Estelle La Chatte (estellacat) wrote in revolution_fr,
Estelle La Chatte

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Charlotte Robespierre's Memoirs (again)

We were on the verge of very grave events in Paris. It was necessary for every pure patriot to be at his post. Robespierre the Younger returned to sit on the benches of the Convention to fight against the enemies of the people. Again this time he did not come to lodge in our common apartment. He seemed to be fleeing my presence. I admit it, I was indignant against him; what had I done to him, I said to myself, for him to treat me this way, for him to say to anyone who will listen that I am unworthy of him, that I conducted myself badly with him, that I no longer deserve his esteem? It was then that I wrote him the letter that Levasseur recorded in his Memoirs. Only, I must say that it was not so acerbic or so violent, and that my brothers’ enemies have most certainly added several sentences and exaggerated others to render Maximilien Robespierre, to whom they suppose I wrote it, odious. I must therefore first declare that this letter was addressed to my younger brother and not to Maximilien; second, that it contains apocryphal phrases that I do not recognize as my own; third and last that this letter should not have been made public, that it was an affair between my younger brother and I, and that those who published it are guilty of an odious indiscretion that I cannot condemn too strongly.[1]

                I never saw my younger brother again. I only found myself with Maximilien one or two more times; but in the presence of several others, so that it was impossible for me to speak to him of the clouds that had arisen between Augustin and me. I knew them both to be entirely absorbed by the dangers threatening the republic[2]: I adjourned any explanation.

                9 Thermidor was approaching.

                Maximilien Robespierre no longer appeared at the Committee of Public Safety. He had remarked in the midst of this committee men who were pleased to prolong the violent state in which France found herself. This violent state had been necessary to foil the plots of the aristocrats and the agents of Pitt and Coburg; but once the enemies of the revolution had been vanquished, it was indispensable to put an end to the rigors that the dangers the patrie had been running had necessitated, and a time when the legal order would succeed the revolutionary regime had to arrive.

                Maximilien Robespierre believed that this time had arrived. He wanted, therefore, to fill in the abyss, and substitute clemency for rigor. But his colleagues on the Committee did not see things that way; Collot-d’Herbois and Billaud-Varennes especially wanted to make the Terror permanent, or at least prolong it indefinitely. This divergence of opinion had sparked very lively discussions within the Committee, and Maximilien had formed the resolution to exile himself from it until it had been purged of the members who were not of thinking.

                The Festival to the Supreme Being, of which my eldest brother was so to speak the author, the soul, the organizer, and which showed that he wanted to found the republic on morality and morality on the consoling idea of the existence of God and the immortality of the soul, that festival so sublime by the aim that my brother proposed in celebrating it, had been the signal for the outburst of his enemies’ fury. Everyone who was impure and corrupted in the Convention and outside the Convention leagued against the virtuous Maximilien. Not only did this league recruit many Montagnards who had constantly combated the partisans of the monarchy with him, but it received in its ranks the debris of the Girondin party and of Danton’s party.

                One of the most substantial grievances that was dredged up against my brother was of having sacrificed Danton. I do not know whether this accusation was founded, all I know is that my brother had much love for Camille Desmoulins, with whom he had studied, and that when he learned of his arrest and his incarceration in the Luxembourg he went to that prison in the intention of imploring Camille to return to the true revolutionary principles he had abandoned to ally himself with the aristocrats. Camille did not want to see him; and my brother, who would probably have defended him and would perhaps have saved him, abandoned him to the terrible justice of the Revolutionary Tribunal. Now, Danton and Camille were too closely linked for him to save one and not the other; so therefore, if Camille had not repulsed him at the moment when he was reaching out to him, Camille and Danton would not have perished.

                Danton and Maximilien Robespierre had long worked in concert; love of the patrie along had been able to unite these two men; for, everything about them differed: mores, habits, manners, temperaments, minds, eloquence. Danton had a temperament insatiable for sensual pleasures; his mores were dissolute: he was what is called a spendthrift [bourreau d’argent]; his famous dinners at three hundred francs per head are well known; my elder brother, to the contrary, was chaste and sober; his tastes and pleasures were simple. Danton had misappropriated State funds to provide for his enormous expenses; Robespierre was so thrifty with public monies that he never touched the integrality of the allowance to which he had a right as a member of the Convention.[3] The first did not at all conserve the dignity suited to the representative of a great people in his manners; his toilette was in disorder. Robespierre’s comportment was perfect; he was grave without pride; his dress was of an extreme cleanliness without fastidiousness. Danton’s spirit was impetuous and his confused eloquence produced the greatest effect in the moment; my brother’s spirit was wise and composed and envisioned and weighed things coldly; what was remarkable in his speeches was less great effulgence of tone and extraordinary figures than a vigorous and unforgiving logic. Printing did not at all diminish their intrinsic value, while Danton’s always lost something in being read.

