Page images



whether any men have, in modern times, exercised such vast personal influence over stormy and divided assemblies.” Mirabeau did not live till the whirlwind of the Revolution reached its height. The rein fell from his hands on April 2, 1791, when he lay down in death, his last words a prose poem of the materialistic faith : "Envelop me with perfumes and crown me with flowers, that I may pass away into everlasting sleep.”

AND YET YOU DELIBERATE [Of Mirabeau's orations, one of the most characteristic was that upon a project of Necker, the distinguished financier, for tiding over the financial difficulties which troubled alike the Court and the States-General. We give the peroration of this famous and powerful speech.]

In the midst of this tumultous debate can I not bring you back to the question of the deliberation by a few simple questions. Deign, gentlemen, to hear me and to vouchsafe a reply.

Have we any other plan to substitute for the one he proposes ? Yes,” cries some one in the assembly! I conjure the one making this reply of “ Yes” to consider that this plan is unknown; that it would take time to develop, examine, and demonstrate it ; that even were it at once submitted to our deliberation, its author may be mistaken ; were he even free of all error, it might be thought he was wrong, for when the whole world is wrong, the whole world makes wrong right. The author of this other project in being right might be wrong against the world, since without the assent of public opinion the greatest talents could not triumph over such circumstances.

And I-I myself-do not believe the methods of M. Necker the very best possible. But Heaven preserve me in such a critical situation from opposing my views to his! Vainly I might hold them preferable! One does not in a moment rival an immense popularity achieved by brilliant services; a long experience, the reputation of the highest talent as a financier, and, it can be added, a destiny such as has been achieved by no other man !

Let us then return to this plan of M. Necker. But have we the time to examine, to prove its foundation, to verify its calculations ? No, no, a thousand times no! Insignificant questions, hazardous conjectures, doubts and gropings, these are all that at this moment are in our power. What shall we accomplish by rejecting this deliberation ? Miss our deci. sive moment, injure our self-esteem by changing something we neither know nor understand, and diminish by our indiscreet intervention the influence of a minister whose financial credit is, and ought to be, much



greater than our own. Gentlemen, there assuredly is in this neither wisdom nor foresight. Does it even show good faith? If no less solemn declarations guarantee our respect for the public faith, our horror of the infamous word “ bankruptcy,” I might dare to scrutinize the secret motives which make us hesitate to promulgate an act of patriotic devotion which will be inefficacious if not done immediately and with full confidence.

I would say to those who familiarize themselves with the idea of failing to keep the public faith, either by fear of taxes or of excessive sacrifices : What is bankruptcy, if not the most cruel, the most iniquitous, the most unequal, the most disastrous of imposts ? My friends, hear but a word-a single word :

Two centuries of depredations and brigandage have made the chasm in which the kingdom is ready to engulf itself. We must close this fearful abyss. Well, here is a list of French proprietors. Choose among the richest, thus sacrificing the least number of citizens. But choose ! For must not a small number perish to save the mass of the people? Well, these two thousand notables possess enough to make up the deficit. This will restore order in the finances and bring peace and prosperity to the kingdom.

Strike, immolate without pity these wretched victims, cast them into the abyss until it is closed ! You recoil in horror, inconsistent and pusillanimous men! Do you not see that in decreeing bankruptcy, or what is still more odious, in rendering it inevitable, without decreeing it, you do a deed a thousand times more criminal, and-folly inconceivable-gratuitously criminal ? For at least this horrible sacrifice would cause the disappearance of the deficit. But do you imagine that in refusing to pay, you will cease to owe ? Do you believe that the thousands, the millions of men, who will lose in an instant, by the terrible explosion or its repercussion, all that made the consolation of their lives, and constituted, perhaps, the sole means of their support, would leave you peaceably to enjoy your crime?

Stoical contemplators of the incalculable evils, which this catastrophe would disgorge upon France ! Impassive egotists who think that these convulsions of despair and misery shall pass like so many others, and the more rapidly as they are the more violent! Are you sure that so many men without bread will leave you tranquilly to the enjoy. ment of those dainties, the number and delicacy of which you are unwilling to diminish! No! you will perish, and in the universal conflagration you do not hesitate to kindle, the loss of your honor will not save a single one of your detestable enjoyments.

