E.Belfort Bax

Outlooks From a New Standpoint

The Orator of the Human Race

From Outlooks from the New Standpoint, pp.1-37.

The eighteenth century was in full swing. Louis Quinze furniture decorated the houses of the wealthy. “Wit,” “verses,” and carefully elaborated repartee varied by excursions into the regions of “philosophy,” formed the staple of social intercourse in the salons of the aforesaid houses. Travelling was not much no easy or less attended with danger than had been the case in the previous century. “Crackskull Heath” and distinguished highwaymen in the environs of London were living realities. The superstructure of feudal Europe – withered and dead – was still standing in its main outlines. The new culture of the “age of reason” had not as yet penetrated to any considerable extent below the surface of society, that is the wealthy and educated classes, although signs were not wanting of its beginning to do so. Such was the world – the world of Goethe’s Dichtung und Wahrheit, and the world of Rousseau’s Confessions – into which the future Orator of the Human Race was born.

Jean-Baptiste Cloots, or Klootz, first saw the light on the 24th of June 1755 in the valley of Gnadenthal, a few miles from the town of Cleves, near the Dutch frontier of Westphalia. His father, the Baron Von Cloots, possessed a chateau in the midst of a well-cultivated domain. The Cloots family, though an ancient line of nobility, had acquired wealth in the then leading commercial city of Amsterdam, sometime during the seventeenth century. The district of Cleves, during the infancy of Jean-Baptiste, was the scene of many a squabble between Frederick the Great and the French king. Frederick would throw off a satirical rhyme on the poetical effusions of a cardinal who happened to be the favourite of one of the many royal mistresses of France. The peasants of Cleves were made the scapegoats. The valley was pillaged and the inhabitants butchered to make a Franco-Prussian holiday. Incidents such as this occurred more than once during the childhood of Cloots. The old baron thought fit on such occasions to prudently make friends with the mammon of unrighteousness as exemplified in the invaders, by inviting the officers to his chateau and handsomely entertaining them. In this way little Jean-Baptiste became early acquainted with the French language, French manners, and French modes of thought. His one desire, on the departure of the French soldiery, was to be educated in Paris with a view to a career in the French court. His father not being unwilling that he should make his name in the leading society of Europe, consented, and before long he found himself in the city of his dreams, the city of that Voltaire of whom he had so often heard from his French friends, and with whose renown at that time all Europe rang. The clerical education he received at the Sorbonne produced a strong reaction in him. He took to eating omelettes au lard on Friday and audaciously inviting his school-fellows to join him. At the table of the Dutch banker, Vandenhyver, through whom his allowance was paid, he heard of the philosophers so execrated at the Sorbonne; how their writings had been burnt and how they themselves existed, so to speak, only on sufferance, since by virtue of an old edict they might be hanged any day. Here also he learnt for the first time that his uncle, Cornelius de Pauw, although a canon, was himself a philosopher, but so far from being in danger of the rope, was a leading light at the court of the King of Prussia – the friend and protector of Voltaire himself. Jean-Baptiste, finding out that the leader of eighteenth century literature did not habitually live in Paris as he had thought, immediately conceived the idea of hurrying off to Berlin to make friends with his free-thinking relative. He left Paris and repaired to his native valley, where he was greeted with enthusiasm by his father, who now saw in his rapid physical development the earnest of a future officer in the land of Grenadiers. What could be a nobler avocation than to serve a philosophic king, the friend and protector of philosophers? thought our hero at this time. So Jean-Baptiste readily consented to his father’s wishes that he should enter the military school of Berlin. He had not been long there, however, before he discovered in common with his instructors that soldiering was not his vocation, though he did not definitively give up his intention of joining the army for some years.

His sojourn in the capital of Brandenburg was otherwise not unimportant for the future Orator. The court was in the neighbouring town of Potsdam. He there spoke face to face with the great Frederick and with the great Frederick’s friend, his uncle Cornelius, from the latter of whom he received his first distinctive intellectual bent. Cured of certain intellectual vanities in which he had nursed himself, he began to study seriously, and at last disgusted with the slavery and brutality of the Prussian military régime, he sought and obtained the king’s permission to return home – his ultimate intention being to take up his abode once more in Paris. He was now twenty-one years of age, and the possessor of an income of 100,000 livres. It was some six or seven years since he had left the city which was the capital of eighteenth-century culture, and everything now appeared to him in a new light. He entered the Parisian salons and mixed freely in society; he came into contact with Benjamin Franklin, then on a political mission to Paris. But Jean-Baptiste was not destined to see his idol, Voltaire, for the latter expired a few days after his arrival in Paris at the Hotel de Villette. An idea already conceived while in Berlin now began to take definite shape in Cloots’s mind – that, namely, of developing a refutation of all revealed religions from one proposition, or rather, syllogism. With this syllogism which he used to call “his Great Argument,” he was fond of dumbfounding his clerical acquaintances. It ran as follows:

  1. A religion of which the proofs are not comprehensible by all reasonable men cannot be established by God for the simple and ignorant.
  2. Now, there is no religion of all those which are pretended to have been revealed of which the proofs are comprehensible by all men. Therefore:
  3. None of the religions which pretend to be revealed can be the religion established by God for the simple and ignorant.

The determination to work out this argument in book-form took increasing possession of Jean-Baptiste, till he resolved to retire for some months to Gnadenthal for the purpose of putting his project into execution; as a matter of fact, he remained there more than a year laboriously working at his Certitude of the Proofs of Mahometism, designed as a reductio ad absurdam of supernaturalism. The book was published in Amsterdam. As soon as it issued from the press, Cloots despatched the whole edition to Paris, at the same time hurrying thither himself. To his intense surprise, the “Great Argument” and the Certitude of the Proofs of Mahometism alike fell dead. By no device could the author succeed in obtaining even a partial success. Undeterred, Cloots tried debating societies, but here the clerical opposition was too strong for him. At last one of the leading Paris clergy delivered a pulpit oration against Certitudes, by which it achieved some little notoriety, though far short of the expectations of its enthusiastic author.

