Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Procession
By Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881)
From ‘The French Revolution’

WE dwell no longer on the mixed shouting Multitude, for now, behold, the Commons Deputies are at hand!  1
  Which of these Six Hundred individuals, in plain white cravat, that have come up to regenerate France, might one guess would become their king? For a king or leader they, as all bodies of men, must have, be their work what it may; there is one man there who, by character, faculty, position, is fittest of all to do it; that man, as future, not-yet-elected king walks there among the rest. He with the thick black locks, will it be? With the hure, as himself calls it, or black boar’s-head, fit to be “shaken” as a senatorial portent? Through whose shaggy beetle-brows and rough-hewn, seamed, carbuncled face there look natural ugliness, small-pox, incontinence, bankruptcy,—and burning fire of genius, like comet-fire glaring fuliginous through murkiest confusions? It is Gabriel Honoré Riquetti de Mirabeau, the world-compeller; man-ruling Deputy of Aix! According to the Baroness de Staël, he steps proudly along, though looked at askance here, and shakes his black chevelure, or lion’s mane, as if prophetic of great deeds.  2
  Yes, Reader, that is the Type-Frenchman of this epoch, as Voltaire was of the last. He is French in his aspirations, acquisitions, in his virtues, in his vices; perhaps more French than any other man;—and intrinsically such a mass of manhood too. Mark him well. The National Assembly were all different without that one; nay, he might say, with the old Despot:—“The National Assembly? I am that.”  3
  Of a southern climate, of wild southern blood:—for the Riquettis, or Arrighettis, had to fly from Florence and the Guelfs, long centuries ago, and settled in Provence, where from generation to generation they have ever approved themselves a peculiar kindred, irascible, indomitable, sharp-cutting, true, like the steel they wore; of an intensity and activity that sometimes verged towards madness, yet did not reach it. One ancient Riquetti, in mad fulfillment of a mad vow, chains two Mountains together, and the chain, with its “iron star of five rays,” is still to be seen. May not a modern Riquetti unchain so much, and set it drifting—which also shall be seen?  4
  Destiny has work for that swart, burly-headed Mirabeau; Destiny has watched over him, prepared him from afar. Did not his Grandfather, stout Col-d’Argent (Silver-Stock, so they named him), shattered and slashed by seven-and-twenty wounds in one fell day, lie sunk together on the Bridge at Casano, while Prince Eugene’s cavalry galloped and regalloped over him—only the flying sergeant had thrown a camp-kettle over that loved head; and Vendôme, dropping his spy-glass, moaned out, “Mirabeau is dead, then!” Nevertheless he was not dead; he awoke to breath and miraculous surgery—for Gabriel was yet to be. With his silver stock he kept his scarred head erect, through long years, and wedded, and produced tough Marquis Victor, the friend of men. Whereby at last in the appointed year, 1749, this long-expected, rough-hewn Gabriel Honoré did likewise see the light; roughest lion’s-whelp ever littered of that rough breed. How the old lion (for our old Marquis, too, was lion-like, most unconquerable, kingly-genial, most perverse) gazed wondering on his offspring, and determined to train him as no lion had yet been! It is in vain, O Marquis! This cub, though thou slay him and flay him, will not learn to draw in dog-cart of Political Economy, and be a friend of men; he will not be Thou, but must and will be Himself, another than Thou. Divorce law-suits, “whole family save one in prison, and threescore lettres-de-cachet” for thy own sole use, do but astonish the world.  5
  Our luckless Gabriel, sinned against and sinning, has been in the Isle of Rhé, and heard the Atlantic from his tower; in the Castle of If, and heard the Mediterranean at Marseilles. He has been in the Fortress of Joux; and forty-two months, with hardly clothing to his back, in the Dungeon of Vincennes;—all by lettre-de-cachet, from his lion father. He has been in Pontarlier Jails (self-constituted prisoner); was noticed fording estuaries of the sea (at low water), in flight from the face of men. He has pleaded before Aix Parlements (to get back his wife), the public gathering on roofs, to see, since they could not hear: “The clatter-teeth (claque-dents)!” snarls singular old Mirabeau; discerning in such admired forensic eloquence nothing but two clattering jaw-bones, and a head vacant, sonorous, of the drum species.  6
