Read Beauvais, March 13, 1795 of A Residence in France During the Years 1792‚ 1793‚ 1794 and 1795‚ Part IV, free online book, by An English Lady, on

I have often, in the course of these letters, experienced how difficult it is to describe the political situation of a country governed by no fixed principles, and subject to all the fluctuations which are produced by the interests and passions of individuals and of parties. In such a state conclusions are necessarily drawn from daily events, minute facts, and an attentive observation of the opinions and dispositions of the people, which, though they leave a perfect impression on the mind of the writer, are not easily conveyed to that of the reader. They are like colours, the various shades of which, though discriminated by the eye, cannot be described but in general terms.

Since I last wrote, the government has considerably improved in decency and moderation; and though the French enjoy as little freedom as their almost sole Allies, the Algerines, yet their terror begins to wear off and, temporizing with a despotism they want energy to destroy, they rejoice in the suspension of oppressions which a day or an hour may renew. No one pretends to have any faith in the Convention; but we are tranquil, if not secure and, though subject to a thousand arbitrary details, incompatible with a good government, the political system is doubtless meliorated. Justice and the voice of the people have been attended to in the arrest of Collot, Barrere, and Billaud, though many are of opinion that their punishment will extend no farther; for a trial, particularly that of Barrere, who is in the secret of all factions, would expose so many revolutionary mysteries and patriotic reputations, that there are few members of the Convention who will not wish it evaded; they probably expect, that the seclusion, for some months, of the persons of the delinquents will appease the public vengeance, and that this affair may be forgotten in the bustle of more recent events. If there had been any doubt of the crimes of these men, the publication of Robespierre’s papers would have removed them; and, exclusive of their value when considered as a history of the times, these papers form one of the most curious and humiliating monuments of human debasement, and human depravity, extant.

After several skirmishes between the Jacobins and Muscadins, the bust of Marat has been expelled from the theatres and public places of Paris, and the Convention have ratified this popular judgment, by removing him also from their Hall and the Pantheon. But reflecting on the frailty of our nature, and the levity of their countrymen, in order to obviate the disorders these premature beatifications give rise to, they have decreed that no patriot shall in future by Pantheonized until ten years after his death. This is no long period; yet revolutionary reputations have hitherto scarcely survived as many months, and the puerile enthusiasm which is adopted, not felt, has been usually succeeded by a violence and revenge equally irrational.

It has lately been discovered that Condorcet is dead, and that he perished in a manner singularly awful. Travelling under a mean appearance, he stopped at a public house to refresh himself, and was arrested in consequence of having no passport. He told the people who examined him he was a servant, but a Horace, which they found about him, leading to a suspicion that he was of a superior rank, they determined to take him to the next town. Though already exhausted, he was obliged to walk some miles farther, and, on his arrival, he was deposited in a prison, where he was forgotten, and starved to death.

Thus, perhaps at the moment the French were apotheosing an obscure demagogue, the celebrated Condorcet expired, through the neglect of a gaoler; and now, the coarse and ferocious Marat, and the more refined, yet more pernicious, philosopher, are both involved in one common obloquy.

What a theme for the moralist! Perhaps the gaoler, whose brutal carelessness terminated the days of Condorcet, extinguished his own humanity in the torrent of that revolution of which Condorcet himself was one of the authors; and perhaps the death of a sovereign, whom Condorcet assisted in bringing to the scaffold, might have been this man’s first lesson in cruelty, and have taught him to set little value on the lives of the rest of mankind. The French, though they do not analyse seriously, speak of this event as a just retribution, which will be followed by others of a similar nature. "Quelle mort," ["What an end.”] says one "Elle est affreuse, (says another,) maïs il etoit cause que bien d’autres ont peri aussi." "Ils periront tous, et tant mieux," ["’Twas dreadful but how many people have perished by his means.” “They’ll all share the same fate, and so much the better.”] reply twenty voices; and this is the only epitaph on Condorcet.

The pretended revolution of the thirty-first of May, 1792, which has occasioned so much bloodshed, and which I remember it dangerous not to hallow, though you did not understand why, is now formally erased from among the festivals of the republic; but this is only the triumph of party, and a signal that the remains of the Brissotines are gaining ground.

A more conspicuous and a more popular victory has been obtained by the royalists, in the trial and acquittal of Delacroix. The jury had been changed after the affair of Carrier, and were now better composed; though the escape of Delacroix is more properly to be attributed to the intimidating favour of the people. The verdict was received with shouts of applause, repeated with transport, and Delacroix, who had so patriotically projected to purify the Convention, by sending more than half its members to America, was borne home on the shoulders of an exulting populace.

Again the extinction of the war in La Vendee is officially announced; and it is certain that the chiefs are now in treaty with government. Such a peace only implies, that the country is exhausted, for it suffices to have read the treatment of these unhappy people to know that a reconciliation can neither be sincere nor permanent. But whatever may be the eventual effect of this negotiation, it has been, for the present, the means of wresting some unwilling concessions from the Assembly in favour of a free exercise of religion. No arrangement could ever be proposed to the Vendeans, which did not include a toleration of Christianity; and to refuse that to patriots and republicans, which was granted to rebels and royalists, was deemed at this time neither reasonable nor politic. A decree is therefore passed, authorizing people, if they can overcome all the annexed obstacles, to worship God in they way they have been accustomed to.

