Ernest Belfort Bax

Jean-Paul Marat
The People’s Friend

Chapter VIII
Marat as Adviser to the First Paris Communes and Deputy of the National Convention
(Part 1)

WE have seen Marat emerge from his cellar on the day after the Revolutionary crisis, i.e. on the 11th of August. The Revolution had suddenly taken a leap forward; the Legislative Assembly and the reinstated Girondin Ministry represented the Government of France, but Paris on the eve of the momentous day formed a momentous resolution. The Sections, the Patriotic Societies, all that was politically revolutionary in the capital, were determined to take a decisive step. But to take this step it was necessary that Revolutionary Paris should have its organ: the old Municipal Council of Paris, with all that belonged to it, was hopelessly, and even aggressively, reactionary. The Municipality therefore offered itself for attack. Accordingly, on the night of the 9th to the 10th of August, the old occupants of the Hotel de Ville were driven out or killed, and delegates of Revolutionary Paris were installed in the Municipal headquarters. The Jacobins and the Cordeliers were now masters. It is this new body, ostensibly municipal, but really national in its work, to which accrued the task of tiding France over a period of six weeks which elapsed between the overthrow of the monarchy on the 10th of August and the opening of the National Convention on the 20th of September. It was the new governing power – the old governing power, the Ministry and the Assembly being now looked upon as weak and unsatisfactory. The one man who redeemed this effete ministry from incapacity was the Revolutionary giant Danton. Danton was now officially Minister of justice; unofficially he was the executive itself, as Mr. Belloc has justly observed (Danton, a Study, p.172). Marat, on appearing once again in the upper daylight of Paris, was almost immediately invited to assist the new governing body with his advice, and, as we are told, he had a special tribune assigned to him. The journal, however, did not appear for the next two days. In the meantime Marat had been granted the right to seize the old royal printing plant of the now defunct Châtelet. The first number of the Ami after the 10th, dated the 13th, treats of the proposed election of a National Convention-a measure which, as we have seen, Marat had been among the first to urge. He claimed for the new Assembly direct election, the exclusion of all those who had held any privileged post and of the members of the existing Legislature from the right of candidature. Marat’s great political object was now the close watching o£ the action of the effete Assembly, which he regarded as the main source of danger. It was above all things hostile to the new Commune. Hence the constant denunciation on the part of the “People’s Friend.” “You, worthy compatriots of the Sections of Paris, true representatives of the people, beware of the snares that these perfidious deputies lay for you; beware of their honeyed expressions; it is to your enlightened and courageous citizenship that the capital owes in part the success of her inhabitants and the country will owe her triumph” (Ami, No.678). In No.679 we have the following advice: “Guard the King from view, put a price on the heads of the fugitive Capets, arm all the citizens, form a camp near Paris, press forward the sale of the goods of the ‘emigrants,’ and recompense the unfortunates who have taken part in the conquest of the Tuileries, invite the troops of the line to name their officers, guard the provisions, do not miss a word of this last advice, press the judgment of the traitors imprisoned in the Abbaye; ... if the sword of justice do at last but strike conspirators and prevaricators, we shall no longer hear popular executions spoken of, cruel resource which the law of necessity can alone commend to a people reduced to despair, but which the voluntary sleep of the laws always justifies.” Here we have an application of Marat’s Rousseauite principles, which was destined to bear fruit a fortnight later, in the September massacres. But Marat was by no means alone in this view. Danton at the same moment was urging from the tribune the necessity of the prompt appointment of a court to try traitors, as the only alternative to the popular justice of the streets.

Marat was now assiduous in his attendance at the Commune, although never formally a member. For a whole month his public activity here and elsewhere prevented him from finding time for the issue of more than four numbers of the Ami du Peuple. In one of these (No.680), bearing date the 17th of August, he denounces vigorously the action of the Legislature, in postponing the trial of the Royalist conspirators of the 10th of August, whose numbers were daily increasing in the prisons. The Commune, doubtless acting on the advice of Marat, seconded his endeavours by sending three deputations to the Assembly, the last of which pointed out, that if the court were not formed in a few days, something serious would happen in Paris. The Assembly did not hurry the matter forward, and the something serious was, as history tells, what came to pass. That the September massacres were directly the result of the efforts of the Moderate party to screen men who were openly plotting the overthrow of the Revolution is plain enough. The Moderatist and Girondist Assembly hesitated at making a few examples of even the most notorious of these plotters. The crisis in the war, long foreseen by Marat and others, was now becoming more acute every day. On the east, the Germans were at the very frontier of France, which lay practically open before them. The peasant insurrection in the west in La Vendée, the aim of which was to restore Royalism and the Ancien Régime generally, had already begun. Between this Scylla and Charybdis lay Paris, the monarchy overthrown indeed, but the city crowded with monarchists, whose one aim in life now was to re-establish the King in all his old functions, even with the aid of foreign bayonets. These conspirators were openly rejoicing in the misfortunes of France, boasting what they would do when the foreign troops had entered Paris and when the King had received his own again and had bestowed upon them the hoped-for reward for their treachery to the Revolution. Brunswick had issued his insolent manifesto to the French nation. Lafayette had fled across the frontier, and been declared hors de la loi. Both he and Delon were known to be in communication with the enemy, with the view to assisting their march on Paris. News had arrived of the fall of Longwy, that was, of the only obstacle to the march of the victorious allies on Paris. The Ministry was considering the propriety of leaving Paris, which they regarded as hopelessly lost. This would undoubtedly have been carried out, had it not been for the crushing opposition of Danton. The Commune and the Sections of Paris, between them, had established a Comité de Surveillance, with power to add to its numbers. Into this committee Marat was co-opted.

Meanwhile the Commune’s activity and Danton’s in the arrest of suspected persons had been untiring within the last few days. The prisons were now full; but the Committee, of which Marat was the most influential member, took the step of withdrawing from the prisons those of whose guilt, in its opinion, there was any reasonable doubt. Marat and the rest saw what was coming; the last straw to break the patience of Paris was the acquittal on Friday the 31st of August of Montmarin, the late Governor of Fontainebleau. Montmarin was notoriously and openly a courtier, who wished to see the allies in Paris, and his royal master reinstated, and who was proved, beyond the shadow of a doubt, to have been actively engaged in plotting to this end; yet, incredible as it may seem, on being brought to trial, this man was acquitted, and, as if to lend emphasis to the acquittal, the judge himself, descending from the bench, gave him his arm as he walked out of court. This was, of course, a put-up job of the executive authorities. An unsuccessful attempt was even made to deprive the Commune of its powers. The criminal Girondin Ministry had at last forced the crisis. Forty-eight hours later, the notorious September massacres began. Danton, himself, in disgust at the conduct of his ministerial colleagues, turned aside, and devoted himself to enrolling volunteers on the Champs de Mars to resist the tide of invasion, and, with his “daring, again daring, and ever daring,” he was succeeding. Volunteers were indeed rolling up on all hands; but one sentiment was heard among these volunteers also on all hands. “We will go to the front,” said they, “but we will not leave enemies behind us!” This sentiment is the key to the acquiescence of all Paris in the popular executions which ensued.

