Title Pg. s. t. coleridge
According to Southey in a letter of early September 1794, the plan at that time was to publish the play under the pseudonym "Lecoridge of both Universities" (Tilney 150). Writing to Southey from Bath on 19 September 1794, Coleridge explained why he put his name alone on the work: "I shall put my name because it will sell at least a hundred copies in Cambridge. It would appear ridiculous to print two names to such a work. But if you choose it, mention it and it shall be done. To every man who praises it, of course I give the true biography of it" (CL 1.106).
Title Pg. and Dedication. Jesus College, Cambridge
In the late eighteenth century, Cambridge, and Jesus College in particular, was a center of reformist and Dissenting activity. In order to matriculate at Oxford it was necessary to subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles and take the Oath of Supremacy, and therefore Dissenters could not attend, but they could attend Cambridge, though there they were disqualified from taking degrees. Among those associated with Jesus College were William Frend, Gilbert Wakefield, Robert Robinson, Felix Vaughan, George Dyer, and Coleridge (Roe, Wordsworth 85).
Coleridge entered Jesus College on 5 February 1791, and entered residence the following October. He began to take an interest in liberal politics, especially through the 1793 trial of William Frend, a Unitarian tutor who had resigned his livings in the Church of England in 1787 and defended his opposition to the "rank nonsense" of the Trinity in An Address to the Inhabitants of Cambridge (1788). This led in December 1788 to Frend's dismissal from his tutorship, meaning that he was forbidden from teaching but allowed to continue to reside at Jesus as a fellow. Having returned from a tour of the continent that included six months in France, in February 1793 Frend published Peace and Union, a reformist pamphlet for which he was tried by the vice-chancellor's court at Cambridge in May. After losing the case and the subsequent appeal, he was banished from the University. Coleridge was among the many young men at Cambridge who were radicalized by Frend's expulsion. Following a period of "silent and solitary Anguish" (CL 1.67), Coleridge had served a brief stint in the dragoons in the winter of 1793-94, after which he returned to Cambridge. That June (probably between the 16th and the 19th) he met Southey at Balliol College, Oxford, and, following a pedestrian tour of Wales, visited Southey in Bristol. The two embarked on a tour of Somerset, spending time with Thomas Poole in Nether Stowey before returning to Bristol, where they wrote The Fall of Robespierre in late August. Coleridge left Cambridge without taking a degree at the end of 1794.
Title Pg. Benjamin Flower
Benjamin Flower (1755-1829), a Cambridge-based Unitarian political writer and publisher, spent six months in France in 1791. On his return, he wrote a treatise on the French constitution, which was deeply critical of English forms of government. Largely as a result of this publication, he was chosen as editor of the Cambridge Intelligencer, an anti-war and Dissenting paper that first appeared in July 1793, the same month in which Flower published the second edition of Frend's Peace and Union. In many ways, Coleridge modeled The Watchman (1796) on the Cambridge Intelligencer, praising it in the last issue as "a Newspaper, the style and composition of which would claim distinguished praise, even among the productions of literary leisure; while it breathes every where the severest morality, fighting fearlessly the good fight against Tyranny, yet never unfaithful to that Religion, 'whose service is perfect Freedom'" (CC 2.374).
Title Pg. Norwich
Like Bristol, where the play was written, and Cambridge, where it was published, Norwich was a provincial center of liberal politics and religious nonconformity. Norwich was the home of the influential (Unitarian) Octagon Chapel, with which William Enfield, William Taylor, and the Martineau family were affiliated.
Title Pg. price one shilling
The play was published as an inexpensive octavo pamphlet, selling for the customary price in the 1790s. (Pamphlets consisted of a few sheets of printer's paper folded in various ways, with the pages usually stitched together loosely but unbound.)
Dedication. h. martin
The following is quoted from J. C. C. Mays' Introduction to the play (CC 184.108.40.206-10):
Henry Martin was from Silton, near Mere, Dorset, and one of the three pensioners (students paying for their own commons) in C's year at Jesus. C's relations with the other two (Henry Poole and Thomas Berdmore) are better documented but he is not known to have been close to any of them. The long letter C wrote to Martin during his Welsh tour in July 1794 (CL I 90-6) is unusual, and one might have expected C to have written such a letter to other friends he evidently knew better. Martin appears, then or later, to have been acquainted with William Bowles, and a coincidence of literary tastes may explain the letter; but other friends in other colleges were publicly more committed to C's side in politics, and would have been more suitable persons to dedicate the play to. Martin took orders, and later became the incumbent of Cucklington, Somerset, and of Silton.
C must have been prompted by other motives than what appears to have been casual friendship. He was undoubtedly conscious that Henry Martin, usually spelled Marten (1602-80), was the name of the outspoken regicide who signed the death sentence on King Charles and was prominent in the proceedings which led to the establishment of a republic. His relation to the English revolution bears a number of resemblances to Robespierre's rôle in France. C's "fraternal" dedication to the unknown and respectable pensioner who shared the same name establishes an association between the English and French revolutions and also floats it on a joking alibi.
Marten spent his last twenty years in Chepstow Castle, as C must have been reminded when he passed through Chepstow on his way back to Bristol from his Welsh tour. RS visited Marten's prison and wrote an inscription on him (Poems–Bristol 1797-59), which Canning parodied and applied to Mrs Brownrigg, the notorious murderess, in the first number of the Anti-Jacobin (20 Nov 1797 p 8).
Dedication. great bad actions
In a letter to Horace Walpole Bedford written several weeks before the date of the dedication, Southey had summarized Coleridge's assessment of Robespierre. Southey's letter is in two parts, the first dated 22 August 1794 and the second 3 September 1794, with the following passage from the second part of the letter:
Poor Robespierre! Coleridge and I wrote a tragedy upon his death in the space of two days! so good that he has it now in town to get printed. If you ask my opinion of this great man, I will tell you.
I believe him to have been sacrificed to the despair of fools and cow[ards]. Coleridge says "he was a man whose great bad actions cast a dis[....] lustre over his name." He is now inclined to think with me that the [....] of a man so situated must not be judged by common laws, that Robespierre was the benefactor of mankind and that we should lament his death as the greatest misfortune Europe could have sustained–the situation of Europe is surely most melancholy–it presents to the eye of humanity a prospect of carnage from which it shrinks with horror. The coalesced tyrants are obstinate in pursuing the war. The French tho actuated at home by mean and selfish motives, act abroad with a steadiness and energy which at once delight and astonish me. Flanders must be rank with human blood. Surely Horace the eternal arbiter of all things can have no common end in view when he permits actions whose atrocity terrifies and whose magnitude astonishes the human mind. I do believe he guides the storm; I trust that all will conduce to human happiness. Meantime far removed from treachery corruption and slaughter, I go with my brethren and friends to establish that system which can alone prevent such convulsion in future. (NL 1.72-73)
Coleridge uses the French form of address. The dedication is dated 22 September 1794, and on 19 and 26 September Coleridge also signed letters in this manner to Southey and Francis Wrangham, respectively (CL 1.106-107).
