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FrRevol_351-400.indd 21 3/16/12 1:09 PM CHAPTER XIX Fall ofRohespierre, and Change ofSystem in the Government. The men and women who were conducted to the scaffold gave proofs of a courage that nothing could shake; the prisons presented the example of the most generous acts of devotion; fathers were seen sacrificing themselves for their sons, wives for their husbands; but the party ofthe worthy, like the King himself, showed themselves capable only ofprivate virtues. In general, in a country where there is no freedom, energy is found only in the factious; but in England, the support ofthe law and the feeling of justice render the resistance of the upper classes quite as strong as the attack ofthe populace could be. Had a division not taken place among the deputies of the Convention themselves, it is impossible to say how long the atrocious government ofthe Committee ofPublic Safety would have lasted. This Committee was not composed ofmen ofsuperior talent;1 the machine of terror, the springs of which had been prepared for action by events, exercised alone unbounded power. The government resembled the hideous instrument employed on the scaffold; the axe was seen rather than the hand which put it in motion. A single question was sufficient to overturn the power ofthese men; it was-how many are they? But their force was measured by the atrocity of their crimes, and nobody dared attack them. These twelve members ofthe CommitteeofPublic Safetydistrusted one another, as the Convention distrusted them, and they distrusted it; as the army, the people, and the partisans ofthe revolution were all mutually filled with alarm. No name ofthis epoch will remain, except Robespierre. I . For more information, see Palmer, Twelve Who Ruled. 3Jl FrRevol_351-400.indd 22 3/16/12 1:09 PM PART III Yet he was neither more able nor more eloquent than the rest; but his political fanaticism had a character of calmness and austerity which made him feared by all his colleagues. I once conversed with him at my father's house, in 1789, when he was known merely as an advocate of the province of Artois who carried to extremes his democratical principles. His features were mean, his complexion pale, his veins of a greenish hue; he maintained the most absurd propositions with a coolness which had the air of conviction; and I could easily believe that, at the beginning of the Revolution, he had adopted sincerely certain ideas, upon the equality of fortunes as well as of ranks, which he caught in the course of his reading, and with which his envious and mischievous character was delighted to arm itself. But he became ambitious when he had triumphed over his rival in the arts of the demagogue , Danton, the Mirabeau of the mob. The latter had more spirit than Robespierre, and was more accessible to pity; but it was suspected, and with reason, that he was not proof against the seductions of money; a weakness which, in the end, always ruins demagogues; for the people cannot endure those who enrich themselves: it is a kind of austerity that no one could have convinced them to abandon. Danton was factious, Robespierre was hypocritical: Danton was fond of pleasure, Robespierre only of power;2 he sent to the scaffold some as counter-revolutionists, others as ultrarevolutionists. There was something mysterious in his manner which caused an unknown terror to hover about in the midst of the ostensible terror which the government proclaimed . He never adopted the means ofpopularity then generally in use; he was not ill dressed; on the contrary, he was the only person who wore powder in his hair; his clothes were neat, and his countenance had nothing familiar. The desire of ruling carried him, without doubt, to distinguish himself from others at the very moment when equality in everything was desired. Traces of a secret design are also perceived in the confusing discourses which he made in the Convention, and which, in some respects, recall to our recollection those of Cromwell. It is rarely, indeed, that any2 . For modern accounts ofRobespierre's life and legacy, see Scurr, FatalPurity; Haydon and Doyle, Robespierre; and Andress, The Terror. 3J2 FrRevol_351-400.indd 23 3/16/12 1:09 PM CHAPTER XIX. FalfojRobespierre one who is not a military chief can become dictator. But the civil power had then much more influence than the military: the republican spirit led to a distrust ofall the victorious generals; the soldiers themselves delivered...


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