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

BUT, to the living and the struggling, a new, Fourteenth morning dawns. Under all roofs of this distracted City is the nodus of a Drama, not untragical, crowding toward solution. The bustlings and preparings, the tremors and menaces; the tears that fell from old eyes! This day, my sons, ye shall quit you like men. By the memory of your fathers’ wrongs; by the hope of your children’s rights! Tyranny impends in red wrath: help for you is none, if not in your own right hands. This day ye must do or die.  1
  From earliest light, a sleepless Permanent Committee has heard the old cry, now waxing almost frantic, mutinous: Arms! Arms! Provost Flesselles, or what traitors there are among you, may think of those Charleville Boxes. A hundred-and-fifty thousand of us, and but the third man furnished with so much as a pike! Arms are the one thing needful: with arms we are an unconquerable man-defying National Guard; without arms, a rabble to be whiffed with grape-shot.  2
  Happily the word has arisen, for no secret can be kept,—that there lie muskets at the Hôtel des Invalides. Thither will we: King’s Procureur M. Ethys de Corny, and whatsoever of authority a Permanent Committee can lend, shall go with us. Besenval’s Camp is there; perhaps he will not fire on us; if he kill us, we shall but die.  3
  Alas! poor Besenval, with his troops melting away in that manner, has not the smallest humor to fire! At five o’clock this morning, as he lay dreaming, oblivious in the École Militaire, a “figure” stood suddenly at his bedside; “with face rather handsome, eyes inflamed, speech rapid and curt, air audacious:” such a figure drew Priam’s curtains! The message and monition of the figure was that resistance would be hopeless; that if blood flowed, woe to him who shed it. Thus spoke the figure: and vanished. “Withal there was a kind of eloquence that struck one.” Besenval admits that he should have arrested him, but did not. Who this figure with inflamed eyes, with speech rapid and curt, might be? Besenval knows, but mentions not. Camille Desmoulins? Pythagorean Marquis Valadi, inflamed with “violent motions all night at the Palais Royal”? Fame names him “Young M. Meillar”; then shuts her lips about him forever.  4
  In any case, behold, about nine in the morning, our National Volunteers, rolling in long wide flood south-westward to the Hôtel des Invalides, in search of the one thing needful. King’s Procureur M. Ethys de Corny and officials are there; the Curé of Saint-Étienne du Mont marches unpacific at the head of his militant Parish; the Clerks of the Basoche in red coats we see marching, now Volunteers of the Palais Royal;—National Volunteers, numerable by tens of thousands; of one heart and mind. The King’s Muskets are the Nation’s; think, old M. de Sombreuil, how, in this extremity, thou wilt refuse them! Old M. de Sombreuil would fain hold parley, send couriers, but it skills not: the walls are scaled, no Invalide firing a shot; the gates must be flung open. Patriotism rushes in tumultuous, from grunsel up to ridge-tile, through all rooms and passages; rummaging distractedly for arms. What cellar or what cranny can escape it? The arms are found; all safe there, lying packed in straw,—apparently with a view to being burnt! More ravenous than famishing lions over dead prey, the multitude, with clangor and vociferation, pounces on them; struggling, dashing, clutching,—to the jamming-up, to the pressure, fracture, and probable extinction of the weaker Patriot. And so, with such protracted crash of deafening, most discordant Orchestra-music, the Scene is changed; and eight-and-twenty thousand sufficient firelocks are on the shoulders of as many National Guards, lifted thereby out of darkness into fiery light.  5
  Let Besenval look at the glitter of these muskets as they flash by! Gardes Françaises, it is said, have cannon leveled on him; ready to open, if need were, from the other side of the river. Motionless sits he; “astonished,” one may flatter one’s self, “at the proud bearing (fière contenance) of the Parisians.” And now to the Bastille, ye intrepid Parisians! There grape-shot still threatens; thither all men’s thoughts and steps are now tending.  6
