There’s nothing situate under heaven’s eye

LEAVING La Fayette for a time in his gloomy prison at Olmütz, we will
turn once again to the writings of Virginie La Fayette (Madame de
Lasteyrie) for the home picture of La Fayette’s history during the
memorable French Revolution. She says:—
“The Revolution had for a long time back been gradually approaching. The
States-General were convoked and met in the month of May, 1789. After
the 14th of July father was elected commander-in-chief of the National
Guard of Paris. His whole existence was bound up with the events of that
period. You may imagine the cruel anxiety in which my mother passed the
three first years of the Revolution. She was free from all prejudice;
besides, she had long shared my father’s principles, which would in any
case have been her own; she approved, she admired his conduct; she was
the partner of all his views, and was supported in the midst of her
moral sufferings by the thought that he was working to obtain the
triumph of right. The first misfortunes of the Revolution filled her
soul with such bitterness that she was insensible to the natural
feelings of _amour-propre_, which my father’s conduct would otherwise
have called forth. Her only satisfaction was to see him often sacrifice
his popularity to oppose any disorderly or arbitrary act. She had
adopted liberal opinions, and professed them openly, but she possessed
that feminine tact, the shades of which it would be impossible to
delineate, and was thereby prevented from being what was then called a
_femme de parti_. Her disposition led her not to fear the censure of
certain _coteries_, but she shuddered when she thought of the
incalculable consequences of the events which were taking place, and she
was incessantly praying for the mercy of God, whilst she fulfilled all
the requirements of her arduous life.
“She accepted the requests, which were made to her by each of the sixty
districts of Paris, to collect subscriptions at the blessing of their
banners and at other patriotic ceremonies. My father kept open house.
She did the honors in a manner which charmed her numerous guests; but
what she suffered in the depths of her heart can only be understood by
those who have heard her talk of those times.
“She beheld my father at the head of a revolution, the issue of which it
was impossible to foresee. Each calamity, each disturbance, was looked
upon by her without the slightest illusion as to the success of her own
cause. She was, however, supported by my father’s principles, and so
convinced of the good it was in his power to do, and of the evil it was
in his power to avert, that she bore with incredible fortitude the
continual perils to which he was exposed. Never, has she often told us,
did she see him leave the house during that period without thinking that
she was bidding him adieu for the last time. Although no one could be
more terrified than she was when those whom she loved were in danger,
still, during that time she was superior to her usual self, devoted in
common with my father to the hope of preventing crime.
“The various events of the Revolution, the dangers incurred by my
father, the manner in which he supported every principle of justice and
of liberty against all parties, form the history of my mother’s
anxieties and consolations during two years and a half. You have read in
the history of the Revolution that considerable uproar was raised on the
Monday of Passion Week, 1791, to prevent the king from going to Saint
Cloud, where he wished to receive the sacrament from the hands of
priests who had not taken the oath to support the constitution. The king
did not put this plan into execution, notwithstanding the endeavors of
my father, who entreated Louis XVI. to persist in his intention, which
he undertook to have executed. The king refused.
“My father, displeased with the National Guard, who had but feebly
supported him in presence of the populace, and with the king’s weakness,
which rendered it impossible to retrieve the faults committed on that
day, thought fit to resign the command of the National Guard of Paris,
and to avoid all entreaties, he quitted his own house. My mother
remained at home, transported with joy at the resolution he had taken,
and was charged by him to receive in his stead the municipality and the
sixty battalions who came to implore him to resume his command. She
replied to each individual in the words which my father himself would
have dictated, carefully marking by her demeanor the distinction she
made between the most respectable _chefs de bataillon_, and those who,
like Santerre, had necessitated by their misconduct my father’s
resignation, and who that day all united in taking the same step and
repeating the same protestations. My mother, perplexed as she was in
performing so difficult a task, was overjoyed at the thought that my
father had returned to private life. This satisfaction lasted four days.
Having thus marked his displeasure at disorders which he had not been
able to prevent, my father yielded to the general entreaties. He resumed
his command, and my mother her trials and anxieties.
