Madame Tussaud recalled from VersaillesThe 12th of July, 1789Busts taken from Curtius’s ExhibitionA Garde Française slain in the mêlée.
IT must be remembered that the “romance” of Ma-dame Tussaud’s began in the French capital one hundred and fifty years ago.
As we view to-day the quaint little figure of Ma-dame which stands in the Exhibition she helped to found in France and established in this country, we must imagine her in the full vigour of her young womanhood, sensible to the dangers and terrors of the Revolution in which she was about to be involved. The Exhibition was as yet in its infancy; but stirring times were approaching, and the days were pregnant with meaning for the France that was to bea time of bloodshed and grim ruthlessness born of a people’s desire for freedom, and attended by ghastly scenes in Paris that revealed the extremities to which unbridled human passions could go.
We must see through her eyes the sights that marked the red dawn of the French Revolution; and hear the first low rumble that gave warning of the approach of the Reign of Terror. Her uncle recalled her from the Court of Versailles, an order that he might afford her his protection, and she did not leave a whit too soon.
Now we come to the fateful days of July.
The Three Estates had been fused into one on the 27th of June with the assent of the King, who thus virtually signed his own death-warrant. Another step soon followed in the same disastrous course. The Queen and her intimate advisers caused Louis to make an attempt to maintain his authority by force, and for this purpose an army of 40,000 men, drawn from various quarters, was concentrated upon Paris and its vicinity, and placed under the orders of Marshal Broglie.
Among these troops were several regiments of Swiss and Germans. At that moment Necker, whom the Court party distrusted and feared, was forced to relinquish his office, and commanded to leave France forthwith.
The 12th of July was a Sunday, and on the morning of that day an extraordinary degree of activity was observed among the troops in Paris. The nerves of the people became overwrought; they were apprehensive of imminent dangersome hidden design, some sinister motive, on the part of the newly appointed Ministers (including the hated Foulon, who had succeeded the beloved Necker) whose policy they could not fathom.
Before midday the Palais Royal was crowded with people, wondering what all this military movement could mean, and gazing at the strange placards which bade them stay at home and avoid all meetings.
The half-discredited rumour of the dismissal of Necker spread like wild-fire through the capital, and the first person who made the announcement was about to be ducked in one of the water basins in the gardens of the Palais Royal, when a Deputy of the Third Estate, who happened-to be standing by, confirmed the news.
Everyone in the gardens was at once made acquainted with the fall of the people’s favourite; and as the cannon of the Palais made known, as usual, the fact that the hour of noon had arrived, a young man named Camille Desmoulins sprang upon a table outside the Café Foy, and, brandishing a drawn sword and pistol, called “To arms !” He then harangued with burning eloquence the people who crowded around him, and fired their imagination at the close of his oration by plucking a leaf from a tree (green being the colour of Necker’s livery) and placing it in his hat as a cockade, an example that was followed by thousands.
The theatres and other places of amusement were closed as a sign of mourning for Necker, who was loudly acclaimed on every side.
Then it was suggested that the models of Necker and the Duke of Orléans should be obtained from Curtius’s Museum. The idea was quickly seized upon, and the crowd rushed en masse to the Exhibition rooms on the Boulevard du Temple, where they demanded the busts of the “friends of the people.” They also asked for the model of the King, a request that was re-fused by Curtius, who observed that as the full-length figure was extremely heavy it would be “broken” if carried. This reply pleased the people, who clapped their hands and shouted “Bravo, Curtius, bravo!”
Deeming it imprudent not to respond to the public clamour, Curtius relinquished the busts of the two public idols; and as soon as they had gained possession of them the mob shouted “Long live Necker !” “Long live the Duke of Orléans!” and “Down with the foreign troops!”
As an _expression of grief at the loss of their favourites they covered the busts with crape. Then, elevating them upon pedestals, they carried them through the streets of Paris in triumph.
On rolled the procession through the Rue de Riche-lieu, the Boulevard, the streets of St. Martin, St. Denis, and St. Honoré, increasing in numbers at every step, among them men of the Garde Française, till it came to the Place Vendôme, where the busts were carried twice round the statue of Louis XIV. En route the crowd obliged all they met to take off their hats in honour of the men the busts represented. By the time the great throng reached the Place Vendôme it had become 5,000 or 6,000 strong.
Here a detachment of royal troops came up, and vainly attempted to disperse the mob. The crowd pelted the soldiers with stones, and, having put them to flight, proceeded to the Place Louis XV, where they were assailed by the German troops of the Prince de Lambesc. The cavalry charged the. mob with drawn sabres, and the bearers of the busts were thrown down beneath their burdens.
Again and again they were raised, only to fall once more. The figure of Necker was cleft asunder by a soldier of the Royal German Regiment. A man named Pepin, a hawker of articles of drapery, was wounded by a bullet in the leg, and fell by the side of the broken figure. That representing the Duke of Orléans escaped destruction; but a member of the Civic Guard, while endeavouring to protect it, lost his life, and several other persons were wounded in attempting to assist him. It was the first blood shed in the Revolution, which may thus be regarded as having broken out at the very doors of the Exhibition in Paris.
Thomas Carlyle gives, in his French Revolution, the following characteristic account of the incident:
TO ARMS !
Sunday, 12th July, 1789.
France, so long shaken and wind-parched, is probably at the right inflammable point. As for poor Curtius who, one grieves to think, might be but imperfectly paid, he cannot make two words about his Images. The Wax-bust of Necker, the Wax-bust of D’Orléans, helpers of France : these, covered with crape, as in funeral procession, or after the manner of suppliants appealing to Heaven, to Earth, and Tartarus it-self, a mixed multitude bears off. For a sign ! As indeed man, with his singular imaginative faculties, can do little or nothing without signs : Thus Turks look to their Prophet’s Banner; also Osier Mannikins have been burnt, and Necker’s Portrait has erewhile figured, aloft on its perch.
In this manner march they, a mixed, continually increasing multitude ; armed with axes, staves, and miscellanea ; grim, many-sounding through the streets. Be all Theatres shut ; let all dancing on planked floor, or on the natural greensward, cease ! Instead of a Christian Sabbath, and feast of guinguitte tabernacles, it shall be a Sorcerer’s Sabbath ; and Paris, gone rabid, dancewith the Fiend for piper !
However, Besenval, with horse and foot, is in the Place Louis Quinze. Mortals promenading homewards, in the fall of the day, saunter by, from Chaillot or Passy, from flirtation and a little thin wine ; with sadder step than usual. Will the Bust-Procession pass that way? Behold it; behold also Prince Lambesc dash forth on it, with his Royal-Allemands ! Shots fall, and sabre-strokes ; Busts are hewed asunder ; and, alas, also heads of men. A sabred Procession has nothing for it but to explode, along what streets, alleys, Tuileries Avenues it finds ; and disappear. One unarmed man lies hewed down ; a Garde Française by his uniform; bear him (or bear even the report of him) dead and gory to his Barracks;where he has comrades still alive !French Revolution, Chapter IV.
It was on this very day, the 12th of July, after the incidents just described, that the famous reply was made to the King by Liancourt. Upon his apprising His Majesty of the ferment in Paris, Louis remarked, “Why, it is a revolt, then?” “No, sire.” rejoined the Minister, “it is a revolution!” 1
This reply has been erroneously asserted to have been made by Liancourt on the evening of the 14th of July, the day of the capture of the Bastille; it was really given as stated above.