Stories of the French Revolution - Walter Montgomery

The Death of Mirabeau

As long as Mirabeau lived, the king had a friend on whom he could depend. It pleased God, however, to remove this great man when he seemed to be of the utmost use to the French monarchy. When he saw men were going too far and too fast in the direction of changing all the old order, he became a check on their wheels; and he was so mighty in deed and word that it may be truly said he upheld for some time with his one hand the tottering throne.

But he did it at the expense of his strength, and he died, worn out by his immense exertions. No one who had not lived with him and seen him at work could imagine what Mirabeau was able to do in a day. Someone once said to him that such and such things were impossible; when he started up and exclaimed, "Never speak that brute of a word to me anymore."

We cannot now follow every step of this great Frenchman, nor understand all he meant to do and would have done had his life been spared. We do know, however, that he was most anxious to remove Louis from the Tuileries.

One night he met the queen in the garden of St. Cloud, and talked over this important matter. She was far more resolute than her royal husband. She was a daughter of the famous Theresa of Austria, and had inherited some of her lofty qualities. In fact, as Mirabeau said of the queen, "She is the only man his Majesty has about him." Louis lacked decision,—he never could make up his mind; and he dreaded above all things a civil war. But no civil war could have been so terrible as the French Revolution proved to be. Had the king left Paris as Mirabeau advised, and flung abroad his banner and rallied his loyal subjects, and put down, as he might have done, the lawless spirit that was abroad, and had he then resolved to rule his people in righteousness, by the advice of the wisest men in France, his reign might have been glorious instead of disastrous, and when he died the criers might have gone about the saddened streets sounding their bells and saying, "Le bon roi Louis, pere du peuple, est mort." But it was not in Louis to take this decided step in time. He waited and waited, and then ran away in a clumsy fashion, and, after being stopped at Varennes, he was brought back to Paris in disgrace.

The health of Mirabeau had been much impaired by the excessive labors he underwent in managing the affairs of the nation during those most stormy times. The month of March in the year 1791 had arrived. Matters were getting worse instead of better. Duels were being daily fought between the members of the French Parliament, and deadly anger glowed between those who loved the king and those who loved him not. One such duel we will notice, as it shows how the people sided with their champions. A man named Lameth was a prominent leader of the people. He fought the Duke de Castries with swords. As Lameth was making a lunge at the duke's body, his own sword-arm ran against the point of the duke's sword, and was frightfully ripped open. The duel was over, and the people's friend was nearly dead. When the fight ended, the people attacked the duke's house, and flung all his furniture, pictures, and valuables into the street. But not a single thing was stolen; for this order went about: "The man who steals even a nail shall be hanged."

But to return to the dying Mirabeau. In the month of March, 1791, his strength was evidently giving way. As far back as the January before he was obliged, when he came to the Assembly, to wear linen cloths about his neck, and after the morning debate was over, to apply leeches to his head. He said one day to a friend about this time: "I am dying; I feel as if I were being burned up by a slow fire. When I am gone, they will know how much I was worth."

Things went on thus until the end of March, when the great senator got worse. On the 27th of that month, as he was on his way to the Assembly, he was forced to rest at a friend's house, lying for some time on a sofa in a half-conscious state. When he had recovered, he went to the debate, and spoke no less than five times with all his old fiery energy. He then left the tribune (that is, the speaker's pulpit), and never was seen in it any more. It was Mirabeau's last effort to do what good he could for his distracted country.

Though his popularity had been waning because he opposed the wild schemes of such ignorant quacks as Robespierre, yet, when he was laid in the last days of March on his death-bed, there was hardly a man in Paris who did not feel that his end was a lamentable event. The meanest men in the city jostled against the highest at the doorstep, to ask how Mirabeau was. The people of their own free will blocked the street, and allowed no carriage to rattle by and so disturb the sufferer; and every three hours an account of his health was given by the doctors, copied out, printed on hand-bills, and circulated all over Paris.

The second day of April came. It was a Saturday, and the dying man felt sure that he should not live to see the sun rise any more. "I wish," said he to someone who was supporting his head in his last struggle,—"I wish I could leave it to you." After the power of speech had left him, he motioned for a pen and paper, and wrote the word "Opium." The doctor said, "No." Mirabeau wrote next the word "Dormir," and pointed to it. At half-past eight in the morning the end came, and the greatest of Frenchmen had left his country bereft of his wisdom.

A great gloom and a strange silence fell upon the gay and busy city. Every theatre was closed while Mirabeau lay unburied; and wherever the people heard the sounds of music and singing, they knocked loudly at the door, and insisted on the party being broken up at once.

In every street during the next few days you might see men here and there, standing and proclaiming with loud voices and sorrowful faces the virtues and services of the dead statesman. The public funeral, which took place on Monday, the 4th of April, was one of the most wonderful ever seen. The procession itself was three miles in length. It was five o'clock on a sunny April afternoon when Mirabeau was thus carried to his long home, through crowds estimated by the hundred thousand. National Guards in double file lined the route, and the deep silence was every now and then broken by the rolling of drums. At the Church of St. Eustache the procession halted to hear a funeral oration; and when the speaker had finished, the National Guards discharged their muskets in the church, and the vibration caused portions of the roof to fall. It was almost midnight before the great burial was done, and Mirabeau was left sleeping among the worthies of France in the Church of St. Genevieve.



It is painful to think how the Paris mob afterward took up his remains and cast them out in dishonor. This was done by the people in July, 1793, when they buried their apostle Marat where Mirabeau had been laid. Mirabeau did not please the men who adored Marat. Mirabeau was by birth a noble, and, though a great reformer of abuses and a remodeler of the rotten old constitution, he was one who tried to set up the ancient monarchy on a new and firmer basis, and for this he was hated by the more violent party. And when, as we shall see, the iron chest which the king and the blacksmith made in the Tuileries was discovered and its papers examined, Mirabeau's share in the attempts to get the king removed from Paris was found out, and his bust in the hall of the Jacobin Club was shivered to atoms by a man who mounted a ladder and hurled it to the ground. So died, so was buried, Gabriel Honore Mirabeau, a most illustrious man, who crushed the old nobility, as a privileged class, with one hand, while he kept down the madness of the people with the other. He was always a favorite with women, and even the rough fishwives would mount the gallery steps and listen with delight to his speeches; and he was called by them always "Our little mother Mirabeau."