Uninhabited by the royal family for the preceding century, after the family's coerced return to Paris from Versailles on 6 October 1789 the Palais des Tuileries, or Tuileries Palace (adjacent to the Louvre in Paris), became the residence of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, their two children (the dauphin Louis Charles and Marie Thérèse Charlotte), some servants, several courtiers, and the Swiss Guard. Over the next two years, the family was confined to the palace and forbidden to travel. On 20 June 1791, the family attempted to flee to the eastern frontier but were apprehended in Varennes on the following day and returned to the Tuileries, where they were placed under close guard. A year later, on the anniversary of the "Flight to Varennes," a crowd of sans-culottes, angered by the king's use of his veto power and his dismissal of Jacobin ministers in favor of the constitutional-monarchist Feuillants, invaded the Tuileries and forced Louis to wear a Phrygian cap, an emblem of liberty (in antiquity signifying a freed slave) used during the American and French Revolutions, and to drink the health of the people. In the second invasion of the Tuileries, culminating on 10 August 1792, the king fled to the Legislative Assembly, where he was placed under arrest. Many of the king's loyal Swiss Guard were killed by sans-culottes militants, encouraged by the "Insurrectionary" Commune (city government) of Paris, and the Marseille fédérés (volunteer troops). The palace was severely damaged. Beginning in May 1793, the Tuileries housed the National Convention, and the Committee of Public Safety shortly thereafter. Royal decorations were replaced by symbols of the Revolution. The palace was destroyed by fire in 1871.
Thelwall echoes this line near the end of his extended comparison between the characters of Pitt and Robespierre in The Tribune, and Nicholas Roe conjectures that George Dyer, who purchased twenty-five copies of the play (CL 1.117), may have sent a copy to Thelwall while the latter was in the Tower, where he was held from 19 May to 24 October 1794 awaiting his trial for treason (Roe, Wordsworth 207).
1.5 rising awful
Barrere's description of Robespierre echoes Milton's account of Satan, who "above the rest / In shape and gesture proudly eminent / Stood like a tow'r; his form had yet not lost / All her original brightness, nor appeared / Less than Archangel ruined ..." (PL 1.589-93). See Roe, Wordsworth 206-7.
Compare the following lines contributed by Coleridge to Southey's Joan of Arc (1796) and subsequently included in "The Destiny of Nations: A Vision" in Sibylline Leaves (1817) (CC 220.127.116.113):
And what if some rebellious, o'er dark realms
Arrogate power? yet these train up to God,
And on the rude eye unconfirmed for day
Flash meteor lights better than total gloom. (Book 2, lines 60-63; RS 1.25)
The third term in the revolutionary trinity of liberté, égalité, fraternité involved potent experiences, expressions, and theorizations of friendship. Saint-Just went so far as to sketch out in fragmentary form a spartan utopia in which "Celui qui dit qu'il ne croit pas à l'amitié est banni" ("He who says that he does not believe in friendship is banished"), proposing that "Tout homme âgé de vingt et un ans est tenu de déclarer dans le temple quels sont ses amis, et cette déclaration doit être renouvelée tous les ans, pendant le mois ventôse" ("Every man of twenty-one years of age is required to declare in the temple who are his friends, and this declaration must be renewed every year, during the month of ventôse [February-March]") (Oeuvres 983).
1.31 polar ice
Especially following James Cook's second voyage (1772-75) and the publication of A Voyage Towards the South Pole (1777), polar exploration became a popular subject. Coleridge would have been exposed to first-hand accounts of Cook's second voyage by William Wales, astronomer and meteorologist on Cook's ship the Resolution, who taught mathematics at Christ's Hospital when Coleridge was a student there from 1782 to 1790 (see Smith 135-71 and Kitson 13-14).
This is the first of several references to "the mob" in the play (see 1.126, 1.248, 3.24, 3.52); see as well the personification of Paris at the beginning of Act 3 (3.15) and the closing reference to "the crowd" (3.201). These terms evoke the Parisian sans-culottes, a heterogeneous group composed of laborers, shopkeepers, journeymen, and craftsmen, often but not exclusively without wealth or property. The name sans-culottes refers to the fact that, unlike the aristocracy, these commoners wore trousers instead of breeches. Originally derogatory, the term was appropriated by a range of revolutionaries and made into a badge of honor. Their more coherent positions included support for direct democracy and the expression of the popular will through insurrection, for equality of possession through the redistribution of wealth, and for government regulation of the economy, especially the establishment of a maximum on the price of wheat and flour in order to keep the cost of bread down. The sans-culottes were loosely organized through the 48 sectional assemblies, the municipalities into which Paris was divided, and through various popular societies. Their agency was crucial to the major journées ("major days") of the early revolution–14 July 1789 (the fall of the Bastille), 5-6 October (the march to Versailles), 20 June and 10 August 1792 (the invasions of the Tuileries), 2-6 September (the prison massacres), 31 May-2 June 1793 (the overthrow of the Girondins), 4-5 September (the uprising prompting the declaration of terror and the passage of the general maximum, which set limits on the price of necessities and on wages).
In this light, the crowd plays an interesting role in the play, as it did in the events of Thermidor, by not acting. William Jewett insightfully proposes that the play dramatizes the crowd's "strategic nonact of refusing to serve as a personifiable agent. It was perhaps the first time that the revolutionary crowd declined to play the role of the people, so that it decided the course of events not by intervening as an actor but by standing by as disaggregated spectators. One can imagine British onlookers following the process by which agencies of representation aiming to unite the masses into the people–the rising popular press, generally, and on this occasion also the enforced spectatorship of Robespierre's Festival of the Supreme Being, which preceded Thermidor by a short two weeks–reversed field to turn the people back into the masses, depriving the people of the identity and mission that had been manufactured for it" (Fatal Autonomy 47). (The Festival of the Supreme Being in fact preceded Thermidor by seven weeks.)
1.61 assassin's dagger
Aimée Cécile Renault (1773?-94), daughter of a Parisian paper merchant, tried to assassinate Robespierre in May 1794. On 23 May 1794, the day after a different would-be assassin intending to kill Robespierre had fired on Collot d'Herbois, Renault made her attempt on Robespierre's life. Her discovery and ensuing trial led to fifty-four executions. Robespierre was deeply affected by these two attempts on his life, and Renault's is generally seen as among the major factors that precipitated the escalation of the Terror.
1.64 Adonis Tallien
These lines introduce the comparison between Tallien and Antony, made explicit by St. Just in 1.69-70. In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Brutus describes Antony as "given / To sports, to wildness, and much company" (2.1.188-89), and Caesar later mentions that Antony "revels long a-nights" (2.2.116). Felix Farley's Bristol Journal for 30 August 1794 characterizes Tallien as follows: "Tallien, who is at present supposed to take the head in the French Convention, is a man of talents greatly above mediocrity, of polished manners, elegant accomplishments, and a fine person. Were we to compare him with an ancient Roman, Antony would be the man. He loves women, conversation, the pleasures of the table, and all the more refined amusements ... Under the auspices of such men [as Tallien and Sieyès], a better order of things may be reasonably expected."
Adonis was a youth of exceptional beauty, loved by the goddess Aphrodite.
For "harlot's"? Mays' note, "The error, if it is one, suggests that the printed text was set from a ms in C's hand. C habitually delays the positioning of apostrophes; RS as often eschews them altogether and, significantly, they are not often present in the printed text of Acts II and III" (CC 18.104.22.168).
1.69 Antony that conquer'd Brutus
At 1.69 St. Just associates Tallien with Mark Antony (82/81-30 BCE), supporter of Julius Caesar (100-44 BCE), and Robespierre with Marcus Junius Brutus (85-42 BCE), whose name became synonymous with the selfless and patriotic defense of liberty for his role in the conspiracy to assassinate Caesar in an attempt to preserve the Roman Republic. In 49 BCE, when the Civil War began between Caesar and Pompey, Antony, a general under Caesar, became a tribune of the people and distinguished himself as a fervent supporter of Caesar in the Senate. After the assassination of Caesar in 44 BCE by the conspiracy led by Brutus and Cassius, Antony joined with Octavian (the future emperor Augustus) in defeating the forces of Brutus and Cassius, both of whom committed suicide.
