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Title: The Dungeons of Old Paris - Being the Story and Romance of the most Celebrated Prisons - of the Monarchy and the Revolution
Author: Hopkins, Tighe
Language: English
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                       The Dungeons of Old Paris

                      Being the Story and Romance
                     of the most Celebrated Prisons
                          of the Monarchy and
                             the Revolution


                             Tighe Hopkins

      Author of "Lady Bonnie's Experiment," "Nell Haffenden," "The
          Nugents of Carriconna," "The Incomplete Adventurer,"
                      "Kilmainham Memories," etc.




                          G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS

                          NEW YORK AND LONDON

                        The Knickerbocker Press



                          COPYRIGHT, 1897, BY
                          G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS
                  Entered at Stationers' Hall, London
                            By WARD & DOWNEY









          V. THE TEMPLE

         VI. BICÊTRE



         IX. THE LUXEMBOURG IN '93

          X. THE BASTILLE



















                       THE DUNGEONS OF OLD PARIS.

                               CHAPTER I.


_Triste comme les portes d'une prison—Sad as the gates of Prison_, is an
old French proverb which must once have had an aching significance. To
the citizen of Paris it must have been familiar above most other popular
sayings, since he had the menace of a prison door at almost every turn!
For the "Dungeons of Old Paris" were well-nigh as thick as its churches
or its taverns. Up to the period, or very close upon the period, of the
Revolution of 1789, everyone who exercised what was called with quite
unconscious irony the "right of justice" (_droit de justice_), possessed
his prison. The King was the great gaoler-in-chief of the State, but
there were countless other gaolers. The terrible prisons of State—two of
the most renowned of which, the Dungeon of Vincennes and the Bastille,
have been partially restored in these pages—are almost hustled out of
sight by the towers and ramparts of the host of lesser prisons. To every
town in France there was its dungeon, to every puissant noble his
dungeon, to every lord of the manor his dungeon, to every bishop and
Abbé his dungeon. The dreaded cry of "_Laissez passer la justice du
Roi!_" "Way for the King's justice!" was not oftener heard, nor more
unwillingly, than "Way for the Duke's justice!" or "Way for the justice
of my lord Bishop!" For indeed the mouldy records of those hidden
dungeons and torture rooms of château and monastery, the _carceres duri_
and the _vade in pace_, into which the hooded victim was lowered by
torchlight, and out of which his bones were never raked, might shew us
scenes yet more forbidding than the darkest which these chapters unfold.
But they have crumbled and passed, and history itself no longer cares to
trouble their infected dust.

Scenes harsh enough, though not wholly unrelieved (for romance is of the
essence of their story), are at hand within the walls of certain prisons
whose names and memories have survived. I have undone the bolts of
nearly all the more celebrated prisons of historic Paris, few of which
are standing at this day. One or two have been passed by, or but very
briefly surveyed, for the reason that to include them would have been to
commit myself to a certain amount of not very necessary repetition. I
fear that even as the book stands I must have repeated myself more than
once, but this has been for the most part in the attempt to enforce
points which seemed not to have been brought out or emphasised with
sufficient clearness elsewhere. Dealing with prisons which were in
existence for centuries, and some of which were associated with almost
every great and stirring epoch of French history, selection of periods
and events was a paramount necessity. The endeavour has been to give
back to each of these cruel old dungeons, Prison d'État, Conciergerie,
or Maison de Justice, its special and distinctive character; to shew
just what each was like at the most interesting or important dates in
its career; and, as far as might be, to find the reason of that dreary
proverb, "Sad as the gates of Prison." Light chequers the shades in some
of these dim vaults, and the echoes of the dour days they witnessed are
not all tears and lamentations. Something is shewn, it is hoped, of
every kind of "justice" that was recognised in Paris until the days of
'89, when everything that had been, fell with the terrific fall of the
monarchy:—feudal justice, the justice of absolute kings and of ministers
who were but less absolute, provosts' and bishops' justice, and the
justice of prison governors and lieutenants of police. Often it is no
more than a glimpse that is afforded; but the picture as a whole is,
perhaps, not altogether lacking in completeness. Once inside a prison,
the prisoner is the first study; and there are no more moving or pitiful
objects in the annals of France than the victims of its criminal justice
in every age. Slit the curtain of cobweb that has formed over the narrow
_grille_ of the dungeon, put back on their shrill hinges the double and
triple doors of the cell, peer into the hole that ventilates the conical
_oubliette_, and one may see once more under what conditions life was
possible, and amid what surroundings death was a blessing, in the days
when Paris was studded with prisons, when every abbot was free to
wall-up his monks alive, and every seigneur to erect his gallows in his
own courtyard.

For during all these days, dragging slowly into ages, justice has seldom
more than one face to shew us: a face of cruelty and vengeance. The
thing which we call the "theory of punishment" had really no existence.
Punishment was not to chasten and reform; it was scarcely even to deter;
it was mainly and almost solely to revenge. What the notion of prison
was, I have tried briefly to explain in the chapters on "The
Conciergerie," "The Dungeon of Vincennes," and, I think, elsewhere. We
are strictly to remember, however, that the vindictive idea of
punishment, and the idea of prison as a place in which (1) to hold and
(2) to torment anyone who might be unfortunate enough to get in there,
were not at all peculiar to France. The history of punishment in our own
country leaves no room for boasting; and France has not more to reproach
herself with in the memory of the Bastille, than we have in the actual
and visible existence of Newgate. France has _Archives de la Bastille_;
we have Howard's _State of Prisons_ and Griffiths's _Chronicles of
Newgate_. We are not to forget that, in the "age of chivalry" in
England, it was unsafe for visitors in London to stroll a hundred yards
from their inn after sunset; and that, in the reign of Elizabeth,
Shakespeare might have penned his lines on "the quality of mercy" within
earshot of the rabble on their way to gloat over the disembowelling of a
"traitor," or flocking to surround the stake at which a woman was to die
by fire. In a word, the sense of vengeance, and the thirst for
vengeance, which underlay the old criminal law of France, and of all
Europe, were not less the basis of our own criminal law until well on
into the second quarter of this century. But the French, it would seem,
have paid the cost of their quick dramatic sense. They have handed down
to us, in history, drama, and romance, the picture of Louis XI. arm in
arm with his torturer and hangman, Tristan; the spectacle of the noble
whose sword was convertible into a headsman's axe; and of the abbot
whose girdle was ever ready for use as a halter. Histories akin to these
(and, at the root, there is more of history than of legend in all of
them) are to be delved out of our own records; but the French have been
more candid in the matter, and a good deal more skilled with the pen in
chronicles of the sort.

On the other hand, England never had quite such bitter memories of her
prisons as France had of hers. The struggle for freedom in England was
never a struggle against the prisons; and it was not consciously a
struggle against the prisons in France. But the destruction of a prison
was the beginning of the French Revolution; and when the Revolution was
over, its first historians took the prisons of France as the type and
example of the immemorial tyranny of their kings. In one important
respect, therefore, the dungeons of old Paris stand apart from the
prisons of the rest of Europe.

I had proposed to myself, in beginning this introductory chapter, to
attempt a comparison, more or less detailed, between these ruined and
obliterated prisons of historic Paris and the French or English prisons
of to-day. But a final glance at the chapters as they were going to
press counselled me to abstain. There is no point to start from. The old
and the new prisons have a space between them wider than divides the
poles. The key that turned a lock of the Châtelet, Bicêtre, or the
Bastille will open no cell of any modern prison, French or English.
Punishment is systematised, and has its basis in two ideas,—the safety
of peoples living in communities, and the cure of certain moral
obliquities; or, it is quite without system, and means only the
vengeance of the strong upon the weak. Between the prison which was
intended either as a living tomb, or as a starting-place for the
pillory, the whipping-post, or the scaffold; and the prison which
proposes to punish, to deter, or to reform the bad, the diseased, the
weak, or the luckless members of society, there is not a point at which
comparison is possible.




                              CHAPTER II.

                           THE CONCIERGERIE.

If walls had tongues, those of the Conciergerie might rehearse a
wretched story. This is, I believe, the oldest prison in Europe; it
would speak with the twofold authority of age and black experience. Give
these walls a voice, and they might say:

"Look at the buildings we enclose. There is a little of every style in
our architecture, reflecting the many ages we have witnessed. Paris and
France, in all the reigns of all the Kings, have been locked in here,
starved here, tortured here, and sent from here to die by hanging, by
beheading, by dismembering by horses, by fire, and by the guillotine. We
have found chains and a bitter portion for the victims of all the
tyrannies of France,—those of the Feudal Ages, those of the Absolute
Monarchy, those of the Revolution, and those of the Restoration. There
is no discord, trouble, passion, or revolution in France which is not
recorded in our annals. Politics, religion, feuds of parties and of
houses, private rancours and the enmities of queens, the vengeance of
kings and the jealousies of their ministers, have filled in turn the
vaults of this little city of the dead-in-life. We have seen the killing
of the innocent; the torment of a Queen; the tears of a Dubarry and the
stoicism of a hideous Cartouche; the collapse of a Marquise de
Brinvilliers under torture and the silent heroism of a Charlotte Corday
on her way to the guillotine; the bold immodesty of a La Voisin on the
rack and the solemn abandon of the 'last supper' of the Girondins. We
have seen the worst that France could shew of wickedness and the best
that it could shew of patriotism; we have seen the beginning and the end
of everything that makes the history of a prison."

Most French writers who have touched upon the Conciergerie seem to have
felt the oppression of the place; their recollections or impressions are
recorded in a spirit of melancholy or indignation.

    "Ah, that Conciergerie!" exclaims Philarète Chasles; "there is a
    sense of suffocation in its buildings; one thinks of the prisoner,
    innocent or guilty, crushed beneath the weight of society. Here are
    the oldest dungeons of France; Paris has scarcely begun to be when
    those dungeons are opened."

The strain of Dulaure, the historian of Paris, is not less depressing:

    "The Conciergerie, the most ancient and the most formidable of all
    our prisons, which forms a part of the buildings of the Palais de
    Justice, one time palace of the kings, has preserved to this day the
    hideous character of the feudal ages. Its towers, its courtyard, and
    the dim passage by which the prisoners are admitted, have tears in
    their very aspect. Pity on the wight who, condemned to sojourn
    there, has not the wherewithal to pay for the hire of a bed! For him
    a lodging on the straw in some dark and mouldy chamber, cheek by
    jowl with wretches penniless like himself."[1]

Footnote 1:

  _Histoire de Paris._

[Illustration: MADAME DUBARRY.]

In the days when Paris had not so much as a gate to shut in the face of
the invader, the citizen raftsmen of the Seine thought it well to have a
prison, and "dug a hole in the middle of their isle." This, it seems,
was the sorry beginning of the Conciergerie; but the details of that
vanished epoch are scant. Palace and prison are thought to have been
constructed at about the same date: the palace, which was principally a
fortress, was the residence of the kings; the Conciergerie was their
dungeon. Rebuilt by Saint Louis, the Conciergerie became in part—as its
name implies—the dwelling of the Concierge of the palace. According to
Larousse, the Concierge "was in some sort the governor of the royal
house, and had the keeping of the King's prisoners, with the right of
_low_ and _middle_ justice" (_basse et moyenne justice_). In 1348, the
Concierge took the official title of _bailli_; the functions and
privileges of the office were enlarged, and it was held by many persons
of distinction, amongst whom was Jacques Coictier, the famous doctor of
Louis XI. As the practice was, in an age when every gaoler "exploited"
his prisoners, the concierge-bailli taxed the victuals he supplied them
with, and charged what he pleased for the hire of beds and other
cell-equipments; while it happened more than once, says Larousse, "that
prisoners who were entitled to be released on a judge's order, were
detained until they had paid all prison fees." On such a system were the
old French gaols administered. The office of concierge-bailli, with its
voluminous powers, and its manifold abuses, was in existence until the
era of the Revolution.

Justice under the old régime counted sex as nothing. The physical
weakness and finer nervous organisation of woman were allowed no claim
upon its mercy. Primary or capital punishment, as to burning and
beheading, was the same for women as for men, and the shocking apparatus
of the torture chamber served for both sexes. The elaborate rules for
the application of the Question published in Louis XIV.'s reign (and
abolished only in the reign of Louis XVI.) specified the costume which
women _and girls_ should wear in the hands of the torturer.[2]

Footnote 2:

  "Si c'est une femme ou fille, lui sera laissé une jupe avec sa chemise
  et sera sa jupe liée aux genoux."

The black walls of the torture chamber in the Conciergerie, with their
ring-bolts and benches of stone, gave back the groans of many thousands
of mutilated sufferers. There were the "Question ordinary" and the
"Question extraordinary"; and if the first failed to extract a
confession, the second seems almost always to have been applied. The
extravagant cruelty of the age frequently added sentence of torture to
the death sentence; and this was probably done in every case in which
the condemned was thought to be withholding the name of an accomplice.
Far on into the history of France these sentences were dealt out to, and
executed upon, women as well as men; and with as artistic a disregard of
human pain or shame in the one sex as in the other.

We are in the presence of a high civilisation, or at least a highly
boasted one, in the days of Louis XIV.; but public sentiment is not
offended by the knowledge that a woman is being tortured by the
_questionnaire_ and his assistants in the Conciergerie; nor are many
persons shocked by seeing a woman on the scaffold semi-nude in the
coarse hands of the headsman, or struggling amid blazing faggots in a
Paris square. Nowadays, whether in France or in England, the _mauvais
quart d'heure_ (which, at the guillotine or on the gallows, is usually a
half-minute at the utmost) pays the score of the worst of criminals; but
in the advanced and cultured France of the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries a Marquise de Brinvilliers must pass through the torture
chamber on her way to the block, and a Ravaillac and a Damiens (after a
like ordeal) are put to death in a manner which sends a thrill of horror
through Europe, and which is not afterwards outdone in any camp of
American Red Indians.

The extraordinary criminal drama of the Marquise de Brinvilliers has
been vulgarised not a little by legend, by romance, and by the stage;
but is there cause for wonder that a series of crimes which made Paris
quake from its royal boudoirs to the extremities of its darkest alleys
should have inspired writers to the fourth and fifth generations?

In the hands of De Brinvilliers and her lover and accomplice, the Gascon
officer Sainte-Croix, poison became a polite art; and the accident of
marriage associated the Marchioness with an industrial art which was of
great renown in Paris,—I mean, the Gobelin Manufacture, or Royal
Manufacture of Crown Tapestries. From the fourteenth century, in the
Faubourg Saint-Marcel and on the Bièvre River—the water of which was
considered specially good for dyeing purposes,—there were established
certain drapers and wool-dyers; and amongst them, in 1450, was a wealthy
dyer named Jean Gobelin, who had acquired large possessions on the banks
of the river. His business, after his death, was continued by his son
Philibert, who made it more than ever profitable, and who on his
death-bed bequeathed handsome portions to his sons. The family divided
between them, in 1510, ten mansions, gardens, orchards, and lands. Not
less fruitful were the labours of their successors, and when the name of
Gobelin had grown into celebrity, the popular voice bestowed it, says
Dulaure, upon the district in which their establishment was situated.

Immensely enriched, the Gobelins ceased to occupy themselves with
business, and took over various employments in the magistracy, army, and
finance. Some of them succeeded in obtaining the rank and title of
Marquis. From the middle of the sixteenth to the middle of the
seventeenth century, the Gobelins held high offices, or married into
office; and were notable amongst the merchant princes whose illustrious
coffers and power to assert themselves won places for them amid the
hereditary aristocracy of France. Into this family entered by marriage,
in 1651, Marie Marguerite d'Aubrai, daughter of the _Lieutenant Civil_,
or Civil Magistrate of Paris. Her husband, Antoine Gobelin, was the
Marquis de Brinvilliers; a title which she was to cover with an infamy
as great and enduring as the fame of the Gobelin Tapestries.

The Marquise's gallantries (a term which in the seventeenth century
embraced a greater variety of moral eccentricities than the Decalogue
has provided for) were quite eclipsed by her celebrity as a poisoner.
With her performances in this art—in which she seems to have been
trained by Sainte-Croix—began that incredible series of murders, and
attempted murders, known as _L'Affaire des Poisons_, which both
characterised and lent a _special_ character to the morals of the age of
the Grand Monarque.

It was the accidental death of her lover, in 1675, which exposed and
brought the vengeance of the law on La Brinvilliers. Sainte-Croix was
conducting some experiment with poisons in his laboratory, when the
glass mask with which he had covered his face suddenly broke, and he
fell dead on the spot. Letters of Mme. de Brinvilliers were amongst the
suspicious objects found in the laboratory by the police, and she fled
to London. One of Sainte-Croix' servants was put to the Question, and
his confession did not improve the situation of the Marquise. Leaving
London, she hid by turns in Brussels and Liège; and in a convent in the
latter town she was discovered by the detective Desgrais, who got her
out by a ruse, and brought her back to Paris. Her appearance in the
torture chamber of the Conciergerie was not long delayed. All her
fascinations failed her with those bloodless cross-examiners, and as she
persisted in denying one charge after another, she saw the executioner
and his attendants make ready the apparatus for the torture by water.
She summoned a little shew of raillery: "Surely, gentlemen, you don't
think that with a figure like mine I can swallow those three buckets of
water! Do you mean to drown me? I simply cannot drink it." "Madame,"
replied the examiner-in-chief, "we shall see"; and the Marchioness was
bound upon the trestle.

For a time her courage sustained her, but, as the torture grew sharper,
avowals came slowly, which must have amazed the hardened ears that
received them.

"Who was your first victim?"

"M. d'Aubrai—my father."

"You were very devout at this time, attending church and visiting

"I was testing the powers of our science on the patients. I gave
poisoned biscuits to the sick."

"You had two brothers?"

"Yes ... we were two too many in my family. Lachaussée, Sainte-Croix'
valet, had instructions to poison my brothers; they died in the country,
with some of their friends, after eating a pigeon-pie which Lachaussée
used to make to perfection."

"You poisoned one of your children?"

"Sainte-Croix hated it!"

"You wanted to poison your husband?"

"Sainte-Croix for some reason prevented it. After I had administered the
poison, he would give my husband an antidote."

Before she was released from the trestle, Madame's confession was
complete. Sainte-Croix, imprisoned in the Bastille, on a
_lettre-de-cachet_ obtained by M. de Brinvilliers, had there made the
acquaintance of an Italian chemist, named Exili, who had taught him the
whole art and mystery of poison. Exili's cell in the Bastille was the
first laboratory of Sainte-Croix, who proved afterwards so apt a pupil
that, as his mistress and accomplice avowed, he could conceal a deadly
poison in a flower, an orange, a letter, a glove, "or in nothing at

After sentence of death had been passed on this most miserable woman,
she was denied the consolations of the Church, but a priest found
courage to give her absolution as she was carried to the scaffold. The
Marchioness was followed to her death by the husband whom she had tried
in vain to send to _his_ death, and who, it is said, wept beside her the
whole way from the Conciergerie to the Place de Grève. Conspicuous in
the enormous crowd assembled in the square were women of fashion and
rank, whom the noble murderess rallied on the spectacle she had provided
for them. One of the ladies was that distinguished gossip, Madame de
Sévigné, who wrote the whole scene down for her daughter on the
following day. De Brinvilliers was beheaded, and her body burnt to

This signal example—the torture, beheading, and burning of a peeress of
France—was signally void of effect.

The secrets of Sainte-Croix and La Brinvilliers had not been buried with
the one, nor scattered with the ashes of the other. Four years later,
Paris talked of nothing but poison and the revival of the "black art"
which was associated with it; and, in 1680, the King established at the
Arsenal a court specially charged to try cases of poisoning and magic.
The notoriety of the widow Montvoisin, more commonly known as La Voisin,
who dealt extensively in both arts, was inferior only to that of the
Brinvilliers. Duchesses, marchionesses, countesses, and other high dames
of the Court were concerned in this scandal, and Louis himself was
active in seeking to bring the culprits of title to justice,—or to get
them out of the way. He sent a private message to the Comtesse de
Soissons, advising her that if she were innocent she should go to the
Bastille for a time, in which case he would stand by her, and that if
she were guilty, it would be well for her to quit Paris without delay.
The Comtesse, who was "famous at the Court of Louis XIV. for her
dissolute habits," fled and was exiled to Brussels; the Marquise
d'Alluye or d'Allaye was banished to Amboise, Mme. de Bouillon to
Nevers, and M. de Luxembourg was imprisoned for two years in the
Bastille. A far more terrible expiation was prepared for La Voisin.

Outwardly, this was a woman of a grosser type than the Marchioness
Brinvilliers. The Marchioness, is described as "_gracieuse, élégante,
spirituelle et polie_." La Voisin was a repellent fat creature, as
coarse in speech as in appearance. Yet she lived as a woman of society
(_en femme de qualitè_); and composed and sold to the beauties and
gallants of the Court, poisons, charms, philters, and secrets to procure
lovers or to outwit rivals; she called up spirits for a fee, and would
shew the Devil if one paid the tariff for a glimpse of that

Footnote 3:


Her attitude in the Salle de la Question of the Conciergerie became her
well. She cursed, flouted the examiners, and "swore that she would keep
on swearing" if they racked her to pieces. "Here's your health!" she
cried, when the first vessel of water was forced down her throat; and,
as they fastened her on the rack,—"That's right! One should always be
growing. I have complained all my life of being too short." It is said
that, having been made to drink fourteen pots of water during the water
torture, she drank fourteen bottles of wine with the turnkeys in her
cell at night. Her sentence was death at the stake, and on her way to
the place of execution she jeered at the priest who accompanied her,
refused to make the _amende honorable_ at Notre-Dame, and fought like a
tigress with the executioners on descending from the cart. Tied and
fettered on the pile, she threw off five or six times the straw which
was heaped on her. Sévigné, who looked on, detailed the scene with
animation, and without a touch of feeling, in a letter to her daughter.

Confounding the real crimes with chimerical ones, the new court
continued to prosecute poisoners and "sorcerers" together; and even at
that credulous and superstitious date, when judges listened gravely to
the most baseless and fantastic accusations, there were persons
interrogated on charges of sorcery who had the spirit to laugh both
judges and accusers in the face. Mme. de Bouillon said aloud, on the
conclusion of her examination, that she had never in her life heard so
much nonsense so solemnly spoken (_n'avait jamais tant ouïdire de
sottises d'un ton si grave_); whereat, it is chronicled, his Majesty
"was very angry." It was not until the bench itself began to treat as
mere charlatans the wizards of both sexes who appeared before it, that
trials for sorcery and "black magic" fell away and gradually ceased.

It was the Conciergerie which presided over the examination, torture,
and atrocious punishment of Ravaillac, the assassin of Henri IV., and
Damiens, who attempted the life of Louis XV. Ravaillac, the first to
occupy it, left his name to a tower of the prison.

    "You shiver even now in the Tower of Ravaillac," say MM. Alhoy and
    Lurine in _Les Prisons de Paris_,—"that cold and dreadful place.
    Thought conjures up a multitude of fearful images, and is aghast at
    all the tragedies and all the dramas which have culminated in the
    old Conciergerie, between the judge, the victim, and the
    executioner. What tears and lamentations, what cries and
    maledictions, what blasphemies and vain threats has it not heard,
    that pitiless _doyenne_ of the prisons of Paris!"

Ravaillac, most fearless of fanatics and devotees, said, when
interrogated before Parliament as to his estate and calling, "I teach
children to read, write, and pray to God." At his third examination, he
wrote beneath the signature which he had affixed to his testimony the
following distich:

    "Que toujours, dans mon cœur,
    Jésus soit le vainqueur!"

and a member of Parliament exclaimed on reading it, "Where the devil
will religion lodge next!"

He was condemned by Parliament on the 2d of May, 1610, to a death so
appalling that one wonders how the mere words of the sentence can have
been pronounced. Our own ancient penalty for high treason was a mild
infliction in comparison with this. Before being led to execution,
Ravaillac did penance in the streets of Paris, wearing a shirt only and
carrying a lighted torch or candle, two pounds in weight. Taken next to
the Place de Grève, he was stripped for execution, and the dagger with
which he had twice struck the King was placed in his right hand. He was
then put to death in the following manner. His flesh was torn in eight
places with red-hot pincers, and molten lead, pitch, brimstone, wax, and
boiling oil were poured upon the wounds. This done, his body was torn
asunder by four horses; the trunk and limbs were burned to ashes, and
the ashes were scattered to the winds.

Eight assassins had preceded Ravaillac in attempts on the life of Henri
IV., and six of them had paid this outrageous forfeit. The torments of
the Conciergerie and the Place de Grève were bequeathed by these to the
regicide of 1610, and Ravaillac left them a legacy to Robert François

The _Tower of Ravaillac_ was equally the _Tower of Damiens_. François
Damiens, a bilious and pious creature of the Jesuits, not unfamiliar
with crime, pricked Louis, as his Majesty was starting for a drive, with
a weapon scarcely more formidable than a penknife. He was seized on the
spot, and there were found on him another and a larger knife,
thirty-seven louis d'or, some silver, and a book of devotions,—the
assassins of the Kings of France were always pious men. "Horribly
tortured," he confessed nothing at first, and it is by no means certain
what was the nature or importance of his subsequent avowals. But,
although there is little question that Damiens was merely the instrument
of a conspiracy more or less redoubtable, no effort was made to arraign,
arrest, or discover his supposed accomplices. The examination and trial,
conducted with none of the publicity which such a crime demanded, were
in the hands of persons chosen by the court, "persons suspected of
partiality," says Dulaure, "and bidden to condemn the assassin without
concerning themselves about those who had set him on—which gives colour
to the belief, that they were too high to be touched" (_que ces derniers
étaient puissans_).

One hundred and forty-seven years had passed since the Paris
Parliament's inhuman sentence on Ravaillac, but not a detail of it was
spared to Damiens on the 28th of March, 1757. Enough of such atrocities.

In the days of the Regency there was in one of the suburbs of Paris a
tea-garden which was at once popular and fashionable under the name of
La Courtille. In the groves of La Courtille, on summer evenings, amid
lights and music, russet-coated burghers might almost touch elbows with
"high-rouged dames of the palace"; and here one night Mesdames de
Parabère and de Prie brought a party of elegant revellers. As one of the
guests strolled apart, humming an air, he was approached softly from
behind, and a hand was laid upon his shoulder.

"My gallant mask, I know you! So you have left Normandy, eh? Well, you
have made us suffer much, but I fancy it will be our turn now. One of
our cells has long been ready for you, and you shall sleep at the
Conciergerie to-night. Cartouche!"

Yes, it was indeed the great Cartouche whom a deft detective had trapped
on the sward of La Courtille. The capture was a notable one, and the
next day and for many days to come Paris could not make enough of
it,—Paris which had suffered beatings, plunderings, and assassinations
at the hands of Cartouche and his band for ten years past. He lay three
months at the Conciergerie, and every day his fame increased. The
Regent's finances and the "ministerial rigours" of Dubois were
disregarded; Cartouche was a godsend to rhymesters, journalists, wits,
and diners-out; pretty lips repeated the dubious history of his amours,
and a theatrical gentleman announced a "comedy" named after the
distinguished cut-throat. Cartouche awaited stoically enough death by
breaking on the wheel. It required a severe application of the Question
to bring him to a betrayal of his band, but "his tongue once loosed, he
passed an entire night in naming the companions of his crimes." The
villain even denounced "three pretty women who had been his mistresses."

He consented one day to the visit of a person whose indiscreet candour
was passing cruel. This was the dramatist Legrand who, with his
_Cartouche_ comedy in preparation, sought the "local colour" of the
condemned cell. Cartouche had the vanity which characterises the great
criminal, and willingly allowed himself to be "interviewed"; he answered
all Legrand's questions, and then asked one himself: "When is your piece
to be represented?" "On the day of your execution, my dear Monsieur
Cartouche." "Ah, indeed! Then you had better interview the executioner
also; he will come in at the climax, you see."

Having entertained the playwright with his wit, the murderer next
essayed the part of patriot, and said to his Jesuit confessor, Guignard,
in speaking of the assassination of Henri IV.:

    "All the crimes that I have ever committed were the merest
    peccadilloes (_de légères peccadilles_) in comparison with those
    which your Order is stained with. Is there any crime more enormous
    than to take the life of your King, and such a King as that was? The
    noblest prince in the universe, the glory of France, the father of
    his country! I tell you that if a man whom I were pursuing had taken
    refuge at the foot of the statue of Henri IV., I should not have
    dared to kill him."

The condition of the Conciergerie at this date was at all events better
than it had been two or three centuries earlier. No Mediæval prisons
were fit to live in. Sanitation was a science as yet undreamed of in
Europe, and even had there been such a science, it is improbable that
the inmates of prisons would have tasted its advantages. In the Middle
Ages, nothing was more remote from the official mind, from the minds of
all judges, magistrates, governors, gaolers, and concierges, than the
notion that prisoners should live in wholesome and decent surroundings.
Two very definite ideas the Middle Ages had about prisons, and only two:
the first was, that they should be impregnable, and the second was, that
they should be "gey ill" to live in; and their one idea regarding the
lot of all prisoners and captives was, that it should be beyond every
other lot wretched and unendurable.

In the age we live in, civilised governments setting about the building
of a new prison do not say to their architects, "You must build a
fortress which prisoners cannot break, and you must put into it a
certain quantity of conical cells below the level of the ground, in
which prisoners may be suffocated within a given number of days," but,
"You must build a prison of sufficient strength; and in planning your
cells you must secure for every prisoner an ample provision of space,
air, and light." Those are the supreme differences between ancient and
modern gaols. Prison in the old days was of all places the least healthy
to live in; nowadays, it is often the most healthy. Good control and
strict surveillance confer security upon prisons which are not built as
fortresses; but nothing gives such immense distinction to the new
system, by contrast with all the earlier ones, as the elaborate and
minute regard of everything which may make for the physical well-being
of the prisoners.

Then comes the moral question; and from the standpoint of morals the
situation tells even more in favour of the modern system. Imprisonment
should never be cruel; but, when the prisoner is fairly tried and justly
sentenced, it should always be both irksome and disgraceful. The
disgrace of prison, however, depends upon the absolute impartiality of
the tribunal and the soundness of public sentiment. Nobody is disgraced
by being sent into prison in a society in which arrest is arbitrary, and
in which arraignment at the bar is not followed by an honest examination
of the facts. Princes of the blood, nobles, ministers, and judges and
magistrates themselves were equally liable with the commonest offenders
against the common law to be spirited into prison, and left there,
without accusation and without trial, during many centuries of French
history. Most tribunals were corrupt, and during many ages all were at
the mercy of the Crown. A Daniel on the bench was rare, and in great
danger of being hanged; and public sentiment was not yet articulate.

In such insecurity of justice, imprisonment could carry with it no
social stigma, as it carries inevitably in these days. But, where there
is no shame in imprisonment, there is no question of the reform of the
prisoner, and this—one of the main endeavours of modern penal
systems—was not only quite ignored by the old régime, but was an aspect
of the matter to which it was entirely indifferent, and which had
evidently no place whatever in its conceptions. In the progress of
civilisation, no institution has been so completely transformed as the
prison. It was an instrument of vengeance; it is seeking, not at present
too successfully, to be an instrument of grace.

Prisons neglected or encumbered with filth are natural hotbeds of
disease, and epidemic sicknesses were frequent. In 1548, the plague
broke out in the Conciergerie, and then for the first time an infirmary
was established in the prison, though I cannot find that it made greatly
for the comfort of the sick. Doctor's work was grudgingly and carelessly
done in the prisons of those days, and there was no great disposition to
hinder the sick from yielding up the ghost; the bed or the share of a
bed allotted to the patient was always wanted. The Conciergerie was
devastated by fire in 1776, and this visitation resulted in a royal
command to rehabilitate the whole interior of the prison. In this
attempt to realise the generous thought of his minister Turgot, Louis
XVI. did not imagine, we may be sure, that he was preparing a last
lodging for Marie Antoinette!

Here then we stand on the threshold of the Conciergerie of the
Revolution—the ante-chamber of the scaffold, in the fit words of

It was at four o'clock on the morning of the 14th of October, 1793, at
the close of the sitting of the revolutionary tribunal, that the
dethroned and widowed Queen was brought to the Conciergerie. Poor,
abandoned, outraged Queen, they thrust her into one of their common
cells, and gave her for attendant a galley-slave named Barasin. This
must have been a brave, good fellow, with a loyal heart under his
galley-slave's vest, for at the risk of his life he waited devoutly and
devotedly on the queenly woman, a queen no longer, who could in nothing
reward his devotion. One should name also the concierge Richard, who
shewed himself not less a man in his care of the "beautiful high-born,"
and who for his humanity to her was stripped of all his goods.

The gendarmes guarded her last hours, sat there in the cell with her,
though republican modesty allowed the intervention of a screen.

It is known what a sublime dignity sustained her to the end; and indeed
almost the worst was over when she had quitted Fouquier-Tinville's bar,
after the "hideous indictment" and the condemnation. She withdrew to
die, and she could die as became a Queen. Louis had gone before her, and
all the mother's dying thoughts and prayers must have been for the
children who were to live after her—how long, she knew not. She sat in
the dingy cell, clasping her crucifix, waiting her call to the tumbril;
"dim, dim, as if in disastrous eclipse; like the pale kingdoms of Dis!"

From this time on to the end of the Reign of Terror, the Conciergerie
offered such a spectacle as was never seen before within the walls of
any prison. The guillotine

                    "smoked with bloody execution."

The Revolution was eating not her enemies only but her children, and
those victims and prospective victims, men and women, old and young,
filled the cells of the Conciergerie, the chambers, the corridors, and
the yards. They swarmed there in disorder, dirt, and disease, guarded
and bullied by drunken turnkeys, who had a pack of savage dogs to assist
them. They went out by batches in the tumbrils, to leave their heads in
Samson's basket, and ever fresh parties of proscribed ones took the
places of the dead. "I remained six months in the Conciergerie," says
Nougaret, one of the historians of the period, "and saw there nobles,
priests, merchants, bankers, men of letters, artisans, agriculturists,
and honest _sans-culottes_." Often as this population was decimated,
Fouquier-Tinville filled up the gap; and throughout the whole of the
Terror the condemned and the untried proscribed ones, herded together,
seldom had space enough for the common decencies of life.

