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Massacre Of Prisoners








The number of individuals accumulated in the various prisons of Paris
had increased by the arrests and domiciliary visits subsequent to the
10th of August, to about eight thousand persons. It was the object of
this infernal scheme to destroy the greater part of these under one
general system of murder, not to be executed by the sudden and furious
impulse of an armed multitude, but with a certain degree of cold blood
and deliberate investigation. A force of armed banditti, Marsellois
partly, and partly chosen ruffians of the Fauxbourgs, proceeded to the
several prisons, into which they either forced their passage, or were
admitted by the jailers, most of whom had been apprised of what was to
take place, though some even of these steeled officials exerted
themselves to save those under their charge. A revolutionary tribunal
was formed from among the armed ruffians themselves, who examined the
registers of the prison, and summoned the captives individually to
undergo the form of a trial. If the judges, as was almost always the
case, declared for death, their doom, to prevent the efforts of men in
despair, was expressed in the words "Give the prisoner freedom." The
victim was then thrust out into the street, or yard; he was despatched
by men and women, who, with sleeves tucked up, arms dyed elbow-deep in
blood, hands holding axes, pikes, and sabres, were executioners of the
sentence; and, by the manner in which they did their office on the
living, and mangled the bodies of the dead, showed that they occupied
the post as much from pleasure as from love of hire. They often
exchanged places; the judges going out to take the executioners' duty,
the executioners, with reeking hands, sitting as judges in their turn.
Mailard, a ruffian alleged to have distinguished himself at the siege of
the Bastile, but better known by his exploits on the march to
Versailles, presided during these brief and sanguinary investigations.
His companions on the bench were persons of the same stamp. Yet there
were occasions when they showed some transient gleams of humanity, and
it is not unimportant to remark, that boldness had more influence on
them than any appeal to mercy or compassion. An avowed royalist was
occasionally dismissed uninjured, while the constitutionalists were sure
to be massacred. Another trait of a singular nature is, that two of the
ruffians who were appointed to guard one of these intended victims home
in safety, as if they were acquitted, insisted on seeing his meeting
with his family, seemed to share in the transports of the moment, and on
taking leave, shook the hand of their late prisoner, while their own
were clotted with the gore of his friends, and had been just raised to
shed his own. Few, indeed, and brief, were these symptoms of relenting.
In general, the doom of the prisoner was death, and that doom was
instantly accomplished.

In the meanwhile, the captives were penned up in their dungeons like
cattle in a shambles, and in many instances might, from windows which
looked outwards, mark the fate of their comrades, hear their cries, and
behold their struggles, and learn from the horrible scene, how they
might best meet their own approaching fate. They observed, according to
St. Meard, who, in his well-named Agony of Thirty-Six Hours, has given
the account of this fearful scene, that those who intercepted the blows
of the executioners, by holding up their hands, suffered protracted
torment, while those who offered no show of struggle were more easily
despatched; and they encouraged each other to submit to their fate, in
the manner least likely to prolong their sufferings.

Many ladies, especially those belonging to the court, were thus
murdered. The Princess de Lamballe, whose only crime seems to have been
her friendship for Marie Antoinette, was literally hewn to pieces, and
her head, and that of others, paraded on pikes through the metropolis.
It was carried to the temple on that accursed weapon, the features yet
beautiful in death, and the long fair curls of the hair floating around
the spear. The murderers insisted that the King and Queen should be
compelled to come to the window to view this dreadful trophy. The
municipal officers who were upon duty over the royal prisoners, had
difficulty, not merely in saving them from this horrible inhumanity, but
also in preventing their prison from being forced. Three-coloured
ribbons were extended across the street, and this frail barrier was
found sufficient to intimate that the Temple was under the safeguard of
the nation. We do not read that the efficiency of the three-coloured
ribbons was tried for the protection of any of the other prisoners. No
doubt the executioners had their instructions where and when they should
be respected.

The clergy, who had declined the constitutional oath from pious
scruples, were, during the massacre, the peculiar objects of insult and
cruelty, and their conduct was such as corresponded with their religious
and conscientious professions. They were seen confessing themselves to
each other, or receiving the confessions of their lay companions in
misfortune, and encouraging them to undergo the evil hour, with as much
calmness as if they had not been to share its bitterness. As
protestants, we cannot abstractedly approve of the doctrines which
render the established clergy of one country dependant upon the
sovereign pontiff, the prince of an alien state. But these priests did
not make the laws for which they suffered; they only obeyed them; and as
men and christians we must regard them as martyrs, who preferred death
to what they considered as apostacy.

In the brief intervals of this dreadful butchery, which lasted four
days, the judges and executioners ate, drank, and slept: and awoke from
slumber, or arose from their meal, with fresh appetite for murder. There
were places arranged for the male, and for the female murderers, for the
work had been incomplete without the intervention of the latter. Prison
after prison was invested, entered, and under the same form of
proceeding made the scene of the same inhuman butchery. The Jacobins had
reckoned on making the massacre universal over France. But the example
was not generally followed. It required, as in the case of St.
Bartholomew, the only massacre which can be compared to this in
atrocity, the excitation of a large capital, in a violent crisis, to
render such horrors possible.

The community of Paris were not in fault for this. They did all they
could to extend the sphere of murder. Their warrant brought from Orleans
near sixty persons, including the Duke de Cosse-Brissac, De Lesart the
late minister, and other royalists of distinction, who were to have been
tried before the high court of that department. A band of assassins met
them, by appointment of the community, at Versailles, who, uniting with
their escort, murdered almost the whole of the unhappy men.

From the 2d to the 6th of September, these infernal crimes proceeded
uninterrupted, protracted by the actors for the sake of the daily pay of
a louis to each, openly distributed amongst them, by order of the
Commune. It was either from a desire to continue as long as possible a
labour so well requited, or because these beings had acquired an
insatiable lust of murder, that, when the jails were emptied of state
criminals, the assassins attacked the Bicetre, a prison where ordinary
delinquents were confined. These unhappy wretches offered a degree of
resistance which cost the assailants more dear than any they had
experienced from their proper victims. They were obliged to fire on them
with cannon, and many hundreds of the miserable creatures were in thus
way exterminated, by wretches worse than themselves.

No exact account was ever made of the number of persons murdered during
this dreadful period; but not above two or three hundred of the
prisoners arrested for state offences were known to escape, or be
discharged, and the most moderate computation raises the number of those
who fell to two or three thousand, though some carry it to twice the
extent. Truchod announced to the Legislative Assembly, that four
thousand had perished. Some exertion was made to save the lives of those
imprisoned for debt, whose numbers, with those of common felons, may
make up the balance betwixt the number slain and eight thousand who were
prisoners when the massacre began. The bodies were interred in heaps, in
immense trenches, prepared beforehand by order of the community of
Paris; but their bones have since been transferred to the subterranean
catacombs, which form the general charnel-house of the city. In those
melancholy regions, while other relics of mortality lie exposed all
around, the remains of those who perished in the massacres of September,
are alone secluded from the eye. The vault in which they repose is
closed with a screen of freestone, as if relating to crimes unfit to be
thought of even in the proper abode of death; and which France would
willingly hide in oblivion.

After this dreadful massacre, the Jacobins eagerly demanded the life of
Louis XVI. He was accordingly tried by the convention and condemned to
be beheaded.





Next: Death Of Louis Xvi And Other Members Of The Royal Family

Previous: Sketch Of The French Revolution Of 1789 As Connected With The History Of Persecution



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