And now as to the part played by Marat in these events. That he did not with one exception, which we shall notice presently, instigate the massacres directly is perfectly clear. The Sections of Paris had begun to act of themselves. Marat and his Committee of Supervision at most took the control of the movement which had already begun spontaneously ... But did Marat try to prevent the massacres? Did he express disapproval of them? To the first question it must be answered that to prevent or to dam the powerful movement which had now seized the whole of Revolutionary Paris was beyond the power of any man. Roland, Minister of the Interior, could not have done it; even Danton, the Minister of justice, could not have done it. These functionaries would simply have been disregarded, had they issued orders to the Sections to hold their hand. But it may be said that Marat was more powerful for the moment with the Parisian populace than any official organ of the State; this is in a sense true, but his power lay in his being the focus and embodiment of the dominant Revolutionary feeling carried to its logical conclusion. Marat, like any one else, had he opposed this feeling, this popular instinct of self-preservation, would have once and for ever lost his influence. To the second question we must answer with a decided negative. Under all the circumstances which we have given in a few words, Marat did not, and could not, without being false to his oven principles, disapprove of the idea of Justice being meted out by the people themselves to acknowledged traitors, now that governmental justice had by its acts refused to deal with the matter. At the same time, we should emphasise that Marat is only directly responsible for the popular action at one of the prisons, namely, that at the Abbaye. Here is what he says on the subject (Ami, No.680); “What is the duty of the people? The last thing it has to do, and the safest and wisest, is to present itself in arms before the Abbaye, snatch out the traitors, especially the Swiss officers and their accomplices, and put them to the sword. What folly to wish to give them a trial! It is all done; you have taken them in arms against the country, you have massacred the soldiers, why would you spare their officers, incomparably more culpable? The folly is to have listened to the smooth-talkers, who counselled to make of them only prisoners of war. They are traitors whom it is necessary to sacrifice immediately, since they can never be considered in any other light.”

The facts as regards the September massacres are familiar to every reader of history. The mysterious band of from two to three hundred Sansculottes, the long dishevelled hair, the red caps, the pikes! How this band passed from prison to prison during the days and nights of the 2nd to the 4th of September, accomplishing its terrible work of wild justice; the improvised tribunal, the gaunt figure of Maillard, the stormer of the Bastille, and his assessors, trying prisoners by candle-light in the vaults and cellars of the ancient buildings, now being used as houses of detention, – all this is familiar not merely in history, but in romance and drama as well. Verdun was known to be on the eve of falling, and as a matter of fact had fallen on the day previously, and while the so-called massacres were taking place, the tocsin was ringing out the call to the defence of the country, and the volunteers were willing to go, provided the lives of those they left behind them were ensured against the traitors of the capital. Such was the position of affairs, and all Paris knew it, on the day that the massacres began. That Marat’s committee, the Committee of Supervision, which had been appointed by the Commune, and specially charged with the duty of dealing with conspiracies and conspirators, though it did not originate, did to some extent direct, and hence make itself responsible for, the spontaneously arisen movement, may be regarded as certain. But even at the present day, when so much has been unearthed on the subject of the Revolution, we know next to nothing of the details of the affair. Our only direct evidence is confined to two documents. The first is a circular or rescript, issued by the Committee of Supervision, or Committee of Public Safety, as it was also called (which must not, however, be confounded with the great Committee of Government of that name, instituted by the Convention six months later). This Committee, established, as we have seen, by the Commune of Paris, undoubtedly dominated the latter body at the time of which we are writing, acting, in fact, as a kind of executive committee of the Commune; it sat at the Hotel de Ville, and its members consisted of Marat, Panis (the secretary of Danton), Sergent, Duplais, Lenfant, Jourdeuil, Deforgues, Leclerc, Deuffort, and Cally. The rescript in question, which was on the official paper of the Ministry of justice, was sent in the official envelopes of the same department throughout the provinces, and runs as follows; – “Brothers and friends, a frightful plot has been set on foot by the Court to kill all the patriots of the French empire – a plot in which a large number of Members of the National Assembly are compromised. On the 19th of last month, the Commune of Paris having been reduced to the cruel necessity of seizing again the power of the people to save the nation, it has neglected nothing to merit well of the country, as to which an honourable testimony has been given to this effect by the Assembly itself. Who would have thought it since then new plots not less atrocious have been set on foot in silence; they came to light at the same moment that the National Assembly, forgetting that it had declared that the Commune of Paris had saved the country, was hastening to deprive it of its power as a reward for its burning patriotism. At this news the public clamour raised on all sides made the National Assembly feel the urgent necessity of uniting itself to the people, and of returning to the Commune, by the withdrawal of the decree of dissolution, the powers with which it had invested it .... The Commune of Paris hastens to inform its brothers of all departments that a party of ferocious conspirators detained in its prisons has been put to death by the people. These acts of justice have seemed to the people indispensable, in order, by terror, to restrain the legions of traitors hidden within its walls, at the moment when it was about to march on the enemy. Without doubt the entire nation, after the long series of treasons which has brought it to the brink of the abyss, will hasten to adopt a measure so necessary for the public safety, and all Frenchmen will cry with the Parisians; ‘We will march on the enemy; but we will not leave behind us these brigands, to murder our children and wives.’ Brothers and friends, we ourselves expect that a party among you will fly to our aid and assist us to repulse the innumerable satellites of the despot sworn to the destruction of the French nation. Let us join hands in saving the country, and to us will be the glory of having rescued it from the abyss.”

This document was signed by all the members of the Committee, and bears date “Paris, the 3rd of September 1792.” It clearly proves that the signatories to it had no wish to shirk responsibility for the events of the 2nd and 3rd.