Cloots now began to occupy himself with the second great principle to which he proposed to devote his life. Up to this time he had been too much engaged with the notion of establishing reason on the ruins of the ancient faith to think of anything else. The international problem now began to occupy him. In the Views of a Gallophile, he offered to the world his first distinct statement of the doctrine of Internationalism. As yet, however, his opinions had not attained the breadth or definiteness of those expounded in his later work, the Universal Republic. Seized with a desire to study English institutions, which he had heard so much be-praised in the salons of Paris, Cloots crossed the channel, came to London, was disgusted with the dingy, brick-built houses he saw, which he compared unfavourably with the masonry of Paris; visited Edmund Burke at Beaconsfield, discussed with him the new ideas and dawning hopes, and tried to imbue him with his own enthusiasm for everything French. Burke, who had not as yet become insane and reactionary, proved a sympathetic auditor, for although old enough to be his guest’s father, he still retained much of his youthful freshness. The two men got on excellently together, and Cloots left London with a pressing invitation from the English statesman to pay him another visit. He returned to Paris, but at the beginning of the winter left for the house of a relative near Amsterdam. While in Holland he had a narrow escape of being victimised by a charlatan from the east of Europe, who gave himself out for a descendant of Scanderbeg, and as the Prince of Roumania. However, Cloots came out of the adventure with nothing more serious than a temporary loss of dignity. In the spring, resisting the attraction which Paris once more had for him, Jean-Baptiste resolved to enjoy the freedom, instruction, and adventures of a long tour throughout the greater part of Europe. This journey, however, proved more often of the nature of a flight than of a tour. Taking no care to conceal his views on such delicate subjects as the prerogative of kings and nobles and the value of a sacerdotal class, not unfrequently preaching open rebellion to oppressed peasants, we may imagine his path was not always strewn with roses. He was being once nearly arrested on Prussian territory, while he had to fly from Hungary for protesting against the tyrannous acts of the king and emperor. In Italy he fared no better. The beginning of the winter found him in the south of France, at Bayonne. From thence he proceeded to Spain, and from thence to Morocco, where the author of the ironical Certitude of the Proofs of Mahometism was, it appears, well received alike by the Moorish and Jewish population, he having championed the Hebrew race against the Christians in a pamphlet on the Jewish question. After a stay of a few weeks he proceeded to Lisbon, where he remained for the rest of the winter. New Year’s Day, 1789, found Cloots enjoying the mild sea breezes and blue sky of Portugal, and looking over the Atlantic with thoughts tending to America as the only country of the “Rights of Man.” During the winter Cloots continued for the most part cut off from news of the outer world, but with the approach of spring came the tidings of the rehabilitation of the popular idol Neckar, and of the convocation of the “States-General,” with a double representation of the third estate. Cloots left Lisbon with the intention of proceeding by easy stages to Paris. Some weeks elapsed, however, before he crossed the Pyrennees.

He had scarcely set foot on French soil when the report reached him of the fall of the Bastille. With all the enthusiasm of his character he donned the new tri-coloured cockade, and proceeded in hot haste to the city which was henceforth to be for him the metropolis of the “Human Race.” He passed through a country which presented, in some respects, the aspect of an invaded territory. The sight of burning, or recently burnt, châteaus – of crops destroyed – of houses pillaged – was quite a common one. Arrived in Paris, Cloots immediately threw himself into the thick of the political struggle. His social connexions brought him into close contact with several of the leaders of the “States-General,” now converted into the “National Constituent Assembly.” This was to our hero the germ of that parliament of man, of which he had long dreamed, and which at last took definite shape in his mind as the goal of his political aspirations. At this time Cloots might have been daily seen riding about Paris from centre to centre in his carriage and pair, accompanied by two servants, themselves ardent patriots, in order to ascertain the true political temperature of the capital. After some days he decided upon a propagandist journey into what was supposed to be the most benighted province of France – Brittany. He found there what are described as: “Certain fierce animals, male and female, scattered about the country, black, living, but quite burnt by the sun, attached to the earth which they hoed and dug with invincible obstinacy.” To Jean-Baptiste, nevertheless, these degraded creatures were brothers. By means of an interpreter he overcame the obstacle of the Breton language, and for days and weeks he went about the country preaching to them the doctrine of the “Rights of Man” and of the Revolution. At first, ill-understood, they gave him ear when he explained to them the two recent decrees of the Assembly, abolishing the local imposts and practically establishing the right of peasant proprietory. Finally the peasants were seized as if by inspiration with the spirit of revolt. Emulating the Parisians, they stormed, torch in hand, the château of their lord, the local Bastille. The movement rapidly spread, and soon wherever Jean-Baptiste had passed, the cry was unanimous of – “Long live the Revolution of the National Assembly.”

After establishing a Breton Club, Cloots returned to Paris in October to find the Assembly and the king installed in the capital, consequent on the events of the 5th and 6th of the month. When Cloots caught sight once more of the towers of Notre Dame, he vowed never again to leave the world-city, and he never did. His motto – “Paris! France! Universe!” was henceforth to be defended from the centre itself. Famine still reigned in Paris. Yet, notwithstanding the terrible misery, what was Cloots’ astonishment and delight to find that even in St. Antoine, he heard more among the groups of workmen assembled, about the “Rights of Man,” and the “Principles of the Constitution,” than about bread! Cloots now became an assiduous attendant at the Palais Royal, which was the great open-air resort of patriots and the forum for popular discussion. Not far off in the Rue St. Honoré was the Jacobins Club. The district was nick-named the “Quartier de l’Idée.” Reports of royal conspiracies filled the air. Nobles who had remained in Paris were breathing out threatening and slaughter against the Revolution. Jean-Baptiste soon found their society insupportable; the only answer he got to his pleadings on behalf of the people was: “Let the people perish, we want our pensions.” Cloots shook the dust of these noble houses off his feet and cursed them bitterly. His place was henceforth in the Faubourg, in popular gatherings, in the public tribunes of the Assembly. Meanwhile Burke had denounced the French Revolution in the English parliament. Cloots we may be sure was not long in publishing an open letter to his friend full of affectionate remonstrance and entreaty. He was awaiting a reply to this missive, when all thought of Burke was forgotten in the news that the Assembly had assigned to the nation the right of making peace or war. Cloots was seized with a wild enthusiasm – he saw in this the beginning of the realisation of the solidarity of the Human Race. Was it not kings and nobles who had hitherto set people against people? Once the power of declaring war was removed from their hands, would not the chief cause of war have disappeared? The re-arrangement of the map of France by which the semi-autonomy of the old French provinces had been abolished, all tended towards the unity of mankind, he thought. From all sides was the cry – “We are no longer Provencals, Bretons, Angeves, Picards – we are Frenchmen!” Cloots saw in this also a step toward the federation of the Human Race, rather than, as was actually the case, the embodiment of the modern principle of nationalism as against the local autonomy of the middle-ages.

On the 5th of June, 1790, the Paris municipality, after proclaiming all men brothers, proposed that the Assembly should decree a great fête for the ensuing 14th of July, the anniversary of the fall of the Bastille, which should embrace representatives from all France. Jean-Baptiste was transported beyond measure. We will have, said he, “not merely a festival of France but of the Universe.” He forthwith proceeded to hunt up all the foreign refugees in Paris he could lay his hand on. At his instigation they formed themselves into a committee, with the result that, on the 19th of the month, they appeared at the bar of the Assembly praying for admission to the National Federation. The deputation was a remarkable one, thirty-six members in all; each wore his national costume; Neopolitan, Spaniard, Prussian, Dutchman, Englishman, American, all had a place, while an Arab and a Chaldean were to be seen on either side of the deputed Orator. Cloots began (silence having been proclaimed by the usher):

“Gentlemen, the imposing group of all the banners of the French Empire will be displayed on the 14th of July in the Champ de Mars, on the same spot where Julian trampled down all prejudices, and where Charlemagne surrounded himself with all the virtues. This civic solemnity will not only be the festival of the French, but also be the festival of the Human Race. The trumpet which sounded the resurrection of the great people, has reached to all the four quarters of the world, and the songs of rejoicing of twenty-five million free men have awakened nations buried in a long slavery. The wisdom of your decrees, gentlemen, is the union of the children of France. This ravishing picture affords bitter apprehensions to despots, and just hopes to enslaved peoples ... You have truly recognised that sovereignty resides in the people. Now the people is everywhere under the yoke of dictators, who call themselves sovereigns in defiance of your principles. They usurp the dictatorship, but the sovereignty is inviolable, and the ambassadors of these tyrants would not be able to honour your august festival like ourselves, of whom, for the most part, the mission is tacitly avowed by our compatriots, the oppressed sovereigns themselves.”