St. Just's depiction of Tallien as Antony implicitly associates Robespierre with Brutus, the tyrannicide. Later (2.167), Robespierre describes Legendre as Antony with Danton as Caesar, again placing himself in the role of Brutus. Both the first and second acts, however, end with Tallien's reversal of these roles. "By the holy poniard, that stabbed Caesar," he swears, if the Convention hesitates over Robespierre's fate, "This dagger probes his heart!" (1.274-75), and at the end of Act 2, Tallien declaims,
I invoke thy shade,
Immortal Brutus! I too wear a dagger;
And if the representatives of France,
Through fear or favor should delay the sword
Of justice, Tallien emulates thy virtues;
Tallien, like Brutus, lifts the avenging arm;
Tallien shall save his country. (2.273-79)
On 8 Thermidor (26 July 1794), Robespierre's final speech had called for a purification of the Convention without explicitly naming those to be purged, and thus in Act 2 Dubois Crance reflects, "when Caesar-like / Reigns Robespierre, 'tis wisely done to doom / The fall of Brutus" (2.141-43), thus like Tallien reversing the roles and making Robespierre into the tyrant with his opponents, the Thermidorians, as the conspirators. "Caesar is fallen!" (3.1), begins Act 3, and when it seems that Hanriot is about to lead the Commune's troops against the Convention, Tallien asks, "wherefore fear we death? / Did Brutus fear it?" (3.99-100), concluding, "Caesar should fear death, / Brutus must scorn the bugbear" (102-103). The reporting of the final scene of action begins with the announcement, "Caesar is taken" (3.123).
Although by Thermidor the Robespierrists had eliminated the Girondins, the Hébertists, and the Dantonists, St. Just here sees the ongoing existence of any opposition as suggesting that the eradication had not been complete enough. For St. Just, who later claims, "I am of no one faction. I contend / Against all factions" (2.211-12), opposition is rhetorically identified with factionalism whereas the Robespierrists articulate the general will of the people.
The second-largest city in France in 1789, with approximately 140,000 inhabitants, Lyon was the capital of the Rhône département. Due in part to its proximity to the Swiss and German borders, Lyon was a haven for émigrés and a power base for moderates and royalists. In 1789-90, the city was first plunged into violence as royalists and supporters of the revolution fought for control of the local militia and supply of arms. The September Massacres in 1792 led to more violence when Jacobins gained control of the city. Moderates and royalists, however, gained the upper hand in May 1793, and the city then supported the federalist revolt against the National Convention in the summer and fall of 1793 following the purge of the Girondins deputies. Republican forces laid siege to the city, which fell in October, and on the twelfth the Convention declared, "Lyon made war on Liberty; Lyon is no more." The Committee of Public Safety sent Jean-Marie Collot d'Herbois and Joseph Fouché as representatives on mission to impose the Terror in Lyon and punish the rebels. In the six months from October 1793 to March 1794, nearly 1,900 Lyonnais were executed, most by guillotine and many in mass executions by grapeshot fired from cannons. The city was temporarily renamed Commune-Affranchie (Liberated Commune).
Mays' note, "'Shambles' is used in the older sense of slaughter-house or place of blood" (CC 22.214.171.124).
A variant spelling of "Sahara," which derives from the Arabic word for desert.
1.83 silent solitary anguish
Recounting the difficult period leading up to his enlistment in the 15th Light Dragoons, Coleridge wrote to his brother George in late February 1794, "My Affairs became more and more involved–I fled to Debauchery–fled from silent and solitary Anguish to all the uproar of senseless Mirth!" (CL 1.67).
1.86 memory of himself
Earlier (see 1.5-7) Barrere introduced an analogy between Robespierre and Satan, but here St. Just identifies the anti-Robespierrist Collot d'Herbois, who in the fall of 1793 had represented the extreme left wing on the Committee of Public Safety while Robespierre himself had supported more moderate policies, with Satanic tumult and anguish:
Yet not rejoicing in his speed, though bold,
Far off and fearless, nor with cause to boast,
Begins his dire attempt, which nigh the birth
Now rolling, boils in his tumultuous breast,
And like a devilish engine back recoils
Upon himself; horror and doubt distract
His troubled thoughts, and from the bottom stir
The hell within him, for within him hell
He brings, and round about him, nor from hell
One step no more than from himself can fly
By change of place: now conscience wakes despair
That slumbered, wakes the bitter memory
Of what he was, what is, and what must be
Worse; of worse deeds worse sufferings must ensue. (PL 4.13-26)
1.87-90 a calm is fatal to him ... restless turbulence of guilt
Compare with the following passage from William Cowper's The Task (1785), in which Nature
An instant's pause, and lives but while she moves.
Its own revolvency upholds the world.
Winds from all quarters agitate the air,
And fit the limpid element for use,
Else noxious: oceans, rivers, lakes, and streams
All feel the fresh'ning impulse, and are cleansed
By restless undulation. (1.370-77)
Mays' note, "The first instance of a characteristic kind of Coleridgean coinage" (CC 126.96.36.199).
The Paris Commune was the Parisian municipal government. It emerged spontaneously after the storming of the Bastille and gradually acquired legal status. It consisted of 144 elected delegates, three from each of the 48 sections of Paris. The Commune was divided into five departments, each responsible for supervising different administrative tasks (subsistence, police, national estates and finances, public institutions, and public works).
Especially through its influence over sans-culotte activism, the Commune expanded its political role as the Revolution progressed. When Girondins deputies from the National Convention denounced what they perceived to be the excessive influence of Paris in relation to other municipalities in political decisions, the Commune allied with the Jacobins to oust the Girondins from the Convention in May-June 1793. Despite the Commune's continued advocacy on behalf of the sans-culottes, its power declined as the Committee of Public Safety placed a virtual stranglehold on other institutions' political agency. The trial and execution of Jacques-René Hébert and his followers, the ultra-radical Hébertists, in March 1794 further weakened the Commune's power, as did the Thermidorian reaction. The Commune's call for popular support to save Robespierre on 9 Thermidor (27 July) generated assistance from only nineteen sections, and approximately three-quarters of the Commune's members were guillotined for their loyalty to Robespierre. The Constitution of 1795 eliminated the Commune's political function altogether.
1.91 stern tribunal
The second Revolutionary Tribunal, created in March 1793, was a response to heightening fears of counterrevolution following a series of military defeats, the treason of General Dumouriez, and the beginning of the royalist uprising in the Vendée. As decreed by the Convention, the Tribunal would have jurisdiction over "all counterrevolutionary activities, all attacks on liberty, equality, unity, the indivisibility of the Republic, the internal and external security of the state, and all plots tending to reestablish the monarchy or any other authority hostile to liberty, equality, and the sovereignty of the people" (qtd. in HD 823). The Tribunal consisted of five judges, a jury of twelve men, and a public prosecutor–Antoine-Quentin Fouquier–Tinville, who held the office from April 1793 until he himself was guillotined on 6 May 1795. In the six months between its inception in March 1793 and the following September, the Tribunal deliberated with relative care, sentencing forty-nine people to death. After 5 September, when Terror was declared the order of the day, the number of judges was increased to sixteen and the number of jurors to sixty, the staff of the prosecutor was expanded, and the Tribunal was divided into two sections so that each could deliberate separately and simultaneously. The Law of Suspects (17 September) dramatically broadened the definitions of those who could be tried as suspected counterrevolutionaries, thus increasing the numbers who came before the Tribunal. An estimated 70,000 suspects were arrested over the following year. In the final phase of the Terror, the Law of 22 Prairial (10 June 1794) further broadened the range of those who could be brought before the Tribunal as suspects, divided the Tribunal into four sections, made the death penalty the only sentence other than acquittal which the Tribunal could hand down, eliminated cross-examination of witnesses, eliminated defense counsel for conspirators (retaining it only for "calumniated patriots"), and allowed juries to consider "either material or moral proofs." In the six weeks from 10 June until the end of July, the Tribunal sentenced 1,594 people to death. By the time the Tribunal was abolished in May 1795, it had sentenced over 2,700 people to death.
