattention and the sarcasm of his audiencesthat in the end he succeeded in giving warmth and suppleness to his style, and in transforming his whole person, despite his stiff and meager figure, his shrill voice and abrupt gesticulation, into an engine of eloquence, of conviction and of passion. This speech was printed by order of the Convention a few weeks after Robespierres death, from a draft found among his papers. In the Moniteur only a brief account of it was given at the time of its delivery. [back]