Saturday, 6 March 2021

Memoir of the Revolution (cont.)

We now come to 1793, the year of the Terror.  Morice mentions the assassination of Le Pelletier de Saint-Fargeau on the eve of the King's execution, in January 1793.  He personally had visited Le Pelletier in the place Vendôme on several occasions on legal business and recalled some disturbing ornaments in his reception room - a huge jewel on the chimney breast and, in lieu of a mantle clock, a glass dome housing a miniature guillotine with all its accessories.

The execution of Louis XVI

By this time Morice was enrolled in the National Guard, which became increasingly dominated by radical Revolutionaries.  Morice twice found himself on guard at the Temple during Louis XVI's trial when his lawyers Malesherbes and de Sèze came to confer with him.  He did not manage to see the King himself but, by an odd set of circumstances,  he witnessed his execution:

On the day of the King's execution, my company of National Guard was required, like  the rest, to furnish a certain number of guardsmen to attend and  ensure good order.  Only two or three individuals volunteered, so lots were drawn and I was among those chosen.  I had never been to an execution of any sort before.  Those who know my character, can imagine the effect that this one had on me.  I managed at first to put on a brave face.  But when the victim mounted the scaffold and had his coat removed, I could take no more; I found that I had fainted and I came round only when one of my companions offered me a few drops of eau-de-vie he had acquired from a nearby canteen.  By then it was all over.  Fortunately for me, I was surrounded by honest men who, like me, took little pleasure in the occasion.

The journée of 31st May

After the death of Louis XVI, the Revolutionary factions fell one by one.  Morice, by this time under arms, now found himself a reluctant participant in the journée of 31st May, which accompanied the proscription of the Girondin deputies.

By the first days of May 1793 the National Convention had become the puppet of the Paris Commune; it was the Commune that really ruled.  The Commune was dominated in turn by the Jacobin club. The Revolutionary Committees of the 48 sections were its eyes and ears.  It seems that the Commune had experienced opposition  from the Girondins.  A campaign of petitioning was orchestrated in the Convention, but it was finally planned to strike a decisive blow.  Thus the journée of the 31st May was organised.

At daybreak the tocsin sounded; the inhabitants of Paris were ordered to congregate in prominent locations in the sections.  The notary that I worked for responded to the call, with his entire household, the more promptly since he had already been blacklisted by the Revolutionary Committee of the Bonnet Rouge section.  Only the youngest pupil was left behind to receive callers in our absence.

All men able bear arms were ordered to assemble in the garden of the hospice des Petites-Maisons, rue de Sèvres. Guns were distributed to some,  pikes and sabres to others.  Some were forced to content themselves with sticks.  We then set off at a brisk march,  preceded by a cannon with its fuse already alight.  We took the shortest route to the garden of the Tuileries, where we arrived before seven o'clock. We were assigned a position on the terrace, beside the water.  It was cold - there had been hail in the night and conditions were still freezing at that hour of the morning.

The other terraces, the adjacent bridges, the place du Carrousel, the place de la Concorde and most of the boulevards were suddenly occupied, as if by magic, by armed bands like ours.  Professionals reckon that there were more than 100,000 men under arms.

What was the purpose of this expedition?  What were we going to do?  We asked these questions to anyone whose appearance inspired confidence, but no-one could give us a reply.  It was only two or three days later that we finally discovered the answer to the riddle....

Who would have believed that all these carefully planned measures were to prove  a complete waste of time?  We stayed shivering on our miserable terrace from seven in the morning until midnight...Such were our exploits on the 31st May and 2nd June. But so it was that the Girondin party was destroyed.

Guarding the Temple prison

Anonymous engraving,Musée Carnavalet

Again as a National Guardsman, Morice was  stationed at the gate of the Temple prison where Marie-Antoinette, Madame Elisabeth, Louis XVII and Madame Royale were imprisoned. He was able to catch a memorable glimpse of the royal family.

On the first occasion, the gate stayed open for an hour or so, and I was able to see them, since the screen which was normally positioned inside the gate had become displaced.  The municipal officer on duty seemed less unpleasant that most of his colleagues.  He allowed them as much liberty as his duty permitted.  The dauphin, who  was more than six years old at that time, jumped and ran around in the small space. He came up close to me and seemed ready to respond to the advances I made in the hope of amusing him. But Madame Elisabeth took him by the hand and led him back inside the apartment.