Town and port, capital of Var département, in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region of southeastern France. As in Lyon, Jacobins took control of the city in the summer and fall of 1792, but Toulon sided with the federalists in July 1793, and in August the royalists surrendered the city, along with its strategic port and arsenal, to the English, an act which came to be seen as one of the great betrayals of the Revolution. In the three-month siege which followed, Napoleon commanded the republican artillery. The siege ended on 19 December with the withdrawal of the Anglo-Spanish forces. In retreat, they blew up the arsenal and burned 42 French ships, taking as many royalists with them as space permitted. Revolutionary troops recaptured the town, which was temporarily renamed Port-la-Montagne (Mountain Gate). From 20-23 December, 800 rebels were shot outright, without trial, and another 300 were sentenced to death between then and April 1794.
1.104 O thou art brave
There are echoes in this speech of Lady Macbeth's goading in Macbeth (1.7.35-59).
The term refers to the 48 sections of Paris both as geographical divisions and as political institutions (the "sectional assemblies"). During the administrative reorganization of France in 1789, major towns and cities were divided into sections to facilitate elections. In May 1790, Paris, with a population of 525,000 the largest city in France, was divided into 48 sections. Each of the sectional assemblies elected three delegates to the Commune. Typically, sectional assemblies met annually for electoral purposes, but in July 1792 the Legislative Assembly granted the sections of Paris the right to meet en permanence, meaning that they could convene themselves by their own authority. Because attendance among voting citizens was low, on 9 September 1793 the Convention suppressed permanence, limiting meetings of the sectional assemblies to two per Décade (the ten-day unit of time that replaced the old seven-day week under the revolutionary calendar) and subsidizing poorer citizens. Sectional assemblies were typically the hotbeds of direct democracy and sans-culotte militancy. Although the different sections were not always coherent or united, the ability to organize the sections, and to coordinate with the Jacobin and Cordeliers clubs, was a crucial factor in the invasion of the Tuileries on 10 August 1792 and the uprising against the Girondins deputies in May and June 1793. Robespierre relied on them for support on 9 Thermidor (27 July), but they ultimately failed to rally against the Convention, thus passively backing the conspiracy against him. After Thermidor, the Convention abolished the sectional assemblies in October 1795.
Robespierre's claim in this speech that he will be defended by abstractions of his own character resembles Macbeth's apprehension that Duncan's "virtues / Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongue'd, against / The deep damnation of his taking-off" (1.7.18-20), and Richard II's faith that "God for his Richard hath in heavenly pay / A glorious angel; then if angels fight, / Weak men must fall, for heaven still guards the right" (3.2.60-62).
1.121SD Exeunt caeteri. Manet COUTHON.
Mays' note, "'The rest go out. Couthon remains.' The Latin stage directions are a slightly old-fashioned feature. . . . They presumably derive from C but might also reflect Benjamin Flower's comparative inexperience in printing plays (cf the lack of a Dramatis Personae and of scene-divisions)" (CC 188.8.131.52).
Mays' note, "The word appears ... to have been coined by C" (CC 184.108.40.206), perhaps as an English equivalent of the French "despotiser," in use as early as D'Holbach's Éthocratie ou le gouvernement fondé sur la morale (1776), where the term appears in Chapter 7, "Des loix morales relatives aux Ministres de la Religion" (111). (The first entry in the OED is "
Coleridge echoed this passage in the "Introductory Address" to Conciones ad Populum (published in November 1795), writing that Robespierre "despotized in all the pomp of Patriotism, and masqueraded on the bloody stage of Revolution, a Caligula with the cap of Liberty on his head" (CC 1.35).
1.139 the rooted oak
Robespierre refers to the Tree of Liberty (also the Tree of May), a common revolutionary symbol which stood for civic virtue.
1.142 Couthon's decree
2.40 accurst decree
The Law of 22 Prairial (10 June 1794), written by Couthon and Robespierre, accelerated the Terror in its final six weeks. Couthon was instrumental in getting the National Convention to pass the law, which streamlined the process by which the Revolutionary Tribunal tried suspects and broadened the definition of those who could be suspected of counterrevolutionary acts. The law divided the Tribunal into four courts (which could function simultaneously), made the death penalty the only sentence other than acquittal to be issued by the Tribunal, eliminated cross-examination of witnesses, removed defense counsel for all suspects other than "calumniated patriots," and allowed the court to consider moral evidence. Among those who could be suspected under the law were the following:
Those who have deceived the people or the representatives of the people, in order to lead them into undertakings contrary to the interests of liberty; Those who have sought to inspire discouragement, in order to favor the enterprises of the tyrants leagued against the Republic; those who have disseminated false news in order to divide or disturb the people; Those who have sought to mislead opinion and to prevent the instruction of the people, to deprave morals and to corrupt the public conscience, to impair the energy and the purity of revolutionary and republican principles, or to impede the progress thereof, either by counter-revolutionary or insidious writings, or by any other machination; ... Those who, charged with public office, take advantage of it in order to serve the enemies of the Revolution, to harass patriots, or to oppress the people ... (qtd. in HD 570)
In the fourteen months from April 1793 to June 1794, the Tribunal had sentenced 1,090 people to death. In the six weeks from 10 June until the end of July, the Tribunal sentenced 1,594 people to death. Along with the proscription and execution of the Hébertists and Dantonists (March to April 1794), the glorification of Robespierre at the Festival of the Supreme Being (8 June), the decreased fear over foreign invasion after the military victory at Fleurus (26 June), and Robespierre's threatening speech to the Convention on 8 Thermidor (26 July), the Law of 22 Prairial played a key role in motivating the Thermidorian coup. The law was repealed on 1 August.
1.143 That what?
Mays' note, "Such interjections extra metrum are rare in Act I. They are more frequent in RS's contribution" (CC 220.127.116.11). The present edition follows Mays' line-numbering of Act 1 in CC 16.3.1, not Ernest Hartley Coleridge's in CPW.
1.147 English patriots
Robespierre denounces those who wish to preserve freedom of debate as English patriots, implying that English radicals prefer to talk rather than to act. In the satirical "Robespierre's Will," published in The True Briton 520 (28 August 1794), Robespierre bequeaths his "courage to the English Jacobins, being the only quality they seem to want in the perfection of their education." In these lines, as Mays notes, "Robespierre reminds Barrere of one of his most popular pro-revolutionary speeches (on 26 May 1794), his Rapport sur les crimes de l'Angleterre envers le peuple français et sur les attentats contre la liberté des nations (Paris, An II )" ["Report on the crimes of England against the French people and on attempts against the liberty of nations"] (CC 18.104.22.168).
1.148 Are not ...
In Conciones ad Populum (1795), Coleridge quotes lines 148-61 to describe the "extreme necessity" under which the supporters of the Terror perceived themselves to be acting: "doubtless the Terrorists at the commencement of their power knew that the general consequences of their actions would be evil, but they thought the occasion so vast and pressing, as to make the particular good consequences overbalance the general evil ones–especially as those actions could never be imitated in after times with any shew of reason, unless in the rage and tempest of some future Revolution." Lines 148-61 follow, and Coleridge offers a footnote to the title of the play: "A Tragedy, of which the First Act was written by S. T. Coleridge" (CC 1.73).