The applause, which at several times interrupted Jean-Baptiste while speaking, fairly shook the house when he had ended. The reply of the Assembly, from the lips of its chairman, the Baron Menou, was an invitation couched in terms overflowing with compliments and cordiality. The Arab returned thanks in an unintelligible French, and the ceremony was wound up with some dexterous phrases of the president. In its transport of enthusiasm the Assembly then passed its memorable decree abolishing the titles and insignia of nobility. Henceforth Jean-Baptiste rejoiced in bearing the proud title of the “Orator of the Human Race.” But the enthusiasm of this memorable night was short-lived, and began to give place to ridicule within a few days, a result which was not diminished by the discovery that the interesting figures of the Turk and the Arab had been borrowed from the opera, and that the would-be Chaldean had been born within sight of the towers of Notre Dame.

At last the long looked-for day of the national fête arrived. To the great disappointment of all it poured with rain. “God is an aristocrat,” said some of the crowd. “I could have told you that long ago,” said Jean-Baptiste; but the weather made little difference to our hero, who marched to the Champ de Mars at the head of his international cortege in a state of moral exaltation, which rendered physical discomfort of no account. His description of the fête, in a letter to female friend, Fanny de Beauharnais, testifies to the spirit in which he viewed the ceremony of the day, which must have been, in truth, imposing enough. “It transports you,” he writes, “two thousand years back, by I know not what colour of antiquity. It transports you two thousand years forward by that rapid progress of reason, of which this federation is the delectable foretaste.” This state of moral intoxication seems to have lasted for several days. He now bethought himself of his Christian pre-nomen. How could he, the apostle of reason and the enemy of all supernatural cults, continue to bear a name derived from the creed which had enslaved the Human Race for so many centuries past? He must seek a name more befitted to his position, derived from some ancient hero or thinker. Turning this over in his mind, he hit upon the cognomen, Anacharsis that of the Scythian disciple of Greek culture, who had been popularised by the recently published romance of the Abbé Barthelemy. It was the very thing as it seemed to him, for he too was a barbarian who had expatriated himself in the modern Athens, and had embraced its modes of thought and manners of life. Jean-Baptiste Cloots, Baron of Gnadenthal, vassal of the King of Prussia, shall be known from this time forward under the style and title of “Anacharsis Cloots, Orator of the Human Race, Representative of the Oppressed Sovereign Peoples of Mankind.”

Cloots now began to jealously watch the actions of the powers, and the developments of French foreign policy, fearing lest France should be led into a trap, but he did not neglect his propaganda in Paris, in connexion with his anti-religious crusade. He became a member of the Jacobins Club, and also of a society which met in the circus of the Palais Royal and called itself the Cercle Social des Amis de la Vérité, a leading figure in which was the mystical revolutionary priest and afterwards bishop, Claude Fauchet, with whom the atheist Anacharsis had many a passage of arms. He also busied himself with addresses, pamphlets, and newspaper articles, writing constantly in the Chronique de Paris, founded by his friend Charles Villette, and edited by another acquaintance named Millin – for notwithstanding his democratic attitude he was still a welcome guest amongst the “advanced” circles of the wealthy classes. Among the letters of adhesion to his principles were some from notable foreigners. The Countess of Hesse among others wrote proclaiming herself a convert to his views. In this life of social and literary activity he passed the year 1791. After the flight of the king to Varennes, Anacharsis was the first to demand the abolition of the monarchy and to proclaim the French Republic as the necessary first step to that Universal Republic which was the goal of his political action. He was one of the leaders in the July meeting in the Champ de Mars with the members of the Cordeliers Club, etc.; though after the massacre of Lafayette, on the evening of that day, and the decree proclaiming martial law which followed it, Cloots, in common with the other men of the advanced party, was compelled to “lie low” for a while. Brissot with his Girondin friends was already beginning his campaign against Paris in the pretended interest of the departments.

With the spring of 1792 the political horizon began to show storm-clouds. The debates in the Jacobins became noisier and more acrimonious. The great question of the war raised its head, and with it previous differences between Cloots and the Girondin leaders, notably Brissot, as also at times with Robespierre, began to accentuate themselves. Cloots was in favour of a propagandist war on a large scale; Brissot of a defensive war; and Robespierre of no war at all. Anacharsis thought by an offensive war to liberate once for all the neighbouring “Sovereigns” (bien entendu sovereign peoples) from the yoke of their tyrants, and therewith to inaugurate the era of Universal Peace. Brissot’s one thought was a defensive war, which should protect the frontiers and remove the centre of revolutionary interest from Paris to the departments; while Robespierre, though desirous of maintaining the ascendancy of Paris, was even more averse than Brissot to the cosmopolitan theories of Cloots. With the declaration of war and the first reverses of the French troops the excitement in Paris became so intense that internal dissensions among the “patriots” were for the nonce laid on one side. The ascendancy of Paris seemed secured for the time being at least. It was at this juncture that Cloots published his famous brochure, the “Universal Republic,” in which he expounded his views as to mankind constituting one nation whose metropolis should be Paris.

“The crowd,” says he, “attracts the crowd, and deserts repel men. It is essential for the universal harmony to have a common capital where all divergent lights unite in a focus; where all characters adjust each other; where all prejudices are abolished; where all egotism are crushed and confounded in the common interest of the Human Race. It is here that the man of the Department becomes the man of France, that the man of France becomes the man of the Universe.”

At last Brunswick, passing the Rhine, launched his celebrated manifesto threatening to annihilate the Revolution. The whole revolutionary city now took up as with one voice the cry of “déchèance,” which had been on the lips of Anacharsis for more than a year past. The movement of the 10th of August began to prepare. Cloots agitated amongst the Dutch and Belgium refugees, who formed the nucleus of the foreign legion known as the Légion Franche. The word Sans-Culotte at this time became the vogue to designate the popular party of Paris. Anacharsis proclaimed himself the Orator of the Sans-Culottes. In vain did his mother the baroness (the old baron had been dead for some time) write urging him to fly from the dangers which surrounded him. He only replied in a long letter explaining the principles of the Revolution, and declaring his adhesion to them come what might, at the same time assuring her that serious disorder would never occur in Paris. “I shall never quit France,” he said, “and they shall never take Paris except the conquerors are invulnerable.” He urges her not to believe the lies circulated respecting the Revolution and its adherents. “Adieu, my tender mother,” he concludes, “your health disquiets me more than our enemies.”