  Old De Launay, as we hinted, withdrew “into his interior” soon after midnight of Sunday. He remains there ever since, hampered, as all military gentlemen now are, in the saddest conflict of uncertainties. The Hôtel-de-Ville “invites” him to admit National Soldiers, which is a soft name for surrendering. On the other hand, his Majesty’s orders were precise. His garrison is but eighty-two old Invalides, reinforced by thirty-two young Swiss; his walls, indeed, are nine feet thick; he has cannon and powder, but alas! only one day’s provision of victuals. The city, too, is French, the poor garrison mostly French. Rigorous old De Launay, think what thou wilt do!  7
  All morning, since nine, there has been a cry everywhere: To the Bastille! Repeated “deputations of citizens” have been here, passionate for arms, whom De Launay has got dismissed by soft speeches through port-holes. Towards noon, Elector Thuriot de la Rosière gains admittance, finds De Launay indisposed for surrender, nay, disposed for blowing up the place, rather. Thuriot mounts with him to the battlements; heaps of paving-stones, old iron, and missiles lie piled; cannon all duly leveled; in every embrasure a cannon,—only drawn back a little! But outwards, behold, O Thuriot, how the multitude flows on, welling through every street, tocsin furiously pealing, all drums beating the générale; the suburb Saint-Antoine rolling hitherward wholly as one man! Such vision (spectral, yet real) thou, O Thuriot, as from thy Mount of Vision, beholdest in this moment: prophetic of what other Phantasmagories and loud-gibbering Spectral Realities which thou yet beholdest not, but shalt! “Que voulez-vous?” said De Launay, turning pale at the sight, with an air of reproach, almost of menace. “Monsieur,” said Thuriot, rising into the moral-sublime, “what mean you? Consider if I could not precipitate both of us from this height,”—say only a hundred feet, exclusive of the walled ditch! Whereupon De Launay fell silent. Thuriot shows himself from some pinnacle to comfort the multitude becoming suspicious, fremescent, then descends, departs with protest, with warning addressed also to the Invalides, on whom however it produces but a mixed, indistinct impression. The old heads are none of the clearest; besides, it is said, De Launay has been profuse of beverages (prodigue des buissons). They think they will not fire—if not fired on—if they can help it; but must, on the whole, be ruled considerably by circumstances.  8
  Wo to thee, De Launay, in such an hour, if thou canst not, taking some one firm decision, rule circumstances! Soft speeches will not serve, hard grape-shot is questionable, but hovering between the two is unquestionable. Ever wilder swells the tide of men; their infinite hum waxing ever louder, into imprecations, perhaps into crackle of stray musketry,—which latter, on walls nine feet thick, cannot do execution. The Outer Drawbridge has been lowered for Thuriot; new deputation of citizens (it is the third and noisiest of all) penetrates that way into the Outer Court; soft speeches producing no clearance of these, De Launay gives fire; pulls up his drawbridge. A slight sputter, which has kindled the too combustible chaos, made it a roaring fire-chaos! Bursts forth Insurrection, at sight of its own blood (for there were deaths by that sputter of fire), into endless, rolling explosion of musketry, distraction, execration;—and over head, from the fortress, let one great gun, with its grape-shot, go booming, to show what we could do. The Bastille is besieged!  9
  On, then, all Frenchmen that have hearts in your bodies! Roar with all your throats of cartilage and metal, ye Sons of Liberty; stir spasmodically whatsoever of utmost faculty is in you, soul, body, or spirit; for it is the hour! Smite thou, Louis Tournay, cartwright of the Marais, old-soldier of the Regiment Dauphiné; smite at that Outer Drawbridge chain, though the fiery hail whistles round thee! Never, over nave or felloe, did thy axe strike such a stroke. Down with it, man; down with it to Orcus: let the whole accursed edifice sink thither, and tyranny be swallowed up forever! Mounted, some say, on the roof of the guard-room, some “on bayonets stuck into joints of the wall,” Louis Tournay smites, brave Aubin Bonnemère (also an old soldier) seconding him; the chain yields, breaks; the huge Drawbridge slams down, thundering (avec fracas). Glorious! and yet, alas! it is still but the outworks. The Eight Grim Towers, with their Invalide musketry, their paving-stones and cannon-mouths, still soar aloft intact;—Ditch yawning impassable, stone-faced; the inner Drawbridge with its back toward us; the Bastille is still to take!  10