  But as for Gabriel Honoré, in these strange wayfarings, what has he not seen and tried! From drill-sergeants to prime ministers, to foreign and domestic booksellers, all manner of men he has seen. All manner of men he has gained; for at bottom it is a social loving heart, that wild unconquerable one—more especially all manner of women. From the Archer’s Daughter at Saintes to that fair young Sophie, Madame Monnier, whom he could not but “steal” and be beheaded for—in effigy! For indeed, hardly since the Arabian Prophet lay dead, to Ali’s admiration, was there seen such a Love-hero, with the strength of thirty men. In War again, he has helped to conquer Corsica; fought duels, irregular brawls; horsewhipped calumnious barons. In Literature, he has written on ‘Despotism,’ on ‘Lettres-de-Cachet’; Erotics Sapphic-Werterean, Obscenities, Profanities; Books on the ‘Prussian Monarchy,’ on ‘Cagliostro,’ on ‘Calonne,’ on ‘The Water-Companies of Paris’:—each book comparable, we will say, to a bituminous alarum-fire, huge, smoky, sudden! The fire-pan, the kindling, the bitumen, were his own; but the lumber, of rags, old wood, and nameless combustible rubbish (for all is fuel to him), was gathered from hucksters and ass-panniers of every description under heaven. Whereby, indeed, hucksters enough have been heard to exclaim: Out upon it, the fire is mine!  7
  Nay, consider it more generally, seldom had man such a talent for borrowing. The idea, the faculty of another man, he can make his; the man himself he can make his. “All reflex and echo (tout de reflet et de réverbère)!” snarls old Mirabeau, who can see, but will not. Crabbed old Friend of Men! it is his sociality, his aggregative nature; and will now be the quality of qualities for him. In that forty years’ “struggle against despotism,” he has gained the glorious faculty of self-help, and yet not lost the glorious natural gift of fellowship, of being helped. Rare union: this man can live self-sufficing—yet lives also in the life of other men; can make men love him, work with him; a born king of men!  8
  But consider further how, as the old Marquis still snarls, he has “made away with (humé, swallowed, snuffed-up) all Formulas”; a fact which, if we meditate it, will in these days mean much. This is no man of system, then; he is only a man of instincts and insights. A man, nevertheless, who will glare fiercely on any object, and see through it, and conquer it: for he has intellect, he has will, force beyond other men. A man not with logic-spectacles, but with an eye! Unhappily without Decalogue, moral Code or Theorem of any fixed sort; yet not without a strong living Soul in him, and Sincerity there; a Reality, not an artificiality, not a Sham! And so he, having struggled “forty years against despotism,” and “made away with all formulas,” shall now become the spokesman of a Nation bent to do the same. For is it not precisely the struggle of France also to cast off despotism, to make away with her old formulas,—having found them naught, worn out, far from the reality? She will make away with such formulas;—and even go bare, if need be, till she have found new ones.  9
  Towards such work, in such manner, marches he, this singular Riquetti Mirabeau. In fiery rough figure, with black Samson-locks under the slouch hat, he steps along there. A fiery, fuliginous mass, which could not be choked and smothered, but would fill all France with smoke! And now it has got air; it will burn its whole substance, its whole smoke-atmosphere too, and fill all France with flame. Strange lot! Forty years of that smoldering, with foul fire-damp and vapor enough; then victory over that, and like a burning mountain he blazes heaven-high; and for twenty-three resplendent months, pours out, in flame and molten fire-torrents, all that is in him, the Pharos and Wonder-sign of an amazed Europe;—and then lies hollow, cold forever! Pass on, thou questionable Gabriel Honoré, the greatest of them all: in the whole National Deputies, in the whole Nation, there is none like and none second to thee.  10
  But now, if Mirabeau is the greatest, who of these Six Hundred may be the meanest? Shall we say that anxious, slight, ineffectual-looking man, under thirty, in spectacles; his eyes (were the glasses off) troubled, careful; with upturned face, snuffing dimly the uncertain future time; complexion of a multiplex atrabiliar color, the final shade of which may be the pale sea-green. That greenish-colored (verdâtre) individual is an Advocate of Arras; his name is Maximilien Robespierre. The son of an Advocate; his father founded Mason-lodges under Charles Edward, the English Prince or Pretender. Maximilien, the first-born, was thriftily educated; he had brisk Camille Desmoulins for schoolmate in the College of Louis le Grand, at Paris. But he begged our famed Necklace-Cardinal, Rohan, the patron, to let him depart thence, and resign in favor of a younger brother. The strict-minded Max departed, home to paternal Arras; and even had a Law-case there, and pleaded, not unsuccessfully, “in favor of the first Franklin thunder-rod.” With a strict, painful mind, an understanding small but clear and ready, he grew in favor with official persons, who could foresee in him an excellent man of business, happily quite free from genius. The Bishop, therefore, taking counsel, appoints him Judge of his diocese, and he faithfully does justice to the people: till behold, one day, a culprit comes whose crime merits hanging, and the strict-minded Max must abdicate, for his conscience will not permit the dooming of any son of Adam to die. A strict-minded, strait-laced man! A man unfit for Revolutions? whose small soul, transparent wholesome-looking as small-ale, could by no chance ferment into virulent alegar,—the mother of ever-new alegar;—till all France were grown acetous virulent? We shall see.  11
