VII. MIRABEAU PAYS HIS DEBTS: APRIL 2, 1791

One man, at least, could doubt, and one woman. To Louis and his Queen the Tuileries seemed a glass house in which their every move was subject to silent approval or prolonged condemnation by the populace. On August 31, 1790, a Swiss regiment in the King’s service at Nancy mutinied over delayed pay and official tyranny. Some of the rebels were shot down by the National Guard; some were sent to the galleys; some were hanged. Hearing of this, a crowd of forty thousand Parisians converged threateningly upon the royal palace, denouncing Lafayette, blaming the King for the “Nancy massacre,” and demanding the resignation of his ministers. Necker quietly departed (September 18, 1790) to live with his family at Coppet on Lake Geneva. Lafayette advised the King to pacify Paris by accepting the constitution.47 The Queen, however, suspected the general of planning to replace her as the power behind the throne, and so clearly expressed her antipathy that he left the court and resigned to Mirabeau the task of salvaging the monarchy.48

Mirabeau was willing. He had need of money to support his lavish way of life; he felt that a coalition of King and Assembly was the only alternative to rule by leaders of the mob; and he saw no contradiction in pursuing this policy and replenishing his funds. As far back as September 28, 1789, he had written to his friend La Marck*: “All is lost. The King and Queen will be swept away, and you will see the populace triumphing over their helpless bodies.”49 And to the same friend, on October 7: “If you have any influence with the King or the Queen, persuade them that they and France are lost if the royal family does not leave Paris. I am busy with a plan for getting them away.”50 Louis rejected the plan, but he consented to finance Mirabeau’s defense of the monarchy. Early in May, 1790, he agreed to pay the great adventurer’s debts, to allow him $1,000 a month, and to reward him with $192,000 if he succeeded in reconciling the Assembly with the King.51 In August the Queen gave him a private interview in her gardens at St. Cloud. So great was the aura of majesty that the dragon of rebellion trembled with devotion when he kissed her hand. To his intimates he spoke of her ecstatically: “You know not the Queen. Her force of mind is prodigious. She is a man for courage.”52

He considered himself “paid but not bought”; according to La Marck “he accepted payment for keeping his own opinions.”53 He had no intention of defending absolutism; on the contrary, the statement which he submitted to the King’s ministers on December 23, 1790, was a program for reconciling public liberty with the royal authority: “To attack the Revolution would be to overshoot the mark, for the movement that makes a great people give itself better laws deserves support…. Both the spirit of the Revolution and many elements in its constitution must be accepted…. I regard all the effects of the Revolution … as conquests so irrevocable that no upheaval, short of dismembering the realm, could destroy them.”54

He labored with devotion and bribes to save the remnants of royal authority. The Assembly suspected his venality but respected his genius. On January 4, 1791, it chose him its president for the usual term of two weeks. He astonished all by the order of his management and the impartiality of his decisions. He worked all day, ate and drank all evening, and wore himself out with women. On March 25 he entertained two dancers from the Opéra. The next morning he was seized with violent intestinal cramps. He attended the Assembly on the twenty-seventh, but returned to his rooms exhausted and trembling. The news of his illness spread through Paris; theaters were closed out of respect for him; his house was besieged by people asking about his condition; one youth came offering his blood for transfusion.55 Talleyrand told him: “It is not easy to reach you; half of Paris is permanently outside your door.”56 Mirabeau died after much suffering, April 2, 1791.

On April 3 a delegation from the electors of Paris asked the Assembly to convert the Church of St.-Geneviève into a shrine and tomb for French heroes, and that this Panthéon (“of all the gods”), as it was soon to be called, should bear on its front the inscription “Aux grands hommes la Patrie reconnaissante” (To its great men a grateful Fatherland). It was done, and Mirabeau was buried there on April 4 after what Michelet thought “the most extensive and popular funeral procession that had ever been in the world”;57the historian estimated the crowd at between three and four hundred thousand—in the streets and the trees, at windows or on roofs; all of the Assembly except Pétion (who had secret evidence of Mirabeau’s receiving money from the King); all the Jacobin Club; twenty thousand National Guards; “One would have thought they were transferring the ashes of Voltaire—of one of those men who never die.”58 On August 10, 1792, proofs were found among the fallen King’s papers of payments to Mirabeau, and on September 22, 1794, the Convention ordered the tarnished hero’s remains removed from the Panthéon.

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