Chateaubriand's memoirs, V, 9

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V, 8 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> V, 10


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book V - Chapter 9
The effect on the Court of the taking of the Bastille – The heads of Foulon and Bertier



Paris, November 1821.

Woken by the sound of the Bastille’s fall as at the noise presaging the fall of a throne, Versailles passed from disdain to despondency. The King hastens to the National Assembly, gives a speech from the President’s seat, announces an order to the troops to withdraw, and returns to his palace to the echo of cheers; a useless spectacle! Neither party believed they had converted the other: neither liberty which capitulates, nor power which humbles itself, obtains a jot of mercy from its enemies.

Eighty deputies left Versailles, to proclaim peace in the capital: festivities ensued. Monsieur Bailly was named as Mayor of Paris, Monsieur de Lafayette, commander of the National Guard: I never knew the former, a poor but respectable scientist, except through his misfortunes. Revolutions produce men in all their phases; some follow those revolutions through to the end, others begin them, but do not complete them.

Everyone dispersed; the courtiers left for Basle, Lausanne, Luxembourg and Brussels. Madame de Polignac, fleeing, met Monsieur Necker returning. The Comte d’Artois and his sons, and the three Condés, emigrated; they took with them the high clergy and a section of the nobility. The officers, threatened by their rebellious soldiers, yielded to the torrent that carried them away. Louis XVI alone remained to face the nation with his two children and their female attendants, the Queen, Mesdames Adélaïde and Victoire, and Madame Élisabeth. Monsieur, who remained until the flight to Varennes was little help to his brother: though in assenting to the franchise in the Assembly of Notables he had helped decide the course of the Revolution, the Revolution distrusted him; he, Monsieur, had little liking for the King, did not understand the Queen, and was not liked by them.

Louis XVI came to the Hôtel de Ville on the 17th: a hundred thousand men, armed like the monks of the League, received him. He was harangued by Messieurs Bailly, Moreau de Saint-Méry, and Lally-Tolendal who all wept: the latter has remained prone to tears. The King was moved in turn; he fixed an enormous tricolour cockade on his hat; and was declared there and then to be a good man, Father of the French, King of a free people, which people was preparing, by virtue of its liberty, to cut off the head of that good man, its father and king.

A few days after this reconciliation, I was at the window of my hotel with my sisters and some Breton friends; we heard shouts of: ‘Lock the doors! Lock the doors!’ A ragged crowd appeared at one end of the street; two standards, difficult to see clearly at that distance, rose from their midst. As they came nearer we could make out two dishevelled, disfigured heads, which Marat’s heralds were carrying, each on the tip of a pike: they were the heads of Messieurs Foullon and Bertier. Everyone drew back from the windows; I remained. The assassins stopped in front of me, stretching their pikes towards me while singing, dancing about, jumping up in order to thrust the pale effigies in my face. An eye in one of those heads had leapt from its socket, and hung down on the unrecognisable face of the dead; the pike stuck out of the open mouth, the teeth biting on metal: ‘Brigands!’ I shouted, unable to contain the indignation I felt, ‘Is this how you understand liberty?’ If I had possessed a gun I would have shot at those wretches as one shoots at wolves. They howled, redoubling their blows on the main door in the hope of breaking in, and adding my head to those of their victims. My sisters felt faint; the cowards in the hotel heaped reproaches on me. The murderers, who were being pursued, had no time to invade the building, and made off. Those heads, and others which I encountered soon after, altered my political tendencies; I was horrified by those cannibal feasts, and the idea of leaving France for some distant country took root in my mind.