1.148 clouds of war
After the royal family's flight to Varennes (20-21 June 1791) and the Declaration of Pilnitz (27 August 1791), in which the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II (brother of Marie Antoinette) and the King of Prussia Frederick William II declared themselves willing to use force in order to strengthen and protect the French monarchy, calls for war against Austria escalated. Over the objections of Robespierre and a minority of delegates, the Girondins led the movement in favor of war, which was declared on Austria on 20 April 1792. The revolutionary forces suffered a series of defeats, producing a climate of anxiety and fear over the possibility of foreign occupation of Paris and counterrevolutionary retribution, a climate in part responsible for the invasion of the Tuileries on 10 August and the September Massacres. French fortunes improved after the victory at Valmy on 20 September. The declaration of the Republic on the following day and the subsequent execution of Louis XVI on 14 January 1793 led to the declaration of war against Great Britain and Holland on 1 February, and on Spain in March. In the same month, a rebellion broke out in the Vendée region (in the west of France), where peasants, aristocrats, and refractory priests (who would not swear the civil oath of the clergy) united to form what came to be known as the Royal and Catholic Army. In April, the Girondin General Dumouriez defected to the Austrians, and this treason was a key factor in bringing about the purge of the Girondins deputies in May to June, the consolidation of Montagnard rule under the leadership of Robespierre, and the further centralization of power in Paris. These combined to impel the federalist revolt in Bordeaux, Caen, Lyon, and Marseille. Simultaneous with the war against the coalition of Austria, Prussia, Britain, Spain, Holland, and Naples, the Vendée rebellion and federalist revolt now plunged France into civil war. On 23 August the Convention decreed the levée en masse, by which the republican army was increased by at least 300,000 men to a size of approximately 750,000. The federalist cities were subdued in the fall and early winter, and the Vendée rebellion was largely put down by December 1793. The climate of war, both international and civil, and constant fear of counterrevolutionary conspiracies were major precipitating factors of the Terror.
The federalist revolt and the Vendée rebellion. (See the preceding note.)
Whereas Robespierre in the play dismisses rebellion as "king-bred poison," Coleridge would several times revisit the "horrors of La Vendee" in The Watchman (CC 2.271; cf. 2.112, 213). His "Poetical Address for Horne Tooke," sent in a letter to John Prior Estlin (4 July 1796; CL 1.223-4) and published in The Telegraph, invokes "Vendee steaming still with brothers' blood!" (line 32; CC 22.214.171.1248). Mays notes that Coleridge "returned frequently to the campaign of 1793-5 in Flanders as an example of the horrors of war, and to the contemporaneous Jacobin campaign against loyalists in the Vendée region south of the Loire as an example of revolutionary excess" (CC 126.96.36.1998n).
1.150 Line numbering
From this point, the present edition follows Mays' line-numbering of Act 1 in CC 16.3.1, not Ernest Hartley Coleridge's in CPW.
3.191 the living God
As these lines suggest, Robespierre was a staunch opponent of atheism and of the atheistic Cult of Reason fostered by Hébert, Pierre-Gaspard Chaumette, Danton, and others, culminating in the Festival of Reason on 10 November 1793. Influenced by the sentimental deism of Rousseau, Robespierre held firmly and warmly to the existence of a supreme being–a "living God" as opposed to an impersonal force who sets the mechanism of creation in motion–and the immortality of the soul, beliefs to which he attested in a speech to the Convention on 7 May 1794. This led to the Festival of the Supreme Being on 8 June 1794. Choreographed by Jacques-Louis David, it began with the burning of an effigy of Atheism in the Tuileries garden and culminated at the Champ de Mars, where Robespierre led the deputies of the Convention to the top of a constructed mountain while an enormous statue of Hercules, representing the people, towered overhead.
Robespierre was known as "The Incorruptible."
1.167 foul means
In a notebook entry of 1795-96, Coleridge wrote, "–Bad means for a good end–I cannot conceive that <there can be> any road to Heaven through Hell–" (CN 1.56), and in the "Introductory Address" to Conciones ad Populum (November 1795) Coleridge described Robespierre as possessing "a glowing ardor that still remembered the end, and a cool ferocity that never either overlooked, or scrupled, the means. What the end was, is not known: that it was a wicked one, has by no means been proved. I rather think, that the distant prospect, to which he was travelling, appeared to him grand and beautiful; but that he fixed his eye on it with such intense eagerness as to neglect the foulness of the road" (CC 1.35).
1.171 streaming streets
The September Massacres of 2-6 September 1792, when Parisian sans-culottes, supported by the Commune, invaded the city's prisons and massacred over 1,100 prisoners. The massacres were fueled by anger at the Swiss Guard, who had resisted and fired on the crowd in the insurrection against the Tuileries on 10 August, and by fears of an invasion of Paris by the advancing Prussian army (Verdun fell to the Prussians on 2 September). In the event of an invasion, according to public opinion, the foreign forces would be backed by the counterrevolutionaries either imprisoned or still awaiting trial. Subsequent attempts to determine responsibility for the massacres hardened political divisions within the Legislative Assembly and then (after 21 September) the National Convention: the Girondins saw the massacres as the breakdown of the rule of law, with Vergniaud and Louvet calling for those responsible to be brought to account, whereas the Montagnards saw the massacres as the expression of the general will of the people. This was the view of Robespierre, who, when accused by Louvet of having instigated the violence, was defended (though in unflattering terms) by Barère. Billaud-Varenne encouraged the massacres, and Marat in particular was vocal in calling for still more heads.
Mays' note, "Robespierre defended Barrere against the sansculottes in Sept 1793, after Toulon was surrendered into British hands" (CC 188.8.131.52). When Robespierre spoke in his defense, Barère had been denounced on 4 September 1793 before the Jacobins by Claude Royer. The other instance might have been during the purge of the Girondins in May-June and their subsequent execution in October 1793, when Robespierre accepted Barère's opposition to the latter's former Girondins allies and protected him from inclusion in their accusation and impeachment.
This poem ("Domestic Peace" in CC 184.108.40.206) was printed separately by Benjamin Flower in the Cambridge Intelligencer (25 October 1794) as "Song" and described as "[From the Fall of Robespierre, an Historic Drama, by S.T. Coleridge.]." Beginning with Poems (1796), Coleridge included it in his subsequent collections (with the exception of Sibylline Leaves ).
As adj.: Calm, quiet, peaceful, undisturbed. This association is derived from the noun "halcyon," which refers to a bird, fabled to have bred around the time of the winter solstice in a nest floating on the sea; the bird charmed the wind and waves, with the result that the sea was particularly calm during this period.
1.220 cottag'd vale
"Reflections on Having Left a Place of Retirement" (1796) is similarly set in a "cottag'd vale"; the poem begins, "Low was our pretty Cot ... / It was a spot, which you might aptly call / The Valley of Seclusion" (CC 220.127.116.111).
1.221 Sabbath bells
Taken in the context of the play, the song's reference to the "Sabbath bells" registers an association between natural domesticity, Christianity, and the traditional marking of time under the Gregorian calendar. As part of its rationalization of time, the new revolutionary calendar divided each month into three Décades, or ten days, with the tenth day of each called the Décadi as a day of rest to replace the old Sabbath.