“On the 21st of June of the same year, 1791, the king left Paris
secretly, but was soon brought back from Varennes, where he had been
arrested. In no other circumstance of my father’s life did my mother so
much admire him as in the one which I am now relating. She beheld him,
on the one hand, relinquishing all his republican tendencies to join in
the wish of the majority; on the other hand, amidst the difficulties in
which he was placed by his position, taking every responsibility,
bearing all censure so as to insure the safety of the royal family, and
spare them, as much as was in his power, every painful detail. My mother
hastened to the Tuileries so soon as the queen began to receive, and
before the constitution had been accepted. She found herself there the
only woman connected with the _patriote_ party, for she believed as my
father did, that politics at such a moment ought not to rule personal
“The Jacobins raised on the 17th of July a considerable outbreak. The
_brigands_ commenced by murdering two men. Martial law was proclaimed.
It is difficult to form an idea of my mother’s mortal anguish while my
father was in the Champ de Mars, exposed to the rage of an infuriated
multitude, which dispersed crying out that my mother must be put to
death and her head carried to meet him. I remember the fearful cries we
heard, I remember the alarm of everybody in the house, and above all my
mother’s joy at the thought that the _brigands_ who were coming to
attack her were no longer surrounding my father in the Champ de Mars.
While embracing us with tears of joy, she took every necessary
precaution against the approaching danger with the greatest calmness,
and above all with the greatest relief of mind. The guard had been
doubled, and was drawn up before the house, but the _brigands_ were very
near entering my mother’s apartment by the garden looking upon the Place
du Palais-Bourbon, and were already climbing the low wall which
protected us, when a body of cavalry passed on the Place and dispersed
“The constitution having been accepted by the king, the Constituent
Assembly ended its sittings, and was replaced by the Legislative
Assembly. My father gave up the command of the National Guard, and set
out for Auvergne with my mother in the beginning of October. The journey
was long, for they were often obliged to stop in order to acknowledge
the marks of sympathy they received on the way. We followed in another
carriage, and my brother joined us shortly afterwards.
“This interval of repose was of short duration. My father was appointed
to the command of one of the three armies which were formed at that
time. He left Chavaniac in December, 1791. This departure, the
expectation of an approaching war, the dread of fresh disturbances, all
contributed to renew my mother’s distress: those who might have shared
her feelings had left her. My grandmother, and, soon after, my aunt de
Noailles were obliged to return to Paris. She bade them a farewell which
she was far from supposing was to be the last.
“War was declared in the month of March, 1792. It began by several
skirmishes with my father’s army, in one of which M. de Gouvion, who had
been major-general of the National Guard, was killed. My mother was
filled with terror and harassed by fearful forebodings. The disturbances
at home added to her dismay.
“My father’s letter to the Legislative Assembly, written from the camp
of Maubenge, on June 16, 1792, against the Jacobins, and his appearance
at the bar to support it, mingled with these anxieties the satisfaction
she was accustomed to find in all his actions. But one can well
understand how much she must have suffered at such a distance, on seeing
him exposed to so many and such various dangers. He invited her to go
and join him; but in those times of public commotion she feared that if
she accepted his proposal, he might be accused of wishing to put his
family in safety: she was also afraid of impeding his movements, which
depended on so many uncertain events. After having thought it over
several days, she decided upon sacrificing herself and remaining at
“Shortly after the noble resolution my mother had taken of remaining at
Chavaniac, she received intelligence of the insurrection of the 10th of
August. She heard almost at the same time that my grandfather, the Duc
d’Ayen, who had been defending the king at the Tuileries, and my uncle,
M. de Grammont, who had been sought for amongst the dead, had both
escaped the dangers of that dreadful day. The newspapers gave details of
my father’s resistance at Sédan. But it was soon evident that all was
useless, and nothing could be compared to the anguish of my mother’s
heart during the days which followed. The public papers were full of
sanguinary decrees which were submitted to everywhere except in the
district under my father’s command. A price was set on his head,
promises were made at the bar of the Assembly to bring him back, dead or
alive. At length, on the 24th of August, she received a letter from her
sister, Madame de Noailles, telling her that my father was out of
France. My mother’s joy was equal to her despair on the preceding days.