In the early morning of the memorable 10th of August Cloots awoke to the sound of the tocsin and the alarm drum, and hurriedly rising rushed to the Assembly, while two of his servants made for the Tuilleries. Anacharsis remained for two days and nights among the legislators. He saw the king himself appear in the Salle de Mainège; he heard the decree for the summoning of a National Convention; he was the instrument in arresting a princely spy in the court-yard. The next night he appeared at the bar of the Assembly with some compatriots offering to form a Prussian legion. The Assembly ordered the printing and distribution in the departments of the address he delivered on this occasion. On the 24th a decree was passed for the naturalisation, with the full rights as French citizens, of certain eminent foreigners, amongst whom Cloots was included side by side with Thomas Paine, Priestly, etc. The only member who spoke in opposition to this, Thuriot, was immediately voted down. Cloots as French citizen was now eligible for election for the Convention, and he was nominated amid general approbation candidate for the department of the Oise, where he had recently bought a small property adjoining that of his friend Charles Villette, and also for the department of the Saone-et-Loire.

At the end of the month the news arrived that Longwy had been taken by the Prussians and that Verdun was threatened. This meant, as all knew well enough, that Paris itself was in imminent danger. The consequence was the September massacres, that terrible act of justice and self-defence of revolutionary France towards the traitors on her hearth. Anacharsis was assiduous in his attendance at the primary assembly of his section during this time, although he had no share in organising the work that was being done. It was on the 3rd of September, and on behalf of his section, that Anacharsis visited the Rolands, where he remained to dinner at the special invitation of the Minister of the Interior, in company with the principal lights of the Girondist party – a dinner alluded to in the celebrated “Memoirs” in a tone of more than questionable taste, as regards the subject of the present sketch. Marat, with the ready suspicion characteristic of his noble but narrow nature, had just been denouncing our Orator for the second time as a Mouchard Berlinois, when the same evening Cloots presented himself at the Jacobins Club. He was being considerably hustled and was like to be driven out of the club, when the intimation arrived of his election for the département de l’Oise. At this announcement the hustling and jeering ceased, but the Girondin and other Moderates were not slow to take advantage of it in trying to prejudice Cloots against Paris, which had rejected him, and in favour of the departments which had accepted him, for his election for the Saone-et-Loire was shortly after announced also. But the Orator was too sincere to be influenced by mere personal considerations, and in spite of all temptations he remained true to Paris.

The battle between the Parisian Sans-Culottes, represented in the Convention by the so-called party of the Mountain and the departmental Girondins, now began in real earnest. All Cloots’s social connexions naturally brought him into contact with the anti-Parisian party, who were in power. The “Orator of the Human Race” was, indeed, made president of the Diplomatic Committee, one of the twenty-four Committees into which the Convention had resolved itself, and though he was powerless as regards the positive furtherance of his own principles of foreign policy on this Committee, yet it enabled him to expose the intrigues of the dominant Moderates with doubtful generals, and with the enemy, in the hope of patching-up a peace in order to have their hands free to crush Paris. Singularly enough, the event which caused him to take a decisive position on the summit of the “Mountain” was the Girondist attack headed by Louvet, on his subsequent persecutor and murderer, Robespierre. The accusations levelled against the latter were understood by all as in reality levelled against the entire Mountain and against Paris. Anacharsis was surrounded by Mountainist deputies, to whom forgetting the speaker in the tribune, he narrated the whole history of anti-Parisian chicanery. Urged by the Mountain to publish what he had told them, he hesitated to reveal the official secrets of his Committee, until the open treachery of Dumouriez and others and the discovery of actually treasonable correspondence, decided him to throw away all scruples and expose the whole proceedings of the Committee men. He now published his pamphlet, Ni Marat, Ni Roland, in which he attacked the principle of leadership. This pamphlet was greeted with applause by all patriots, not excepting Marat himself, and the Jacobins ordered its distribution in the departments.

The Orator a few days after launched an address to the Belgians denouncing the federalism of Roland and his associates, persuading them to constitute the newly-acquired province into a second republic. He still further exposed governmental intrigues, and concluded: “Brave Belgians, choose deliberately between Departmental unity, which combines the maximum of independence with the maximum of economy, and Republican plurality, which unites the maximum of expense with the maximum of absurdity” The Convention now appointed a commission to investigate the incriminatory documents discovered in the baggage left by the officers who had fled across the frontier. To the consternation of Roland and his clique, Anacharsis formed one of the Committee. On the occasion when this proposition was voted, he had the satisfaction of making friends with Marat, who apologised for having called him a mouchard under a false impression, and embraced him as a “bon enfant.” Cloots a few nights afterwards justified himself at the Jacobins against the ministerial attack. He was surrounded by all the members of the Mountain, who declared he had saved the country. It was at no little cost to himself, however, that Cloots had taken up his position definitely as a Sans-Culotte and Mountainist. The doors of the wealthy houses he used to visit at, and where he had many friends to whom he was personally attached, were henceforth closed to him. He had to break with almost all the set who had before regarded him as an amiable crank. The journals in which he used to write now became impossible for him. The Girondists and Moderates were his bitterest enemies, but he had the proud feeling that he helped to save the unity of France and the “idea of the propaganda.” He began to occupy himself with organising the foreign Legion and drawing up further addresses to the Dutch and Belgians. On the occasion of the king’s trial he voted on each issue with the majority. Active work in the Convention on behalf of Paris and the Mountain against the Girondists; pamphlets, addresses, journalism, especially the new Franco-Dutch organ Le Batave occupied his time for the next few weeks. The conflict waxed hotter. The gauntlet was thrown to the Girondists by the Jacobins when the latter elected Marat as their president. Next followed the abortive prosecution of Marat and his triumphal acquittal.