Care was taken to choose smaller guns than normal to patrol the Temple tower, as the roof was so low.  The one given to me was also very light; it wasn't even loaded; I admit, to my shame,  that I didn't trouble overmuch with my military duties.  A book in my hand seemed much less inconvenient than a gun over my shoulder and, when my superior officers were not looking,  I passed my patrol reading.   That was how I was peacefully occupied that day, when the dauphin approached me.  My gun, leaning against the wall, seemed to catch his attention.  He dared not touch it, but he seemed  drawn to it.  I was about to show it to him when his aunt fetched him away. 

The execution of Marie-Antoinette

On 16th October 1793, Morice was in the rue Saint-Honoré when  Marie-Antoinette passed by in the tumbril on her way to the guillotine.

Her head was bare and her hair had already been cut.  However, she still had enough hair to be inconvenient when the wind blew it into her eyes.  Since her hands were tied behind her back, she was obliged to shake her head from time to time.  At the moment when the cart arrived in front of the church of the Assumption, where I was standing, the executioner tried to help her brush the hair aside;  she turned her head away, with a gesture of horror.

Later, when he was attached to the Ministry of Justice, Morice was to meet Sanson on several occasions. The executioner told him that the most courageous of the condemned - even Charlotte Corday - had not been able to suppress a shiver of fear when placed under the blade of the guillotine.  The sole exception had been Mme Roland.

The Committee of Public Safety

By the autumn of 1793 life under the Terror had became increasingly difficult for the ordinary people of Paris.  Morice recounts the activities of the Revolutionary Committee of the Bonnet Rouge  [see Rodama: The Section du Bonnet-Rouge and its prisons]

It was no surprise to Morice when his employer, Denis de Villières, was placed under house arrest; the only mystery was how he contrived to escape execution.  Morice himself was compromised through a petition he had drawn up on behalf of certain prisoners, and thought it prudent to move out.  He found lodgings in the rue de Richelieu, opposite the rue de Ménard. With his former employer's agreement, he took up a post in the offices of the Committee of Public Safety.

As Morice's editor reminds us, the Committee sat in the former petits appartements du Roi in the Tuileries, protected by an armed guard. The bureaux were arranged in an outer circle. A long dark corridor led to the antechambers, then to the rooms occupied by the Committee itself. The Committee met at 10 o'clock at night; but there was always one member present. The antechambers were constantly beseiged by deputies hoping for an opportunity to talk to Robespierre. 
See Dauban, Paris en 1794 et en 1795, p.497

Morice began work on 5th January 1794. His abilities were initially tested by being set to rule lines on paper for several days; the tasks he was engaged on later seemed to him scarcely more useful to the country.  The bureau was staffed by thirty clerks, from comically varied backgrounds; an opera singer rubbed shoulders with a former wigmaker, a grand vicaire, a history teacher and a dentist.  Almost no-one knew the first thing about administration.  The man in charge, a certain Bégnou, appeared to be an ardent patriot, but he had a good heart and saved as many unfortunates as his credit allowed.  When Morice confessed he had been asked to draw up another petition on behalf of a prisoner, Bégnou made a show of anger, but later secured an order to have the man freed.  He also procured vital security passes for Morice, when he was unable to produce the necessary certificat de civisme from his section.

The  office in the former royal palace featured a curious relic:

Our office was situated in the Tuileries in the apartments that Louis XVI had occupied. The table I worked at had been placed up against the famous "armoire de fer", which had  compromised Louis XVI at his trial.  It was in this cupboard that I stored my hat and gloves.  It was roughly constructed and situated in a little cloakroom next to the alcove of the king's bedroom. It consisted of a hole in the wall, eight or nine inches deep; two feet high and about fifteen inches in width.  Only the door was made of iron.  A wooden panel, which could be removed at will, hid it very effectively.

The Fall of Robespierre

Morice was well-placed to eavesdrop on the Committee and recalls the conflicts between Robespierre and his colleagues which immediately preceded Thermidor.

For several weeks, Robespierre had no longer attended meetings of the Committee of Public Safety. In his absence Couthon normally took the chair.  The members of the Committee would meet at nine or ten in the morning before the sessions of the Convention.  They also met again in the evening at about ten o'clock. These meeting often went on until two or even three in the morning... For the night-time sittings, the Committee's various bureaux would take turns to provide a member of staff to be in attendance.  The room he occupied was immediately adjacent to the committee room and, although the wall was thick, it was easy to hear raised voices.

