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The Fall of Robespierre, Edited by Daniel E. White
< Act I


ACT II.

SCENE, The Convention.

 

Robespierre mounts the Tribune.

Once more befits it that the voice of truth,
Fearless in innocence, though leagerd round
By envy and her hateful brood of hell,
Be heard amid this hall; once more befits
The patriot, whose prophetic eye so oft
Has pierced thro' faction's veil, to flash on crimes
Of deadliest import. Mouldering in the grave
Sleeps Capet's caitiff corse; my daring hand
Levelled to earth his blood–cemented throne,
My voice declared his guilt, and stirred up France
To call for vengeance. I too dug the grave
Where sleep the Girondists, detested band!
Long with the shew of freedom they abused
Her ardent sons. Long time the well-turn'd phrase
The high fraught sentence and the lofty tone
Of declamation thunder'd in this hall,
Till reason midst a labyrinth of words
Perplex'd, in silence seem'd to yield assent.
I durst oppose. Soul of my honoured friend,
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Spirit of Marat upon thee I call–
Thou know'st me faithful, know'st with what warm zeal
I urg'd the cause of justice, stripp'd the mask
From factions deadly visage, and destroy'd
Her traitor brood. Whose patriot arm hurl'd down
Hebert and Rousin, and the villain friends
Of Danton, foul apostate! those, who long
Mask'd treason's form in liberty's fair garb,
Long deluged France with blood, and durst defy
Omnipotence! but I it seems am false!

20

I am a traitor too! I–Robespierre!
I–at whose name the dastard despot brood
Look pale with fear, and call on saints to help them!
Who dares accuse me? who shall dare belie
My spotless name? Speak, ye accomplice band,
Of what am I accus'd? of what strange crime
Is Maximilian Robespierre accus'd,
That through this hall the buz of discontent
Should murmur? who shall speak?


Billaud Varennes.

                                                 O patriot tongue
Belying the foul heart! Who was it urg'd

30

Friendly to tyrants that accurst decree,
Whose influence brooding o'er this hallowed hall,
Has chill'd each tongue to silence. Who destroyed
The freedom of debate, and carried through
The fatal law, that doom'd the delegates,
Unheard before their equals, to the bar
Where cruelty sat throned, and murder reign'd
With her Dumas coequal? Say–thou man
Of mighty eloquence, whose law was that?


Couthon.

That law was mine. I urged it–I propos'd–

40

The voice of France assembled in her sons
Assented, though the tame and timid voice
Of traitors murmur'd. I advis'd that law–
I justify it. It was wise and good.


Barrere.

Oh, wonderous wise and most convenient too!
I have long mark'd thee, Robespierre–and now
Proclaim thee traitor–tyrant!

(Loud applauses.)


Robespierre.

                                                    It is well.
I am a traitor! oh, that I had fallen
When Regnault lifted high the murderous knife,
Regnault the instrument belike of those

50






NP

Who now themselves would fain assassinate,
And legalize their murders. I stand here
An isolated patriot–hemmed around
By factions noisy pack; beset and bay'd
By the foul hell-hounds who know no escape
From justice' outstretch'd arm, but by the force
That pierces through her breast.

(Murmurs, and shouts of–Down with the tyrant!)


Robespierre.

Nay, but I will be heard. There was a time
When Robespierre began, the loud applauses
Of honest patriots drown'd the honest sound.

60

But times are chang'd, and villainy prevails.


Collot d'Herbois.

No–villainy shall fall. France could not brook
A monarch's sway–sounds the dictator's name
More soothing to her ear?


Bourdon l'Oise.

                                                Rattle her chains
More musically now than when the hand
Of Brissot forged her fetters; or the crew
Of Hebert thundered out their blasphemies,
And Danton talk'd of virtue?


Robespierre.

                                                   Oh, that Brissot
Were here again to thunder in this hall.
That Hebert lived, and Danton's giant form

70

Scowl'd once again defiance! so my soul
Might cope with worthy foes.
                                              People of France
Hear me! Beneath the vengeance of the law,
Traitors have perish'd countless; more survive:
The hydra-headed faction lifts anew
Her daring front, and fruitful from her wounds,
Cautious from past defects, contrives new wiles
Against the sons of Freedom.


Tallien.

                                                     Freedom lives!
Oppression falls–for France has felt her chains,
Has burst them too. Who traitor-like stept forth

80

Amid the hall of Jacobines to save
Camille Desmoulines, and the venal wretch D'Eglantine?


Robespierre.

                           I did–for I thought them honest.
And Heaven forefend that vengeance e'er should strike,
Ere justice doom'd the blow.


Barrere.