Then some sort of classification was attempted, and three orders were
established in the prison. The _Pistoliers_ were those who could afford
to pay for the privilege of sleeping two in a bed. The _Pailleux_ lay
huddled in parties, in dens or lairs, on piles of stale straw, "at the
risk of being devoured by rats and vermin." Nougaret remarks that in
some cells the prisoners on the floor at night had to protect their
faces with their hands, and leave the rest of their persons to the rats.
The _Secrets_ were the third class of prisoners, who made what shift
they could in black and reeking cells beneath the level of the Seine.

And the sick in the infirmary? Listen once more to Nougaret in his
_Histoire des Prisons de Paris et des Départemens_:

    "There were frightful fevers there, and you took your chance of
    catching them. The patients, lying in pairs in filthy beds, were in
    as wretched a plight as ever mortals found themselves in. The
    doctors hardly condescended to examine them. They had one or two
    potions which, as they said, were 'saddles for all horses,' and
    which they administered quite indiscriminately. It was curious to
    see with what an air of contempt they made their rounds. One day,
    the head doctor approached a bed and felt the patient's pulse. 'Ah,'
    said he to the hospital warder, 'the man's better than he was
    yesterday.' 'Yes, doctor, he's a good deal better,—but it's not the
    same man. Yesterday's patient is dead; this one has taken his
    place.' 'Really?' said the doctor, 'that makes the difference! Well,
    mix this fellow his draught.'"

When the prisoners were to be locked in for the night, there was always
a great to-do in getting the roll called. Three or four tipsy turnkeys,
with half-a-dozen dogs at their heels, passed from hand to hand an
incorrect list, which none of them could read. A wrong name was spelled
out, which no one answered to; the turnkeys swore in chorus, and spelled
out another name. In the end, the prisoners had to come to the
assistance of the guards and call their own roll. Then the numbers had
to be told over and over again, and the prisoners to be marched in and
marched out three or four times, before their muddled keepers could
satisfy themselves that the count was correct.

One seeks to know what the feeding was like in the "ante-chamber of the
guillotine." When, in the midst of the Terror, Paris was pinched with
hunger, the pinch was felt severely in the Conciergerie. Rations ran
desperately short, and a common table was instituted. The aristocrats
had to pay scot for the penniless, and came in these strange
circumstances to "estimate their fortunes by the number of
_sans-culottes_ whom they fed, as formerly they had done by the numbers
of their horses, mistresses, dogs, and lackeys."

All histories, memoirs, chronicles, and legends are agreed that the
Conciergerie of the Revolution was a frightful place. The political
prisoners endured all the horrors, physical and mental, of an
unparalleled régime. Sick and unattended, hungry and barely fed, cold
and left to shiver in dark and naked cells—these were amongst the ills
of the body. But greater by far than these must have been the pangs of
the mind.

Nearly all of these prisoners, men and women both, regarded death as a
certainty; before ever they were tried, from the moment that the outer
door of the prison had closed behind them, the guillotine was as good as
promised to them. They had no help to count on from without, they had
not even the animating hope of a fair hearing by an upright judge. The
judgment bar of Fouquier-Tinville did not pretend to be impartial.

Nevertheless, though the blade of the guillotine was suspended over all
heads, and fell daily upon many, an air of mingled serenity and
exaltation reigned throughout the gaol. There were few tears, and there
was no weak repining. Morning and evening, the political prisoners
chanted in chorus the hymns of the Revolution, and these were varied by
witty verses on the guillotine, composed in some instances by prisoners
on the eve of passing beneath the knife. Some had brought in with them
their favourite books, and reading led to long discussions, of which
literature, science, religion, and politics were alternately the themes.
Devoted priests like the Abbé Emory went about making converts, and
opposing their efforts to those of the militant atheist, Anacharsis
Clootz, who styled himself the "personal enemy of Jesus Christ." For
recreation, old games were played and new ones invented. Imagine a crowd
of prisoners of both sexes, living in daily expectation of the scaffold,
who played for hours together at the _guillotine_! A hall of the prison
was transformed into Tinville's tribunal, a Tinville was placed on the
bench who could parody the voice and manner of the terrible original,
the prisoner was arraigned, there were eloquent counsel on both sides,
and witnesses; and when the trial was finished, and the inevitable
sentence had been pronounced, the guillotine of chairs and laths was set
up, and amid a tumult of applause the wooden blade was loosed and the
victim rolled into the basket. Sometimes the game was interrupted, and
there was a general rush to the window to catch the voice of the crier
in the street,—"Here's the list of the brigands who have won to-day at
the lottery of the blessed guillotine!"

Famous figures, and a few sublime ones, detach themselves from the
groups: a Duc d'Orléans, a Duc de Lauzun, a General Beauharnais (who
writes to his wife Josephine that letter of farewell which she shewed to
Bonaparte at her first interview with him), Charlotte Corday, the great
chemist Lavoisier (on whose death Lagrange exclaimed, "It took but a
moment to sever that head, and a hundred years will not produce one like
it"), Danton the Titan of the Revolution, Camille Desmoulins, and
Robespierre himself.

One evening, a few days after the death of Marie Antoinette, the
twenty-two Girondins, condemned to die in twenty-four hours, passed into
the keeping of Concierge Richard. These were some of the most heroic men
of the Revolution, "the once flower of French patriotism," Carlyle calls
them; tribunes, prelates, men of war, men of ancient and noble stock,
poets, lawyers. One of their number had killed himself in court on
receiving sentence, and the dead body was carried to the prison, and lay
in a corner of the room in which the twenty-two spent their last night.
They gathered at a long deal table for a farewell supper, at which, says
Thiers, they were by turns, "gay, serious, and eloquent." They drank to
the glory of France, and the happiness of all friends. They sang
solemnly the great songs of the Revolution, and at five in the morning,
when the turnkey came to call the last roll, one of them arose and
declaimed the _Marseillaise_. A few hours later, the twenty-two went
chanting to their death; and the chant was sustained until the last head
had fallen.

These are amongst the loftier memories of those bloody days. It is
impossible within the limits of a chapter to give a tithe even of the
names that were written in the registers of the _maison de justice_ of
the Revolution. Well, indeed, might Fouquier-Tinville have named it the
ante-chamber of the guillotine, for two thousand prisoners, drawn from
all the other gaols of Paris, went to the scaffold from the
Conciergerie. And they died, most of them, as children of a Revolution
should die; virgin girls were no longer timid, women were weak no
longer, when their turn came to mount the steps of the scaffold. A sense
of patriotism so high and pure and penetrating as to resemble the
spiritual exaltation and abandonment of the Christian martyrs seemed to
extinguish in the frailest breasts the natural fear of death. "_On meurt
en riant, on meurt en chantant, on meurt en criant: Vive la France!_"

The fierce political interests of the revolutionary period absorb all
others; those who are not Fouquier-Tinville's victims languish obscurely
in their cells, or travel towards the guillotine almost unnoticed. But
who is this in a condemned cell of the Conciergerie in the year '94, not
sent there by sentence of Tinville? It is honest, unfortunate Joseph
Lesurques, unjustly convicted of the murder of a courier of Lyons,—one
of the saddest miscarriages of justice. English play-goers are familiar
with the dramatic version of the story, which gave Sir Henry Irving the
material of one of his most remarkable creations. In the drama,
playwright's justice snatches Lesurques from the tumbril within sight of
the guillotine, but the Lesurques of real life fared otherwise. He died,
innocent and ignorant of the crime, but the shade of the murdered
courier had a double vengeance, for the actual assassin, Dubosc, was
taken later, and duly stretched on the _bascule_.

In the Napoleonic era, the Conciergerie lost two-thirds of its
lugubrious importance. It continued to receive prisoners of note, but
their sojourn was brief; the prison of the Terror passed them on to
Sainte-Pélagie, Bicêtre, the Temple, or the Bastille. With the return to
France of the dynasty of Louis XVI., the old gaol went suddenly into
mourning, as one may say, for Marie Antoinette. When Louis XVIII.
commanded the erection of an "expiatory monument" in the Rue d'Anjou,
the authorities of the Conciergerie made haste to blot out within its
walls all traces of the Queen's captivity. They broke up the mean and
meagre furniture of her cell, the wooden table, the two straw chairs,
the shabby stump bedstead, the screen behind which her gaolers had
gossiped in whispers; and the cell itself ceased its existence in that
form, and was converted into a little chapel or sacristy. Some poor
prisoner with a thought above his own distresses may be praying there
to-day for the soul of Marie Antoinette.


A ghostly souvenir of 1815 may give us pause for a moment. There is no
need to rehearse the story of Marshal Ney, bravest of the sons of
France, Napoleon's _le brave des braves_, whose surpassing services in
the field might have spared him a traitor's end. A few days after he had
"gathered into his bosom" the bullets of a file of soldiers in the
Avenue de l'Observatoire, behind the Luxembourg, the public prosecutor,
M. Bellart, was entertaining at dinner the great men of the bar, the
army, and society. At midnight, the door of the inner salon was suddenly
thrown open, and a footman announced: _Le Maréchal Ney!_

M. Bellart and his guests, smitten to stone, looked dumbly towards the
door. The talk stopped in every corner, the music stopped, the play at
the card-tables stopped. In a moment, the tension passed. It was not the
great Marshal, nor his astral. It was a blunder of the footman, who had
confounded the name with that of a friend of the family, M. Maréchal




                              CHAPTER III.

                       THE DUNGEON OF VINCENNES.


Louis XI. strolled one day in the precincts of Vincennes, wrapped in his
threadbare surtout edged with rusty fur, and plucking at the queer
little peaked cap with the leaden image of the Virgin stuck in the band.
There was a smile on the sallow and saturnine face.

At his Majesty's right walked a thick-set, squab man of scurvy
countenance, wearing a close-fitting doublet, and armed like a hangman.
On the King's left went a showy person, vulgar and mean of face, whose
gait was a ridiculous strut.

Louis stopped against the dungeon and tapped the great wall with his

"What's just the thickness of this?" he asked.

"Six feet in places, sire, eight in others," answered the squab man,
Tristan, the executioner.

"Good!" said Louis. "But the place looks to me as if it were tumbling."

"It might, no doubt, be in better repair, sire," observed the showy
person, Oliver, the barber; "but as it is no longer used——"

"Ah! but suppose I thought of using it, gossip?"

"Then, sire, your Majesty would have it repaired."

"To be sure!" chuckled the King—"If I were to shut you up in there,
Oliver, you could get out, eh?"

"I think so, sire."

"But you, gossip," to his hangman, "you'd catch him and have him back to
me, _hein?_"

"Trust me, sire!" said Tristan.

"Then I'll have my dungeon mended," said Louis. "I'm going to have
company here, gossips."

"Sire!" exclaimed Oliver. "Prisoners so close to your Majesty's own
apartments! But you might hear their groans."

"Ha! They groan, Oliver? The prisoners groan, do they? But there's no
need why I should live in the château here. Hark you both, gossips, I'd
like my guests to groan and cry at their pleasure, without the fear of
inconveniencing their King."

And the King, and his hangman, and his barber fell a-laughing.


From that day, in a word, Louis ceased to inhabit the château of
Vincennes, and the dungeon which appertained to it was made a terrible
fastness for his Majesty's prisoners of State. It was already a place of
some antiquity. The date of the original buildings is quite obscure. The
immense foundations of the dungeon itself were laid by Philippe de
Valois; his son, Jean le Bon, carried the fortress to its third story;
and Charles V. finished the work which his fathers had begun.

All prisons are not alike in their origin. In the beginnings of states,
force counts for more than legal prescripts, and ideas of vengeance go
above the worthier idea of the repression of crime. Such-and-such a
prison, renowned in history, is the expression in stone and mortar of
the power or the hatred of its builders. Thus and thus did they plan and
construct against their enemies. There was no mistaking, for example,
the purpose of the architect of the Bastille,—it must be a fortress
stout enough to resist the enemy outside, and a place fit and suitable
to hold and to torture him when he had been carried a prisoner within
its walls.

But Vincennes, in its origin, at all events, may be viewed under other
and softer aspects. Those prodigious towers, for all the frightful
menace of their frown, were not first reared to be a place of torment.
The name of Vincennes came indeed, in the end, to be not less dreadful
and only less abhorrent than that of the Bastille. A few revolutions of
the vicious wheel of despotism, and the King's château was transformed
into the King's prison, for the pain of the King's enemies, or of the
King's too valiant subjects. But the infancy and youth of Vincennes were
innocent enough, a reason, perhaps, why it was always less hated of the
people than the Bastille. Vincennes lived and passed scathless through
the terrors and hurtlings of the Revolution; and presently, from its
cincture of flowers and verdant forest, looked down upon that high
column of Liberty, which occupied the blood-stained site of the
vanquished and obliterated Bastille.


King Louis lived no more in the château, and his masons made good the
breaches in the dungeon which neglect, rather than age, had occasioned.
When it stood again a solid mass of stone,—

"Gossip," said Louis to his executioner and torturer-in-chief, "if there
were some little executions to be done here quietly and secretly—as you
like to do them, Tristan—what place would you choose, _hein_?"

"I've chosen one, sire; a beautiful chamber on the first floor. The
walls are thick enough to stifle the cries of an army; and if you lift
the stones of the floor here and there, you find underneath the most
exquisite _oubliettes_! Ah! sire, they understood high politics before
your Majesty's time."

King Louis caressed his pointed chin, and laughed:

"I think it was Charles _the Wise_ who built that chamber."

"No, sire; it was John _the Good_!"

"Ah, so! Go on, gossip. My dungeon is quite ready, eh?"

"Quite ready, sire."

"To-morrow, then, good Tristan, you will go to Montlhéry. In the château
there you will find four guests of mine, masked, and very snug in one of
our cosy iron cages. You will bring them here."

"Very good, sire."

"You will take care that no one sees you—or them."

"Yes, sire."

"And you will be tender of them, gossip. You are not to kill them on the
way. When we have them here—we shall see. Start early to-morrow,
Tristan. As for friend Oliver here, he shall be my governor of the
dungeon of Vincennes, and devote himself to my prisoners. If a man of
them escapes, my Oliver, Tristan will hang you; because you are not a
nobleman, you know."

"Sire," murmured the barber, "you overwhelm me."

"Your Majesty owed that place to me, I think," said Tristan.

"Are you not my matchless hangman, gossip? No, no! Besides, I'm keeping
you to hang Oliver. Go to Montlhéry."

Thus was Vincennes advanced to be a State prison, in 1473, when Louis
XI. held the destinies of France. From that date to the beginning of the
century we live in, those black jaws had neither sleep nor rest. As fast
as they closed on one victim, they opened to receive another. At a
certain stage of all despotic governments, the small few in power live
mainly for two reasons—to amuse themselves and to revenge themselves.
One amuses oneself at Court, and a State prison-controlled from the
Court—is an ideal means of revenging oneself. The tedious machinery of
the law is dispensed with. There is no trouble of prosecuting, beating
up witnesses, or waiting in suspense for a verdict which may be given
for the other side. The _lettre de cachet_, which a Court historian
described as an ideal means of government, and which Mirabeau (in an
essay penned in Vincennes itself) tore once for all into shreds, saved a
world of tiresome procedure to the King, the King's favourites, and the
King's ministers. For generations and for centuries, absolutism,
persecution, party spirit, public and private hate used the _lettre de
cachet_ to fill and keep full the cells and dungeons of the Bastille and
Vincennes. It was, to be sure, a two-edged weapon, cutting either way.
He who used it one day might find it turned against him on another day.
But, by whomsoever employed, it was the great weapon of its time; the
most effective weapon ever forged by irresponsible authority, and the
most unscrupulously availed of. It was this instrument which, during
hundreds of years, consigned to captivity without a limit, in the
_oubliettes_ of all the State prisons of France, that "_immense et
déplorable contingent de prisonniers célèbres, de misères illustres_."

Vincennes and the Bastille have been contrasted. They were worthy the
one of the other; and at several points their histories touch. In both
prisons the discipline (which was much an affair of the governor's whim)
followed pretty nearly the same lines, and owed nothing in either place
to any central, preconceived and ordered scheme of management. Prisoners
might be transferred from Vincennes to the Bastille, and from the
Bastille again to Vincennes. For the governor, Vincennes was generally
the stepping-stone to the Bastille. At Vincennes he served his
apprenticeship in the three branches of his calling—turnkey, torturer,
and hangman. Like the callow barber-surgeon of the age, he bled at
random, and used the knife at will; and his savage novitiate counted as
so much zealous service to the State.

But Vincennes wears a greater colour than the Bastille. It stood to the
larger and more famous fortress as the _noblesse_ to the _bourgeoisie_.
Vincennes was the great prison, and the prison of the great. Talent or
genius might lodge itself in the Bastille, and often so did, very
easily; nobility, with courage enough to face its sovereign on a
grievance, or with power enough to be reckoned a thought too near the
throne, tasted the honours of Vincennes. To be a wit, and polish an
epigram against a minister or a madam of the Court; to be a rhymester,
and turn a couplet against the Government; to be a philosopher, and
hazard a new social theory, was to knock for admission at the wicket of
the Bastille. But to be a stalwart noble, and look royalty in the eye,
sword in hand; to be brother to the King, and chafe under the royal
behest; to be a cardinal of the Church, and dare to jingle your breviary
in the ranks of the Fronde; to be leader of a sect or party, or the head
of some school of enterprise, this was to give with your own hand the
signal to lower the drawbridge of Vincennes.

At seasons prisoners of all degrees jostled one another in both prisons;
but in general the unwritten rule obtained that philosophy and unguarded
wit went to the Bastille; whilst for strength of will that might prove
troublesome to the Crown ... _voilà le donjon de Vincennes!_

Yes, Vincennes was the _State_ prison, the prison for audacity in high
places, for genius that could lead the general mind into paths of danger
to the throne. The fetters fashioned there were for a Prince de Condé to
wear, a Henri de Navarre, a Maréchal de Montmorency, a Bassompierre or a
Cardinal de Retz, a Duc de Longueville or a Prince Charles Edward, a La
Môle and a Coconas, a Rantzau or a Prince Casimir, a Fouquet or a Duc de
Lauzun, a Louis-Joseph de Vendôme, a Diderot or a Mirabeau, a d'Enghien.

History, says a French historian, shews itself never at the Bastille but
with manacles in one hand and headsman's axe in the other. At Vincennes,
ever and anon, it appears in the rustling silks of a king's favourite,
who finds within the circle of those cruel walls soft bosky nooks and
bowers, for feasting and for love. Sometimes from the bosom of those
perfumed solitudes, a death-cry escapes, and the flowers are spotted
with blood: Messalina has dispensed with a _lettre de cachet_. At one
epoch it is Isabeau de Bavière, it is Catherine de Médicis at another;
what need to exhaust or to extend the list? Catherine made no sparing
use of the towers of Vincennes. It was a spectacle of royal splendours
on this side and of royal tyrannies on that; banquets and executions;
the songs of her troubadours mingling with the sighs of her captives.
Often some enemy of Catherine, quitting the dance at her pavilion of
Vincennes, fell straightway into a cell of the dungeon, to die that
night by stiletto, or twenty years later as nature willed. Yes, indeed,
Vincennes and the Bastille were worthy of each other.


Two mysterious echoes of history still reach the ear from what were once
the vaulted dungeons of Vincennes. The note of the first is gay and
mocking, a cry with more of victory in it than of defeat, and one
remembers the captivity of the Prince de Condé. The other is like the
sudden detonation of musketry, and one recalls the bloody death of the
young Duc d'Enghien, the last notable representative of the house of

The Prince de Condé's affair is of the seventeenth century. It was Anne
of Austria, inspired by Mazarin, who had him arrested, along with his
brother the Prince de Conti and their brother-in-law the Duc de
Longueville. A lighter-hearted gallant than Condé never set foot on the
drawbridge of Vincennes. On the night of his arrival with De Conti and
the duke, no room had been prepared for his reception. He called for
new-laid eggs for supper, and slept on a bundle of straw. De Conti
cried, and De Longueville asked for a work on theology. The next day,
and every day, Condé played tennis and shuttle-cock with his keepers;
sang and began to learn music. He quizzed the governor perpetually, and
laid out a garden in the grounds of the prison which became the talk of
Paris. "He fasted three times a week and planted pinks," says a
chronicler. "He studied strategy and sang the psalms," says another.
When the governor threatened him for breaches of the rules, the Prince
offered to strangle him. But not even Vincennes could hold a Condé for
long, and he was liberated.

Briefer still was the sojourn of the Duc d'Enghien—one of the strangest,
darkest, and most tragical events of history. In 1790, at the age of
nineteen, he had quitted France with the chiefs of the royalist party.
Twelve years later, in 1802, he was living quietly at the little town of
Ettenheim, not far from Strasbourg; in touch with the forces of Condé,
but not, as it seems, taking active part in the movement which was
preparing against Napoleon. A mere police report lost him with the First
Consul. He was denounced as having an understanding with the officers of
Condé's army, and as holding himself in readiness to unite with them on
the receipt of instructions from England. Napoleon issued orders for his
arrest, and he was seized in his little German retreat on March 15,
1804. Five days later he was lodged in the dungeon of Vincennes.

Here the prison drama, one of the saddest enacted on the stage of
history, commences. "_Tout est mystérieux dans cette tragédie, dont le
prologue même commence par un secret._" (Everything is mysterious in
this tragedy, the very prologue of which begins with a secret.)

The Duke had married secretly the Princess Charlotte de Rohan, who, by
her husband's wish, continued to occupy her own house. The daily visits
of the constant husband were a cause of suspicion to the agents of
Napoleon. They said that he was framing plots; he was simply enjoying
the society of his wife. He was engaged, they said, in a conspiracy with
Georges and others against the life of Napoleon; he was but turning love
phrases in the boudoir of the Princess.

The mystery accompanied the unfortunate prisoner from Ettenheim to
Strasbourg, from Strasbourg to Paris, and went before him to Vincennes.
Governor Harel was instructed to receive "an individual whose name is on
no account to be disclosed. The orders of the Government are that the
strictest secrecy is to be preserved respecting him. He is not to be
questioned either as to his name or as to the cause of his detention.
You yourself will remain ignorant of his identity."

As he was driven into Paris at five o'clock on the evening of March
20th, the Duke said with a fine assurance:

"If I may be permitted to see the First Consul, it will be settled in a

That request never reached Napoleon, and the prisoner was hurried to
Vincennes. His only thought on reaching the château was to ask that he
might have leave to hunt next day in the forest. But the next day was
not yet come.

The mystery does not cease. The military commission sent hot-foot from
Paris to try the case were "_dans l'ignorance la plus complète_" both as
to the name and the quality of the accused. An aide-de-camp of Murat
gave the Duke's name to them as they gathered at the table in an
ante-chamber of the prison to inquire what cause had summoned them.
D'Enghien was abed and asleep.

"Bring in the prisoner," and Governor Harel fetched d'Enghien from his
bed. He stood before his judges with a grave composure, and not a
question shook him.

"Interrogated as to plots against the Emperor's life, taxed with
projects of assassination, he answered quietly that insinuations such as
these were insults to his birth, his character, and his rank."[4]

Footnote 4:

  _Histoire du Donjon de Vincennes._

The inquiry finished, the Duke demanded with insistence to see the First
Consul. Savary, Napoleon's aide-de-camp, whispered the council that the
Emperor wished no delay in the affair,[5] and the prisoner was

Footnote 5:

  It is moderately certain at this day that everyone representing
  Napoleon in this miserable affair of d'Enghien _mis_-represented him
  from first to last.

Some twenty minutes later a gardener of the château, Bontemps by name,
was turned out of bed in a hurry to dig a grave in the trenches against
the Pavilion de la Reine; and the officer commanding the guard had
orders to furnish a file of soldiers.

D'Enghien sat composedly in his room against the council-chamber,
writing up his diary for his wife, and wondering whether leave would be
given him to hunt on the morrow. Enters, once more, Governor Harel, a
lantern in his hand. It was on the stroke of midnight.

"Would monsieur le duc have the kindness to follow?" It is still on
record that the governor was pale, looked troubled, and spoke with much

He led the way that conducted to the Devil's Tower. The stairs from that
tower descended straight into the trenches. At the head of the
staircase, looking into the blackness beyond, the Duke turned and said
to his conductor: "Are you taking me to an _oubliette_? I should prefer,
_mon ami_, to be shot."

"Monsieur," said Harel, "you must follow me,—and God grant you courage!"

"It is a prayer I never yet needed to put up," responded d'Enghien
calmly, and he followed to the foot of the stairs.

"Shoulder arms!"

A lantern glimmering at either end of the file of soldiers shewed
d'Enghien his fate. As the sentence of death was read, he wrote in
pencil a message to his wife, folded and gave it to the officer in
command of the file, and asked for a priest. There was no priest in
residence at the château, he was told.

"And time presses!" said the Duke. He prayed a moment, covering his face
with his hands. As he raised his head, the officer gave the word to

Volumes have been written upon this tragedy, but to this day no one
knows by whose precise word the blood of the last Condé was spilled in
the trenches of Vincennes. That d'Enghien was assassinated seems beyond
question—but by whom? Years after the event, General Hullin, president
of the commission, asserted in writing that no order of death was ever
signed; and that the members of the commission, still sitting at the
council-table, heard with amazement the volley that made an end of the
debate. Napoleon bore and still bears the opprobrium, but the proof
lacks. Yet who, under the Consulate, dared shoot a d'Enghien, failing
the Consul's word? The stones of Vincennes, wherein the mystery is
locked, have kept their counsel.


Let the curtain be drawn for a moment on the last scene in the tragedy
of La Môle and Coconas. It is a lurid picture of the manners of the
time—the last quarter of the sixteenth century, Charles IX. on the
throne. The tale, which space forbids to tell at length, is one of love
and jealousy, with the wiles of a _soi-disant_ magician in the
background. The prime plotter in the affair was the Queen-Mother,
Catherine de Médicis. La Môle was the lover of Marguerite de Navarre;
Coconas, the lover of the Queen's friend, the Duchesse de Nevers.
Arrested on a dull and senseless charge of conspiring by witchcraft
against the life of the King, the two courtiers were thrown into
Vincennes. The first stage of the trial yielding nothing, the accused
were carried to the torture chamber, and there underwent all the
torments of the Question. After that, being innocent of the charge, they
were declared guilty, and sentenced to the axe.

"Justice" was done upon them in the presence of all Paris, wondering
dumbly at the iniquity of the punishment.

Night had fallen, and the executioner was at supper with his family in
his house in the tower of the pillory. All good citizens shunned that
accursed dwelling, and those who had to pass the headsman's door after
dark crossed themselves as they did so. All at once there was a knocking
at the door.

On his dreadful days of office the "Red Man" sometimes received the
stealthy visit of a friend, brother, wife, or sister, come to beg or
purchase a lock of hair, a garment, or a jewel.

"There's money coming to us," said the headsman to his wife. He opened
the door, and on the threshold stood a man, armed, and two women.

"These ladies would speak with you," said the man; and as the headsman
stood aside, the two ladies, enveloped in enormous hoods, entered the
house, their companion remaining without.

"You are the executioner?" said an imperious voice from behind an
impenetrable veil.

"Yes, madame."

"You have here ... the bodies of two gentlemen."

The headsman hesitated. The lady drew out a purse, which she laid upon
the table. "It is full of gold," she said.

"Madame," exclaimed the "Red Man," "what do you wish? I am at your

"Shew me the bodies," said the lady.

"Ah! madame, but consider. It is terrible!" said the headsman, not
altogether unmoved. "You would scarcely support the sight."

"Shew them to me," said the lady.

Taking a lighted torch, the headsman pointed to a door in a corner of
the room, dark and humid.

"In there!" he said.

The lady who had not yet spoken broke into an hysterical sob. "I dare
not! I dare not! I am terrified!" she cried.

"Who loves should love unto death ... and in death," said she of the
imperious voice.

The headsman pushed open the door of a cellar-like apartment, held the
torch above his head, and from the black doorway the two ladies gazed in
silent horror upon the mutilated spoils of the scaffold. In the red ooze
upon the bare stone floor the bodies of La Môle and Coconas lay side by
side. The severed heads were almost in their places, a circular black
line dividing them from the white shoulders. The first of the two
ladies, with heaving bosom, stooped over La Môle, and raised the pale
right hand to her lips.

"Poor La Môle! Poor La Môle! I will avenge you!" she murmured.

Then to the executioner: "Give me the head! Here is the double of your

"Ah! madame, I cannot. I dare not! Suppose the Provost——"

"If the Provost demands this head of you, tell him to whom you gave it!"
and the lady swept the veil from her face.

The headsman bent to the earth: "Madame the Queen of Navarre!"

"And the head of Coconas to me, maître," said the Duchesse de Nevers.[6]

Footnote 6:

  In effect, Margaret of Navarre bore away the head of La Môle, and the
  Duchesse de Nevers that of Coconas. It is said that La Môle on the
  scaffold bequeathed his head to the Queen.


Amongst Louis XV.'s State prisoners, a long and picturesque array, may
be singled out for the present Prince Charles Edward, son of the
Pretender. Under the wind of adversity, after Culloden, Prince Charles
was blown at length upon French soil. Louis was gracious in his offer of
an asylum, and courtly France was enthusiastic over the exploits and
fantastic wanderings of the young hero. All went gaily with him in Paris
until the signatures had been placed to the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.
Then the wind began to blow from the east again.

One morning the visit was announced of MM. de Maurepas and the Duc de

"Gentlemen," said Prince Charles to his friends, "I know what this visit
bodes. His Majesty proposes to withdraw his hospitality. We are to be
driven out of France."

His handful of followers were stupefied, but the Prince was right. M. de
Maurepas announced himself as commanded by the King to request Prince
Charles Edward's immediate departure from France.

"Sir," returned the Prince, "your King has given me shelter, and the
title of brother."

"Monseigneur," said M. de Maurepas, "circumstances have changed——"

"To my advantage, sir! For over and above the rights which Louis XV. has
acknowledged in me, I have those more sacred ones of misfortune and

"His Majesty, monseigneur, is beyond doubt deeply touched by your
misfortunes, but the treaty he has just signed for the welfare of his
people compels him now to deny you his succour."

"Does your King indeed break his word and oath so lightly?" said Prince
Charles. "Is the blood of a proscribed and exiled prince, to whom he has
but just given his hand, so trifling a matter to him?"

"Monseigneur," said de Maurepas, "I am not here to sustain an argument
with you. I am only the bearer of his Majesty's commands."

"Then tell the King from me that I shall yield only to his force."

This was on December 10, 1748.

When Louis's emissaries had retired, Prince Charles announced his
intention of going to the Opera in the evening. His followers feared
some public scandal, and did their utmost to dissuade him.

"The more public the better!" cried the Prince in a passion.

In effect, he drove to the Opera after dinner. De Maurepas had
surrounded the building with twelve hundred soldiers, and as the
Prince's carriage drew up at the steps, a troop of horse encircled it,
and he himself was met with a brusque request for his sword.

"Come and take it!" said young Hotspur, flourishing the weapon.

In a moment he was seized from behind, his hands and arms bound, and the
soldiers lifted him into another carriage, which was forthwith driven
off at a gallop.

"Where are you taking me?" asked the Prince.

"Monseigneur, to the dungeon of Vincennes."

"Ah, indeed! Pray thank your King for having chosen for me the prison
which was honoured by the great Condé. You may add that, whilst Condé
was the subject of Louis XIV., I am only the guest of Louis XV."

M. du Châtelet, governor of Vincennes at that epoch, had received orders
to make the Prince's imprisonment a rigorous one, and fifty men were
specially appointed to watch him. But du Châtelet, a friend and admirer
of the young hero, took his part, and counselled him to abandon a
resistance which must be worse than futile, "You have had triumph
enough," said the prudent du Châtelet, "in exposing the feebleness and
cowardice of the King."

Prince Charlie's detention lasted but six days. He was liberated on
December 16th, and left Paris in the keeping of an officer of musketeers
to join his father in Rome.


Absolutism, _l'arbitraire_, all through this period was making hay while
the sun shone, and playing rare tricks with the liberties of the
subject. Vincennes was a witness of strange things done in the name of
the King's justice. Take the curious case of the Abbé Prieur. The Abbé
had invented a kind of shorthand, which he thought should be of some use
to the ministry. But the ministry would none of it, and the Abbé made
known his little invention to the King of Prussia, a patron of such
profitable things. But one of his letters was opened at the post-office
by the _Cabinet Noir_, and the next morning Monsieur l'Abbé Prieur awoke
in the dungeon of Vincennes. He inquired the reason, and in the course
of months his letter to the King of Prussia was shewn to him.

"But I can explain that in a moment," said the Abbé. "Look, here is the

The hieroglyphs, in short, were as innocent as a verse of the Psalms,
but the Abbé Prieur never quitted his dungeon.

A venerable and worthy nobleman, M. Pompignan de Mirabelle, was
imprudent enough to repeat at a supper party some satirical verses he
had heard touching Madame de Pompadour and De Sartines, the chief of
police. Warned that De Sartines had filled in his name on a _lettre de
cachet_, M. de Mirabelle called at the police office, and asked to what
prison he should betake himself. "To Vincennes," said De Sartines.

"To Vincennes," repeated M. de Mirabelle to his coachman, and he arrived
at the dungeon before the order for his detention.

Once a year, De Sartines made a formal visit to Vincennes, and once a
year punctually he demanded of M. de Mirabelle the name of the author of
the verses. "If I knew it I should not tell you," was the invariable
reply; "but as a matter of fact I never heard it in my life." M. de
Mirabelle died in Vincennes, a very old man.

A Swiss, by name Thoring, in the service of Madame de Foncemargue, told
a dream in which his mistress had appeared to him with this message:
"You must assassinate the King, and I will save you. You will be deaf
and dumb until the deed is accomplished."