At the beginning of May, Cloots was prostrated by a severe gastric attack accompanied by fever, doubtless brought on, in part, at least, by the strain of excitement and overwork in which he was living. For nearly a month he was confined to his bed in a more or less unconscious or delirious state. He recovered to find the Revolution of the second of June, 1793, an accomplished fact. Surely his dreams were now about to be realised! Paris had triumphed, and, in spite of the treachery of generals and ministers, the boundaries of the great French Republic would yet be extended to the Scheldt and the Rhine. The reorganised Paris Commune with Hébert and Chaumette at its head, and with Pache as mayor, was in many ways the principal public body in France. But the Convention had appointed two Committees, a Committee of Public Safety, to whom the ministers were responsible, and a larger Committee of General Security. These Committees were the power to which the Convention delegated the executive authority. They were at first provisional, but their powers were afterwards prolonged and increased. Robespierre, the old Constitutionalist and now Mountainist Barère, St. Just, and Carnot were amongst the members of the former Committee. Robespierre now began to show himself in his true colours, and he soon became the leading spirit in the executive. His vanity, priggishness, and lack of all ideal led him to give ear to the blandishments of a certain Soulavie, who, at that time, represented the French Republic at Geneva. This personage, who was an ex-Jesuit, persuaded Robespierre that it was necessary for the conclusion of peace that France should immediately show her intention of abandoning all thought, once for all, of an aggressive war; should restrain her frontiers within the old limits; and, finally, should keep the revolutionary spirit within such bounds as would render it acceptable to the reactionary powers. This view was adopted by Barère, and acquiesced in by the other members of the Committee of Public Safety. Hence, in spite of divergence of view as regards internal political organisation, the party of Robespierre was just as anxious for a patched-up peace on the basis of subservience to the foreign coalition as the now proscribed and imprisoned Girondists had been. Meanwhile, affairs on the frontiers became desperate. Mainz had been surrendered to the Prussians; Valenciennes and Condé had fallen into the hands of the English and Austrians; the road to Paris was once more open to Brunswick; in short, the military situation at the end of August, 1793, appeared if anything still more desperate than it had been the same time the previous year. Result: the terror once more “the order of the day,” this time however, so far as Paris was concerned, not taking the form of massacres, but of a suddenly increased activity of the guillotine. Suspicion and the wildest of alarmist reports were matters of course; hope, fear, desperation, alternating and mingling in the vortex of political excitement made men tigers like Carrier, or crazed fanatics like Lebon. But amid all the horrors of the time, and the temporary eclipse of the dawning hopes of a sudden and indefinite extension of the frontiers of Sans-Culottism, there was one bright streak rapidly widening on the horizon which compensated for everything else in the eyes of the “Orator of the Human Race” – and this was the growing renunciation by all classes of the Christian faith and the open adoption of Reason as the basis of belief. Cloots, now installed by the Mountain as member of the Committee of Education, was daily busy in formulating a scheme of instruction according to the principles of Reason and the Revolution. He felt this no less important than his speeches and action in the Convention itself. But the most striking event in which Anacharsis at this time took part was the inauguration of the worship of Reason, in which, in conjunction with the Hébertist party, he was the leading spirit. From September onwards, the number of clerical resignations and of renunciations by public bodies of Catholicism augmented daily. At last the Commune agreed to demand the institution of a great public fête to celebrate the installation of Reason and freedom of conscience, in the place occupied by God and the Church. The twentieth of the newly instituted month, Brumaire, was selected as the day of celebration. The movement received a further edge from the news arriving that the Vendéan insurgents had re-united with the Bretons, and in the name of King and Church had crossed the Loire with the intention of marching on to Paris. The very same evening at eleven o’clock, Anacharsis, fresh from a crowded meeting of the Jacobins, in which the abolition of the “cult” had been enthusiastically resolved upon, accompanied by two other deputies, proceeded to the residence of Gobel, the Archbishop of Paris, to demand his abjuration of the Christian faith, or, at least, of his public functions. Gobel knew that the Commune had decreed the seizure of Church property, and that in accordance with this decree large quantities of Church plate had already been sent in for public purposes; so, after a moment’s hesitation, he agreed, having first stipulated that he should summon his chapter. Cloots and his friends next proceeded to the Pantheon, the ci-devant Church of St. Genevieve, for the purpose of destroying the statue of the saint. Next morning they again visited the archbishop. This time he received them surrounded by his chapter, who by fourteen votes to three had decided in favour of abdication and of joining the fête. Anacharsis hurried off to the Commune to inform Chaumette of the good news. The latter did not know the Orator personally, although he esteemed his views. The two men embraced each other for the first time, and the son of the vine-dresser and of the privy counsellor of the King of Prussia – Anaxagoras Chaumette, and Anacharsis Cloots – went arm in arm to the council of the department, where the councillors departmental and municipal were to muster for the procession to the Convention. Gobel and his chapter they found already en route. Arrived at the Convention, a strange scene presented itself. The archbishop and his chapter, bonnetrouge on head, were at the bar of the Convention formally laying down their insignia of office – cross, ring, mitre, and Gothic box – Gobel renouncing in a few words the functions of the Catholic cultus. Other clergy followed in the same strain. Chaumette demanded that the Committee of public instruction should appoint a day in the recently instituted calender to be dedicated to Reason. The president then announced the establishment of the new religion: “The Supreme Being only requires the practice of social and moral virtues: such is his religion. He desires no cult but that of Reason. This shall be henceforth the National Religion.” He then embraced the ex-archbishop. A crowd more clergy followed declaring their renunciation of the old faith, and in many cases also of the pensions attached to their functions. The hall was brought down by tumultuous applause from the popular tribunes. Cloots and his friends of the Commune were in ecstasies. The former hurried off to proclaim the joyful news to the Committee of Public Safety. He burst in upon Robespierre and his colleagues at the Pavilion Flore with a torrent of enthusiasm, describing the events that had taken place. To his intense astonishment he was greeted with a marked coolness. Robespierre even ventured to take him to task for alienating the Belgians by the insult to the Catholic faith. A brief altercation ensued which ended in the “Incorruptible” turning his back upon our Orator, muttering at the same time the word “masquerades.” The cold-blooded traitor was already contemplating the destruction of the advanced section of the Revolutionary party, whose consistency and idealism stood in the way of his own ambitious plans. How could he become the head of a regenerated middle-class France, so long as foreign enthusiasts were preaching the extension of frontier in the interests of the Republic of the Human Race, and fanatics, native and foreign alike, were disestablishing the Church in the interests of an atheistic cultus? Cloots was depressed on leaving the Committee, but the enthusiasm he everywhere encountered soon raised his spirits again. The new movement for the time being carried all before it. The extension of the frontier to the Rhine and the universal establishment of the new religion were for the nonce the rallying-cry all round. The coolness and veiled opposition of the Robespierre-party became a subject of general comment. The Commune, indeed, declared the Committee of Public Safety to have become a public danger, inasmuch as it refused to keep pace with the Revolution. In the midst of the apparent triumph of Sans-Culottism, the cloud no bigger than a man’s hand, destined to destroy it, was already spreading. The great fête of the twentieth of Brumaire, however, was not only held as all the world knows in Paris, but was the inauguration of similar fêtes throughout the length and breadth of Revolutionary France during the ensuing weeks. The allegorical figure of the goddess of reason, which has so often been ridiculed, was really a piece of symbolism fully in accordance with the imitative classicism of eighteenth century thought. The idea, when properly carried out, must have been the occasion of a pleasant pageant.

As soon as the first excitement had died down a little, Robespierre and the Committee-men began taking their measures. The immediate aim of the “Incorruptible” was to win over the Jacobins Club in which he had a considerable number or partizans. The Cordeliers Club was hopelessly on the side of the Sans-Culottists, and henceforward became their chief stronghold. But Anacharsis was just now at the height of his influence. In spite of Robespierre and his friends he had been elected to the presidency of the Jacobins. In this capacity, on the reception of Chalier, the president of the Lyons branch of the Club, he proclaimed: “One day all patriots will unite for the maintenance of the Universal Republic, and the welfare of their brothers! What do I say? They will all be brothers, and the Universe will be but one temple, having the firmament for its dome!” But while the “Orator of the Human Race” was expounding these doctrines in the Rue St. Honoré, Robespierre was unfolding his scheme of foreign policy at the Tuilleries, speciously promising peace and a return of prosperity as a reward for what was tantamount to handing over to him complete control of the reins of power. Outside the Convention hall he was supported by the bulk of the middle classes, especially the shopkeepers, who dreaded the “excesses” of the popular party, and who found their businesses at a standstill.