“We were in daily expectation of the house being pillaged. My mother
provided for everything, burnt or concealed her papers; then, in
consequence of the alarming intelligence she received, she resolved to
place her children in safety. A priest _assermenté_[1] came to offer her
a place of refuge amidst the mountains. M. Frestel took my brother there
during the night. The same evening she sent us to Langeac, a small town
about two leagues from Chavaniac, and thus having made every
arrangement, she calmly awaited coming events. She remained with my
aunt, whom it would have been impossible to persuade to leave the place.
Footnote 1:
_Prêtre assermenté_, one who accepted the Constitution.
“Nevertheless, some days afterwards, calmer feelings having prevailed
around her, my mother thought it might be useful for her to go to
Brioude, the chief town of the district. There she received from many
people proofs of the most lively interest; but she refused the marks of
sympathy proffered by several _aristocrates_ ladies, declaring she would
take as an insult any token of esteem which could not be shared with my
father, and which would tend to separate her cause from his.
“By a decree of the ‘district,’ the seals were affixed on the house. My
mother herself had caused this measure to be taken, so as to command
respect from the _brigands_, who were every day expected. The word
_émigré_ was not inscribed in the official report, and the respect shown
by the two commissaries led her to hope that she had nothing to dread,
at least on the part of the administration. She therefore yielded to the
earnest entreaties of her daughters, and allowed them to return to
Chavaniac. We found her in possession of two letters from my father,
written after his departure from France. These letters cheered her
greatly. Although she flattered herself that he would soon be released,
she was nevertheless much agitated by the news of his arrest.
“On the 10th of September, 1792, at eight o’clock in the morning, the
house was invested by a party of armed men. A commissary presented my
mother with an order from the Committee of Public Safety, giving
directions for her to be sent to Paris with her children. This order was
enclosed in a letter from M. Roland, charging him with the execution of
this decree. At that very moment my sister entered the room. She had
managed to escape from our governess so as to take away all means of
hiding her and separating her from my mother.
“My mother did not show the least alarm. She wished to put herself as
soon as possible under the protection of those authorities who could
give her effectual aid. She had the horses harnessed immediately, and
while the preparations for departure were being made, her writing-desk
was opened, and my father’s letters seized.
“‘You will see in them, sir,’ said my mother to the commissary, ‘that if
there had been tribunals in France, M. de La Fayette would have
submitted to them, certain as he was that not an action of his life
could criminate him in the eyes of real patriots.’
“‘Nowadays, madam,’ he answered, ‘public opinion is the only tribunal.’
“During that time the soldiers were exploring the house. One of them, on
seeing the old family pictures, said to the housekeeper, who was nearly
blind from old age:—
“‘Who are these? some grand _aristocrates_, no doubt?’
“‘Good people who are no more,’ she answered. ‘If they were still alive,
things would not be going on as badly as they are now.’
“The soldiers contented themselves with running their bayonets through
several pictures. My mother slipped away to give orders for my
concealment. Then, with my sister, who would not leave her for a minute,
and my aunt, then seventy-three years of age, they departed, followed by
their servants, who hoped to make themselves useful by mixing with the
“The journey was most trying. They spent the night at Fix. The next
morning, on arriving at Le Puy, my mother requested to be immediately
conducted to the ‘Département.’ ‘I respect orders coming from the
administration,’ she said to the commissary, ‘as much as I detest those
coming from elsewhere.’
“The entrance into the town was perilous; a few days previously a
prisoner had been massacred on his way through the suburbs. My mother
said to my sister, ‘If your father knew you were here, how anxious he
would be; but at the same time what pleasure your conduct would give
“The prisoners arrived without injury, although several stones were
thrown into the carriage. They alighted at the ‘Département,’ the
members of which had been immediately convoked. As soon as the sitting
began, my mother said that she placed herself with confidence under the
protection of the ‘Département,’ because in it she beheld the authority
of the people, which she always respected wherever it could be found.
“‘You receive, Messieurs,’ she added, ‘your orders from M. Roland or
from whomsoever you please. As for me, I only choose to receive them
from you, and I give myself up as your prisoner.’