The man was clearly of unsound mind, but weak intellects were not
allowed to murder kings in their sleep, and he was cast into Vincennes.
Twenty years later he was seen chained by the middle to the wall of his
cell, half naked and wholly mad.

But we may leave the prisoners for a while, and throw a glance upon the
great castellany itself. It is best viewed, perhaps, as it stood at the
commencement of the eighteenth century. Nine gigantic towers composed
the fortress. A tenth out-topped them—the tower of the dungeon,
distinguished as the royal manor. Two drawbridges gave access to the
prison proper, the one small and very narrow, the other of an imposing
size, to admit vehicles. Once beneath the wicket, the prisoner saw
himself surrounded on every side by walls of prodigious elevation and
thickness. He stood now immediately at the foot of the dungeon, which
reared its vast height above him. Before beginning the ascent, three
heavy doors must be opened for him, and that which communicated directly
with the dungeon could be unfastened only by the joint action of the
turnkey from within and the sergeant of the guard from without. Straight
from this inner door rose the steep staircase which led to the dungeon
towers. There were four of these towers, one at each angle, and
communication between them was by means of immense halls or chambers,
each defended by its own iron-ribbed doors.

To each of the four towers, four stories; and at each story a hall
thirty feet long, and from fifteen to eighteen feet wide. At the four
corners of the hall, four dismal chambers—the prisoners' cells. These
cells were like miniature fortresses. A solid outer door being opened, a
second one presented itself. Beyond the second was a third; and the
third, iron-plated on both sides, and armed with two locks and three
bolts, was the door of the cell. The three doors acted upon one another
in such a manner that, unless their secret were known, the second barred
the first, and the third barred the second. Light entered the cells
through four loopholes, of which the inner orifices were a foot and a
half in width, and the outer only six inches.

In the great halls on which the cells opened, prisoners were exercised
for a limited time (never more than an hour) on rainy days, or when the
orders of the governor forbade them to descend to the walled garden of
the dungeon.

The hall of the first floor, celebrated in the annals of barbarism, was
called the _Salle de la Question_, or torture chamber. It had its stone
benches, on which, the miserable creatures were placed to wait and watch
the preparations for their torment; and great iron hoops or rings
attached to the walls, to compress their limbs when the Question was to
be put. Hard by this frightful chamber—which was fitted with every
contrivance for the infliction of bodily suffering—were certain
diminutive cells, deprived of light and air, and furnished with plank
beds, on which prisoners were chained for a moment of repose between the
first and second applications of the torture.[7]

Footnote 7:

  Up to the reign of Louis XVI., every prison in Paris and the principal
  courts of justice had a torture chamber, and precise rules existed as
  to the various kinds of torture that might be resorted to, the mode in
  which each was to be applied, the persons who were to be present
  during the Question, the preliminary examination of the prisoner by a
  surgeon, the manner of binding, stretching, etc., together with the
  minutest details respecting the several forms of the Question, and the
  means to be employed to restore the sufferer for a second application.

On the ground floor of the dungeon were the dark cells. These were in no
way connected with the _Salle de la Question_, but served as the abodes
for months, or even for years, of those unhappy prisoners against whom
absolutism had a special grudge, or whom the governor took a pleasure in
reducing to the last extremity of misery. Here was a bed hollowed in the
stone wall, and littered with mouldy straw; and rings in the wall and
floor for waist-chains and leg-irons. Such a dwelling as this might
receive the unfortunate whose _lettre de cachet_ bore the appalling
legend: _Pour être oublié!_—(_To be forgotten!_).

But there were darker profundities yet in this Tartarus of the Kings of
France. Almost as far as its towers rose above the ground, the dungeon
plunged downwards in subterranean abysses, deep below deep. How many
victims sank in those secure abysses, and were silently extinguished!

In a place which witnessed so many last earthly moments, a chapel was a
necessity. Hasty absolution was often given for the crimes real or
imaginary which were so rudely expiated within the royal manor; and
sometimes prisoners were carried in a dying state from the _Salle de la
Question_ to receive the last rites of the Church in one of the three
small chapel cells with double doors. Here, on the very threshold of
death, one lay in semi-darkness to hear the mass which was pronounced on
the other side of the wall. Over the chaplain's apartment was the
singular inscription, _Carcer sacerdotis_ (_Prison of the Priest_),
which allows the inference that the chaplain, whilst in the exercise of
his functions, was not allowed to communicate with the outer world.

A narrow stone staircase of two hundred and sixty-five high steps,
obstructed at frequent intervals by sealed doors, conducted to a small
and well made terrace at the very top of the dungeon. It is probable
that this terrace is still in existence.[8] It was little used—perhaps
because it was the pleasantest place in the prison,—but tradition has
represented Mirabeau as taking an occasional airing on that superb
summit. The little lantern-shaped tower placed here contained the chapel
which was once the oratory of the Kings of France. Some nerve must have
been needed for Majesty to pray at ease, whilst crushing with its knees
that mass of human wretchedness!

Footnote 8:

  Vincennes is now a fort and artillery barracks, and may neither be
  sketched nor photographed.

The great court below was parcelled into little close gardens, where,
under rigid surveillance, favoured prisoners took their dreary exercise.

Few prisons the like of Vincennes have been erected. Those tremendous
towers, those almost impenetrable walls, those double and triple doors
garnished with iron, the trenches forty feet in depth, those wide outer
galleries to give the sentries command at every point—what more could
genius and industry invent to combat the prisoner's passion for liberty?
There were, indeed, few escapes from Vincennes. The prisoner who broke
prison from the Bastille, and won his way into the trenches, nearly
always made good his flight; but in the trenches of Vincennes, if he
ever reached them, he was more helpless than a rat in a bucket. The
architect of Vincennes was up some half-hour earlier than the architect
of the Bastille.

Twice every hour of the twenty-four the patrol made a complete tour of
the dungeon; and night and morning, before the closing and opening of
the doors, the trenches (which were forbidden to the turnkeys except by
express order) were surveyed from end to end, that no letters might be
thrown there by prisoners upon whom the State had set a seal like that
of the _Masque de Fer_.

Over and above all these _précautions barbares_, the sentries had orders
to turn the eyes of every passerby from the dungeon towers. No one might
stand or draw bridle in the shadow of Vincennes. It might be a relative
or friend seeking to learn in what exact cell the captive was lodged!
From light to dusk, the sentry reiterated his changeless formula:
_Passez votre chemin!_

We have yet to see what life the prisoners led.


The hour, the manner, and the circumstances of his reception at
Vincennes were little adapted to lessen the apprehensions of a prisoner
regarding the fate that awaited him. It was generally at night that the
arrest was effected, and the dismal ceremony of admission lost nothing
amid the general gloom of the scene, streaked here and there by the thin
light of the warders' lanterns. It would have been distressing enough to
pass into that black keep as the King's prisoner, after a fair trial in
open court, and with full knowledge of the term of one's captivity; how
much more so to find oneself thrust in there on some vague or fabulous
charge, a victim not of offended laws but of some cold caprice of
vengeance, to stay the pleasure of an enemy who might forget his
prisoner before he forgot his wrath. At Vincennes as in the Bastille,
prisoners lived on, hopelessly forgotten, years after the death of their

On arrival at the dungeon the prisoner was searched from head to foot,
and all papers, money, or other valuables were taken from him. This was
done under the eyes of the governor, who then, preceded by two turnkeys,
led his charge up that steep, narrow and winding staircase which has
been described. One vast hall after another was slowly traversed, with
frequent halts for the unbarring of doors which creaked on their rusty
hinges. The flicker of the lanterns amid that sea of shadows brought
into dim evidence huge locks and padlocks, loopholes and casements,
garnished with twisted iron bars; and every footfall found an echo in
the vaulted ceilings.

At the end of this oppressive journey, the prisoner came to his den, a
miserable place containing a wooden stump bedstead, a couple of rush
chairs, and a table stained with the dishes of every previous occupant.
If it were past the hour at which prisoners were served with supper, he
would probably be denied a morsel of food; and the governor left him,
after bestowing his first injunction: "I would have you remember,
monsieur, that this is the house of silence."

The prisoner had now to keep himself in patience until the governor
decided on his lot—that is to say, on the life that he should lead.
There was no ordered system such as regulates the existence of an army
of convicts undergoing sentence of penal servitude in these days. The
power of the governor was all but autocratic, and though he made
constant reference to "the rules," he interpreted those shadowy
prescriptions entirely as it pleased him. "It is the rule," said the
governor, when enforcing some petty tyranny. "It is not the rule," he
said, when denying some petty favour. Sometimes the prisoner was
forbidden by superior order the use of books and writing materials, but
more frequently such an order issued from the lips of the governor
himself. If permission to read and write were accorded, new difficulties
arose. There was no special library attached to the dungeon, and as the
governor's tastes were seldom literary, his store of books was scanty,
and the volumes were usually in the keeping of those few prisoners whom
he favoured. As for writing materials, little books of note-paper were
sparsely doled, each sheet numbered and to be accounted for; and no
letter could leave the prison without the governor's scrutiny.

As the prisoner read and wrote, so also did he eat and drink, by favour
of the governor. An allowance sufficient for each prisoner's maintenance
was authorised and paid by the State, but most of the King's bounty
contributed to swell the governor's private fortune. The tariff allowed
and paid out of the royal treasury was:

  For a prince of the blood, about £2 _per diem_.

  For a marshal of France, about £1 10_s._

  For a lieutenant-general, about £1.

  For a member of Parliament, about 15_s._

  For an ordinary judge, a priest, a captain in the army, or an official
  of good standing, about 7_s._ 6_d._

  For a barrister or a citizen of means, about 2_s._ 6_d._

  For a small tradesman, about 1_s._ 6_d._

At such rates as these, all prisoners should have been well cared for in
those days; but the truth is that the governors who entered Vincennes
with small means left it rich men. Not only the moneys allotted for
food, but the allowances of wood, lights, etc., were shamelessly
pilfered; and prisoners who were unable or forbidden to supplement the
royal bounty from their own purses were often half-starved and
half-frozen in their cells. As for the quality of the food, warders and
kitchen-assistants sometimes tried to sell in Vincennes meat taken from
the prison kitchen, but it had an ill name amongst the peasants: "That
comes from the dungeon; it's rotten." On the other hand, wealthy
prisoners who enjoyed the governor's favour, or who could bring
influence to bear on him from without, were allowed to beguile the
tedium of captivity by unlimited feasting and drinking. The inmate of
one cell, lying in chains, dirt, and darkness, might be kept awake at
night by the tipsy strains of his neighbour in the cell adjoining.
Governors avaricious above the common generally had their dark cells
full, so as to be able to feed on bread and water the prisoners for whom
they received the regular daily tariff. Ordinarily, there were but two
meals a day, dinner at eleven in the morning and supper at five in the
evening; hence, if your second ration were insufficient, you must go
hungry for eighteen hours. A privileged few were allowed a valet at
their own charge, but the majority of the prisoners of both sexes were
served by the turnkeys.

The turnkeys visited the cells three times a day, rather as spies, it
seems, than as ministers to the needs of the prisoners. "They came like
heralds of misfortune," says one. "A face hard, expressionless, or
insolent; an imperturbable silence; a heart proof against the sufferings
of others. Useless to address a question to them; a curt negative was
the sole response. 'I know nothing about it,' was the turnkey's eternal

Some prisoners, but by no means all, were allowed to walk for an hour a
day in one of the confined gardens at the base of the tower; always in
company with a warder, who might neither speak nor be spoken to. As the
hour struck, the exercise ceased.

Such seems to have been the external routine of life at Vincennes.
Beneath the surface was the perpetual tyrannous oppression of the
governor and his subordinates on the one side, and on the other a weight
of suffering, extended to almost every detail of existence, endured by
the great majority of the prisoners; silently even unto death in some
instances, but in others not without desperate resistance, long
sustained against overwhelming odds.

The recital of Mirabeau's captivity throws into curious relief the inner
life of the dungeon. The governor was a certain De Rougemont, of most
unrighteous memory, whom Latude describes as having written his name in
blood on the walls of every cell. Elsewhere the same narrator says that
prisoners occasionally strangled themselves to escape the rage of De
Rougemont, who was seventeen years in charge of Vincennes.

The fiery, impetuous Mirabeau was ceaselessly at variance with this
"despotic ape," who delighted in trying to repress by the most
contemptible annoyances that irrepressible spirit. Complaint was a fault
in the eyes of De Rougemont, impatience a crime.

The future tribune,[9] whose head was always in the clouds, complained
incessantly and was impatience incarnate. Night or day he gave his
gaoler no peace. Mirabeau's lodging in the fortress was a small
tower-chamber between the second and third story, rarely visited by the
sun; it was in existence fifty years ago, and bore the number 28. De
Rougemont began by submitting him to all the rigours of "the rules."
Mirabeau demanded leave to write, it was refused; to read, it was
refused; to take a daily airing, it was refused. He could not get
scissors to cut his hair, nor a barber to dress it for him. He was four
months in altercation with De Rougemont before he could obtain the use
of a blunt table-knife. He could not get at his trunk to procure himself
a change of linen.

Footnote 9:

  He was imprisoned mainly on the order of the Marquis de Mirabeau, his
  father, whose lifelong jealousy of that brilliant son is matter of
  history; a finished example of the domestic bully, and a matchless
  humbug and hypocrite, whose every action gave the lie to his by-name
  _Friend of Man_. In the course of his life, the Marquis procured no
  fewer than fifty _lettres de cachet_ against members of his own


"Is it by 'the rules' that my trunk is kept from me?" he demanded of the

"What need have you of your trunk?"

"Need! I want clothes and linen. I am still wearing what I brought into
this rat-hole!"

"What does it matter? You see no company here."

"I am to go foul, then, because I see no company! Is that your rule?
Once more, let me have my trunk."

"We have not the key of it."

"Send for a locksmith,—an affair of an hour."

"Where am I to find the hour? Have I no one and nothing else to attend
to? Are you the only prisoner here?"

"That is no answer. You are here to take care of your prisoners. Give me
my trunk, I tell you!"

"_It is against the rules._ We shall see by-and-bye."

"As usual! 'We shall see.' In the meantime perhaps you will have the
goodness to send a barber to shave me and cut my hair."

"Ah! I must speak about that to the minister."

"What! The minister's permission to——"

"Yes. _It is the rule._"

"Indeed! The doctor said as much, but I refused to credit him."

"You were wrong, you see!"

"Now that I remember, he told me something else, that in the present
state of my health a bath, with as little delay as possible, was
indispensable. Perhaps he did not mention that to you?"

"I fancy he did say something about it."

"Oh, he did! But the King and the Government have not debated it yet, I
suppose? Well, sir, I want a bath and I'm going to have one."

"You have no right to give orders here, sir."

"Nor have you the right to withhold what the doctor prescribes for me."

"M. de Mirabeau, you are insolent. Do you forget that I represent the

"He could not be more grotesquely represented. The distance between you
and his Majesty is short, sir."

The governor (to make the joke more apparent) was short and of a full
habit. He went out speechless, and Mirabeau would doubtless have felt
the effects of his rage had it not been for the interest of Lenoir,
Lieutenant-General of Police, who was always ready to stand between the
prisoner and the vengeful gaoler. Through Lenoir, who won for him the
intercession of the Princesse de Lamballe, Mirabeau got the use of books
and pen, and some other small indulgences. He wrote to his father: "Will
you not ease me of my chains? Let me have friends to see me; let me have
leave to walk. Let me exchange the dungeon for the château. There as
here I should be under the King's hand, and close enough to the prison,
if I should abuse that measure of liberty." The implacable _Friend of
Man_ vouchsafed no response to this entreaty. The prisoner buried
himself in the books that were given him, but they were for the most
part "_de mauvais auteurs_," who had nothing to teach him. He flung them
from him one by one, and as he paced his cell he began those brilliant
improvisations which were soon to electrify France, and which struck
absolutism at its root. In this way he worked out the scheme of the
_lettres de cachet_, that work of flaming eloquence in which the genius
of liberty approaches, seizes, and strangles the dragon of despotism.
Deprived of all but his pen, Mirabeau let fall from the height of his
dungeon on the head of royalty that thunderbolt of a treatise. Since De
Rougemont would never, for a hundred chiefs of police, have aided him
with materials for this purpose, he tore out of all the books he could
lay hands on the fly-leaves and blank spaces, and covered them with his
fine close writing. Each completed slip he concealed in the lining of
his coat, and in this manner did the tribune compose and preserve his
work, every page of which was a prophecy of the coming Revolution. When
inspiration lacked for a time, he prostrated himself on the flags of his
cell and wept for his absent mistress, or he renewed hostilities with De
Rougemont. The battle of the trunk was followed by the battle of the

He could not go through his toilet without a looking-glass, he insisted;
and in a letter to the governor which must have filled several
manuscript pages he exhausted his logic and his sarcasm in enforcing
this modest request. He got his mirror in the end, and then renewed his
fruitless correspondence with his father, and made an eloquent attempt
to move the clemency of the King. "Deign, sire, to save me from my
persecutors," he wrote to Louis. "Look with pity on a man twenty-eight
years of age, who, buried in full life, sees and feels the slow approach
of brutish inertia, despair, and madness, darkening and paralysing the
noblest of his years." M. Lenoir himself placed this letter in the
King's hands, but nothing came of it for Mirabeau, who continued in the
pauses of astonishing literary labours his fight for liberty from behind
his prison bars. By clamours and entreaties he succeeded at length in
forcing his way through them.


Amongst the prisoners of renown of the eighteenth century Latude must
not pass unnoticed. His sojourn in and escape from the Bastille have
been much more widely bruited than his captivity at Vincennes, where
also he did things wonderful and suffered pains and indignities
incredible. Needless to say that he gave his guards the slip, and
equally needless to add that he was recovered and brought back. His
second incarceration was in one of De Rougemont's _cachots_ (De
Rougemont always had a _cachot_ available), from, which, on the
surgeon's declaration that his life was in danger, he was removed to a
more habitable chamber. On his way thither he found and secreted one of
those handy tools which fortune seemed always to leave in the path of
Latude, and used it to establish a most ingenious means of communication
with his fellow-prisoners. No one ever yet performed such wonders in
prison as Masers de Latude. No one accomplished such unheard-of escapes.
No one, when retaken, paid with such cruel interest the penalty of his
daring. Was the man only a splendid fable, as some latter-day sceptics
have suggested? The question has been put, but no one will ever affirm
it with authority, and the weight of the evidence seems to lie with
Latude the man and not with Latude the legend.

No great distance separated the chamber of Latude from the _cachot_ of
the Prévôt de Beaumont. The Prévôt was a great criminal: he had had the
courage to denounce and expose that gigantic State fraud, the _pacte de
famine_, in which the De Sartines before named and other persons of
consequence were involved. Those were not the days for Prévôts de
Beaumont to meddle as critics with criminal ventures of this sort, and
the Prévôt had his name written on the customary form. He spent
twenty-two years in five of the State prisons of France, and fifteen of
them in the dungeon of Vincennes.

    "There is not in the _Saints' Martyrology_," he wrote (in the record
    which he gave to the people of the Revolution of his experiences in
    the dungeon of the Monarchy), "such a tale of tribulations and
    torments as were suffered by me on twelve separate occasions in the
    fifteen years of my captivity at Vincennes. On one occasion I was
    confined four months in the _cachot_, nine months on another
    occasion, eighteen months on a third; of my fifteen years in the
    dungeon, _seven years and eight months_ were passed in the black
    hole. The cruel De Sartines never ceased to harry me; the monster De
    Rougemont surpassed the orders of De Sartines. Yes, I have lain
    almost naked and with fettered ankles for eighteen months together.
    For eighteen months at a time, I have lived on a daily allowance of
    two ounces of bread and a mug of water. I have more than once been
    deprived of both for three successive days and nights."[10]

Footnote 10:

  I have summarised here the extracts in the original from the pamphlet
  of the Prévôt de Beaumont quoted at great length by the authors of the
  _Histoire du Donjon de Vincennes_. As a curiosity of prison
  literature, the Prévôt's pamphlet, if correctly cited, goes above the
  little eighteenth-century work on Newgate by "B. L. of Twickenham."

The dramatic interest of the Prévôt's imprisonment culminates in an
assault upon him in his cell, renewed at four several ventures by the
whole strength of the prison staff "and the biggest dog that I have ever
seen." The Prévôt had devoted five years to the stealthy composition of
an essay on the _Art of True Government_, which was actually a history
of the _pacte de famine_. His attempts to get it printed were discovered
by the police, and the attack on his cell was designed to wrest from him
the manuscript. He sets out the affair in detail with the liveliest
touches—"First Round," "Second Round," etc.—shews himself levelling De
Rougemont with a brick in the stomach, the dog with a blow on the nose,
and blinding a brace of warders with the contents of his slop-bucket. At
last, faced by an order in the King's writing, he allowed himself to be
transferred from Vincennes to Charenton, on the express understanding
that his precious manuscript should be transferred with him. The Prévôt
himself arrived duly at Charenton, but he never again set eyes on the
essay on the _Art of True Government_. De Rougemont had arranged that it
should be stolen on the journey, and the manuscript was last seen in the
archives of the Bastille.


Mirabeau was not the only polemic of genius who helped to sharpen
against the gratings of Vincennes the weapons of the dawning Revolution.
Was not Diderot of the _Encyclopedia_ there also? He paid by a month's
rigorous imprisonment in the dungeon, and a longer period of mild
captivity in the château, the publication of his _Letter on the Blind
for the Use of those who See_. This, at least, was the ostensible reason
of his detention; the true reason was never quite apparent. At the
château he was allowed the visits of his wife and friends, and amongst
the latter Jean Jacques Rousseau was frequently admitted. Literary
legend is more responsible than history for the statement that the first
idea of the _Social Contract_ was the outcome of Rousseau's talks with
Diderot and Grimm in the park of Vincennes.


Year after year, reign after reign, the picture rarely changes within
the four walls of the dungeon. Vincennes was perhaps fuller under Louis
XV. than in the reigns of preceding or succeeding sovereigns, but the
difference could not have been great. During the twenty years of
Cardinal Fleury's ministry under Louis XV., 40,000 _lettres de cachet_
were issued by him, mostly against the Jansenists. Madame de Pompadour
made a lavish use of the _lettres_ in favour of Vincennes; Madame
Dubarry bestowed her patronage chiefly on the Bastille. Richelieu at one
epoch, Mazarin at another, found occupants in plenty for the cells of
Vincennes. It was Richelieu who passed a dry word one day apropos of
certain mysterious deaths in the dungeon.

"It must be grief," said one.

"Or the purple fever," said the King.

"It is the air of Vincennes," observed Richelieu, "that marvellous air
which seems fatal to all who do not love his Majesty."


Ministers themselves were apt to fall by the weapon of their own
employment. A minister of Louis XIV., who had chosen for his proud
device the motto, _Quò non ascendam?_—_What place too high for me?_—and
whom chroniclers have suspected of pretensions to the gallant crown of
Mademoiselle de la Vallière, fell one day from a too giddy pinnacle
plump into the dungeon of Vincennes. It was Fouquet the magnificent.

Up to a point, Fouquet was the best courtier in France. The King's
passion was for pomp and glitter; the minister cultivated a taste for
the dazzling. Louis was prodigal to extravagance; Fouquet became lavish
_jusqu'à la folie_. The King dipped both hands into the public moneys;
the minister plunged elbow-deep into the coffers of the State. The King
offered to his servitors fêtes the most sumptuous; the minister regaled
his friends with spectacles beyond compare. Then Louis wearied of this
too splendid emulation, and Fouquet the magnificent was attached. He all
but sacrificed his head to his lust of rivalry; but Louis relented, and
took from him only his goods and his freedom. Despoiled and dishonoured,
the ex-minister fared from prison to prison,—Vincennes, Angers, Amboise,
Moret, the Bastille, and Pignerol. _Quò non ascendam?_—_Whither may I
not mount?_ The unfortunate minister, who had thought to climb to the
sun of Louis XIV., sank to his death in a _cachot_.


The contrasts presented by the diverse fates of certain prisoners are
sufficiently striking. Fouquet was preceded at Vincennes by Cardinal de
Retz, the last prisoner of distinction whom Anne of Austria sent to the
dungeon. The Cardinal's was a gilt-edged captivity. He lived _en prince_
at Vincennes; he had valets, money, and a good table; great ladies came
to distract him, friends to flatter him, and players to divert him.
Literature, politics, gallantry, and the theatre—the Cardinal found all
of these at Vincennes. When he chanced to remember his priestly quality,
he obtained leave to say mass in the chapel of the château, "carefully
concealing the end of his chain under the richest of vestments." But the
chain was there, and the lightest of fetters grows heavy in prison;—the
Cardinal resolved on flight.

It was a clever and most original plan. On a certain day, a party of the
Cardinal's friends, mounted as for a desperate ride, were to assemble
under the walls of the keep, and at a given signal were to whirl away in
their midst a man attired at all points like the Cardinal himself. A
rope hanging from a severed bar in the window of the cell was to give
his guards to suppose that the prisoner had escaped that way; but all
this while the Cardinal was to lie _perdu_ in a hole which he had
discovered on the upper terrace of the prison. When the excitement over
the imaginary flight had subsided, and the vigilance of the sentries was
relaxed, the Cardinal was to issue from his hiding-place, disguised as a
kitchen-man, and walk out of the dungeon. It might have succeeded, but
the elements played into the hands of Anne d'Autriche. A storm blew up
on the night that the Cardinal was to have quitted his chamber, and the
wind closed a heavy door on the staircase that led to the terrace. All
the Cardinal's efforts to wrest it open were unavailing, and he was
forced to return to his cell. He was removed to the château of Nantes,
and the imaginative daring of his flight from that place has ranked it
high in the annals of prison-breaking.


One echo more shall reach us from these lugubrious caverns. Towards the
beginning of the eighteenth century, a young man, Du Puits by name
(victimised by an Italian Abbé into forging orders on the King's
treasury), received as cell-companion the Marquis de la Baldonnière, a
reputed or suspected alchemist. Du Puits, a laughing philosopher now on
the verge of tears, recovered his spirits when he learned the
new-comer's name.

"I heard all about you, sir, before I came here," he said. "I was
secretary to M. Chamillart, the minister, and you were often talked of
at the bureau. I told M. Chamillart that if you could turn iron into
gold, it was a pity you were not appointed manager of the iron mines.
But it is never too late to turn one's talents to account, monsieur le
marquis, and as a magician of the first water you shall effect our

The achievements of the noble wizard came short of this end, but they
were far from contemptible. He took surreptitious impressions in wax of
the keys dangling from the very belt of the warder who visited them, and
manufactured a choice set of false ones, which gave the two prisoners
the range of the dungeon. There was no night watch within the tower, and
when the warders had withdrawn after the prisoners' supper-hour, Du
Puits and the Marquis ran up and down the stairs, and from hall to hall,
called on the other prisoners in their cells, and made some agreeable
acquaintances, including that of a pretty and charming young sorceress.
Trying a new lock one night, they found themselves in the governor's
pantry—after this, some rollicking supper parties. The feasts were
organised nightly in one cell or another, Du Puits and the Marquis
furnishing the table from the ample larder of the governor. Healths were
being drunk one night, when the door was rudely opened, and the guests
found themselves covered by the muskets of the guard. An unamiable
prisoner whose company they had declined had exposed the gay conspiracy,
and there were no more supper parties.


The last years of Vincennes as a State prison have little of the
interest either of romance or of tragedy. Its fate in this respect was
settled by Mirabeau's _lettres de cachet_. Vincennes was the only prison
of which he had directly exposed the callous and cruel régime, and the
ministry thought well to close it, as a small concession to the rising
wrath of the populace. In 1784, accordingly, Vincennes was struck off
the list of the State prisons of France. A singular and oddly ludicrous
fate came upon it in the following year, when it was transformed into a
sort of charitable bakery under the patronage of Louis XVI.! The
_cachot_ in which the Prévôt de Beaumont had lain hungry for eighteen
months, and for three days without food, was stored with cheap loaves
for the working people of Paris. A little later, the dungeon was a
manufactory of arms for the King's troops. After the destruction of the
Bastille, Vincennes was attacked by the mob, but Lafayette and his
troops saved it from their hands. Under the Republic it was used for a
time as a prison for women. The wretched fate of the Duc d'Enghien,
Napoleon's chief captive in this fortress, has been told; and there is
only to add that the last prisoners who passed within the walls of
Vincennes were MM. de Peyronnet, de Guernon Ranville, de Polignac, and
Chantelauze, the four ministers of Charles X. whose part in the
"Revolution of July" belongs to the history of our own times. Brave old
General Daumesnil, "Old Wooden-Leg," who died August 17, 1832, was the
last governor of the Dungeon of Vincennes.




                              CHAPTER IV.


Louis VI., called le Gros, whose reign was from 1108 to 1137, did much
to enlarge and to embellish the mean and narrow Paris of his day. He
built churches and schools both in the Cité and beyond the river, and
thanks to the lectures of Abelard his schools were famous. He built a
wall around the suburbs, and for the further defence of the Cité he set
up the two fortresses called Le Grand and Le Petit Châtelet, "at the
extremities of the bridge which united the Cité with the opposite bank."

Here was established the court of municipal justice, and here the
Provost of Paris had his residence. The prison of the Châtelet became
one of the most celebrated in Paris, and prison and fortress were not
completely demolished until 1802.

The functions of the Châtelet—_cette justice royale ordinaire à
Paris_—were great and various. It was charged in effect, says
Desmaze,[11] with the maintenance of public safety in the capital, with
the settlement of divers causes, with the repression of popular
agitations, with the ordering of corporations and trades, with the
verification of weights and measures. It punished commercial frauds,
defended "minors and married women," and kept in check the turbulent
scholars of the University. Its magistrates were fifty-six in number; it
had its four King's Counsel and its King's Procurator; its
clerk-in-chief and his host of subordinates; its receivers, bailiffs,
and ushers; its gaolers and its sworn tormentor; its "sixty special
experts"; its surgeon and his assistants, including a _sage-femme_ or
mid-wife; and its two hundred and twenty _sergents à cheval_.

Footnote 11:

  _Le Châtelet de Paris._

All in all, the Châtelet was one of the most formidable powers in Paris.
The court of the Châtelet comprised four divisions, administered by
councillors who sat in rotation. The four sections were distinguished as
the _parc civil_, the _présidial_, the _chambre du conseil_, and the
_chambre criminelle_.

But the Prison of the Châtelet is our principal concern. Although, says
Desmaze, the prison was instituted for the safe-keeping and not for the
maltreatment of the accused, the law's design was too often eluded or
ignored. Much the same might be said in respect of any other prison in
Europe at that epoch. Antique papers cited by Desmaze show,
nevertheless, that Parliaments of Paris sought by successive decrees to
modify the rigour of the prisoner's lot, to restrain the cupidity of his
gaolers, and to maintain decent order within the prison. There were
provisions against gambling with dice, rules for the distribution of
alms amongst the prisoners, and penalties for those who absented
themselves from chapel. In 1425, a new _ordonnance_ fixed the scale of
fees (_geôlage_) which prisoners were to pay to the governor or head
gaoler on reception. (This ironic jest of compelling persons to pay for
the privilege of going to prison obtained for centuries in Newgate.) A
count or countess was charged ten livres, a knight banneret (_chevalier
banneret_) passed in for ten sols, a Jew or a Jewess for half that sum;
and so on to the end of the scale. There were particular injunctions as
to the registering of prisoners, and as to the mode of keeping the
prison books. The bread served out was ordered to be _de bonne qualitè_,
and not less than a pound and a half a day for each prisoner: in 1739,
the baker who supplied the Châtelet was condemned to a fine of 2000
livres for adulterating the prisoners' bread. A special ration of bread
and meat was distributed at the Châtelet on the day of the annual feast
of the confraternity of drapers, and the goldsmiths of Paris gave a
dinner on Easter Day to such of the prisoners as would accept their

The deputies of the _Procureur Général_ were instructed to visit the
prison once a week, to examine and receive in private the requests and
complaints of the prisoners, and to see that the doctors did their duty
by the sick. The first Presidents of the Paris Parliament seem to have
visited the Châtelet frequently from the end of the fourteenth to the
middle of the sixteenth century.


But there was one circumstance which, in Mediæval Paris and in the Paris
of a much later date, must have gone far to nullify all good intentions
and humane precautions of kings and parliaments alike. Under an
_ordonnance_ of July, 1319, Philippe le Long decreed that the
governorships of gaols should be sold at auction. The purchasers were,
of course, to be "respectable persons" (_bonnes gens_), who should
pledge their word to deal humanely by (_de bien traiter_) the prisoners;
but of what use were such provisos? In no circumstances, indeed, could a
saving clause of any description ensure the proper administration of a
prison the governor of which had bought the right to make private gain
out of his prisoners. For this was what the selling of gaolerships came
to. Having paid for his office (having bought it, moreover, over the
heads of other bidders), the governor recouped himself by fleecing his
wealthy prisoners and by stinting or starving his poorer ones. It was no
worse in France than elsewhere; until Howard demanded reform, prisoners
in Newgate were plundered right and left under a similar system, and
those who could not pay the illegal fees of the governor and his
subordinates were lodged in stinking holds, and fed themselves as they

We shall see what the prisons of the Châtelet and the Fort-l'Évêque were
like amid the luxuries and refinements which surrounded them in the
eighteenth century. An _ordonnance_ of 1670 had enjoined that the
prisons should be kept in a wholesome state, and so administered that
the prisoners should suffer nothing in their health. Never, says
Desmaze, was a decree so miserably neglected.

What are the facts? He quotes from an "anonymous eighteenth-century
manuscript" ("by a magistrate") entitled: _Projet concernant
l'établissement_ _de nouvelles Prisons dans la Capitale_. The
Fort-l'Évêque and the Châtelet are turned inside out for such an
inspection as Howard would have made with a gust.

