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

The design of those who were the primary agents in originating the

causes of the French Revolution, was the utter subversion of the

christian religion. Voltaire, the leader in this crusade against

religion, boasted that "with one hand he would pull down, what took

twelve Apostles to build up." The motto on the seal of his letters was,

"Crush the wretch," having reference to Jesus Christ, and the system of

religion, which he promulgated. To effect his object he wrote and

published a great variety of infidel tracts, containing the most

licentious sentiments and the most blasphemous attacks upon the religion

of the Bible. Innumerable copies of these tracts were printed, and

gratuitously circulated in France and other countries. As they were

adapted to the capacity of all classes of persons, they were eagerly

sought after, and read with avidity. The doctrines inculcated in them

were subversive of every principle of morality and religion. The

everlasting distinctions between virtue and vice, were completely broken

down. Marriage was ridiculed--obedience to parents treated as the most

abject slavery--subordination to civil government, the most odious

despotism--and the acknowledgement of a God, the height of folly and

absurdity. Deeply tinged with such sentiments, the revolution of 1789,

found the popular mind in France prepared for all the atrocities which

followed. The public conscience had become so perverted, that scenes of

treachery, cruelty and blood were regarded with indifference, and

sometimes excited the most unbounded applause in the spectators. Such a

change had been effected in the French character, by the propagation of

Infidel and Atheistical opinions, "that from being one of the most light

hearted and kind tempered of nations," says Scott, "the French seemed

upon the revolution to have been animated, not merely with the courage,

but with the rabid fury of wild beasts." When the Bastile was stormed

"Fouton and Berthier, two individuals whom they considered as enemies of

the people, were put to death, with circumstances of cruelty and insult

fitting only at the death stake of an Indian encampment; and in

imitation of literal cannibals, there were men, or rather monsters

found, not only to tear asunder, the limbs of their victims, but to eat

their hearts, and drink their blood."

Croly, in his new interpretation of the Apocalypse, holds the following


The primary cause of the French revolution was the exile of


Its decency of manners had largely restrained the licentious tendencies

of the higher orders; its learning had compelled the Romish

Ecclesiastics to similar labours; and while christianity could appeal to

such a church in France, the progress of the infidel writers was checked

by the living evidence of the purity, peacefulness and wisdom of the

Gospel. It is not even without sanction of scripture and history to

conceive that, the presence of such a body of the servants of God was a

divine protection to their country.

But the fall of the church was followed by the most palpable, immediate,

and ominous change. The great names of the Romish priesthood, the

vigorous literature of Bossnett, the majestic oratory of Massillon, the

pathetic and classic elegance of Fenelon, the mildest of all

enthusiasts; a race of men who towered above the genius of their country

and of their religion; passed away without a successor. In the beginning

of the 18th century, the most profligate man in France was an

ecclesiastic, the Cardinal Dubois, prime minister to the most profligate

prince in Europe, the Regent Orleans. The country was convulsed with

bitter personal disputes between Jesuit and Jansenist, fighting even to

mutual persecution upon points either beyond or beneath the human

intellect. A third party stood by, unseen, occasionally stimulating

each, but equally despising both, a potential fiend, sneering at the

blind zealotry and miserable rage that were doing its unsuspected will.

Rome, that boasts of her freedom from schism should blot the 18th

century from her page.

The French mind, subtle, satirical, and delighting to turn even matters

of seriousness into ridicule, was immeasurably captivated by the true

burlesque of those disputes, the childish virulence, the extravagant

pretensions, and the still more extravagant impostures fabricated in

support of the rival pre-eminence in absurdity; the visions of half-mad

nuns and friars; the Convulsionaries; the miracles at the tomb of the

Abbe Paris, trespasses on the common sense of man, scarcely conceivable

by us if they had not been renewed under our eyes by popery. All France

was in a burst of laughter.

