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CHAPTER V
Weak character of Louis XVI.—Quarrels at Court—Mme. de Tessé—Forebodings of Mme. d’Ayen—La Fayette—Saintly lives of Pauline and her sisters—Approach of the Revolution—The States-General—Folly of Louis XVI.—Scenes at Versailles—Family political quarrels—Royalist and Radical—Death of Pauline’s youngest child.
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THERE was a striking contrast between the position of Louis XVI. and that of his predecessors on the throne of France.

Everybody was afraid of Louis XIV., and even of Louis XV. At any rate, they ruled. They commanded, and their subjects obeyed.

But nobody was afraid of Louis XVI., and when he did command he was by no means sure of obedience. He had ascended the throne with the most excellent intentions, abolished all sorts of abuses, and wanted to be the father of his people. But a father who cannot be respected is very likely not to be loved, and a ruler who cannot inspire fear cannot inspire respect either, and is not so fit to be a leader as one who possesses fewer virtues and more strength and courage.

When Louis XV. remarked that it was a pity the Comte de Provence was not the eldest of his grandsons, that he knew what he was saying is evident [207] from the fact that though all three of them inherited the crown, the Comte de Provence was the only one who succeeded in keeping it.

Louis XVI. was the most unsuitable person to rule over the French, a nation more than any other alive to, and abhorrent of, any suspicion of ridicule or contempt. And to them the virtues and faults of Louis were alike ridiculous. When he interfered in the love affairs of the Prince de Condé, and ordered the Princesse de Monaco to retire into a convent, the Prince de Condé became his enemy, and people laughed. When he spent hours and hours shut up alone making keys and locks they shrugged their shoulders, and asked if that was a diversion for the descendant of Henri IV. and Louis le Grand.

Besides the conflict between the new and old ideas, the extravagant hopes of some and the natural misgivings of others, the court was disturbed by the quarrels and jealousies of many of the great nobles who, not contented with occupying the posts they held, aimed at making them hereditary in their families.

The Marquis de Noailles was one of the gentlemen of the household of the Comte de Provence, who did not much like the Noailles, and said that the Marquis was a true member of that family, eager after his own interests and those of his relations. Even the saintly Duchesse de Lesparre, when she resigned her place of dame d’atours to the Comtesse de Provence, was much aggrieved that the latter would not appoint another Noailles, but chose to give the post to the Comtesse de Balbi, a personal friend of her own.

[208]

The Maréchale de Mouchy was furious because the Queen had created or revived an office which she said lessened the importance and dignity of the one she held, and after much fuss and disturbance she resigned her appointment. All the Noailles took her part and went over to the opposition. Although the riches, power, and prestige of that family were undiminished, they were not nearly so much the favourites of the present royal family as they had been of Louis XIV. and Louis XV., which was natural, as they were so much mixed up with the ultra-Liberals, whose ranks had been joined by so many of their nearest relations.

Mme. de Tessé, younger sister of the Duc d’Ayen, was well known for her opinions. La Fayette, de Noailles, and de Ségur had returned from America, and their ideas were shared by Rosalie’s husband, de Grammont, and to a certain extent, though with much more moderation, by M. de Montagu. All the remaining daughters of the Duc d’Ayen except Pauline shared the opinions of their husbands; M. de Thésan and M. de Beaune were opposed to them, as was also the Duchesse d’Ayen, whose affection for her sons-in-law did not make her share their blind enthusiasm and unfortunate credulity.

Inheriting the cool head, calm judgment, and commonsense of her father and grandfather, she did not believe in these extravagant dreams of universal happiness and prosperity. On the contrary, her mind was filled with gloomy forebodings, and during a severe illness that she had, she called her daughters round her bed and spoke to them of [209] her fears for the future with a sadness and earnestness only too prophetic, and with which Pauline was more strongly impressed than her sisters.