                                               Traitor, thou didst.
Yes, the accomplice of their dark designs,
Awhile didst thou defend them, when the storm
Lower'd at safe distance. When the clouds frown'd darker,
Fear'd for yourself and left them to their fate.
Oh, I have mark'd thee long, and through the veil

90

Seen thy foul projects. Yes, ambitious man,
Self-will'd dictator o'er the realm of France,
The vengeance thou hast plann'd for patriots,
Falls on thy head. Look how thy brother's deeds
Dishonour thine! He the firm patriot,
Thou the foul parricide of Liberty!


Robespierre, Junior.

Barrere–attempt not meanly to divide
Me from my brother. I partake his guilt,
For I partake his virtue.


Robespierre.

                                                Brother, by my soul,
More dear I hold thee to my heart, that thus

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NP

With me thou dar'st to tread the dangerous path
Of virtue, than that nature twined her cords
Of kindred round us.


Barrere.

                                                 Yes, allied in guilt,
Even as in blood ye are. Oh, thou worst wretch,
Thou worse than Sylla! hast thou not proscrib'd
Yea, in most foul anticipation slaughter'd
Each patriot representative of France?


Bourdon l'Oise.

Was not the younger Caesar too to reign
O'er all our valiant armies in the south,
And still continue there his merchant wiles?
 

110

Robespierre, Junior.

His merchant wiles! Oh, grant me patience, heaven!
Was it by merchant wiles I gain'd you back
Toulon, when proudly on her captive towers
Wav'd high the English flag? or fought I then
With merchant wiles, when sword in hand I led
Your troops to conquest? fought I merchant like,
Or barter'd I for victory, when death
Strode o'er the reeking streets with giant stride,
And shook his ebon plumes, and sternly smil'd
Amid the bloody banquet? when appal'd


120

The hireling sons of England spread the sail
Of safety, fought I like a merchant then?
Oh, patience! patience!


Bourdon l'Oise.

                                             How this younger tyrant
Mouths out defiance to us! even so
He had led on the armies of the south,
Till once again the plains of France were drench'd
With her best blood.


Collot d'Herbois.

                                          Till once again display'd
Lyons' sad tragedy had call'd me forth
The minister of wrath, whilst slaughter by
Had bathed in human blood.


Dubois Crance.

                                                No wonder, friend,

130

That we are traitors–that our heads must fall
Beneath the axe of death! when Caesar–like
Reigns Robespierre, 'tis wisely done to doom
The fall of Brutus. Tell me, bloody man,
Hast thou not parcell'd out deluded France
As it had been some province won in fight
Between your curst triumvirate. You, Couthon,
Go with my brother to the southern plains;
St. Just, be yours the army of the north;
Mean time I rule at Paris.


Robespierre.

                                                    Matchless knave!

140


NP

What–not one blush of conscience on thy cheek–
Not one poor blush of truth! most likely tale!
That I who ruined Brissot's towering hopes,
I who discovered Hebert's impious wiles,
And sharp'd for Danton's recreant neck the axe,
Should now be traitor! had I been so minded,
Think ye I had destroyed the very men
Whose plots resembled mine? bring forth your proofs
Of this deep treason. Tell me in whose breast
Found ye the fatal scroll? or tell me rather
Who forg'd the shameless falshood?
 

150

Collot d'Herbois.

                                                    Ask you proofs?
Robespierre, what proofs were ask'd when Brissot died?


Legendre.

What proofs adduced you when the Danton died?
When at the imminent peril of my life
I rose, and fearless of thy frowning brow,
Proclaim'd him guiltless?


Robespierre.

                                                     I remember well
The fatal day. I do repent me much
That I kill'd Caesar and spar'd Antony.
But I have been too lenient. I have spar'd
The stream of blood, and now my own must flow
To fill the current.

(Loud applauses.)


160

                                      Triumph not too soon,
Justice may yet be victor.


Enter St. Just, and mounts the Tribune.

St. Just.

I come from the committee–charged to speak
Of matters of high import. I omit
Their orders. Representatives of France,
Boldly in his own person speaks St. Just
What his own heart shall dictate.


Tallien.

                                                   Hear ye this,
Insulted delegates of France? St. Just
From your committee comes–comes charg'd to speak
Of matters of high import–yet omits

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NP

Their orders! Representatives of France,
That bold man I denounce, who disobeys
The nations orders.–I denounce St. Just.

(Loud applauses.)


St. Just.

Hear me!

(Violent murmurs.)


Robespierre.

He shall be heard!


Bourdon l'Oise.

Must we contaminate this sacred hall
With the foul breath of treason?


Collot d'Herbois.

                                                     Drag him away!
Hence with him to the bar.


Couthon.

                                             Oh, just proceedings!
Robespierre prevented liberty of speech–
And Robespierre is a tyrant! Tallien reigns,

180

He dreads to hear the voice of innocence–
And St. Just must be silent!