The other document referred to is an exculpatory article in No.12 of Marat’s Journal de la République, occasioned by the virulent attacks of the Girondins in the Convention on the Commune, the Committee of Supervision, and above all on Marat himself, with reference to the massacres:-

The disastrous events of the 2nd and 3rd of September, which perfidious and venal persons attribute to the Municipality, has been solely promoted by the denial of justice on the part of the Criminal tribunal which whitewashed the conspirator Montmarin, by the protection thus proclaimed to all others conspirators, and by the indignation of the people, fearing to find itself the slave of all the traitors who have for so long abused its misfortunes and its disasters. They call those brigands who massacred the traitors and scoundrels confined in the prisons. If that were so, Pétion would be criminal for having peaceably left brigands to perpetrate their crimes during two consecutive days in all the prisons of Paris. His culpable inaction would be the most serious crime, and he would merit the loss of his head for not having mobilised his whole armed force to oppose them. He will doubtless tell you, in order to exculpate himself, that the armed force would not have obeyed him, and that all Paris was involved, which is indeed a fact. Let us agree, then, that it is an imposture to make brigands responsible for an operation unhappily only too necessary. It is then because the conspirators have escaped the sword of justice that they have fallen under the axe of the people. Is it necessary to say more to refute the dishonest insinuation, which would make the Committee of Supervision of the Commune responsible for these popular executions? But its justification does not end there. We shall see what the principal members of this Committee have done to prevent any innocent person, any debtor, any one culpable of a trivial offence, being involved in the dangers which threatened great criminals. I was at the Committee of Supervision, when the announcement was made that the people had just seized from the hands of the Guard, and put to death, several refractory priests, accused of plotting, destined by the Committee for La Force, and that the people threatened to enter the prisons. At this news, Panis and myself exclaimed together, as if by inspiration, “Save the small delinquents, the poor debtors, those accused of trivial assaults!” The Committee immediately ordered the different jailers to separate these from the serious malefactors and the counter-revolutionary traitors, lest the people should be exposed to the risk of sacrificing some innocent persons. The separation was already made when the prisons were forced, but the precaution was unnecessary, owing to the care taken by the judges appointed by the people, who exercised the functions of tribunes during the expedition, to inquire into each case and to release all those whom the Committee of Supervision had separated. This is a discrimination the despot would certainly not have exercised had he triumphed on the 10th of August. Such are the facts which oppose themselves to the calumny that has distorted the narrative of the events of the 2nd and 3rd of September.

The foregoing article is given in extenso in this place, owing to the interest attached to this much-debated question, and as tending to show how spontaneous was the action of the Parisian populace on the days in question. The hypocrisy or bad faith of the Girondins, in using the September massacres as a weapon with which to attack Marat, is shown by a speech made on the evening of the 3rd of September by Roland, the Minister of the Interior, in the Assembly. Yesterday was a day over the events of which it is necessary perhaps to draw a veil. I know that the people, terrible in its vengeance, Nevertheless carries with it a kind of justice. It does not take as its victim the first who presents himself to its fury, but it directs the latter upon those whom it believes to have been a long time spared by the sword of the law, and who the peril of the situation persuades it ought to be sacrificed without delay.” This speech is reported in the Moniteur for the 5th of September. It must be acknowledged that the above utterance expresses little else than Marat’s own position in cautious and chosen language. As a matter of fact, no one who has impartially studied the question can for a moment be in doubt that the summary executions of conspirators, outside of the prisons of Paris, on the 2nd and 3rd of September 1792, saved the Revolution and saved France from being crushed and enslaved by the European coalition; saved France from the wholesale butchery of all holding progressive views, which had been many times threatened by the reactionary press, and which was more than hinted at in Brunswick’s manifesto. The number of persons killed in the massacre is usually estimated at 1089, though other statements make it 969; putting it at the highest figure, it can hardly in any case have reached 1200. It was an application of Marat’s principle of striking 500 guilty heads to save 5000 innocent ones. But who were these, at most a thousand odd, “victims” of popular justice? On this point hinges nine-tenths of the horror which the September massacres have excited. They were the noble and the wealthy, and the hangers-on of the noble and the wealthy; most if not all of them had been, directly or indirectly, conspiring to reinstate the deposed King with the aid of an invading army; prepared avowedly not merely to destroy the newly-won liberty, but to take the lives of all who advocated popular freedom and who deprecated a return to the old oppression and corruption. Such as these it was for whom it has been the endeavour of prejudiced historians to excite the sympathy of subsequent generations.

From the Paris of 1792 to the Paris of 1871 is a far cry, but let us compare notes. In the Paris of 1871 there were also massacres, not of a thousand odd, but of a number variously estimated at from twenty to thirty thousand. Here in the enormous majority of cases there was not even the semblance of a trial. In the latter case there was no imminent danger, no army marching on Paris, no plotters inside the city in collusion with that army, but a movement that had been hopelessly crushed. This last-named massacre had not been preceded by newspaper articles, however truculent, or by threats merely, but by the systematic butchery of prisoners of war for a month previously, on the part of the perpetrators of it. Of Marat, as we have seen, it can at most be said that he approved up to a certain point, and endeavoured to control an act which we have no evidence that he directly organised. But who was the official organising personality of the massacre with which we are comparing it? Louis Adolphe Thiers, who made a boast, for weeks before, of the vengeance he was preparing for Paris, and who, when compromise was proposed to the effect that the Government should enter Paris, and not the army, replied, that though it should cost a river of blood, the army should enter first; and yet Louis Adolphe Thiers has never been regarded by “the world” otherwise than as an honourable statesman, whose acts might perhaps be open to criticism, but scarcely to severe censure, let alone to virulent denunciation, such as has been accorded to Jean-Paul Marat for his share in the affair of September 1792. We have seen to what class the victims of 1792 belonged. The thousand odd victims were almost wholly well-to-do hangers-on of the Court. But who were the twenty or thirty thousand victims of 1871? Almost wholly workmen, partisans of a cause avowedly hostile to wealth and privilege, and therefore hated by wealth and privilege. Herein lies the ground of the divergence in the world’s judgment of the two events. If the “world” would only be candid in the matter, and avow openly that it likes well-to-do Royalist plotters and dislikes Proletarian insurgents, we should know where we were, and the issue would at least be clear. But the canting hypocrisy of him who pretends on moral grounds to denounce Marat and his colleagues, without denouncing Thiers and the scoundrels who carried out his policy, in terms a hundred-fold as severe, convicts himself of being a conscious humbug, upon whom argument would be wasted.

The enemy without and the enemy within now alike had been successfully combated, the leading spirit being, as we have seen, in the one case Danton, and in the other Marat. A few days after Danton’s enrolments and the September massacres, the ragged, ill-equipped, raw levies of the Revolution were on their way to the front. The same levies a fortnight later drove the Prussian army back over the frontier in the great cannonade at Valmy on the 20th of September. The volunteers went boldly forward, once they were convinced that they were not leaving traitors behind to endanger the lives of their families. Meanwhile preparations were being made for the elections for the new National Convention.