Adrienne especially believed implicitly in her husband, who was now the supreme fashion amongst the Liberals, fêted, flattered by high and low, and just at this time the idol of the people; a popularity which soon gave place to hatred, and which did no good while it lasted.

For La Fayette was neither a genius, nor a great man, nor a born leader; the gift of influencing other people was not his; he had no lasting power over the minds of others, and as to the mob, he led them as long as he went where they wanted to go. When he did not agree with all their excesses they followed him no longer.

A man full of good qualities, brave, disinterested, honourable, a good husband, father, and friend, full of enthusiastic plans and aspirations for the regeneration of society and the improvement of everybody, La Fayette was a failure. He did more harm than good, for, like many other would-be popular leaders, he had gifts and capacity enough to excite and arouse the passions of the populace, but not to guide or control them.

He was, in fact, a visionary, credulous enthusiast, with an overweening vanity and belief in his own importance; obstinate and self-confident to a degree that prevented his ever seeing the fallacy of his views. His own conceit, and the flattery and adulation of his family and friends, made him think that he, and no other, was the man to save and direct France. His very virtues and attractions [210] were mischievous in converting others to his unpractical and dangerous views.

His Utopian government and state of society would have been all very well if they had been attainable, but he had no knowledge or comprehension of the instruments and materials of which they were to be composed, no insight into character, no correctness of judgment, no decision or promptitude in emergencies, and what he did or helped to do was that most dangerous of proceedings, to set in motion a force he could not control.

In spite of all their engagements, Pauline and her sisters found time for an immense amount of charitable work of all sorts. They all took an active part in one way or another, and Pauline even managed to make use of the evenings she spent in society, for she collected money at the houses to which she went to help the poor during the hard winters. During that of 1788 she got a thousand écus in this way. M. de Beaune used to give her a louis every time he won at cards, which was, or he good-naturedly pretended to be, very often.

She and Mme. de la Fayette used also to visit the prisons, which in those days required no little courage, owing to the squalor, cruelty, and misery with which they were thus brought into contact.

Pauline also had something like what would now be called by us a district at Montmartre, not far from the rue Chantereine, where she lived; but she had poor pensioners all over Paris to whom she gave food, firing, clothes, doctors, everything [211] they wanted, and whom she visited constantly. Old and young, good and bad, beggars, prisoners, every sort of distress found a helper in her.

But neither her children nor her charitable and religious duties, absorbing as they were to her, could exclude her from intense excitement and interest in the political events going on around her. The questions discussed were so vital, and the changes so sweeping, that every phase of life was affected by them.

The provincial assemblies were sitting all over France in 1787-8 in preparation for the States-General which were soon to be summoned with such fatal results. The Duc d’Ayen was president of the assembly of Limousin, M. de Beaune of that of Auvergne; nearly all the men of her family sat in one or the other, and were eager for the reforms which, if they could have been properly carried out and had satisfied the nation, would have indeed been the beginning of a new era of prosperity and happiness.

The abolition of lettres de cachet, liberty of the press, the strict administration of justice, the equalisation of taxation, the abolition of the oppressive privileges of the nobles; all these and others of the kind were hailed with acclamations by the generous, enthusiastic young nobles who imagined that they could regenerate and elevate to their lofty ideals the fierce, ignorant, unruly populace who were thirsting, not for reform and good government, but for plunder and bloodshed.

Never in the world’s history was a stranger mingling of generosity and folly, unpractical learning [212] and brutal ignorance, misguided talents and well-meaning stupidity, saintly goodness and diabolical wickedness, heroic deeds and horrible crimes, than in the years ushered in with such triumph and joy by the credulous persons so truly described in later years by Napoleon: “Political economists are nothing but visionaries who dream of plans of finance when they are not fit to be schoolmasters in the smallest village.... Your speculators trace their Utopian schemes upon paper, fools read and believe them, every one babbles about universal happiness, and presently the people have not bread to eat. Then comes a revolution.... Necker was the cause of the saturnalia that devastated France. It was he who overturned the monarchy, and brought Louis XVI. to the scaffold.... Robespierre himself, Danton, and Marat have done less mischief to France than M. Necker. It was he who brought about the Revolution.”

