While such the designs and fears of Maximilien Robespierre, common danger, common hatred, whatever was yet left of mercy or of virtue in the agents of the Revolution, served to unite strange opposites in hostility to the universal death-dealer. There was, indeed, an actual conspiracy at work against him among men little less bespattered than himself with innocent blood. But that conspiracy would have been idle of itself, despite the abilities of Tallien and Barras (the only men whom it comprised, worthy, by foresight and energy, the names of “leaders"). The sure and destroying elements that gathered round the tyrant were Time and Nature; the one, which he no longer suited; the other, which he had outraged and stirred up in the human breast. The most atrocious party of the Revolution, the followers of Hebert, gone to his last account, the butcher-atheists, who, in desecrating heaven and earth, still arrogated inviolable sanctity to themselves, were equally enraged at the execution of their filthy chief, and the proclamation of a Supreme Being. The populace, brutal as it had been, started as from a dream of blood, when their huge idol, Danton, no longer filled the stage of terror, rendering crime popular by that combination of careless frankness and eloquent energy which endears their heroes to the herd. The glaive of the guillotine had turned against themselves. They had yelled and shouted, and sung and danced, when the venerable age, or the gallant youth, of aristocracy or letters, passed by their streets in the dismal tumbrils; but they shut up their shops, and murmured to each other, when their own order was invaded, and tailors and cobblers, and journeymen and labourers, were huddled off to the embraces of the “Holy Mother Guillotine,” with as little ceremony as if they had been the Montmorencies or the La Tremouilles, the Malesherbes or the Lavoisiers. “At this time,” said Couthon, justly, “Les ombres de Danton, d’Hebert, de Chaumette, se promenent parmi nous!” (The shades of Danton, Hebert, and Chaumette walk amongst us.)
Among those who had shared the doctrines, and who now dreaded the fate of the atheist Hebert, was the painter, Jean Nicot. Mortified and enraged to find that, by the death of his patron, his career was closed; and that, in the zenith of the Revolution for which he had laboured, he was lurking in caves and cellars, more poor, more obscure, more despicable than he had been at the commencement,—not daring to exercise even his art, and fearful every hour that his name would swell the lists of the condemned,—he was naturally one of the bitterest enemies of Robespierre and his government. He held secret meetings with Collot d’Herbois, who was animated by the same spirit; and with the creeping and furtive craft that characterised his abilities, he contrived, undetected, to disseminate tracts and invectives against the Dictator, and to prepare, amidst “the poor and virtuous people,” the train for the grand explosion.