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…not until long afterwards when France and she were far apart, did she know that eleven hundred defenceless prisoners of both sexes and all ages had been killed by the populace; that four days and nights had been darkened by this deed of horror…

Carlyle puts the death-count of the September massacres, which lasted for four days and nights (September 2-6, 1792), at 1,089 (537) – the number from which Dickens derives his estimate of 1,100.

For the first time, he felt that in that sharp fire, he had slowly forged the iron which could break the prison door of his daughter’s husband…

Iron and other metal implements are “forged” at a hearth or in a furnace, the fire rendering the metal malleable and thus shapeable (Oxford English Dictionary). Dickens’ figure of speech suggests that the sharp fire of the Doctor’s experience – his pain and anger – has finally been turned to good purpose, equipping him for the liberation of his son-in-law.

The new Era began; the king was tried, doomed, and beheaded; the Republic of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death, declared for victory or death against the world in arms; the black flag waved night and day from the great towers of Notre-Dame; three hundred thousand men, summoned to rise against the tyrants of the earth, rose from all the varying soils of France…

The New Era – marked by the new Republican Calendar (the Revolutionary Calendar, which was in use until January 1, 1806 [Carlyle 661]) – dated from the abolition of the monarchy, September 21, 1792. (Although the Calendar was not developed until the following year, the start of the New Era was backdated to the commencement of the Republic.)

After King Louis XVI was beheaded on January 21, 1793, Europe, appalled by this act of regicide, again began to threaten France (as Prussian and Austrian troops had done – unsuccessfully – in 1792). Again declaring the country in danger, the young Republic was roused to arms. Carlyle describes this period in The French Revolution as follows:

It is necessary now again that France rise, in swift vengeance, with her million right-hands, with her heart as of one man. Instantaneous recruitment in Paris; let every Section of Paris furnish its thousands; every Section of France! Ninety-six Commissioners of us, two for each Section of the Forty-eight, they must go forthwith, and tell Paris what the Country needs of her. Let Eighty more of us be sent, post-haste, over France; to spread the fire-cross, to call forth the might of men. Let the Eighty also be on the road, before this sitting rise. Let them go, and think what their errand is. Speedy Camp of Fifty-thousand between Paris and the North-Frontier; for Paris will pour forth her volunteers! Shoulder to shoulder; one strong universal death-defiant rising and rushing; … and France, in spite of the world, [shall] be free! (618-9)

Recruiting its defending armies in this way, the Republic again declared the country in danger:

And so there is Flag of Fatherland in Danger waving from the Town-hall. Black Flag from the top of Notre-Dame Cathedral; there is Proclamation, hot eloquence; Paris rushing out once again to strike its enemies down. That, in such circumstances, Paris was in no mild humour can be conjectured. (619)

Dickens’ summary of the events of the early Republican period follows Carlyle’s account closely.

Now, breaking the unnatural silence of the whole city, the executioner showed the people the head of the king – and now, it seemed almost in the same breath, the head of his fair wife which had had eight weary months of imprisoned widowhood and misery, to turn it grey.

Dickens follows, in the details of his summary of these executions, Carlyle’s French Revolution. Carlyle narrates the execution of Louis XVI, on January 21, 1793, as follows:

The drums are beating: “Taisez-vous, Silence!” he cries, “in a terrible voice, d’une voix terrible.” He mounts the scaffold, not without delay; he is in a puce coat, breeches of grey, white stockings. He strips off the coat; stands disclosed in a sleeve-waistcoat of white flannel. The Executioners approach to bind him: he spurns, resists; Abbé Edgeworth [his confessor] has to remind him how the Saviour, in whom men trust, submitted to be bound. His hands are tied, his head bare; the fatal moment is come. He advances to the edge of the Scaffold, “his face very red,” and says: “Frenchmen, I die innocent: it is from the Scaffold and near appearing before God that I tell you so. I pardon my enemies; I desire that France – ” A General on horseback, Santerre or another, prances out, with uplifted hand: “Tambours!” The drums drown the voice. “Executioners, do your duty!” The Executioners, desperate lest themselves be murdered (for Santerre and his Armed Ranks will strike, if they do not), seize the hapless Louis: six of them desperate, him singly desperate, struggling there; and bind him to their plank. Abbé Edgeworth, stooping, bespeaks him: “Son of Saint Louis, ascend to Heaven.” The Axe clanks down; a King’s Life is shorn away. It is Monday the 21st of January, 1793. He was aged Thirty-eight years four months and twenty-eight days.