In the court or principal yard of Fort-l'Évêque, thirty feet long by
eighteen wide, from four to five hundred prisoners were confined. The
prison walls were so high that no air could circulate in the yard; the
prisoners were "choked by their own miasma." The cells "were more like
holes than lodgings"; and there were some under the steps of the
staircase, six feet square, into which five prisoners were thrust. Other
cells, in which it was barely possible to stand upright, received no
light but from the general yard. The cells in which certain prisoners
were kept at their private charge were scarcely better. Worst of all
were the dens belowground. These were on a level with the river, water
filtered in through the arches the whole year round, and even in the
height of summer the sole means of ventilation was a slit above the door
three inches in width. Passing before one of the subterranean cells, it
was as though one were smitten by fire (_on est frappé comme d'un coup
de feu_). They gave only on to the dark and narrow galleries which
surrounded them. The whole prison was in a state of dilapidation,
threatening an immediate ruin.

The Châtelet was "even more horrible and pestilential." The prison
buildings, having no external opening, received air only from above;
there was thus "no current, but only, as it were, a stationary column of
air, which barely allowed the prisoners to breathe." This is far from a
realisation of the _ordonnance_ of 1670! Like the Fort-l'Évêque, the
Châtelet had its horrors of the pit. Dulaure[12] has a curious passage
on the subject. It appears, says one of the best of the historians of
Paris, that prisoners were let down into a dungeon called _la fosse_, as
a bucket is lowered into a well; here they sat with their feet in water,
unable to stand or to lie, "and seldom lived beyond fifteen days."
Another of these pits, known as _fin d'aise_ (a name more bodeful than
the Little Ease of old Newgate), was "full of filth and reptiles"; and
Dulaure adds that the mere names of most of the Châtelet cells were
"frightfully significant."

Footnote 12:

  _Histoire de Paris._


The Provost of Paris, rendering justice in the King's name, took
cognisance of all ordinary causes, of capital crimes, and of petty
offences. His officers arrested and imprisoned "all manner of criminals,
vagabonds, and disturbers of the public peace." In the reign of
Philippe-Auguste, he was charged with the duty of "bringing to justice
the Jews" who at that epoch were "accused of seeking to convert
Christians to Judaism, of taking usurious interest, and of profaning the
sacred vessels which the churches gave them in pledge." After the King,
said Pasquier, the Provost of Paris was the most powerful man in the

The headsman of Paris depended on the jurisdiction of the Châtelet.
There was a small chamber in the prison called the _réduit aux
gehennes_, where, when an execution was to take place, Monsieur de Paris
received the Provost's warrant. In 1418, the headsman Capeluche was
himself sentenced to be beheaded, and in the _réduit aux gehennes_ he
put the new Monsieur de Paris through his facings with the axe.

[Illustration: THE GREAT CHÂTELET.]


An account of the sentences decreed by the Châtelet would be little less
than a history of punishment in France. The Châtelet gave reasons for
its sentences, a practice not followed by the superior courts. Terrible
were the pains and penalties decreed sometimes from beneath the
Provost's dais. Torture wrung some avowal from the frothy lips of the
accused, and then he was shrived and carried to the place of execution.
The fierce canonical law lent its ingenuity in punishment to the judges
of the Châtelet; but many of the penalties, such as hanging, beheading,
burning, whipping, mutilation, and the pillory, are found on our own
criminal registers of the same period. Coiners and forgers were boiled
alive; there is an entry of twelve livres for the purchase of a cauldron
in which to boil to death a _faux monnoyeur_. In 1390, a young female
servant, convicted of stealing silver spoons from her master, was
exposed in the pillory, suffered the loss of an ear, and was banished
from Paris and its environs, "not to return under penalty of being
buried alive." For the crime of marrying two wives, one Robert Bonneau
was sentenced to be "hanged and strangled." Geoffroy Vallée was burned,
in 1573, for the publication of a pamphlet entitled _The Heavenly
Felicity of the Christians, or the Scourge of the Faith_; and, in 1645,
a bookseller was sent to the galleys "for having printed a libel against
the Government."

Some of the old registers of the Châtelet examined by Desmaze showed
entries of charges of pocket-picking and card-sharping at public
processions, fairs, and spectacles. Little thieves defended themselves
before the magistrates in the style familiar at Bow Street to-day,—a lad
of fifteen charged with stealing handkerchiefs from pedestrians said he
had "picked up one in the street."


The Châtelet, or rather the Little Châtelet, was the Provost's residence
until the end of the sixteenth century. In 1564, the Provost was Hugues
de Bourgueil, "distinguished for the possession of a terrific hump and a
beautiful wife." One day Parliament consigned to the cells of the Little
Châtelet a young Italian, accused of having set up in Paris a
"gambling-house and fencing-saloon," where he corrupted the morals of
the young nobility, "teaching them a thousand things unworthy of
Christians and Frenchmen."

In his quality of Italian, the prisoner, Gonsalvi by name, invoked the
protection of Catherine de Médicis. The Queen-Mother, while respecting
the decree of Parliament, recommended the young compatriot to the
Provost's particular care. De Bourgueil accordingly lodged him in his
own house, where Gonsalvi was soon on intimate terms with the family.
One night he eloped with the Provost's wife. Madame had contrived to
possess herself of the keys of the prison, thinking that if she let
loose the whole three hundred prisoners, M. le Prévôt would have a good
night's work on hand, and the course would be clear for her lover and
herself. And so it resulted; for the Provost, faithful to his duty,
despatched horse and foot after his three hundred fugitives, and let
Madame and Gonsalvi take their way.

The next day, an errant wife was missing from the Little Châtelet, but
at night the keys were turned as usual on the full contingent of three
hundred prisoners. It was the scandal of this affair, say MM. Alhoy and
Lurine, which decided the King to shift the Provost's residence from the
Châtelet to the Hôtel d'Hercule, wherein was presently installed
Nantouillet, "successeur de ce pauvre diable de Bourgueil."

Nantouillet was not too well off, it would seem, in the Hôtel d'Hercule.
No sooner was he established there than he was bidden to prepare for the
visit of three Kings,—France, Poland, and Navarre,—who would do
themselves the pleasure of lunching with him. Nantouillet, who had just
declined to marry a cast-off mistress of the King of Poland, suspected
some scheme of vengeance on their Majesties' part; he could not,
however, refuse to spread his board for them. He spread it, and the
Kings came down and swept it bare. They swooped upon Nantouillet's
silver plate and sacked his coffers of fifty thousand francs. There was
a fierce fight in the Hôtel, but the Kings got away with the plunder. On
the following day, the First President of Parliament waited upon Charles
IX. and said that all Paris was shocked; and his Majesty in reply bade
him "not trouble himself about that." This _tableau moral_ of the period
is presented by several historians.

With such examples in the seats of Royalty, one can feel little surprise
at the charges of venality, and worse, which were brought from time to
time against the Provosts. In the reign of Philippe le Long, a certain
wealthy citizen lay under sentence of death in the Châtelet. The Provost
Henri Caperel made him a private proposal of ransom, a bargain was
struck. Dives was set free, and the Provost hanged some obscure prisoner
in his stead. Provost Hugues de Cruzy is said to have trafficked openly
at the Châtelet in much the same way, Royalty itself sharing the booty
with him. Now and again, justice took her revenge; and both Henri
Caperel and Hugues de Cruzy finished on the gallows. The noble brigand,
highwayman, and cut-throat, Jourdain de Lisle, who led a numerous band
in the fourteenth century, bought the interest of the Provost of Paris;
and the Châtelet "refused to take cognisance of his eighteen crimes, the
least of which would have brought to an ignominious death any other
criminal." A new Provost had to be appointed before Jourdain de Lisle,
tied to the tail of a horse, could be dragged through the streets of
Paris to the public gallows. He had married a niece of Pope Jean XXII.,
and when justice had been done, the curé of the church of Saint-Merri
wrote to Rome: "Scarcely had your Holiness's nephew been hanged, when,
with much pomp, we fetched him from the gibbet to our church, and there
buried him _honorablement et gratis_."


Ordinarily, the Châtelet relied for its defence upon the archers of the
Provost's guard, a reedy support when the mob turned out in force. It
was seized in 1320 by the _Pastoureaux_, a swarm of peasants who had
united themselves under two apostate priests, and who said they were
"going across the sea to combat the enemies of the faith and conquer the
Holy Land." To rescue some of their number who had been arrested and
thrown into the Châtelet, they marched on that place, broke open the
gaol, and effected a general delivery of the prisoners, as Madame de
Bourgueil was to do some two centuries later.

Between the conflicting powers of the Châtelet, as represented by the
Provost of Paris, and the University, which was accountable only to the
ecclesiastical tribunals, and intensely jealous of any interference by
the secular arm, a long and bitter struggle was sustained. In 1308,
Provost Pierre Jumel hanged a young man for theft on the highway.
Unfortunately for Jumel, this was a scholar of the University, and the
clergy of Paris went in procession to the Châtelet and briefly harangued
the Provost: "Come out of that, Satan, accursed one! Acknowledge thy
sin, and seek pardon at the holy altar, or expect the fate of Dathan and
Abiram, whom the earth swallowed." While they were thus engaged, a
messenger came from the Louvre with the announcement that the King had
sacrificed his chief magistrate to the wrathful demands of the clergy
and University. For a like encroachment on the sacred privileges of the
University, Guillaume de Thignonville was degraded from his office of
Provost, led to the gallows, and there compelled to take down and kiss
the corpses of two students whom he had hanged for robbery.

In 1330, Hugues Aubriot, in his capacity of Provost, lent the shelter of
the Châtelet to a party of Jews flying for their lives before the mob.
This service to the causes of humanity and public order renewed against
the Provost an ancient enmity of the clerics and University, by whom, in
the words of MM. Alhoy and Lurine, "it was determined that Aubriot
should be ruined." Condemned by the ecclesiastical tribunal "for the
crime of impiety and heresy," he was ordered to be "preached against and
publicly mitred in front of Notre-Dame." On his knees, he demanded
absolution of the bishop, and promised an offering of candles for his
iniquity in befriending the Jews. "His crimes were read aloud by the
Inquisitor of the Faith, and the bishop consigned him to perpetual
imprisonment, with the bread of sorrow and the water of affliction, as
an abettor of the Jewish infidelity, and a contemner of the Christian
faith." From that, the Provost descended to an _oubliette_ of the


The Fort-l'Évêque, in the Rue Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois, was one of the
two prisons of the Bishop of Paris. Its _oubliettes_ were subterranean
dungeons, separated from one another by stout timbers. The prisoners,
attached to a common chain, were fastened to the wall by iron rings, in
such a manner that they could not approach one another. They never saw
their gaolers, and their meagre rations were handed in through a narrow
wicket in the door. Hugues Aubriot occupied his _oubliette_ for many
years. In the insurrection of the _Maillotins_ he was discovered by the
rioters and set free. In 1674, the Bishop's jurisdiction was reunited
with that of the Châtelet, but the prison of the Fort-l'Évêque was in
existence until 1780.

Dulaure says that the penalties imposed by the episcopal court were
inflicted in various places, according to the gravity of the offence.
Sentences of hanging or burning were carried out beyond the precincts of
Paris; but if it were "a mere bagatelle of cutting off the culprit's
ears," justice was done at the Place du Trahoir.


In the middle of the seventeenth century, the Fort-l'Évêque was the
prison for "debtors and refractory comedians"; and about a hundred years
later, in 1765, it received the entire company of the Comédie-Française.
The episode is one of the oddest in the history of the House of Molière.
A second-rate member of the famous troupe, named Dubois, who had been
under medical treatment for some malady, refused to pay the doctor's
bill. Mademoiselle Clairon, the tragic actress, delicate on the point of
honour, summoned the rest of the company, and it was resolved to appeal
to M. de Richelieu, _gentilhomme de la chambre_. This functionary
treated it as "an affair of vagabonds," and told the company to settle
it amongst themselves. Dubois, accordingly, was put out of the troupe.
His daughter carried her father's grievance and her own charms (_elle
met en œuvre tous ses charmes_) to the Duc de Fronsac, through whose
intervention she succeeded in forcing for Dubois the doors of the
Comédie-Française. But the company were resolved not to act with him
again, and put a sudden stop to the performances of that very successful
piece, the _Siège de Calais_. De Sartines, of the police, now came
forward in the pretended interests of the public, and ordered the arrest
of Dauberval, Lekain, Molé, Brisard, Mademoiselle Clairon, and others of
the company. The public, however, were on the side of the players, and
Mademoiselle Clairon and her fellows had a semi-royal progress to the
Fort-l'Évêque; roses and rhetoric were showered on them, and _les plus
nobles dames de Paris_ disputed the honour of attending the tragédienne
to the threshold of the prison. Their captivity lasted, nevertheless,
for five and twenty days; but the final victory was with the players,
for Dubois was dismissed with a pension, and appeared no more on the
stage of the Théâtre Français.


Fêted every day in her chamber in the ecclesiastical prison—for there
was scarcely question of an _oubliette_ in her case,—receiving the
visits of noblemen and dames of fashion, artists, wits, and poets,
Mademoiselle Clairon had small leisure to bethink her that, under the
litter of flowers pressed by her dainty feet, lay the bones of whole
generations of victims of the church's tyranny; victims of those too
familiar charges of magic, heresy, and sacrilege.

Yet (I quote again from MM. Alhoy and Lurine) had she in the still night
lent a listening ear to those grey walls, the wailing murmurs of the
phantoms of Fort-l'Évêque might have chilled her heart:—

    "We expiated in the _oubliettes_ of the Fort-l'Évêque, under the
    reign of Francis I., the wrong of believing in God without believing
    also in the infallibility of the Pope. Look ... there is blood on
    our shrouds!"

    "We are two poor Augustine monks. They accused us, in Charles VI.'s
    time, of being idolaters, invokers of evil spirits, utterers of
    profane words. They accused us of making a pact with the powers
    below; our only crime was believing that our science might heal the
    madness of the King. Look ... there is blood on our shrouds!"

    "I am the sorcerer of the château of Landon. I promised an Abbé of
    Citeaux to find, by magic, a sum of money that had been stolen from
    him. Alas! it was a dear jest for me; torture, and death on the
    Place de Grève. Look ... there is blood upon my shroud!"

    "I am a poor madman. I thought that heaven had given me the glorious
    mission of sustaining on earth the servants of Jesus Christ. I went
    humbly to the bishop and said: The envoy of God salutes you! They
    brought me here to an _oubliette_, and I left it only with the
    headsman. Look ... there is blood on my shroud!"


The factions of the Armagnacs and the Bourguignons cost Paris a river of
blood in the early years of the fifteenth century, and the massacre of
the Armagnacs in May-August, 1418, was a terrible affair. On the first
day, five hundred and twenty-two were put to the sword by the
Bourguignons in the streets of the capital. Every Armagnac, or suspected
Armagnac, was laid hold of, and the prisons overflowed with the
captives. The Bourguignons assailed the Châtelet, "and the threshold of
the prison became the scaffold of fifteen hundred unfortunates." The
attack upon the Châtelet was renewed by the Bourguignons in August; and
the Provost of Paris, powerless to check or even to stem their fury,
bade them at length "Do what they would": _Mes amis, faites_ _ce qu'il
vous plaira_. This time the prisoners organised a defence, and a regular
siege began. On the north side of the fortress was a lofty terrace,
crowning the wall, so to say, and running the length of the prison. Here
the imprisoned Armagnacs threw up barricades, but the Bourguignons
reared scaling-ladders, and made light of climbing the walls, sixty feet
in height. The attack on the one side and the defence on the other were
long, bloody, and desperate; but the advantage was with the assailants.
Foiled at this point and that, they fired the prison; and where the
flames did not penetrate, they hacked their way in, and drove their game
to take refuge on the heights. As the fire soared upwards, the Armagnacs
flung themselves over the walls, and were caught upon the pikes of the
Burgundians, "who finished them with axe and sword."


The name of Louis XI., which is writ large in the histories of the
Bastille and the Dungeon of Vincennes, attaches to one curious episode
in the history of the Châtelet. In 1477, on the day of the festival of
Saint Denis, Louis "took the singular fancy of giving their liberty" to
the prisoners of the Great and Little Châtelet. A chronicler of this
fact, evidently puzzled, "hastens to add" that at that epoch the two
Châtelets "held merely robbers, assassins, and vagabonds. Not even to
honour the memory of Saint Denis could Louis bring himself to liberate
his political prisoners in Vincennes and the Bastille." It was in Louis
XI.'s reign that one Chariot Tonnelier, a hosier turned brigand, lying
in the Châtelet on a score of charges, and dreading lest the Question
should weaken him into betrayal of his companions, snatched a knife from
a guard at the door of the torture chamber, and deliberately cut his
tongue out.


The Fort-l'Évêque and the Little Châtelet were suppressed in 1780, in
virtue of an _ordonnance_ of Louis XVI., countersigned by Necker; and
the prisoners were transferred to La Force. The buildings, which were
even then in a state of ruin, were thrown down two years later. The
Great Châtelet existed as a prison for another decade, and the fortress
itself was not demolished until 1802-4. A triumphal column replaced the
ancient dungeon of the Provosts of Paris.




                               CHAPTER V.

                              THE TEMPLE.

When they came to Paris in the twelfth century, the Templars obtained
leave to settle in the Marshes, whose baleful exhalations cost the town
a plague or two every year. In no long time they had completely
transformed that dismal and pestilential swamp. Herculean labours
witnessed as their outcome oaks, elms, and beeches growing where the
rotten ooze had bred but reeds and osiers. Vast buildings, too, arose as
if by magic, with towers and turrets protecting them, drawbridges,
battlemented walls, and trenches. The principal tower of the pile
enclosed the treasure and arsenal of the Order, and four smaller towers
or turrets served as a prison for those who had transgressed the stark
monastic rules. On the broad terrace of the Temple three hundred men had
space for exercise at cross-bow and halberd.

Philip III. bestowed a royal recompense on the laborious monks who had
reclaimed those miasmatic marshes and given new means of defence to the
capital; and towards the close of the thirteenth century the Templars
had become an extraordinary power in France. In Paris they exercised
large justiciary rights, and had their gallows standing without the
Temple walls. They were concerned in all enterprises, civil, political,
and military; their sovereignty was such that princes had to reckon with
them, on pain of contact with the monkish steel. They had great
monopolies of grain, and owned some of the richest lands in the kingdom;
they touched the revenues of from eight to ten thousand manors. The
Templars guarded at need the towns, treasures, and archives of royalty;
and kings, popes, and nobles were their visitors and guests.

The fortress dwelling of the Temple which had sprung fairy-like from the
foul marshes of Paris shone with a splendour above that of the royal
residence. Twenty-four columns of silver, carved and chased, sustained
the audience-chamber of the grand master; and the chapter-hall, paved in
mosaic, and enriched with woodwork in cedar of Lebanon, contained sixty
huge vases of solid gold and a veritable armoury of Arabian, Moorish,
and Turkish weapons, chiselled, damascened, and crusted with precious
stones. The private chamber of every knight of the Order was
distinguished by some particular object of beauty; whilst the chambers
of the officers and commanders were stored with riches "so that they
were a wonder to behold."

How great a gulf separated the wealthy and powerful Templars of Paris
from those "poor brothers of the Temple who rode two on one horse, lived
frugally, without wives or children, had no goods of their own, and who,
when they were not taking the field against the infidels, were employed
in mending their weapons and the harness of their horses, or in pious
exercises prescribed for them by their chief."

The first institution of the Order of the Temple dates from the year
1118, when "certain brave and devout gentlemen" obtained from King
Baudouin III. "the noble favour of guarding the approaches to
Jerusalem." The Council of Troyes, in 1128, confirmed the religious and
military Order of the Templars. The knights clothed themselves in long
white robes adorned with a red cross; and the standard of the Order,
called the _Beaucèant_, was white and black, for an emblem of life and
death,—death for the infidels and life for the Christians of the Holy
Land. Bravery in battle was almost an article of their faith; no Templar
would fly from three opponents.

In the day of their military and political power, the Templars of France
acknowledged none but the authority of the grand master of the Order,
and treated with royalty as between power and power. Up to the reign of
Philippe le Bel, the Kings of France were little more than courtiers of
the Temple, Royalty knocked humbly at those august, defiant portals, for
leave to deposit within them its treasures and its charters, or to
solicit a loan from the golden coffers of the knights. Not so, however,
Philippe le Bel.

This was the sovereign who, in 1307, broke the power of the Knights
Templars of France. The act of accusation which he flung at the Order
proscribed its members as "ravening wolves," "a perfidious and
idolatrous society, whose works, nay, whose very words soil the earth
and infect the air." The last grand master, Jacques de Molay, seized by
the King's Inquisitor, passed through the torments of the torture
chamber, and thence to the torments of the stake. The Knights of the
Temple in their turn, loaded with chains, were led before the
Inquisitor, Guillaume de Paris, to answer his charges of heresy and
idolatry. The Templars were pursued through all the States of Europe,
the Pope encouraging the hue and cry. Jacques de Molay, and his
companion in misfortunes, Gui, Dauphin of Auvergne, were burned alive in
Paris; and the persecution of the Templars lasted for six years. Their
Order was abolished, and most of their wealth was bestowed by Philippe
upon the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem.

The prison of the Temple became a prison of the State; and the Temple
and the Louvre were the forerunners of the Bastille. The Dukes of
Aquitaine and Brabant were confined in the Temple under Philippe V. and
Philippe de Valois, the Counts of Dammartin and Flanders under King
John. Four sovereigns, indeed, Charles VII., Louis XI., Charles VIII.,
and Louis XII., seemed to have forgotten the dungeon which the Templars
had bequeathed them (they might well have done so, since Mediæval Paris
had its prisons at every turn); and the cells and chambers in the great
tower of the Temple remained closed,—to be opened no more until after
the 10th of August, 1792.

But there were social passages of interest in the history of this famous
fastness, and it was not unfitting that Francis I., the magnificent
monarch of the Renaissance, should repair the palace of the Templars,
restore those historic ruins, re-establish the spreading gardens, gild
afresh those illustrious halls,—re-create, in a word, the once brilliant
dwelling of the Chevaliers of the Cross: in 1540, the Temple became the
sumptuous abode of the Grand Priors of France.

In the last years of the seventeenth century, Philippe de Vendôme,
prince of the blood and knight of Malta, was named Grand Prior of the
Temple. He would have his priory worthy of the gallant and graceful
Court of the Palais-Royal; and the handsomest and most amiable of
ladies, and the finest and gayest of wits were bidden to his historic
suppers. The oaks that had shadowed the cross of Jacques de Molay lent
their shelter now to "all the gods of Olympus," summoned within the
green enclosure of the Temple by the lively invocations of La Fare and
de Chaulieu.

In the eighteenth century, this same enclosure had a population of four
thousand souls, divided into three distinct classes. There was first the
house of the Grand Prior, the dignitaries of the Order, and certain
nobles; then, a numerous body of workers of all grades; and lastly, a
rather heterogeneous collection of debtors who were able to elude their
creditors within these precincts, in virtue of a Mediæval
prescript—which justice ceased to respect in 1779.

At this epoch, the Government of Louis XVI.—as if with a presentiment of
what the Temple was shortly to become for the King of France—ordered the
demolition of the old fortress of the Templars. But the destroyers of
1779 overthrew only a portion of the tower; the dungeon itself remained,
to be witness of a royal agony.

[Illustration: THE TEMPLE PRISON.]

See, then, at length, after the revolution of the 10th of August, Louis
XVI. and Marie Antoinette prisoners in the prison of the Temple! Marie
Antoinette, most imprudent and most amiable, most unfortunate and most
calumniated of women; Louis XVI., poor honest gentleman, whose passive
intelligence drew from Turgot this prophetic word: "Sire, a weak prince
can make choice only between the musket of Charles IX. and the scaffold
of Charles I." The King was without force and without prestige; the
Queen was incapable either of giving or of receiving a lesson in

Taciturn, and subject to sudden fits of temper; as much embarrassed by
his wife as by his crown, Louis divided his time between hunting and
those little harmless hobbies which showed that, had the fates desired,
he might have made an excellent artisan. As for Marie Antoinette, what
rôle was there for her, the victim of perpetual suspicion, in the midst
of a tremendous political reaction? It was reproached against her, not
without reason, that she could never fashion for herself the conscience
of a queen. She felt herself a woman, young and beautiful; she forgot
that she was also the partner of a throne. Full of personal charm,
liking to toy with elegant pleasures, wedded to a man so little made for
her, surrounded by gallant courtiers whom her beauty and graces
intoxicated, Marie Antoinette had her share of ardent emotions, and more
than once she was at last forgetful of her pride, _cette pudeur des
reines_; but her position at the Court of France was so false and so
complicated that, let her have done what she would, she might not have
escaped the abyss towards which her own feet impelled her.

To the Temple, then, they were hurried, Louis and his family, on the
14th of August, 1792. The tower of the fortress was allotted to them,
and a portion of the palace and all the adjacent buildings were
levelled, so that the dungeon proper was completely isolated. The space
of garden reserved for their daily exercise was enclosed between lofty
walls. Louis occupied the first floor of the prison and his family the
second. Every casement was protected by thick iron bars, and the outer
windows were masked in such a manner that the prisoners obtained
scarcely a glimpse of the world beyond their cage. Six wickets defended
the staircase which led to the King's apartment; so low and narrow that
it was necessary to squeeze through them in a stooping posture. Each
door was of iron, heavily barred, and was kept locked at all hours.
After Louis' imprisonment, a seventh wicket with a door of iron was
constructed at the top of the stairs, which no one could open
unassisted. The first door of Louis' chamber was also of iron; so here
were eight solid barriers betwixt the King and his friends in
freedom,—not counting the dungeon walls. A guard of some three hundred
men watched night and day around the Temple.

These costly preparations on his Majesty's account (great sums, it is
said, were spent on them) were not completed in a day, and in the
meantime the Royal family inhabited that portion of the palace of the
Temple which had been left standing. In his daily walks in the garden,
King Louis looked on at the building of his last earthly mansion, and
must have noticed the desperate haste with which the builders worked! In
the middle of September, he passed into the shades of the dungeon.

Once locked in there, he was forbidden the use of pens, ink, and paper;
no writing materials were allowed him until the national convention had
commanded his appearance at the bar.

The large chamber assigned to the King was partitioned into four
compartments; the first served as a dining-room, the second was Louis'
bed-chamber, and his valet slept in the third; the fourth was a little
cabinet contrived in a turret, to which the royal prisoner was fond of
retiring. His bed-chamber was hung in yellow and decently furnished. A
little clock on the chimney-piece bore on its pedestal the words
"Lepante, Clockmaker for the King." When the convention had decreed
France a republic, Louis' gaolers scratched out the last three words of
the inscription. They hung in his dining-room the declaration of the
rights of the Constitution of 1792, at the foot of which ran the legend:
"First year of the Republic." This was their announcement to Louis that
he had fallen from his king's estate.

Like a murderer of these days in the condemned hold, Louis had two
guards with him night and day. They passed the day in his bed-chamber,
following him to the dining-room when he took his meals; and in the
dining-room they slept at night, after locking the doors of the

Their captivity was full of indignity for the illustrious unfortunates,
whose guards were incessantly suspicious. If Louis addressed a question
during the night to the valet who slept close to him, the answer must be
spoken loudly. The members of the family were not allowed to whisper in
their conversations, and if at dinner Louis, or his wife, or his sister
chanced to speak low in asking anything of the servant who waited on
them, one of the guards at the door cried, "_Parlez plus haut!_"

Apart from suspense as to the future, a terrible dreariness must have
marked those days in the Temple. The early morning was given by the King
to his private devotions, after which he read the office which the
Chevaliers of the Order of the Saint-Esprit were accustomed to recite
daily. His piety was not without its inconveniences to himself. The
table was furnished with meat on Fridays, but Louis dipped a slice of
bread in his wine glass with the remark: "_voilà mon diner!_" To the
gentle suggestion that such extreme abstinence might be dispensed with,
he replied: "I do not trouble your conscience; why trouble mine? You
have your practices, and I have my own; let each hold to those which he
believes the best."

His devotions engaged the King until nine o'clock, at which hour his
family joined him in the dining-room,—that is to say, during the period
in which it was still permitted him to communicate with them. He sat
with them at breakfast, eating nothing himself; he had made it a rule in
prison to fast until the dinner-hour. After breakfast the King took his
son for lessons in Latin and geography, and whilst Marie Antoinette
taught their daughter, sister Elizabeth plied her needle. The children
had an hour's play at mid-day, and at one o'clock the family assembled
for dinner. The table was always well supplied, but Louis ate little and
drank less, and the Queen took nothing but water with her food.

After dinner the parents amused their children again as best they could,
round games at the table being the favourite recreation. To these poor
little pleasures succeeded reading and conversation, and at nine the
prisoners supped. After supper, Louis took the boy to his bed-chamber,
where a little bed was placed for him beside his own. He heard him
recite his prayers, and saw him to bed. Then he returned to reading, and
fell to his own prayers at eleven. When the doomed King, husband, and
father was denied the solace of his family, the time that he had devoted
to them was given almost wholly to his books. The Latins were his
favourite authors, and a day seldom passed on which he had not conned
afresh some pages of Tacitus, Livy, Seneca, Horace, Virgil, or Terence.
In French he was especially fond of books of travel. He read the news of
the day as long as he was supplied with it, but his not unnatural
interest in the affairs of revolutionary France seemed to trouble his
gaolers, and the newspapers were withdrawn from him. Thrown back upon
his books, he studied more than ever, and on the eve of his death he
summed up the volumes he had read through during the five months and
seven days of his captivity in the Temple: the number was two hundred
and fifty-seven.

Towards the end he suffered some brusque interruptions of his
ignominious solitude. Three times he awoke to find a new valet in his
bedroom. Chamilly's place in this capacity was taken by Hue, and Hue was
succeeded by Cléry, who was all but a stranger to the King. Chamilly and
Hue barely came off with their lives in the prisons to which they were
removed from the Temple. The abandoned King took shock upon shock with
not a little fortitude. He was skimming his Tacitus one day when the
cannibals of September stopped under his window to brandish on a pike
the bleeding and disfigured head of the Princess Lamballe.

Severely as they had guarded him, his gaolers began to double their
precautions. The concierge of the dungeon, the chief warder,—all, in a
word, who were specially charged with the keeping of the King, were
themselves constituted prisoners of the Temple. Did you wait on Louis,
or were you suffered to approach him, your person was searched minutely
at the governor's discretion. Not the commonest instrument of steel or
iron was allowed to be carried by anyone who went near the King: Cléry
was deprived of his penknife. Every article of food passed into the
prison for Louis' table was rigorously examined; and the prison cook had
to taste every dish, under the eyes of the guard, before it was
permitted to leave the kitchen. Never was suicide more strenuously
denied to a man who had no thought of it.

The prisoners themselves were not spared the indignity of the search.
Louis, his wife, and his sister had their cupboards, drawers, and
closets ransacked; they were spoiled of knives, scissors, and
curling-irons. Louis' pains were prolonged to the end. The courage he
had mustered for death, and it was a very commendable portion, failed
him a moment at the last. In his confessor's hands, on the morning of
his death, whilst the carriage was waiting for him in the courtyard, he
halted in his prayers. He had, as he thought, caught a note of tears on
the other side of the partition, and he dreaded a second last embrace.
His ear strained at the wall, whilst the priest's hand was on his head.
But there was no weeping there, for Marie Antoinette was on her knees
under her crucifix; and Louis went down to his carriage. There is no
need to tell again the last scene of all....

Marie Antoinette was removed to the Conciergerie, which she quitted only
for the scaffold. After the parents had passed under the knife, the
young dauphin and his sister Marie Thérèse continued in the prison of
the Temple "the sorrowful Odyssey of the Royalty of France." The
daughter of Marie Antoinette must quit the Temple to go into exile, the
son of Louis XVI. must die wretchedly in the prison of his father. The
"education" of the poor little dauphin was entrusted to Simon the
shoemaker, whose wife, it is said, used to teach him ribald songs. He
had a charming face and a crooked back, "as if life were already too
heavy for him." In the hands of those singular preceptors he came to
lose nearly all his moral faculties, and the sole sentiment which he
cherished was that of gratitude, "not so much for the good that was done
him—which was small—as for the ills that were spared him. Without
uttering a word, he would precipitate himself before his guards, press
their hands, and kiss the hems of their coats."[13] After the retreat of
Simon, who had not used his gentle captive over-tenderly, the dauphin's
imprisonment was somewhat kinder, though he continued to be watched as
closely as before. His gaoler one day asked him: "What would you do to
Simon, little master, if you were to become king?" "I would have him
punished as an example," answered the young Capet. He had had no news of
Simon for two years, and did not know that the ungentle shoemaker had
perished on the scaffold.[14]

Footnote 13:


Footnote 14:


The little dauphin's own untimely death, while still a prisoner in the
Temple, induced more than one audacious adventurer to seek to assume the
mask of Louis XVI's son. Hervagaut, Mathurin Bruneau, and more recently
the Duc de Normandie essayed in turn the rôle of pretender, "draped in
the shroud of Louis XVII." The first-named, condemned in 1802 to four
years' imprisonment, died ten years later in Bicêtre. The second, tried
at Rouen in 1818, received a sentence of seven years; and the Duc de
Normandie ended his days in Holland.

The Convention seems to have given no political prisoners to the tower
of the Temple, which was again a prison of State under the Directory,
the Consulate, and the Empire.

It was the Directory which consigned to the Temple the celebrated
English Admiral, Sir Sidney Smith, M.P. for Rochester, who had defended
Acre against Napoleon, and who was arrested at Havre "on the point of
setting fire to the port." He was transferred to the Temple from the
Abbey, the order of transfer bearing the signature of Barras.

