Page images

strain, the result of the arbitrary treatment he had been subjected to, and was in its nature the prelude to that marvellous eloquence which a few years afterwards stormed the strongholds of the feudalistic tyranny of the Bourbons, and resounded throughout all Europe.

At this time the Marquis, his father, who appears all through his life to have been a man of the most irascible and unhappy temper, had also in durance his wife and daughter, the sister of Mirabeau, under a lettre-de-cachet. For his son, Gabriel Honoré, he had throughout life the most bitter aversion, and he did not use his influence in the slightest degree to lessen the sufferings induced by his imprisonment in the noisome dungeons of Vincennes. He would not even allow him money for clothes, and as the State prisoners of the pre-Revolution days were obliged to clothe themselves, Mirabeau was reduced to a most wretched plight by lack of means, and in consequence of his neglected condition he suffered from ophthalmia, and his health began to fail rapidly. The food supplied to the State prisoners in Vincennes was of the coarsest kind, the confinement was rigorous, and between want of food, air, and clothes, he became seriously ill. A few faithful friends now used all their influence with his father to induce him to apply to the King for his release. He relented in his antagonism to his son, on ascertaining his dangerous condition, and used his influence at the Court for his release, which was granted in 1780, after three years and six months' confinement. He left Vincennes in feeble health, with an evil reputation on account of the public manner in which he had defied even the elastic laws of decorum observed in the reign of Louis XVI.; and he entered the world again with a disadvantage that appears to have constantly embittered his existence, namely, the want of money.

Shortly after this, a complete reconciliation with his father was brought about by some mutual friends.

As to the Marquise de Monnier—the lady for whom he had suffered so much, and who had sacrificed so much in her passion for Mirabeau-she was still confined in an asylum at Paris. Though not allowed liberty, she was permitted to see as many friends as called, and those interviews were not subject to any restrictions. Mirabeau had not yet met her since their separation at Amsterdam, but he had heard of the frequent visits of a M, de Rancourt; and the meeting looked forward to with such passionate desire on their separation at Amsterdam, began with accusations on his side and angry protests on hers, and so they parted in anger, never to meet again.

However, he could not forget all she had lost in her passion for him, and despite of his own deplorable circumstances he set about the reversal of the Pontarlier decree with a lion-hearted courage. The object of this was of course to restore to the Marquise her dowry and settlements. That part of the decree which dealt with the forfeiture of his own life he could have easily annulled by a lettrede-cassation, a ministerial mandate which his family had sufficient influence to obtain at the Court, but he hazarded all on an appeal to law to save the Marquise de Monnier as well as himself, and he succeeded by his extraordinary ability. Her dowry and settlements were restored to her, subject to some slight restrictions, but she ended her life by a suicidal death, three years after, from the inhalation of charcoal fumes.

After the reversal of the Pontarlier decree, he lived for some time in Switzerland, and on his return he sought a reconciliation with his wife. She was herself willing to return, but her relations would not allow her. He instituted legal proceedings, and acted as his own counsel, although he had never studied law, and, contrary to the opinion of some of the most learned avocats in France, whom he had consulted, he gained his case, and a decree was issued ordering his wife, the Countess de Mirabeau, to return to him. But the De Marignans, his wife's relatives, appealed to a higher tribunal, and the decision given in his favour was reversed. However, the marvellous ability and transcendent eloquence with which he had conducted his case, secured for him a seat in the National Assembly, a few years after, as deputy for Aix. After this, Mirabeau never again met his wife.

When the Revolution burst in all its fury on France, she fled, and lived abroad for some time in poverty. In 1796 she married a Sardinian officer, named De Rocca, who lived but for a year after, and in 1800 she died in the same room in Paris in which her first illustrious husband had breathed his last.

On the conclusion of the trial at Aix, Mirabeau went to Paris, in which he remained but a brief period, and then proceeded to · London. When leaving Paris he induced a young lady of the name of Von Haren, with whom he had become acquainted, to accompany him to London. She is known to those intimate with his biography as Madame de Nehra. He lived in London for eight months, during which time he was only able to derive a very precarious existence by literary labour. He commenced a work, much after the style of our modern encyclopædias, entitled “The Conservator," but the publishers of that day considered the project as too gigantic. Like most men gifted with genius, he was in advance of his time in all his ideas; and, like all such men, he had to pay the penalty which the ignorance or indifference of the world imposes on those whose ideas anticipate the political or social state of a later period.

However, he returned to France, after an eight months' sojourn in London, having found it much more difficult to live as a littérateur in London than he did in Amsterdam.

On his return to Paris, he was sent on a mission to the Court of Berlin, and when he again returned to France he marked the gathering thunderclouds of the Revolution.