Executioner Samson shows the Head: fierce shout of Vive la République rises, and swells…. (598)

The execution of Marie-Antoinette, on October 16, 1793, is given thus:

The young imperial Maiden of Fifteen [Marie-Antoinette at the time of her marriage] has now become a worn discrowned Widow of Thirty-eight; grey before her time: this is the last Procession: “Few minutes after the Trial ended, the drums were beating to arms in all Sections; at sunrise the armed force was on foot, cannons getting placed at the extremities of the Bridges, in the Squares, Crossways, all along from the Palais de Justice to the Place de la Révolution. By ten o’clock, numerous patrols were circulating in the Streets; thirty thousand foot and horse drawn up under arms. At eleven, Marie-Antoinette was brought out. She had on an undress of piqué blanc: she was led to the place of execution, in the same manner as an ordinary criminal; bound, on a Cart; accompanied by a Constitutional Priest in Lay dress; escorted by numerous detachments of infantry and cavalry. These, and the double row of troops all along her road, she appeared to regard with indifference. On her countenance there was visible neither abashment nor pride. To the cries of Vive la République and Down with Tyranny, which attended her all the way, she seemed to pay no heed. She spoke little to her Confessor. The tricolor Streamers on the housetops occupied her attention, in the Streets du Roule and Saint-Honoré; she also noticed the Inscriptions on the house-fronts. On reaching the Place de la Révolution, her looks turned towards the Jardin National, whilom Tuileries; her face at that moment gave signs of lively emotion. She mounted the Scaffold with courage enough; at a quarter past Twelve, her head fell; the Executioner showed it to the people, amid universal long-continued cries of Vive la République. (670-1)

A revolutionary tribunal in the capital, and forty and fifty thousand revolutionary committees all over the land; a law of the Suspected, which struck away all security for liberty and life, and delivered over any good and innocent person to any bad and guilty one…

Here, Dickens is describing the development of the administrative anatomy of the French Republic, which led inevitably to the Reign of Terror. Threatened with invasion by foreign forces after the execution of Louis XVI, “Patriotism” leapt to defend France – and to revenge itself upon “traitors” within (aristocrats, emigrants, and so forth). This revolutionary feeling instigated, as Carlyle explains it,

Comités Révolutionnaires for the arrestment of Persons Suspect. Revolutionary Committee, of Twelve chosen Patriots, sits in every Township of France; examining the Suspect, seeking arms, making domiciliary visits and arrestments; – caring, generally, that the Republic suffer no detriment. Chosen by universal suffrage, each in its Section, they are a kind of elixir of Jacobinism; some Forty-four Thousand of them awake and alive over France!… A mad vitality of Jacobinism [the Jacobins were the extreme revolutionary party which, vanquishing the moderate Girondins, took over the Republic and instigated the Reign of Terror], with Forty-four Thousand centres of activity, circulates through all fibres of France. (623)

The detention of “suspects” soon passed (on September 17, 1793) into Republican law, and a “Tribunal Révolutionnaire” began regularly sending suspects, referred by the “forty-four thousand” revolutionary committees, to the guillotine.

Let the Forty-four thousand Sections and their Revolutionary Committees stir every fibre of the Republic; and every Frenchman feel that he is to do or die. They are the life-circulation of Jacobinism, these Sections and Committees: Danton, through the organ of Barrère and Salut Public [the “Committee of Public Safety,” of which Robespierre was a part], gets decreed, That there be in Paris, by law, two meetings of Section weekly; also, that the Poorer Citizen be paid for attending, and have his day’s-wages of Forty Sous. This is the celebrated “Law of the Forty Sous”; fiercely stimulant to Sansculottism, to the life-circulation of Jacobinism….

Nor with heroic daring against the Foreign foe, can black vengeance against the Domestic be wanting. Life-circulation of the Revolutionary Committees being quickened by that Law of the Forty Sous, Deputy Merlin … comes, about a week after, with his world-famous Law of the Suspect; ordering all Sections, by their Committees, instantly to arrest all Persons Suspect; and explaining withal who the Arrestable and Suspect specially are. “Are suspect,” says he, “all who by their actions, by their connexions, speakings, writings have” – in short become Suspect….

No frightfuller Law ever ruled in a Nation of men. All Prisons and Houses of Arrest in French land are getting crowded to the ridge-tile: Forty-four thousand Committees, like as many companies of reapers or gleaners, gleaning France, are gathering their harvest, and storing it in these Houses. Harvest of Aristocrat tares! Nay lest the Forty-four thousand, each on its own harvest-field, prove insufficient, we are to have an ambulant “Revolutionary Army”: six-thousand strong, under right captains this shall perambulate the country at large, and strike in wherever it finds such harvest-work slack. So … has Convention decreed. Let Aristocrats, Federalists, Monsieurs vanish, and all men tremble: “the Soil of Liberty shall be purged,” – with a vengeance! (665-7)



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