In the midst of this tempest of scorn an extraordinary man arose, to

guide and deepen it into public ruin, VOLTAIRE; a personal profligate;

possessing a vast variety of that superficial knowledge which gives

importance to folly; frantic for popularity, which he solicited at all

hazards; and sufficiently opulent to relieve him from the necessity of

any labours but those of national undoing. Holding but an inferior and

struggling rank in all the manlier provinces of the mind, in science,

poetry, and philosophy; he was the prince of scorners. The splenetic

pleasantry which stimulates the wearied tastes of high life; the

grossness which half concealed captivates the loose, without offence to

their feeble decorum; and the easy brilliancy which throws what colours

it will on the darker features of its purpose; made Voltaire, the very

genius of France. But under this smooth and sparkling surface,

reflecting like ice all the lights flung upon it, there was a dark

fathomless depth of malignity. He hated government; he hated morals; he

hated man, he hated religion. He sometimes bursts out into exclamations

of rage and insane fury against all that we honour as best and holiest,

that sound less the voice of human lips than the echoes of the final

place of agony and despair.

A tribe worthy of his succession, showy, ambitious, and malignant,

followed; each with some vivid literary contribution, some powerful and

popular work, a new despotic of combustion in that mighty mine on which

stood in thin and fatal security the throne of France. Rousseau, the

most impassioned of all romancers, the great corrupter of the female

mind. Buffon, a lofty and splendid speculator, who dazzled the whole

multitude of the minor philosophers, and fixed the creed of

Materialism. Moutesquieu, eminent for knowledge and sagacity in his

"Spirit of Laws" striking all the establishments of his country into

contempt; and in his "Persian Letters," levelling the same blow at her

morals. D'Alembert, the first mathematician of his day, an eloquent

writer, the declared pupil of Voltaire, and, by his secretary-ship of

the French academy, furnished with all the facilities for propagating

his master's opinions. And Diderot, the projector and chief conductor of

the Encyclopedia, a work justly exciting the admiration of Europe, by

the novelty and magnificence of its design, and by the comprehensive and

solid extent of its knowledge; but in its principles utterly evil, a

condensation of all the treasons of the school of anarchy, the lex

scripta of the Revolution.

All those men were open infidels; and their attacks on religion, such as

they saw it before them, roused the Gallican church. But the warfare was

totally unequal. The priesthood came armed with the antiquated and

unwieldy weapons of old controversy, forgotten traditions and exhausted

legends. They could have conquered them only by the bible; they fought

them only with the breviary. The histories of the saints, and the

wonders of images were but fresh food for the most overwhelming scorn.

The bible itself, which popery has always laboured to close, was brought

into the contest, and used resistlessly against the priesthood. They

were contemptuously asked, in what part of the sacred volume had they

found the worship of the Virgin, of the Saints, or of the Host? where

was the privilege that conferred Saintship at the hands of the pope?

where was the prohibition of the general use of scripture by every man

who had a soul to be saved? where was the revelation of that purgatory,

from which a monk and a mass could extract a sinner? where was the

command to imprison, torture, and slay men for their difference of

opinion with an Italian priest and the college of cardinals? To those

formidable questions the clerics answered by fragments from the fathers,

angry harangues, and more legends of more miracles. They tried to enlist

the nobles and the court in a crusade. But the nobles were already among

the most zealous, though secret, converts to the Encyclopedia; and the

gentle spirit of the monarch was not to be urged into a civil war. The

threat of force only inflamed contempt into vengeance. The populace of

Paris, like all mobs, licentious, restless, and fickle; but beyond all,

taking an interest in public matters, had not been neglected by the deep

designers who saw in the quarrel of the pen the growing quarrel of the

sword. The Fronde was not yet out of their minds; the barrier days of

Paris; the municipal council which in 1648, had levied war against the

government; the mob-army which had fought, and terrified that government

into forgiveness; were the strong memorials on which the anarchists of

1793 founded their seduction. The perpetual ridicule of the national

belief was kept alive among them. The populace of the provinces, whose

religion was in their rosary, were prepared for rebellion by similar

means and the terrible and fated visitation of France began.