“She then requested my father’s letters should be copied before they
were sent to Paris, observing that falsehoods were often brought before
the Assembly; she asked leave to read these letters aloud. Some one
having expressed the fear that doing so might be painful to her. ‘On the
contrary,’ she replied, ‘I find support and comfort in the feelings they
contain.’ She was listened to at first with interest, then with deep
“After having read the letters and looked over the copies, she begged
not to leave the house of the ‘Département’ as long as she remained at
Le Puy. She exposed the injustice of her detention, how useless and
perilous a journey to Paris would be, and concluded by saying that if
they persisted in keeping her as a hostage, she would be much obliged to
the ‘Département,’ were she allowed to make Chavaniac her prison, and in
that case she offered her parole not to leave it. It was decided in the
next sitting that the ‘Département’ should present her request to the
minister. While awaiting the reply, the prisoners were to inhabit the
building belonging to the administration.
“While in prison, my mother received touching marks of sympathy. She was
often watched by friendly National Guards, who would ask to be employed
on that duty in order to prevent its being entrusted to evil-disposed
keepers. She sometimes received accounts of my brother, who still
remained in the same place of refuge; and of me, for she had thought fit
to have me also concealed at a few leagues from Chavaniac.
“At this time public affairs were most inauspicious. All honest
officials took favorable opportunities for resigning, and were replaced
by Jacobins. We learnt that my father, instead of being set free, had
been delivered up by the coalition to the king of Prussia, and was on
his way to Spandau. The impression produced on my mother by this news
was dreadful. She was in despair at having given her parole to stay at
Chavaniac; for notwithstanding the impossibility of leaving France, she
could not bear the thoughts of pledging her word to give up seeking
every means of rejoining my father.
“M. Roland’s answer came at the end of September. He allowed my mother
to return to Chavaniac, a prisoner on parole, under the responsibility
of the ‘administration.’ My mother thus received the permission she had
asked for at the precise moment when she was struck with dismay by the
situation my father was in, and by the dangers he was running now at the
hands of foreign powers, as lately at those of the revolutionists at
“The ‘Département’ decided that the _commune_ would each day supply six
men to guard my mother, who went to the assembly-room immediately on
hearing of this resolution.
“‘I here declare, gentlemen,’ she said, ‘that I will not give the parole
I offered if guards are to be placed at my door.
“‘Choose between these two securities. I cannot be offended by your not
trusting me, for my husband has given still better proofs of his
patriotism than I have of my honesty; but you will allow me to believe
in my own integrity, and not to add bayonets to my parole.’
“It was decided that no guard should be set, and that the municipality
would every fortnight report my mother’s presence at Chavaniac. My
mother, on learning that M. Roland had expressed his disapprobation of
the massacres of September, and that he alone could free her from the
engagement she had contracted decided, notwithstanding her reluctance,
on writing to him the following letter:—
“‘SIR: I can only attribute to a kind feeling the change you have
brought about in my situation. You have spared me the dangers of a too
perilous journey, and consented that my place of retirement should be my
prison. But any prison whatever has become insupportable to me since I
learnt that my husband has been transferred from town to town by the
enemies of France, who were conducting him to Spandau. However repugnant
to my feelings it may be to owe anything to men who have shown
themselves the enemies and accusers of him whom I revere and love as I
ought to do, it is in all the frankness of my heart that I vow eternal
gratitude to whoever will enable me to join my husband, by taking all
responsibility from the ‘administration,’ and by giving me back my
parole, if in the event of France becoming more free it were possible to
travel without danger.
“‘It is on my knees, if necessary, that I implore this favor; imagine by
that the state I am in.
“M. Roland thus answered:—
“‘I have put, madam, your touching request under the eyes of the
committee. I must nevertheless observe that it would seem to me
imprudent for a person bearing your name to travel through France, on
account of the unpleasant impression which is at the present moment
attached to it. But circumstances may alter. I advise you to wait, and I
shall be the first to seize a favorable opportunity.’
“My mother answered him immediately as follows:—
“‘I return you thanks, sir, for the ray of hope with which you have
brightened my heart, so long unaccustomed to that feeling. Nothing can
add to what I owe to my parole and to the _administrateurs_ who rely
upon it. No degree of misfortune could ever make me think of breaking my
word, but your letter renders that duty a little more supportable, and I
already begin to feel something of that gratitude I promised you if,
delivered through your hands, I were restored to the object of my
affections, and to the happiness of offering him some consolation.
“Three months had elapsed since we had heard anything about my father.
