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After the revolution

The French Revolution I and II
Forfatter: Thomas Carlyle
Forlag: Martins Forlag (Danmark/Norge)
Why are all the transitions of society an earthquake that strives for something better but ends up in something terrible?


I read a Danish translation of Carlyle's two-piece work, it is Uffe Birkedal who is a translator – he is very generous with many footnotes. It is from 1926; the opening is fantastic and about the aging King Louis XV lying dead – and no one in France cares, deprived of court, the king's son, and his Austrian wife, behind the big window in Versailles – "Oeil-de-Boeuf" ; or as it says in a footnote: "The hall next to the King's private rooms in the palace, thus named after its large round window. The word was also often used to denote the Hoffolk, who gathered there in the hope of representing the King. "

From the king's bedside, so to speak, Carlyle studies the beginnings of the French Revolution and takes more and more of its height as it really does, and you, the world to which it goes, and often with British sarcasm, about a whole people who goes to bed hungry and a court and a nobility give the bark. The book is full of hard-hitting aphorisms, such as the one about Louis XV who did not tolerate anyone talking about death, although sometimes, after hunting, he pondered death, and once he met a poor farmer with a poor tossed on a home-grown catafalk, asked who was dead, and answered that there was one the king had seen working in his neighborhood, whereupon the king asked what he died of, hunger, the farmer said, as the king tracked the horse.

The book is full of hard-hitting aphorisms.

Then the old king died behind the ox's eye, May 10, 1774, and a new era began, and this chapter begins with a quote from Montesquieu's "Happy the People, whose Yearbooks are boring"; it is a quote that Carlyle twists and does not quite want to grasp, and that Montesquieus also meant, put at the forefront: "Happy are the People whose Yearbooks are undescribed." For that was what happened in France; not what has been, but what came, and about what came, it was completely silent, and he asks if it was ominous, as the answer lies in the question, and an unhealthy peace rested over France for the next ten years after the old king's death.

Unpaid bills

And what came was silence, as if nobody wanted to know anything – everyone just wants to forget – and Carlyle calls what happens during Louis XVI, for a silly golden age: the golden age of paper, for bank paper you could buy when it was no more gold, before it became a veritable earthquake, and the king, who used to be a parrot, had also become a weather rooster; that was before he got a new finance minister: Jacques Turgot. Carlyle writes that Turgot had abilities, was honorable, had insight and heroic willpower, there was only one thing that made the nobility, the king and the clergy look red: Turgot believed that they should pay taxes as the people, and thus he got the pike.

It was the parliament in Paris that was the first sign of a storm after the silence, and that someone mentioned the word National Assembly at the same time as the money diminished, and soon the golden age was over and 25 millions of Frenchmen went to bed hungry. It began to shake under the feet of the nobility; the people shouted for bread, and those who shouted got louder and louder, and something was going on, and the earthquake grew and the court realized nothing – until it narrowed from parliament, and the Parisian parliament wanted to abolish the kingdom, not overnight, but it grew more and more fierce anger, and the parate text of the third book in the first volume is also called "Unpaid bills".

One finance minister after another failed to conjure more money from the royal treasury, and Carlyle did not understand the eternal distress of this royal treasury; it is a sarcastic sentiment, or as he also writes: "A bill drawn on the reality of nature, and presented there for payment – with that answer: no cover."

The 22. In February, the king summoned the nobility to a meeting in Versailles, as well as lawyers, theologians and presidents of parliament, and when Lafayette spoke, he was a well-known marquee who had been a general in the American War of Independence, and now he proposed to convene a national assembly. This proposal became like a low echo that almost triggered the French earthquake; it did not, but it opened for a national assembly.

It was a beginning revolt in the Paris Parliament, "and an Oeil-de-Boeuf in Abolition is the King's Crown in Danger," Carlyle writes. Paris cooked; the streets are flooded with posters, handwritten brochures, ballad singers. There was also a rift between the provincial and court districts, it was boiling everywhere, and this particular chaotic madness, where everything became the street parliament, and the street parliament and the public parliament overlapped; not yet, but they meet after a while, and then the twilight fell over Paris, and finally all of France became dark, blood-dark. From nowhere? It is not correct; there had been a mumbling undercurrent, and what was mumbling was: Where's the third? And the rebels answered, "What is the third stand? Everything! What has it been so far under our government? Nothing. What does it require to be? Something! "

third Standen

It was this that became the debate and prompted the Paris Parliament to propose that they were, by election, the French National Assembly, and that they could oust the king and abolish the nobility, that is where it burned; a whole new constitution, taken after the American, to be in a free world, without nobility, without priests, without lawyers, and completely in the hands of the street parliament and all those who called from the Paris parliament to oust the king, the queen and introduce a national assembly; right there the two different parliaments became one: the vulgar was embedded in the public and seemingly factual Paris parliament, which was no longer objective; So far from there, there was a rush of various groups' furious need to tell how cruel everything was.