After passing through many scenes from the recital of which the mind

turns away with loathing and disgust, the reign of terror commenced.

Previous to this, however, there had been dreadful riots, and disorders

in Paris. The Swiss Guards had been cut to pieces, and the king and

royal family imprisoned. The priests had nearly all perished or been

banished from France. The national assembly was divided into desperate

factions, which often turned their arms against one another. When one

party triumphed, proscription followed, and the guillotine was put in

requisition, and blood flowed in torrents. The grossest irreligion

likewise prevailed. Leaders of the atheistical mob would extend their

arms to heaven and dare a God, if he existed, to vindicate his insulted

majesty, and crush them with his thunderbolts. Over the entrance of

their grave yards was placed this inscription, "DEATH AN ETERNAL SLEEP."

Men who dared to think differently from the dominant faction, were

immediately executed, in mockery, often, of all the forms of justice.

The most ferocious of the bloody factions, were the jacobins, so called

from their place of meeting. The leaders of this party were Danton,

Robespierre, and Marat. They are thus described by Scott in his life of


Three men of terror, whose names will long remain, we trust, unmatched

in history by those of any similar miscreants, had now the unrivalled

leading of the jacobins, and were called the Triumvirate.

Danton deserves to be named first, as unrivalled by his colleagues in

talent and audacity. He was a man of gigantic size, and possessed a

voice of thunder. His countenance was that of an Ogre on the shoulders

of a Hercules. He was as fond of the pleasures of vice as of the

practice of cruelty; and it was said there were times when he became

humanized amidst his debauchery, laughed at the terror which his furious

declamation excited, and might be approached with safety like the

Maelstrom at the turn of tide. His profusion was indulged to an extent

hazardous to his popularity, for the populace are jealous of a lavish

expenditure, as raising their favourites too much above their own

degree; and the charge of peculation finds always ready credit with

them, when brought against public men.

Robespierre possessed this advantage over Danton, that he did not seem

to seek for wealth, either for hoarding or expending, but lived in

strict and economical retirement, to justify the name of the

Incorruptible, with which he was honoured by his partisans. He appears

to have possessed little talent, saving a deep fund of hypocrisy,

considerable powers of sophistry, and a cold exaggerated strain of

oratory, as foreign to good taste, as the measures he recommended were

to ordinary humanity. It seemed wonderful, that even the seething and

boiling of the revolutionary cauldron should have sent up from the

bottom, and long supported on the surface, a thing so miserably void of

claims to public distinction; but Robespierre had to impose on the minds

of the vulgar, and he knew how to beguile them, by accommodating his

flattery to their passions and scale of understanding, and by acts of

cunning and hypocrisy, which weigh more with the multitude than the

words of eloquence, or the arguments of wisdom. The people listened as

to their Cicero, when he twanged out his apostrophes of Pauvre Peuple,

Peuple verteueux! and hastened to execute whatever came recommended by

such honied phrases, though devised by the worst of men for the worst

and most inhuman of purposes.

Vanity was Robespierre's ruling passion, and though his countenance was

the image of his mind, he was vain even of his personal appearance, and

never adopted the external habits of a sans culotte. Amongst his fellow

jacobins he was distinguished by the nicety with which his hair was

arranged and powdered; and the neatness of his dress was carefully

attended to, so as to counterbalance, if possible, the vulgarity of his

person. His apartments, though small, were elegant, and vanity had

filled them with representations of the occupant. Robespierre's picture

at length hung in one place, his miniature in another, his bust occupied

a niche, and on the table were disposed a few medallions exhibiting his

head in profile. The vanity which all this indicated was of the coldest

and most selfish character, being such as considers neglect as insult,

and receives homage merely as a tribute; so that, while praise is

received without gratitude, it is withheld at the risk of mortal hate.

