At this time the Girondists were lying in prison, awaiting their trial and their certain doom. Marie Antoinette had been removed from the Temple to the Conciergerie, and her trial was in a day or two about to commence. Her fate was already fixed, and had only to be pronounced. Danton had retired from Paris to his own province, sick with the shedding of so much blood, jealous of the pre-eminence which Robespierre had assumed; watching his opportunity to return, that he might sell the republic to the royalists; equally eager, let us believe, to save his country as to make his fortune, but destined to return, only that he also might bend his neck beneath the monster guillotine. Marat, the foulest birth of the revolution, whose licentious heat generated venom and rascality, as a dunghill out of its own filth produces adders’ eggs—Marat was no more. Carnot, whose genius for war enabled the French nation, amidst all its poverty and intestine contests, even in the pangs and throes of that labour in which it strove to bring forth a constitution, to repulse the forces of the allied nations, and prepare the way for future conquests, was a member of the all-powerful Committee, and we cannot suppose that he acted under the dictation of Robespierre; but if he did not do so, at any rate he did not interfere with him. The operations of a campaign, in which the untaught and ill-fed army of republican France had to meet the troops of England, Flanders, Prussia, Austria, Sardinia, and Spain, besides those of royalist France, were sufficient to occupy even the energies of Carnot.
Robespierre, in the Convention and in the Committee, was omnipotent; but he also had his master, and he knew it. He knew that he could only act, command, and be obeyed, in union with, and dependence on, the will of the populace of Paris; and the higher he rose in that path of life which he marked out for himself with so much precision, and followed with se much constancy, the more bitterly his spirit chafed at the dependence. He knew it was of no avail to complain of the people to the people, and he seldom ventured to risk his position by opposing the wishes of the fearful masters whom he served, but at length he was driven to do so, and at length he fell.
Half a century has passed since Robespierre died, and history has become peculiarly conversant with his name. Is there any one whose character suffers under a more wide-spread infamy? The abomination of whose deeds has become more notorious? The tale of whose death has been oftener told; whose end, horrid, fearful, agonized, as was that of this man, has met with less sympathy? For fifty years the world has talked of, condemned, and executed Robespierre. Men and women, who have barely heard the names of Pitt and Fox, who know not whether Metternich is a man or a river, or one of the United States, speak of Robespierre as of a thing accursed. They know, at any rate, what he was—the demon of the revolution; the source of the fountain of blood with which Paris was deluged; the murderer of the thousands whose bodies choked the course of the Loire and the Rhone. Who knows not enough of Robespierre to condemn him? Who abstains from adding another malediction to those which already load the name of the King of the Reign of Terror.