On the 10th of May, 1798, certain friends of the Admiral, disguised in
French uniform, presented to the concierge of the Temple a document
purporting to be an order of the Minister of War for the removal of Sir
Sidney to another prison. The concierge fell into the trap, and bade
adieu to his prisoner, who, a few days later, found himself safe in

The mysterious conspiracy of the Camp de Grenelle furnished the Temple
with a batch of one hundred and thirty-five prisoners; and the _coup
d'État_ which swept them in proscribed also the editors of twenty-two
French journals. During the next eight years the most distinguished of
the "enemies of the Republic" whose names were entered on the Temple
register were Lavalette; Caraccioli, the Ambassador of the King of
Naples to the Court of Louis XVI.; Hottinguer, the banker of the Rue de
Provence; Hyde de Neuville; the journalist Bertin; Toussaint-Louverture,
the hero of Saint-Domingue, who had written to Buonaparte: "_Le premier
homme des noirs au premier homme des blancs_"; the two Polignacs, the
Duc de Rivière, George Cadoudal, Moreau, and Pichegru.

General Pichegru, arrested on the 28th of February, 1804, "for having
forgotten in the interests of the English and the Royalists what he owed
to the French Republic," was found dead in his cell on the 6th of April
following, having strangled himself with a black silk cravat. Moreau,
liberated by the First Consul, took service in the ranks of the enemy,
and was slain by a French bullet before Dresden, in 1813.

Toussaint-Louverture's detention in the Temple is an episode which
reflects little credit upon the military and political history of the
Consulate. Certainly the expedition of Saint-Domingue, under the command
of General Leclerc, Napoleon's brother-in-law, makes a poor page in the
annals of that period. After having received Toussaint-Louverture's
submission, Leclerc, afraid of the great negro's influence, made him a
prisoner by the merest trick, and despatched him to France. Confined at
first in the Temple, he was afterwards removed to the fort of Joux,
where he died in April, 1803.

Five years after this, in June, 1808, the prisoners of the Temple were
transferred by Fouché's order to the Dungeon of Vincennes. Amongst them
was General Malet, that bold conspirator who, in 1812, "_devait porter
la main sur la couronne de l'Empereur_."

The tower of the Temple was demolished in 1811, and, four years later,
Louis XVIII. instituted, on the ruins of the ancient dwelling of the
Templars and the prison of Louis XVI., a congregation of nuns, who had
for their Superior a daughter of Prince de Condé.




                              CHAPTER VI.


"Where there are monks," exclaimed brusquely the authors of _Les Prisons
de Paris_, "there are prisoners." The folds of the priestly garb
concealed a place of torment which monastic justice, with a grisly
humour, named a _Vade in Pace_; the last bead of the rosary grazed the
first rings of a chain which bore the bloody impress of the sworn
tormentor. At Bicêtre, as at the Luxembourg, ages ago, big-bellied
cenobites sang and tippled in the cosy cells piled above the dungeons of
the church.

Bicêtre—more anciently Bissestre—is a corrupt form of Vincestre, or
Winchester, after John, Bishop of Winchester, who is thought to have
built the original château, and who certainly held it in the first
years of the thirteenth century. It was famous amongst the
pleasure-houses of the Duc de Berri, who embellished it with windows
of glass, which at that epoch were only beginning to be an ornament of
architecture—"objects of luxury," says Villaret, "reserved exclusively
for the mansions of the wealthiest seigneurs." In one of the rather
frequent "popular demonstrations" in the Paris of the early fifteenth
century, these "objects of luxury" were smashed, and little of the
château remained except the bare walls. It was rebuilt by the Duc de
Berri, a noted amateur of books, and was by him presented to an order
of monks in 1416.

A colony of Carthusians under St. Louis; John of Winchester under
Philippe-Auguste; Amédée le Rouge, Count of Savoy, under Charles VI.;
the Bourguignons and the Armagnacs in the fifteenth century; the canons
of Notre-Dame de Paris under Louis XI.; the robbers and _bohèmiens_ in
the sixteenth century; the Invalides under Cardinal Richelieu, and the
foundlings of St. Vincent de Paul,—all these preceded at Bicêtre the
vagabonds, the _bons-pauvres_, the epileptics and other diseased, the
lunatics, and "all prisoners and captives." In becoming an asylum and
hospital, in a word, Bicêtre became also one of the most horrible of the
countless prisons of Paris; it grew into dreadful fame as "the Bastille
of the canaille and the bourgeoisie."

The enormous numbers of the poor, the hordes of sturdy mendicants who
"demanded alms sword in hand," and the soldiers who took the road when
they could get no pay, became one of the chief scourges of Paris. Early
in the seventeenth century it was sought to confine them in the various
hospitals or houses of detention in the Faubourg Saint-Victor, but under
the disorders and weaknesses of the Government these establishments soon
collapsed. Parliament issued decree after decree; all strollers and
beggars were to be locked up in a prison or asylum specially
appropriated to them; the buildings were commenced and large sums of
money were spent on them, but they were never carried to completion. In
course of time the magistrates took the matter in hand, dived into old
records, but drew no counsel thence, for the evil, albeit not new, was
of extraordinary proportions; went to the King for a special edict, and
procured one "which ordered the setting up of a general hospital and
prescribed the rules for its governance." The château of Bicêtre and the
Maison de la Salpêtrière were ceded for the purpose.

Children and women went to the Salpêtrière; at Bicêtre were placed men
with no visible means of subsistence, "widowers," beggars, feeble or
sturdy, and "young men worn out by debauchery." Before taking these last
in hand, the doctors "were accustomed to order them a whipping."

This destiny of Bicêtre is pretty clear, and as hospital and asylum
combined it should, under decent conduct, have played a useful part in
the social economy of Paris. But the absolutism of that age had its own
notions as to the proper functions of "hospitals," and the too familiar
_ordres du roi_, and the not less familiar _lettres de cachet_ (which
Mirabeau had not yet come forward to denounce), were presently in hot
competition with the charitable _ordonnances_ of the doctors. Madness
was a capital new excuse for vengeance in high places, and the cells set
apart for cases of mental disease were quickly tenanted by "luckless
prisoners whose wrong most usually consisted in being strictly right."
Bicêtre, it must be admitted, did the thing conscientiously, and with
the best grace in the world. Rational individuals were despatched there
whom, according to the authors of _Les Prisons de Paris_, Bicêtre
promptly transformed into imbeciles and raging maniacs.

Indeed the "philanthropists" and the criminologists of the early part of
this century need not have taxed their imaginations for any scheme of
cellular imprisonment. The system existed in diabolical perfection at
Bicêtre. That much-abused "depôt" of indigent males, "widowers," and
young rakes had an assortment of dark cells which realised _à merveille_
the conditions of the vaunted programme of the penitentiary—isolation
and the silence of the tomb. Buried in a _cabanon_ or black hole of
Bicêtre, the prisoner endured a fate of life in death; he was as one
dead, who lived long, _tête-à-tête with God and his conscience_. If a
human sound penetrated to him, it was the sobbing moan of some companion
in woe.

There was a subterranean Bicêtre, of which at this day only the dark
memory survives. For a dim idea of this, one has to stoop and peer in
fancy into a far-reaching abyss or pit, partitioned into little tunnels:
in each little tunnel a chain riven to the wall; at the end of the chain
a man. Now there were men in these hellish tunnels who had been guilty
of crimes, but far oftener they stifled slowly the lives or the
intelligences, or both, of men who had done no crimes at all. Innocent
or guilty, Bicêtre in the long run had one way with all its guests; and
when the prisoners and their wits had definitely parted company, the
governor of the prison effected a transfer with his colleague the
administrator of the asylum. It was expeditious and simple, and no one
asked questions or called for a report.

It is on record, nevertheless, that existence in underground Bicêtre was
a degree less insupportable than a sojourn in the _cabanons_. Hear the
strenuous greet of Latude, with its wonted vividness of detail:

    "When the wet weather began, or when it thawed in the winter, water
    streamed from all parts of my cell. I was crippled with rheumatism,
    and the pains I had from it were such that I was sometimes whole
    weeks without getting up.... In cold weather it was even worse. The
    'window' of the cell, protected by an iron grating, gave on the
    corridor, the wall of which was pierced exactly opposite at the
    height of ten feet. Through this aperture (garnished, like my own
    window, with iron bars), I received a little air and a glimmer of
    light, but the same aperture let in both snow and rain. I had
    neither fire nor artificial light, and the rags of the prison were
    my only clothing. I had to break with my wooden shoe the ice in my
    pail, and then to suck morsels of ice to quench my thirst. I stopped
    up the window, but the stench from the sewers and the tunnels came
    nigh to choke me; I was stung in the eyes, and had a loathsome
    savour in the mouth, and was horribly oppressed in the lungs. The
    eight and thirty months they kept me in that noisome cell, I endured
    the miseries of hunger, cold, and damp.... The scurvy that had
    attacked me showed itself in a lassitude which spread through all my
    members; I was presently unable either to sit or to rise. In ten
    days my legs and thighs were twice their proper size; my body was
    black; my teeth, loosened in their sockets, were no longer able to
    masticate. Three full days I fasted; they saw me dying, and cared
    not a jot. Neighbours in the prison did this and that to have me
    speak to them; I could not utter a word. At length they thought me
    dead, and called out that I should be removed. I was in sooth at
    death's gate when the surgeon looked in on me and had me fetched to
    the infirmary."[15]

Footnote 15:


Whether Masers de Latude existed, or was but a creature projected on
paper by some able enemy of La Pompadour, those famous and titillating
_Mémoires_ are excellent documents—all but unique of their kind—of the
prisons of bygone France. If the question be of the Bastille, of the
Dungeon of Vincennes, of Charenton, or of Bicêtre, these pungent pages,
with a luxuriance and colour of realistic detail not so well nor so
plausibly sustained by any other pen, are always pat and complete to the
purpose. To compare great things with small, it is as unimportant to
inquire who wrote _Shakespeare_ as to seek to know who was the author of
the _Mémoires_ of Latude. It is necessary only to feel certain that the
writer of this extraordinary volume was as intimately acquainted with
the prisons he describes as Mirabeau was with the Dungeon of Vincennes,
or Cardinal de Retz with the château de Nantes. His book (an epitome of
what men might and could and did endure under the absolute monarchy,
when his rights as an individual were the least secure of a citizen's
possessions) is the main thing, and the sole thing; the name and
identity of the author are not now, if they ever were, of the most
infinitesimal consequence.


A fine sample of the work of Bicêtre, considered as a machine for the
manufacture of lunatics, is offered in the person of that interesting,
unhappy genius, Salomon de Caus. A Protestant Frenchman, he lived much
in England and Germany, and at the age of twenty he was already a
skilled architect, a painter of distinction, and an engineer with ideas
in advance of his time. He was in the service of the Prince of Wales in
1612, and of the Elector Palatine, at Heidelberg, 1614-20. In 1623 he
returned to live and work in France, _dans sa patrie et pour sa patrie_.
He became engineer and architect to the King.

Eight years before his return to France, De Caus had published at
Frankfort his _Raison des Forces Mouvantes_, a treatise in which he
described "an apparatus for forcing up water by a steam fountain," which
differs only in one particular from that of Della Porta. The apparatus
seems never to have been constructed, but Arago, relying on the
description, has named De Caus the inventor of the steam engine.

It is not, however, with the inventive genius that we are concerned, but
with the ill-starred lover of Marion Delorme. The minister Particelli
took De Caus one day to the _petit lever_ of the brilliant and beautiful
Aspasia of the Place Royale. Particelli, one of the most prodigal of her
adorers, wanted De Caus to surpass, in the palace of Mademoiselle
Delorme, the splendours he had achieved in the palace of the Prince of
Wales. "At my charge, look you, Monsieur Salomon, and spare nothing!
Scatter with both hands gold, silver, colours, marble, bronze, and
precious stuffs—what you please. Imagine, seek, invent,—and count on

But Monsieur Salomon had no sooner seen the goddess of Particelli than
he too was lifted from the earth and borne straight into the empyrean.
At the moment of leaving her, when she suffered him to kiss her hand,
and let him feel the darts of desire which shot from those not too
prudish eyes, Salomon de Caus "_devint amoureux à en perdre la tête_."
Thenceforth, in brief,

    "His chief good and market of his time"

was to obey and anticipate every wild and frivolous fantasy of Marion
Delorme. Michel Particelli's hyperbolical commission should be fulfilled
for him beyond his own imaginings! He threw down the palace of Marion
and built another in its place. The new palace was to cede in nothing to
the Louvre or Saint-Germain. With his own hands Salomon de Caus
decorated it; and then, at the bidding of his protector, Particelli, he
consented, _bon grè, mal grè_, to paint the picture of the divinity

"Alone one morning with his delicious model," the distracted artist
flung brushes and palette from him, and cast himself at her feet. "_Mon
cœur se déchire, ma tête se perd.... Je deviens fou, je vous aime, et je
me meurs!_" It was a declaration of much in little, and Marion, a
_connaisseuse_ of such speeches, absolved and accepted him with a kiss.

Installed by right of conquest in that Circean boudoir, which drew as a
magnet the wit and gallantry of Paris, Salomon stood sentinel at the
door "like a eunuch or a Cerberus." Brissac and Saint-Evremont received
the most Lenten entertainment, and the proposals of Cinq-Mars were
rejected. Marion was even persuaded to be not at home to Richelieu
himself. But the happy Salomon grew unhappy, and more unhappy. Every
moment he came with a sigh upon some souvenir, delicately equivocal, of
the _vie galante_ of his mistress; and when love began to feed upon the
venom of jealousy, his complacent goddess grew capricious, vexed,
irritated, and at length incensed. After that, she resolved coldly on
Salomon's betrayal. It was the fashion of the age to be cruel in one's
vengeance. Marion penned a note to Richelieu:

    "I want so much to see you again. I send with this the little key
    which opens the little door.... You must forgive everything, and you
    are not to be angry at finding here a most learned young man whom
    the love of science and the science of love have combined to reduce
    to a condition of midsummer madness. Does your friendship for me, to
    say nothing of your respect for yourself, suggest any means of
    ridding me instantly of this embarrassing lunatic? The poor devil
    loves me to distraction. He is astonishingly clever, and has
    discovered wonders—mountains that nobody else has seen, and worlds
    that nobody else has imagined. He has all the talents of the Bible,
    and another, the talent of making me the most miserable of women.
    This genius from the moon, whom I commend to your Eminence's most
    particular attention, is called Salomon de Caus."

A missive of that colour, from a Marion Delorme to a Richelieu, was the
request polite for a _lettre de cachet_. Salomon de Caus was invited to
call upon the Cardinal. Behind his jealous passion for his mistress,
Salomon still cherished his passion for science, and he went hot-foot to
Richelieu with his hundred schemes for changing the face of the world,
with steam as the motive power. It must have been a curious interview.
At the end, Richelieu summoned the captain of his guard.

"Take this man away."

"Where, your Eminence?"

"To what place are we sending our lunatics just now?"

"To Bicêtre, your Eminence."

"Just so! Ask admission for Monsieur at Bicêtre." So, from the meridian
of his glory, Salomon de Caus hastened to his setting, and at this point
he vanishes from history. Legend, not altogether legendary, shows him
once again.

Some eighteen months or two years after he had been carried, "gagged and
handcuffed," to Bicêtre, it fell to Marion Delorme (in the absence of
her new lover Cinq-Mars) to do the honours of Paris for the Marquis of
Worcester. The marquis took a fancy to visit Bicêtre, which had even
then an unrighteous celebrity from one end of Europe to the other. As
they strolled through the _quartier des fous_ a creature made a spring
at the bars of his cell.

"Marion—look, Marion! It is I! It is Salomon! I love you! Listen: I have
made a discovery which will bring millions and millions to France! Let
me out for God's sake! I will give you the moon and all the stars to set
me free, Marion!"

"Do you know this man?" said Lord Worcester.

"I am not at home in bedlam," said Marion, who on principle allowed no
corner to her conscience.

"What is the discovery he talks of?" asked Lord Worcester of a warder.

"He calls it steam, milord. They've all discovered something, milord."

Lord Worcester went back to Bicêtre the next morning and was closeted
for an hour with the madman. At Marion Delorme's in the afternoon he

"In England we should not have put that man into a madhouse. Your
Bicêtre is not the most useful place. Who invented those cells? They
have wasted to madness as fine a genius as the age has known."

Salamon de Caus died in Bicêtre in 1626.


Earlier than this, Bicêtre the asylum shared the evil renown of Bicêtre
the prison. To prisoners and patients alike popular rumour assigned an
equal fate. The first, it was said, were assassinated, the second were
"disposed of." Now and again the warders and attendants amused
themselves by organising a pitched battle between the "mad side" and the
"prison side"; the wounded were easily transferred to the infirmary, the
dead were as easily packed into the trench beneath the walls.

The very name of Bicêtre—dungeon, madhouse, and _cloaca_ of obscene
infamies—became of dreadful import; not the Conciergerie, the Châtelet,
Fort-l'Évêque, Vincennes, nor the Bastille itself inspired the common
people and the bourgeoisie with such detestation and panic fear. The
general imagination, out-vieing rumour, peopled it with imps, evil
genii, sorcerers, and shapeless monsters compounded of men and beasts.
Mediæval Paris, at a loss for the origins of things, ascribed them to
the Fairies, the Devil, or Julius Cæsar. It was said that the Devil
alighted in Paris one night, and brought in chains to the "plateau de
Bicêtre" a pauper, a madman, and a prisoner, with which three
unfortunates he set agoing the prison on the one side and the asylum on
the other, to minister to the _menus plaisirs_ of the denizens of hell.
Such grim renown as this was not easily surpassed; but at the end of
Louis XIV.'s reign the common legend went a step farther, and said that
the Devil had now disowned Bicêtre! Rhymes sincere or satirical gave
utterance to the terror and abhorrence of the vulgar mind.


Throughout the whole of the eighteenth century, up to the time of the
Revolution, say MM. Alhoy and Lurine,[16] Bicêtre continued a treatment
which in all respects is not easily paralleled: the helot's lot and
labour for pauperism; the rod and worse for sickness of body and of
mind; the dagger or the ditch, upon occasion, for mere human misfortune.
Till the first grey glimmer of the dawn of prison reform, in the days of
Louis XVI, Bicêtre offered to "mere prisoners" the "sanctuary of a
lion's den," and lent boldly to king, minister, nobles, clergy, police,
and all the powers that were, the cells set apart for the mad as
convenient places for stifling the wits and consciences of the sane.

Footnote 16:

  _Les Prisons de Paris._


In 1789, Paris had thirty-two State prisons. Four years later, the
Terror itself was content with twenty-eight. One of the earliest acts of
that vexed body, the National Assembly, was to appoint a commission of
four of its members to the decent duty of visiting the prisons. The
commissioners chosen were Fréteau, Barrière, De Castellane, and
Mirabeau. Count Mirabeau at least—whose hot vagaries and the undying
spite of his father had passed him through the hands of nearly every
gaoler in France—had qualifications enough for the task!

The commissioners found within the black walls of _ce hideux Bicêtre_ a
population of close upon three thousand creatures, including "paupers,
children, paralytics, imbeciles and lunatics." The administrative staff
of all degrees numbered just three hundred. The governor, knowing his
inferno, was not too willing to accord a free pass to the explorers, and
Mirabeau and his colleagues had to give him a taste of their authority
before he could be induced to slip the bolts of subterranean cells,
whose inmates "had been expiating twenty years the double crime of
poverty and courage," against whom no decree had been pronounced but
that of a _lettre de cachet_, or who had been involved, like the Prévôt
de Beaumont, in the crime of exposing some plot against the people's
welfare. Children were found in these cells chained to criminals and


In April, 1792, Bicêtre gave admission to another set of commissioners.
This second was a visit of some mystery, not greatly noised, and under
cover of the night. It was not now a question of diving into moist and
sunless caverns for living proofs (in fetters and stinking rags) of the
hidden abuses of regal justice. The new commissioners came, quietly and
almost by stealth, to make the first official trial of the Guillotine.

The invention of Dr. Guillotin (touching which he had first addressed
the Constituent Assembly in December, 1789: "With this machine of mine,
gentlemen, I shall shave off your heads in a twinkling, and you will not
feel the slightest pain") does not date in France as an instrument of
capital punishment until 1792; but under other names, and with other
accessories, Scotland, Germany, and Italy had known a similar
contrivance in the sixteenth century. In Paris, where sooner or later
everything finishes with a couplet, the newspapers and broadsheets, not
long after that midnight _essai_ at Bicêtre, began to overflow gaily
enough with topical songs (_couplets de circonstance_) in praise of the
Doctor and his "razor." Two fragmentary samples will serve:—

      Air—"Quand la Mer Rouge apparut."

        "C'est un coup que l'on reçoit
          Avant qu'on s'en doute;
        A peine on s'en aperçoit,
          Car on n'y voit goutte.
        Un certain ressort caché,
        Tout à coup étant laché,
          Fait tomber, ber, ber,
          Fait sauter, ter, ter,
            Fait tomber,
            Fait sauter,
          Fait voler la tête ...
          C'est bien plus honnête."


    "Sur l'inimitable machine du Mèdecin Guillotin, propere à couper les
    têtes, et dite de son nom Guillotine."

      Air—"Du Menuet d'Exaudet."

         Imagine un beau matin
         Que pendre est inhumain
         Et peu patriotique;
         Il lui faut
         Un supplice
         Que, sans corde ni poteau,
         Supprime du bourreau
         L'office," etc.

It was on the 17th of April, 1792, that proof was made of the first
guillotine—not yet famed through France as the nation's razor. Three
corpses, it is said (commodities easily procured at Bicêtre), were
furnished for the experiment, which Doctors Guillotine and Louis
directed. Mirabeau's physician and friend Cabanis was of the party,
and—a not unimportant assistant—Samson the headsman, with his two
brothers and his son. "The mere weight of the axe," said Cabanis,
"sheared the heads with the swiftness of a glance, and the bones were
clean severed (_coupés net_)" Dr. Louis recommended that the knife
should be given an oblique direction, so that it might cut saw-fashion
in its fall. The guillotine was definitely adopted; and eight days
later, the 25th of April, it settled accounts with an assassin named
Pelletier, who was the first to "look through the little window," and
"sneeze into the sack (_éternuer dans le sac_)."


Four months after the first trial of the "inimitable machine" Bicêtre
paid its tribute of blood to the red days of September. In Bicêtre, as
elsewhere in Paris, that Sunday, 2d of September, 1792, and the three
days that followed were long remembered. "All France leaps distracted,"
says Carlyle, "like the winnowed Sahara waltzing in sand colonnades!" In
Paris, "huge placards" going up on the walls, "all steeples clangouring,
the alarm-gun booming from minute to minute, and lone Marat, the man
forbid," seeing salvation in one thing only—in the fall of "two hundred
and sixty thousand aristocrat heads." It was the beginning or presage of
the Terror.

The hundred hours' massacre in the prisons of Paris, beginning on the
Sunday afternoon, may be reckoned with the hours of St. Bartholomew.
"The tocsin is pealing its loudest, the clocks inaudibly striking
three." The massacre of priests was just over at the Abbaye prison; and
there, and at La Force, and at the Châtelet, and the Conciergerie, in
each of these prisons the strangest court—which could not be called of
justice but of revenge—was hurriedly got together, and prisoner after
prisoner, fetched from his cell and swiftly denounced as a "royalist
plotter," was thrust out into a "howling sea" of _sans-culottes_ and
hewn to pieces under an arch of pikes and sabres. "Man after man is cut
down," says Carlyle; "the sabres need sharpening, the killers refresh
themselves from wine-jugs." Dr. Moore, author of the _Journal during a
Residence in France_, came upon one of the scenes of butchery, grew sick
at the sight, and "turned into another street." Not fewer than a
thousand and eighty-nine were slaughtered in the prisons.

The carnage at Bicêtre, on the Paris outskirts, was on the Monday, and
here it seems to have been of longer duration and more terrible than
elsewhere. Narratives of this butchery are not all in harmony.
Prud'homme, author of the _Journal des Révolutions de Paris_, says that
the mob started for Bicêtre towards three o'clock, taking with them
seven pieces of cannon; that a manufactory of false paper-money
(_assignats_) was discovered in full swing in the prison, and that all
who were concerned in it were killed without mercy; that Lamotte,
husband of the "Necklace Countess," was amongst the prisoners, and that
the people "at once took him under their protection"; that the debtors
and "the more wretched class of prisoners," were enlarged; and that the
rest fell under pike, sabre, and club.

Barthélemi Maurice contradicts Prud'homme wholesale. The attack was at
ten in the morning, he says, and not at three; there were no cannon; the
paper-notes manufactory existed only in M. Prud'homme's imagination;
prisoners for debt were not lodged in Bicêtre; the sick and the lunatics
suffered no harm; and the famous Lamotte "never figured in any register
of Bicêtre."

Thiers[17] insists upon the cannon, says the killing was done madly for
mere lust of blood, and that the massacre continued until Wednesday, the
5th of September.

Footnote 17:

  _Histoire de la Révolution._

Peltier in his turn, royalist pamphleteer, gives his version of the
tragedy. This Bicêtre, says Peltier, was "the den of all the vices," the
sewer, so to speak, of Paris. "All were slain; impossible to figure up
the number of the victims. I have heard it placed at as many as six
thousand!" Peltier is not easily satisfied. "Eight days and eight
nights, without one instant's pause, the work of death went forward."
Pikes, sabres, and muskets "were not enough for the ferocious assassins,
they had to bring cannon into play." It was not until a mere handful of
the prisoners remained "that they had recourse again to their
small-arms" (_que l'on en revenait aux petites armes_).

Doubtless the most accurate account of this merciless affair is
contained in the statement made to Barthélemi Maurice by Père Richard,
_doyen_ of the warders of Bicêtre, and an eyewitness. It may be
summarised from the pages of MM. Alhoy and Lurine:

    "Master Richard traced on paper the three numbers, 166, 55, and
    22,—What are those? I asked him.—166, that is the number of the
    dead.—And 55 and 22, what are they?—55 was the number of children in
    the prison, and only 22 were left us. The scoundrels killed 33
    children, besides the 166 adults.—Tell me how it began.—They came
    bellowing up at ten that Monday morning, all in the prison so still
    that you might have heard a fly buzzing, though we had three
    thousand men in that morning.—But you had cannon they say; you
    defended yourselves.—Where did you get that tale, sir? We had no
    cannon, and we didn't attempt to defend ourselves.—What was the
    strength of the attacking party?—A good three thousand, I should
    say; but of those not more than about two hundred were active, so to
    speak. —Did they bring cannon?—It was said they did, but I saw none,
    though I looked out of the main gate more than once.—What were their
    arms, then?—Well, a few of them had second-hand muskets (_de
    méchants fusils_), others had swords, axes, bludgeons (_bûches_),
    and bills (_crochets_), but there were more pikes than anything
    else.—Were there any well-dressed people amongst them?—Oh, yes; the
    'judges' especially; though the bulk of them were not much to look
    at.—How many 'judges' were there?—A dozen; but they relieved one
    another.—If there were judges, there was some sort of formality, I
    suppose. What was the procedure? How did they judge, acquit, and
    execute?—They sat in the clerk's office, a room down below, near the
    chapel. They made us fetch out the register; looked down the column
    of 'cause of imprisonment,' and then sent for the prisoner. If you
    were too frightened to feel your legs under you, or couldn't get a
    word out quick, it was 'guilty' on the spot.—And then?—Then the
    'president' said: 'Let the citizen be taken to the Abbaye.' They
    knew outside what that meant. Two men seized him by the arm and led
    him out of the room. At the door he was face to face with a double
    row of cut-throats, a prod in the rear with a pike tossed him
    amongst them, and then ... well, there were some that took a good
    deal of finishing off.—They did not shoot them then?—No, there was
    no shooting.—And the acquittals?—Well, if it was simply, 'take the
    citizen to the Abbaye,' they killed him. If it was 'take him to the
    Abbaye,' with _Vive la nation_! he was acquitted. It wasn't over at
    nightfall. We passed the night of the 3d with the butchers inside
    the prison; they were just worn out. It began again on the morning
    of the 4th, but not quite with the same spirit. It was mostly the
    children who suffered on the Tuesday.—And the lunatics, and the
    patients, and the old creatures—did they get their throats cut
    too?—No, they were all herded in the dormitories, with the doors
    locked on them, and sentinels inside to keep them from looking out
    of window. All the killing was done in the prison.—And when did they
    leave you? At about three on Tuesday afternoon; and then we called
    the roll of the survivors.—And the dead?—We buried them in quicklime
    in our own cemetery."

The hideous _mise-en-scène_ of Père Richard is, at the worst, a degree
less reproachful than that of Prud'homme, Peltier, or M. Thiers.


There was one worthy man at Bicêtre, Dr. Pinel, whose devotion to
humanitarian science (a form of devotion not over-common in such places
at that day) very nearly cost him his life at the hands of the
revolutionary judges. Dr. Pinel, who had the notion that disease of the
mind was not best cured by whipping, was accused by the Committee of
Public Safety (under whose rule, it may be observed, no public ever went
in greater terror) of plotting with medical science for the restoration
of the monarchy! It was a charge quite worthy of the wisdom and the
tenderness for "public safety" of the _Comité de Salut Public_. Pinel,
disdaining oratory, vouchsafed the simplest explanation of his treatment
at Bicêtre,—and was permitted to continue it.

Not so charitable were the gods to Théroigne de Mericourt, a woman
singular amongst the women of the Revolution. Readers of Carlyle will
remember his almost gallant salutations of her (a handsome young woman
of the streets, who took a passion for the popular cause, and rode on a
gun-carriage in the famous outing to Versailles) as often as she starts
upon the scene. When he misses her from the procession, in the fourth
book of the first volume, it is:

    "But where is the brown-locked, light-behaved, fire-hearted
    Demoiselle Théroigne? Brown eloquent beauty, who, with thy winged
    words and glances, shalt thrill rough bosoms—whole steel
    battalions—and persuade an Austrian Kaiser, pike and helm lie
    provided for thee in due season, and alas! also strait waistcoat and
    long lodging in the Salpêtrière."

Théroigne was some beautiful village girl when the echo first reached
her of the tocsin of the Revolution. She thought a woman was wanted
there, and trudged hot-foot to Paris, perhaps through the self-same
quiet lanes that saw the pilgrimage of Charlotte Corday. In Paris she
took (for reasons of her own, one must suppose) the calling of
"unfortunate female"—the euphemism will be remembered as Carlyle's—and
dubbed herself the people's Aspasia—"l'Aspasie du peuple." In "tunic
blue," over a "red petticoat," crossed with a tricolour scarf and
crowned with the Phrygian cap, she roamed the streets, "_criant_,
_jurant_, _blasphémant_," to the tune of the drum of rebellion. One day
the women of the town, in a rage of fear or jealousy, fell upon her,
stripped her, and beat her through the streets. She went mad, and in the
first years of this century she was still an inmate of Bicêtre. When the
"women's side" of Bicêtre was closed, in 1803, Théroigne was transferred
to the Salpêtrière, where she died.


During the hundred years (1748-1852) of the prisons of the Bagnes—those
convict establishments at Toulon, Brest, and Rochefort, which took the
place of the galleys, and which in their turn gave way to the modern
system of transportation,—it was from Bicêtre that the chained cohorts
of the _forçats_ were despatched on their weary march through France.
The ceremony of the _ferrement_, or putting in irons for the journey,
was one of the sights of Paris for those who could gain admission to the
great courtyard of the prison. At daybreak of the morning appointed for
the start, the long chains and collars of steel were laid out in the
yard, and the prison smiths attended with their mallets and portable
anvils; the convicts, for whom these preparations were afoot, keeping up
a terrific din behind their grated windows. When all was ready for them,
they were tumbled out by batches and placed in rows along the wall.
Every man had to strip to the skin, let the weather be what it might,
and a sort of smock of coarse calico was tossed to him from a pile in
the middle of the yard; he did not dress until the toilet of the collar
was finished. This, at the rough hands of the smith and his aids, was a
sufficiently painful process. The convicts were called up in
alphabetical order, and to the neck of each man a heavy collar was
adjusted, the triangular bolt of which was hammered to by blows of a
wooden mallet. To the padlock was attached a chain which, descending to
the prisoner's waistbelt, was taken up thence and riveted to the next
man's collar, and in this way some two hundred _forçats_ were tethered
like cattle in what was called the _chaine volante_. The satyr-like
humours of the gang, singing and capering on the cobbles, shouting to
the echo the name of some criminal hero as he stepped out to receive his
collar, and sometimes joining hands in a frenzied dance, which was
broken only by the savage use of the warder's bâtons—all this was the
sport of the well-dressed crowd of spectators.

As far as the outskirts of Paris, the convicts were carried in
_chars-à-bancs_, an armed escort on either side; and when the prison
doors were thrown open to let them out, the whole canaille of the town
was waiting to receive them with yells of derision, to which the
_forçats_ responded with all the oaths they had. This was one of the
most popular spectacles of Paris until the middle of the present

An essential sordidness is the character most persistent in the history
of Bicêtre—a dull squalor, with perpetual crises of unromantic agony.
There is no glamour upon Bicêtre; no silken gown with a domino above it
rustles softly by lantern-light through those grimy wickets. It is not
here that any gallant prisoner of state comes, bribing the governor to
keep his table furnished with the best, receiving his love-letters in
baskets of fruit, giving his wine-parties of an evening. In the records
of Vincennes and the Bastille the novelist will always feel himself at
home, but Bicêtre has daunted him. It is poor Jean Valjean, of _Les
Misérables_, squatting "in the north corner of the courtyard," choked
with tears, "while the bolt of his iron collar was being riveted with
heavy hammer-blows." This is the solitary figure of interest which
Bicêtre has given to fiction.