On the 11th of September, the nomination of Marat was announced as one of the group of Parisian candidates for the forthcoming Legislative body. In vain the Girondins, headed by the Minister of the Interior, Roland himself, threw every obstacle in the way, by means of abuse and otherwise. In vain Roland, on the 13th, issued an address detailing all the offences of which Marat had been guilty – how he had abused the existing Parliament, excited to revolt, denounced ministers and all in authority as traitors, and other things of alike nature. In vain Roland’s wife, in conjunction with other members of the Girondist party, organised paid agents to tear down Marat’s election-addresses. Marat’s candidature was confirmed, and his triumphant election duly followed, he being returned fifth on the Paris list. And now the Ami du Peuple, which since, as for some weeks before the 10th of August, though for different reasons, had only appeared sporadically, definitively ceased to exist, its place being taken by a new publication, entitled Journal de la République française, par Marat, l’Ami du Peuple, député, à la Convention nationale, with a new motto, Ut redeat miseria, abeat fortuna superbis (That misery may be relieved, let the fortune of the wealthiest be reduced). The Girondins, having failed to prevent Marat’s election, now resolved to leave no stone unturned to destroy his political influence abroad, by stifling him in the newly elected body. The party-constitution of the National Convention was as follows. The Girondin party, which now occupied the extreme right, was returned in considerable force by certain of the departments, besides that of the Gironde, whence it took its name. Over against the Girondins, constituting the left, was what was afterwards called the Mountain, from the position it occupied on the upper benches in the great Salle de Manège, where the Convention at first held its sittings. It was mainly composed of the members for Paris, the Parisian Deputation, as it was termed, and it was identical in tone and policy with the popular clubs of Paris, especially the Jacobin Club, of which those composing it were all members. Between these two parties were the Moderates, the so-called party of the “Plain”, or, as they were termed in derision, “Frogs of the marsh”. They did not formally side with either Gironde or Mountain, but professed to keep open minds, and vote on every question as it arose, unshackled by the fetters of party spirit. Their open-mindedness showed itself in the main, as the result proved, by the safe plan of voting for the party which was for the moment in the ascendant. The bulk of them were at heart constitutional bourgeois; but, as stated, they were willing to become the tools of every dominant influence by turn. At first they supported the Girondins, who continued in power under the Convention. This was probably their most genuine attitude so far as the majority of them were concerned, but later on fear led the very same men to support the Mountain against the Girondins, and to sanction by their acquiescence, if not by their active support, every procedure of the dominant man or section of the Mountain in turn. Their chief speaker for the first six months was Barrère, who subsequently became reporter to the Committee of Public Safety. The Plain formed by far the most numerous party, if such it can be called, in the Convention, that of the Mountain being the smallest.

The Convention was constituted on the 20th of September, in the great Salle of the Tuileries, subsequently adjourning to the Riding School. Marat’s colleagues in the Paris Deputation were Robespierre, Danton, Collot d’Herbois, Manuel, Billaud-Varenne, Camille Desmoulins, Lavicomterie, the butcher Legendre, Raffron du Trouillet; Panis, Sergent, Robert, Dussault, Fréron, Beauvais de Préau, the dramatist Fabre d’Eglantine, Osselin, Augustin Robespierre (the younger brother of Maximilien), the painter David, Boucher, Laignelot, Thomas, and Philippe de Bourbon (Duke of Orleans), who now called himself Philippe Egalité. The first sitting was held the following day. It was short, and the principal work done was the formal abolition of Royalty and declaration of the Republic. The sitting of Wednesday the 25th of September was the occasion chosen by the Girondins for their first attack on Marat. It arose on a discussion respecting a decree as to the formation of a bodyguard for the defence of the National Convention. The deputy Merlin stated that there had been talk of certain men perverse enough to advocate a triumvirate or dictatorship, and challenged the Girondin Lasource, whom he stated had made the assertion, to name those to whom he referred. This was the first conflict between the two parties. Lasource took up the challenge, and in a long speech alleged having heard remarks to the effect that two-thirds of the Convention were unworthy of the confidence of the people, also of threats of Parisian Jacobins to poniard certain Girondin deputies, himself included. On this he based his opinion that it was very necessary to have a Guard, composed of men of the departments, to protect the majority of the Assembly against the ferocious populace of Paris. He ended by a plain denunciation of the Mountain. Barbaroux rose and denounced the party of Robespierre by name. Danton then made a speech, attacking Marat for his excesses, and stating his belief that his cellar-life had “ulcerated his soul”; he deprecated, however, denouncing the whole of the Paris Deputation on the ground of the injudicious conduct of one of its members. Other deputies having taken part, Robespierre made a long speech, listened to with great impatience, designed to exculpate himself of the charge of factiousness, and of desiring dictatorship for himself or others. The Marseillais Girondin, Barbaroux, reiterated the accusation against Robespierre, and urging the necessity of the departmental guard for the Convention, accused Panis of having proposed Robespierre for a dictatorship. Panis rose to explain, vehemently denying the accusation of Barbaroux, and justifying his own action and that of the Committee of Supervision.

Finally, Marat demanded to be heard. Thereupon a violent tumult arose with threatening cries. At this moment Marat seemed to be completely isolated, for his colleagues of the Paris Deputation were by no means indisposed take the hint thrown out by Danton, and send him into the wilderness as the scapegoat, on the ground of his vehemence and injudicious utterances prejudicing the whole party of the Left, alike in the Convention and in the country. Amid gesticulating Moderates of all shades, Marat mounted the tribune, and in the face of deafening cries, boldly read out an article in the final number of the Ami du Peuple, in which the “People’s Friend” declares that all his efforts to save the people would seem to be useless without a fresh insurrection. “When I look at the stamp of the majority of the deputies to the National Convention,” says he, “I despair of the public safety. If in the first eight sittings the complete basis of the Constitution is not laid, expect nothing more from your representatives. You are crushed for ever. Fifty years of anarchy await you, and you will not be relieved from it except by a dictator, a true patriot and statesman. Oh people of talkers,” he concludes, “if you only knew how to act!” The few words of this article which Marat could cause to be heard in the general commotion were sufficient to raise a tempest. The whole Convention was thrown into confusion, the Girondins shouting “To the guillotine!” till their throats were hoarse. Amid the general hubbub, a proposition for a decree of accusation against the speaker was understood to have been made. Marat, however, strong in the sense of his honesty, clung to the tribune. Finally Lacroix, on the ground that it was essential that the Convention should have all the light possible on the question before it, obtained a grudging silence for Marat. “Gentleman” began Marat, “I have in this Assembly a great number of personal enemies.” At these words there was renewed tumult, three quarters of the deputies composing the Convention again rising from their seats, yelling, amid violent gesticulations, “All of us! All of us!” Marat calmly waited till there was a lull, when he repeated, “I have in this Assembly a great number of personal enemies. I recall them to modesty. It is not by clamours, menaces, and outrages that you prove an accused man to be guilty; it is not in shouting down a defender of the people that you show him to be a criminal. I return thanks to the hidden hand that has thrown in the midst of you an idle phantom to frighten timid men, dividing good citizens and making odious the Parisian Deputation. I return thanks to my persecutors for having furnished me with an opportunity of opening my mind fully. They accuse certain members of the Paris Deputation of aspiring to the dictatorship, to the triumvirate, to the tribunate. This absurd accusation is only able to find partisans because I form part of this deputation. Well! gentlemen, I owe it to justice to declare that my colleagues, notably Danton and Robespierre, have constantly repudiated all idea of dictatorship, of triumvirate, or of tribunate, when I put it before them; I have myself token many lances with them on this subject.” Marat goes on to remark that he was the first, and probably the only man since the opening of the Revolution, who had openly declared for a triumvirate or dictatorship, as the only means of crushing conspirators. If the opinion is reprehensible, he alone is culpable, and upon him alone should vengeance fall. But at least let him be heard before he is condemned. These objectionable opinions had been printed and freely circulated for three years, and it is now for the first time they are discovered to be so criminal. He has never made any secret of these opinions, but always proclaimed them alike from cellar and from house-top. He goes on to justify them in reviewing the political conditions since the fall of the Bastille. Coming to the accusation of personal ambition, he points out the wealth he might have had from the Court and others, had he been prepared to sell his silence, let alone his pen. In what condition is he now? His appearance is enough to show that during the last three years he had sacrificed health, rest, means, in short, all that makes life worth living. As Mr. Morse Stephens justly observes (French Revolution, vol.ii, p.163), “Jean-Paul Marat who came to sit on the benches of the Convention was a very different man from the Dr. Marat, possessed of a good fortune and a high reputation in scientific circles, the Court physician and the friend of great ladies, who had hailed with joy the convocation of the States-General; and in his slovenly dress and diseased frame could hardly be perceived the former sprucely-attired ladies’ doctor. Only three years had passed since the establishment of the Ami du Peuple, yet a mighty change had been wrought in Marat’s appearance.” “In order to better serve the country, I have braved misery, danger, suffering,” exclaims Marat; “I have been pursued every day by legions of assassins; during three years I have been condemned to a subterranean life; I have pleaded the cause of liberty with my head on the block!” Marat concludes with an exhortation to the Convention not to consume precious time in these scandalous discussions, but to begin at once laying the foundation of the Constitution, of just and free government, which will assure the welfare of the people, “for whom,” says he, I am prepared at any instant to give my life.”