It was getting patent indeed to everyone that the idealistic views and aspirations of Cloots and the Hébertist party, which were shared in by the bulk of the working-class population of Paris and the large towns, were inconsistent with the “respectable” subservient policy which the Committee led by Robespierre was bent on pursuing. The Committee began, tentatively at first, to follow out the plan of immolating its antagonists by the arrest of two questionable deputies, Chabot and Basire. The Committee-men were supported in the Convention and the press by what constituted now the extreme wing of the moderate party, the Dantonists. The destruction of Cloots was the next thing determined on by the “Incorruptible” as an urgent act of grace towards the powers, especially Prussia, which was supposed to be more favourable to France than Austria. Reports were industriously circulated as to Cloots being a foreign agent, whose design was to ruin France by inducing her to enter upon impracticable schemes of foreign conquest which would lay her territories open to invasion; and also through apparent zeal for the Revolution to discredit it by excesses.

The first thing to do was to get him out of the Jacobins Club. Accordingly Robespierre obtained a resolution for its purification from members who, on investigation, might prove undesirable. On the evening of the sitting, when the obnoxious members were to be challenged, two hours before the time of opening, the doors were besieged by an excited crowd. As much as twenty livres were offered for a seat. The spacious hall in the Rue St. Honoré was thronged with Philosophers, Jacobins, Federalists, and Dantonists. Cloots was there betimes surrounded by Mountainist deputies and partizans of the Commune. “Purification” commenced; several members having been challenged, some passing the ordeal, others being excluded, it came to the turn of Robespierre. He ascended the tribune, but (bad augury for Cloots) was allowed to descend again amid a storm of applause without even being interrogated. At last Cloots was called upon. The usual questions as to name, birthplace, occupation, etc., having been answered amid a breathless silence, a Robespierreist voice from the middle of the hall was heard to croak: “I like Anacharsis much, I esteem his public spirit, but I could wish to have some explanation as to his relations with Vandenhyver.” Vandenhyver was the banker through whom Cloots had received his allowance during his student years, and who had been recently guillotined on the ground of Royalist intrigue with Du-Barry. Cloots quickly and conclusively showed what his relations with Vandeallyver had been. He had just concluded when the great “Incorruptible” himself rose to his feet, and in a poisonous harangue carefully adapted to stimulate the suspicions and prejudices of an excited Paris audience, he denounced his victim as a Prussian baron who had been in the habit of visiting the counter-revolutionary enemies of France. He next proceeded to attack the movement against the “cult” of which he sought to show Cloots to have been the mainspring. This movement, he declared, tended by its violence to jeopardise the entire Revolution. The interview of Cloots with the Committee on the day of the abdication of Gobel was then brought up against him. In lachrymose tones the arch hypocrite talked about his mission and that of the Committee being finished if such traitors as Cloots were permitted to work in their midst. “Cloots,” he wound up, “is a Prussian; I have traced the history of his political life for you. Pronounce!” The Orator was dumfounded at this succession of foul blows. Immense excitement reigned throughout the hall. Cloots was about to rise in reply, when from the middle of the audience a proposition was made for which urgency was demanded – a proposition to exclude from the society bankers, foreigners, nobles, to which were added by a piece of clever trickery designed to throw dust in the eyes of the Sans-Culottes – priests. The motion was hurriedly put and carried. Anacharsis found himself expelled from the society without having had the chance of saying a word in his own defence. The affair had been arranged with a fiendish ingenuity by one of the greatest masters in political roguery the world has ever seen.

Cloots, although staggered, did not by any means give way to despair; he busied himself as much as ever with his work on the Committee of Public Instruction, and drew up a report which he printed and distributed in the Convention. The next point for the Committee-men to gain was the expulsion of Cloots from the Convention itself. Needless to say, Cloots had published a conclusive reply to the accusations of Robespierre, but this did not hinder the agents of the Committee from repeating these accusations in journals which were in their pay, with every fresh colouring which malice could devise. The view was now openly put forward that deputies who were by birth foreigners ought to be no longer allowed to take part in the proceedings of the Legislature. In his Appel au genre Humain, perhaps the most brilliant of his pamphlets which he now gave to the world, he reviewed the whole of his public career from the beginning of the Revolution. It was all of no avail. On the fifth of the month, Nivose, Robespierre himself was in the tribune of the Convention, reading a report of the Committee on the principles of Revolutionary Government. “It is the function of Constitutional Government,” he said, “to conserve: it is the function of Revolutionary Government to found.” For the first time the doctrines of the Robespierrean despotism were formulated from the tribune of the Convention. Robespierre proceeded to justify the necessity of a strong executive by comparing the State to a vessel sailing between two rocks, Moderation on the one hand and Excess on the other. Turning towards Anacharsis he said,

“The two extremes meet. Nothing so much resembles the apostle of federalism and disintegration as the unseasonable preacher of the ‘Republic, one and universal.’ The friend of kings and the advocate-general of the Human Race understand each other sufficiently well.”

Anacharsis turned pale with indignation as he heard the same calumnies he had so thoroughly refuted in the Appel and elsewhere, being served up again for the delectation of his enemies without the slightest hint of their truth ever having been called in question. Robespierre continued to develop his theory of an organised foreign conspiracy in Paris, of which he professed to hold the threads. Barère followed in the same strain, finishing by demanding that all foreigners should be prohibited henceforth from speaking or voting in the Convention. This motion was carried practically without any further discussion, and thus Cloots just found himself for a second time the victim of a carefully-woven plot of the Robespierre-Barère conspiracy.

Two days later Anacharsis with an abstracted air might have been seen walking briskly past the Place de la Revolution, where stood the ominous instrument of the Terror. He stood for a moment and then passed on at an increased pace into the Champs Elysées. His gloomy forebodings as to his fate were suddenly checked by the sight of two little children sitting by the side of the road and spelling out the words of a school-book. His eyes suddenly filled with tears; he seized the children and covered them with kisses. His work then had not all been in vain! That education, without which true freedom was impossible, and which he had had his share in bringing within reach of the young, would bear its fruit yet! For a few moments he forgot everything but his faith in the future of mankind, though as he returned past the Place de la Revolution towards his own residence in the Hotel de Brionne, the thought of the Committees and of the scoundrel who was conspiring to destroy all that for him made the Revolution worth having and worth living for, can hardly fail to have overwhelmed him again. That same evening he was arrested under a mandate issued by the Committee of General Security – a mandate which coupled his name with that of Thomas Paine.