If a shadowy figure may be added, it is from the same phantasmagoric
gallery of Victor Hugo. Bicêtre was the prison of the nameless
faint-heart who weeps and moans through the incredible pages of _Le
Dernier Jour d'un Condamné_. Then, and until 1836, Bicêtre was the last
stage but one (_l'avant-dernière étape_) on the road to the guillotine.
The last was the Conciergerie, close to the Place de Grève. The
shadow-murderer of _Le Dernier Jour d'un Condamné_—for there is no real
stuff of murder in him, and he is the feeblest and least sympathetic
puppet of fiction—is useful only as bringing into relief the old,
disused, and forgotten _cachot du Condamné_, or condemned cell, of
Bicêtre. It was a den eight feet square; rough stone walls, moist and
sweating, like the flags which made the flooring; the only "window" a
grating in the iron door; a truss of straw on a stone couch in a recess;
and an arched and blackened ceiling, wreathed with cobwebs.

Starting out of sleep one night, Hugo's condemned man lifts his lamp and
sees spectral writings, figures and arabesques in crayons, blood and
charcoal dancing over the walls of the cell—the "visitors' book" of
generations of _Condamnés à mort_ who have preceded him. Some had
blazoned their names in full, with grotesque embellishments of the
capital letter and a motto underneath breathing their last defiance to
the world; and in one corner, "traced in white outline, a frightful
image, the figure of the scaffold, which, at the moment that I write,
may be rearing its timbers for me! The lamp all but fell from my hands."




                              CHAPTER VII.


The prison of Sainte-Pélagie owed its name to a frail beauty whom
play-goers in Antioch knew in the fifth century of this era. Embracing
Christianity, she forsook the stage, and built herself a cell on the
Mount of Olives. The Church bestowed on her the honours of the Calendar.

Twelve centuries later, in the reign of Louis XIV., a Madame de
Miramion, inspired by the memory, not of Pélagie the _comédienne_, but
of Sainte-Pélagie the recluse, built in Paris a substantial Refuge for
young women whose virtue seemed in need of protection. Letters-patent
were obtained from the King, and Madame de Miramion sought her recruits
here and there in the capital; gathering within the fold, it was said, a
considerable number "who had no longer anything to fear for their
virtue." But the rule of the house was strait, and one by one Madame's
young persons absconded, or were withdrawn from her keeping by their
parents. Nothing daunted, and sustained by her fixed idea of making
penitents at any price, Madame de Miramion descended boldly upon the
haunts of Aspasia herself, and there laid hands on all those votaries of
Venus who were either weary of their calling or whose calling was
wearying of them. The crown of the _joyeuse vie_ fits loosely, and the
lightest shock unfixes it. Madame's campaign in this quarter was
successful, and she was soon at the head of a battalion of more or less
repentant graces. New letters-patent were granted by a Majesty so
desirous of the moral well-being of his female subjects, the
establishment of Sainte-Pélagie was confirmed, and, thanks to the
invaluable assistance of the police, the complement of Magdalens was
maintained. Sainte-Pélagie continued its pious destiny until the days of
the Revolution, when the cloister of the Magdalens became a prison.


As a prison, Sainte-Pélagie (which is in existence to-day as a _maison
de correction_, or penitentiary) has known many and strange guests. From
1792 to 1795, it held a mixed population of both sexes, political
prisoners and others. Between the years 1797 and 1834, debtors of all
degrees were confined there, and at one period the debtors shared the
gaol with a motley crew of juvenile delinquents. Under the Restoration
and under the two Empires Sainte-Pélagie served the uses of a State
prison. The first Napoleon had the cells in constant occupation. The
Restoration sent there, within the space of a few days, one hundred and
thirty-five individuals, arrested by the police of Louis XVIII. for
their connection, as officers, with the old Imperial Guard. Innumerable
indeed, from 1790 onwards, were the victims who found a lodging, not of
their choosing, behind the ample walls which the widow Miramion had
consecrated a shelter for tottering virtue or gallantry in mourning for
its past. The men of the Revolution found Sainte-Pélagie excellently
suited to their needs; Madame de Miramion had housed her Magdalens
strongly. In form a vast quadrilateral, the buildings were easily
converted to the uses of a prison; and at a later date the prison was
arranged in three divisions. On the west side were confined petty
offenders under sentences ranging between six months and one year. The
debtors' was the second division; and here also were imprisoned young
rogues, thieves, and vagabonds, and (up to 1867) "certain men of letters
and journalists." The east side seems to have been reserved principally
for political offenders. But the divisions were never very strictly
observed; and a political prisoner relegated by mischance or for lack of
space to the west side of the prison was treated in all respects as a
common criminal. Ordinary prisoners were kept at work, and received a
small percentage on the profits of their industry. Political prisoners,
journalists, and "men of letters" were exempted from labour; and a third
class called _pistoliers_, purchased this exemption at a cost of from
six to seven francs a fortnight.

It was by order of the Convention that Sainte-Pélagie was transformed
from a convent-refuge into a prison, and during the revolutionary period
a crowd of unknown or little-known suspects passed within its keeping
before being summoned to the bar. Not a few quitted it only for the

Madame Roland was cast there on the 25th of June, 1793. Three years
earlier, Carlyle notes her at Lyons, "that queen-like burgher woman;
beautiful, Amazonian-graceful to the eye" with "that strong
Minerva-face." We shall return to Madame Roland, wife of the "King's
Inspector of Manufactures."

In the same month, if not on the same day, were sent to Sainte-Pélagie
the Comte de Laval-Montmorency, and the Marquis de Pons. In August of
the same year went to join them (not now with popular acclamation, as
when, in 1765, Mademoiselle Clairon and her fellow players were haled to
the Châtelet) nine ladies of the Théâtre-Français. After the 9th
Thermidor (July 27, 1794), which saw the sudden downfall and death of
Robespierre, Sainte-Pélagie received most of the victims of the
reaction,—the _Tail_ of Robespierre,—including the Duplaix family.


Madame Roland had known the indignities of a revolutionary prison before
her sojourn at Sainte-Pélagie. Imprisoned first in the Abbaye, it was
from there that she wrote:

    "I find a certain pleasure in enforcing privations on myself, in
    seeing how far the human will can be employed in reducing the
    'necessaries' of existence. I substituted bread and water for
    chocolate, at breakfast; a plate of meat with vegetables was my
    dinner; and I supped on vegetables, without desert."

But having "as much aversion from as contempt for a merely useless
economy" (_autant d'aversion que de mépris pour une économie inutile_),
Madame Roland goes on to say that what she saved by the retrenchments of
her own cuisine she spent in procuring extra rations for the pauper
prisoners of the Abbaye; and adds: "If I stay here six months I mean to
go out plump and hearty [_je veux en sortir grasse et fraîche_] wanting
nothing more than soup and bread, and with the satisfaction of having
earned certain _bénédictions incognito_."

Transferred to Sainte-Pélagie, this heroic woman of the people saw
herself confounded with women of the town (the descendants of the widow
Miramion's Magdalens), thieves, forgers, and assassins. She made the
best of the situation, cultivated flowers in a box in the window of her
cell, and wrote incessantly. When told that her name had been included
in the process against the Girondins, she said: "I am not afraid to go
to the scaffold in such good company; I am ashamed only to live among
scoundrels." Her friends had contrived a plan for her escape, but could
not induce her to profit by it: "Spare me!" she cried. "I love my
husband, I love my daughter; you know it; but I will not save myself by
flight." When the axe fell on the heads of the twenty-two Girondins,
October 31, 1793 (10th Brumaire of the Republican calendar), Madame
Roland was removed to the Conciergerie. Knowing well the fate that
awaited her, she lost neither her courage nor her beautiful
tranquillity; and used to go down to the men's wicket of the prison,
exhorting them to be brave and worthy of the cause. In the tumbril, on
her way to the guillotine, she was robed in white, her superb black hair
floating behind her; and at the place of execution, bending her head to
the statue of Liberty, she murmured: "O Liberty! what crimes are done in
thy name!"—_O Liberté! que de crimes on commet en ton nom!_

It was not Madame Dubarry's to show this sublime fortitude in death; but
after all one dies as one must. Sainte-Pélagie will tell us that poor
Dame Dubarry was the feeblest and most faint-hearted of its recluses of
the Revolution. She wept, and called on heaven to save her, and shuffled
and cut her cards, and consulted the lines in her hand; and when her
name was called at the wicket on the fatal morning, she swooned on the
flags of the prison, and was carried scarcely animate to the tumbril.


The story of governor Bouchotte, who had charge of Sainte-Pélagie at
this terrible epoch, is a noble one. The September massacres had begun,
and the red-bonnets in detachments were sharing the butchery at the
prisons. The Abbaye, the Carmes, the Force, and the Conciergerie had
given them prompt entrance; the turnkeys saluting the self-styled
judges, say MM. Alhoy and Lurine, as the grave-digger salutes the
hangman. Not so governor Bouchotte of Sainte-Pélagie. The mob swarmed at
the doors, but to their clattering on the panels no answer was
vouchsafed. Pikes, hammers, and axes resounded on the solid portals, but
silence the most complete reigned behind them.

"Can citizen Bouchotte have been beforehand with us?—_Le citoyen
Bouchotte, nous aurait-il devancés?_" cried one. "Not an aristocrat
voice to be heard! Bouchotte has perhaps finished them off himself."

The neighbouring houses were ransacked for tools proper to effect an
entrance, and the doors were burst open. The mob poured in; and there,
bound hand and foot on the flags in the courtyard of the prison, they
found the governor and his wife.

"Citizens," cried Bouchotte, "you arrive too late! My prisoners are
gone. They got warning of your coming, and after binding my wife and
myself as you see us, they made their escape."

Bouchotte was taken at his word, he and his wife were released from
their cords, and the red-bonnets went off to wreak a double vengeance at
Bicêtre. At the risk of his own and of his wife's life, the admirable
Bouchotte had tricked the cut-throats. He had uncaged his birds and
given them their liberty through a private postern, and had then ordered
his warders to tie up his wife and himself. Honour to the brave memory
of Bouchotte! The history of the French Revolution has few brighter
passages than this.

Nougaret gives us a curious picture of the interior of Sainte-Pélagie
under the bloody rule of Robespierre.[18] The prison itself he describes
as "damp and unwholesome" (_humide et malsaine_). There were about three
hundred and fifty prisoners, detained they knew not why, for they were
not allowed to read the charges entered on the registers.

Footnote 18:

  _Histoire des Prisons de Paris et des Départements._

To each prisoner was allotted a cell six feet square, "with a dirty bed
and a mattress as hard as marble." The turnkey's first question to a
new-comer was: "Have you any money?" If the answer was, Yes, he was
supplied with "a basin and a water-jug and a few cracked plates, for
which he paid triple their worth." If the prisoner entered with empty
pockets, it was: "So much the worse for you; for the rule here is that
nothing buys nothing" (_on n'a rien pour rien_). In this plight, says
Nougaret, the prisoner was obliged to sell some poor personal effect in
order to obtain the strictest necessaries of life. "A citizen who
occupied, in the month of Floréal, cell number 10 in the corridor of the
second story, sacrificed for twenty-five francs a gold ring worth about
£20, to procure for himself those same necessities." The rations at this
date consisted of "a pound and a half of bad bread and a plate of flinty
beans [_haricots très-durs_], larded with stale grease or tallow."
Prisoners who could afford it paid an exorbitant price for a few
supplementary dishes. Later, the diet was rather more generous.

Although communication between the prisoners was forbidden, they had
invented a sort of club; perhaps the most singular in the annals of
clubdom. The "meetings" were at eight in the evening, but no member left
his cell. Despite the thickness of the doors, it was found that, by
raising his voice, a prisoner could be heard from one end of the
corridor to the other; and by this means the members of the club
exchanged such news as they had gleaned during the day from the warders
on duty. In order that no one might be betrayed or compromised (in the
event of the conversation being overheard by the gendarmes posted under
the windows), instead of saying "I heard such-and-such a thing to-day,"
the formula was, "I dreamt last night."

[Illustration: A TURNKEY.]

When a candidate presented himself (that is to say, when a new prisoner
arrived), the president inquired, in behalf of the club, his name,
quality, residence, and the reason of his imprisonment; and if the
answers were satisfactory he was proclaimed a member of the society in
these terms: "Citizen, the patriots imprisoned in this corridor deem you
worthy to be their brother and friend. Permit me to send you the
_accolade fraternelle_!"

Two circumstances excluded from membership of the club,—to have borne
false witness at Fouquier-Tinville's bar, and to have been concerned in
the fabrication of false _assignats_. The club held its "meetings"
regularly, until the date at which the prisoners were allowed to
exercise together in the corridors.

We saw Madame Roland, "brave, fair Roland," at the men's wicket of
Sainte-Pélagie, passionately exhorting them; and Comtesse Dubarry
answering her summons to the guillotine by a swoon.

Another woman, not famous yet, but destined to fame, was on the women's
side of Sainte-Pélagie in 1793: Joséphine de Beauharnais, who was to
stand one day with Napoleon on the throne. A tradition of the prison
affirmed that Joséphine left her initials carved or traced on a wall of
her cell.


The Terror seems almost to have emptied Sainte-Pélagie, and it is not
until the days of the Empire that we find its cells once more in the
occupation of political prisoners. Prisoners of that quality were not
lacking there in Buonaparte's despotic era; but (and this may have been
of design) the registers were not too well kept, and prisoners' names
and the motives of their imprisonment are hard to arrive at. Had we the
lists in full, however, they would excite small interest at this day.
Between 1811 and March, 1814, when the records were more precise, two
hundred and thirty-four persons were confined in this prison for causes
more or less political. In April, 1814, we have the Russian Emperor
giving their freedom to some seventy of the prisoners of Napoleon. The
Restoration sends the officers of the old Imperial Guard to
Sainte-Pélagie. The record of the Hundred Days, so far as this prison is
concerned, is a clean one; but Charles X. continues the use of
Sainte-Pélagie as a prison of State, and Béranger, Cauchois-Lemaire,
Colonel Duvergier, Bonnaire, Dubois, Achille Roche, and Barthélemy are
amongst the names on the gaoler's books. The Constitutional Monarchy
from 1830 to 1848, the Republic succeeding it, and the reign of Napoleon
III. (who swept into it five hundred citizens in the space of a few
days) kept alive the political tradition of Sainte-Pélagie. M.
Rochefort, who had his turn there from 1869-1870, was one of the last of
Napoleon III.'s prisoners, to whom the revolution of the 4th of
September gave back their liberty. From that date, the "political
boarders" of Sainte-Pélagie were few, the governments of MM. Thiers and
De Broglie preferring rather to suppress newspapers than to pursue their

Under the Empire and the Restoration the organisation and administration
of Sainte-Pélagie evidently left much to be desired. It was not rare,
says one chronicler, for accused persons to remain six or seven months
without being interrogated.

A certain M. Poulain d'Angers lay there a quarter of a year quite
ignorant as to the cause of his arrest. Another accused, a certain M.
Guillon, who had been attached to the Emperor's Council, weary of the
perpetual shufflings of the police of the succeeding reign, constituted
himself a prisoner _de facto_ without having received judgment; and
remained six months a captive, although there was no entry against his
name: one morning, they showed him the door, _malgré lui_. An adventure
which befell this gentleman attests sufficiently the disorder which
reigned in the prison service.

Being to some extent indisposed, the doctor had given M. Guillon an
order for the baths. Not knowing in what part of the prison the
infirmary was situated, he presented his order to a tipsy turnkey, who
promptly opened the door which gave on the Rue du Puits-de-l'Ermite. M.
Guillon, a free man without being aware of it, took the narrow street to
be a sentry's walk, and went a few paces without finding any one to
direct him. Returning to the sentry at the door, he inquired where were
the baths. "What baths?" said the sentinel.—"The prison baths." "The
prison baths," said the sentinel, "are probably in the prison; but you
can't get in there."—"What? I can't get into the prison! Am I outside
it, then?"—"Why, yes; you're in the street; you ought to know that, I
should think." "I did not know it, I assure you," said M. Guillon; "and
this won't suit me at all." He rang the prison bell, and was readmitted;
and the recital of his adventure restored to sobriety the turnkey who
had given him his freedom.

It was related that under the Directory a criminal condemned to
transportation managed to conceal himself in Sainte-Pélagie, persuaded
that there at all events he was safe, nor were his hopes deceived.


It appears to have been after the Revolution of 1830—that brief week of
July which "paragons description"—that some kind of method was attained
or attempted in the management of Sainte-Pélagie. A new wing had been
built, which was reserved for the politicals,—but the builder had
reckoned without his guests, and without the King's Attorney. It was
considered that thirty-six beds in ten chambers, to say nothing of a
small spare dormitory, would be accommodation enough for prisoners of
this class. At the same epoch, a droll idea took possession of the
administration. It was, that if the _gamins_ and 'prentice-thieves raked
into the police-courts were mixed pell-mell with the political
prisoners, the former might get a polish on their morals, and the latter
an agreeable distraction! As a scheme of reform for the artful dodger it
was perhaps elementary, but it shewed at least a kindly anxiety on the
part of the administration to prepare diversions for political
offenders. Alas! it was a dream; for there were presently so many
political delinquents to be accommodated, that the question was no
longer how to distract their captivity, but how to lodge the new-comers.
The artful dodger was exiled.

More buildings were called for, and another court; and the
political wing of Sainte-Pélagie became a colony by itself. A
colonist of the early thirties bestowed on it the following
appreciation:—"Sainte-Pélagie is death by wasting (_le supplice par la
langueur_), torture by ennui, homicide by process of decline. It is a
sort of pneumatic machine applied to the brain, which saps and exhausts
it by inches. It is not an active irritation, and it is nothing
resembling repose. It is not Paris, and it is not a desert solitude. It
is a _mélange_ of everything: air, a modicum; elbow-room, rather less;
friends, one or two; bores, any number. It is a prison with a mirage of
the world; a world not made for a prison. It is not severe, and it is
infinitely wearisome. It is a kind of civilised police; it is a
prodigious and perpetual paradox.... Sainte-Pélagie is insupportable!"

Here is another appreciation of about the same date:—"Sainte-Pélagie is
a hurly-burly (_pêle-mêle_) of all imaginable ideas and opinions; a
species of political Pandemonium. The _Caricature_ runs foul of the
_Quotidienne_, the _Courrier de l'Europe_ elbows the _Revolution_, the
_Gazette_ pirouettes between the _Tribune_ and the _Courrier
Français_.... All colours and all races, all ages and all tongues are
confounded. It is a Babel; it is a common camp in which friends and foes
are flung together after a general rout. As a huge anomaly it is curious
to see, but it has the depressing effect of a monster!"

Let us turn to the debtors' side. Dulaure quotes in this connection a
description given by De la Borde in his _Memoirs_, which is worth

"The debtors' wing of Sainte-Pélagie, which is intended to accommodate a
hundred, has one hundred and twenty and sometimes one hundred and fifty
tenants. The building is in three stories, each story consisting of one
narrow corridor, the rooms in which receive no light except from
loopholes beneath the roof. There are no fire-places in the rooms, some
of which are cruelly cold, whilst in others the heat is unbearable. With
proper space for three persons at the most, they are generally made to
hold from five to six; and the dirt everywhere is revolting. The
wretched occupants can only take exercise in a corridor four feet wide,
and a courtyard thirty feet square. For years they have asked in vain
for some contrivance which would give them a proper current of air;
there is not a decent ventilator in the place. In winter they are locked
in from eight P.M. until seven A.M.; and, whatever his necessities, not
one of the five or six cell-mates can possibly quit his cell between
those hours. The dirtiest and worst-kept part of the whole prison is the
infirmary. Two or three patients are put into one bed,—an excellent
means of spreading the itch, and other maladies."

The reproach of this unseemly state M. de la Borde laid upon the chiefs
of the prison service for their indifference, and the subordinates for
their wholesale negligence.


To obtain leave to visit a friend on the debtors' side, you climbed the
dingy staircase of the Préfecture de Police, to the office marked
_Bureau des Prisons_, where orders were issued for the principal gaols;
and you took your place in the waiting-room amongst a very motley crowd
whose relatives or acquaintances had been "put away" for murder, arson,
forgery, house-breaking, or a simple difficulty with a creditor.

Furnished with the necessary passport, a literary Frenchman made the
pilgrimage to Sainte-Pélagie seventy years ago, and wrote a most
interesting account of his visit. The authors of _Les Prisons de Paris_
transferred it to their entertaining pages, and I cannot do better than
translate from them. It chanced to be pay-day in the prison, that is to
say, the day on which the debtors received the stingy pittance which
their creditors were compelled to pay them once a month,—an excellent
opportunity of observing the stranded victims of the most nonsensical
law in the universe. To clap into prison a man who could not satisfy his
creditors, and thereby to encourage the indolent debtor in his indolence
and to dry up for the industrious debtor all possible sources of
industry, was perhaps, in this country as in France, the summit of folly
ever attained by legal enactment.

    "I found myself in a world of which those who have described it only
    from the other side of the wall have given us an entirely false
    notion. Where were all the gaieties which the novelists and the
    rhymesters have depicted for us? Where were the bevies of fair women
    who, as we have been assured, flock here by day to scatter the cares
    of the forlorn imprisoned debtor? I strained my ear in vain for any
    note of those bacchic concert-parties and mad festivities (_ces
    bruyants éclats de l'orgie_) which are to be met with in the novels.
    I threw a glance into the courtyard, and calculated the amount of
    space which each man could claim in the only spot in the whole
    prison where there is any circulation of air; I came to the
    conclusion that, when the prisoners were assembled here of an
    evening, after their friends had left, each might possess for
    himself a fraction of a fraction of a square yard of mother earth."

The debtors trooped down to the office to finger their doles.

    "I watched a procession of artisans and labourers, whose speech and
    costume contrasted oddly with the title of 'merchants'
    (_négociants_), under which their creditors had filched them from
    the workshops and yards to which they belonged; next, some
    physiognomies of men of the world, some representatives of the
    middle classes, and a crowd of young bloods (_étourneaux_).

    "One of the first comers was an officer, decorated and seamed with
    wounds, who had been four times in Sainte-Pélagie to purge the same
    debt. After five months' captivity he came to an arrangement with
    his creditor, to whom he owed a couple of thousand francs, agreeing
    to pay him in ninety days five hundred more. He was let out, failed
    to redeem the debt, and returned to take up his old quarters in
    Sainte-Pélagie. At the end of a year, he acknowledged a debt of
    three thousand francs to the same creditor, and obtained six months'
    grace. He paid a thousand on account, could not furnish a penny
    more, and went back to prison for the third time. Thus, after nearly
    three years in prison, the captain owes one-third more than he did
    on first coming in, and has paid a thousand francs to boot,—to
    encourage his creditor.

    "The old fellow who followed him was a monument of the speculative
    spirit of a certain class of creditors. He was half-blind, and had
    lost his left arm; his whole debt amounted to £20. Eight days before
    the King's birthday his creditor cast him into Sainte-Pélagie, in
    the hope that one of the civil-list bonuses would fall to the old
    man. Unhappily, the hope was not realised, and the creditor is now
    looking forward to next year's list.

    "Amongst the swarm of debtors, I recognised my old water-carrier,
    who needed little coaxing to tell me the story of his imprisonment.

    "Léonard was a native of Auvergne. After hawking water in buckets
    for several years, his ambition rose to a water-cart; and behold him
    now with his sphere of operations extended from the Rue du
    Faubourg-Poissonnière to the Marais. Unluckily for Léonard the
    water-cart was not yet his own property, and he began to fall into
    arrears with his monthly payments. When the arrears had become what
    the bailiffs call an 'exploitable' sum, Léonard was haled to the
    bar. Here he suddenly ceased to be a water-carrier; they promoted
    him to the rank of 'merchant,' and under that style and dignity they
    condemned poor Léonard for debt. In this strait Léonard thought,
    "Why not become bankrupt at once?" but when he went to deposit his
    balance-sheet they told him he was not a 'merchant' at all, but a
    mere water-carrier. Fifteen days later, Léonard had joined the ranks
    of the impecunious in Sainte-Pélagie.

    "His next idea was to lodge an appeal, and his brother was willing
    to bear the costs; but Léonard's debt was a bagatelle of £12, and
    the lawyer whom he consulted said that the blessings of appeal were
    reserved for persons owing £20 and upwards. The code of the Osages,
    if they have one, probably does not contain such exquisite burlesque
    as this.

    "I asked Léonard what had become of his wife. 'Oh,' he said, 'poor
    Jeanne has gone back to Auvergne; otherwise they'd have had her too,
    for they made Jeanne a "merchant" also' (_elle était aussi

    "I gave Léonard a trifle, and he went off to drink it. It is the
    commonest recreation, when it can be indulged; and the majority of
    the debtors, when their day of liberation comes, return to their
    homes with the two incurable habits of idleness and liquor."

Another who came to touch his allowance was a tradesman whose clerk had
robbed him of one thousand crowns. "The tradesman being unable in
consequence to meet his engagements is condemned to spend five years in
Sainte-Pélagie, and from the grating of his cell he can see in the penal
wing the scoundrelly clerk, who gets off with six months' imprisonment!"

Another comes

    "tripping cheerfully through the crowd; he is receiving his last
    payment; in a few days he will be a free man. An anonymous letter
    has loosed his bonds with the happy tidings that his creditor has
    been dead a year, and that a speculative bailiff has been prolonging
    his captivity on the chance of the debt being paid into his own

To this victim of a negligent law succeeded two who had made the law
their dupe. One was an officer who had had himself arrested for debt to
escape joining an expedition to Morea. The other was a tradesman "who
was nobody's prisoner but his own, and who had arranged with a friend to
deposit the monthly allowance for food. He was speculating on the
article of the code which gave a general exemption from arrest for debt
to all who had passed five consecutive years in the gaol."

A new-comer, "with his face all slashed," was

    "recounting the details of the siege he had sustained in his house
    against the bailiff's men. He had wanted to give himself up without
    fuss, but was told when he presented himself at the office that a
    person condemned for debt must be forcibly arrested (_doit être
    appréhendé au corps avec brutalité_), and pitched into a cab under
    the eyes of all the loungers on the foot-way,—who no doubt often
    imagine that they are assisting at the capture of some eminent
    criminal. This enterprise on the part of the bailiff and his men is
    charged to the unfortunate debtor, and the field of battle is as
    often as not some public thoroughfare."

But by far the most interesting and sympathetic personality on the
debtor's side of Sainte-Pélagie at this date was the American Colonel
Swan. The nature and amount of the colonel's debt are not set out, but
the interest seems to have been the main cause of offence, and he had
made it a matter of conscience to refuse payment.

    "The French law had ordered his temporary arrest, and, twenty years
    after his incarceration, he was still 'temporarily' in confinement.
    Compatriot and friend of Washington, Colonel Swan had fought in the
    War of Independence with Lafayette, and the grand old French
    republican often bent his white head beneath the wicket of the gaol,
    on a visit to his brother-in-arms."

His own private means, the aid of wealthier friends, or even a
successful project of escape, might have restored him to the free world;
but so greatly had he used himself to his captivity, that no thought of
liberty seems ever to have crossed his mind.

    "It was not altogether without emotion that one saw this comely
    veteran—whose features were almost a copy of Benjamin
    Franklin's—pacing the narrow and sombre passages of the prison,
    drawing a breath of air at the loop-hole above the little garden.
    His long robe of swanskin or white dimity announced his coming, and
    it was both curious and touching to see how the groups of prisoners
    made way for him in the corridors, and how some hastened to carry
    into their cells the little stoves on which they did their cooking,
    lest the fumes of the charcoal should offend him."

This respect and love of the whole prison the old colonel had justly
won; not a day of his long confinement there but he had marked by some
service of kindness, for the most part mysterious and anonymous. No
hungry debtor went in vain to the door of the colonel's little cell; and
often, seeking a supper, the petitioner went away with the full price of
his liberty.

There were two classes in the debtors' wing; those with certain
resources of their own to supplement the miserable allowance of their
creditors, and those who were dependent for their daily rations on the
handful of centimes allowed them by law.

These last used to hire their services to the others for a gratuity, and
were among the regular suitors of Colonel Swan's inexhaustible bounty.
They were known in the prison as "cotton-caps" (_bonnets de coton_). One
of these, hearing that the American had lost his "cotton-cap," went to
beg the place. The colonel knew all about the man, a poor devil with a
large family, stranded there for a few hundred francs. He asked a salary
of six francs a month.

"That will suit me very well," said the colonel; and, opening a little
chest, "here is five years' pay in advance." It was the amount precisely
of the man's debt,—and a fair instance of the colonel's benefactions.

Towards the year 1829, prisoners taking their airing in the garden saw
an old man strolling an hour or two in the day on the high terrace or
gallery at the top of the prison. It was Colonel Swan, for whom, in
failing health, the doctor had demanded that privilege. He had accepted
it gratefully, but—as if admonished from within—he said to the doctor:
"My proper air is the air of the prison; this breath of liberty will
kill me."

A few months later, the cannon of the 27th of July was belching in the
streets of Paris. On the 28th, the doors of the "commercial Bastille"
were thrown open, and the prisoners went out.

Colonel Swan, who went out with them, died on the 29th.


There were a few clever escapes, _evasions_ as the French call them,
from Sainte-Pélagie. What was known as the _procès d'Avril_, 1835,
resulted in the condemnation of Guinard, Imbert, Cavaignac, Marrast, and
others, who were lodged in the political wing. Forty of them joined in a
scheme of evasion, and a subterranean passage was dug from the
north-east angle of the prison into the garden of No. 9, Rue Copeau. The
tunnel, nearly twenty yards in length, was completed on the 12th of
July, and of the forty prisoners twenty-eight made good their escape
from Sainte-Pélagie the "insupportable."

The excitement of a well-conducted escape is contagious, and in
September of the same year the Comte de Richmond, who gave himself out
as the son of Louis XVI., with his two friends in durance, Duclerc and
Rossignol, broke prison ingeniously enough. By bribery or some other
means, Richmond procured a pass-key which gave admission to the
sentry-walk; and, head erect and a file of papers under his arm, he
walked boldly out, followed by Rossignol and Duclerc. To the sentinel
who challenged them, the Count with perfect _sang-froid_ introduced
himself as the director of the prison; "and these gentlemen," he added,
"whom you ought to know, are my chief clerk, and my architect." The
sentry saluted and let them pass, and M. de Richmond and his friends
opened the door and walked out.

In 1865, an Englishman named Jackson, condemned to five years' hard
labour, managed to get himself transferred to Sainte-Pélagie. On a wet
wild night in the last week of January, he squeezed out of his cell,
crawled over the roof to a convenient wall, and by the aid of a cord and
grappling iron let himself down into the street. The night was pitchy
black, rain was falling in torrents, the sentry was in his box, and
Jackson footed it leisurely home.

Better than these, however, was the escape of Colonel Duvergier, one of
the State prisoners of Charles X. Colonel Duvergier had been condemned
to five years' "reclusion" for no apparent reason except that he was one
of the most distinguished soldiers of his day. The story of his escape
is one of the happiest in the romantic annals of prison-breaking, but
the credit of the affair rests principally with a young littérateur, a
certain Eugène de P——.

Colonel Duvergier was on the political, and Eugène de P—— on the
debtors' side of Sainte-Pélagie, but they had succeeded in establishing
a correspondence by letter; and Eugène, not over-eager for his own
liberty, seems to have taken upon himself to procure the colonel's. With
Colonel Duvergier was one Captain Laverderie, and the colonel refused to
go out unless the captain could share his escape. Eugène de P—— said the
captain should go also, and the plot went forward.

The first step was to get the colonel and his friend from the political
to the debtors' side of the prison, and this was contrived at the
exercise hour. When the political prisoners were being marched in, to
give place to the debtors—there being but one exercise yard for the two
classes—Duvergier and Laverderie escaped the warder's eye, and hid in
the garden, until the debtors came out for their constitutional.
Nowadays, the warder would have counted his flock, both on coming out
and on going in; but the colonel and the captain seem to have had no
difficulty, either in attaching themselves to the debtors or in taking
refuge, after the exercise hour, in the cell of a debtor who was a party
to the scheme.

So far, however, the fugitives had succeeded only in changing their
quarters in the prison; and the next step was to procure for them two
visitors' passes. These passes, deposited with the gate-warder when
visitors entered, were returned to them as they left the prison. How to
place in the warder's hands passes bearing the names of two "visitors"
who had not entered the prison? The adroit Eugène thought it not too

He had a friendly warder at the gate who was much interested in some
sketches which Eugène was making in the prison, and went down to him one
day with his portfolio in his hand. "A few fresh sketches you might like
to look at." While the Argus of the gate was amusing himself with
Eugène's drawings, Eugène himself feigned astonishment at the number of
visitors to the prison, as evidenced by the quantity of passes lying
loose on the table. He expressed no less surprise that the warder should
have so little care of them; why not keep the passes in a handy case,
such, for example, as Eugène used for his drawings?

The warder thought he would ask the governor for one. "You needn't
trouble the governor," said Eugène; "take mine. Look, what could be
better!" and in filling the portfolio with the visitors' passes, he
slipped in two others.

At that psychological instant, Duvergier and Laverderie presented
themselves at the gate.

"Your names, messieurs?" and they gave the names which were entered on
Eugène's passes.

The passes were turned up, the warder handed them over, and—still
thanking Eugène for his present—bowed the fugitives out of the prison.




                             CHAPTER VIII.

                              THE ABBAYE.

It was the monks, as tradition wills it, who hollowed out the cruel
cells of the Abbaye de Saint-Germain-des-Près. The architect Gomard,
insisting that cells were not included in the bond, withdrew when he had
put his last touches to the cloisters. But in 1630, or thereabouts, no
monastery was complete without its _oubliettes_, and the prior commanded
his brethren to finish the work of the too-scrupulous Gomard. Thus was
the Abbaye equipped as an abbaye should be.

What power indeed, spiritual or temporal, had not the privilege in those
days of setting up its pillory, its gallows, its pile of faggots built
around a stake! In Paris alone at this date some twenty separate
jurisdictions possessed the right to fatten victims for the scaffold,
and it might almost be said that the municipal divisions of the capital
had gibbets for their boundaries.