His courage and sincerity, his generosity in boldly taking upon himself the responsibility for an opinion to the utterance of which crowds of deputies were clamouring for the death-penalty to be attached, were not without their effect on the impressionable audience. Murmurs of approbation began to be heard, but were speedily cut short by Vergniaud returning to the charge on ascending the tribune, declaring that he occupied it unwillingly after a man who had several unpurged criminal writs out against him. This remark, which obviously referred to the old mandates of the Châtelet in the Lafayette days, was not discreet on the part of Vergniaud, for sympathy was immediately evoked for the victim of the old tyrannous regime. Finding his sally did not have happy results, Vergniaud tried something else and read over the address already given (pp.207-9) to the departments, issued by the Committee of Supervision on the September massacres. At this there were some cries of “To the Abbaye!” from different sides. Marat once more rises with the greatest coolness, begging the Assembly not to give itself over to an excess of madness. A deputy demands that he should be interpolated purely and simply to avow or disavow the document in question. Continuing, Marat denies the necessity of an interpolation; the old decrees which had been launched against him, at the instance of the Constituent and Legislative Assemblies respectively, had been quashed, said he, by the people themselves in electing him to the Convention; for the rest, he finds his glory and not his shame in them; they were issued against him by the friends of traitors because he had denounced traitors and the enemies of the people. He goes on to demand that the leading articles in the first number of his Journal de la République should be read. This is done by one of the official secretaries present. Marat flatters himself that, having heard this formal expression of his views, the Convention will no longer be in doubt as to the purity of his intentions. As for a retraction of the letter to the departments, and of his principles, no power on earth would be capable of forcing him to this; he can answer for the purity of his heart, but he cannot change his ideas. “Your fury is unworthy of free men, but I fear nothing under the sun”; and at this moment drawing a pistol from his pocket and placing the muzzle to his forehead, Marat declares, “If a decree of accusation had been launched against me, I would have blown my brains out at the foot of this tribune.” This was the result of three years of cellar-life, persecution, and misery. A decree was demanded, forsooth, against those who proposed a dictatorship, triumvirate, or a tribunate – a measure which in the last resort depends upon the people itself, and which, if deemed necessary by the people, will be carried out in spite of the decrees of that or any other Assembly. In voting a law against the sovereign rights of the people, the Convention would only compromise its authority fruitlessly. He concludes by demanding that the Convention should pass to the order of the day pure and Simple. The speech, which had been greeted throughout its course with the expression of varied emotions from the Convention itself, but at times with vehement applause from the public galleries, was received with a perfect ovation at its close. Tallien, the Mountain deputy, supporting Marat’s motion for the order of the day pure and simple, it was carried amid prolonged applause. Thus terminated in Marat’s favour the first pitched battle between him and the Girondists. The manly and courageous attitude of the part played by Marat contrasts favourably with the meanness of the conduct pursued by Danton and Robespierre, in deserting the man who for three years past had championed them through thick and thin, alike against their monarchist enemies and their Girondist opponents. However, in his account of the affair in his journal, we find not a trace of bitterness on the part of the “People’s Friend”. The action of Danton and Robespierre is described in a few absolutely impartial lines, without a word or suggestion of reproach, and this from the man who is described by his enemies as a coagulated mass of envy, hatred, malice. and all uncharitableness.

Here, perhaps, is the most suitable place to give the description of Marat by one of his colleagues in the Paris Deputation of the National Convention, Danton’s friend, the dramatist, Fabre d’Eglantine. We can well imagine it to represent him as he lived and spoke at the memorable séance on the 25th of September we have just been describing. Marat, writes Fabre d’Eglantine, “was of short stature, scarcely five feet high. He was nevertheless of a firm, thick-set figure, without being stout. The shoulders and bust were broad, the lower part of the body thin, thighs short and wide, the legs bowed, strong arms, which he employed with much vigour and grace. Upon a rather short neck he carried a head of a very pronounced character; he had a large and bony face, aquiline nose, flat and slightly depressed, the under part of the nose prominent; the mouth medium-sized and curled at one corner by a frequent contraction; the lips were thin, the forehead large, the eyes of a yellowish grey colour, spirituel, animated, piercing, clear, naturally soft and even gracious, and with a confident look; the eyebrows thin, the complexion thick and skin withered, chin unshaven, the hair brown and neglected. He was accustomed to walk with head erect, straight and thrown back, with a measured tread which kept time with the movement of his hips. His ordinary carriage was with his two arms firmly crossed upon his chest. In speaking in society he always appeared much agitated, and almost invariably ended the expression of a sentiment by a movement of his foot, which he thrust rapidly forward, stamping with it at the same time on the ground, and then rising on tiptoe, as though to lift his short stature to the height of his opinion. The tone of his voice was thin, sonorous, slightly hoarse, and of a ringing quality. A defect of the tongue rendered it difficult for him to pronounce clearly the letters c and l, to which he was accustomed to give the sound of g [in French]. There was no other perceptible peculiarity, excepting a rather heavy mode of utterance; but the beauty of his thought, the fullness of his eloquence, the simplicity of his elocution, and the point of his speeches absolutely effaced this maxillary heaviness. At the tribune, he rose without obstacle or excitement, he stood with assurance and dignity, his right hand upon his hip, his left arm extended upon the desk in front of him, his head thrown back, turned towards his audience at three-quarters, and a little inclined towards his right shoulder. If, on the contrary, he had to vanquish at the tribune the shrieking of chicanery and bad faith, or the despotism of the president, he awaited the re-establishment of order with quietness, and resuming his speech with firmness, he adopted a bold attitude, his arms crossed diagonally upon his breast, his figure bent towards the left. His physiognomy and his look at such times acquired an almost sardonic character, which was not belied by the cynicism of his speech. He dressed in a careless manner; indeed, his negligence in this particular announced a complete neglect of the conventionalities of custom and of taste, and, one might almost say, gave him an air of uncleanliness.”

