THE TOMBS OF SAINT-DENIS
The funeral solemnities of Louis XVIII. seemed to the people a mortuary triumph of Royalty over the Revolution and the Empire. The profanations of 1793 were expiated. Napoleon was left with the willow of Saint Helena; the descendant of Saint Louis and of Louis XIV. had the basilica of his ancestors as a place of sepulture, and the links of time’s chain were again joined. The obsequies of Louis XVIII. suggested a multitude of reflections. It was the first time since the death of Louis XV. in 1774, that such a ceremony had taken place. As was said by the Moniteur:—
“This solemnity, absolutely novel for the greater number of the present generation, offered an aspect at once mournful and imposing. A monarch so justly regretted, a king so truly Christian, coming to take his place among the glorious remains of the martyrs of his race and the bones of his ancestors,—profaned, scattered by the revolutionary tempest, but which he had been able again to gather,—was a grave subject of reflection, a spectacle touching in its purpose and majestic in the pomp with which it was surrounded.”
Through what vicissitudes had passed these royal tombs, to which the coffin of Louis XVIII. was borne! Read in the work of M. Georges d’Heylli, Les Tombes royales de Saint-Denis, the story of these profanations and restorations.
The Moniteur of the 6th of February, 1793, published in its literary miscellany, a so-called patriotic ode, by the poet Lebrun, containing the following strophe:—
“Purgeons le sol des
Par des rois encore infectes.
La terre de la liberte
Rejette les os des despotes.
De ces monstres divinises
Que tous lea cercueils soient brises!
Que leur memoirs soit fletrie!
Et qu’avec leurs manes errants
Sortent du sein de la patrie
Les cadavres de ses tyrants!”
[Footnote: Let us purge the patriot soil—By kings still infected.—The land of liberty—Rejects the bones of despots.—Of these monsters deified—Let all the coffins be destroyed!—Let their memory perish!—And with their wandering manes—Let issue from the bosom of the fatherland—The bodies of its tyrants!]
These verses were the prelude to the discussion, some months later, in the National Convention, of the proposition to destroy the monuments of the Kings at Saint-Denis, to burn their remains, and to send to the bullet foundry the bronze and lead off their tombs and coffins. In the session of July 31, 1793, Barrere, the “Anacreon of the guillotine,” read to the convention in the name of the Committee of Public Safety, a report, which said:—
“To celebrate the day of August 10, which overthrew the throne, the pompous mausoleums must be destroyed upon its anniversary. Under the Monarchy, the very tombs were taught to flatter kings. Royal pride and luxury could not be moderated even on this theatre of death, and the bearers of the sceptre who had brought such ills on France and on humanity seemed even in the grave to vaunt a vanished splendor. The strong hand of the Republic should pitilessly efface these haughty epitaphs, and demolish these mausoleums which might recall the frightful memory of kings.”