Reference > Quotations > S.A. Bent, comp. > Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men
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S.A. Bent, comp.  Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men.  1887.
 
Danton
 
        [Georges Jacques Danton, called the “Mirabeau of the Sans-Culottes,” born at Arcis-sur-Aube, France, 1759; founded the revolutionary club of the Cordeliers; directed the insurrection of Aug. 10, 1792; shared supreme power with Marat and Robespierre, and became minister of justice; arranged the massacre of the imprisoned royalists, September, 1792; member of the committee of public safety; arrested after a struggle with Robespierre, March, 1794; and guillotined April 5.]
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De l’audace, encore de l’audace, et toujours de l’audace!
          After the insurrection of August, 1792, which in fact subverted the monarchy, the manifesto of the Duke of Brunswick, appointed commander-in-chief of the allied armies of Austria and Prussia, in which he called upon Europe to place Louis XVI. securely on his throne, aroused France to a sense of danger. The revolutionary army under Dumouriez suffered a momentary check by the capture of Longwy and the siege of Verdun. In revenge for the interference of foreign powers, and to show the earnest purpose of the revolutionists, Danton determined upon the massacre of the royalists, who crowded the prisons of Paris. While the tocsin was being struck and the discharge of cannon gave the signal of slaughter, the “tribune of the people” shouted to the dismayed deputies of the National Assembly, “This is a moment to decree that the capital has deserved well of France. The cannon which you hear is not the signal of alarm: it is the pas de charge upon our enemies. To conquer them, to crush them to earth, what is necessary? We must dare, and still dare, and forever dare, and France is saved” (Pour les vaincre, pour les atterer, que faut-il? de l’audace, encore de l’audace, et toujours de l’audace, et la France est sauvée). The “Moniteur” omitted the last words from the report. “Old men who heard it will still tell you how the reverberating voice made all hearts swell in that moment, and thrilled abroad over France, like electric virtue, as words spoken in season.”—CARLYLE: French Revolution, II. 3, 4.
        “And as she lookt about she did behold
How over that same dore was likewise writ
Be bolde, Be bolde, and everywhere, Be bold.”
SPENSER: Faerie Queene, III. 11, 54.    
  Danton was anticipated in the form of his exclamation by the Marshal de Trivulce (1441–1518), who replied to the question of Louis XI., what he needed to make war, “Three things,—money, more money, always money” (Trois choses, de l’argent, encore de l’argent, et toujours de l’argent); which the imperialist general von Schwendi echoed fifty years afterwards, “Sind dreierlei Dinge nöthig: Geld, Geld, Geld.” All are, however, to be referred to Demosthenes, who, when asked what three things made the perfect orator, answered, “Action;” and the second thing? “Action;” and the third thing? “Action.”—PLUTARCH: Lives of the Ten Orators.
  St. Just, who succeeded Danton in the Reign of Terror, reiterated the assertion of his predecessor, when he exclaimed in the Convention, “Dare! that is the whole secret of revolutions;” and Gambetta marked the difference between the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, by announcing at the banquet on the birthday of Gen. Hoche, at Versailles, June 24, 1872, the formula of the third republic, “We must work, and still work, and forever work!” (du travail, encore du travail, et toujours du travail!)
  Some one, even more bloodthirsty than Danton, asked him if the members of the “Right,” meaning the royalist deputies, were not to be included in the massacre of September; to which he replied, “Everybody knows that I do not shrink from a criminal act when it is necessary, but I disdain to commit a useless one.” And later, when common friends, fearing the results of a quarrel between them, brought Robespierre and Danton together, the latter repeated his opinion: “We should not strike except where it is useful to the republic: we should not confound the innocent and the guilty.”—“And who told you,” replied Robespierre with a poisonous look, “that one innocent person had perished?”—CARLYLE: II. 8, 2. Danton’s fate was sealed from that moment.
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I have been carried into the ministry by a cannon-ball.
          Because, after the insurrection of August, 1792, Danton became minister of justice. What his relations with the court party were from this time, has never been fully known. He may have dreamed of playing the rôle of Mirabeau. At any rate, he declared, “I shall save the king, or kill him,” and was even bolder in his club of the Cordeliers: “I do not love the blood of vanquished kings: address yourselves to Marat.” He foresaw that the Revolution would not cause a permanent displacement of power; and said in 1792 to the young Duc de Chartres, son of the Duc d’Orléans (Égalité), “After our storms France will return to it [the monarchy], and you will be king. Adieu, young man, and remember the prediction of Danton.”—TAINE: French Revolution, II. Bk. IV. chap. 9. The young man became Louis Philippe I. Danton’s motto at this time, addressed to the Cordeliers, was, “Nations save, but do not revenge themselves.”
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Let us be terrible to prevent the people from becoming so.