The public papers had announced his transfer to Wessel instead of
Spandau: since then they had been silent. My mother wrote an unsealed
letter to the Duke of Brunswick, entreating the generalissimo of the
allied troops to send her some news of her husband through the French
“She also wrote thus to the king of Prussia:—
“‘SIR: Your Majesty’s well-known integrity admits of M. de La Fayette’s
wife addressing herself to you without forgetting what she owes to her
husband’s character. I have always hoped, sir, that Your Majesty would
respect virtue wherever it was to be found, and thereby give to Europe a
glorious example. It is now five long, dreadful months since I last
heard anything of M. de La Fayette, so I cannot plead his cause. But it
seems to me that both his enemies and myself speak eloquently in his
favor: they by their crimes, I by the violence of my despair. They prove
his virtue, and how much he is feared by the wicked; I show how worthy
he is of being loved. They make it a necessity for Your Majesty’s glory
not to have an object of persecution in common with them. Shall I myself
be fortunate enough to give you the occasion of restoring me to life by
delivering him?
“‘Allow me, sir, to indulge in that hope as in the one of soon owing to
you this deep debt of gratitude.
“In December M. Roland obtained from the committee the repeal of the
order for my mother’s arrest. She was still under the surveillance to
which the _ci-devant_ nobles were subjected, and could not leave the
department without express permission. But she was disengaged from her
promise, and she was not discouraged. Pecuniary interests also detained
my mother in France, not on her own account nor on that of her children,
but because she looked upon it as a sacred duty before leaving the
country to see the rights of my father’s creditors acknowledged.
“The events of the 31st of May, which assured the triumph of the
terrorist party, brought no alteration at first in our situation, but
took from us all hopes for the future.
“Towards the middle of June my mother received, through the minister of
the United States, two letters from my father, written from the dungeon
of Magdebourg. The anxiety they occasioned with respect to my father’s
health marred the joy we felt in receiving them….

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

“At that period of the Revolution, many _émigrés’_ wives thought it
necessary, for the preservation of their children’s fortune and for
their personal safety, to obtain a divorce. My mother esteemed and even
respected the virtue of several persons who thought themselves obliged
to take this step. But as for herself, the scruples of her conscience
would not have allowed her to save her life by feigning an act contrary
to Christian law, even when no one could be deceived. However, another
motive influenced her, though this one would have sufficed. Her love for
my father made her find pleasure in all that was a remembrance of him.
Whilst many pious and tender wives sought for safety in a pretended
divorce, never did she address a request to any administration whatever,
or present a petition, without feeling satisfaction in beginning
everything she wrote by these words: ‘_La Femme La Fayette_.’
“On the 21st of _Brumaire_ [Nov. 12] my mother received the intelligence
that she was to be arrested on the following day. She kept this news
from us till the next morning. The hours passed away in cruel
expectation. M. Granchier, commissary of the Revolutionary Committee,
arrived at the château in the evening of the same day, with a detachment
of the National Guard of Paulhaguet. We all collected in my mother’s
room, where the order of the Committee for her arrest was read aloud.
She presented the certificate of civism given her by the _commune_. M.
Granchier answered that it was too old, and that it was of no use, not
having been countersigned by the Committee.
“‘Citoyen,’ my sister then asked, ‘are daughters prevented from
following their mother?’
“‘Yes, mademoiselle,’ answered the commissary.
“She insisted, adding that, being sixteen, she was included in the law.
He seemed moved, but changed the subject. My mother kept up everybody’s
courage. She tried to persuade us that the separation would not be a
long one.
“The jail at Brioude was already full. The newly arrived prisoners were,
nevertheless, crammed into it. My mother found herself in the midst of
all the ladies of the nobility, with whom she had had no intercourse
since the Revolution. At first they were impertinent, but they soon
shared in the admiration my mother inspired in all those who approached
her. The society of the prison was divided into _coteries_, which
cordially hated each other; but for my mother every one professed
“My mother soon became aware that she could do nothing for her
deliverance, and that, to escape greater misfortunes, her best plan was
to avoid attracting attention. One day she ventured to suggest the
necessity of giving more air to a sick woman confined in a small room
with eleven other people. This brought down on her a volley of abuse
impossible to describe. My mother was happy to find place in a room
which served as a passageway, and where three _bourgeoises_ of Brioude
were already established. By these persons she was received in a very
touching manner.