On leaving the Salle de Manège at the close of the sitting on the 25th, Marat was acclaimed by a large crowd, who followed him to his house. If Marat was generous to Danton and his friends of the Mountain, in spite of their shabby treatment of him on this occasion, he took care not to let his Girondin opponents off without exposing the real object of their machinations. “Let friends of the country know,” he writes (Journal de la République, No.5), “that, on the 25th of this month, the Guadet-Brissot faction had plotted to cause me to perish by the sword of tyranny or the poniard of brigands. If I fall beneath the stroke of assassins, these friends will hold the clue for tracing the deed to its source.” Once again, one of those marvellous intuitions of Marat which look so much like prophecy!

Foiled as were the “Brissot-faction” on this occasion, their hatred and their fear of Marat caused them to continue their intrigues unabated. Foremost among them in the bitterness of his attacks was Barbaroux, Marat’s old pupil in the days of his physical researches. This young dandy, so much admired by Carlyle, with certain of his colleagues, among whom was Rebecqui, the same who subsequently killed himself on hearing of the destruction of his party, drew up and signed a large placard denouncing Marat. To this Marat replied (Journal, No.15): “In spite of their insults, I know none of these gentlemen personally, not even Rebecqui, whose gall is so bitter. I have had certain private relations with Barbaroux, at a time when he was not tormented with the rage for playing a rôle. He was a good young man who used to like studying with me.” The Girondins were the more incensed by Marat at his time throwing suspicion on the officers of the army, especially upon their favourite General, Dumouriez. In doing this just now Marat risked his popularity even among the “patriots,” the victories of Valmy and Mainz had made the Generals concerned, and especially Dumouriez, for the nonce popular heroes. Marat’s keen insight and ready suspicion already discovered the traitor even in the subsequent conqueror of Jemmapes. Marat saw the latter with most of his staff in close alliance with his arch-enemies, the Girondins, who were still at the helm of affairs. In the course of October Dumouriez returned to Paris, to be fêted by all parties, not excepting the Jacobins and the Mountain, as the saviour of the nation. Custine had hurled the invasion back over the Rhine, following on Dumouriez’s action in the Argonne in September. All hopes were therefore still concentrated in Dumouriez for clearing the situation in Brabant. The popular General arrived in Paris on the 12th of October. The social functions instituted in his honour culminated in a grand fête given by the actor Talma and his wife at their house in the Rue Chanteraine on the 16th of October.

Now it so happened that a little before this time an official report had reached the Convention from Dumouriez, respecting two battalions of Parisian volunteers, who, he alleged, had murdered four Prussian deserters, who had come to serve in their ranks, at a place called Ratel. The Girondins, always ready to make the most of anything to discredit Paris, affected great indignation, and induced the majority of the Convention to pass a resolution supporting the order made by Dumouriez for the inculpated battalions to be interned in a fortress pending an investigation into the affair. Meanwhile no details of the incident were to hand. Now Marat, partly from information which had leaked out and partly from his natural scent for treachery, was convinced that the four alleged deserters were in reality spies in Prussian interest, and that the battalions were fully justified in summarily dealing with them. So the “People’s Friend”, who cared for neither personalities nor social functions, thought it would be an excellent opportunity to beard Dumouriez and challenge him to an explanation of the affair in the brilliant salon of the famous pillar of Parisian high-life. It should be said that Marat had already been to the Ministry of War and taken all the other steps necessary to obtain a complete version of the facts without success. Accordingly, accompanied by two Jacobin friends, Marat presented himself on the evening in question at Talma’s house. Santerre, the Commandant of the armed force of Paris, who was acting as gentleman-usher on the occasion, announced his arrival in a loud voice. On entering he could see that most of the lights of Girondism were present. Pressing through the crowd of modish toilettes, he stepped up to the guest of the evening. “We are members of the National Convention,” said he, “and we come, sir, to beg you to give us some explanation relative to the affair of the two battalions, the Mauconseil and the Republican, accused by you of having murdered four Prussian deserters in cold blood. We have searched the offices of the Military Committee and those of the War Department; we cannot there find the least proof of the crime, and nobody can furnish information on the subject but yourself.” “I sent all the documents to the Minister,” replied Dumouriez. “We assure you, sir, that we have in our hands a memoir made in his offices and in his name, stating that he lacked absolutely facts to pronounce on this pretended crime, and that we must apply to you to get them.” “But, gentlemen, I have informed the Convention, and I refer you to it.” “Allow us, sir, to observe to you that the information given is not enough, since the Committee of the Convention, to which this affair has been referred, have declared in their report that they were unable to decide, for want of information and proofs of the alleged crime. We beg you to say whether you know all the circumstances of the affair.” “But, gentlemen, when I assert a thing I think I ought to be believed.” “We have, sir, great reason to doubt; several members of the Military Committee have informed us that these four pretended Prussian deserters are four French emigrants.” “Well, gentlemen, if that were the case?” “That, sir, would absolutely change the state of the matter, and without approving beforehand the conduct of the battalions, we maintain that possibly they are innocent.” “What, sir, would you then approve of the insubordination of solders?” “No, sir, but I detest the tyranny of officers; and the manner in which you have treated them is revolting.” Here Dumouriez, feeling too hotly pressed, to get out of the embarrassment left them, observing as he went, “M. Marat, you are too warm, I cannot enter into explanations with you.” (Journal, No.27).