Legendre.

                                                       Heed we well
That justice guide our actions. No light import
Attends this day. I move St. Just be heard.


Freron.

Inviolate be the sacred right of man,
The freedom of debate.

(Violent applauses.)


St. Just.

I may be heard then! much the times are chang'd,
When St. Just thanks this hall for hearing him.
Robespierre is call'd a tyrant. Men of France
Judge not too soon. By popular discontent

190







NP

Was Aristides driven into exile,
Was Phocion murder'd? Ere ye dare pronounce
Robespierre is guilty, it befits ye well,
Consider who accuse him. Tallien,
Bourdon of Oise–the very men denounced,
For that their dark intrigues disturb'd the plan
Of government. Legendre the sworn friend
Of Danton fall'n apostate. Dubois Crance,
He who at Lyons spar'd the royalists–
Collot d'Herbois–


Bourdon l'Oise.

                                     What–shall the traitor rear
His head amid our tribune–and blaspheme

200

Each patriot? shall the hireling slave of faction–


St. Just.

I am of no one faction. I contend
Against all factions.


Tallien.

                                               I espouse the cause
Of truth. Robespierre on yester morn pronounced
Upon his own authority a report.
To-day St. Just comes down. St. Just neglects
What the committee orders, and harangues
From his own will. O citizens of France
I weep for you–I weep for my poor country–

210


NP

I tremble for the cause of Liberty,
When individuals shall assume the sway,
And with more insolence than kingly pride
Rule the republic.


Billaud Varennes.

Shudder, ye representatives of France,
Shudder with horror. Henriot commands
The marshall'd force of Paris. Henriot,
Foul parricide–the sworn ally of Hebert
Denounced by all–upheld by Robespierre.
Who spar'd La Valette? who promoted him,

220

Stain'd with the deep die of nobility?
Who to an ex-peer gave the high command?
Who screen'd from justice the rapacious thief?
Who cast in chains the friends of Liberty?
Robespierre, the self-stil'd patriot Robespierre–
Robespierre, allied with villain Daubignè
Robespierre, the foul arch tyrant Robespierre.


Bourdon l'Oise.

He talks of virtue–of morality–
Consistent patriot! he Daubignè's friend!
Henriot's supporter virtuous! preach of virtue,

230

Yet league with villains, for with Robespierre
Villains alone ally. Thou art a tyrant!
I stile thee tyrant Robespierre!

(Loud applauses.)


Robespierre.

Take back the name. Ye citizens of France–

(Violent clamour. Cries of–Down with the Tyrant!)

 

Tallien.

Oppression falls. The traitor stands appall'd–
Guilt's iron fangs engrasp his shrinking soul–
He hears assembled France denounce his crimes!
He sees the mask torn from his secret sins––
He trembles on the precipice of fate.
Fall'n guilty tyrant! murder'd by thy rage

240








NP

How many an innocent victim's blood has stain'd
Fair freedom's altar! Sylla-like thy hand
Mark'd down the virtues, that, thy foes removed,
Perpetual Dictator thou might'st reign,
And tyrannize o'er France, and call it freedom!
Long time in timid guilt the traitor plann'd
His fearful wiles–success emboldened sin–
And his stretch'd arm had grasp'd the diadem
Ere now, but that the coward's heart recoil'd,
Lest France awak'd, should rouse her from her dream,

250

And call aloud for vengeance. He, like Caesar,
With rapid step urged on his bold career,
Even to the summit of ambitious power,
And deem'd the name of King alone was wanting.
Was it for this we hurl'd proud Capet down?
Is it for this we wage eternal war
Against the tyrant horde of murderers,
The crowned cockatrices whose foul venom
Infects all Europe? was it then for this
We swore to guard our liberty with life,

260

That Robespierre should reign? the spirit of freedom
Is not yet sunk so low. The glowing flame
That animates each honest Frenchman's heart
Not yet extinguish'd. I invoke thy shade,
Immortal Brutus! I too wear a dagger;
And if the representatives of France,
Through fear or favor should delay the sword
Of justice, Tallien emulates thy virtues;
Tallien, like Brutus, lifts the avenging arm;
Tallien shall save his country.

(Violent applauses.)


Billaud Varennes.

                                                              I demand

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NP

The arrest of all the traitors. Memorable
Will be this day for France.

 

Robespierre.

                                                 Yes! Memorable
This day will be for France––for villains triumph.


Lebas.

I will not share in this day's damning guilt.
Condemn me too.

(Great cryDown with the Tyrants! )


(The two Robespierres, Couthon, St. Just, and Lebas are led off.)

280

 

< Act I

Published @ RC

March 2008

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