  To describe this Siege of the Bastille (thought to be one of the most important in History) perhaps transcends the talent of mortals. Could one but, after infinite reading, get to understand so much as the plan of the building! But there is open Esplanade at the end of the Rue Saint-Antoine; there are such Forecourts (Cour Avancé), Cour de l’Orme, arched gateway (where Louis Tournay now fights); then new drawbridges, dormant-bridges, rampart-bastions, and the grim Eight Towers: a labyrinthic Mass, high-frowning there, of all ages from twenty years to four hundred and twenty;—beleaguered, in this its last hour, as we said, by mere Chaos come again! Ordnance of all calibres; throats of all capacities; men of all plans, every man his own engineer; seldom since the war of Pygmies and Cranes was there seen so anomalous a thing. Half-pay Elie is home for a suit of regimentals; no one would heed him in colored clothes; half-pay Hulin is haranguing Gardes Françaises in the Place de Grève. Frantic patriots pick up the grape-shots; bear them, still hot (or seemingly so), to the Hôtel-de-Ville:—Paris, you perceive, is to be burnt! Flesselles is “pale to the very lips,” for the roar of the multitude grows deep. Paris wholly has got to the acme of its frenzy; whirled, all ways, by panic madness. At every street-barricade, there whirls simmering a minor whirlpool,—strengthening the barricade, since God knows what is coming; and all minor whirlpools play distractedly into that grand Fire-Maelstrom which is lashing round the Bastille.  11
  And so it lashes and it roars. Cholat the wine-merchant has become an impromptu cannoneer. See Georget of the marine service, fresh from Brest, ply the King of Siam’s cannon. Singular (if we were not used to the like). Georget lay, last night, taking his ease at his inn; the King of Siam’s cannon also lay, knowing nothing of him, for a hundred years; yet now, at the right instant, they have got together, and discourse eloquent music. For hearing what was toward, Georget sprang from the Brest Diligence, and ran. Gardes Françaises, also, will be here, with real artillery: were not the walls so thick!—Upward from the Esplanade, horizontally from all neighboring roofs and windows, flashes one irregular deluge of musketry, without effect. The Invalides lie flat, firing comparatively at their ease from behind stone; hardly through port-holes show the tip of a nose. We fall, shot; and make no impression!  12
  Let conflagration rage; of whatsoever is combustible! Guard-rooms are burnt, Invalides mess-rooms. A distracted “Peruke-maker with two fiery torches” is for burning “the saltpetres of the Arsenal,” had not a woman run screaming; had not a Patriot, with some tincture of Natural Philosophy, instantly struck the wind out of him (butt of musket on pit of stomach), overturned barrels, and stayed the devouring element. A young beautiful lady, seized, escaping, in these Outer Courts, and thought falsely to be De Launay’s daughter, shall be burnt in De Launay’s sight; she lies, swooned, on a paillasse; but again a Patriot—it is brave Aubin Bonnemère, the old soldier—dashes in, and rescues her. Straw is burnt; three cartloads of it, hauled hither, go up in white smoke, almost to the choking of Patriotism itself; so that Elie had, with singed brows, to drag back one cart, and Réole the “gigantic haberdasher” another. Smoke as of Tophet; confusion as of Babel; noise as of the Crack of Doom!  13
  Blood flows; the ailment of new madness. The wounded are carried into houses of the Rue Cerisaie; the dying leave their last mandate not to yield till the accursed Stronghold fall. And yet, alas! how fall? The walls are so thick! Deputations, three in number, arrive from the Hôtel-de-Ville; Abbé Fauchet (who was of one) can say with what almost superhuman courage of benevolence. These wave their Town-flag in the arched Gateway, and stand, rolling their drum, but to no purpose. In such Crack of Doom, De Launay cannot hear them, dare not believe them; they return, with justified rage, the whew of lead still singing in their ears. What to do? The Firemen are here, squirting with their fire-pumps on the Invalides cannon, to wet the touch-holes; they