July 14, 1789
We have spoken of the ‘glory’ of Bastille Day; let us instead hear more from Carlyle on how inglorious it really was:
“…De Launay could not do it. Distracted, he hovers between two; hopes in the middle of despair; surrenders not his Fortress; declares that he will blow it up, seizes torches to blow it up, and does not blow it. Unhappy old De Launay, it is the death-agony of thy Bastille and thee! Jail, Jailoring and Jailor, all three, such as they may have been, must finish….For four hours now has the World-Bedlam roared: call it the World-Chimera, blowing fire! The poor Invalides have sunk under their battlements, or rise only with reversed muskets: they have made a white flag of napkins; go beating the chamade, or seeming to beat, for one can hear nothing. The very Swiss at the Portcullis look weary of firing; disheartened in the fire-deluge: a porthole at the drawbridge is opened, as by one that would speak.
See Huissier Maillard, the shifty man! On his plank, swinging over the abyss of that stone Ditch; plank resting on parapet, balanced by weight of Patriots, — he hovers perilous: such a Dove towards such an Ark! Deftly, thou shifty Usher: one man already fell; and lies smashed, far down there, against the masonry! Usher Maillard falls not: deftly, unerring he walks, with outspread palm. The Swiss holds a paper through his porthole; the shifty Usher snatches it, and returns. Terms of surrender: Pardon, immunity to all! Are they accepted? — “Foi d’ officier, On the word of an officer,” answers half-pay Hulin, — or half-pay Elie, for men do not agree on it, — “they are!” Sinks the drawbridge, — Usher Maillard bolting it when down; rushes-in the living deluge: the Bastille is fallen! Victoire! La Bastille est prise!
Why dwell on what follows? Hulin’s foi d’officier should have been kept, but could not. The Swiss stand drawn up, disguised in white canvas smocks; the Invalides without disguise; their arms all piled against the wall. The first rush of victory in ecstasy that the death-peril is passed, ‘leaps joyfully on their necks’ ; but new victors rush, and ever new, also in ecstasy not wholly of joy. As we said, it was a living deluge, plunging head-long: had not the Gardes Françaises, in their cool military way, ‘wheeled round with arms levelled,’ it would have plunged accidentally, by the hundred or the thousand, into the Bastille-ditch.
And so it goes plunging through court and corridor; billowing uncontrollable, firing from windows — on itself; in hot frenzy of triumph, of grief and vengeance for its slain. The poor Invalides will fare ill; one Swiss, running off in his white smock, is driven back, with a death-thrust. Let all Prisoners be marched to the Townhall, to be judged! — Alas, already one poor Invalide has his right hand slashed off him; his main body dragged to the Place de Grève, and hanged there. This same right hand, it is said, turned back De Launay from the Powder-Magazine, and saved Paris.
De Launay, ‘discovered in gray frock with poppy-coloured riband,’ is for killing himself with the sword of his cane. He shall to the Hôtel-de-Ville; Hulin, Maillard and others escorting him; Elie marching foremost ‘with the capitulation-paper on his sword’s point.’ Through roarings and cursings; through hustlings, clutchings, and at last through strokes! Your escort is hustled aside, felled down; Hulin sinks exhausted on a heap of stones. Miserable De Launay! He shall never enter the Hôtel-de-Ville: only his ‘bloody hair-queue, held up in a bloody hand’ ; that shall enter, for a sign. The bleeding trunk lies on the steps there; the head is off through the streets; ghastly, aloft on a pike.”