A striking scene this for a genre painter! The brilliantly lighted ballroom, the fashionably-attired company, the shabby, uncouth figure of the “People’s Friend”, pressing up with his two Jacobin companions to the great man in uniform, seizing him by the coat sleeve as he attempts to turn on his heel with an arrogant retort at the intruder! The visit had its effect, for, it is stated, a gloom fell upon the assembly after Marat’s departure, all fearing the penetration and the power of the “Keeper of the People’s conscience”, as Marat had by this time come to be called. Dumouriez, especially, doubtless felt uncomfortable in the capital, for he left the following day for the front. But, nevertheless, within the next few weeks a still higher pinnacle of popularity was in store for him, for on the 5th of the following month Jemmapes was fought, and the Austrians driven back. The popularity was, however, short-lived, for it was soon followed by a general conviction of his treachery. The defeat of Neerwinden preluded the desertion of Dumouriez and his disappearance from history, which took place less than five months after the crowning victory which had opened up the Netherlands to the Revolutionary armies of France.

Two days after the incident at Talma’s another violent scene occurred in the Convention, caused by Marat’s return to the charge respecting the two battalions, accusing the Minister of War of suppressing documents, and reiterating his charges against Dumouriez and Chabot, on whose denunciation Dumouriez had acted. Marat alleged the existence of a plot among the Generals to get rid of the patriot battalions as an obstacle to their schemes. In the course of his remarks a scene arose between Marat and a Moderate deputy named Rouyer, who had uttered threats against him. But these scenes in the Convention, in which the man who owed most obligations to Marat, his old pupil Barbaroux, almost invariably took a leading part in the attack on his old master and friend, were now well-nigh of daily occurrence, and to refer to them in detail would be monotonous and purposeless. Marat’s frankness and open-heartedness often gave his enemies a handle by which to attack him. After a conclusive speech, the logic and force of which had made some impression on the Assembly, he would by an incautious observation set the wavering section of the Convention against him. He laboured under the misfortune of being no diplomat. What he thought and felt at the moment he uttered as freely at the tribune of the Convention as he wrote it in his journal. Fabre d’Eglantine observes (Portrait de Marat) that “these scenes many times repeated had taught the enemies of the country, his adversaries, how to lay their traps for him. More than once they have abused his overflowing and impetuous frankness, to forge their arms against him, and by careful preparation of the circumstances to make his truthfulness a crime.” Thus it was that the Girondins and their allies would often allow Marat to occupy the tribune when they would prevent other members of the Mountain from doing so. But it was not in the Convention alone, nor was it by tricks of debate or calumny merely, that the war was waged. Already, before Charlotte Corday was heard of, attempts were made by his implacable enemies on the life of the “People’s Friend”. More than once it was only thanks to the presence of Jacobin defenders that he was not murderously assaulted. A placard advocating his assassination was posted on the walls of the Palais Royal, but this the Commune ordered to be torn down, and those arrested who should attempt to replace it.

The personality of Marat was now, in fact, the burning question in Paris. There were even loyal Revolutionists, like Anacharsis Clootz, who, in his pamphlet Ni Roland ni Marat, took up the position that all discussion as to the merits of leaders ought to be sunk before the great ideals of liberty and solidarity which it was the task of Revolutionary France to realise for the human race. Not that Clootz was in the least hostile to Marat. He merely failed to see that it was not Marat himself who thrust his personality into the foreground of political life, but his enemies, who by their attacks and ceaseless calumnies obliged him to be continually defending himself. The “People’s Friend” had indeed at one time suspected this honest and single minded enthusiast, owing to his being a Prussian nobleman, but he afterwards acknowledged his mistake, and shook hands with the generous hearted “orator of the human race,” calling him a bon enfant. Meanwhile, during these last weeks of the year 1792, the fury of the Girondins and their supporters, men of order as they professed themselves to be, developed into the worst kind of rowdyism. Bands of the provincial soldiery, dragoons and Marseillais, in Girondist pay, paraded the streets of Paris, in a more or less drunken condition, singing an anti-Jacobin song, with the refrain

La tête de Marat, Robespierre et Danton,
Et de tous ceux qui les defendront.
O gué!

They would stop under Marat’s windows, threatening to set fire to the house where he was living. So great was the danger at ones time, that Marat was compelled to suspend then publication of his journal for some days. In the Chamber the Girondins, having apparently abandoned for the nonce the tactics spoken by Fabre d’Eglantine, of exciting Marat to injudicious utterances in the heat of debate, and then using them to excite the feeling of the Convention against him, seemed to have resumed the policy of refusing him a hearing, since on the 26th of November Marat writes, “I am obliged to refrain from mounting the tribune to explain my views, because, however good they might be, it would suffice that they came from me to ensure their rejection.” He further observes that he must, under the circumstances, confine himself to appearing on important occasions, in order to unmask and render abortive the nefarious plots of the “criminal faction”, namely, the Girondins, and to “defend the rights the people”.

The following extract from the minutes of the sitting of the Jacobins’ Club, on Sunday the 23rd of December, will show how completely isolated Marat was at this time, even within the Mountain itself. Robert. – “It is very astonishing that the names of Marat and Robespierre are always coupled together. Marat is a patriot; he has excellent qualities, I admit, but how different is he from Robespierre! The latter is discreet, moderate in his means, whereas Marat is exaggerated, and has not that discretion which characterises Robespierre. It is not sufficient to be a patriot; in order to serve the people usefully it is necessary to be reserved in the means of execution, and most assuredly Robespierre surpasses Marat in the means of execution,” Bourdon. – “We ought long since to have acquainted the affiliated societies with our opinions of Marat. How could they ever connect Robespierre and Marat together? Robespierre is a truly virtuous man, with whom we have no fault to find from the commencement of the Revolution. Robespierre is moderate in his means, whereas Marat is a violent writer, who does great harm to the Jacobins (murmurs); and besides, it is right to observe that Marat does us great injury with the National Convention. The deputies imagine that we are partisans of Marat, we are called Maratists; if we show that we duly appreciate Marat, then you will see the deputies draw nearer to the Mountain where we sit, you will see the affiliated societies which have gone astray rally around the cradle of liberty. If Marat is a patriot he will accede to the motion I am going to make; Marat ought to sacrifice himself to the cause of liberty. I move that his name be erased from the list of members of this society.” This motion excited some applause, violent murmurs in part of the hall, and vehement agitation in the tribunes. Dufourny. – “I oppose the motion for expelling Marat from the society (vehement applause). I will not deny the difference that exists between Marat and Robespierre. These two writers, who may resemble one another in patriotism, have very striking differences. They have both served the cause of the people, but in different ways. Robespierre has defended the true with method, with firmness, and with all becoming discretion; Marat, on the contrary, has frequently passed the bounds of sound treason and prudence. Still, though admitting the difference that exists between Marat and Robespierre, I am not in favour of the erasure. It is possible to be just without being ungrateful to Marat – he has been useful to us, he has served the Revolution with courage (vehement applause from the society and the galleries). There would be ingratitude in striking him out of the list, (‘Yes, yes,’ from all quarters). I conclude with proposing that the motion of Bourdon be rejected, and that merely a letter be written to the affiliated societies to acquaint them with the difference that we make between Marat and Robespierre” (applause). This motion was in the end adopted.