  Between which two extremes of grandest and meanest, so many grand and mean roll on, towards their several destinies, in that Procession! There is Cazalès, the learned young soldier, who shall become the eloquent orator of Royalism, and earn the shadow of a name. Experienced Mounier, experienced Malouet, whose Presidential Parlementary experience the stream of things shall soon leave stranded. A Pétion has left his gown and briefs at Chartres for a stormier sort of pleading; has not forgotten his violin, being fond of music. His hair is grizzled, though he is still young; convictions, beliefs placid-unalterable, are in that man; not hindmost of them, belief in himself. A Protestant-clerical Rabaut-St.-Étienne, a slender young eloquent and vehement Barnave, will help to regenerate France. There are so many of them young. Till thirty the Spartans did not suffer a man to marry: but how many men here under thirty; coming to produce not one sufficient citizen, but a nation and a world of such! The old to heal up rents, the young to remove rubbish:—which latter is it not, indeed, the task here?  12
  Dim, formless from this distance, yet authentically there, thou noticest the Deputies from Nantes? To us mere clothes-screens, with slouch-hat and cloak, but bearing in their pocket a Cahier of doléances with this singular clause, and more such, in it:—“That the master wigmakers of Nantes be not troubled with new guild-brethren, the actually existing number of ninety-two being more than sufficient!” The Rennes people have elected farmer Gérard, “a man of natural sense and rectitude without any learning.” He walks there with solid step; unique, “in his rustic farmer-clothes;” which he will wear always, careless of short-cloaks and costumes. The name Gérard, or “Père Gérard, Father Gérard,” as they please to call him, will fly far, borne about in endless banter, in Royalist satires, in Republican Didactic Almanacks. As for the man Gérard, being asked once what he did, after trial of it, candidly think of this Parlementary work,—“I think,” answered he, “that there are a good many scoundrels among us.” So walks Father Gérard, solid in his thick shoes, whithersoever bound.  13
  And worthy Doctor Guillotin, whom we hoped to behold one other time? If not here, the Doctor should be here, and we see him with the eye of prophecy; for indeed the Parisian Deputies are all a little late. Singular Guillotin, respectable practitioner: doomed by a satiric destiny to the strangest immortal glory that ever kept obscure mortal from his resting-place, the bosom of oblivion! Guillotin can improve the ventilation of the Hall; in all cases of medical police and hygiène be a present aid: but greater far, he can produce his ‘Report on the Penal Code,’ and reveal therein a cunningly devised Beheading Machine, which shall become famous and world-famous. This is the product of Guillotin’s endeavors, gained not without meditation and reading; which product popular gratitude or levity christens by a feminine derivative name, as if it were his daughter: La Guillotine! “With my machine, Messieurs, I whisk off your head (vous fais sauter la tête) in a twinkling, and you have no pain;”—whereat they all laugh. Unfortunate Doctor! For two-and-twenty years he, unguillotined, shall hear nothing but guillotine, see nothing but guillotine; then dying, shall through long centuries wander, as it were, a disconsolate ghost, on the wrong side of Styx and Lethe; his name like to outlive Cæsar’s.  14
  See Bailly, likewise of Paris, time-honored Historian of Astronomy Ancient and Modern. Poor Bailly, how thy serenely beautiful Philosophizing, with its soft moonshiny clearness and thinness, ends in foul thick confusion—of Presidency, Mayorship, diplomatic officiality, rabid Triviality, and the throat of everlasting Darkness! Far was it to descend from the heavenly Galaxy to the Drapeau Rouge: beside that fatal dung-heap, on that last hell-day, thou must “tremble,” though only with cold—“de froid.” Speculation is not practice: to be weak is not so miserable, but to be weaker than our task. Woe the day when they mounted thee, a peaceable pedestrian, on that wild Hippogriff of a Democracy, which, spurning the firm earth, nay, lashing at the very stars, no yet known Astolpho could have ridden!  15