National bankruptcy was impending. Necker, and after him Calonne, could only stay it by constantly borrowing. Mirabeau, on his return to Paris, wrote some pamphlets on the financial difficulties of the kingdom, and their remedies, which immediately attracted public attention to the writer. In five years he was destined to be the greatest man in France, but at this period he was suffering from extreme pecuniary embarrassment. He was living thus almost in poverty, when the summons of the States-General sounded the tocsin of the Revolution. Mirabeau was returned as deputy for Aix as a representative of the people. In a short time, his Demosthenic eloquence, and capacity for dealing with the important subjects brought daily before the National Assembly, rendered him the most remarkable man in that illustrious assemblage. He took a leading part in the reforming legislation of the Assembly. His first famous speech related to the dismissal of the troops raised round Versailles by the Court party. His next oration was that on the appropriation of the Church property—that appertaining to the abbey lands and the monasteries. The condition of the Church in France, under the sixteenth Louis and his predecessor, was one which reflected no credit on the Catholic Church. But it cannot be said that the root of the evil lay in the Church. On the contrary, the evil was of external growth. The abbeys and bishoprics were richly endowed, and the profligate and rapacious noblesse, from the days of the thirteenth Louis, had, by the exercise of their influence and unjust privileges, used the Church as a mere profession of convenience, whereby they obtained dignities and vast incomes for their impoverished younger sons. The result of this system was the grave scandals that disgraced the Church in the pre-Revolution days, when bishops and cardinals, who were scions of the old noblesse, and whose lives were not saintly, revelled in their many thousands a year, while the village curés starved on less than a hundred. There can be no doubt that one of the causes which hurried on the great political convulsion of '89 was the anomalous condition of the French Church.

To the unbiassed student of history, it appears evident that, towards the close of 1789, Mirabeau foresaw the sanguinary and anarchical character which the Revolution was assuming. He doubtless in his soul abhorred the despotism of a faction as much as he detested the tyranny of the crowned despot, and he foresaw clearly the sanguinary nature of the rule which would be instituted by Robespierre and the Jacobin party behind him if they succeeded in overturning the Monarchy. Mirabeau was not a Republican. He desired the overthrow of the feudal despotism that had existed under the old régime, and the establishment of a Constitutional Monarchy after the English type. Foreseeing what the Revolution was drifting to, he wished to save the Monarchy, and he had intimated this, towards the close of 1789, more than once to the King and the Court. But the Court faction were embittered against him by what he had already done in the cause of freedom; and Marie-Antoinette, who was but the tool of the imbecile noblesse of the Court, dissuaded the King from accepting the overtures of Mirabeau. In November 1789, he gave the Monarchy its last chance, by advocating that a Minister might retain his seat in the Assembly. But the King, blind to his danger, vacillated, and the Court party gave no support to this proposal of Mirabeau's, which, by placing power in his own hands, was meant to save the Monarchy and the Court from the doom which he saw impending. It was in vain, owing to the hatred and mistrust with which the Court regarded him. Thus passed away 1789 and the spring of 1790, in vacillation on the part of the King, and growing power and influence on the part of the sanguinary party who were led by Robespierre.

Meantime, Mirabeau's fame as an orator increased, until he was acknowledged as the most eloquent speaker France had ever produced. Unfortunately for his fame, he also became noted as the most profligate man in France, even in that period of roués.

In May 1790, the King and Queen became alive to the awful danger which surrounded them, and saw too late the error they had made in not accepting Mirabeau's aid before. A message was conveyed to Mirabeau that the Queen would meet him at Saint Cloud to arrange for the safety of the Monarchy, which the daily increasing violence of the Jacobin party threatened with destruction. In the shadow of the old castle of Henri Quatre took place the meeting between Marie-Antoinette and the man whom, up to that time, she had regarded as the most terrible assailant of the Monarchy. There can be no doubt that he vowed to save the dynasty, as some of his biographers relate ; but it was all too late. The unbounded profligacy into which he had launched in 1790, coupled with the superhuman labours of his public life, had already numbered his days. His health failed altogether in the spring of the ensuing year, and in April 1791, he expired in the house he had taken in the Rue St. Honoré. Almost his last words were, “I bear in my heart the dirge of the Monarchy, the ruins whereof will now be the prey of the factions.” His death, like his life, had its dramatic surroundings. A notable characteristic of this extraordinary man through life was his love of flowers and music. When he was dying he requested that the room should be strewn with flowers, and that music should be played. And so on April 2, 1791, in his forty-second year, died Riqueti de Mirabeau, the veritable “Soul of the French Revolution."

One of the last labours he was engaged on in the Legislative Assembly was the preparation of a bill for the abolition of the law of primogeniture. When the fatal illness which terminated his existence overtook him, he confided the advocacy of this measure to his illustrious friend, Talleyrand, the ex-bishop of Autun. Some hours preceding his death, a priest who had been an intimate friend called upon him, and implored him to accept spiritual aid, but he refused, and with a faint smile remarked that "it was unnecessary, as the bishop," referring to Talleyrand, “had just left him.”

With Mirabeau perished the “last hopes of the Monarchy." The tumultuous waves of the Revolution were fast surging round it, and none knew better than Mirabeau that his own death would ring the knell of the Monarchy. Hence his last thoughts were of the Bourbons, who had rejected his aid a year before, and who had appealed to him when the approach of death left him powerless to save them. He had been the master spirit of the Revolution, and he was the only man in France capable of controlling it. His last words, referring to the Monarchy-expressed with that eloquence which had distinguished him through life-proved to be a prophecy which was verified to the letter a brief period afterwards.

The announcement of Mirabeau's death was received with a wild outburst of grief through Paris and all France. Everywhere there was mourning for the Great Tribune, whose courage and intellect, at critical moments in the early days of the National Assembly, and whose eloquence all through that stormy period, had overthrown the feudal despotism of centuries—everywhere sincere regret, except by the small and daring faction led by Robespierre. There was secret

« PreviousContinue »