Self-love of this dangerous character is closely allied with envy, and

Robespierre was one of the most envious and vindictive men that ever

lived. He never was known to pardon any opposition, affront, or even

rivalry; and to be marked in his tablets on such an account was a sure,

though perhaps not an immediate sentence of death. Danton was a hero,

compared with this cold, calculating, creeping miscreant; for his

passions, though exaggerated, had at least some touch of humanity, and

his brutal ferocity was supported by brutal courage. Robespierre was a

coward, who signed death-warrants with a hand that shook, though his

heart was relentless. He possessed no passions on which to charge his

crimes; they were perpetrated in cold blood, and upon mature


Marat, the third of this infernal triumvirate, had attracted the

attention of the lower orders, by the violence of his sentiments in the

journal which he conducted from the commencement of the revolution, upon

such principles that it took the lead in forwarding its successive

changes. His political exhortations began and ended like the howl of a

blood-hound for murder; or, if a wolf could have written a journal, the

gaunt and famished wretch could not have ravined more eagerly for

slaughter. It was blood which was Marat's constant demand, not in drops

from the breast of an individual, not in puny streams from the slaughter

of families, but blood in the profusion of an ocean. His usual

calculation of the heads which he demanded amounted to two hundred and

sixty thousand; and though he sometimes raised it as high as three

hundred thousand, it never fell beneath the smaller number. It may be

hoped, and, for the honour of human nature, we are inclined to believe,

there was a touch of insanity in this unnatural strain of ferocity; and

the wild and squalid features of the wretch appear to have intimated a

degree of alienation of mind. Marat was, like Robespierre, a coward.

Repeatedly denounced in the Assembly, he skulked instead of defending

himself, and lay concealed in some obscure garret or cellar, among his

cut-throats, until a storm appeared, when, like a bird of ill omen, his

death-screech was again heard. Such was the strange and fatal

triumvirate, in which the same degree of cannibal cruelty existed under

different aspects. Danton murdered to glut his rage; Robespierre to

avenge his injured vanity, or to remove a rival whom he envied! Marat,

from the same instinctive love of blood, which induces a wolf to

continue his ravage of the flocks long after his hunger is appeased.

These monsters ruled France for a time with the most despotic sway. The

most sanguinary laws were enacted--and the most vigilant system of

police maintained. Spies and informers were employed--and every murmur,

and every expression unfavourable to the ruling powers was followed with

the sentence of death and its immediate execution.

"Men," says Scott, "read Livy for the sake of discovering what degree of

private crime might be committed under the mask of public virtue. The

deed of the younger Brutus, served any man as an apology to betray to

ruin and to death, a friend or a patron, whose patriotism might not be

of the pitch which suited the time. Under the example of the elder

Brutus, the nearest ties of blood were repeatedly made to give way

before the ferocity of party zeal--a zeal too often assumed for the most

infamous and selfish purposes. As some fanatics of yore studied the old

testament for the purpose of finding examples of bad actions to

vindicate those which themselves were tempted to commit, so the

republicans of France, we mean the desperate and outrageous bigots of

the revolution, read history to justify, by classical instances, their

public and private crimes. Informers, those scourges of a state, were

encouraged to a degree scarce known in ancient Rome in the time of the

emperors, though Tacitus has hurled his thunders against them, as the

poison and pest of his time. The duty of lodging such informations was

unblushingly urged as indispensable. The safety of the republic being

the supreme charge of every citizen, he was on no account to hesitate in

denouncing, as it was termed, any one whomsoever, or howsoever

connected with him,--the friend of his counsels, or the wife of his

bosom,--providing he had reason to suspect the devoted individual of the

crime of incivism,--a crime the more mysteriously dreadful, as no one

knew exactly its nature."

In this place we shall give an account of some of the scenes to which

France was subject during this awful period. In order to render the

triumph complete, the leaders of the Jacobins determined upon a general

massacre of all the friends of the unfortunate Louis and the

constitution in the kingdom. For this purpose, suspected persons of all

ranks were collected in the prisons and jails, and on the 2d of

September, 1792, the work of death commenced.

Simon Miller And Elizabeth Cooper Sketches Of The Lives Of Some Of The Most Eminent Reformers facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail