"根據法國路易十六King Louis XVI 革命時代 當時人的紀錄或信札.......
--胡適之先生晚年談話錄 (頁153 1961/4/12日)
THE FRENCH REVOLUTION (350 pp.)—Georges Pernoud and Sabine Flaissier—Putnam ($5).
"That was a nice way to behave," said the Deputy to the King. "You are a good man and you are liked, but see what a mess you have got into!" Whereupon the Deputy burst into tears.
The tearful Deputy was a man named Corollaire, the good man was King Louis XVI, and the mess was that fantastic and shattering imbroglio—the French Revolution. Louis, dressed in old brown plush and very dirty linen, did not look much of a King at the moment. He had just been frustrated in the most sensible decision of his reign—to flee from his capital with his family. The royal entourage had as much chance of inconspicuous anonymity as a troupe of menagerie freaks.They were recognized 125 miles from Paris at Varennes and—the whole coach train of them—hauled back to finish their roles as tragedians in the century's bloodiest drama.
Georges Pernoud, French journalist, and Sabine Flaissier, historian, have brilliantly executed the astute notion of telling the story of the French Revolution in terms of eyewitness stories culled from 50,000 items in the national archives. The book gives all the blooming, buzzing confusion of a new world being created but not yet comprehended or tidied up by the hindsight or partisanship of a Michelet, Taine or Carlyle.
The Baker's Wife. It is grim stuff for those who have comfortably and vaguely given the French Revolution a retrospective blessing as a Good Thing—Lafayette and all that. The heirs of the French Enlightenment behaved at times like Mau Mau. Parts of butchered bodies were carried on pikes through the streets, and children played in the gutters with severed heads, and in the official Terror the carnage reached a truly modern scale (1,285 deaths at the guillotine in 45 days in Paris alone).
No wonder the King wanted to call it quits. The mob of Paris forced him from his Byzantine cocoon of ceremony at Versailles to rule in Paris. They wanted bread. He promised them bread. As for the mob who butchered his guards and jostled his coach all the way to Paris, they hailed his generosity, "Long live the baker!" and Queen Marie Antoinette was saluted as "the baker's wife." It was time to go. In this whole bewildering montage of scenes, it is on the confused King—and all the confusing attitudes held toward him—that the mind focuses. Things were beyond everyone—most of all beyond Louis—prisoner of a system he could neither administer nor change. He had to go, but the agonized and muddled sincerity of all the witnesses gives pathos to his historic plight. King and all, he was a man.
While he was waiting, literally, for the ax to fall, it is touching to note that Louis studied the only notable precedent available as a guide to his conduct—a history of England giving an account of the death of Charles I. Charles, as the Commonwealth Poet Andrew Marvell conceded. "Nothing common did or mean. Upon that memorable Scene." Louis was as good as his royal Stuart exemplar and became one man, at least, who was a hero to his valet. Cléry. the valet, though too upset to shave the King, honored the courage and courtesy of his last hours, was at pains to order boiled beef and mashed parsnips. The King was fond of that dish, and besides, could eat it with a spoon. The revolutionary citizenry would not trust him with a knife, for fear of suicide. "Do they think me a coward?" the King asked with indignation.
The journalist Prudhomme was less generous than the English poet or the French valet when he came to record the decapitation of Marie Antoinette. With her hair cut short and wearing widow's weeds, the Queen trod on the foot of her executioner as she mounted the scaffold and said prettily, "Monsieur. I beg your pardon." Sneered Eyewitness Prudhomme: "It may be that she contrived this little scene to add an interest to her memory, for there are some people whose vanity persists as long as life itself."
Added Humiliation. No doubt the Revolutionary Tribunal could only do what it did. The citizens had not learned the English trick with difficult monarchs of cutting off their pocket money rather than their heads. The modern reader (for whom kings are no problem) may yet be shocked and puzzled, not at the executions but at the scenes made vivid in the keyhole cameos of chambermaids, doctors, etc. Why humiliate the doomed? After a half-hour debate about a pair of scissors that the King had asked for, the representatives of the people decided on no scissors. As for the Queen, she had to conduct all the arts of female sanitation and toilette under the eyes of a citizen jailer. It seems shocking—just as the act of the executioner of slapping the cheeks of Charlotte Corday's severed head is more shocking than her death. Why?
In humiliating Louis and Marie Antoinette, the revolutionary citizens were not being cruel and vindictive for the fun of it but were acting from fear of their own awe of the monarchy. Royal ritual and ceremony—a sort of status symbolism run mad—still held its power over the minds of the republicans; instinctively, they knew that the King and Queen must be deglorified before they could be decapitated. So, too, the Dauphin was left to squat for months in his own ordure.
This puzzling ambivalence becomes clear in the scenes about the guillotine as Louis' head fell into the basket. Dr. Philippe Pinel, an enlightened physician, attended as a citizen armed guard and reported his "heart filled with grief." The people were in a mood of "somber consternation." Some dipped handkerchiefs and bits of paper in the royal blood and, says Pinel, went home to "weep in the bosom of their families." Only the mounted guard cried "Vive la Nation!"
After such psychological complexities, it is a relief to learn that Citizen Sanson, the executioner, was suffering from a simple modern grievance—poor pay and working conditions. There is some irony in his complaint that "the abolition of class prejudices I thought would make it easier for me to find assistants, but on the contrary . . ."
Sparing Shoes. The book is rich in such raw slices of life; like any day's newspaper, it is an anthology of comedy and horror. In the style of a film documentary, it flicks through some terrible hours of history. One moment it is a priest disguised in a red waistcoat waiting fearfully in the streets to give a last blessing to a tumbrel full of ladies on their way to the knife. Another provides a vignette of an aged émigré aristocrat in the counter-revolutionary army marching barefoot with his shoes slung on his bayonet to save the wear and tear. A last note in the book—a letter from an obscure Parisian called Bonaparte to his brother back in Corsica—gives promise of more to come. Napoleon was crazy about the Paris women; all he wanted to complete his happiness was a "chance to take part in a battle."