In 1674, however, the situation changed somewhat. The authority of the
Châtelet was enlarged by royal edict, which gathered to it the rights
and privileges of all the lesser corporations, and confiscated the
halters and the faggots of private justice. This was a general blow,
which none took more to heart than the prior of the Abbaye of
Saint-Germain-of-the-Meadows. He had enjoyed the rights of "high,"
"middle," and "low" justice; he had imprisoned, tortured, and despatched
at his holy pleasure. Forthwith, he composed and addressed to Louis XIV.
_un mémoire éloquent_, which touched that pious heart. The Royal will
consented to restore to the prior a considerable portion of his ancient
jurisdiction. Within the extensive bounds of the monastery and its
appanages, the holy father might still consider himself gaoler,
tormentor, and executioner.

But his prison was now large beyond his pious needs, and little by
little the Abbaye took a more secular character. The cells which the
restricted powers of the prior could no longer charge to the full, were
set apart for young noblemen and others whose parents or guardians had
an interest in narrowing their borders. It was an age when parents and
guardians had an almost unlimited authority over sons, daughters, and
wards; and when fathers and uncles seldom thought twice about applying
for a _lettre de cachet_. Sometimes young rakes were put into temporary
seclusion for quite satisfactory reasons; but very often the legal
powers of parents and guardians were used with abominable cruelty; and
young men were imprisoned for years, suffering the treatment of
criminals, merely to gratify the rancour of a near relative; or were
even, where there was a fortune in question, confined expressly with the
design that they should be secretly got rid of. A father could or did
authorise a gaoler to treat his innocent son with a rigour that goes
almost beyond belief; to forbid him to petition anyone for release; to
keep him in solitary confinement; to feed him on the most meagre
rations. The nephew of a General Wurmser, who had designs upon the young
man's fortune, had him imprisoned in the Abbaye on some vague charge of
dissipation. The young man was only twenty years of age, but he entered
the Abbaye with the fixed conviction that his uncle did not intend ever
to release him, and this conviction was confirmed by the hint conveyed
to him by a turnkey, that he was to be sent to the fortress of
Pierre-Encise, or Ham. Within a week, he had committed suicide in his

Occasionally, young bloods of the period did penance in the Abbaye for
practical jokes of a rather questionable morality. A certain D——, a
spend-thrift of the first rank (who, however, rose afterwards to great
honour in the army), was at the last pinch to settle his gaming debts.
An uncle from whom he expected a goodly legacy lay sick unto death in
his Hôtel, and D—— gave out that the patient desired the attendance of a
notary. The notary arrived, and the uncle dictated a will entirely in
his nephew's favour. This being published, loans were forthcoming. But
the sequel was less satisfactory; for D—— presently found himself a
prisoner in the Abbaye, and his friend, the Chevalier de C——, in a cell
of the Bastille; the former for having personated a moribund uncle, and
the latter for having aided and abetted him in the swindle.

When Howard was making his memorable progress through the "Lazzarettos
of Europe," the Abbaye was amongst the prisons which he visited. He
notes that there were "five little cells in which as many as fifty men
were sometimes massed together." The Abbaye had undergone yet another
transformation, and was now the principal military prison of Paris. It
was reserved chiefly for the soldiers, both officers and privates, of
the _Gardes Françaises_; but delinquents of other regiments were sent
there also; and a turbulent place the Abbaye seems to have been in the
days before the Revolution. For, up to '89, the French army recruited
itself as best it could, and principally from amongst the masses of the
unemployed and the vagabond classes. They were bought by recruiting
sergeants, or swept into the ranks by the press-gangs, and it may be
supposed that the stuff out of which the rank-and-file was manufactured
was sometimes of the rottenest. Moreover, there was little spirit
amongst the officers to induce them to train up into good fighting-men
and self-respecting citizens the peasants, beggars, and outcasts of whom
they found themselves in command. The swaggering, aristocrat captain,
lording it over the colonel, who was perhaps a mere soldier of fortune,
scorned the men beneath him. His military rank, added to the colossal
difference in social rank between the nobility and the people, gave him
a double sense of superiority; there was no _esprit de corps_, no
feeling of comradeship in arms; but, on the one side, a perpetual and
galling assertion of authority, and, on the other, a continuous struggle
to secure some amount of recognition and freedom.

Insubordinate soldiers were continually being thrust into the Abbaye,
and there were strange scenes within those walls.

In the year 1784, say the authors of _Les Prisons de l'Europe_, two
military prisoners were finishing their scanty meal.

"Our last day together, Desforges," said one. "You go to château
Trompette, I to Valenciennes. "We're in for twenty years of it!"

"Yes, and for what, Dessaignes?" said the other. "For a quarrel with a
clod of an officer risen from the ranks. Twenty years!"

"My dear Desforges," said the young aristocrat. "It is not a cheerful
prospect.—Warm here, isn't it? Trees in leaf, and flowers smelling
sweet—out there. Out there, where liberty lies, Desforges. Come, shall
we be free?"

"Free! There are four bolts to the door, and another door at the end of
the corridor."

"Who talks of forcing bolts?" said Dessaignes. "At what hour do they
exercise us?"

"At six, as usual, I suppose."

"Yes; and once in the courtyard there is but one door to open."

"True; but the means of opening it?"

Dessaignes whipped up his mattrass, and displayed a pair of cavalry
pistols (_pistolets d'arcon_) and a long dagger.

"Where—" began his friend.

"The barrister who came to see me yesterday conveyed the arsenal under
his robe. Now, are these the keys to open a cage like ours?"

"None better! But I make one condition," said Desforges,—"that we are
not to kill anyone."

"There will be no necessity. We shall go down armed to the courtyard;
one of us will entice the concierge near the door, and the other will
cover him with a pistol. A little determination is all we shall need."

Six o'clock struck, and the gaoler came to conduct the prisoners to the
courtyard. They descended with their weapons in their pockets, and once
in the yard Dessaignes was for losing not a moment. Their guard was the
only attendant within sight, and as Desforges held him in talk,
Dessaignes suddenly stepped behind and seized him by his coat-collar.
The startled gaoler prepared to summon help, but before he could get out
a word Dessaignes clapped a pistol to his forehead.

"Speak but one syllable," said he in a whisper, "and you will never
utter another. Come, your keys!"

"Never!" replied the gaoler.

"Your soul to God, then, for your hour has come!"

The gaoler felt the muzzle at his forehead, and saw the glitter in the
eyes of his captor. He hesitated.

"A second more, and I fire. Reflect!" said Dessaignes, quietly.

The gaoler's hand was already moving towards his keys when, all at once,
his collar burst in the grip of Dessaignes, and he fell backwards. At
the same instant, and by accident, Dessaignes' pistol exploded. The
crack brought a dozen warders on the scene.

"Quick!" cried Dessaignes to his fellow-prisoner; "up-stairs again!"

They gained their cell, Dessaignes shut and bolted the door, and
together they barricaded it with all the furniture they could lay hands

"How much powder have we?" asked Desforges, under his breath.

"About four charges, but we shall not need it," replied Dessaignes.
"Wait; I'll give them their answer."

The warders hammered vainly at the door.

"Gentlemen," called Dessaignes, "we may be induced to capitulate, but we
shall not yield to force. You had better desist. We have powder enough
here to blow the Abbaye to the gate of heaven."

A murmur of alarm arose on the other side of the door, and silence

"You see!" observed Dessaignes, "these pious chaps will not mount
unprepared into the presence of their Maker!"

The posse of warders was, in fact, withdrawn.

"But what shall we do next?" asked Desforges.

"For the present," said Dessaignes, "we shall wait. They will be wanting
to make terms with us."

But the night passed, and no offer of capitulation was received. Two
other things lacking were, supper in the evening and breakfast in the
morning. The enemy had apparently changed their tactics; the blockade of
the prisoners was complete, and so was the famine. The day wore on, and
night came again; but not the paltriest offer of terms, nor a bowl of
thin soup. The next day broke with a prospect as barren.

Towards noon a deputation was heard approaching.

"If you don't give us something to eat," cried Dessaignes, "sooner than
die of hunger we will blow up the prison."

"To the gate of heaven. You have already said so," replied the voice of
the governor.

"Then you mean to sacrifice all the innocent persons in the place?"

"Not at all! We have made our dispositions. The other prisoners have
been removed. You two can ascend heavenwards as soon as you please."

Dessaignes glanced at his friend, and the expressions on both faces must
have been interesting.

"To be candid," said Desforges, "my stomach sounds a parley."

"My own offers the same advice," said Dessaignes.

"Let us follow it," said Desforges.

"Gentlemen," called Dessaignes through the key-hole, "the war is over.
Some bread, if you please, a bottle of wine, and a plate of meat. Those
are our simple conditions of capitulation."

Agreed to; and the door was opened. A legal gentleman came from the King
to hold an enquiry; but as Dessaignes' pistol had done no harm to
anyone, and as the two prisoners had conducted their little campaign in
a modest and inoffensive manner, no addition was made to their
sentence,—which indeed was the equivalent of a "life" sentence at the
present day. They were transferred to the Conciergerie, where their
bonds were not too tight; their families kept them in money, and they
received and dined their friends.

Desforges, the younger of the pair, seemed willing to accept his fate;
but Dessaignes, whose blood was always tingling, ached for liberty. He
watched his visitors out of the prison with hungry eyes. After all, the
least cruel of prisons is a cage, and the wings will beat against the
bars. Who knows what freedom means but the man who hears his lock turned
nightly by some other man's hand?

One night, the two young prisoners had been allowed (an affair of a
bribe) to give a dinner to some friends. The looseness of the rules
permitted the presence also of the principal warders, whom the hosts
took care to fill with wine. The table was surrounded by men in the
sleep of liquor, and Dessaignes and Desforges slipped out, and presented
themselves at the inner door of the prison. It was past midnight, and
the turnkey was asleep in his chair. Dessaignes took a key from his belt
at a venture, and tried the lock. It creaked, and the turnkey awoke.
Dessaignes turned and stabbed him, and he slept in death. The first door
was passed.

At the second door the turnkey was awake. So much the worse for him.
Dessaignes' dagger was out and in again, and the turnkey dropped.
Another key, another lock; the second door was passed.

At the third and outer door, the warder stood beyond the grille, safe,
and shouted the alarm. The prisoners turned to retreat, but the third
warder's cry had summoned another, who, quick to see the situation,
slammed the first door to; and between the first door and the third
Dessaignes and Desforges were trapped.

One warder murdered outright, a second on the point of death,—the fate
of the assassin and his comrade could not be long in doubt. A prisoner
gave evidence that he had been bribed to drug the first gate-warder; and
both Dessaignes and Desforges were sentenced to be "broken alive." The
decree was passed on the 1st of October, 1784, signed by Louis XVI., at
the express request of two of his ministers, and carried out publicly in
every terrible detail.

But darker scenes than this are preparing at the Abbaye. It was here
that the Revolution may be said to have begun, and here that some of its
worst crimes were perpetrated.


In June of 1789, there lay in the Abbaye certain soldiers of the _Gardes
Françaises_, charged with refusing to obey their orders, out of sympathy
with the National Assembly. Their situation in the prison became known,
and a clamour arose for their release. "À l'Abbaye! à l'Abbaye!" was the
cry; two hundred men set out from the Palais-Royal, and four thousand
arrived at the prison gates. Every door of defence was staved in, and in
less than an hour from the commencement of the attack, the democratic
_Gardes_ were released, and borne in triumph through Paris. This was one
of the first demonstrations of the popular will. How quickly that will
felt and appreciated its strength, and in what abandonment of cruel
passion it was to find expression, most readers have learned. There is
nothing in the annals of the world to be compared with the series of
events in the Paris prisons in '92, to which history has given the name
of the September Massacres. In that deliberate slaughter, over one
thousand men and women perished, hewn in pieces in the prisons or at the
prison doors. The revolutionary committees had packed the gaols with
"suspected" persons, mostly innocent of anything that could be laid to
their charge; and there they awaited such death as might be decreed for
them: salvation was all but hopeless. There was talk at first of burning
them _en masse_ in the prisons; then of thrusting all the prisoners into
the subterranean cells, and drowning them slowly by pouring or pumping
water on them. Assassination pure and simple seems to have been resolved
upon "as a measure of indulgence." A mock form of trial was held at all
the prisons, that the butcheries might be given an appearance of

On Sunday, the 2d of September, '92, the barriers of the city were
closed, and early in the afternoon the tocsin clanging from every
steeple in Paris called up the butchers to their work. Some thirty
priests were faring in five hackney carriages to the Abbaye prison, and
with them the slaughter was begun. One coach reached the prison with a
load of corpses; the occupants of the other four—Abbé Sicard
excepted—were killed as they alighted. Prisoners in the Abbaye watched
the carnage from behind their bars, and said: "It will be our turn

To one of these prisoners, Journiac Saint-Méard, one time captain in the
King's light infantry, we shall for the present attach ourselves. His
_Agony of Thirty-eight Hours_ (_Mon agonie de trente-huit heures_), much
read at the beginning of the century, is amongst the best of the
contemporary records, and from that I shall translate at some length.

This slow deliberate killing of the priests was done, he says, amid a
silence inexpressibly horrible; and as each fell, a savage murmur went
up, and a single shout of _Vive la nation_! Women were there encouraging
the men, and fetching jugs of wine for them. Someone in the crowd
pointed to the windows of the prison and said: "There are plenty of
conspirators behind there; and not a single one must escape!"

Towards seven in the evening, two men with sabres, their hands steeped
in blood, entered the prison, and began to carry out the prisoners for

    "The unfortunate Reding lay sick on his bed, and begged to be killed
    there. One of the men hesitated, but his companion said, '_Allons
    donc!_' and he slung him across his shoulder to carry him out, and
    he was killed in the street."

    "We looked at one another in silence, but presently the cries of
    fresh victims renewed our agitation, and we recalled the words of M.
    Chantereine as he plunged a knife into his heart: 'We are all
    destined to be massacred.'"

    "At midnight, ten men armed with sabres, and preceded by two
    turnkeys with torches, came into our dungeon, and ordered us to
    range ourselves along the foot of our beds. They counted us, and
    told us that we were responsible for one another, swearing that if
    one of us escaped, the rest should be massacred, without being heard
    by the President. The last words gave us a little hope, for until
    then we had had no idea that we might be heard before being killed."

    "At two o'clock on Monday morning, we heard them breaking in one of
    the prison doors, and thought at first that we were about to be
    slaughtered in our beds, but were a little reassured when we heard
    someone outside say that it was the door of a cell which some
    prisoners had tried to barricade. We learned afterwards that all who
    were found there had their throats cut."

    "At ten, Abbé Lenfant, confessor of the King, and the Abbé de
    Chapt-Rastignac appeared in the pulpit of the chapel which served
    for our prison, and informing us that our last hour was approaching,
    invited us all to receive their blessing. An indefinable electric
    movement sent us all to our knees, and, with clasped hands, we
    received it. Those two white-haired old men with hands outstretched
    in prayer, death hovering above us, and on every side environing us:
    what a situation, what a moment, never to be forgotten!"

Saint-Méard goes on to say how, during that morning, they discussed
among themselves what was the easiest way in which to receive death. The
slaughter in the streets never stopped, and some of them went from time
to time to the window to observe and make reports.

    "They reported that those certainly suffered the most and were the
    longest in dying who tried in any way to protect their heads,
    inasmuch as by so doing they warded off the sabre-cuts for a time,
    and sometimes lost both hands and arms before their heads were
    struck. Those who stood up with their hands behind their backs
    seemed to suffer least, and certainly died soonest.... On such
    horrible details did we deliberate."

Towards afternoon, overwhelmed by fatigue and anxiety, Saint-Méard threw
himself on his bed and slept. He awoke after a comforting dream, which
he felt certain was an omen of good fortune. But he and the others were
now consumed by thirst; it was twenty-six hours since they had had
anything to drink. A gaoler fetched them a jug of water, but could tell
them nothing as to their fate.

The long agony of waiting drew to an end.

    "At eleven at night, several persons armed with swords and pistols
    ordered us to place ourselves in single file, and led us out to the
    second wicket, next to the place where the trials were being held. I
    got as near as I could to one of our guards, and managed little by
    little to engage him in conversation."

This man was an old soldier and a Provençal, and when he found that
Saint-Méard could talk the rude patois of that district—scarcely
intelligible in Paris—he grew quite friendly, fetched him a tumbler of
wine to hearten him, and counselled him as to what he should tell the
judges. The Provençal let him stand where he had a glimpse of the court,
and he saw two prisoners thrust to the bar and condemned almost unheard;
a moment later, their death-cries reached his ears.

Two hours passed thus; it was one o'clock in the morning, but still the
judges heard, condemned, and sent their victims out to die by sword and
hatchet in the street, where in places the blood was ankle deep, and the
dead lay in piles.

All at once Saint-Méard heard his name called. "After having suffered an
agony of thirty-seven hours, an agony as of death itself, the door
opened and I was called. Three men laid hold of me, and haled me in."

By the glare of torches,

    "I saw that dreadful judgment bar, where liberty or death lay for
    me. The President, in grey coat, sword at his side, stood leaning
    against a table, on which were papers, an ink-stand, pipes, and
    bottles. Around the table were ten persons, sitting or standing, two
    of whom were in sleeveless jackets and aprons; others were asleep,
    stretched on benches. Two men in shirts all smeared with blood kept
    the door; an old turnkey had his hand on the bolt....

    "Here then stood I at this swift and bloody bar, where the best help
    was to be without all help, and where no resources of the mind were
    of avail that had not truth to rest upon.

    "'Your name, your calling?' said the President, and one of the
    judges added: 'The smallest lie undoes you.'

    "'My name,' I answered, 'is Journiac Saint-Méard; I served
    twenty-five years as an officer in the army. I stand before you with
    the confidence of a man who has nothing to reproach himself with,
    and who is therefore not likely to utter falsehoods.'

    "'It will be for us to judge of that,' responded the man in grey."

The trial proceeded. Saint-Méard was accused of having edited the
anti-revolutionary journal, _De la cour et de la ville_, but showed
satisfactorily that he had not done so. Accused next of recruiting for
the emigrants, at which there was an ominous murmur, "Gentlemen,
gentlemen," pleaded the prisoner, "the word is with me at present, and I
beg the President to maintain it for me,—I never needed it so sorely!"
"That's true enough!" laughed the judges, and the court began to shew
itself more sympathetic. Saint-Méard, though, was not yet off the
gridiron. "You tell us continually," said one impatient judge, "that you
are not this and you are not that! Be good enough then to tell us what
you are."—"I was once frankly a Royalist." Another and louder murmur;
but the President put in: "We are not here to sit in judgment on
opinions, but on their results"; words of precious augury for the
prisoner, who went on to say that he was well aware the old régime was
done with, that there was no longer a Royalist cause, and that never had
he been concerned in plots or Royalist conspiracies, for he had never in
his life been concerned in public affairs of any kind. He was a
Frenchman who loved his country above all things.

The questioning and cross-questioning came to an end, and the President
removed his hat. "I can find nothing to suspect in Monsieur. What do you
say; shall I release him?" and the voice of the judges was for liberty.
Thus finished, at two o'clock in the morning, the "thirty-eight hours'
agony" of Journiac Saint-Méard. He survived it some twenty years.

Alas for the hundreds upon hundreds whose agony of yet longer duration
finished under the arch of pikes!

The escapes were not many. Abbé Sicard, the benevolent founder of the
Deaf-and-Dumb Institute, was set free on the earnest petition in writing
of one of his pupils. Beaumarchais, author of the _Mariage de Figaro_,
evaded the clutches of the judges after a terrible period of suspense in
the Abbaye. The old Marquis de Sombreuil was saved by his daughter. She
clung to his neck, imploring the cut-throats to spare him to her. "Say,
then," said one of them, dipping a cup into the blood at his feet: "Wilt
thou drink _this_?" The brave girl gulped it down; the mob threw up
their weapons with a roar of applause, and opened out a way for both
through their dripping ranks.

But few fared as these did. President Maillard, of the grey coat, who
was so well satisfied with Saint-Méard, did not release, perhaps, one in
fifty amongst the accused at the Abbaye. He is accused of "carrying
about heads, and cutting up dead bodies." Billaud-Varennes went about
from group to group of the assassins who were massed in parties,
encouraged them in the name of the tribunal, and promised that each man
should be paid a louis for his "labour."

A contemporary sketch depicts him delivering a speech on "a table of
corpses" against the door of the Abbaye: "Citizens, you are slaughtering
the enemies of France. You are doing your duty." Indiscriminate killing
had been the legal order of the day. There was no question of the
guillotine during the September massacres. Every citizen who could arm
himself was a Samson by privilege of the prison judges; and popular
justice, called "severe justice of the people," made the butcheries of
September a people's fête. It was not so much an act of patriotism to
assist in them as a dereliction of duty to hold aloof. The
"Septemberers" have been condemned as cannibals; but they were common
ratepayers of Paris to whom the government of the day offered money to
kill as many "enemies of the republic" as should be delivered to them.
Most of these "enemies of the republic" were persons to whom the
republic was scarcely known by name, and who asked only to be ignored by
it. They were killed in batches during the September of '92, merely
because they happened to be thrust out at one particular door of their
prison. You came out at this door, and were received with cheers; you
came out at the next door, and were hacked in pieces. Which door it was,
depended upon the vote of the judges; and this, as a rule, was the
determination of a moment. Saint-Méard's trial of an hour was one of the

The mere business of killing went forward until numbers had lost their
significance, and the lists of the dead were but approximately reckoned.
They are all set down in black and white, and may still be read—so many
killed "in the heap" (_en masse_), so many "after judgment" (_après
jugement_)—but the figures have never been proved; and one seeks in vain
to reckon the total, after the "three hundred families belonging to the
Faubourg St. Germain," who were "thrown into the Abbaye in a night"; and
the "cartload of young girls, of whom the oldest was not eighteen," and
who, "dressed all in white in the tumbril, looked like a basket of
lilies." After this batch, were guillotined all the nuns of the convent
of Montmartre.

Then there were the Swiss Guards, "remnants of the 10th of August," to
whom Maillard said; "Gentlemen, you may find mercy outside, but I am
afraid we cannot grant it to you here." The youngest of them, "in a blue
frock-coat," elected to go first. "Since we must die," he said, "let me
show the way"; then, dashing on his hat, he presented himself at the
door where the butchers stood ready to receive him; a double row of
them,—sabre, bayonet, hatchet, or pike in hand. For a moment he looked
at them, quite coolly; then, seeing that all was prepared, he threw
himself between their ranks, and "fell beneath a thousand blows."

[Illustration: THE GALLANT SWISS.]

When the killers began to flag, brandy mixed with gunpowder was served
to them. A woman passes, carrying a basket of hot rolls; they beg them
of her, and the bread, before being eaten, is "soaked in the wounds of
the still breathing victims."[19] The brigands of the Abbaye were not
more than from thirty to forty in number. Amongst them, says Nougaret,
"one youth, mounted on a post, distinguished himself by his ferocity in
killing. He said that he had lost his two brothers on the 10th of
August, and meant to avenge them. He boasted of having cut down fifty to
his own weapon. Another brigand prided himself on a total of two

Footnote 19:


Women looked on, adds the same authority, "sitting in carts on piles of
dead bodies, like washerwomen on dirty linen. Others flung themselves
upon the corpses, and tore them with their teeth, danced round them, and
kicked them. Some of these Furies cut off the ears of the dead, and
pinned them on their bosoms."

Some ten months after this carnage, tranquil amid the din of the Terror,
lies beautiful Charlotte Corday, in her cell within the Abbaye walls.
Her hour has not yet come; she bides it in perfect peace. By-and-bye she
will go to the Conciergerie, and thence the next morning to the
guillotine. Samson will lift the fair head when he has struck it off,
and smite the cheek with his crimson paw, amid universal plaudits. "I
have found the sweetest rest here these two days," she writes from
prison; "I could not be better off, and my gaolers are the best people
in the world." A memory of her lives as she tripped smiling up the steps
of the scaffold, her hair cropped under a little close-fitting cap, and
wearing, by order of her judges, a hideous red shirt, which descended to
her feet. "She blushed and frowned on the executioner when he plucked
the tippet from her bosom. Two moments after, the knife fell on her."

After the Revolution, the Abbaye was again a military prison, and its
subterranean dungeons were in existence in 1814. "The principal of
these," wrote one who had inspected it, "is as horrible as any in
Bicêtre; sunk thirty feet below the level of the ground, and so
fashioned that a man of average height could not stand up in it. One
could scarcely remain here, says the doctor himself, more than four and
twenty hours without being in danger of one's life."

The Abbaye was demolished in 1854.




                              CHAPTER IX.

                         THE LUXEMBOURG IN '93.

This was, above all others, the aristocratic prison of the Revolution.
It was fitly chosen for the reception of that brilliant contingent of
nobles, just ready to fly the country, whom the famous Law of the
Suspects had routed from their hôtels in Paris. To confine them in the
Luxembourg, converting that ancient and renowned palace into a dungeon
of aristocrats, was in itself an apt stroke of vengeance on the part of
the people. Few indeed of the historic dwellings of Paris could have put
them more forcibly in mind of the tyrannies of kings and regents, of the
splendid and licentious fêtes and orgies of princes and princesses of
the blood, the cost of which was wrung from the lean pockets of those
who were told to eat cake when there was no bread in the cupboard! Had
not Marie de Médicis passed here, and Gaston de France, and Duchesse de
Montpensier, and Elizabeth d'Orléans, who gave it to Louis XIV., and
Louis XVI., who gave it, in 1779, to Monsieur his brother, who after the
days of storm and terror was to reign, not too satisfactorily, as Louis
XVIII.? Was it not here that Duchesse de Berri, in the early years of
the eighteenth century, held those surprising revels the details of
which may be read only in secret and unpublished memoirs? Sedate
historians merely hint at them.[20] And, palace though it was, the
revolutionary judges might have found ready to their hands at the
Luxembourg, bars, bolts, fetters and dungeons enow. For that "symbolic
hierarchy" of palace, cloister, and prison, proper to all princely and
noble dwellings of the old régime, had existed at the Luxembourg; and
during long years the penal justice of priest and monk had passed that

Footnote 20:

  "Dans son Palais-Royal, au Palais de Luxembourg où demeurait la
  duchesse de B——, se célébraient le plus ordinairement ces parties de
  débauche. L'on y voyait les acteurs figurer quelquefois avec un
  costume qui consistait à n'en point avoir; et les princes, les
  princesses, se livrer sans pudeur aux désordres les plus
  dégoûtans."—Dulaure, vol. viii., p. 187.

This was the place to which the noble and courtly suspects were conveyed
by hundreds in August, 1793. One can imagine, though but very faintly,
with what feelings they resigned themselves into the hands of concierge
Benoît. Their King had been decapitated; their Queen, a prisoner
elsewhere, was expecting her husband's fate. They knew how little their
sovereign's life had weighed in the people's balance; was it likely that
theirs would be of greater weight? Judgment and death disquieted them.

"A diverting spectacle in its way," wrote one sarcastic prisoner, "to
see arriving in a miserable hackney-coach two marquises, a duchess, a
marchioness, and a count; all ready to faint on alighting, and all
seized with the megrims on entering." Dames of great rank came with
their brisk femmes de chambre, old noblemen with their valets, youths
separated from their governors and tutors,—children even; whole
battalions of the most distinguished suspects, the very flower of the
aristocracy of France. The dungeons were not requisitioned, but hasty
preparations had been made for them. Under concierge Benoît's polite and
sympathetic conduct, they mounted the splendid staircase—up which had
flitted in a costume of no weight at all the unblushing guests of De
Berri—to the splendid chambers, picture-gallery, ball-room, salon,
dining-room, and the whole sumptuous suite, which rude partitions of
naked lath and timber had converted into some semblance of prison
lodgings. The wide windows had been armed with iron bars, and guards
were posted at every story.

The gallant company of French suspects found some of the chambers in the
occupation of a party of English suspects, who had been placed under
arrest some weeks earlier, "as a response to the insults offered by the
English government to the Republic" (_pour répondre aux insultes
dirigées par le gouvernement anglais contre la République_). Amongst
them were Miss Maria Williams, who had gone to France, pen in hand, to
see what liberty, equality, and fraternity were like in practice (and
who returned to write one of the dullest books on record); and Thomas
Paine, who was studying "The Rights of Man" under alarming aspects.

This was the first Battue; the royalist suspects of Republican France
were the second.

The salons of the palace, made into prison chambers, were named afresh.
Miss Williams and her sister occupied the chamber of _Cincinnatus_; hard
by were the chambers of _Brutus_, _Socrates_, and _Solon_; and the
derisive name of _Liberty_ was given to the room in which nobles under
special guard were confined in the strictest privacy. High personages,
whose titles but a little while before might have made their gaolers
tremble, were lodged in every quarter of the palace. In this cabinet
were Marshal de Mouchy and his wife, "rigorous observers of courtly
etiquette"; a little way off, in chambers no bigger than prison cells,
the Comte de Mirepoix, the Marquis de Fleury, President Nicolai, M. de
Noailles, and the Duc de Lévi.

Parlous in a high degree as the situation was for all of them, they did
not at this date suffer any special discomfort, the deprivation of
liberty excepted. Their captors were satisfied at having them under lock
and key, and did not insult their captivity. A gossiping history, which
may be history or fable, describes a visit of Latude to one of the
political prisoners, a certain M. Roger. The great prison-breaker
laughed the Luxembourg to scorn: "A prison? You call this a prison, _mon
cher_? I call it a _bonbonnière_, a _boudoir_!"

Indeed, to be precise, the Luxembourg was not exactly a Bastille. There
were sad and evil days in store for these suspects, but they were days
as yet distant. For the present, heart-questionings apart, it was not
too dismal a confinement; and rumour went so far as to hint that there
were relaxations of an evening which would not have discredited the
character of the Luxembourg of history.

The palace-prison might be compared to an unseaworthy vessel in which
one shipped for a compulsory voyage, in dangerous waters, with a
doubtful chart. One might reach port, or founder in mid-ocean.
Meanwhile, there was no choice but to sail; and the rotten ship had good
berths and was well-provisioned.

The Luxembourg was not as yet governed as a prison, the suspects of the
Revolution were under no extraordinary restraint, there was no
surveillance, and the sentries allowed the prisoners to come and go as
they pleased within the wide walls of the palace and its gardens. Their
friends called upon them, and they wrote and received letters. One of
them had a dog in his chamber which used to fetch and carry messages and
packets between the "prison" and free Paris. A confectioner outside was
allowed to furnish whatever was ordered for the tables, and the rich
paid ungrudgingly for the poor. Plain _sans-culottes_ came in as
suspects with the nobles, and were regularly fed by them.

"How many are you feeding?" asked one marquis of another.

"Twelve; and pretty hungry ones."

"Well, what do you give them?"

"Meat at dinner always, and dessert."

"That's not so bad. My fellows want meat twice a day, and coffee once a

A strained position made matters easier. The nobles kept apart from the
plebs, and took their share of snubs from the "common patriots" whom
their purses kept in food; but a sense of general danger minimised the
hostilities of class. Succour, whenever needed, was never lacking. The
regulation mattress for the beds is described as "of about the thickness
of an omelette" and the bolster "of the leanest"; but bolsters and
mattresses ran short in a month or two, and the men stripped themselves
of coats and waistcoats to make beds for the women. It was a camp or
caravanserai, with the style of a court.

The aristocrats assembled of an evening in a common room which was
always called the salon, powdered and dressed in the fashion, saluted
one another by the titles which they had ceased to own, and disputed
precedence as at Versailles. Visits were paid and returned, and never
was a fool's paradise so scrupulously ordered. It was admirable in its
way; the old order would die by rule.

The prisoners were fortunate in their concierge, Benoît. A veteran of
seventy, gentle and genial, with a heart as fine as the manners of his
royalist prisoners, he smoothed all paths, and ushered in a new-comer to
a lodging of four bare walls and a naked floor with an apology that
transformed it into a royal boudoir. He seemed to know all his guests as
they arrived, and placed them where he thought they would find the
easiest entertainment and the most congenial company. He played the part
of master of ceremonies, and put each guest into his proper niche. In
Benoît's hands, the marquis who had arrived without his valet found
himself handling the broom, fetching water, and taking his turn at the
spit, as if the custom of a lifetime had used him to those offices. It
was Benoît who learned at once what money a prisoner had brought in with
him, and who saved the needy suspect the humiliation of begging his
meals, by a whisper in the ear of a good-natured noble.

By-and-bye, the suspects had the gratification of knowing that their
perils, present and to come, were shared by the enemy himself. There
arrived as a prisoner one evening a president of the revolutionary
tribunal. It was one Kalmer, a German Jew, and reputed millionaire (he
had an income of about £8000), who had been active in filling the
chamber-cells of the Luxembourg. He presented himself in sabots and a
costume of the shabbiest simplicity, and his reception was of the
coolest. He displayed from the first a voracious appetite, and every day
an ass laden with provisions was brought for him to the palace door. The
ex-president seemed well disposed to end his days eating and drinking in
the Luxembourg, and was not a little shocked on receiving the news that
he had been sentenced to death, "for conspiring secretly with the enemy
abroad." He went to the guillotine without a benediction.

Came next the much more notable Chaumette, ex-sailor, ex-priest, and
recently Procureur of the Commune, in which capacity he had been
foremost in demanding and promoting the Law of the Suspects. He was as
chapfallen as a wolf in a snare, but he did not escape the mordant jests
of the company. It was Chaumette who had declared in the Chamber that
"you might almost recognise a suspect by the look of him." He himself
was recognised on the instant.

"Sublime Procureur!" exclaimed one, "thanks to that famous requisition
of yours, I am suspect, thou art suspect, he is suspect; we are suspect,
you are suspect, they are all suspect"—which indeed was the case, for at
that date, as Carlyle says, "if suspect of nothing else, you may grow,"
as came to be a saying, "Suspect of being Suspect."

