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After having united all the moral proofs of the existence of a being whom he termed the Supreme Being,—after having demonstrated the necessity of a Providence, the consequence of the excellence of this Supreme Being, and the necessity of justice, a divine debt of the Creator, towards his creatures, after having cited, from Socrates to Cicero, and from Cicero to all the just who have perished, the universal belief of all peoples and philosophers, a proof above all others, since there is in nature an instinct of a future existence, as strong as the instinct of a present life, after having carried, even to enthusiasm, the certainty of a continuation of existence, after this present state, which is not destroyed but metamorphosed by death," But," added he, in more eloquent language, exalted even to lyricism, and bringing the subject to the condition of his fellow-prisoners, to deduce his strongest proof from themselves, "are not we ourselves the best proof of immortality? We, calm, serene, unmoved in the presence of the corpse of our friend of our own corpse-discussing, like a peaceful assembly of philosophers, on the light or darkness which shall succeed our last sigh; dying, more happy than Danton, who will live, than Robespierre, who will triumph. Whence then arises this calmness in our discourse, and this serenity in our souls? Is it not in us the result of the feeling that we have performed a great duty towards humanity? What is our country what is humanity? Is it this mass of animated dust which is to-day man, to-morrow a heap of clay? No, it is not for this living clod of earth, it is for the spirit of humanity and our fatherland that we die. What are we ourselves but atoms of this collective spirit of the human race? Each of the men who compose our species has an immortal spirit, imperishable, and confounded with that soul of his country and mankind for which it is so sweet, so glorious, to devote ourselves -to suffer, and to die. It is for this reason," continued he, "that we are not sublime dupes, but beings who obey their moral instinct; and who, when they have fulfilled this duty, will live, suffer, or enjoy in immortality the destinies of humanity. Let us die then, not with confidence, but certainty. Our conscience is our guide in this mighty trial; our judge, the great Eternal, whose name is sought for by ages, and to whose designs we are subservient as tools which he breaks in the work, but whose fragments fall at his feet. Death is but the greatest act of life, since it gives birth to a higher state of
existence. Were it not thus," added he, more solemnly, "there would be something greater than God. It would be the just man, immolating himself uselessly and hopelessly for his country. This supposition is a folly of blasphemy, and I repel it with contempt or horror. No! Vergniaud is not greater than God, but God is more just than Vergniaud, and will not, to-morrow, suffer him to ascend a scaffold, but to justify and avenge him in future ages.
Fauchet made an eloquent discourse on the Passion, comparing their death to Calvary. They were all much moved, and many wept.
Vergniaud reconciled, in a few words, all the different opinions. "Let us believe what we will," said he, "but let us die certain of our life and the price of our death. Let us each sacrifice what we possess, the one his doubt, the other his faith, all of us our blood for liberty. When man offers himself as a victim to Heaven, what more can he give?"
Daylight began to stream in at the windows. "Let us go to bed," said Ducos: "life is so trifling a thing that it is not worth the hour of sleep we lose in regretting it." "Let us watch," said Lasource to Sillery and Fauchet; "eternity is so certain and so terrible that a thousand lives would not suffice to prepare for it." They rose from table, and reëntered their chambers, where most of them threw themselves on their beds.
Thirteen remained in the larger dungeon; some conversed in whispers, others wept, some slept. At eight o'clock they were allowed to walk about in the corridors. The Abbé Lambert, the pious friend of Brissot, who had passed the night at the door of their dungeon, was still awaiting permission to communicate with them. Brissot, perceiving him, sprang forward and clasped him in his arms. The priest offered him the assistance of his ministry, to soften or sanctify death; but Brissot gratefully but firmly refused. "Do you know anything more holy than the death of an honest man, who dies for having refused the blood of his fellow-creatures to wretches?" said he. The abbé said nothing more.
Lasource, who had witnessed the interview, approached Brissot. "Do you believe," said he to him, "in the immortality of your soul, and the providence of God?" "I do believe in them," returned Brissot; "and it is because I believe in them that I am about to die." "Well," replied Lasource,
"there is but a step from thence to religion. I, the minister of another faith, have never so much admired the ministers of yours, as in these dungeons into which they bring the pardon of Heaven to the condemned. In your place I should confess." Brissot made no reply, but joined Vergniaud, Gensonné, and the younger prisoners, most of whom declined the aid of the priest. Some sat on the stone parapet, others walked about arm in arm; some knelt at the priest's feet, and received absolution after a brief confession of their faults. All awaiting calmly the signal for their departure, and resembling by their attitude a halt previous to the battle.
The Abbé Emery, although a nonjuring priest, had obtained permission to see Fauchet at the grating that separated the court from the corridor, and there listened to and absolved the bishop of Calvados. Fauchet, absolved and penitent, listened to the confession of Sillery, and bestowed on his friend. the divine pardon he had just received.
