There is no more Vendée

Gavin Jacobson

  • The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution by Timothy Tackett
    Harvard, 463 pp, £25.00, February 2015, ISBN 978 0 674 73655 9

Helen Maria Williams travelled to France in July 1790 to take part in the Fête de la Fédération that marked the first anniversary of the fall of the Bastille. She described the pageantry at the Champ de Mars as the ‘triumph of humankind; it was man asserting the noblest privilege of his nature; and it required but the common feelings of humanity, to become in that moment a citizen of the world.’ In 1794, in the midst of the Terror, she felt differently:

I have no words to paint the strong feeling of reluctance with which I always returned from our walks in Paris, that den of carnage, that slaughterhouse of man … We were obliged to pass the square of the revolution, where we saw the guillotine erected, the crowd assembled for the bloody tragedy, and the gens d’armes on horseback, followed by victims who were to be sacrificed, entering the square. Such was the daily spectacle which had succeeded the painted shows, the itinerant theatres, the mountebank, the dance, the song, the shifting scenes of harmless gaiety, which used to attack the cheerful crowd as they passed from the Tuileries to the Champs Elysées.

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