Look where we are going! ... I hear you speak of patriotism, and the elan of patriotism, of invocations to patriotism. Ah! do not prostitute



the words, “country” and “patriotism”! It is so very magnanimous—the effort to give a portion of one's revenue to save all of one's possessions! This, gentlemen, is only simple arithmetic; and he who hesitates cannot disarm indignation except by the contempt he inspires through his stupidity. Yes, gentlemen, this is the plainest prudence, the commonest wisdom. It is your gross material interest I invoke. I shall not say to you as formerly : Will you be the first to exhibit to the nations the spectacle of a people assembled to make default in their public obligations? I shall not say again : What titles have you to liberty? What means remain to you to preserve it, if in your first act you surpass the turpitude of the most corrupt governments; if the first care of your vigilant co-operation is not for the guarantee of your constitution? I tell you, you will all be dragged into a universal ruin, and you yourselves have the greatest interests in making the sacrifices the Government asks

Vote, then, for this extraordinary subsidy ; and it may be sufficient. Vote for it,-for if you have any doubts on the means adopted (vague and unenlightened doubts), you have none as to its necessity, or our inability to provide an immediate substitute. Vote, then, because public necessity admits no delay, and we shall be held accountable for any delay that occurs. Beware of asking for time! Misfortune never

of you.

grants it!

Gentlemen, apropos of a ridiculous disturbance at the Palais Royal, , of a laughable insurrection, which never had any importance save in the weak imaginations or perverted designs of a few faith-breakers, you have heard these mad words : “ Catiline is at the gates of Rome !

And yet you deliberate !

And certainly there has been about us no Catiline, no peril, no faction, no Rome. But to-day bankruptcy-hideous bankruptcy-is here; it threatens to consume you, your properties, your honor! And yet you deliberate!

THE PRIVILEGED AND THE PEOPLE [A second brief extract will further serve to show the impetuous and striking character of Mirabeau's oratory.]

In all countries, in all ages, have aristocrats implacably pursued the friends of the people; and when, by I know not what combination of fortune, such a friend has uprisen from the very bosom of the aristocracy, it has been at him pre-eminently that they have struck, eager to inspire wider terror by the elevation of their victim. So perished the last of the Gracchi by the hands of the Patricians. But, mortally smitten, he flung dust towards heaven, calling the avenging gods to witness: and from



that dust sprang Marius ;-Marius, less illustrious for having exterminated the Cimbri than for having beaten down the despotism of the nobility in Rome.

But you, Commons, listen to one who, unseduced by your applause, yet cherishes them in his heart. Man is strong only by union; happy only by peace. Be firm, not obstinate ; courageous, not turbulent; free, not undisciplined ; prompt, not precipitate. Stop not except at difficulties of moment; and be then wholly inflexible. But disdain the contentions of self-love, and never thrust into the balance the individual against the country..

For myself, who, in my public career, have had no other fear than that of wrong-doing; who, girt with my conscience, and armed with my principles, would brave the universe; whether it shall be my fortune to serve you with my voice and my exertions in the National Assembly, or whether I shall be enabled to aid you there with my prayers only, be sure that the vain clamors, the wrathful menaces, the injurious protestations—all the convulsions, in a word, of expiring prejudices-shall not on me impose! What ! shall he now pause in his civic course, who, first among all the men of France, emphatically proclaimed his opinions on national affairs, at a time when circumstances were much less urgent than now, and the task one of much greater peril ? Never ! No measure of outrages shall bear down my patience. I have been, I am, I shall be, even to the tomb, the man of the Public Liberty, the man of the Constitution. If to be such be to become the man of the people rather than of the nobles, then woe to the privileged orders ! For privileges shall have an end, but the people is eternal !




HE great orator of the Girondist section of the Revolutionary

Assembly of France, Vergniaud, was too indolent and too

indifferent to put himself at the head of the party, which he might have done had he chosen. He was quite content to fill the post of its orator. He was the most moderate of the Girondists, but suffered the fate of his fellows. In January, 1793, as President of the Convention, he pronounced the sentence of the king's death. In October he suffered the same fate himself. No man of his time met death more boldly.

“In parliamentary eloquence,” says Macaulay, “no Frenchman of his time can be considered equal to Vergniaud. In a foreign country, and after the lapse of half a century, some parts of his speeches are still read with mournful admiration.” Lamartine says, “His language had the images and harmony of the most beautiful verses.”


[We append two brief examples of Vergniaud's oratory, the first calling on the the people to defend themselves against their foes, internal and external, the second denouncing the terrorism of the club of the Jacobins.]

Preparations for war are manifest on our frontiers, and we hear of renewed plots against liberty. Our armies reassemble; mighty movements agitate the empire. Martial law having become necessary, it has seemed to us just. But we have succeeded only in brandishing for a moment the thunderbolt in the eyes of rebellion. The sanction of the king has been refused to our decrees. The princes of Germany make their territory a retreat for the conspirators against you. They favor the plots of the emigrants. They furnish them an asylum; they furnish them gold,

« PreviousContinue »