  In the Commons Deputies there are Merchants, Artists, Men of Letters; 374 Lawyers, and at least one Clergyman, the Abbé Sieyès. Him also Paris sends, among its twenty. Behold him, the light, thin man; cold, but elastic, wiry; instinct with the pride of Logic; passionless, or with but one passion, that of self-conceit. If indeed that can be called a passion, which in its independent concentrated greatness, seems to have soared into transcendentalism; and to sit there with a kind of godlike indifference, and look down on passion! He is the man, and wisdom shall die with him. This is the Sieyès who shall be System-builder, Constitution-builder General, and build Constitutions (as many as wanted) sky-high,—which shall all unfortunately fall before he get the scaffolding away. “La Politique,” said he to Dumont, “polity is a science I think I have completed (achevée).” What things, O Sieyès, with thy clear assiduous eyes, art thou to see! But were it not curious to know how Sieyès, now in these days (for he is said to be still alive) looks out on all that Constitution masonry, through the rheumy soberness of extreme age? Might we hope, still with the old irrefragable transcendentalism? The victorious cause pleased the gods, the vanquished one pleased Sieyès (victa Catoni).  16
  Thus, however, amid sky-rending vivats, and blessings from every heart, has the Procession of the Commons Deputies rolled by.  17
  Next follow the Noblesse, and next the Clergy; concerning both of whom it might be asked What they specially have come for. Specially, little as they dream of it, to answer this question, put in a voice of thunder: What are you doing in God’s fair Earth and Task-garden; where whosoever is not working is begging or stealing? Woe, woe to themselves and to all, if they can only answer; Collecting tithes, Preserving game! Remark, meanwhile, how D’Orléans affects to step before his own Order and mingle with the Commons. For him are vivats; few for the rest, though all wave in plumed “hats of a feudal cut,” and have sword on thigh; though among them is D’Antraigues, the young Languedocian gentleman,—and indeed many a peer more or less noteworthy.  18
  There are Liancourt and La Rochefoucault, the liberal Anglomaniac Dukes. There is a filially pious Lally; a couple of liberal Lameths. Above all, there is a Lafayette; whose name shall be Cromwell-Grandison, and fill the world. Many a “formula” has this Lafayette, too, made away with; yet not all formulas. He sticks by the Washington-formula; and by that he will stick;—and hang by it, as by sure bower-anchor hangs and swings the tight war-ship, which, after all changes of wildest weather and water, is found still hanging. Happy for him, be it glorious or not! Alone of all Frenchmen he has a theory of the world, and right mind to conform thereto; he can become a hero and perfect character, were it but the hero of one idea. Note further our old parlementary friend, Crispin-Catiline d’Espréménil. He is returned from the Mediterranean islands, a red-hot royalist, repentant to the finger-ends;—unsettled-looking; whose light, dusky-glowing at best, now flickers foul in the socket; whom the National Assembly will by and by, to save time, “regard as in a state of distraction.” Note lastly that globular Younger Mirabeau, indignant that his elder Brother is among the Commons; it is Viscomte Mirabeau; named oftener Mirabeau Tonneau (Barrel Mirabeau), on account of his rotundity, and the quantities of strong liquor he contains.  19
  There, then, walks our French noblesse. All in the old pomp of chivalry; and yet, alas, how changed from the old position; drifted far down from their native latitude, like Arctic icebergs got into the Equatorial sea, and fast thawing there! Once these Chivalry Duces (Dukes, as they are still named) did actually lead the world,—were it only toward battle-spoil, where lay the world’s best wages then; moreover, being the ablest leaders going, they had their lion’s share, these Duces, which none could grudge them. But now, when so many Looms, improved Plowshares, Steam-Engines, and Bills of Exchange have been invented; and for battle-brawling itself, men hire Drill-Sergeants at eighteen pence a day,—what mean these gold-mantled Chivalry Figures, walking there in “black-velvet cloaks,” in high-plumed “hats of a feudal cut”? Reeds shaken in the wind!  20
  The clergy have got up; with Cahiers for abolishing pluralities, enforcing residence of bishops, better payment of tithes. The Dignitaries, we can observe, walk stately, apart from the numerous Undignified,—who, indeed, are properly little other than Commons disguised in Curate-frocks. Here, however, though by strange ways, shall the Precept be fulfilled, and they that are greatest (much to their astonishment) become least. For one example out of many, mark that plausible Grégoire: one day Curé Grégoire shall be a Bishop, when the now stately are wandering distracted, as Bishops in partibus. With other thought, mark also the Abbé Maury; his broad bold face, mouth accurately primmed, full eyes, that ray out intelligence, falsehood,—the sort of sophistry which is astonished you should find it sophistical. Skillfulest vamper-up of old rotten leather, to make it look like new; always a rising man; he used to tell Mercier, “You will see; I shall be in the Academy before you.” Likely indeed, thou skillfulest Maury; nay thou shalt have a Cardinal’s hat, and plush and glory; but alas, also, in the long run—mere oblivion, like the rest of us, and six feet of earth! What boots it, vamping rotten leather on these terms? Glorious in comparison is the livelihood thy good old Father earns by making shoes,—one may hope, in a sufficient manner. Maury does not want for audacity. He shall wear pistols by-and-by; and at death-cries of “La lanterne, The Lamp-iron!” answer coolly, “Friends, will you see better there?”  21
