Sunday, June 30, 2013

Taking the Lead

Camille Desmoulins was from a respectable family in Guise, had studied law and was a long-time friend of Robespierre.  He'd chosen, against his father's advice, to try to make a living at writing instead of law and lent his talents to the cause of the budding Revolution.  Camille had not yet  reached his thirtieth year when his impassioned words, shouted from a tabletop to the crowd in the Palais Royal, fanned the flames of change and led to the storming of the Bastille.  Through his writing, he became a central player in the Revolution, and, through his writing, lost his head.

I have a soft spot for Camille.  Maybe it's the fact that he had a severe stammer.  Maybe it's because he loved his wife so much that he died clutching a lock of her hair.  His vitriolic writings notwithstanding, he just comes across as an idealistic, well-meaning, eager to please, very young man.

This letter to his father describes, in his Camille's own words, the heady afternoon at the Palais Royal.:

Dearest father,

I can now write to you. . . . How things have changed over the last three days! Last Sunday, Paris was dismayed at the dismissal of M. Necker. Although I was getting people worked up, no one would take up arms. About three o'clock I went to the Palais-Royal. I was deploring our lack of courage to a group of people when three young men came by, holding hands and shouting Aux armes! (To arms!) I joined them and since my enthusiasm was quite obvious, I was surrounded and pressed to climb up on a table. Immediately six thousand people gathered around me. . . .
I was choking from the hundreds of ideas that overwhelmed me and, my thoughts a jumble, I spoke: "To arms!' I cried, "To arms! Let us all wear green cockades, the color of hope." . . . I grabbed a green ribbon and was the first to pin it to my hat. My action spread like wildfire! The noise from the tumult reached the camp; the Cravates, the Swiss, the Dragoons, the Royal-Allemand all arrived. Prince Lambesc, leading the regiment of Royal-Allemands, entered the Tuileries on horseback. He personally cut down an unarmed French guardsman with his sword, and knocked over women and children. The crowd became furious, and from that point on, there was but a single cry heard across Paris: To Arms!

And, later, still hoping to impress his father:

"Mirabeau and I have become close friends.  Anyway, he calls me his very good friend.  He is always gripping me by the hand or giving me a friendly punch or two with his big fist…"

and, later still:

"The Cause of Liberty has triumphed!  And here I am lodged in the palace of Maupeou and Lamoignon! So, in spite of all your predictions that I should never amount to anything, here I now am at the top of the ladder!  How the people of Guise (his hometown,) so full of envy, will burst with jealousy today!"

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