Three or four days at most before 9 Thermidor, Robespierre suddenly appeared when he was least expected after his long absence.  I was on duty that night.  Couthon made as much haste as his infirmity allowed to cede the chair to him. Pleasantries were offered, to which Robespierre responded coldly.  One of his colleagues, Couthon I think, then gave a short report on what had been done in his absence. He came to certain important dispatches which had recently arrived from the army.  Robespierre expressed astonishment, even amusement,  that these had been opened without his presence.  A moment of silence ensued.  Robespierre repeated his remark more pointedly.  Then one of the other members (Billaud-Varennes or Collot d'Herbois) retorted that it was up to him to be at his post and that the affairs of the Republic could not be made to depend the whim of one member of the Committee. Robespierre uttered  a few more sharp words.  Couthon, Robespierre's only friend on the Committee now that Saint-Just was absent, observed that dispatches had been opened only with the prior agreement of more or less all the members.

Robespierre then began to speak again.  He was interrupted by Collot d'Herbois, whose voice I recognised perfectly.  He reproached Couthon  for his caution.  He then attacked  Robespierre for the tone he had begun to adopt with his colleagues, his airs, the rule he seemed to want to wield over the Committee. Thumping on the desk, Collot declared that he refused to tolerate these claims to superiority. The majority of the other members declared the same. There was now such a din that I feared that abuse might have given way to actual violence. All I could hear was the sound of stamping feet, the crash of chairs, and the banging of fists on the table.

Calm returned only gradually, long after Robespierre had left the room, his eyes sparkling with anger,  uttering threats against the other members. I alone heard him since he went out through the room where I was rather than via the private staircase which the Committee normally used.  As he left he opened and closed the door with such violence that one of the screws on the lock came loose and flew into the middle of the room.

Short of covering my ears, there was nothing I could have done to avoid overhearing this exchange. However, I admit that I listened with great attention.  I have often wondered what the consequences would have been for me if these gentlemen had realised they had a witness to their scandalous debates.

On 9 Thermidor, the sun rose on a brilliant sunny day.  The whole of Paris was in at a fever pitch of excitement. Members of the Convention were in their seats by ten o'clock.  Robespierre, more immaculately turned out that ever, wore the suit that he had worn for the Festival of the Supreme Being. The decisive battle was joined at midday, and Morice once again found himself a spectator. 

My card as secretary-clerk to Convention allowed me to get into the Assembly. It was sufficient to show it at the door, carrying a folder or some papers, to gain entry.  As you might imaging we did not miss the opportunity...

Well before the beginning of the session of 9 Thermidor, the tribunes were full of  onlookers.  You could see large numbers of recruits from the Jacobin Club that had been promised to Robespierre the evening before.  They were easily recognised by  their scruffy appearance, their red bonnets and the sword sticks resting between their legs, or else the canes with which they were armed.

Robespierre was among the last to enter the Assembly room.  He lacked  his normal serenity and self-confidence:  from the first words of Tallien's response to Saint-Just he appeared discomposed.  His face, normally pale, passed from white to red then from red back to white.  In the few words that he spoke, his high-pitched voice, like his countenance, betrayed hesitation, even fear. 
Few things could be more comical than the faces of certain members of the Convention, who dared not speak for fear of compromising themselves.  They made vain efforts to maintain an attitude of calm.  Their position was awkward.  The accusation against Robespierre, Saint-Just and Lebas was delivered; they were arrested; but it was soon learned that they had avoided being taken to the Luxembourg prison; they had demanded asylum with the Commune, which had been granted with an eagerness and enthusiasm that was far from reassuring.  The guard tasked with defending the Assembly was under arms; but its loyalty was in doubt  - and it had never been under fire.  It was feared that commanders and subalterns alike were the creatures of Robespierre and his allies... 
The deputies prepared to face the storm.  The session was adjourned until the evening. 
Duplessis-Bertaux, IX thermidor an II [Attack on the Hôtel de Ville by the troops of the Convention] (engraving)

Whilst he waited for the session of the Convention to begin again, Morice made a tour of the capital.  In the Palais-Royal he found only a few small groups outside the cafés who told him that the insurgents were meeting  at the Hôtel de Ville.  The boutiques in the arcades were half closed and shopkeepers watched anxiously from their doorways.  Retracing his steps along the quais he soon encountered a press of people.  He reached the place de Grève with difficulty but found it impossible to get close to the steps of the Hôtel de Ville.  The crowd was continuously jostled by some new detachment of troops or deputation from the sections. The shouts of Vive Robespierre! and A bas la Convention! were deafening. There were calls for Robespierre to appear at the window.  Morice soon had enough.  He profited from his remaining time to visit the section of the Bonnet Rouge.  He found the section's meeting room in the former convent des Prémontrés deserted since the members were waiting with the Revolutionary Committee for a deputation from the Commune.  However, he was unable to stay to discover the outcome since be wanted to return to the Tuileries.

