One April day, amid sunshine and rain, that man of dark eyes, lofty brow, and proud stature, the magnificent Danton, walked up the fatal steps and knelt down to death. How strange! The man before whose nod all Paris had trembled as if he had been a god—the man whose eloquence could thrill the heart of France, was now a weak creature beneath the iron arm of Robespierre. He had sentenced hundreds to death upon this spot, and was now condemned himself, by his old associate, to taste the same bitter cup which he had so often held to the lips of others. This act alone will fix the stain of ferocious cruelty upon the character of Robespierre, however conscientious he may have been.
And here, too, on that same day, Camille Desmoulins, the mad author and revolutionist-editor, ended his young life. Many a time with his comic—yet sometimes awfully tragic—pen, had he pointed with laughter to the Place de la Concorde, and its streams of human blood. And now the strange creature who one day laughed wildly in his glee and another was all tears and rage, followed Danton, the man he had worshiped, to the block. Robespierre was his old friend, he had written his praises upon many a page, yet now he stood aloof, and raised not a hand to save the poor editor, though he besought his aid with passionate eloquence.
Three months later, and the Place de la Concorde witnessed the closing scene of the revolution. On the 28th of the following July, Robespierre and St. Just perished together on the scaffold. He whose very name, articulated in whispers, had made households tremble as with a death-ague, had lost his power, and was a feeble, helpless being. Cruel, stern, without a feeling of mercy in his heart, awful to contemplate in his steel severity, he was, after all, almost the only man of the revolution who was strictly, sternly, rigidly honest. No one can doubt his integrity. He might have been dictator if he would, and saved his life, but the principles which were a part of his very nature, would not allow him to accept such power, even from the people. His friends plead with streaming eyes; it was a case of life or death; but he said, “Death, rather than belie my principles!” and he perished.
As I looked down upon the very spot where stood the scaffold, and saw that all around was so peaceful, I could hardly realize that within half a century such a terrible drama had been enacted there—a drama whose closing acts illustrate the truth of that scripture which saith, “Whoso taketh the sword shall perish by the sword.”
Louis XVI. first ascends the scaffold, looking mournfully at Danton, but saying never a word; and then Vergniaud, the pure of heart, executed by his friend Danton; then Danton, thinking remorsefully of Vergniaud and cursing Robepierre; and last, Robespierre!
The Place de la Concorde was originally an open spot, where were collected heaps of rubbish, but in 1763 the authorities of the city of Paris determined to clear it up and erect upon it a statue in honor of Louis XV. The statue was destroyed by the populace in 1792, and the place named Place de la Revolution. In 1800 it took the name it at present retains. In 1816 Louis XVIII. caused the statue of Louis XV. to be replaced, though still later that of Louis XVI. was erected here, and the former placed in the Champs Elysees.