As an instance of this debatable Jacobin’s influence with the people, I may cite, on the other hand, another incident of a different kind. “It is some days now since I was addressed by some Marseillais (who did not evidently follow their compatriots in the devious paths of Girondism) with the words; ‘Marat, your party increases every day – we belong to it.’ I replied; ‘Comrades, I have no party, I do not wish any; only be happy and free, that is all I desire.’” (Journal de la République, No.89).

Marat’s good-humoured generosity towards the man who was foremost among his persecutors, Barbaroux, is worthy of notice. “Young man,” he writes (Journal, No. 33), “you are too young for your heart to be thoroughly bad. I prefer to believe that you are misled by some evil passion. A day will come when you will blush at the baseness of the part you are playing with regard to me. Who would believe that it is only three months ago since, despairing at the way things were going and believing liberty to be lost, I had an interview with Barbaroux, who then called himself my disciple, and boasted of having shown himself a little Marat at Marseilles? I possess a letter of this period, that any one may come and verify who likes, which concludes thus: ‘My friend, I am incapable of breaking my word to you; to-morrow, the day after, perhaps later still, I shall visit the person who has always accompanied me to your house. I shall then communicate to you all my observations and all my views; but whether I am right or wrong, the error or the correctness of my judgment will never influence my heart; I shall always remain at once your friend and your companion in misfortune.’”

It was the man who wrote these words a few months before who was now foremost in seeking not merely the political extinction of his olds friend, but his very life.

The time for the trial of the King, Louis Capet, at the bar of the Convention was now rapidly approaching, and the importance of the issue naturally overshadowed the acrimonious hatred of the Girondins and their backers, against Marat and the Mountain, for the time being The various questions which arose relating to this occupied several numbers of the Journal de la République. The Girondins, notwithstanding their swelling periods on the subject of tyrants and tyranny, with references to Cato, Brutus, and the rest of the classical exemplars, fearing now the people of Paris much more than the King, were anxious to save Louis as far as might be. That he should be acquitted was hardly to be thought of in face of the events of the 10th of August, and became altogether out of the question on the documentary proof of his machinations with the enemy, contained in the secret press of the Tuileries, coming to light. But they were willing to postpone matters, and, at least, save the King’s head. The question having been raised as to the legality of the nation’s trying the King, whom the Constitution of 1790 had declared inviolable, Marat has some observations in his Journal (No. 65) which display equally his lawyer-like capacity of pulverising an argument of this kind and his common-sense. After the usual reference to the Rousseauite doctrine of the Social Contract, as to the delegation of public function by the nation to this or that person for the common weal, and the people’s right to withdraw their mandate the moment they felt the common weal to be threatened by its continuance, he points out that, even admitting the binding validity of the Constitution in question, the contention as to inviolability was absurd. “The Constitution,” says he, “declares the person of the King inviolable and sacred. But this inviolability can only refer to the legal acts of Royalty. It only meant the privilege of not being personally responsible for the choice of means of putting the laws into execution. One would hardly go so far as to say that in rendering Louis Capet inviolable, the Legislature wished to confer on him the privilege of conspiring without danger for the ruin of the country, and to secure him the means of achieving it with impunity, by letting him thus enjoy peaceably the fruit of his crimes. And supposing the Legislature had had the design, would it have had the right? You, gentlemen, whom the nation has commissioned to replace this perfidious Constitution by wise laws, you will not participate in the revolting vices of such a shameful monument of slavery in judging the despot. It is by the unwritten Law of Nations that you will judge him.”

This article of Marat’s effectually silenced the inviolability argument, which even without it could hardly have imposed upon any reasonable person. It was decided that the trial should take place, and Malesherbes, having expressed his willingness, was named as Louis’ defender. The actual speech for the defence was made by Desèze. The trial was to be before the National Convention, and the verdict by simple majority, each member to respond to the question of “Guilty or Not Guilty,” on his name being called. Many sittings of the Convention were occupied in discussing the preliminaries.

Now that the right of the people, through its representation, to judge and pronounce sentence upon the ex-monarch could no longer be effectively gainsaid, a volte-face was made by Louis’ supporters, secret and avowed, and it was suggested to invoke the sacred right of the people to clemency. It was even proposed to make a direct appeal to the people in this sense. This monstrous proposition, considering the acts of which Louis had been avowed guilty, was travestied by Marat in a supposititious letter from a man convicted of common theft. “Gentlemen,” it runs (Journal, No.77), “it is true I am only a poor stealer of handkerchiefs, and have neither the honour to be a conspirator nor a crowned assassin. Nevertheless I am a man, like any other, and have equal rights with any number of Capets. They talk of sending me to the bagne of Toulon, and since the greatest crime is to call in question the rights of the sovereignty of the people, I have no intention of endeavouring to frustrate them. But I beg of you to weigh the following point; Is it not incontestable that the people as sovereign has the right to pardon me, even supposing that I deserve the galleys?” Sentimental appeals for mercy did not, in fact, prove more effective with any whose interest was not already engaged in favour of the culprit than had the invocation of the technical point of law anent inviolability.

But technicalities and sentimental appeals were not the only means resorted to by the sympathisers with the ex-King, now reduced to their wits’ ends to save their favourite. Attempts were made to excite disturbances in Paris between adherents of the rival parties. Thus on New Year’s Eve, far into the night, pro-royalist plotters succeeded in creating sanguinary scenes in various quarters, especially at the Pont Neuf and at the Porcherons. In the Popincourt section an ex-police agent of Lafayette began shouting “Vive le Roi!” and insulting citizens. He was, however, lynched by the populace. Within the Convention no stone was left unturned by the dominant faction to prevent Marat and the Mountain from expressing their views. Marat, who had prepared a discourse setting forth in logical sequence his opinions on the necessity of allowing the trial and the inevitable penalty to take their natural course, was prevented delivering it in the Assembly by the arbitrary application of the closure – Barbaroux, with his insensate hatred of the man to whom he owed so much, being, as always, to the fore in the work of stifling discussion. The undelivered speech of Marat was subsequently published in pamphlet form. The trial of the King and the discussions preceding it showed conclusively the calibre of the Republicanism of the Gironde and its adherents. Rather than sacrifice the one man who was responsible nominally, and in part really, for so many treacheries and so much public disaster, the bulk of the party were prepared up to the very last to risk civil war, and that too when the enemy, beaten back for a moment, was already preparing to renew his invasion on three sides. The Girondin proposal to submit the matter as a referendum to the primary assemblies, as Marat pointed out, could mean nothing less than civil war.


Last updated on 21.6.2003