The new calendar officially came into use on 22 September 1793. According to the new calendar, this was the 1st Vendémiaire of year II, meaning that the preceding 22 September was the first day of the new style, year I. The calendar divided the year into four seasons and twelve months (see below) of thirty days each. Each month was divided into three Décades, and the ten days of each Décade were named simply Primidi, Duodi, Tridi, Quartidi, Quintidi, Sextidi, Septidi, Octidi, Nonidi, and Décadi. Because the twelve new months comprised 360 days, the remaining five days were declared festivals, or Sansculottides, all following the last day of Fructidor (from September 17-21, old style): these were the fêtes de Vértu (Virtue), Génie (Genius), Travail (Labor), l'Opinion (Opinion), and Récompenses (Rewards). Every leap year (1796, 1800, 1804), a sixth or jour complémentaire, the Festival of the Revolution, was added after the other Sansculottides. The calendar was discontinued in March 1805.
The following version of the revolutionary calendar is from George Rudé, The Crowd in the French Revolution (1959):
Obsolete form of "mien": air, bearing, carriage or manner, as expressing character or mood; appearance; expression.
The National Convention was the assembly that governed France from 20 September 1792 until 26 October 1795, having been initially elected to set up a constitution after the toppling of the monarchy on 10 August 1792. Its early acts were the official abolition of the monarchy (21 September 1792) and the institution of the republic (22 September 1792); it also oversaw the trial and execution of Louis XVI and France's military defense against the antirevolutionary European coalition.
The Convention consisted of 749 deputies (elected by universal manhood suffrage), who were also known as delegates and representatives, and was divided between two factions, the Jacobin Montagnards and the more moderate Girondins, for the first eight months of its existence; between these factions was the inchoate body of deputies known as the Plain. The Montagnards aimed to extend greater political power to the lower classes, while the Girondins aimed to create a bourgeois republic and to reduce the power of Paris over French political affairs. The Montagnards, condemning the Girondins for their promotion of battles that were ultimately unsuccessful in the war against the antirevolutionary European coalition, purged prominent Girondin deputies from the convention via a popular insurrection (31 May-2 June 1793).
Thus, the second phase of the Convention was dominated by the Montagnards and increasingly by Robespierre. The Convention established the Committee of Public Safety, which largely controlled the Convention's legislative prerogative.
The conspiracy against Robespierre culminated in the events of 9 Thermidor (27 July) and resulted in the Thermidorian reaction, the final phase of the Convention, in which the balance of power shifted to the moderates (known as the Plain). Girondins who had survived the purges orchestrated by the Jacobins were recalled to the convention and the leading Montagnards were purged in retaliation. In August 1795 the Convention ratified the constitution for the succeeding regime, thus in effect replacing itself with the bourgeois-dominated Directory (1795-99).
Also known as representatives, members, and deputies, the 749 delegates of the National Convention were elected by universal manhood suffrage.
1.252 vital air
A common term for oxygen, which had been isolated by Joseph Priestley in 1774 by heating mercuric oxide until it dissociated into metallic mercury and a gas, which Priestley found would make flame burn more strongly. In this discovery, Priestley was preceded by the German-Swedish chemist, Carl Wilhelm Scheele, who did not publish his results until 1777.
1.258 fierce club
The Jacobin club, members of which dominated the National Convention from the summer of 1793 to the summer of 1794.
The first form of the Jacobins was the Club Breton at Versailles, where the deputies representing Brittany in the Estates General (later the National Assembly) of 1789 met with deputies from other parts of France to create a united front. When the National Assembly was formed, the group was renamed the Society of the Friends of the Constitution, commonly known as the Jacobin Club because of its meetings at a former convent whose Dominican inhabitants had been known in Paris as Jacobins. Affiliate clubs soon sprung up all over France.
In September 1792, after the National Convention declared France a republic, the Club renamed itself the Society of the Jacobins, Friends of Liberty and Equality. Its leanings became increasingly leftist and popular as it admitted Montagnard deputies from the National Convention and began to fashion itself as the voice of the Parisian working class. The Club, under the leadership of Robespierre, played a central role in the execution of Louis XVI in January 1793 and in the purging of the more moderate Girondin deputies from the National Convention in June 1793.
Jacobin clubs throughout France imposed the Terror on alleged enemies of the revolutionary government, facilitated the dechristianizing movement, and gathered supplies for the army.
After the overthrow of Robespierre, the Parisian Jacobin Club was temporarily closed, then reopened as a focal point of resistance to the Thermidorian government, only to be permanently closed on 11 November 1794.
Invented by and named after Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, who proposed the method of execution to the Constituent Assembly on 20 January 1790, the instrument consisted of a twelve-foot high wooden frame within which a heavy blade was dropped from the top, guided by two grooved posts. First used on 25 April 1792, the guillotine was intended to make executions more humane and equal (under the old regime, commoners were either hanged, strangled, or drawn and quartered, whereas aristocrats were decapitated by sword). (See Arasse.)
An elevated platform on which the execution of a criminal occurs.
A short stabbing weapon; a dagger.
A raised platform, rostrum, or pulpit.
The Girondists or Girondins (or Brissotins, after one of the group's leading members, Jacques-Pierre Brissot): a centrist political group that took its ideals from the example of the American Revolution. Largely representing the interests of the middle class, their defining belief was that private property should be maintained, placing them at odds with the more left-leaning political groups such as the Montagnards and the sans-culottes. Their name comes from the fact that many of the party's most outspoken orators came from the department of the Gironde in southwest France. They came to power in 1791, and the popular mob uprising of 31 May-2 June 1793 led to their ouster from the Convention, the ascension of the Jacobins, and the trial and subsequent execution of prominent Girondins, including Brissot, in late October 1793.
In the "Introductory Address" to Conciones ad Populum (published in November 1795), Coleridge wrote that "The Girondists, who were the first republicans in power, were men of enlarged views and great literary attainments; but they seem to have been deficient in that vigour and daring activity, which circumstances made necessary ... Brissot, the leader of the Gironde party, is entitled to the character of a virtuous man, and an eloquent speaker; but he was rather a sublime visionary, than a quick-eyed politician; and his excellences equally with his faults rendered him unfit for the helm, in the stormy hour of Revolution" (CC 1.34-5).
2.43 freedom of debate
Billaud Varennes refers to the Law of 22 Prairial (10 June 1794), but Coleridge and Southey's target here is also the repressive measures of William Pitt and his administration. In May 1794, a few weeks before the passage of the "Law of the Great Terror," Pitt's government had suspended habeas corpus and arrested the leaders of the London Corresponding Society, including John Thelwall, Thomas Hardy, and Horne Tooke. After his acquittal in October, Thelwall drew the comparison between Robespierre and Pitt at length in The Tribune (and see Roe, Wordsworth 200-6).
2.45, 2.187 bar
In the play, the bar represents a formal body, especially the National Convention or Revolutionary Tribunal, and to call someone to the bar is used in the sense of demanding an official appearance.
Lucius Cornelius Sulla (138-78 BCE) won the first full-scale civil war in Roman history (88-82 BCE) and became dictator (82-79 BCE), instituting reforms including a declaration of the supremacy of the Senate, an increase in the number of criminal courts, a new treason law, and a requirement that tribunes offer their legislative proposals to the Senate for ratification. His dictatorship was characterized by the proscription and execution of his political opponents, and in the play and newspaper reports his reign is seen as setting a Roman precedent for the revolutionary Terror.
2.117 the younger Cæsar
Bourdon l'Oise refers to Robespierre, Junior.
2.138 slaughter by
Mays' note, "Viz. slaughter in the vicinity, close at hand" (CC 18.104.22.168).
Together, Robespierre, Saint-Just and Couthon were largely able to control the Committee of Public Safety, a sub-committee of the National Convention and the most important of France's governing bodies during the dictatorial Reign of Terror.
