S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.
[One of the prominent characters of the French Revolution; born 1767 or 1768; member of the National Convention, of which he was president, 1794; member of the Committee of Public Safety; the friend of Robespierre, with whom he was executed, July, 1794.]
Happiness is a new idea in Europe (Le bonheur est une idée neuve en Europe).
The history of ante-revolutionary timeseven Taines Ancien Régime, bitterly opposed, as the author is, to the Revolutionwill convince one that happiness, as an element of popular life, was unknown; but the means which men like St.-Just employed to introduce it were at least singular. Thus he said, The Revolution is like a thunderbolt: it must strike (La révolution est comme un coup de foudre; il faut frapper); and again, in 1794, The foundation of all great institutions is terror.
One is disposed to doubt the sincerity of a man who governs his actions by maxims. Collot dHerbois called St.-Just a well-combed monster, who reels off apothegms (un monstre bien peigné, et qui débite des apothégmes); which Taine enlarged: A young monster, with calm, handsome features; a sort of precocious Sulla.French Revolution. Carlyle calls him more a student than a senator; not four and twenty yet; who has written books; a youth with slight stature, with mild, mellow voice, enthusiast olive complexion, and long black hair.French Revolution, II. 3, 7.
He began his speech on the sentence of Louis XVI., by laying down the principle, On ne peut régner innocemment: from that his conclusion was easy, Louis is another Catiline. When his apothegms were not startling, they were commonplace; as when he said, in 1792, The clemency which compounds with tyranny is the worst kind of oppression.
The letter which St.-Just wrote to Daubigny, July 2, 1792, quoted by Taine (French Revolution, II. 4, 12, note), contains some of his boldest expressions. He had been, so far, a spectator of the Revolution, the leaders of which had not gained his respect. He accordingly said to them, Tear the heart out of my body, and eat it, and you will become what you are not now,great! (Arrachez mon cur, et mangez-le, vous deviendrez ce que vous nêtes point,grands!) He described himself in this letter as devoured by a republican fever; he considered himself above misfortune (Je suis au-dessus du malheur); and, mixing his metaphors, although he felt that within him which would float on the crest of the age, his palm would rise and perhaps overshadow them (Je me sens de quoi surnager dans le siècle, ma palme sélevera pourtant, et vous obscurcira peut-être). He closed with the cry of a mal compris statesman of twenty-four years: Must Brutus languish forgotten and far from Rome! My mind is made up: if Brutus slay not the others, he will kill himself. (O Dieu, peut-il que Brutus languisse oublié loin de Rome! Mon parti est pris cependant; si Brutus ne tue point les autres, il se tuera lui-même.)
He uttered one truth, however, to Robespierre, who gave way to passion in a session of the Committee of Public Safety: Power belongs to the self-possessed (Lempire est au phlégmatique); or, as Emerson translates it, Keep cool, and you command everybody.