French Revolution 1793

Le Vieux Cordelier

Source: Le Vieux Cordelier, No 1, quintidi Frimaire, 2ème decade, Year II;
Translated: from the original for by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2005.

I learned some things yesterday. I saw how many enemies we have. Their multitude tears me from the Hotel des Invalides and returns me to combat. I must write. I have to leave behind the slow pencil of the history of the Revolution I was tracing by the fire side in order to again take up the rapid and breathless pen of the journalist and follow, at full gallop, the revolutionary torrent. A consulting deputy who no one has consulted since June 3, I leave my office and armchair, where I had all the time in the world to follow in detail our enemies’ new system, an overview of which Robespierre laid out to you and which his occupations at the Committee of Public Safety have prevented him, like me, from seizing in its entirety. I feel again what I said a year ago, how wrong I was to put aside the journalistic pen and grant intrigue the time to adulterate the opinions of the departments and corrupt that immense sea by means of a mass of journals like so many rivers that ceaselessly brought poisoned waters to it. We no longer have any journals that tell the truth, or at least the whole truth. I return to the arena with all of my well-known honesty and courage.

A year ago we mocked, and with reason, the so-called freedom of the English, who don’t have unlimited freedom of the press. Nevertheless, what man of good faith would dare today to compare France to England when it comes to freedom of the press? See with what boldness the Morning Chronicle attacks Pitt and his war operations! Who is the journalist in France who would dare point out the errors of our committees, our generals, the Jacobins, the ministers, or the commune the way the opposition does to that of the British ministry? And I, a Frenchman, I, Camille Desmoulins, I am not as free as an English journalist? The very idea makes me indignant. Let no one tell me that we are in a revolution and that the freedom of the press must be suspended during a revolution. Isn’t England, isn’t all of Europe also in a state of revolution? Are the principles of freedom of the press less sacred in Paris than in London, where Pitt must have such great fear of the light? Five years ago I said that it is knaves who fear the streetlamps. Can it be that when on one side servitude and venality hold the pen, and on the other freedom and virtue, that there is the least danger that the people, the judge of this combat, can pass to the side of slavery? To even fear such a thing is to insult human reason! Can reason fear a duel with stupidity? I repeat: only counter-revolutionaries, only traitors, only Pitt could have an interest in prohibiting in France the unlimited freedom of the press. And freedom and the truth can never fear the products of servitude and lies.

I know that in the handling of great affairs it is permitted to stray from the austere rules of morality: this is true but inevitable. The needs of the state and the perversity of the human heart make such conduct necessary, and have made its necessity the first maxim of politics. If a man in office were to try to say all he thought he would expose his country to certain defeat. So let good citizens not fear the intemperate wanderings of my pen. My hands are full of truths, and I will hold myself back from entirely opening them. But I will let enough escape to save France and the Republic, one and indivisible.

My colleagues were all so occupied and carried along by the whirlpool of affairs, some in committees, others on mission, that they didn’t have time

to read, and some even to think. I, who was on no mission, on no committee where something had to be done, who in the midst of this overload of labor on the shoulders of my Montagnard colleagues have made up, almost on my own, their committee of readers and thinkers: shall I be permitted to present the report of this committee at the end of a year, to offer them the lessons of history, the sole teacher -whatever might be said – of the art of governing, and to give them the counsels that Tacitus and Macchiavelli , the greatest politicians who ever existed, would give them?

– Camille Desmoulins