Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
 
The Third Voting
By Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881)
 
From French Revolution

AND so, finally, at eight in the evening this Third stupendous Voting, by roll-call or appel nominal, does begin. What Punishment? Girondins undecided, Patriots decided, men afraid of Royalty, men afraid of Anarchy, must answer here and now. Infinite Patriotism, dusky in the lamp-light, floods all corridors, crowds all galleries; sternly waiting to hear. Shrill-sounding Ushers summon you by Name and Department; you must rise to the Tribune, and say.
  1
  Eye-witnesses have represented this scene of the Third Voting, and of the votings that grew out of it,—a scene protracted, like to be endless, lasting with but few brief intervals, from Wednesday till Sunday morning,—as one of the strangest seen in the Revolution. Long night wears itself into day, morning’s paleness is spread over all faces; and again the wintry shadows sink, and the dim lamps are lit: but through day and night and the vicissitudes of hours, Member after Member is mounting continually those Tribune steps; pausing aloft there, in the clearer upper light, to speak his Fate-word; then diving down into the dust and throng again. Like Phantoms in the hour of midnight; most spectral, pandemonial! Never did President Vergniaud, or any terrestrial President, superintend the like. A King’s Life, and so much else that depends thereon, hangs trembling in the balance. Man after man mounts; the buzz hushes itself till he have spoken Death: Banishment; Imprisonment till the Peace. Many say, Death; with what cautious well-studied phrases and paragraphs they could devise, of explanation, of enforcement, of faint recommendation to mercy. Many too say, Banishment; something short of Death. The balance trembles, none can yet guess whitherward. Whereat anxious Patriotism bellows; irrepressible by ushers.  2
  The poor Girondins many of them, under such fierce bellowing of Patriotism, say Death; justifying, motivant that most miserable word of theirs by some brief casuistry and jesuitry. Vergniaud himself says, Death; justifying by jesuitry. Rich Lepelletier Saint Fargeau had been of the Noblesse, and then of the Patriot Left Side in the Constituent; and had argued and reported, there and elsewhere, not a little, against Capital Punishment: nevertheless he now says, Death: a word which may cost him dear. Manuel did surely rank with the Decided in August last; but he has been sinking and backsliding ever since September and the scenes of September. In this Convention, above all, no word he could speak would find favour; he says now, Banishment; and in mute wrath quits the place forever,—much hustled in the corridors. Philippe Egalité votes, in his soul and conscience, Death; at the sound of which and of whom, even Patriotism shakes its head; and there runs a groan and shudder through this Hall of Doom. Robespierre’s vote cannot be doubtful; his speech is long. Men see the figure of shrill Sieyes ascend; hardly pausing, passing merely, this figure says, “La Mort sans phrase, Death without phrases”; and fares onward and downward. Most spectral, pandemonial!  3
  And yet if the Reader fancy it of a funereal, sorrowful or even grave character, he is far mistaken: “the Ushers in the Mountain quarter,” says Mercier, “had become as Box keepers at the Opera”; opening and shutting of Galleries for privileged persons, for “D’Orléans Egalité’s mistresses,” or other high-dizened women of condition, rustling with laces and tricolour. Gallant Deputies pass and repass thitherward, treating them with ices, refreshments, and small talk; the high-dizened heads beck responsive; some have their card and pin, pricking down the Ayes and Noes, as at a game of Rouge-et-Noir. Farther aloft reigns Mère Duchesse with her unrouged Amazons; she cannot be prevented making long Hahas, when the vote is not La Mort. In these Galleries there is refection, drinking of wine and brandy as in open tavern—“en pleine tabagie.” Betting goes on in all coffee-houses of the neighbourhood. But within doors, fatigue, impatience, uttermost weariness sits now on all visages; lighted up only from time to time by turns of the game. Members have fallen asleep; Ushers come and awaken them to vote: other Members calculate whether they shall not have time to run and dine. Figures rise, like phantoms, pale in the dusky lamp light; utter from this Tribune, only one word: Death. “Tout est optique,” says Mercier, “The world is all an optical shadow.” Deep in the Thursday night, when the voting is done, and Secretaries are summing it up, sick Duchâtel, more spectral than another, comes borne on a chair, wrapped in blankets, in “nightgown and nightcap,” to vote for Mercy: one vote it is thought may turn the scale.  4
  Ah no! In profoundest silence, President Vergniaud with a voice full of sorrow, has to say: “I declare, in the name of the Convention, that the punishment it pronounces on Louis Capet is that of Death.” Death by a small majority of fifty-three. Nay, if we deduct from the one side, and add to the other, a certain twenty-six, who said Death, but coupled some faintest ineffectual surmise of mercy with it, the majority will be but one.  5
 
 
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