Act I

< Dedication





SCENE, The Thuilleries.



The tempest gathers–be it mine to seek
A friendly shelter, ere it bursts upon him.
But where? and how? I fear the Tyrant's soul
Sudden in action, fertile in resource,
And rising awful 'mid impending ruins;
In splendor gloomy, as the midnight meteor,
That fearless thwarts the elemental war.
When last in secret conference we met,
He scowl'd upon me with suspicious rage,


Making his eye the inmate of my bosom.
I know he scorns me–and I feel, I hate him–
Yet there is in him that which makes me tremble!



Enter Tallien and Legendre.



It was Barrere, Legendre! didst thou mark him?
Abrupt he turn'd, yet linger'd as he went,
And towards us cast a look of doubtful meaning.



I mark'd him well. I met his eye's last glance;
It menac'd not so proudly as of yore.
Methought he would have spoke–but that he dar'd not–
Such agitation darken'd on his brow.



'Twas all-distrusting guilt that kept from bursting
Th' imprison'd secret struggling in the face:
E'en as the sudden breeze upstarting onwards
Hurries the thunder cloud, that pois'd awhile
Hung in mid air, red with its mutinous burthen.



Perfidious Traitor!–still afraid to bask
In the full blaze of power, the rustling serpent
Lurks in the thicket of the Tyrant's greatness,
Ever prepar'd to sting who shelters him.
Each thought, each action in himself converges;



And love and friendship on his coward heart
Shine like the powerless sun on polar ice:
To all attach'd, by turns deserting all,
Cunning and dark–a necessary villain!



Yet much depends upon him–well you know
With plausible harangue 'tis his to paint
Defeat like victory–and blind the mob
With truth-mix'd falshood. They led on by him,
And wild of head to work their own destruction,
Support with uproar what he plans in darkness.



O what a precious name is Liberty
To scare or cheat the simple into slaves!
Yes–we must gain him over: by dark hints
We'll shew enough to rouse his watchful fears,
Till the cold coward blaze a patriot.
O Danton! murder'd friend! assist my counsels–
Hover around me on sad memory's wings,
And pour thy daring vengeance in my heart.
Tallien! if but to-morrow's fateful sun
Beholds the Tyrant living–we are dead!





Yet his keen eye that flashes mighty meanings–



Fear not–or rather fear th' alternative,
And seek for courage e'en in cowardice––
But see–hither he comes–let us away!
His brother with him, and the bloody Couthon,
And high of haughty spirit, young St. Just.



Enter Robespierre, Couthon, St. Just, and Robespierre, Junior.



What? did La Fayette fall before my power?
And did I conquer Roland's spotless virtues?
The fervent eloquence of Vergniaud's tongue?
And Brissot's thoughtful soul unbribed and bold?



Did zealot armies haste in vain to save them?
What! did th' assassin's dagger aim its point
Vain, as a dream of murder, at my bosom?
And shall I dread the soft luxurious Tallien?
Th' Adonis Tallien? banquet-hunting Tallien?
Him, whose heart flutters at the dice-box? Him,
Who ever on the harlots' downy pillow
Resigns his head impure to feverish slumbers!


St. Just.

I cannot fear him–yet we must not scorn him.
Was it not Antony that conquer'd Brutus,


Th' Adonis, banquet-hunting Antony?
The state is not yet purified: and though
The stream runs clear, yet at the bottom lies
The thick black sediment of all the factions
It needs no magic hand to stir it up!



O we did wrong to spare them–fatal error!
Why lived Legendre, when that Danton died?
And Collot d'Herbois dangerous in crimes?
I've fear'd him, since his iron heart endured
To make of Lyons one vast human shambles,


Compar'd with which the sun-scorcht wilderness
Of Zara, were a smiling paradise.


St. Just.

Rightly thou judgest, Couthon! He is one,
Who flies from silent solitary anguish,
Seeking forgetful peace amid the jar
Of elements. The howl of maniac uproar
Lulls to sad sleep the memory of himself.
A calm is fatal to him–then he feels
The dire upboilings of the storm within him.
A tyger mad with inward wounds!––I dread


The fierce and restless turbulence of guilt.



Is not the commune ours? The stern tribunal?
Dumas? and Vivier? Fleuriot? and Louvet?
And Henriot? We'll denounce an hundred, nor
Shall they behold to-morrow's sun roll westward.