The public hitherto, far from being assured or encouraged by this decree, appear to have become more timid and suspicious; for it is conceived in so narrow and paltry a spirit, and expressed in such malignant and illusive terms, that it can hardly be said to intend an indulgence. Of twelve articles of an act said to be concessive, eight are prohibitory and restrictive; and a municipal officer, or any other person “in place or office,” may controul at his pleasure all religious celebrations. The cathedrals and parish churches yet standing were seized on by the government at the introduction of the Goddesses of Reason, and the decree expressly declares that they shall not be restored or appropriated to their original uses. Individuals, who have purchased chapels or churches, hesitate to sell or let them, lest they should, on a change of politics, be persecuted as the abettors of fanaticism; so that the long-desired restoration of the Catholic worship makes but very slow progress.

A few people, whose zeal overpowers their discretion, have ventured to have masses at their own houses, but they are thinly attended; and on asking any one if they have yet been to this sort of conventicle, the reply is, "On new sait pas trop ce que le decret veut dire; il faut voir comment cela tournera." ["One cannot rightly comprehend the decree it will be best to wait and see how things go.”] Such a distrust is indeed very natural; for there are two subjects on which an inveterate hatred is apparent, and which are equally obnoxious to all systems and all parties in the Assembly I mean Christianity and Great Britain. Every day produces harangues against the latter; and Boissy d’Anglas has solemnly proclaimed, as the directing principle of the government, that the only negociation for peace shall be a new boundary described by the Northern conquests of the republic; and this modest diplomatic is supported by arguments to prove, that the commerce of England cannot be ruined on any other terms.

The debates of the Convention increase in variety and amusement. Besides the manual exercises of the members, the accusations and retorts of unguarded choler, disclose to us many curious truths which a politic unanimity might conceal. Saladin, who was a stipendiary of the Duke of Orleans, and whose reputation would not grace any other assembly, is transformed into a Moderate, and talks of virtue and crime; while Andre Dumont, to the great admiration of his private biographists, has been signing a peace with the Duke of Tuscany. Our republican statesmen require to be viewed in perspective: they appear to no advantage in the foreground. Dumont would have made “a good pantler, he would have chipp’d bread well;” or, like Scrub, he might have “drawn warrants, or drawn beer,” but I should doubt if, in a transaction of this nature, the Dukedom of Tuscany was ever before so assorted; and if the Duke were obliged to make this peace, he may well say, “necessity doth make us herd with strange companions.”

Notwithstanding the Convention still detests Christianity, utters anathemas against England, and exhibits daily scenes of indecent discussion and reviling, it is doubtless become more moderate on the whole; and though this moderation be not equal to the people’s wishes, it is more than sufficient to exasperate the Jacobins, who call the Convention the Senate of Coblentz, and are perpetually endeavouring to excite commotions. The belief is, indeed, general, that the Assembly contains a strong party of royalists; yet, though this may be true in a degree, I fear the impulse which has been given by the public opinion, is mistaken for a tendency in the Convention itself. But however, this may be, neither the imputations of the Jacobins, nor the hopes of the people, have been able to oppose the progress of a sentiment which, operating on a character like that of the French, is more fatal to a popular body than even hatred or contempt. The long duration of this disastrous legislature has excited an universal weariness; the guilt of particular members is now less discussed than the insignificance of the whole assemblage; and the epithets corrupt, worn out, hackneyed, and everlasting, [Tare, use, banal, and eternel.] have almost superseded those of rogues and villains.

The law of the maximum has been repealed some time, and we now procure necessaries with much greater facility; but the assignats, no longer supported by violence, are rapidly diminishing in credit so that every thing is dear in proportion. We, who are more than indemnified by the rise of exchange in our favour, are not affected by these progressive augmentations in the price of provisions. It would, however, be erroneous and unfeeling to judge of the situation of the French themselves from such a calculation.

People who have let their estates on leases, or have annuities on the Hotel de Ville, &c. receive assignats at par, and the wages of the labouring poor are still comparatively low. What was five years ago a handsome fortune, now barely supplies a decent maintenance; and smaller incomes, which were competencies at that period, are now almost insufficient for existence. A workman, who formerly earned twenty-five sols a day, has at present three livres; and you give a sempstress thirty sols, instead of ten: yet meat, which was only five or six sols when wages was twenty-five, is now from fifty sols to three livres the pound, and every other article in the same or a higher proportion. Thus, a man’s daily wages, instead of purchasing four or five pounds of meat, as they would have done before the revolution, now only purchase one.

It grieves me to see people whom I have known at their ease, obliged to relinquish, in the decline of life, comforts to which they were accustomed at a time when youth rendered indulgence less necessary; yet every day points to the necessity of additional oeconomy, and some little convenience or enjoyment is retrenched and to those who are not above acknowledging how much we are the creatures of habit, a dish of coffee, or a glass of liqueur, &c. will not seem such trifling privations. It is true, these are, strictly speaking, luxuries; so too are most things by comparison

“O reason not the need: our basest beggars
“Are in the poorest thing superfluous:
“Allow not nature more than nature needs,
“Man’s life is cheap as beast’s.”