“The news my mother received at that time from Paris caused her most
painful agitation. My grandmother and my aunt de Noailles were put under
arrest in their own house, at the Hôtel de Noailles. We had occasional
opportunities of communicating with my mother. We used to send her clean
linen every week. The list was sewn on the parcel, and each time we
wrote on the back of the page, which nobody ever thought of unsewing.
She would answer us in the same way. But this mode of correspondence was
not safe enough to be employed in giving any other details than those
concerning our health.
“The innkeeper’s daughter, a child of thirteen, sometimes managed, when
carrying the prisoners’ dinner, to approach my mother. Blows, abuse of
language, all was indifferent to that courageous girl, so that she could
succeed in beholding my mother, and in letting us know that she was in
good health.
“In the course of January [1794] we found out that it was not impossible
to bribe the jailer and to gain admission into the prison. M. Frestel
(my brother’s tutor) undertook the negotiation, which was not without
danger. He succeeded. It was settled that he would take one of us every
fortnight to Brioude. My sister was the first to go. She started on
horseback in the night, remained the whole of the following day with the
good _aubergiste_, who was devoted to us, and spent the night with my
mother. But when daylight came, they were obliged to tear themselves
from each other. My sister brought back joy in the midst of us with the
details of this happy meeting. We had, each in our turn, the same
“My mother’s health bore up as well as her fortitude. She was the
comfort of those who surrounded her, ever seeking to be of service to
her companions. Thinking she might be useful to some infirm women, she
proposed to them to have their meals with her. She contrived to persuade
them that they were contributing to the common expense, when nearly all
the cost fell upon herself. She also cooked for them. The prison life
was most wearisome. The room in which she slept with five or six people
was only separated by a screen from the public passage.
“My mother soon became plunged in the deepest affliction. She learned
that my grandmother, my aunt, and the Maréchale de Noailles, my
grandfather’s mother, had been transferred to the Luxembourg.
“Towards the end of May the order to convey my mother to the prison of
La Force, in Paris, reached Brioude. You may fancy our despair when we
received our mother’s letter. The messenger had been delayed, and it was
to be feared that she was no longer at Brioude. M. Frestel set off
immediately. He was bearer of all the small jewelry possessed by the
members of the household, who had given them to be sold in order to
avoid my mother being conveyed in a cart from brigade to brigade.
“On arriving at Brioude, M. Frestel obtained a delay of twenty-four
hours. We soon joined him at the prison. We found my mother in a room by
herself, but fetters were placed near the pallet upon which she had
thrown herself to seek a little repose. The violence of my sister’s
despair was fearful to witness. Owing to M. Frestel’s entreaties, she
obtained leave from my mother to follow her, and to accompany him in
order to implore the aid of the American minister. She remained only a
short time at the prison, and left us to go to Le Puy for the purpose of
obtaining a permit to travel out of the department. She was to join my
mother on the way.
“My brother and I remained in the horrible room in which my mother was
confined. We all three offered up our prayers to God. At twelve o’clock
M. Gissaguer entered the room and said it was time to depart. My mother
gave her last instructions to George and to myself, and made us promise
to seek and to seize upon every means of joining my father. She grieved
at seeing us undergo so young such cruel misfortunes.
“My sister passed that day at Le Puy. In spite of innumerable obstacles
she succeeded in seeing the _citoyen_ Guyardin. She conjured him to have
an inquiry made with respect to my mother’s conduct and to forward it to
Paris. He did not move, remained seated at his bureau, and continued
writing, while she was addressing him in the most urgent manner. He
refused to read a letter from my mother handed to him by Anastasie,
saying that he could not trouble himself about a prisoner who was
summoned to Paris, and adding most vulgar jokes to his refusal. My
unfortunate sister left the room in a most violent state of despair and
indignation. The cruel Guyardin did not grant her the necessary
permission to travel out of the department and to follow my mother’s
carriage, and my poor sister, in despair, was obliged to let M. Frestel
set off without her.
“My mother arrived in Paris on the 19th of _Prairial_, three days before
the decree of the 22d, which organized _une terreur dans la Terreur_. At
that time no less than sixty people were daily falling victims of the
Revolutionary Tribunal. All seemed to forebode approaching death to my
mother. You may fancy the anguish of mind in which we spent the two
months which followed my mother’s departure for Paris. We were daily
expecting to hear of the greatest misfortune which could befall us.