          Calling for the reorganization of the revolutionary tribunal, in 1793. He spoke of the actions of the Jacobins, but his own person was no less terrible. “Nature has given me,” he said, “the athletic form and the harsh expression of liberty” (les forces athlétiques et la physiognomie âpre de la liberté). Of gigantic stature, large head, a bull-dog’s face marked with the small-pox, an eye of fire, and a voice which was compared to thunder and a lion’s roar, he realized the popular idea of a revolutionist, whose terrific images frightened those he could not persuade. He was pleased with the comparison of himself to Mirabeau, whose relations with the court, as well as his physical and oratorical traits, bore some resemblance to his own. With a solemnity of egotism, justified perhaps by the weak men around him who attempted to play great rôles, he declared that “Nature has cast but two men in the mould of statesmen,—myself and Mirabeau. After that she broke the mould.” He applied to himself, however, a common expression, especially in poetic literature: thus Byron,—
        “Sighing that Nature formed but one such man,
And broke the die,—in moulding Sheridan.”
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Whither fly? If freed France cast me out, there are only dungeons for me elsewhere. One carries not his country on the sole of his shoe (On n’emporte pas la patrie à la semelle des souliers).
          When his relations with Robespierre had become so strained that he was advised to fly. Danton claimed to be tired of blood; having called himself “drunk with men” (soûl des hommes), he declared that he would “rather be guillotined, than become guillotiner.” He compared the Revolution to a great lawsuit, “which not often enriched him who gained it, while it ruined him who lost it.” He nevertheless thought it necessary to proclaim his republicanism: to disarm suspicion he cried, “I, too, am a republican, an imperishable republican” (un républicain impérissable), applying to himself one of the attributes of the Revolution. But the fortitude of his victims dismayed him. “When they go smiling to the scaffold,” he said, “it is time to break in pieces the sickle of death.” He referred particularly to the Girondists, of whom he had but a slight opinion. From their constant comparison of themselves to the countrymen of Brutus and Cassius, he called them “Romans without a country” (dépaysés). He likened their republic to “the romance of a pretty woman,” such as Charlotte Corday, or Madame Roland, the beautiful friend of the Brissotines; and, hitting off their habit of eloquent generalizations, he accused them of “intoxicating themselves with words, while the people are intoxicating themselves with blood.” He saw by how delicate a thread he clung to power: “As long as they talk of Robespierre and Danton, very well: beware when they talk about Danton and Robespierre;” when, in other words, the jealousy of the “green-eyed Incorruptible” is aroused. But he hoped that history would throw a mild light even over himself: “The sweet consolation is left me, that the man who perished as chief of the faction of the Merciful (chef de la faction des Indulgents) will find grace in the eyes of posterity.”
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At last I perceive that in revolutions the supreme power finally rests with the most abandoned.
          When the critical moment came, Danton’s decision failed him. He might have crushed Robespierre: he was crushed by him. To his friends he said on his arrest, “I leave the whole business in a frightful welter (un gâchis épouvantable): not one of them understands any thing of government. Robespierre will follow me: I drag down Robespierre. Oh! it were better to be a poor fisherman, than to meddle with the government of men.”—CARLYLE: French Revolution.
  Asked at his trial his name and place of abode, he replied, “My name is Danton,—a name tolerably well known in the Revolution; my abode will soon be in annihilation (dans le néant), but I shall live in the pantheon of history.” He referred to the church of Ste. Geneviève, now called the Pantheon, which, after the death of Mirabeau, had been dedicated to the heroes of a grateful country, with this inscription around the dome: “Aux grands hommes la patrie reconnaissante.”
  His trial was a mockery: his evidence was refused admission; while his defence consisted of ejaculations. “Men of my temper,” he cried, “are beyond price. It is upon their foreheads that the seal of liberty, and the republican genius, are ineffaceably stamped.” When the president rang his bell for order, Danton asked: “What is it to thee how I defend myself? The right of dooming me is thine always (Le droit de me damner te reste toujours); the voice of a man speaking for his honor and life may well drown the jingling of thy bell!” Condemned to die, April 5, 1794, he consoled himself with the noise he had already made upon earth. “I have tasted well of life: let us go to sleep! To-morrow I hope to rest in the bosom of glory!” His courage did not yet leave him. “They are sending me to the scaffold: well, my friends, we must go to it gayly!” As he passed Robespierre’s house in the executioner’s cart, he shouted to his victorious rival, “You will appear in this cart in your turn, Robespierre; and the soul of Danton will howl with joy!” Of the cries of the multitude he said with characteristic egotism, “The idiots! they cry ‘Long live the republic!’ and in half an hour the republic will be without a head!” “When Paris shall perish,” he had once remarked, “there will no longer be a republic.” His friend Hérault de Sechelles shared his fate; and Danton rebuked the inhumanity of the executioner, who refused them a last embrace: “Fool! not to see that in a few seconds our heads must meet in that basket!” For a moment his demeanor did not seem to Hérault to be worthy of him. He was thinking of his wife: “Must I leave thee, my beloved? (Oh, ma bien-aimée! faut-il que je te quitte?) But,” interrupting himself, “Danton, no weakness!” (Point de faiblesse!) His last words were to the executioner: “Do not forget to show my head to the mob: they have not often seen one like it!” “He had many sins,” says Carlyle, “but one worst sin he had not,—that of cant. He saved France from Brunswick: he walked straight his own wild road, whither it led him.”
  One of his expressions was used by Napoleon: “I have made noise enough in the world already.”—O’MEARA: Napoleon in Exile, 1816.
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