                Without having been as closely bonded with Danton as with Pétion, Robespierre had good friendly relations with the first. I witnessed their interviews on several occasions; they conversed with  a great outpouring of their hearts; their conversations almost always focused on the republic.[4] Before Louis XVI was condemned to death, the outcome of the trial occupied them a great deal; they concerted so that the monarch who had betrayed France with such perfidy could not enjoy impunity, and would receive the punishment for his crimes. After 21 January, and when the audacity of the Girondins became intolerable, they turned all their energies against them; I heard them say that if they did not finish promptly with the faction of the Gironde, the revolution would miscarry. Afterwards, when the sacrifice of the twenty-two Girondins had been consummated, they argued on the manner of constituting a republic. One conceives that if two men like Robespierre and Danton had been in agreement to destroy, they could not very well agree to build again; their moral ideas were diametrically opposed; now, their political ideas had in all necessity to be equally in disaccord. There is the true cause of the rupture between my elder brother and Danton.

                Danton’s very hostile opposition to the revolutionary government must be added to this first cause. There was not one measure of the Committee of Public Safety or the Committee of General Security that he did not critique bitterly, when he was not attacking it with his accustomed energy, an energy which, as hostile as it had once been against the aristocrats, had become just as favorable, so to speak to them, since it was directed against a government that the aristocracy had bombarded in every way.

                Camille had been at least as much Robespierre’s friend as Danton. My brother had for him a very ready friendship; often he said to me that Camille was perhaps the one among all the key revolutionaries whom he liked best, after our younger brother and Saint-Just. Desmoulins was a true patriot, and had more virtue than Danton, without having as much of it as my two brothers; he had the most amiable qualities, but also a few faults which led to his ruin; he was proud and irascible; when he believed himself to be offended he did not forgive, and put into play against those he believed he had reason to complain of the redoubtable traits of a biting and acerbic criticism.

                Men who were far from equaling him in patriotism and talent, and who were jealous of his glory, calumniated him and accused him of being in the pay of aristocrats; no more was needed for the ebullient Camille to come undone, and against those who had attacked him, and against those who, if they had not attacked him, followed the same line of conduct as his calumniators. That is why, instead of repulsing the imputations of some of the members of the committees, who were his personal enemies, he attacked the committees en masse, lampooning their acts, dismissed the purity of their intentions in doubt, and even approached the aristocrats. The calumnies redoubled, or rather the lies that had been turned out about him when he was irreproachable became truths, when, by resentment, he had ceased to be pure. From day to day he separated himself more from his former friends, made common cause with Danton, and, letting himself be blinded by the endless praise the aristocrats lavished upon him because of his hostilities with the most terrible revolutionaries, he really became the acolyte of the aristocracy.

                The unhappy Camille was turning in a vicious circle: the enemies of the revolution praised him to the clouds, vaunted his principles, his eloquence, his moderation. All this praise rendered him suspect in the eyes of true democrats; his enemies made weapons to use against him from it, and said: Camille is a counterrevolutionary. Camille, who was beside himself at that accusation, struggled more furiously against those who accused him, and the aristocrats redoubled their praise.

                It was then that Desmoulins published his Vieux Cordelier, where he, so to speak, put all the revolutionaries on trial, and, through them, the revolution. This was the height of imprudence on his part; more, it was his crime. My elder brother told me sadly on this subject: “Camille has lost his way.” He felt a bitter sorrow to see him desert the sacred cause of the revolution, and, at the risk of compromising himself, he defended him [Camille] many times; many times too he tried to bring him back, and spoke to him as a brother, but it was useless. In one of the sessions of the Society of the Jacobins, where an explosion of reproaches and accusations fell upon Camille Desmoulins and on his Vieux Cordelier, Maximilien took the floor, and while energetically blaming the writing, sought to justify the author. Despite his immense popularity and his extraordinary influence, his words were greeted by murmurs. Then he saw that in saving Camille he would himself be lost. Camille did not take account of the efforts he had made to repulse the accusations of which he was the object; he recalled only the blame that his Vieux Cordelier had brought forth, and from that point on he directed a thousand acrimonious diatribes against my brother.

                My brother’s enemies were so adroit at the use of the weapon of calumny that soon the entire Convention was against him. To the moderates, they said that Robespierre wanted to drown France in blood, and they rendered him responsible in their eyes for all the executions that were taking place in Paris since they had ceased entirely to be mixed up in government affairs; to the exagérés, on the contrary, to those who like them still wanted the Terror, they said that my brother was a moderate, that he wanted to break the sword with which they were combating the counterrevolutionaries; at last, that he was the enemy of the revolution. And such absurd lies found credulous souls to believe them. It may be seen that the league that triumphed in Thermidor was composed of two elements, of villains thirsting for the blood of my brothers, and who persuaded simpletons that they were monsters, and simpletons who, without be malicious themselves, joined with the villains and let themselves be guided by them.

                It had been more than a month since my eldest brother had appeared at the tribune of the Convention. His duty, his conscience, everything told him to denounce the men who had deserted the good cause. He spoke therefore on 8 Thermidor, and pronounced a beautiful speech, in which he exposed the whole truth to the [light of] day. His enemies had this discourse, in which he denounced members of the Committee of Public Safety and the Committee of General Security, decreed sent to be examined by the who committees. What derision! Maximilien saw that during his absence they had shocked the beliefs of the Convention. This defeat was the portent of the catastrophe of the next day.

