Read Amiens, April 12, 1795 of A Residence in France During the Years 1792‚ 1793‚ 1794 and 1795‚ Part IV, free online book, by An English Lady, on

Instead of commenting on the late disorders at Paris, I subjoin the translation of a letter just received by Mrs. D-------- from a friend, whose information, we have reason to believe, is as exact as can possibly be obtained in the chaos of little intrigues which now comprise the whole science of French politics.

“Paris, April 9.

“Though I know, my good friend, you are sufficiently versed in the technicals of our revolution not to form an opinion of occurrences from the language in which they are officially described, yet I cannot resist the favourable opportunity of Mad. --------’s return, to communicate such explanations of the late events as their very ambiguous appearance may render necessary even to you.

“I must begin by informing you, that the proposed decree of the Convention to dissolve themselves and call a new Assembly, was a mere coquettry. Harassed by the struggles of the Jacobins, and alarmed at the symptoms of public weariness and disgust, which became every day more visible, they hoped this feint might operate on the fears of the people of Paris, and animate them to a more decided support against the efforts of the common enemy, as well as tend to reconcile them to a farther endurance of a representation from which they did not disguise their wishes to be released. An opportunity was therefore seized on, or created, when our allowance of bread had become unusually short, and the Jacobins unusually turbulent, to bring forward this project of renovating the legislature. But in politics, as well as love, such experiments are dangerous. Far from being received with regret, the proposition excited universal transport; and it required all the diligence of the agents of government to insinuate effectually, that if Paris were abandoned by the Convention at this juncture, it would not only become a prey to famine, but the Jacobins would avail themselves of the momentary disorder to regain their power, and renew their past atrocities.

“A conviction that we in reality derive our scanty supplies from exertions which would not be made, were they not necessary to restrain the popular ill humour, added to an habitual apprehension of the Clubs, assisted this manoeuvre; and a few of the sections were, in consequence, prevailed on to address our Representatives, and to request they would remain at their post.

“The insurrection that immediately succeeded was at first the effect of a similar scheme, and it ended in a party contention, in which the people, as usual, were neuter.

“The examination into the conduct of Barrere, Collot, &c. had been delayed until it seemed rather a measure destined to protect than to bring them to punishment; and the impatience which was every where expressed on the subject, sufficiently indicated the necessity, or at least the prudence, of hastening their trial. Such a process could not be ventured on but at the risk of involving the whole Convention in a labyrinth of crimes, inconsistencies, and ridicule, and the delinquents already began to exonerate themselves by appealing to the vote of solemn approbation passed in their favour three months after the death of Robespierre had restored the Assembly to entire freedom.

“The only means of extrication from this dilemma, appeared to be that of finding some pretext to satisfy the public vengeance, without hazarding the scandal of a judicial exposure. Such a pretext it was not difficult to give rise to: a diminished portion of bread never fails to produce tumultuous assemblages, that are easily directed, though not easily suppressed; and crouds of this description, agitated by real misery, were excited (as we have every reason to suppose) by hired emissaries to assail the Convention with disorderly clamours for bread. This being attributed to the friends of the culprits, decrees were opportunely introduced and passed for transporting them untried out of the republic, and for arresting most of the principal Jacobin members as their partizans.

“The subsequent disturbances were less artificial; for the Jacobins, thus rendered desperate, attempted resistance; but, as they were unsuccessful, their efforts only served their adversaries as an excuse for arresting several of the party who had escaped the former decrees.

“Nothing, I assure you, can with less truth be denominated popular movements, than many of these scenes, which have, notwithstanding, powerfully influenced the fate of our country. A revolt, or insurrection, is often only an affair of intrigue and arrangement; and the desultory violences of the suburbs of St. Antoine, or of the market women, are regulated by the same Committee and cabals that direct our campaigns and treaties. The common distresses of the people are continually drawing them together; and, when thus collected, their credulity renders them the ready instruments of any prevailing faction.

“Our recent disorders afforded a striking proof of this. I was myself the Cicerone of a country friend on the day the Convention was first assailed. The numbers who crouded into the hall were at first considerable, yet they exhibited no signs of hostility, and it was evident they were brought there for some purpose of which they were themselves ignorant. When asked their intentions, they vociferated ’Du pain! Du pain!’ Bread, Bread; and, after occupying the seats of the Deputies for a short time, quietly withdrew.

“That this insurrection was originally factitious, and devised for the purpose I have mentioned, is farther corroborated by the sudden appearance of Pichegru and other officers, who seemed brought expressly to protect the departure of the obnoxious trio, in case it should be opposed either by their friends or enemies. It is likewise to be remarked, that Barrere and the rest were stopped at the gates of Paris by the same mob who were alledged to have risen in their favour, and who, instead of endeavouring to rescue them, brought them back to the Committee of General Safety, on a supposition that they had escaped from prison. The members of the moderate party, who were detained in some of the sections, sustained no ill treatment whatever, and were released on being claimed by their colleagues, which could scarcely have happened, had the mob been under the direction of the Jacobins, or excited by them. In short, the whole business proved that the populace were mere agents, guided by no impulse of their own, except hunger, and who, when left to themselves, rather impeded than promoted the designs of both factions.

“You must have been surprized to see among the list of members arrested, the name of Laurent Lecointre; but he could never be pardoned for having reduced the Convention to the embarrassing necessity of prosecuting Robespierre’s associates, and he is now secured, lest his restless Quixotism should remind the public, that the pretended punishment of these criminals is in fact only a scandalous impunity.

“We are at present calm, but our distress for bread is intolerable, and the people occasionally assail the pastry-cooks’ shops; which act of hostility is called, with more pleasantry than truth or feeling, ’La guerre du pain bis contre la brioche.’ [The war of brown bread against cakes.] God knows, it is not the quality of bread, but the scarcity of it which excites these discontents.

“The new arithmetic is more followed, and more interesting, than ever, though our hopes are all vague, and we neither guess how or by whom they are to be fulfilled.

“I have done every thing that depends on me to obtain your passports without success, and I still advise you to come to Paris and solicit them in person. Your departure, in happier times, would be a subject of regret, at present I shall both envy and congratulate you when you are enabled to quit a country which promises so little security or satisfaction.

“We receive, at this moment, the two loaves. My sister joins me in acknowledgments, and expresses her fears that you must suffer by your kindness, though it is truly acceptable for I have been several days under arms, and have had no time to make my usual excursions in search of bread.

“Yours, &c.”

The proposed dissolution of the Assembly alluded to in the beginning of Mons. --------’s letter, occasioned here a more general rejoicing than even the fall of the Jacobin club, and, not being influenced by the motives suggested to the Parisians, we were sincerely disappointed when we found the measure postponed. The morning this news arrived, we walked about the town till dinner, and in every street people were collected in groupes, and engaged in eager discussion. An acquaintance whom we happened to meet, instead of the usual salutations, exclaimed “Nous viola quittes, ils s’en vont les brigands” ["At length we are quit of them the rogues are going about their business."]; and I observed several recontres of this sort, where people skipped and caracoled, as though unable to contain their satisfaction. Nothing was talked of but Le Petit [An endearing appellation given to the young King by those who would not venture to mention his name.], and the new elections; and I remarked with pleasure, that every one agreed in the total exclusion of all the present Deputies.

Two mornings after we had been indulging in these agreeable visions, we learned that the Convention, purely from a patriotic desire of serving their country, had determined not to quit their post. We were at this time in extreme want of bread, the distribution not exceeding a quarter of a pound per day; and numbers who are at their ease in other respects, could not obtain any. This, operating perhaps with the latent ill humour occasioned by so unwelcome a declaration of perseverance on the part of their Representatives, occasioned a violent ferment among the people, and on the second of this month they were in open revolt; the magazine of corn for the use of the army was besieged, the national colours were insulted, and Blaux, a Deputy who is here on mission, was dragged from the Hotel de Ville, and obliged by the enraged populace to cry “Vive le Roi!” These disorders continued till the next day, but were at length appeased by a small distribution of flour from the magazine.

In the debates of the Convention the whole is ascribed to the Jacobins, though it is well known they have no influence here; and I wish you to attend to this circumstance more particularly, as it proves what artifices are used to conceal the real sentiments of the people. I, and every inhabitant of Amiens, can attest that this revolt, which was declared in the Assembly to have been instigated by the partizans of the Jacobins, was, as far as it had any decided political character, an effervescence of royalism.

At Rouen, Abbeville, and other places, the trees of liberty, (or, rather, the trees of the republic,) have been cut down, the tri-coloured flag torn, and the cry of “Vive le Roi!” was for some time predominant; yet the same misrepresentation was had recourse to, and all these places were asserted to have espoused the cause of that party to which they are most repugnant.

I acknowledge that the chief source of these useless excesses is famine, and that it is for the most part the lower classes only who promote them; but the same cause and the same description of people were made the instruments for bringing about the revolution, and the poor seek now, as they did in 1789, a remedy for their accumulated sufferings in a change of government. The mass of mankind are ever more readily deluded by hope than benefited by experience; and the French, being taught by the revolutionists to look for that relief from changes of government which such changes cannot afford, now expect that the restoration of the monarchy will produce plenty, as they were before persuaded that the first efforts to subvert it would banish want.

We are now tolerably quiet, and should seriously think of going to Paris, were we not apprehensive that some attempt from the Jacobins to rescue their chiefs, may create new disturbances. The late affair appears to have been only a retaliation of the thirty-first of May, 1792; and the remains of the Girondists have now proscribed the leaders of the Mountaineers, much in the same way as they were then proscribed themselves. Yours.