Robespierre, Junior.

Nay–I am sick of blood; my aching heart
Reviews the long, long train of hideous horrors
That still have gloom'd the rise of the republic.
I should have died before Toulon, when war
Became the patriot!



                                Most unworthy wish!


He, whose heart sickens at the blood of traitors
Would be himself a traitor, were he not
A coward! 'Tis congenial souls alone
Shed tears of sorrow for each other's fate.
O thou art brave, my brother! and thine eye
Full firmly shines amid the groaning battle–
Yet in thine heart the woman-form of pity
Asserts too large a share, an ill-timed guest!
There is unsoundness in the state–To-morrow
Shall see it cleans'd by wholesome massacre!


Robespierre, Junior.

Beware! already do the sections murmur–
"O the great glorious patriot, Robespierre–
"The tyrant guardian of the country's freedom!"



Twere folly sure to work great deeds by halves!
Much I suspect the darksome fickle heart
Of cold Barrere!



                                     I see the villain in him!


Robespierre, Junior.

If he–if all forsake thee–what remains?



Myself! the steel-strong Rectitude of soul
And Poverty sublime 'mid circling virtues!
The giant Victories, my counsels form'd,



Shall stalk around me with sun-glittering plumes,
Bidding the darts of calumny fall pointless.

(Exeunt caeteri. Manet Couthon.)


Couthon solus.

So we deceive ourselves! What goodly virtues
Bloom on the poisonous branches of ambition!
Still, Robespierre! thou'l't guard thy country's freedom
To despotize in all the patriot's pomp.
While Conscience, 'mid the mob's applauding clamours,
Sleeps in thine ear, nor whispers–blood-stain'd tyrant!
Yet what is Conscience? Superstition's dream,
Making such deep impression on our sleep–


That long th' awaken'd breast retains its horrors!
But he returns–and with him comes Barrere.

(Exit. Couthon.)


Enter Robespierre and Barrere.



There is no danger but in cowardice.–
Barrere! we make the danger, when we fear it.
We have such force without, as will suspend
The cold and trembling treachery of these members.



'Twill be a pause of terror.–



                                                   But to whom?
Rather the short-lived slumber of the tempest,
Gathering its strength anew. The dastard traitors!
Moles, that would undermine the rooted oak!


A pause!–a moment's pause?–'Tis all their life.



Yet much they talk–and plausible their speech.
Couthon's decree has given such powers, that



                                                That what?



The freedom of debate–



                                      Transparent mask!
They wish to clog the wheels of government,
Forcing the hand that guides the vast machine
To bribe them to their duty–English patriots!
Are not the congregated clouds of war
Black all around us? In our very vitals


Works not the king-bred poison of rebellion?
Say, what shall counteract the selfish plottings
Of wretches, cold of heart, nor awed by fears
Of him, whose power directs th' eternal justice?
Terror? or secret-sapping gold? The first
Heavy, but transient as the ills that cause it;
And to the virtuous patriot rendered light
By the necessities that gave it birth:
The other fouls the fount of the republic,
Making it flow polluted to all ages:


Inoculates the state with a slow venom,

That once imbibed, must be continued ever.
Myself incorruptible I ne'er could bribe them–
Therefore they hate me.



                                  Are the sections friendly?



There are who wish my ruin–but I'll make them
Blush for the crime in blood!



                                           Nay–but I tell thee,
Thou art too fond of slaughter–and the right
(If right it be) workest by most foul means!



Self-centering Fear! how well thou canst ape Mercy!
Too fond of slaughter!–matchless hypocrite!


Thought Barrere so, when Brissot, Danton died?

Thought Barrere so, when through the streaming streets
Of Paris red-eyed Massacre o'er wearied
Reel'd heavily, intoxicate with blood?
And when (O heavens!) in Lyons' death-red square
Sick fancy groan'd o'er putrid hills of slain,
Didst thou not fiercely laugh, and bless the day?
Why, thou hast been the mouth-piece of all horrors,
And, like a blood-hound, crouch'd for murder! Now
Aloof thou standest from the tottering pillar,


Or, like a frighted child behind its mother,
Hidest thy pale face in the skirts of–Mercy!



O prodigality of eloquent anger!
Why now I see thou'rt weak–thy case is desperate!
The cool ferocious Robespierre turn'd scolder!