  But yonder, halting lamely along, thou noticest next Bishop Talleyrand-Perigord, his Reverence of Autun. A sardonic grimness lies in that irreverend Reverence of Autun. He will do and suffer strange things; and will become surely one of the strangest things ever seen, or like to be seen. A man living in falsehood and on falsehood; yet not what you can call a false man: there is the specialty! It will be an enigma for future ages, one may hope; hitherto such a product of Nature and Art was possible only for this age of ours—Age of Paper, and of the Burning of Paper. Consider Bishop Talleyrand and Marquis Lafayette as the topmost of their two kinds; and say once more, looking at what they did and what they were. O tempus ferax rerum!  22
  On the whole, however, has not this unfortunate clergy also drifted in the Time-stream, far from its native latitude? An anomalous mass of men; of whom the whole world has already a dim understanding that it can understand nothing. They were once a Priesthood, interpreters of Wisdom, revealers of the Holy that is in Man; a true Clerus (or Inheritance of God on Earth): but now?—They pass silently, with such Cahiers as they have been able to redact; and none cries, God bless them.  23
  King Louis with his Court brings up the rear: he cheerful, in this day of hope, is saluted with plaudits: still more Necker his Minister. Not so the Queen, on whom hope shines not steadily any more. Ill-fated Queen! Her hair is already gray with many cares and crosses; her first-born son is dying in these weeks: black falsehood has ineffaceably soiled her name—ineffaceably while this generation lasts. Instead of Vive la reine, voices insult her with Vive d’Orléans. Of her queenly beauty little remains except its stateliness; not now gracious, but haughty, rigid, silently enduring. With a most mixed feeling, wherein joy has no part, she resigns herself to a day she hoped never to have seen. Poor Marie Antoinette; with thy quick, noble instincts, vehement glancings, vision all-too fitful narrow for the work thou hast to do! O there are tears in store for thee, bitterest wailings, soft womanly meltings, though thou hast the heart of an imperial Theresa’s Daughter. Thou doomed one, shut thy eyes on the future!  24
  And so in stately Procession, have passed the Elected of France. Some toward honor and quick fire-consummation; most toward dishonor; not a few toward massacre, confusion, emigration, desperation: all toward Eternity!—So many heterogeneities cast together into the fermenting-vat; there, with incalculable action, counteraction, elective affinities, explosive developments, to work out healing for a sick, Moribund System of Society! Probably the strangest Body of Men, if we consider well, that ever met together on our Planet on such an errand. So thousandfold complex a Society, ready to burst up from its infinite depths; and these men, its rulers and healers, without life-rule for themselves,—other life-rule than a Gospel according to Jean Jacques! To the wisest of them, what we must call the wisest, man is properly an Accident under the sky. Man is without Duty round him; except it be “to make the Constitution.” He is without Heaven above him, or Hell beneath him; he has no God in the world.  25
  What further or better belief can be said to exist in these Twelve Hundred? Belief in high-plumed hats of a feudal cut; in heraldic scutcheons; in the divine right of Kings, in the divine right of Game-Destroyers. Belief, or what is still worse, canting half-belief; or worst of all, mere Machiavellic pretense-of-belief,—in consecrated dough-wafers, and the godhood of a poor old Italian Man! Nevertheless, in that immeasurable Confusion and Corruption, which struggles there so blindly to become less confused and corrupt, there is, as we said, this one salient point of a New Life discernible—the deep fixed Determination to have done with Shams. A determination which, consciously or unconsciously, is fixed; which waxes ever more fixed, into very madness and fixed-idea; which, in such embodiment as lies provided there, shall now unfold itself rapidly: monstrous, stupendous, unspeakable; new for long thousands of years!—How has the heaven’s light, oftentimes in this Earth, to clothe itself in thunder and electric murkiness, and descend as molten lightning, blasting, if purifying! Nay, is it not rather the very murkiness, and atmospheric suffocation, that brings the lightning and the light? The new Evangel, as the old had been, was it to be born in the Destruction of a World?  26

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