The orator cast his eyes around. Ho! he will soon arouse that apathy. He proceeds, he praises, he pities himself no more. He denounces,—he accuses. Overflooded with his venom, he vomits it forth on all. At home, abroad, finances, war,—on all! Shriller and sharper rose his voice,—
“A conspiracy exists against the public liberty. It owes its strength to a criminal coalition in the very bosom of the Convention; it has accomplices in the bosom of the Committee of Public Safety...What is the remedy to this evil? To punish the traitors; to purify this committee; to crush all factions by the weight of the National Authority; to raise upon their ruins the power of Liberty and Justice. Such are the principles of that Reform. Must I be ambitious to profess them?—then the principles are proscribed, and Tyranny reigns amongst us! For what can you object to a man who is in the right, and has at least this knowledge,—he knows how to die for his native land! I am made to combat crime, and not to govern it. The time, alas! is not yet arrived when men of worth can serve with impunity their country. So long as the knaves rule, the defenders of liberty will be only the proscribed.”
For two hours, through that cold and gloomy audience, shrilled the Death-speech. In silence it began, in silence closed. The enemies of the orator were afraid to express resentment; they knew not yet the exact balance of power. His partisans were afraid to approve; they knew not whom of their own friends and relations the accusations were designed to single forth. “Take care!” whispered each to each; “it is thou whom he threatens.” But silent though the audience, it was, at the first, wellnigh subdued. There was still about this terrible man the spell of an overmastering will. Always—though not what is called a great orator—resolute, and sovereign in the use of words; words seemed as things when uttered by one who with a nod moved the troops of Henriot, and influenced the judgment of Rene Dumas, grim President of the Tribunal. Lecointre of Versailles rose, and there was an anxious movement of attention; for Lecointre was one of the fiercest foes of the tyrant. What was the dismay of the Tallien faction; what the complacent smile of Couthon,—when Lecointre demanded only that the oration should be printed! All seemed paralyzed. At length Bourdon de l’Oise, whose name was doubly marked in the black list of the Dictator, stalked to the tribune, and moved the bold counter-resolution, that the speech should be referred to the two committees whom that very speech accused. Still no applause from the conspirators; they sat torpid as frozen men. The shrinking Barrere, ever on the prudent side, looked round before he rose. He rises, and sides with Lecointre! Then Couthon seized the occasion, and from his seat (a privilege permitted only to the paralytic philanthropist) (M. Thiers in his History, volume iv. page 79, makes a curious blunder: he says, “Couthon s’elance a la tribune.” (Couthon darted towards the tribune.) Poor Couthon! whose half body was dead, and who was always wheeled in his chair into the Convention, and spoke sitting.), and with his melodious voice sought to convert the crisis into a triumph.