Towards that time the château of Chavaniac and the furniture were sold.
“The peasants of the _commune_ brought us with hearty good will all that
was necessary for our subsistence. Every day it was reported that my
aunt and my sister were to be sent to the prison of Brioude, whilst my
brother and myself were to be taken to the hospital. As for my mother,
the life she was leading at La Petite Force was dreadful. At the end of
a fortnight my mother was transferred to Le Plesis. This building,
formerly a college where my father had been educated, had been turned
into a prison.
“Since the law of the 22d of _Prairial_, the Revolutionary Tribunal sent
each day sixty persons to the scaffold. One of the buildings of Le
Plesis served as a depot to the Conciergerie, so every morning twenty
prisoners could be seen departing for the guillotine. ‘The thought of
soon being one of the victims,’ my mother wrote, ‘makes one endure such
a sight with more firmness.’ Twice she fancied that she was being called
to take her place amongst the victims.
“My mother passed forty days at La Force and Le Plesis, expecting death
at every moment. In the midst of the tumult caused by the revolution of
the 10th _Thermidor_, it was for a moment believed that fresh massacres
would take place in the prisons; but soon afterward the news of
Robespierre’s death reached the captives, and it became known to them
that the executions of the Revolutionary Tribunal had ceased. My
mother’s first thought was to send to the Luxembourg. The jailer’s
answer revealed to her the fearful truth. My grandmother, with my aunt
de Noailles and the Maréchale de Noailles had been sent to the scaffold
on the 4th _Thermidor_: the three generations perished together. How can
I give you an idea of my mother’s despair? ‘Return thanks to God,’ she
wrote to us later, ‘for having preserved my strength, my life, my
reason; do not regret that you were far from me. God kept me from
revolting against Him, but for a long time I could not have borne the
slightest appearance of human comfort.’”
Madame La Fayette in her “Life of the Duchesse d’Ayen” gives the
following interesting though painful particulars regarding the execution
of her mother, grandmother, and sister:—
“My mother and my sister were put under arrest in the first days of
October, but allowed to remain well guarded at the Hôtel de Noailles. A
month later I myself was taken as a prisoner to Brioude, and it became
still more difficult to correspond.
“Persecutions went on increasing. One day the _detenus_ had to answer
questions on their actions and on their thoughts. My mother and my
sister were prepared, and answered those who questioned them with their
usual tact and straightforwardness. The inventory of all that was in
their possession was drawn up. My mother, fearing she might be made to
swear that she had concealed nothing, had hung to her side, in the shape
of a watch chain, all the diamonds which were left her. They were not
taken; she sold them that same day to a jeweller, who gave her
immediately the money she required to pay the small debts which were
owing, but she never received the full amount of what was due her, the
jeweller having been beheaded on the following day.
“Nothing in the world was now left them, save some few trifles of my
sister’s, which were sold, and what belonged to M. Grellet (tutor to my
sister’s children), who had given them all he possessed. This extreme
poverty and all its consequences are hardly worth mentioning in the
midst of so many other and greater trials. Each day brought some new
misfortune or some fresh disaster. My father not being able to obtain
satisfactory certificates of residence, was obliged to leave his family
and return to Switzerland, where he had been living for some time for
his health. My father’s men of business had all been arrested. It was
soon the turn of the members of ‘Parlement,’ and M. de Saron, my
mother’s brother-in-law, was executed on Easter Sunday, 1794.
“For some time past even women had not been spared. Yet my mother and my
sister were far from thinking that their personal safety was threatened;
their hearts were, however, prepared, and they had asked M. Carrichon if
he would have the courage to accompany them to the foot of the scaffold.
“At last, in the month of May, they were ordered to quit the Hôtel de
Noailles; and, after having been led through Paris from prison door to
prison door, they were at last conducted with the Maréchale de Noailles
(my father’s mother) to the Luxembourg. On arriving there my mother’s
courage did not fail her, and she was much calmer than she had been for
a long time past.
“The care my grandmother required occupied them incessantly.
