Yet, though their return was full of ignominy and wretchedness, though their home had become a prison, the only exit from which was to be the scaffold, still, if posthumous renown can compensate for miseries endured in this life; if it be worth while to purchase, even by the most terrible and protracted sufferings, an undying, unfading memory of the most admirable virtues—of fidelity, of truth, of patience, of resignation, of disinterestedness, of fortitude, of all the qualities which most ennoble and sanctify the heart—it may be said, now that her agonies have long been terminated, and that she has been long at rest, that it was well for Marie Antoinette that she had failed to reach Montmedy, and that she had thus fallen again, without having to reproach herself in any single particular, into the hands of her enemies. As a prisoner to the basest of mankind, as victim to the most ferocious monsters that have ever disgraced humanity, she has ever commanded, and she will never cease to command, the sympathy and admiration of every generous mind. But the case would have been widely different had Louis and she found the refuge which they sought with the loyal and brave De Bouille. Their arrival in his camp could not have failed to be a signal for civil war; and civil war, under such circumstances as those of France at that time, could have had but one termination—their defeat, dethronement, and expulsion from the country. In a foreign land they might, indeed, have found security, but they would have enjoyed but little happiness. Wherever he may be, the life of a deposed and exiled sovereign must be one of ceaseless mortification. The greatest of the Italian poets has well said that the recollection of former happiness is the bitterest aggravation of present misery; and not only to the fugitive monarch himself, but to those who still preserve their fidelity to him, and to the foreign people to whom he is indebted for his asylum, the recollection of his former greatness will ever be at hand to add still further bitterness to his present humiliation. The most friendly feeling his misfortunes can ever excite is a contemptuous pity, such as noble and proud minds must find it harder to endure than the utmost virulence of hatred and enmity.
From such a fate, at least, Marie Antoinette was saved. During the remainder of her life her failure did indeed condemn her to a protraction of trial and agony such as no other woman has ever endured; but she always prized honor far above life, and it also opened to her an immortality of glory such as no other woman has ever achieved.
Marie Antoinette’s Feelings on her Return.—She sees Hopes of Improvement.—The 17th of July.—The Assembly inquire into the King’s Conduct on leaving Paris.—They resolve that there is no Reason for taking Proceedings.—Excitement in Foreign Countries.—The Assembly proceeds to complete the Constitution.—It declares all the Members Incapable of Election to the New Assembly.—Letters of Marie Antoinette to the Emperor and to Mercy.—The Declaration of Pilnitz.—The King accepts the Constitution.—Insults offered to him at the Festival of the Champ de Mars.—And to the Queen at the Theatre.—The First or Constituent Assembly is dissolved.