The party who, like the more sensible and moderate reformers, wished only for the abolition of abuses, and for such considerable reforms in the government and laws as should give freedom and gradual prosperity to the whole nation, without destroying or plundering one class for the benefit of another, vainly imagined that they would establish a constitution like that which in England had been the growth of centuries, in a few days or weeks, amongst a people totally different in every characteristic, quite unaccustomed to freedom, self-government, or calm deliberation, and exasperated by generations of tyranny.

[213]

What they wanted was a free and just government under a constitutional king, but they failed to realise that their party was far too small and too weak to have any chance of carrying out their plans, and that behind them was the savage, ignorant, bloodthirsty multitude with nothing but contempt and derision for their well-intentioned projects of reform and law and just government, pressing onwards to the reign of anarchy and devastation which they themselves were doing everything to help them to attain.

The States-General were to open on May 5th, and the day before M. de Beaune and M. de Montagu went to Versailles to be present, Pauline remaining in Paris to nurse a sick servant.

Those who had dreaded the summoning of the States-General at a time when the public were in so inflamed and critical a state, were soon confirmed in their opinions by the disputes between the three orders, and the general ferment. Disloyal demonstrations were made, the King sent for more troops and dismissed Necker, who, like La Fayette, was unable to quell the storm he had raised; everything was becoming more and more alarming. Just before the fall of the Bastille, Pauline, who was not well at the time, was sent to Bagnères again, where, after stopping at Toulouse to see her little orphan niece Jenny de Thésan, she arrived so dangerously ill that she thought she was going to die, and wrote a touching letter to her sister Rosalie, desiring that her children might be brought up by Mme. de Noailles, but commending them to the care of all her sisters.

[214]

Her illness was of course aggravated by the accounts from Paris, and she heard with dismay that La Fayette had been made commander of the garde-nationale, which she dreaded to see him leading against the King. He had then reached the height of his power. [77]

The Revolution had begun indeed, and was advancing at a fearful rate. The King and Queen, seeing the danger they were all in, at this time thought of escaping from Versailles. The Queen told Mme. de Tourzel to make preparations quietly to start. Had they done so it might probably have saved them all, but the King changed his mind and they stayed. [78]

The Chasseurs de Lorraine and regiment de Flandre having been sent to Versailles on account of the crimes and murders daily committed there, the gardes-du-corps gave them a splendid banquet in the Salle de Comédie, to which all the troops, including the gardes-nationales, were invited.

The King, Queen, and Dauphin appeared, and there was an outburst of loyalty in which the gardes-nationales joined. The band struck up Richard o mon roi; the ladies of the Court who had come into the boxes tore up their handkerchiefs into white cockades, the young officers climbed up into the boxes to get them; the evening finished with a ball, and in a frenzy of loyalty.

Again the King let slip a golden opportunity, for he could have left that night in perfect safety with a strong escort, and placed himself and the royal [215] family in safety, if only he had taken advantage of the favourable disposition of the troops, but the chance was lost, the demonstration infuriated and alarmed the Revolutionists, who succeeded in corrupting part of the regiment de Flandre, made La Fayette head of the National Guards, and carried the King and royal family to Paris.

Even then they had a third chance of escape, for when the announcement of what was intended arrived, the King was out hunting, the horses were just being put into the carriage of the Dauphin who was going out for a drive, and if the Queen, her children, and Madame Elisabeth had got into the carriage and joined him, they could have fled together. But the idea did not occur to them; they waited till the King returned, and were taken prisoners to Paris next day, escorted by La Fayette, who, though able to protect them from personal violence, was powerless to prevent the horrors and crimes committed by his atrocious followers.