Who from a bad man's bosom wards the blow
Reserves the whetted dagger for his own.
Denounced twice–and twice I saved his life!



The sections will support then–there's the point!
No! he can never weather out the storm–


Yet he is sudden in revenge–No more!
I must away to Tallien.



SCENE changes to the house of Adelaide.

Adelaide enters, speaking to a servant.


Didst thou present the letter that I gave thee?
Did Tallien answer, he would soon return?


He is in the Thuilleries–with him Legendre–
In deep discourse they seem'd: as I approach'd
He waved his hand as bidding me retire:
I did not interrupt him.                   (Returns the letter.)


                                 Thou didst rightly.

(Exit. Servant.)

O this new freedom! at how dear a price
We've bought the seeming good! The peaceful virtues


And every blandishment of private life,
The father's cares, the mother's fond endearment,
All sacrificed to liberty's wild riot.
The winged hours, that scatter'd roses round me,
Languid and sad drag their slow course along,
And shake big gall-drops from their heavy wings.
But I will steal away these anxious thoughts
By the soft languishment of warbled airs,
If haply melodies may lull the sense
Of sorrow for a while.




Enter Tallien.




Music, my love? O breathe again that air!
Soft nurse of pain, it sooths the weary soul
Of care, sweet as the whisper'd breeze of evening
That plays around the sick man's throbbing temples.


          Tell me, on what holy ground
          May domestic peace be found?
          Halcyon daughter of the skies,
          Far on fearful wing she flies,
          From the pomp of scepter'd state,
          From the rebel's noisy hate.


          In a cottag'd vale she dwells
          List'ning to the Sabbath bells!
          Still around her steps are seen,
          Spotless honor's meeker mein,
          Love, the sire of pleasing fears,
          Sorrow smiling through her tears,
          And conscious of the past employ,
          Memory, bosom-spring of joy.


I thank thee, Adelaide! 'twas sweet, though mournful.
But why thy brow o'ercast, thy cheek so wan?


Thou look'st as a lorn maid beside some stream
That sighs away the soul in fond despairing,
While sorrow sad, like the dank willow near her,
Hangs o'er the troubled fountain of her eye.


Ah! rather let me ask what mystery lowers
On Tallien's darken'd brow. Thou dost me wrong–
Thy soul distemper'd, can my heart be tranquil?


Tell me, by whom thy brother's blood was spilt?
Asks he not vengeance on these patriot murderers?
It has been born too tamely. Fears and curses


Groan on our midnight beds, and e'en our dreams
Threaten the assassin hand of Robespierre.
He dies!–nor has the plot escaped his fears.


Yet–yet–be cautious! much I fear the Commune–
The tyrant's creatures, and their fate with his
Fast link'd in close indissoluble union.
The pale Convention


                                    Hate him as they fear him,
Impatient of the chain, resolv'd and ready.


Th' enthusiast mob, confusion's lawless sons–


They are aweary of his stern morality,


The fair-mask'd offspring of ferocious pride.
The sections too support the delegates:
All–all is ours! e'en now the vital air
Of Liberty, condens'd awhile, is bursting
(Force irresistable!) from its compressure–
To shatter the arch chemist in the explosion!

Enter Billaud Varennes and Bourdon l'Oise.

(Adelaide retires.)


Bourdon l'Oise.

Tallien! was this a time for amorous conference?
Henriot, the tyrant's most devoted creature,
Marshals the force of Paris: The fierce club,
With Vivier at their head, in loud acclaim


Have sworn to make the guillotine in blood
Float on the scaffold.–But who comes here?

Enter Barrere abruptly.


Say, are ye friends to freedom? I am her's!
Let us, forgetful of all common feuds,
Rally around her shrine! E'en now the tyrant
Concerts a plan of instant massacre!

Billaud Varennes.

Away to the Convention! with that voice
So oft the herald of glad victory,
Rouse their fallen spirits, thunder in their ears
The names of tyrant, plunderer, assassin!


The violent workings of my soul within
Anticipate the monster's blood!

(Cry from the street of–No Tyrant! Down with the Tyrant! )


Hear ye that outcry?–If the trembling members
Even for a moment hold his fate suspended,
I swear by the holy poniard, that stabbed Caesar,
This dagger probes his heart!

(Exeunt omnes.)



< Dedication


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