unfortunately cannot squirt so high; but produce only clouds of spray. Individuals of classical knowledge propose catapults. Santerre, the sonorous Brewer of the Suburb Saint-Antoine, advises rather that the place be fired by a “mixture of phosphorus and oil of turpentine spouted up through forcing-pumps.” O Spinola-Santerre, hast thou the mixture ready? Every man his own engineer! And still the fire-deluge abates not; even women are firing, and Turks; at least one woman (with her sweetheart), and one Turk. Gardes Françaises have come; real cannon, real cannoneers. Usher Maillard is busy; half-pay Elie, half-pay Hulin, rage in the midst of thousands.  14
  How the great Bastille clock ticks (inaudible) in its Inner Court, there, at its ease, hour after hour; as if nothing special, for it or the world, were passing! It tolled One when the firing began, and is now pointing toward Five, and still the firing slakes not.—Far down, in their vaults, the seven Prisoners hear muffled din as of earthquakes; their Turnkeys answer vaguely.  15
  Woe to thee, De Launay, with thy poor hundred Invalides! Broglie is distant, and his ears heavy; Besenval hears, but can send no help. One poor troop of Hussars has crept, reconnoitring, cautiously along the Quais, as far as the Pont Neuf. “We are come to join you,” said the Captain; for the crowd seems shoreless. A large-headed dwarfish individual, of smoke-bleared aspect, shambles forward, opening his blue lips, for there is sense in him; and croaks, “Alight then, and give up your arms!” The Hussar-Captain is too happy to be escorted to the barriers and dismissed on parole. Who the squat individual was? Men answer, It is M. Marat, author of the excellent pacific ‘Avis au Peuple’! Great, truly, O thou remarkable Dogleech, is this thy day of emergence and new-birth; and yet this same day come four years!—But let the curtains of the Future hang.  16
  What shall De Launay do? One thing only De Launay could have done: what he said he would do. Fancy him sitting, from the first, with lighted taper, within arm’s-length of the Powder-Magazine; motionless, like old Roman Senator, or Bronze Lamp-holder; coldly apprising Thuriot, and all men, by a slight motion of his eye, what his resolution was:—Harmless he sat there, while unharmed; but the King’s Fortress, meanwhile, could, might, would, or should in nowise be surrendered save to the King’s Messenger; one old man’s life is worthless, so it be lost with honor: but think, ye brawling canaille, how will it be when a whole Bastille springs skyward? In such statuesque, taper-holding attitude, one fancies De Launay might have left Thuriot, the red clerks of the Basoche, Curé of Saint-Stephen, and all the tagrag and bobtail of the world, to work their will.  17
  And, yet, withal, he could not do it. Hast thou considered how each man’s heart is so tremulously responsive to the hearts of all men? Hast thou noted how omnipotent is the very sound of many men? How their shriek of indignation palsies the strong soul; their howl of contumely withers with unfelt pangs? The Ritter Gluck confessed that the ground-tone of the noblest passage in one of his noblest Operas was the voice of the populace he had heard at Vienna, crying to their Kaiser, Bread! Bread! Great is the combined voice of men, the utterance of their instincts, which are truer than their thoughts; it is the greatest a man encounters, among the sounds and shadows which make up this World of Time. He who can resist that, has his footing somewhere beyond Time. De Launay could not do it. Distracted, he hovers between two; hopes in the middle of despair; surrenders not his Fortress; declares that he will blow it up, seizes torches to blow it up, and does not blow it. Unhappy old De Launay, it is the death-agony of thy Bastille and thee! Jail, Jailoring, and Jailor, all three, such as they may have been, must finish.  18