But then came the statement that put everything in place: "The third stand is the nation," and the government of Versailles was unsure of introducing the national assembly; borrowing an ear for such a program would endanger the royal house, the church in danger, the state in danger, the money box in danger, but what would happen if the king did not listen to all of France; everything that rises from the streets, also it will threaten the royal house. Thus it became, under the royal law of 24. January, that the Standing Assembly should meet and France should elect its representatives.

Thomas Carlyle

France became electric, Carlyle writes, and Paris was full of representatives who consulted each other and looked around for a room in Versailles, and in a footnote it says that it was not intended to be in Versailles, but the king decided it , as he was hunting.

It was the dining room that artisans converted into a hall with a raised throne, room for 600 bourgeois representatives, surrounded on both sides by 300 clergy, and the same number of aristocrats: “It has tall galleries, where ladies of honor, in radiant Gaze d'or , foreigners and other persons in gold cuts and with white calf in a number of two thousand can sit and watch. "

Carlyle appoints another king in the hall: Mirabeaus, whom Carlyle calls a "the foremost Frenchman of her time," a world subject with a lion's arm, and makes a twist on Louis XIV's statement: "The National Assembly? That's me. "

The contrast of the man with the lioness, according to Carlyle's canon, was the least impressive of the 600 representatives: a man of powerless appearance, and behind the glasses a worried look, his face was gall-colored – the person was a lawyer from Arras, and his name was Robespierre.

Carlyle also mentions a third man, who was from the third state: a muscular figure, with dark brows and plump flat face; there was an unused force in him, writes Carlyle, as with a Hercules. It was Danton.

Another case, which became the case itself, was that the three stands became one stand: the third, as the clergy and the nobility withdrew and the bourgeois departed from Versailles to Paris, more specifically to the ball room of Rue St. François, and the oath in the ball house is well known, and there became the third state of a national assembly and the revolution was a fact.

Then Carlyle delves into the violent chaos that caused France to become the purest madness of anger, ever-hungry, too little bread and too little money, and a king, a queen and a court that was completely down on the nerve threads, in fear of what was coming and what was coming was a terrible rage; they decapitated Louis XVI, and they brought together the slain Marie Antoinette, as well as many clergy, aristocrats, then Mirabeaus, Danton, then Robespierre. The end of the visa is an ironic twist from the revolution, it may seem, since General Bonaparte capped the thin remnants of the revolution; what remained after all the killings, and turned the bourgeois revolution in France into an empire.


Unlike the Russian Revolution, before it was embarrassed by Lenin, many artists were keen to challenge the contemporary doxa, but this was not the case in France, or in the United States, not to mention China, Iran or Cuba; What was it about the Russian Revolution that made the artists try out new strategies?

David became the painter of the French Revolution, after all Eden in the Ball House, Marat's death and so on, but it is quite a conventional grip he uses, he even painted Napoleon, heroically on a steep horse. The funny thing was that it was the American Revolution that was the model for the French, and Hannah Arendt writes in the book On Revolution that it was the French Revolution, not the American one, that set fire to the world, it was the consequence of the direction the French Revolution took – not the act of the Founding Fathers. The American Revolution was successful because "the Founding Father" wanted to solve a political problem, while the French were looking to fight poverty.

The French Revolution set fire to the world.

The sad truth, she also writes, is that the French Revolution, which ended in a disaster, had created world history, while the American Revolution, so triumphantly successful, remained an event of a slightly smaller and local event. Robespierre's terror, she writes, was nothing more than an attempt to organize the entire French people into a party machine, and she compared the French Revolution with the Russian, and in a way Lenin became the Russian Robespierre – and Stalin the reborn Robespierre.

Benjamin Franklin was in Paris thinking of New England and its happiness, where each man was self-employed, had a voice in public affairs, and lived in a neat, warm house with enough food and fuel. Arendt quotes John Adams, who writes that the poor man's conscience was pure, though he was ashamed; he was simply invisible. What about the 400 000 slaves who lived in the United States? The American Revolution seemed more like a disengagement war from England, although the Constitution was radical; maybe the civil war was the late and bloody revolution in America?

Our own constitution from 1814 was marked by the American and French revolution, and Knut Dørum writes in the anthology Allmenningen (editor Jostein Gripsrud) that Norway's constitution gave between 40 and 50 percent of men over 25 years voting rights, unfortunately not for women before 1913, but despite this: "Norway was probably Europe's most democratic voting right at that time," universal suffrage for men were first introduced to 1898.

Why are all transitions – all transitions of society – earthquakes, which hope for something better, but which becomes something absolutely terrible; what about Cuba, Iran and China, or why not the eerie caliphate IS; was it an attempt at a retrorevolution, and why was this attempt, or whatever it was, so uncanny, and who were all the European youths who were willing to sacrifice their lives for this cruel caliphate?

I agree with Hannah Arendt that the American Revolution is to go ahead of the French, or the Russian. And the perpetual question is why such earthquakes always affect freedom of expression and the intellectuals.

Translated into Danish by Uffe Birkedal

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