The King would not even try to defend himself or those belonging to him. Narbonne Fritzlard begged him to let him have troops and guns with which he would soon scatter the brigands, who could only pass by Meudon and the bridges of Sèvres and St. Cloud. “Then, from the heights I will cannonade them and pursue them with cavalry, not one shall reach Paris again,” said the gallant soldier, who even then would have saved the miserable King in spite of himself. [79]

But Louis refused, and when the ruffians surrounded the chateau, forbade them to be fired on, [216] which order, when they heard, they began to massacre the gardes-du-corps, who were not allowed to defend themselves!

In reading the history of these events one cannot help feeling that all one’s sympathy is for Marie Antoinette and her children, but that a King whose conduct was so despicable, who shrank from shedding the blood of infamous traitors and murderers, while he allowed them to massacre his faithful soldiers and friends, was not worth dying for.

When it was too late he ordered a carriage and tried to leave, but was stopped by the gardes-nationales and servants. La Fayette on his white horse rode with the cavalcade, full of uneasiness, for he saw that he could not control the followers with whom he had imagined himself to be all-powerful, their crimes and cruelties were abhorrent to him, and the fearful position of the King and royal family alarmed and distressed him.

The royalists were just now all the more bitter against La Fayette, as he was supposed to have been partly the cause of the death of M. de Favras, who was engaged in a plot for the liberation of the King, which was unfortunately discovered. The King and Queen tried in vain to save him; he was condemned and put to death.

Mme. de Tourzel asserts that La Fayette helped to irritate the mob against him, and that he was afraid of de Favras’ intrigues against himself, as he was accused of plotting to murder Necker, Bailly, and La Fayette.

Pauline recovered from her illness and returned to Paris during the terrible days of October. Everything [217] was changed, the streets were unsafe to walk in, murders were frequent, bands of ruffians went about threatening and insulting every one whom they suspected or disliked. She fetched her two children back to the rue Chantereine, and resumed her charitable expeditions, though it was dangerous to walk about.

Society was split into opposing parties, infuriated against each other, quarrels and reproaches took the place of the friendly conversations and diversions of former days. It was not to be wondered at, and her own family once so united was now divided and estranged.

M. de Beaune not only refused to receive or speak to the Vicomte de Noailles and La Fayette, but would scarcely allow Pauline to see her sisters, at any rate in his h?tel. When they were announced anywhere he took up his hat and left the house, and the banging of doors in the distance proclaimed his displeasure. It was worse when she was alone with her husband and his father in the evenings. Ever since the fall of the Bastille M. de Beaune had been anxious to emigrate with his family, and Pauline, who shared his opinions, had the same wish. But her husband disapproved of it, and the endless discussions and altercations, in which M. de Beaune was irritated and violent, and his son quiet and respectful though resolute, made her very unhappy.

Not that M. de Montagu shared the opinions of his brothers-in-law, he saw to what they had led. But he thought as many others did and still do, that emigration was a mistake, at any rate for the present, [218] that precipitation in the matter would irritate moderate men and many who were still undecided, and drive them into the ranks of the Revolutionists, especially if they saw the emigrés preparing to return with a foreign army to fight against their countrymen. What he hoped for was a rapprochement between the royalists and the moderate constitutional party, who, if united, might still save both the monarchy and the reforms. M. de Beaune laughed at the idea, and events prove him to be right; finally, as he could not convince his son, he set off alone.

Pauline remained at Paris with her husband, and in February they lost their younger child, Clotilde. The morning after she died, Pauline, who had been up with her all night, was told that Rosalie, who was living at the h?tel de Noailles, had just given birth to her first child.

She dressed, and doing all she could to remove the traces of tears, she prepared, in spite of her husband’s remonstrances, to go to her sister, sat with her, talked with apparent cheerfulness, but exhausted by the effort, fell fainting to the ground, when she left her room.


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