If the wants of one class were relieved by these deductions from the enjoyments of another, it might form a sufficient consolation; but the same causes which have banished the splendor of wealth and the comforts of mediocrity, deprive the poor of bread and raiment, and enforced parsimony is not more generally conspicuous than wretchedness.

The frugal tables of those who were once rich, have been accompanied by relative and similar changes among the lower classes; and the suppression of gilt equipages is so far from diminishing the number of wooden shoes, that for one pair of sabots which were seen formerly, there are now ten. The only Lucullus’s of the day are a swarm of adventurers who have escaped from prisons, or abandoned gaming-houses, to raise fortunes by speculating in the various modes of acquiring wealth which the revolution has engendered. These, together with the numberless agents of government enriched by more direct pillage, live in coarse luxury, and dissipate with careless profusion those riches which their original situations and habits have disqualified them from converting to a better use.

Although the circumstances of the times have necessitated a good deal of domestic oeconomy among people who live on their fortunes, they have lately assumed a gayer style of dress, and are less averse from frequenting public amusements. For three years past, (and very naturally,) the gentry have openly murmured at the revolution; and they now, either convinced of the impolicy of such conduct, terrified by their past sufferings, or, above all, desirous of proclaiming their triumph over the Jacobins, are every where reviving the national taste for modes and finery. The attempt to reconcile these gaieties with prudence, has introduced some contrasts in apparel whimsical enough, though our French belles adopt them with much gravity.

In consequence of the disorders in the South of France, and the interruption of commerce by sea, soap is not only dear, but sometimes difficult to purchase at any rate. We have ourselves paid equal to five livres a pound in money. Hence we have white wigs and grey stockings, medallions and gold chains with coloured handkerchiefs and discoloured tuckers, and chemises de Sappho, which are often worn till they rather remind one of the pious Queen Isabel, than the Greek poetess.

Madame Tallien, who is supposed occasionally to dictate decrees to the Convention, presides with a more avowed and certain sway over the realms of fashion; and the Turkish draperies that may float very gracefully on a form like hers, are imitated by rotund sesquipedal Fatimas, who make one regret even the tight lacings and unnatural diminishings of our grandmothers.

I came to Beauvais a fortnight ago with the Marquise. Her long confinement has totally ruined her health, and I much fear she will not recover. She has an aunt lives here, and we flattered ourselves she might benefit by change of air but, on the contrary, she seems worse, and we propose to return in the course of a week to Amiens.

I had a good deal of altercation with the municipality about obtaining a passport; and when they at last consented, they gave me to understand I was still a prisoner in the eye of the law, and that I was indebted to them for all the freedom I enjoyed. This is but too true; for the decree constituting the English hostages for the Deputies at Toulon has never been repealed

“Ah, what avails it that from slavery far,
“I drew the breath of life in English air?”

Yet is it a consolation, that the title by which I was made an object of mean vengeance is the one I most value.

This is a large manufacturing town, and the capital of the department of l’Oise. Its manufactories now owe their chief activity to the requisitions for supplying cloth to the armies. Such commerce is by no means courted; and if people were permitted, as they are in most countries, to trade or let it alone, it would soon decline. The choir of the cathedral is extremely beautiful, and has luckily escaped republican devastation, though there seems to exist no hope that it will be again restored to the use of public worship. Your books will inform you, that Beauvais was besieged in 1472 by the Duke of Burgundy, with eighty thousand men, and that he failed in the attempt. Its modern history is not so fortunate. It was for some time harassed by a revolutionary army, whose exactions and disorders being opposed by the inhabitants, a decree of the Convention declared the town in a state of rebellion; and this ban, which operates like the Papal excommunications three centuries ago, and authorizes tyranny of all kinds, was not removed until long after the death of Robespierre. Such a specimen of republican government has made the people cautious, and abundant in the exteriors of patriotism. Where they are sure of their company, they express themselves without reserve, both on the subject of their legislators and the miseries of the country; but intercourse is considerably more timid here than at Amiens.

Two gentlemen dined with us yesterday, whom I know to be zealous royalists, and, as they are acquainted, I made no scruple of producing an engraving which commemorates mysteriously the death of the King, and which I had just received from Paris by a private conveyance. They looked alarmed, and affected not to understand it; and, perceiving I had done wrong, I replaced the print without farther explanation: but they both called this evening, and reproached me separately for thus exposing their sentiments to each other. This is a trifling incident, yet perhaps it may partly explain the great aenigma why no effectual resistance is made to a government which is secretly detested. It has been the policy of all the revolutionists, from the Lameths and La Fayette down to Brissot and Robespierre, to destroy the confidence of society; and the calamities of last year, now aiding the system of spies and informers, occasion an apprehension and distrust which impede union, and check every enterprize that might tend to restore the freedom of the country. Yours, &c.