Notwithstanding all the misfortunes which were falling on her at once,
my mother forgot none of those who were dear to her. It was M. Grellet
who broke to her the news of my arrival in the prisons of Paris; she
cruelly felt this fresh misfortune, and succeeded in sending me prudent
“At last, after having seen falling around her nearly all the victims
who had been heaped into the same prison, as well as those who were
dearest to her, she was summoned with her mother-in-law and daughter to
the Conciergerie, that is to say, to death. They arrived at the
Conciergerie worn out with fatigue. M. Grellet had repaired to a café
next to the gate, and succeeded in exchanging a few words with my
“Deprived of everything, they had barely sufficient money to obtain a
glass of currant water. The persons who shared their cell prepared a
single miserable bed for the three prisoners. My mother was dejected,
and could not yet believe that so great a crime was possible. She
stretched herself on the pallet, and entreated my sister to lie down by
her side.
“Madame de Noailles refused to lie down, saying that she had too short a
time to live for it to be worth while to take that trouble. Her mother
passed part of the night in trying to persuade her to do so. ‘Think,’
she said, ‘of what we shall have to go through to-morrow.’
“‘Ah, mamma!’ my sister answered, ‘what need have we to rest on the eve
of eternity?’
“She asked for a prayer-book and a light, by which she was enabled to
read. She prayed during the whole night. She interrupted herself
occasionally to attend to her grandmother, who slept for several hours
at different intervals, and who, each time she woke, would read over and
over again her _acte d’accusation_, repeating to herself:—
“‘No; I cannot be condemned for a conspiracy which I have never heard
of; I shall defend my cause before the judges in such a manner that they
will be obliged to acquit me.’ She thought of her dress, and feared that
it might be tumbled; she settled her cap, and could not believe that,
for her, that day was to be the last.
“The next morning, my mother, somewhat rested, saw more clearly the doom
which awaited her, showed great courage, spoke tenderly of her
grandchildren, and begged of the prisoners who were present to take
charge of her watch for them. ‘It is the last thing I can send them,’
she said. She took some chocolate with the Madames de Boufflers
(relations of M. de La Fayette), and was afterwards summoned to the
horrible tribunal. I have been told that my sister, whilst dressing my
mother, seemed still to find happiness in attending upon her. She was
heard to say, ‘Courage, mamma, it is only one hour more!’
“My sister, the Vicomtesse de Noailles, entreated the prisoners to send
to her children an empty pocket-book, a portrait, and some hair. But she
was told that such a mission would endanger the persons who occupied the
room. The name of her sister, Madame de La Fayette, was pronounced in
that fearful abode. She imposed silence for fear of putting me in
danger. She made no attempt to seek repose. Her eyes remained opened to
contemplate that heaven into which she was about to enter. Her face
reflected the serenity of her soul. The idea of immortality supported
her courage. Never was so much calm witnessed in such a place. But she
would forget everything to be of use to her mother and grandmother.
“Nine o’clock struck. The _Huissiers_ carried off their victims; tears
were shed by those who had only known them for twelve hours. The mothers
made some arrangements for the event of an acquittal. But my sister, who
did not doubt of the doom which awaited them, thanked Madame Lavet (one
of their fellow-prisoners), with that charming manner which was in her a
gift of nature, expressed all her gratitude for her kind attentions, and
added, ‘_Votre figure est heureuse; vous ne périrez pas_.’
“M. Grellet, who the day before had been confined in a cell for three
hours on account of the interest he had evinced for the prisoners,
having been released as by a miracle, repaired to M. Carrichon. This
good priest, as well as M. Brun, obtained from Heaven strength enough to
follow the prisoners on the way from the Conciergerie to the scaffold;
there my sister recognized M. Carrichon, and, with a presence of mind
sublime at such a moment, she pointed him out to my mother, who appeared
agitated, but who collected all her courage, and received fresh strength
by the grace of absolution. From that moment till the last, her thoughts
were no longer on earthly things; and during the three-quarters of an
hour she had to wait at the foot of the scaffold, she did not cease to
pray with fervor and resignation. MM. Brun and Carrichon remained till
all was over. I feel that the thought of following in footsteps so dear
would have taken from the horror of so awful an end.
“_Je renonce à rien exprimer, parce que ce que je sens est