At ten o'clock the executioners came to prepare them for the scaffold. Gensonné, picking up a lock of his black hair, gave it to the Abbé Lambert, and begged him to give it to his wife, whose residence he named. "Tell her it is all I can send her of my remains, and that my last thoughts in death were hers." Vergniaud drew his watch from his pocket, scratched with a pen some initials, and the date of the 30th of October, in the inside of the gold case, and gave it to one of the assistants to transmit it to a young girl to whom he was tenderly attached, and whom it is said he had intended to marry.
All had a name, a regret, a friendship; all had some souvenir of themselves to send to those they left on earth. The hope of a remembrance here is the last tie that binds the dying to life. These mysterious legacies were all duly delivered.
When all was ready, and the last lock of hair had fallen on the stones of the dungeon, the executioners and gens d'armes made the condemned march in a column to the court of the palace, where five carts, surrounded by an immense crowd, awaited them. The moment they emerged from the Conciergerie the Girondists burst into the "Marseillaise," laying stress on these verses, which contained a double meaning
"Contre nous de la tyrannie
L'étendard sanglant est levé."
From this moment they ceased to think of themselves, in
order to think of the example of the death of republicans they wished to leave the people. Their voices sank at the end of each verse, only to rise more sonorous at the first line of the next verse. Each cart contained four, with the exception of the last, in which lay the body of Valazé. His head, shaken by the concussion over the stones, swayed to and fro before his friends, who were forced to close their eyes to avoid seeing his livid features, but who still joined in the strain. On their arrival at the scaffold they all embraced, in token of community in liberty, life, and death, and then resumed their funereal chant. All died without weakness. Sillery, with irony, after ascending the platform, walked round, saluting the people as though to thank them for his glory and death. The hymn became feebler at each fall of the ax; one voice still continued it, that of Vergniaud, executed the last. Like his companions, he did not die, but passed away in enthusiasm, and his life, commenced by immortal orations, ended by a hymn to the eternity of the Revolution.
One cart bore away their bodies, and one grave, by the side of that of Louis XVI., received them.
Some years afterwards, in searching the archives of the parish of La Madeleine, the bill of the gravedigger of the Commune was found, with the order of the president on the national treasury for its payment. "Twenty-two deputies of the Gironde; the coffins, 147 francs; expenses of interment, 63 francs; total 210 francs."
Such was the price of the shovelfuls of earth that covered the founders of the republic. Never did Eschylus or Shakespeare invent a more bitter derision of fate than this bill of a gravedigger, demanding and receiving his pay for having alternately buried all the monarchy and all the republic of a mighty nation.
Such were the last moments of these men; they had, during their short life, all the illusions of hope; they had in death. the greatest happiness which Heaven reserves for great minds, that martyrdom that rejoices in itself, and which elevates to the sanctity of a victim the man who perishes for his conscience and his country. It would be superfluous to judge them; they have been judged by their life and death. They committed three errors: the first in not having boldly proclaimed the republic before the 10th of August, at the opening of the Legislative Assembly; the second, in having conspired
against the constitution of 1791, and by this means forcing the national sovereignty to act as a faction, taken part in the death of the king, and forced the Revolution to employ cruel means; the third was in the time of the Convention, having sought to govern when they should have given battle.
They had three virtues which amply atoned for their defects in the eyes of posterity. They adored liberty, they founded the republic, that precocious truth of future governments, and they died for having refused blood to the people. Their age condemned them to death, and the future has glorified and pardoned them. They died because they would not permit liberty to sully herself, and on their memory will be engraved that inscription which Vergniaud, their voice, wrote with his own hand on the wall of his dungeon-"Death rather than dishonor." "Potius mori quam fœdari."
Scarcely had their heads rolled on the scaffold than a gloomy and sanguinary hue spread itself, instead of the luster of their party, over the Convention. Youth, beauty, illusion, genius, eloquence, all seemed to disappear with them. Paris might have said with Lacedæmon, after the loss of her youth in battle, "The country has lost its flower; liberty has lost its prestige; the republic has lost its spring."
Whilst the twenty-two Girondists perished thus at Paris, Pétion, Buzot, Barbaroux, and Guadet wandered, hunted like wild beasts, in the forests and caves of the Gironde. Madame Roland awaited her fate in a dungeon of the prison of the Abbaye. Dumouriez plotted in exile to escape his remorse, and La Fayette, who had been faithful to liberty at least, expiated in the subterranean cells of the fortress of Olmütz the crime of having been its apostle, and of still professing it even in his chains.
The history of the Revolution is glorious and sad as the morrow of a victory and the eve of a battle. But if the history be full of mourning, it is also full of faith. It resembles the antique drama, in which, whilst the narrator gives the recital, the chorus of the people sings the glory, bewails the victims, and raises a hymn of consolation and hope to God!