The Committee of Public Safety. (In fact, Saint Just returned to the National Convention charged to speak by both the Committee of Public Safety and the Committee of General Security, which held a joint meeting on the night of 8 Thermidor [26 July].)
The Committee of Public Safety (Comité de Salut Public) was established on 6 April 1793 by the National Convention to act as the executive branch of government, a role that had been nominally played by the King until September 1792, and to oversee the defense of the nation against foreign and internal (counterrevolutionary) enemies.
At first, the Committee was composed of 9 members, elected by the National Convention for one month, at which point they were eligible for reelection. It met in closed sessions, and was dominated by Danton and Barère. In July 1793, the membership was increased to 10, and Danton was replaced on the Committee by Robespierre. In September, membership was increased to 12, and the power of this "Great Committee" was virtually absolute during the Terror and the period of Jacobin dominance in the Convention (September 1793 to July 1794).
The following is quoted from Paul R. Hanson's Historical Dictionary of the French Revolution:
The 12 members of the Great Committee, with their areas of responsibility, were as follows: Maximilien Robespierre, who served as chief spokesperson for the committee before the National Convention and took responsibility for matters of policy, police, and religion; Louis-Antoine Saint-Just, Robespierre's closest ally on the committee, with responsibility for war planning and political policy; Georges Couthon, also responsible for political policy and for police matters; Bertrand Barère, responsible for education, social welfare, and diplomacy, also served as a liaison to the Convention; Jacques-Nicolas Billaud Varenne, responsible for corresponding with representatives on mission and departmental authorities; Jean-Marie Collot d'Herbois, closely allied with Billaud-Varenne, had responsibilities in the same areas; Robert Lindet, responsible for food supply to the army and cities; Lazare-Nicholas Carnot, responsible for war strategy and personnel; Claude-Antoine Prieur-Duvernois, responsible for arms procurement and gunpowder manufacture; Pierre-Louis Prieur, generally on mission to the army or to the departments; André Jeanbon Saint-André, also frequently on mission, and responsible for naval affairs; Marie-Jean Hérault-Séchelles, responsible for diplomacy, but arrested, tried, and executed in April 1794. (76-77)
On 4 December 1793 the Convention passed the Law of 14 Frimaire, greatly centralizing power in the hands of the Committee of Public Safety and granting it formal authority over foreign policy. The law also required representatives on mission to report to the Committee, meaning that the Committee now oversaw the imposition of the Terror throughout France, and without significant opposition after the eradication of the Hébertists and Dantonists in March-April 1794. On 10 June the Convention passed the Law of 22 Prairial, written by Couthon and Robespierre, greatly accelerating the Terror by streamlining the process by which suspected counterrevolutionaries were tried and (nearly always) convicted before the Revolutionary Tribunal. Both within the Committee itself and in the Convention and the Committee of General Security, the law motivated resistance to the near-absolute power exercised by Robespierre, culminating in the Thermidorian conspiracy. After the fall of Robespierre in July 1794, the Committee's police and executive powers were dispersed, but it continued to play an important role in setting foreign policy until the new constitution of August 1795.
Aristides the Just was a 5th-century BCE Athenian statesman and general and founder of the Delian League, which eventually became the Athenian Empire.
Despite his advocacy of resistance to Persian occupation, Aristides was ostracized in 482 BCE, most likely on account of his failure to support Themistocles' plan to use silver from the new mines at Laurium to build a fleet. Recalled from exile in 480 BCE, Aristides participated in the Athenian defeat of the Persians near Salamis (480 BCE) and commanded the Athenian army at the Battle of Plataea (479 BCE) when the Persians were expelled from Greece.
The next year Aristides commanded the Athenian fleet of 30 ships in the fleet led by the Spartan Pausanias to free Cyprus and capture Byzantium. Later that year eastern Greek cities revolted from Spartan control and offered allegiance, at Delos, to Aristides and Athens. The ensuing Delian League, which was founded in 478 BCE, was rooted in Athenian naval power and in the leadership of Aristides over a confederacy of Greek states who rallied together to protect themselves from Persia.
Phocion (c. 402-318 BCE) was an Athenian statesman and general, and ruler of Athens between 322 and 318 BCE. A pupil of Plato, Phocion was involved in Athens' efforts to fend off Macedonian occupation. He defeated Philip II's forces in Euboea, Megara, and Byzantium, but subsequently perceived that the Macedonian forces were unconquerable and opted to pursue diplomatic relations with them. He managed to reduce his city's indemnities but was forced to accept the occupation of Athens' port, Piraeus, in 322 BCE. In the power struggle that followed the death of the Macedonian regent in 319 BCE, Phocion was deposed, convicted of treason, and executed by Athenians hoping to restore democracy. He was later given a public burial and a statue was built in his honour.
Used here in the sense of "tribunal."
"By three o'clock on the morning of the 28th" of July, reported The Times in its account of the "Execution of Robespierre and His Party" published on 18 August 1794, "the Representatives had got possession of the house of the Commune, with all the traitors who had shut themselves up in it. In the house was found a seal, very newly engraved, with the emblem of the Fleur de Lys." This rumor was taken as confirmation that Robespierre intended to make himself king. (Another such rumor was that he intended to marry the orphaned teenage daughter of Louis XVI, then imprisoned in the Temple; see Andress 345-6).
A cockatrice is a serpent, often identified with the basilisk; it is said to be able to kill by its glance alone and to be hatched from a cock's egg. (See Isaiah 59.4-8.)
Coleridge and Southey met at Oxford in mid-June 1794 (probably between the 16th and the 19th), and on 6 July in a letter addressed "S. T. Coleridge to R. Southey–Health & Republicanism!" Coleridge wrote, "The Cockatrice is a foul Dragon with a crown on it's head. The Eastern Nations believe it to be hatched by a Viper on a Cock's Egg. Southey.–Dost thou not see Wisdom in her Coan Vest of Allegory? The Cockatrice is emblematic of Monarchy–a monster generated by Ingratitude on Absurdity. When Serpents sting, the only Remedy is–to kill the Serpent, and besmear the Wound with the Fat. Would you desire better Sympathy?" (CL 1.83-4).
The cockatrice remained "emblematic of Monarchy" for Coleridge in his religious and political lectures of the coming year. Publicly addressing his Bristol audience in late May 1795, Coleridge retained the emblem but omitted the remedy of regicide: "The Dispensations of God have always warned Man against the least Diminution of civil Freedom. The Israelites however listened not to Samuel and afterwards severely repented of it so that there was among them this figurative Remark. A cockatrice is a Dragon with a Crown on his head, and hatched by a Viper on a Cock's Egg. The Viper was the Symbol of Ingratitude among them and a Cock's Egg of Credulity" (CC 1.134). And in The Plot Discovered; or An Address to the People, against Ministerial Treason (1795), the published version of a political lecture Coleridge delivered in Bristol on 26 November 1795, Coleridge describes Pitt as the cockatrice in a passage against the bills that on 18 December would become the "Act for the Safety and Preservation of his Majesty's Person and Government against Treasonable and Seditious Practices and Attempts" (36 Geo. III. c.7) and "An Act for the more Effectually Preventing Seditious Meetings and Assemblies" (36 Geo. III. c.8). (The bills had been printed in the Morning Chronicle on 9 November.) "The present Bills," Coleridge wrote, "were conceived and laid in the dunghill of despotism among the other yet unhatched eggs of the old Serpent. In due time and in fit opportunity they crawled into light. Genius of Britain! crush them!" (CC 1.288).