When I arrived back at the Convention, the hall was still being made ready and the session had not yet begun.  The members were talking among themselves.  Several were walking arming in arm in the space between the deputies' benches and the president's table.

I was getting bored and  regretting coming so early, when the president, Collot d'Herbois, arrived and took his seat, which Robert Lindet had occupied in his absence. Everyone rose; many of the deputies hurried up for news. To judge from Collot d'Herbois's face, which remained studiedly calm, that the news was far from reassuring.

Without answering individual questions, Collot d'Herbois took his place and the deputies took theirs.  He then made his famous which he announced that the rebels surrounded the Assembly, the exits were blocked and the representatives must take an oath to die in their seats if necessary.  He invited the crowd in the tribunes to rejoin their sections and declared his own  intention to stay with the Assembly and share its fate.

Knowing Collot d'Herbois as I did, no-one could accuse me of partiality towards him; but I must concede that this was a beautiful piece of oratory;  when he was an actor in the theatre, he never received more deserving applause.

In a second the tribunes were emptied.  Since I was there unofficially with my borrowed card and had no wish to die, I took advantage of the president's invitation and left too.  What Collot d'Herbois had said was true.  The Convention was barricaded from the garden side and from the courtyard.  All exists were blocked. To get to the Convention from the Committee of Public Safety, Collot must have had to use one of the underground service passages.

It was clear that the hostilities I had seen in preparation on the place de Greve had been put into action.  In the time I had been inside the cannons had been turned round and were now trained on the doors and walls of the Assembly room.  The crews were in place, the fuses lit.

With great difficulty I picked my way through a crowd of armed me on the place du Petit Carrousel, in front of the hotel de Brionne where the  Committee of General Security sat.  The gates had been forced and the courtyard was filled with soldiers on horseback, at their head Hanriot, who had just been liberated.

If the night of 9 to 10 thermidor was arduous for the Convention, it seemed very long to the people of Paris; what with the anxiety, and the continual sound of drums and tocsins, only children slept.  At daybreak, they began to take stock. 

 Those whom fear, or some other cause, had kept at home, soon learned of the fall of Robespierre and his partisans.  They could scarcely believe it, and emerged only slowly from their houses and hiding places.  Gradually they gained confidence from the look of security on the faces of those in the streets.  They began to talk and ask questions, which they had not dared to do for a long time.  And, once all doubts had gone, there was a feeling of relief, a wild joy, that is difficult to describe.

 As an official of the Committee of Public Safety, Morice was able to gain entry to the room where Robespierre lay, "his head and part of his face enveloped in napkins stained with blood".  He saw Couthon lying on a stretcher.  He also recognised Adrien-Nicolas Gobeau, a member of the General Council of the Commune, one of the leaders of the Bonnet-Rouge section.

I accompanied them on their return, since I was curious to see Saint-Just for the last time and to see if there was anyone else that I knew among their companions in misfortune.  I did not recognise anyone.  I again had recourse to my identity card, since there were strict instructions that only members or employees of the Convention could enter.

Saint-Just, for some reason, had not had the honour of being brought to the Committee of Public Safety with Robespierre and Couthon.  He was held in a separate room, guarded by two gendarmes.  The door was open and I had the opportunity to observe him at leisure.  He paced up and down, his arms crossed on his chest.  He stopped for an instant in front of the copy of the Rights of Men which hung over the chimney.  He ran his eyes over it and said: "But it was I who made that!"

After Thermidor

Following the fall of Robespierre,  Morice's office was reassigned to the Committee of Legislation presided over by Cambacérès. He returned to the Faubourg Saint-Germain and commuted to new premises in the hotel de Coigny on the place du Carrousel. The staff reverted to respectable dress and formal manners of address, but the atmosphere became friendlier and more open. He deal mainly with the huge number of accusations against former Terrorists. One day an unknown man entered, who said he was a member of the Convention.  Seeing Morice's copy of the Moniteur, he asked to read the report of the debate on Carrier.  At this moment an official came to announce that the Convention were voting on Carrier's indictment.  The unknown man made his excuses and asked to be commended to the Committee;  Morice was surprised to learn later that the visitor had been none other than Carrier himself!  An equally astonished Cambacérès remarked that Carrier had been too late: he had been arrested on the stairs and taken to the Conciergerie. (Is this correct: what about Carrier's reported nocturnal arrest and suicide attempt??) 

Morice made a note of the date -  it was 4 frimaire Year II (24th November 1794).  The following May, he chanced to be on the Pont du Change and witnessed Fouquier-Tinville being taken from the  Conciergerie to his execution on the place de Grève.