                The Jacobins, still pure, applauded my brother’s speech, which he read to them that evening, enthusiastically, and promised to support him against his enemies. The commune pronounced likewise in favor of Maximilien against those of his colleagues who had sworn his demise. Saint-Just arrived from the army, and agreed with my brother and the small number of deputies still faithful to the cause of the people, such as Couthon, Lebas [Le Bas], etc., that at the next session they would renew the accusation against the committee members that had failed at the session of the 8th.

                On 9 Thermidor, in effect, Saint-Just mounted the tribune; but scarcely had he pronounced a few words, when the floor was taken from him to be given to those who conspired against him, against my brothers, against all the good Montagnards, or rather, against the people, of whom they were the purest representatives. During the entire session it was impossible for my unhappy brothers and their friends to make heard a single word in justification. They were placed under arrest. But while they were being driven to prison, the people delivered them and conducted them in triumph to the Hôtel-de-Ville.

                It was then that the Thermidorians had them pronounced outlaws. Nothing was lost yet; an immense people had gathered in the square in front of the Hôtel-de-Ville and in the surrounding streets. My brother, whose influence was limitless with that people, who adored him, had but to speak the word, and one hundred thousand men would have marched on the Convention. But his respect for the national representation was so great, that he preferred to perish than to make an attempt on its inviolability. The Thermidorians directed the military forces that were at the Convention’s disposal against the Hôtel-de-Ville. The terrible decree of outlawry dispersed the men who had grouped around my brother to defend him. They seized his person….. but I cannot continue this narrative; history will compensate for the silence of my grief.

                The next day, on 10 Thermidor, I ran through the streets, my mind troubled and despair in my heart; I called out, I sought my brothers. I learned that they had been taken to the Conciergerie. I ran there, I asked to see them, I asked with hands joined; I begged on my knees before the soldiers; they repulsed me, laughed at my tears, insulted me, struck me. A few persons, moved to pity, led me away. I had lost my reason. I did not know what was happening, what became of me; or rather I learned it several days later; when I returned to myself I was in prison.

                A lady was with me. She affected to take the greatest interest in my fate. She told me that several people had been arrested at the same time as me and because of me and that they would probably mount the scaffold with me. Destroyed as I was by sorrow, my hold on life was weak; I would have regarded death as a kindness; but the chagrin devouring me redoubled at the idea that I would drag with me to the tomb several persons whose entire crime was to have interested themselves in my misfortune or to have known me before 9 Thermidor. My cellmate then demonstrated to me that it depended on me to save them, and to save myself; that I had only to write to the members of the committees who had left the last struggle victorious, to implore their pardon. I repulsed this advice with indignation. “Then,” said my false companion, who fulfilled the sheep’s office with me, “then you will perish, and with you, twelve or fifteen victims, of whose number I shall be.” For fifteen days she tormented me to write. “If not for yourself, do it at least,” she would repeat, “for the unfortunate ones who have been taken from their families, from all that is dear to them, uniquely because of you, and who will perish by your will.”

                Vanquished in the end by that woman’s obsessions, and believing her my friend, after all her protesting, I told her: “Well then! Write, I will sign.” She hastened to write I don’t know what; she presented me with the paper and I apposed my signature to it without reading its content, so beaten down and desolate was I. The letter was sent, and the next day I was freed, along with my cellmate, who I never saw again.

                What can she have written in my name? I had been imprisoned, my persecutors said, because I had joined in my brother’s conspiracy against the republic;[5] what arguments will she have invoked to justify me? Alas! I fear only too much that, profiting form my dreadful situation, from my despondency, from my despair, and from the distraction of my spirit, she made me sign a document containing things unworthy of me and that my heart reproves. I do not know if the craven Thermidorians will have made use of this document; in any case, they are quite capable of doing so, they who destroyed Maximilien’s papers and substituted other papers fro them in which they made him say what they wanted. This was the height of all their attempts.



[1] This letter, inconsiderately recorded by Levasseur, entirely innocent moreover, I am persuaded, was for Charlotte Robespierre an object of continual torment; the idea that anyone could believe that she had written it such as it appears and that she had effectively addressed it to Maximilien Robespierre tortured her. Every time she saw it, she spoke to me of this. One day we read it together and I prayed her to indicate the passages that she had not written and that despicable forgers had added; I am publishing this letter with the Justificatory Documents, and I have italicized the passages that Charlotte Robespierre indicated to me as having been exaggerated or changed. L.

[2] Translator: original “chose publique,” from the Latin “res publica,” also the origin of the word “republic.”

[3] The members of this assembly not having been chosen from among the richest class, and not being able to provide for their needs through work because of their functions as representatives of the people, had necessarily to be remunerated. L.

[4] Translator: see note 2 (above)

[5] Translator: see note 2 (above)

Next: "Notes and Justificatory Documents" 
Tags: books, robespierre charlotte, robespierre maximilien, translations

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