3.1 baneful tree of Java
3.198 dews of death
Native to the forests of Indonesia, the upas-tree (Antiaris toxicaria) secretes a toxic sap used for arrow poison, but in The Loves of the Plants (part 2 of The Botanic Garden ), Erasmus Darwin popularized a false legend of the tree as follows: "There is a poison-tree in the island of Java, which is said by its effluvia to have depopulated the country for 12 or 14 miles round the place of its growth" (106; the note is to canto 3, line 238). Mays remarks that the upas tree "was a favourite image of C's from schooldays on, but RS could have derived it independently from Erasmus Darwin or from C earlier in conversation" (CC 22.214.171.124).
Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) led the parliamentary forces in the English Civil War and from 1653 to 1658 was Lord Protector of the republican Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland.
An alarm signal or bell, used originally and especially with reference to France (OED).
3.18SD. (Loud applauses.)
William Jewett notes that "We learn what happens to Robespierre partly from act 3's pivotal stage directions, which, though they are few, become oddly prominent considering that we see no action. These point typically to activity offstage and dictate not decisive actions but dispersed expressions such as 'Violent applauses from the galleries' or 'Shouts without'" (Fatal Autonomy 43).
The play here echoes Thomas Paine's rebuttal of Edmund Burke in The Rights of Man: "Mr Burke does not attend to the distinction between men and principles; and therefore, he does not see that a revolt may take place against the despotism of the latter, while there lies no charge of despotism against the former" (97). Having been deprived of his seat in the National Convention by a law excluding foreigners from that body, Paine was imprisoned in Paris from December 1793 to November 1794, a period spanning both the events and publication of the play, for having opposed the execution of Louis XVI and for having supported the proscribed Girondins.
The Cordelier Club was founded in April 1790 under the name Société des Amis des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen and was intended to guard against abuses of power and of the rights of man. The club became known as the Cordeliers on account of the fact that its original meeting place in Paris was the Franciscan monastery of the Cordeliers. In March 1791 the Cordeliers relocated to the Salle du Musée in the Place de Thionville (modern Place Dauphine).
Over the course of the revolution, a number of prominent revolutionaries were members of the Cordelier Club, including its early leaders Jean-Paul Marat and Georges Danton, whose demands for the deposition of the king after his attempted escape to Varennes in 1791 led to a protest in the Champ de Mars on July 17, in which 50 protestors were killed and the club was temporarily disbanded.
After the collapse of the monarchy in August 1792, Danton and his fellow leaders handed over leadership of the club to Antoine-François Momoro and Jacques-René Hébert, who played a large role in the purging of Girondins and gave the club an even more radical outlook. Some of the club's projects included: local autonomy, direct democracy, the atheistic program of the Paris Commune, and the establishment of a revolutionary army. Robespierre and the Montagnards aimed to suppress the Cordeliers in the period of Jacobin dominance in the Convention; after Hébert and his friends were executed on 24 March 1794, the club was dismantled.
Hipparchus was one of the sons of Pisistratus, tyrant of Athens. After the death of Pisistratus in 527 BCE, Hipparchus became tyrant of Athens, ruling with his older brother Hippias. In 514 BCE, Hipparchus was murdered by Harmodius and Aristogeiton, two members of the Gephyraei family, at the Panathenaea festival. Herodotus and Thucydides describe the murderous act as resulting from a personal dispute rather than from political differences: Hipparchus had fallen in love with Harmodius, the lover of Aristogeiton. When Harmodius rejected him, Hipparchus refused to allow Harmodius' sister to participate in a religious festival, implying that she was not a virgin. As a result, Harmodius and Aristogeiton assassinated him at the festival of Panathenaea that year. The murderers were punished with death.
Coleridge's "Modification of Translation of a Celebrated Greek Song, by William Wordsworth" (1798) and Southey's "The Ides of March. March 15" (1798) celebrate Harmodius and Aristogeiton as liberators and tyrannicides.
A hobgoblin, supposedly in the shape of a bear, said to devour naughty children; hence, in a more general sense, any imaginary being invoked to incite fear, terror, or dread.
Générale. In military usage, a drumbeat used to assemble troops (OED).
The Hôtel de Ville was the Parisian city hall, often the focus of revolutionary action and protest. In July 1789 a mob captured the Hôtel after capturing the Invalides and the Bastille. The building quickly became the headquarters of the Paris Commune, which directed mob action in order to control the Convention.
On 9 Thermidor (27 July), Robespierre and his allies fled to the Hôtel after they were denounced in the Convention. They were captured by the Convention's guards and guillotined on 10 Thermidor (28 July).
Flanders was the site of battles between French forces and the anti-revolutionary European coalition. By the summer of 1793 European coalition forces had installed themselves on French soil in Flanders and along the Pyrenees. This was the main front of the campaign in the spring of 1794.
Mays notes that Coleridge "returned frequently to the campaign of 1793-5 in Flanders as an example of the horrors of war, and to the contemporaneous Jacobin campaign against loyalists in the Vendée region south of the Loire as an example of revolutionary excess" (CC 126.96.36.1998n). See the particularly vivid accounts from An Accurate and Impartial Narrative of the War, by an Officer of the Guards (1795) which Coleridge reproduced in The Watchman (CC 2.238-41, 282-4), and see as well "Poetical Address for Horne Tooke," sent in a letter to John Prior Estlin (4 July 1796; CL 1.223-4) and published in The Telegraph, which invokes "ravag'd Belgium's corse-impeded flood" (line 33; CC 188.8.131.528).
3.182 woman-govern'd Roland
A reference to the active political role played by Manon Roland (1754-93). Wife of Jean-Marie Roland (1734-93), she was a journalist and hostess of an influential Girondin salon. Following the execution of Brissot and the Girondins deputies on 28 October 1793, she herself was tried and executed in early November. Upon hearing the news of her death, her husband committed suicide.
A serpent, mermaid, or part woman, part bird; a monster that lures sailors to their death with magical singing (OED).
3.190 Hebert's atheist crew
Followers of Jacques-René Hébert (1757-94) supported the dechristianization movement, the atheism of which Robespierre vehemently opposed. In addition to Hébert, prominent dechristianizers included Joseph Fouché, and Pierre Gaspard Chaumette. The movement began in earnest in October 1793 with the adoption of the revolutionary calendar, which rejected the Christian sabbath, saints' days, and holidays. Reaching its height in November 1793, dechristianization involved the National Convention's recognition of the right of all communes to renounce Catholicism; the celebration of the Festival of Reason (10 November), when Notre Dame was rechristened a Temple of Reason; the Paris Commune's closure of all Churches in the capital (23 November); the renaming of street and place names throughout France; and anticlerical activism and violence. After the execution of the Hébertists (24 March 1794), Robespierre replaced the atheistic Cult of Reason with the Rousseauian and deistic Cult of the Supreme Being, celebrated at the Festival of the Supreme Being on the Champ de Mars on 8 June.
Sources to Annotations
In assembling these annotations, we have relied primarily on the following sources:
Bienvenu, Richard. The Ninth of Thermidor: The Fall of Robespierre. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Poetical Works III. Plays: Part I. Ed. J.C.C. Mays. Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Gen. ed. Kathleen Coburn. 16 vols. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, and Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.
Hanson, Paul R. Historical Dictionary of the French Revolution. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2004.
Robinet, Jean François Eugène. Dictionnaire Historique et Biographique de la Révolution et de l'Empire 1789-1815. 2 vols. Paris: Libraire Historique, 1899.
Scott, Samuel F., and Barry Rothaus, eds. Historical Dictionary of the French Revolution: 1789-1799. 2 vols. Westport, CN: Greenwood Press, 1984.
Soboul, Albert. Dictionnaire Historique de la Révolution Française. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1989