Under the Directory, Morice found himself working for Merlin de Douai at the Ministry of Justice on the quai Voltaire and in January 1796 he accompanied Merlin to the Ministry of Police; he drew up Merlin's very first order, which was to have all the theatres of Paris sing the Marseillaise. In fact Morice was to enjoy much greater stability in office than the succession of  Minsters he served. He recalls a bon mot of  Sotin de La Coindière, who had once been one of the 132 Nantais; recognising his former oppressors Rovère and Bourdon de l'Oise amongst those about to be deported, he remarked to them: "Monsieurs, I wish you bon voyage. That's how it is in revolutions". 

Encounters with Napoleon 

 One day Morice met an young general, recently returned from a triumphant campaign in Italy:

His carriage had hardly entered the courtyard before the clerks rushed as one from their places and surged to meet him.

Some had already taken position in the antechamber of the Minister in the hope of seeing him better.  I was among those, and I was also curious see how the Minister would receive him.  A few of us got into to the inner office, the doors  of which should have been closed to someone in my lowly position.

M. Sotin rose and offered his chair to the general who sat down without further ceremony.  In order to keep audiences brief, this chair was the only one in the room, so M. Sotin was obliged to remain standing. Our sudden entry into the office was the subject of a brief exchange:  Sotin asked the general to excuse the indiscreet curiosity of the Ministry's employees who could not resist the chance to see "the hero of the Republic".  The general looked in our direction and gave a nod.  There was a moment of silence.   It was the general who finally spoke.  Having taken a pinch of snuff and adjusted his crossed legs two or three times, he said:

- I have just come from your colleague, the Minister of Justice. (pause) You are about the same height.

Sotin:  About - but I think I am fractionally taller.

Another pause, more adjustments of legs. The general had a dreamy expression as though his thoughts were elsewhere.  M. Sotin, stood with his elbow on the mantlepiece, moved his weight from one foot to the other,  waiting for a reply. Finally the general roused himself from his reverie, got up suddenly and looked the Minister up and down.

- Goodness, yes.  I think that you and Citizen Lambrecht are about the same height.

And immediately, he bowed and exited  the way he had come. 


Two years later, Morice found himself with a new minister, Fouché, with his "long pale face", who took his responsibilities lightly.  One evening he was commanded to  accompany Fouché to Saint-Cloud to give an account to the First Consul of the situation concerning the émigrés.  

The Minister was immediately introduced  into the office of the First Consul.  I, meanwhile, waited in the salon where there were already a number of people from the household and elsewhere gathered.  Several, whom I knew, were astonished to see me and came to ask what had brought me there.  Since I did not yet know anything, I could not  satisfy their curiosity.  After about half-an-hour, the door opened and the duc d'Otrande came out, signalling for me to enter.  You can imagine how agitated I was; if anyone had taken my pulse at that moment, they would have concluded I had a fever.  I kept composed, however, and entered, bowing as well as I could.

The First Consul,  was pacing up and down his office, his arms crossed behind his back.  He stopped the moment I entered, studied me from head to toe for a few seconds, then began:
- Are you the chief of the department of émigrés in the Ministry of Police?
- Yes, General.
- Your name?
- Morice
- It seems to me that I recognise you.  Where have I seen you before?
- With the Consul Cambacéres, when I was one of his secretaries.
- Ah! That's right.  Go over there (showing me his desk).  Take a piece of paper and write down the replies to the questions that I give you.

I approached the desk, which was piled with papers, plans, books, searching in vain for a  pen and paper.  Seeing my difficulty..he came up and found a piece of paper and a pen, and put them in front of men with his inkwell.

- Sit down, he said in an abrupt voice.
When  I hesitated to take his seat: Sit down, I say; in this chair.

I had hardly sat down when he began firing questions about the work of the office, to which I replied easily, since they were short and I was well prepared.

 [For one answer, Morice had recourse to a note, which Napoleon demanded to see...]

- But this is exactly what I wanted to know and what that imbecile Fouché could never tell me.

 [He took the paper and dismissed Morice, commenting that it was a good idea of his to ask Fouché to bring him"]

Smiling and with a benevolent gesture:  "I will not forget you." 

 I did not wait to be asked a second time, but after bowing to the First Consul, I returned to the Salon where I found the Minister, and we hastened to take the road back to the capital.

This revealing pen portrait of Napoleon brings to a close Morice's memoirs (or at least his editor's account of them).  We learn that a few days later Morice was the rewarded with a gratification of four thousand francs.


 Memoirs of J-G-P Morice, published in:  Revue des questions historiques, vol. 52 (1892), p.453-498.

1 comment:

  1. How utterly fascinating! Thank you so much for translating - very well done indeed.


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