  For four hours now has the World-Bedlam roared; call it the World-Chimæra, blowing fire! The poor Invalides have sunk under their battlements, or rise only with reversed muskets; they have made a white flag of napkins; go beating the chamade, or seeming to beat, for one can hear nothing. The very Swiss at the Portcullis look weary of firing; disheartened in the fire-deluge; a port-hole at the drawbridge is opened, as by one that would speak. See Huissier Maillard, the shifty man! On his plank swinging over the abyss of that stone Ditch; plank resting on parapet, balanced by weight of Patriots, he hovers perilous; such a Dove toward such an Ark! Deftly, thou shifty Usher; one man already fell; and lies smashed, far down there, against the masonry! Usher Maillard falls not; deftly, unerring, he walks, with outspread palm. The Swiss holds a paper through his port-hole; the shifty Usher snatches it and returns. Terms of surrender, Pardon, immunity to all! Are they accepted? “Foi d’officier, On the word of an officer,” answers half-pay Hulin, or half-pay Elie—for men do not agree on it—“they are!” Sinks the drawbridge,—Usher Maillard bolting it when down; rushes in the living deluge; the Bastille is fallen! Victoire! La Bastille est prise!  19
  Why dwell on what follows? Hulin’s foi d’officier should have been kept, but could not. The Swiss stand drawn up, disguised in white canvas smocks; the Invalides without disguise, their arms all piled against the wall. The first rush of victors, in ecstasy that the death peril is passed, “leaps joyfully on their necks”; but new victors rush, and ever new, also in ecstasy not wholly of joy. As we said, it was a living deluge, plunging headlong; had not the Gardes Françaises, in their cool military way, “wheeled round with arms leveled,” it would have plunged suicidally, by the hundred or the thousand, into the Bastille-ditch.  20
  And so it goes plunging through court and corridor; billowing uncontrollable, firing from windows—on itself; in hot frenzy of triumph, of grief and vengeance for its slain. The poor Invalides will fare ill; one Swiss, running off in his white smock, is driven back, with a death-thrust. Let all prisoners be marched to the Town-hall to be judged! Alas, already one poor Invalide has his right hand slashed off him; his maimed body dragged to the Place de Grève, and hanged there. This same right hand, it is said, turned back De Launay from the Powder-Magazine, and saved Paris.  21
  De Launay, “discovered in gray frock with poppy-colored riband,” is for killing himself with the sword of his cane. He shall to the Hôtel-de-Ville; Hulin, Maillard, and others escorting him, Elie marching foremost, “with the capitulation-paper on his sword’s point.” Through roarings and cursings; through hustlings, clutchings, and at last through strokes! Your escort is hustled aside, fell down; Hulin sinks exhausted on a heap of stones. Miserable De Launay! He shall never enter the Hôtel-de-Ville; only his “bloody hair-queue, held up in a bloody hand”; that shall enter, for a sign. The bleeding trunk lies on the steps there; the head is off through the streets, ghastly, aloft on a pike.  22
  Rigorous De Launay has died; crying out, “O friends, kill me fast!” Merciful De Losme must die; though Gratitude embraces him, in this fearful hour, and will die for him, it avails not. Brothers, your wrath is cruel! Your Place de Grève is become a Throat of the Tiger, full of mere fierce bellowings, and thirst of blood. One other officer is massacred; one other Invalide is hanged on the Lamp-iron; with difficulty, with generous perseverance, the Gardes Françaises will save the rest. Provost Flesselles, stricken long since with the paleness of death, must descend from his seat, “to be judged at the Palais Royal”; alas, to be shot dead by an unknown hand at the turning of the first street!  23
  O evening sun of July, how, at this hour, thy beams fall slant on reapers amid peaceful woody fields; on old women spinning in cottages; on ships far out on the silent main; on Balls at the Orangerie of Versailles, where high-rouged Dames of the Palace are even now dancing with double-jacketed Hussar-Officers;—and also on this roaring Hell-porch of a Hôtel-de-Ville! Babel Tower, with the confusion of tongues, were not Bedlam added with the conflagration of thoughts, was no type of it. One forest of distracted steel bristles, endless, in front of an Electoral Committee; points itself, in horrid radii, against this and the other accused breast. It was the Titans warring with Olympus; and they, scarcely crediting it, have conquered; prodigy of prodigies; delirious,—as it could not but be. Denunciation, vengeance; blaze of triumph on a dark ground of terror; all outward, all inward things fallen into one general wreck of madness!  24

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