The Royalist and Robespierreist journals brutally crowed over the fall of Cosmopolitanism in the person of the “Orator of the Human Race,” and the triumph of French Chauvinism. The Parisian Sans-Culottists, the Hébertists headed by the Cordeliers Club with its branches throughout the country, rose up in indignation at the incarceration of their leaders – for Ronsin and Vincent had also been arrested. The Declaration of the “Rights of Man,” hung up in the hall of the Cordeliers, was veiled with a black cloth emblematic of the displeasure of the popular party at the conduct of the Committees, conduct which they incorrectly attributed principally to the influence of the Dantonist party, who had for some time past been vehemently agitating in favour of the abolition of Revolutionary Government, and of “Moderation” generally. So threatening did matters become, that the Committees were forced by pressure of public opinion and the dread of imminent insurrection to release Ronsin and Vincent, and to promise to release Cloots and others within a few days. Negotiations between the Sans-Culottists and the Government were carried on through the Cordeliers Club, the Commissioner Collet d’Herbois who had recently returned from the provinces, and been added to the Committee of Public Safety, serving as go-between. The matter took on more or less the complexion of a quarrel between two great clubs, the Dantonists and the party of the Government preponderating at the Jacobins. At last the Cordeliers were beguiled by promises, for the fulfilment of which they neglected to obtain any guarantees, into removing the veil from the Declaration of the “Rights of Man,” and communicating this fact to the departments. The Robespierreist league now pulled itself together. On the night of the twentieth of Nivose, in direct contravention of the pledges given to the Cordeliers, the matter was decided in full Committee, and Fouquier Tinville, the public prosecutor, summoned to receive orders. Hébert, Vincent, Ronsin, Momoro, were decreed accused, as a first instalment in the holocaust of Sans-Culottism. In vain the Cordeliers protested. The Government had succeeded in inspiring the partizans of Sans-Culottism with panic. In a few days all the leaders who had been in tile van of the revolutionary movement were under lock and key. Most were taken to the Conciergerie, but Ronsin and some others were sent to join Anacharsis Cloots at St. Lazare. Meanwhile the Committee-men and their partizans among the Jacobins began with increased fury to pour forth their deluge of calumnies against the prisoners now deprived of all means of defence. It was even hoped by their friends that in the very absurdity of the accusations levelled against them lay their best hope of acquittal. The masses of the populace were sought to be appeased by statements industriously circulated that the destruction of Sans-Culottism and the “nationalising” of the Revolution meant the return of peace, and the end of the privations they were then suffering from famine.

Fouquier Tinville, who had been fairly staggered at the task assigned him, and who found the difficulties of drawing up any plausible act of accusation against men whose zeal and devotion to the cause of the Revolution were so notorious, to exceed even his powers, was constantly resorting to the Committee for guidance. Robespierre now hit upon the plan made famous in the later period of the Terror, that namely of consolidating the indictment of a number of persons into one act of accusation. This was the first case in which the above procedure was adopted. The prisoners to be arraigned in the present trial were composed chiefly, though not entirely, of the party of the Commune, i.e., of the Cordeliers Society, a few nondescript shades of Moderatism being dexterously included. It was on the first of Germinal that the accused, nineteen by the tale, were brought before the Revolutionary Tribunal. Amongst them was the Dutch banker, De Kock, father of the novelist Paul de Kock, who besides having helped to found the propagandist journal Le Batave, had devoted an enormous fortune to the support of the armies and the cause of the Revolution generally. It was at his house in the environs of Paris that Hébert, Anacharsis and other leaders of Sans-Culottisrn used frequently to meet for friendly discussion. Anacharsis and some of the others still believed in the integrity of the jury, but Ronsin and Vincent saw that a terrorism had been set up which rendered all chance of escape hopeless.

The accusations, vague enough, were supported by depositions of an equally ridiculous character. Every time anything was said which might tell in favour of the prisoners, or which might implicate other persons whom it was not convenient to prosecute, the witnesses were promptly cut short by the president, Dumas. Cloots, although included in the general indictment of having conspired to overthrow the Republic in the interests of Royalism and of the foreign powers, was but little referred to individually in the course of the proceedings. The only fact that was seriously alleged against him was that he had some months before, out of good-nature, endeavoured to procure the liberation of a woman who was in prison as a suspect. The trial lasted in all three days, and thirty-six witnesses were heard. The last day the public galleries were crowded with Moderates of all shades, with Robespierreists and with Jacobin partizans of the Committee, who howled down the accused the moment they attempted to say anything in their defence, and hailed every accusation with cries of “To the guillotine.” Charged towards the close of the day’s proceedings with having treacherously plotted with his theory of a “Universal Republic,” Cloots replied:

“Citizens, the Universal Republic is in the system of nature. As for suspecting me to be the partizan of kings merely because I have declared myself the enemy of them all, you dare not do it.”

On some dispute occurring between two of his comrades, when the victims were brought back to the prison, Anacharsis conjured them in the name of fraternity in death, like himself, to sleep their last night on earth in the quiet of a good conscience. The following morning they were again brought up before the tribunal, but the proceedings on this occasion were little more than formal. At mid-day they were all declared guilty and sentenced to death without respite. Amidst the declarations of innocence which proceeded from some of the prisoners, the voice of Cloots was heard exclaiming – “I appeal from your sentence to the Human Race, but like Socrates I will drink the hemlock with pleasure.” “The Republic is dead,” said Hébert to Ronsin. “It is immortal,” replied the general.

Late the same afternoon the tumbrils were to be seen forcing their way through dense and disorderly crowds, egged on to every form of insult against the occupants by the partizans of Robespierre, to the Place de la Revolution. Hébert was in the first cart bathed in tears. Cloots was on the last, calm and at times even smiling. The indecent jubilation of the Dantonists, headed by the young journalistic ruffian, Camille Desmoulins, over the downfall of all that was purest and best in the revolutionary movement was not of long duration. Robespierre and the Committee men, in making an end of Sans-Culottisin and the advanced section of Revolutionists, did not intend compromising themselves with the Parisian populace, by getting tarred with the ultra-Moderatism and highly-dangerous, because ill-concealed, intrigues of the Dantonist party. The latter, moreover, were becoming extremely inconvenient to the Government, especially to Robespierre, for while as friends they tended to compromise him with the populace, as enemies they stood in the way of his ambition. They were destined soon to find out the nature of the man whom they had flattered, and who, until quite recently, had professed the warmest friendship for them. He suddenly rounded on them, and in a few days all the chief leaders of the party, including Danton and his lieutenant, Camille, followed the Hébertists to the national scaffold. Both sides alike prophesied that they should be avenged on Robespierre, a prediction which fulfilled itself four months later. Both parties were to Robespierre “unseasonable” (intempestatif) – the first, because by what he deemed their revolutionary excesses, they stood in the way of the diplomatic relations he was endeavouring to establish with the powers, and which he fondly hoped would make him the Washington of France; and because their whole tendency, as exemplified in their drastic application of the law of maximum, was obnoxious to the merchants, shopkeepers, fore-stallers, market-riggers, army-contractors, and middle-classes generally, of whose cause Robespierre had latterly constituted himself the especial champion. The second, if for no other reason, because their importunate demands for what practically amounted to a general amnesty, and the total cessation of the Terror, did not, by any means, fit in with his plans for getting rid of his opponents. But the attempt of the “Incorruptible” to moderate the Revolution by throwing the heads of the leading Revolutionists to the coalition was a conspicuous failure. In spite of the martyrdom of her rebellious son, Prussia did not detach herself from the alliance, and the war continued as before. With the middle-classes at home Robespierre was more successful. The merchants, shop-keepers, fore-stallers, and market-riggers, accepted him, not unwillingly, as their bulwark against Sans-Culottism. He was, at all events for them, the lesser of two evils. As soon as the frontiers were clear, they tossed aside their wretched instrument, who at last reaped the just reward of his toadyism and villainy. Unfortunately, seen through the reaction which followed his fall, this blight and canker of the Revolution had the good fortune to acquire the halo of a doubly false reputation. On the one hand he was abused by reactionary writers as the embodiment of the very thing he attacked, Sans-Culottism, simply because he had not dared to go to the full length of abolishing the maximum, and because in his own personal interest he had systematically abused, for his own purposes, the system which the true Sans-Culottes had been only anxious to use against proven traitors during a period of crisis. On the other side he has been lauded by certain callow rhetoricians and popular political essayists as the incarnation of the “people’s cause,” because, forsooth, he was followed by reactionists, who found it possible to go greater lengths than he in the work of “moderating” and “nationalising” the Revolution.

William Morris once said to me that he regarded Jean Calvin as “quite the worst man that has ever lived.” I would pair with the name of Jean Calvin, in this distinction, that of Maximilien Robespierre. The old French province of Picardy assuredly deserves the merit of having produced, at an interval of two hundred years, two of the most exquisitely developed scoundrels the world has ever seen – Calvin in the 16th, Robespierre in the 18th, century. Both alike were redolent of cant; Calvin sniffed the theological cant of the 16th century, with its Christian bigotry and asceticism; Robespierre the political cant of the 18th century, with its Rousseauite intolerance and affectation of Roman austerity. Both alike were bloodless, bilious, blear-eyed abortions – crosses between the fish and the human – who owed the reputation they gained with simpletons for “clean-living,” “purity,” and “incorruptibility,” in a great measure to this very fact. Shakspere must surely have had these two precious Picards in the view of his prophetic soul when he spoke of the “treacherous, kindless villain.” Poor Anacharsis Cloots had the misfortune to fall into the jaws of the second of these monsters, as poor Michael Servet did into those of the first.

The two central ideas for which Anacharsis Cloots lived and suffered martyrdom were those of Internationalism and of Free-Thought. It was Voltaire that gave him his stimulus rather than Rousseau. Willing, though he was, to sacrifice his fortune, and, what is more, willing though he was that the fortune of his class should be sacrificed in the cause of the Revolution, supporter though he was of the drastic application of the maximum with a view of alleviating the miseries of the working-classes during the crisis, as well as of forcible requisitions on the property of the rich for the support of the armies – it is nevertheless plain that he did not appreciate the significance of economics as the cornerstone of historical progress any more than did his equally well-meaning contemporaries, Hébert, Chaumette, Vincent, and the rest. The conception of a classless society, it is evident from various passages in his writings, had not so much as dawned upon him. The only economic ideal he had, was probably that of a system of peasant proprietorship which should ensure a competence for all, combined with a public opinion which should compel the wealthy to voluntarily devote the greater part of their riches to public purposes. This view he held simply because no other had been pointed out to him, and the conditions of contemporary industry did not allow him to see any other. He believed, what well-nigh all thinkers believed before Karl Marx, that the ground-work of historic evolution was political and speculative, rather than social and economic. For him the “universal republic,” with Paris, the home of the “new culture,” as its Metropolis, in which all distinction of nationality should disappear, and the whole human family should constitute one people – in conjunction with the destruction of supernatural religions, and the establishment on their ruins of an atheistic cultus (as represented by the worship of Reason, having its head-quarters in Paris) – would, he thought, alone suffice to put an end to oppression, misery, and war, and to inaugurate the new era of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. These principles he kept steadily before him throughout Ins whole public career, without swerving or compromise of any kind whatever, and for them he sacrificed his energies, his fortune, and finally his life. It was in their interest he unceasingly advocated a war of propaganda which should extend the frontiers of what was ultimately to become the World Republic without delay and as far as possible. He abhorred the notion of the temporary and patched-up peace which the Girondists and the Robespierreists were alike anxious to obtain, at the price of sacrificing to the reactionary powers abroad and to the reactionary classes at home the central principles of the Revolution by reducing it to the proportions of a mere change in the form of French government.

The merit of the “Orator of the Human Race” consists in his having been the first to formulate Cosmopolitanism as a principle, and his having been at least one of the first to insist on the definite abandonment by the people collectively of supernatural creeds and cults as an essential condition of liberty and progress. Before the French Revolution, emancipation from priestcraft and dogma had been the special privilege of the aristocratic and well-to-do classes, a privilege which they were zealous of vindicating for themselves against the “common people,” as all eighteenth-century literature bearing upon the subject shows. Free-thought was henceforth to become incorporated in the great popular movement of European progress. Cloots, as already indicated, failed to see that the principles of Internationalism and Rationalism, upon whose connexion with the great revolutionary ideal of popular sovereignty he so justly insisted, had their roots in the existing economic conditions of society. He failed to distinguish between the “third estate” and the “people.” For him, as for the vast majority of his contemporaries, there were but two opposed classes – the first represented by kings, priests, and nobles, and the second by all who were not kings, priests, and nobles. The antagonism even between these two classes was for him largely a political one, such economical inequalities as existed being based essentially on political inequality and destined to pass away with the abolition of the latter. He could not see that the political privileges of the first and second estates were simply the sign and seal of a fundamental economical privilege, and that that very “third estate,” which. seemed to so many, indeed more or less to all, to have identical interests with the whole of the people, was already constituting itself a privileged class, prepared to step into the place left vacant by the deposition of the feudal classes – and further, that “popular sovereignty,” “cosmopolitanism,” and the “empire of reason,” would only be so far tolerated as they did not compromise the material interests, real or supposed, of the new class – so long as that new class remained the dominant power in the State. But these defects of intellectual vision were incident to the period in which he lived, and do not in any way detract from the interest attaching to our Orator as a typical figure of French Revolutionary life.

What strikes one in him, as in many writers and thinkers of the period, as compared with ourselves in this present century-end, is the singular and almost child like naiveté of his enthusiasm. Our enthusiasm to-day, even when at its highest, is always “sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.” The century which divides us from the French Revolution has made the world old in a sense in which not even a millennium had done before. As a consequence, what to the mind of the “age of reason,” which could see nothing in the future of humanity but the glow of a breaking summer’s day, appeared full of life and reality, seems to us often but turgid rhetoric or vapid bombast. Let us think of this when we look back on the martyr-Orator, and we shall forgive him for calling himself the “Orator of the Human Race,” for talking about drinking the hemlock with Socrates, and for many another eighteenth-century flourish! We shall none the less honour him as one of the indirect precursors of the working-class movement of modern times, and we shall love him as the single-minded hero and apostle of two great ideas, which will assuredly one day be realised, although not, perhaps, precisely in the manner he expected.


Last updated on 14.1.2006