One night, the wildest rumour circulated in the prison. It was said that
Danton, Camille Desmoulins, Hérault de Séchelle, Lacroix, Philippeaux,
and others, the head and front of the party of the Moderates, had been
arrested by Robespierre's order, and were to be sent forthwith to the
Luxembourg. It was even so; and the next night the news sped through
every corridor of the palace that Danton and his fellows had arrived,
and were with the concierge. The prisoners swarmed to the reception
room, and gratified their eyes with that unlooked-for spectacle. The
brilliant Camille, whose young wife was a prisoner with him, was
denouncing the tribunal in a storm of passion; Danton bade him be calm:
"When men act with folly," he said, "one should know how to laugh at
them." Then, recognising Thomas Paine, he said: "What you have done for
the liberty of your country, I have tried to do for mine. I have been
less fortunate than you! They will send me to the scaffold; well, I
shall go there cheerfully enough!" Camille Desmoulins had brought with
him some rather melancholy reading—Hervey's _Meditations_ and Young's
_Night Thoughts_. The merry Réal, who had arrived a day or two earlier,
exclaimed against these works: "Do you want to die before your time?
Here, take my book, _La Pucelle d'Orléans_; that will keep your spirits

General Dillon, who was of the earliest batch of suspects, was amongst
the first to visit the imprisoned Moderates in the chamber which had
been set apart for them.[21] Camille was still fuming, and Danton
playing the part of moderator. Lacroix was debating with himself whether
he should cut his hair, or wait till Samson dressed it for him. Another
of the party, Fabre d'Eglantine, lay sick in bed, tenderly nursed by his
comrades. He was saved for the scaffold, for the turn of the Moderates
was not long delayed. At the brief trial of the party, Danton and
Camille showed a characteristic front to their judges. "You ask my
name!" thundered the Titan of the Revolution. "You should know it! It is
Danton, a name tolerably familiar in the Revolution. As for my abode, it
will soon be the Unknown, but I shall live in the Pantheon of history!"
"My age," answered Camille, "is the age of the good _sans-culotte_ Jesus
Christ; an age fatal to Revolutionists!" Returning to the Luxembourg
after condemnation, he said to Benoît: "I am condemned for having shed a
tear or two over the fate of other unfortunates. My only regret is that
I was not able to be of better service to them." Camille wrote with one
of the wittiest pens of his day, and busied himself in the Luxembourg
with a comedy called _The Orange_, the model of which was Sheridan's
_School for Scandal_. He had evoked in a greater degree than any other
of the Moderates the sympathies of the suspects in the Luxembourg, and
up to the last there was a general belief in the prison that both he and
Danton would be saved by the intervention of Robespierre. But
Robespierre could not, if he would. Executioner Samson received in due
course his order to proceed with them—a document drawn up in the style
and almost in the terms of a commercial invoice—and made his own note in
pencil at the foot: "One cart will be enough." Even at the steps of the
guillotine, Camille turned to denounce the crowd. "Leave that canaille!"
said Danton, quietly; "we are done with it." To the headsman Danton
said, as he stood on the scaffold: "You must show my head to the people.
It is a head worth looking at."

Footnote 21:

  "This general," says Nougaret, in his dry way, "drank a great deal. In
  his sober moments, he played at trictrac."—Vol. ii., p. 61.

This hecatomb of the Moderates sent a thrill of fear through the
Luxembourg. Whose turn next?

Up to this date, the principal political prisoners had enjoyed
unrestrained communication with their friends outside, and General
Dillon had private news twice a day from the tribunal. Two days after
the bloody despatch of the Moderates, the prisoners of the Luxembourg
were confined to their chambers. Evening receptions and parties of
trictrac (in one's sober intervals) were suppressed; communication of
every kind was forbidden; and the journals of the day, which had been
freely circulated in the prison, were no longer admitted. The prisoners
awaited "in silence and fear" the explanation of this rigorous

It was the outcome of the first of those rumours of a "plot in the
prison." A certain Lafflotte, a suspect of low origin, denounced General
Dillon and one Simon (nicknamed in the prison Simon-Limon) as the author
of a secret conspiracy. The revolutionary journals were full of the
affair, but it was never very clearly explained, nor, for that matter,
was any precise explanation ever offered of other prison plots
so-called. There were pretended discoveries and expositions of plots in
the Luxembourg, Saint-Lazare, Bicêtre, and the Carmes. That the
prisoners of the Revolution in all these goals were eager to recover
their liberty, is a statement which may pass without dispute; and it is
no less natural to suppose that they would have seized upon any means
that offered a reasonable hope of escape. But the truth seems to have
been, and it is rather curious in the circumstances (though the presence
of so many women and children would have multiplied the difficulties)
that no concerted efforts to break prison were ever made by the
suspects. Statements or rumours to the effect that they were planning a
forcible release for themselves, and that, once out of prison, they
intended to put Paris to the sword, should have been regarded as quite
too silly for credence. Surely those poor aristocrats had given proof
enough of their weakness! Of all the enemies of the Republic, they were
the least capable of harming it.

Dillon and Simon, nevertheless, were delivered over to Samson. The
terror had begun for the prisoners of the Luxembourg.

An unexpected calamity succeeded. Benoît, most humane and benevolent of
concierges, was arrested. It was as if the father had been snatched from
his family, and the suspects were inconsolable; they had lost their best
friend within the prison. The tribunal acquitted him, but he did not
return to his post. Benoît had two successors at the Luxembourg within a
space of weeks, the second of whom was a man who would have been
regarded with terror in any French prison at that epoch. This was
Guiard, who had been fetched expressly from Lyons, where he had acquired
a hideous celebrity as gaoler of the "Cellar of the Dead," the name
bestowed upon the dungeon or black hole in which the victims of the
_commission populaire_ passed their last hours between condemnation and

A few days after the removal of Benoît, the prisoners awoke one morning
to find that sentinels had been posted at every door. A stolid police
officer named Wilcheritz, a Pole by birth, who had been nominated to a
principal post in the prison, came round with the order that there was
to be no communication between the suspects. They, believing that they
were on the eve of another September massacre, prepared to bid each
other farewell. On this occasion, however, it was merely a question of
stripping them of their belongings. Money, paper notes, rings, studs,
pins, shoebuckles, penknives, razors, scissors, keys, were gathered in
cell after cell, and deposited in a heap in one of the larger rooms; no
notes or inventory being taken. Wilcheritz and his inquisitors were the
objects of some pleasantries which, it is said, "annoyed them greatly."
One prisoner, after handing over his writing-case was asked for his
ring. "What!" said he, "isn't the stationery enough? Are you setting up
in the jewellery line too?" Another, when it was pointed out to him that
he had retained the gold buckles of his garters, replied: "I think,
citizens, you had better undress me at once." They entered the cell of
the playwright Parisau. "Citizens," said the author, "I am really
distressed; you have come too late. I had three hundred livres here, but
another citizen has just relieved me of them. I hope that you will have
better luck elsewhere. They tell me, however, that you are leaving us
fifty livres apiece, and as I have only just five and twenty, no doubt
you will make up the sum to me." "Oh no, citizen," returned the stolid
Pole.—"Ah! I see. You are merely 'on the make,' citizen. It is
unfortunate in that case that there are gentry in the prison more active
than you. However, if you follow the other citizen, I dare say you will
catch him up, and then you can settle accounts with him. You are the
ocean, citizen, and all the little tributaries will join themselves to

In another apartment it was proposed to carry off his silver coffee-pot
from a prisoner, who, to preserve it, explained that it was "not exactly
silver," but "some sort of English metal." That was possible, observed
Wilcheritz, for he had one just like it himself. "Ah!" returned the
prisoner, "now that you mention it, I remember there was another like
mine in the prison!"

Suspects belonging to the working-classes,—tailors shoemakers,
engravers, and the like—were allowed to retain the tools of their
crafts; and the barbers received their razors in the morning, returning
them to the gaolers at night.

To all requests addressed to him by the prisoners, imploring information
as to their fate, the phlegmatic Pole made answer: "Patience! Justice is
just. This durance will not endure for ever. Patience!"

Patriots and nobles were now massed in hundreds within the same walls,
shared the same chambers, and were fed from the same kitchen; and all
alike were now in the same state of siege. What news penetrated within
the palace-prison was not the most inspiriting; the tumbrils were moving
steadily to the guillotine, and in the copies of the _Courrier
Republicain_ which were smuggled into the Luxembourg, the principal
intelligence was the "Judgment of the Revolutionary Tribunal, which has
condemned to death" thirty, forty, fifty, or sixty "conspirators."

Word was passed that the _commissions populaires_ were to take in hand
the cases of the suspects, which was more comforting to the patriots
than to the nobles; but the days crept on, and nothing happened.

The prisoners amused themselves by teasing Wilcheritz, a fair butt for
raillery, who carried out his orders imperturbably, but was never a
bully. The day came of the "Feast of the Supreme Being," and citizen
Wilcheritz honoured it with a radiant suit. His big feet were cramped in
a pair of new shoes with the finest of silver buckles. One of the
despoiled suspects fancied or pretended that he recognised the buckles,
and a whisper went round. The prisoner whose coffee-pot had been
appropriated came to the rescue. "Citizens," he said, "those buckles
don't look to me like silver. They are _a sort of English metal_." "They
have been in my family for three generations, citizens, I assure you. I
had them long before the visitation," stammered Wilcheritz. "The
visitation" had grown to be the polite mode of reference to the act of
spoliation. "Citizen," said the defender of Wilcheritz, "your answer is
complete. You told us the other day that no good Republican should stoop
to wear jewellery, but no citizen here would have the heart to claim
your shoebuckles."

The coming of Guiard as concierge (_cet homme féroce_ is Nougaret's
dismissal of him) quenched all pleasantries, and made the palace-prison
a prison complete. Two suspects hopeless of being brought to the bar,
had committed suicide by throwing themselves from their windows; Guiard
ordered that no prisoner should approach within a yard of his window.
The sentries had orders to enter every cell and chamber, with drawn
sabres, at midnight, rouse the occupants from their beds, and count
them. At intervals, all through the night, they were to hail one another
loudly in every corridor: "_Sentinelles, prenez-garde à nous!_" so that
there should be no sleep for the prisoners. No letters were allowed to
pass out from or into the prison; and no visitors were admitted.

Meals could no longer be sent in from the confectioner's, and a common
table was established. At noon precisely, the bell was struck for
dinner, and the nine hundred prisoners were ranged in the corridors,
each with his _couvert_ under his arm, a wooden fork, knife, and spoon.
They descended by batches to the dining-room, marching two and two, and
this singular procession was half an hour on its journey. Arriving at
the dining-room, three hundred took their places at the table, three
hundred waited with their backs to the wall, and three hundred cooled
their heels in the passage.

At this time, all money and paper notes, having been taken from them,
the suspects were receiving an allowance of about two shillings a day,
though it is not quite clear what they were to spend it on.

At the distribution one morning, Guiard said significantly: "There won't
be quite so many to receive it to-morrow!" That same night, a long row
of tumbrils stopped under the walls of the Luxembourg, and one hundred
and sixty-nine prisoners were dragged from bed to fill them.

It was the first seizure on the grand scale, and in a few minutes the
whole prison was in confusion and panic terror. The warders were heard
going from door to door, and calling the names of the victims; one from
one chamber, two, three, or four from another. Here were sobbings and
loud wails, and clinging embraces; husbands and fathers trying to
animate the weeping women whom they were leaving; priests called for in
the dark to bless together for the last time two who were to be
separated. No one dared descend to the great gallery, but elsewhere
there were frightened rushings to and fro; meetings and partings in
darkened doorways and half-illumined corridors; friend seeking friend,
and women and girls imploring with streaming eyes for leave to say
good-bye again to the lost ones who were already seated in the tumbrils.
Happy were the friends and whole families who were despatched together.
In one moving instance, weeping was turned into joy. A family of father,
mother, and two daughters were divided; the younger daughter was left
behind, almost distracted; her name was not upon the list. Presently
came another warder with another list. The girl started from the empty
bed on which she had thrown herself, snatched the list from the gaoler,
and read her own name there. Carrying the sheet, and with a face beaming
as if a free pardon had been handed to her, she ran down the corridor,
crying: "Mamma, I have found my name! See, it is here! Now we shall die
together!" So by minutes, of which each minute was an æon, that night of
horror was exhausted, and at daybreak the long file of tumbrils dragged

Not less wretched was the situation of the hundreds who remained.
Racking fears were their portion day and night; death was in their
hearts. Every evening a new list came in. The "ferocious" Guiard had a
very suitable assistant in a turnkey called Verney, whose duty is was to
read out the roll of the proscribed, and who did it with a terrible art,
dallying with the syllables of a name, and pausing to watch the strained
faces around him. Sometimes instead of reading the list, he would pass
it round, when the struggle to reach it prolonged the agony. An
eyewitness of the scene has left a description:

    "In the evening, those prisoners who were allowed to do so assembled
    in one of the large rooms and played, or made a pretence at playing,
    vingt-et-un, chess, and other games. While these were in progress,
    the terrible Verney, head turnkey, appeared, bringing what was
    called the lottery list. This little paper contained the names of
    those who were to go the same night to the Conciergerie, and the
    next morning to the guillotine. The fatal list went round amid the
    most pitiful silence. Those who found their names on it rose pale
    and trembling from the table, embraced and bade farewell to their
    friends, and left us. Verney would then produce the evening paper,
    where we read the list of the day's dead,—the dead who had been at
    the table with us the night before! I was playing chess one evening
    with General Appremont, General Flers looking on. I had just put him
    in check when the summons came for him, and Verney carried him off.
    Flers took the vacant seat, with a pretence of finishing the game,
    when he too was called. This officer had proved his courage in
    battle a score of times, but I have never seen terror so horribly
    painted on any human countenance. His whole visage seemed undone,
    and when he struggled to his feet, he could scarcely support
    himself. He gave me his hand, speechless, and staggered from the

Footnote 22:

      _Les Prisons de l'Europe._

In the Luxembourg as in the other prisons at this epoch there were
miserable creatures, also under lock and key, who made a kind of trade
of denouncing their fellows. The Luxembourg had seven of these spies,
who assisted in preparing the lists, "embellishing" them, as they said,
with details which they had scraped together or invented in the prison.
These wretches enjoyed and boasted of the terror which they inspired;
and the chief of them, Boyaval (a tailor by trade, who had served in and
deserted from the Austrian army), used to say that anyone who looked
askance at him in the Luxembourg might count on spending the next night
in the Conciergerie! Scarcely a suspect whom Boyaval denounced escaped
the guillotine, and one night he scandalised the prison by offering love
to a young widow of a day, whose husband he had sacrificed. The husband
was an artist, who had painted portraits in the Luxembourg of nobles who
had reason to suppose that they would leave their families no other
legacy. He was accused of assembling the nobles in his room, and
plotting with them against the Republic. As lightly as this, during the
Terror, were lives devoted to Samson, in every prison in Paris. The
"plots" were not credible, and it is impossible at this date to suppose
that they were ever credited; but Paris was still obedient to the word
of the Danton whom it had guillotined, that "one must strike terror into
the aristocrats"; and these "prison plots" served to fill the tumbrils
to the last.

An epidemic of sickness came to crown the sufferings of the dwindling
population of the Luxembourg. They were reduced almost to the last
extremity of despair. They had no news from without, except the nightly
list of the proscribed, and the nightly journal, with its monotonous
tale of executions. Between morning and evening, there was no other
event, except the swift good-bye at night to the friends or relatives
whose names were mumbled out by Verney. A silence almost unbroken had
settled on the prison; parties of ghosts assembled at dinner, and
whispered together in the common-room until bedtime. Their misery
culminated in the epidemic of sickness. The rations had been cut down to
one meal a day, and Guiard was the caterer. The wasted prisoners sent
back their rotten meat to the kitchen, and lived on bread and thin soup.
Half the prison fell ill; poisoned or underfed. Doctor's aid could be
had only on a warrant from the police, and applications remained a week
or a fortnight at the bureau. Samson had a rival in diseased or
exhausted nature; and Guiard's requiem for the dead was an unvarying
formula: "Peste! there's another lost to the guillotine!"

This agony of a season was dissolved in an hour. The "walking corpses"
(_les cadavres ambulans_) of the Luxembourg were recalled to life by the
revolution of the 9th of Thermidor. It came with the din of the tocsin,
and the beat to arms which, until that day had gathered the rabble to
follow the tumbrils to the guillotine. The tocsin continued, and the
rattle of the drums increased, and the trampling of feet towards the
Luxembourg grew louder. The remnant of the suspects gathered in the
gallery: the last massacre was to come. No! The doors were burst open; a
shout went up. Robespierre had fallen. The Reign of Terror was finished.




                               CHAPTER X.

                             THE BASTILLE.

    "... if once it were left in the power of any, the highest,
    magistrate to imprison arbitrarily whomever he or his officers
    thought proper (as in France is daily practised by the
    Crown), there would soon be an end of all other rights and

After enduring for centuries an oppression as rigorous and as cruel as
any nation had ever been subjected to, this idea dawned, almost in an
hour, upon the mind of France. It did not matter that the King who
occupied the throne at this time was, if not at all a wise one, at least
one of the most humane, and distinctly the best intentioned, and the
only French sovereign who had ever really cared to soften the lot of his
prisoners. He did not soften their lot in the least, because he was weak
and indolent, and in the hands of the least honest of his ministers; but
his predecessors, almost without exception, had lent their efforts or
their sanction to the support of that old malignant policy, descended
from the feudal times, that prison was properly a place of torment. The
quick aspiration of liberty, born at last of a wretchedness that was
past enduring, inflamed the heart of the whole nation. It took Paris, as
it were, by the throat. What thing in Paris opposed itself most visibly
to the "natural rights" and liberty of man? Paris said: The Bastille! Up
then, and let the Bastille go down. They went there, a very ordinary
crowd of rioters, and overturned it. The Bastille, which the
superstitious fears of ages had thought impregnable, fell like an old
ruined house (which it was) in a midsummer gust. But the fall of it
shook Europe to its foundations, and before the dust had vanished, it
was seen that the Bastille had carried with it the throne of France, and
every shred and vestige of the system which that throne represented.

This then must have been the most terrible prison in Europe? Not at all.
It was the most renowned; and, as a prison, no other name is ever likely
to be greater than, or as great as, the Bastille; but at the time of its
destruction it was no more than the shadow of its ancient self, and at
no period of its existence was it a worse place than any other of the
old State prisons of France. Vincennes was quite as cruel a hold as the
Bastille had ever been; there were, I think, uglier dens in the Châtelet
and in Bicêtre; and the torture chamber of the Conciergerie had perhaps
witnessed more inhuman spectacles than any other prison in Paris.

[Illustration: THE BASTILLE.]

But when, in July, 1789, a prison was to be destroyed, as the chief
symbol of the tyranny of kings, it was upon the Bastille that Paris
marched, as by instinct. Why was this prison abhorred above all the
rest? Mainly because what had once been a fact had survived as a
tradition,—that the master of the Bastille was the master of France; and
the master of the Bastille was, of course, the King. In its beginnings,
the Bastille was merely a gate of Paris, as Newgate was originally
nothing more than the New Gate of London. It came next to be a very
common little fort, for the defence of the Seine against the English and
other pirates. But it grew by-and-bye to be a stout castle and prison,
over against the royal residence of Vincennes; and when, on the approach
of an insurgent force, the King could signal from his window at
Vincennes to his commandant in the Bastille, just opposite, and the guns
of both places could be primed in time, the plain between them was
secure. The Bastille came thus to hold a place quite distinct from that
of any other prison in Paris, and one which threatened in a much higher
degree the liberties of the citizens. It was considered impossible of
capture; and while the King's standard shook over the great towers of
the Bastille, Paris and France were secure to him; and, in the popular
imagination, his principal stronghold was also his principal prison. In
this point of view, and it was the popular point of view, the Bastille
was a double menace to Paris. It was the King's best means of keeping
importunate subjects at arm's length, and it was also the most
redoubtable of the prisons he could shut them in. Both ideas were to
some extent erroneous. The Bastille, considered as a fort, was never as
formidable as its name; and, as a prison, the Kings of France seldom
favoured it above the Dungeon of Vincennes.

But let us seek now to put the Bastille in its proper and exact place
amongst the historic gaols of France. In recent years, one or two French
writers of distinction, and others of no distinction whatever, have come
forward as the apologists of this too famous keep, who would persuade us
that it was not only a very tolerable sort of prison, but even, in
cases, a rather desirable place of retirement, for meditation, and
philosophical pursuits. M. Viollet-le-Duc has assured us, quite gravely,
that the famed _oubliettes_ (the bottoms of which were shaped like sugar
loaves, so that prisoners might have no resting-place for their feet)
were merely ice-houses! It is not denied that these cells existed, and
those who care to believe that a Mediæval architect built them under the
towers of the Bastille as store-chambers for ice to cool the governor's
or the prisoners' wine, are entirely welcome to do so. These were
amongst the places of torment in which Louis XI. kept the Armagnac
princes, who were taken out twice a week to be scourged in the presence
of Governor l'Huillier, and "every three months to have a tooth pulled
out." The author of _The Bastille Unveiled_ has attempted to explain
away the iron cage in which the same King confined Cardinal Balue for
eleven years, and which, I believe, is still in existence. An English
apologist (whose work extends to two bulky volumes) says that "prisoners
were less harshly treated in the Bastille than in other French and
English prisons"; that "the accusations of prisoners having been
tortured in the Bastille have no serious foundation"; that the majority
of the chambers "were comfortable enough"; that one of the courtyards
"resembled a college playground, in which prisoners received their
friends, and indulged in all kinds of games." We hear of tables which
were so sumptuously furnished (three bottles of wine a day, amongst
other comforts) that the prisoners complained to the governor that he
was feeding them too well. We are presented with printed rules to show
how carefully the sick were to be attended to, and what were to be their
ghostly ministrations in their final hours. We are told, without a
smile, that it was really not so easy for people to get into the
Bastille as the world in general has supposed; and that, once there,
their situation was not too helpless, inasmuch as the governor must
present to the minister every day a written report upon the conditions
of the prison. Under the pen of this or the other indulgent writer, the
horrors of the Bastille have vanished as by process of magic.
Unfortunately, the horrors are, with quite unimportant exceptions, facts
of history.

The government of the Bastille was precisely similar to the government
of the other State prisons of France. Edicts notwithstanding, these
prisons were practically the _property_ of their successive governors.
To this unwritten rule the Bastille was not an exception. The governor
in possession at this or that epoch might or might not be the creature
of the minister through whose interest he had bought his office at a
sometimes exorbitant price; it was, at all events, understood that,
whatever limits were set to his authority, he was fully entitled to get
back his purchase money; and this, as had been shown, he could seldom do
except by villainously ill-using his prisoners. There were governors who
did not do this, and then indeed came a blessed period for the
prisoners. Then food was good and plentiful, the faggots were not
stinted in the fire-place, the beds were not rotten and lousy, the foul
linen went to the wash, and the threadbare clothes were replaced, the
cells were made proof against wind and rain, the governor was prompt in
looking into grievances, and all went as well for the prisoner as it was
possible that it should go in a gaol of old Paris. But when a new
Pharaoh arose, who was avaricious, and a tyrant, and a bully, and who
had bought his prison as a speculative investment, then the clouds
gathered again, and the wind blew again from the east, and the old
tribulations began afresh. Now, as the records of all the French prisons
of history leave no doubt as to the fact the bad governors were many,
and the good governors were few, and that within his prison walls the
governor was only less than omnipotent, readers of these pages will not
expect often to find prisoners of the Bastille regaling themselves with
three bottles of wine a day, or asking to have their tables ordered more
plainly, or receiving the free visits of their friends, or playing at
"all kinds of games" in courtyards resembling college playgrounds.
Sprigs of the nobility and young men of family, shut up for a time for
making too free with their money, or for running away with a
ballet-dancer, had perhaps not too much to complain of in the Bastille;
there were certain prisoners of rank, too, who came off lightly; and now
and again there were other prisoners who enjoyed what were called the
"liberties of the Bastille," and who were allowed a restricted
intercourse. But the general rules for the keeping and conduct of
prisoners in the Bastille were of the severest description, and they
were carried out for the most part with inflexible rigour. Privations
and humiliations of all kinds were inflicted on them; and redress for
injuries, or for insults, or for mean and illegal annoyances, the
outcome of the governor's spleen, was not more easy to obtain in the
Bastille than in the Dungeon of Vincennes.

The statement that "it was not so easy to enter into the Bastille" is
from Ravaisson, the compiler of the _Archives de la Bastille_. He gives
his reasons, which are sufficiently curious. Incarcerations, says
Ravaisson, were accomplished with the utmost care, and the Government
insisted upon the most stringent precautions, inasmuch as, "acting with
absolute authority, it felt the danger of an uncontrolled
responsibility." Sore indeed would be the task of proving by example
that the absolute monarchy had many compunctions on this score, when
tampering with the liberties of its subjects. "Extreme care was taken to
avoid errors and abuses" in effecting incarcerations in the Bastille;
and the great safeguard was that "each _lettre de cachet_ was signed by
the King himself, and countersigned by one of his ministers!" One need
go no further than this. M. Ravaisson spent from fifteen to twenty years
in studying and arranging the archives of the Bastille, and his
knowledge of his subject must have been immense. Was this the writer
from whom one would have expected the suggestion that the King and his
minister, in signing a _lettre de cachet_, took care to assure
themselves that no injustice was being done, and made themselves
immediately and personally responsible for the guilt of the victim whom
it was to consign to captivity in the Bastille? Leave aside the cases in
which the document was used to imprison a person in order that charges
or suspicions might afterwards be inquired into,—though there are
countless instances to show, (1) that no proper investigation was held,
and (2), that the clearest proofs of innocence were not always
sufficient to procure the prisoner's liberation. But what shall be said
of the cases, infinitely more numerous than these, in which no charge
was ever formulated, and in which none could have been formulated, save
some fictitious one inspired by private greed, hatred, or vengeance?
Where in these cases was that "greatest care" which "was taken to
prevent errors and abuses"? Kings and their ministers sent to the
Bastille and other prisons many thousands of prisoners who had no
justice, and who never expected justice. But these same "closed
letters," duly signed and sealed, were the instruments of imprisoning
hundreds of thousands of other persons—to whom life was sweet and
liberty was dear—in whose affairs neither King nor minister had the most
shadowy interest, and whose very names most probably they had never
heard of. During the reign of one King, Louis XV., one hundred and fifty
thousand _lettres de cachet_ were issued. For how many of those was
Louis himself responsible? They carried his signature, but is it
necessary at this day to say that the King wrote his name upon the blank
forms, which the minister distributed amongst his friends? The
lieutenant-general of police also had his blank forms at hand, in which
it was necessary only to insert the names of the victims. Wives obtained
these forms against their husbands, husbands against their wives,
fathers against their children, men-about-town against their rivals in
love, debtors against their creditors, opera-dancers against the lovers
who had slighted them. If one but had the ear of the King, or the King's
mistress, or the King's minister, or the King's chief of police, or of a
friend or a friend's friend of any of these potentates, there was no
grudge, jealousy, or enmity which one might not satisfy by means of a
_lettre de cachet_,—that instrument which was so sure a safegard against
the "errors and abuses" of imprisonment, because it carried the
signature of the King and his minister! And the cases in which these
scraps of paper were used merely for the ruin, the torment, or the
temporary defeat of a private enemy, often had the cruelest results. The
enemy and the enmity were forgotten, but the _lettre de cachet_ had not
been cancelled, and the prisoner still bided his day. Persons who had
never been convicted of crimes, and other persons who had never been
guilty of crimes, lay for years in the Bastille, forgotten and uncared
for. "There are prisoners who remain in the Bastille," said Linguet (who
spent two years there), "not because anybody is particularly anxious
that they should remain, but because they happen to be there and have
been forgotten, and there is nobody to ask for their release." Captain
Bingham, the English apologist of the Bastille, discussing the cases of
certain criminals who were arbitrarily dealt with by _lettres de
cachet_, says that in England at the present day they "would be
prosecuted according to law, and most probably committed to prison."
Very good! But is there no difference between the situation of the
criminal who, after conviction in open court, is sent to prison for a
fixed term of weeks, months, or years, and that of the "criminal" who
goes to prison uncondemned and untried, and who cannot gauge the length
of his imprisonment? Far enough from being "not so easy" to get into the
Bastille, the passage across those two drawbridges and through those
five massy gates was only too dreadfully simple for all who were
furnished against their wills with the "open sesame" of the _lettre de

The interior of the Bastille had nothing worse to show than has been
discovered in the chapters on Vincennes, the Châtelet, and Bicêtre.
There were, perhaps, uglier corners in the two last-named prisons than
in either of the two more famous ones. The Bastille, however, has stood
as the type, and the almost plutonic fame which it owes to romance seems
likely to endure. Romance has not been guilty of much exaggeration, but
this saving clause may be put in, that what has been written of the
Bastille might have been written with equal truth of most other
contemporary prisons. Its eight dark towers, its walls of a hundred
feet, its drawbridges, its outer and its four great inner gates, its
ditches, its high wooden gallery for the watch, and its ramparts
bristling with cannon,—these external features have been of infinite
service to romance, and romantic history. But within the walls of the
Bastille there was nothing extraordinary. Lodging was provided for about
fifty prisoners, and it was possible to accommodate twice that number.

The fifth and last gate opened into the Great Court, some hundred feet
in length and seventy in breadth, with three towers on either side. The
Well Court, about eighty feet by five and forty, lay beyond, with a
tower in the right and a tower in the left angle. Each tower had its
name; those in the Great Court were _de la Comté_, _du Trésor_, _de la
Chapelle_, _de la Bazanière_, _de la Bertaudière_, and _de la Liberté_;
those in the Well Court were the _du Coin_ and the _du Puits_. The
comely garden on the suburban side of the château was closed to all
prisoners by order of De Launay, the last governor of the Bastille, who
also forbade them the use of the fine airy platforms on the summit of
the towers. The main court was then the only exercise ground, a dreary
enclosure which Linguet describes as insufferably cold in winter ("the
north-east wind rushes through it") and a veritable oven in summer.

The _oubliettes_ have been mentioned. Besides these there were the
dungeons, below the level of the soil; dens in which there was no
protection from wind or rain, and where rats and toads abounded. The
ordinary chambers of the prisoners were situated in the towers. The
upper stories were the _calottes_ (skull-caps), residence in which seems
to have been regarded as only better than that belowground. "One can
only walk upright in the middle." The windows, barred within and
without, gave little light; there was a wretched stove in one corner
(which had six pieces of wood for its daily allowance during the winter
months), and one has no reason to doubt the statements of prisoners,
that only an iron constitution could support the extremities of heat and
cold in the _calottes_. In contrast to these, there were rooms which had
fair views of Paris and the open country. The lower chambers looked only
on the ditches; all the chambers (and the stairs) were shut in by double
doors with double bolts; and all, with the exceptions of those which a
few privileged persons were allowed to upholster at their own cost, were
furnished in the most beggarly style. But in all of these respects,
nothing was worse in the Bastille than elsewhere.

In principle, the dietary system here was the same as in other State
prisons. The King paid a liberal sum for the board of every prisoner,
but the governor contracted for the supplies, and might put into his
pocket half or three-fourths of the amount which he drew from the royal
treasury. In the Bastille, as in other prisons, there were periods when
the prisoners were fed extremely well; and in all these prisons there
were persons who, by favour of the Government or the governor, kept a
much more luxurious table than was allowed to the rest. But one must
take the scale of diet which was customary. Two meals a day were the
rule. On flesh days, the dinner consisted of soup and the meat of which
it had been made; and for supper there were "a slice of roast meat, a
ragout, and a salad." Sunday's dinner was "some bad soup, a slice of a
cow which they call beef, and four little pâtés"; supper, "a slice of
roast veal or mutton, or a little plate of haricot, in which bones and
turnips are most conspicuous, and a salad with rancid oil." On three
holidays in the year, "every prisoner had an addition made to his
rations of half a roast chicken, or a pigeon." Holy Monday was
celebrated by "a tart extraordinary." There was always or usually
dessert at dinner, which "consists of an apple, a biscuit, a few almonds
and raisins, cherries, gooseberries, or plums." Each prisoner received a
pound of bread a day, and a bottle of wine. De Launay's method of
supplying his prisoners with wine was no doubt the usual one. He had the
right of taking into his cellars about a hundred hogsheads, free of
duty. "Well," says Linguet, "what does he do? He sells his privilege to
one Joli, a Paris publican, who pays him £250 for it; and from Joli he
receives in exchange, for the prisoners' use, the commonest wine that is
sold,—mere vinegar, in fact."[23] A prisoner of the same period sums up
the matter thus: "There is no eating-house in all France where they
would not give you for a shilling a better dinner than is served in the

Footnote 23:

  _Mémoires sur la Bastille._

Apart from all exceptional hardships and privations, the oppression of
the first months of captivity in the Bastille must have been very
terrible. The prisoner who was not certain of his fate, and who did not
know to whom he owed his imprisonment, lay under a suspense which words
are inadequate to describe. Mystery and doubt environed him; his
day-long silence and utter isolation were relieved only by the regular
visits of his gaoler. He was not allowed to see anyone from without, and
could not get leave to write or receive a letter. Nothing could be done
for him, he was told, until his examination had been concluded; and this
was sometimes delayed for weeks or months. If he were a person of some
consequence in the State, powerful enough to have enemies at Court, his
examination in the council-chamber of the Bastille was conducted in a
manner quite similar to (and probably borrowed from) that adopted by the
Inquisition. He was asked his connection with plots or intrigues which
he had never heard of; he was coaxed or menaced to denounce or betray
persons with whom perhaps he had never associated; papers were held up
before him which he was assured contained clear proofs of his guilt; and
he might be told that the King had unfortunately been inflamed against
him, and would not hear his name. If, mystified by threats, hints, and
arguments which had no meaning for him, he asked to be confronted by an
accuser or witnesses, his request was not allowed. These were the exact
methods of the Inquisition. The lieutenant of police, or the
commissioner from the Châtelet, who presided over the interrogation,
would not hesitate to tell the accused that his life was at stake, and
that if his answers were not complete and satisfactory he would be
handed over forthwith to a _commission extraordinaire_. Every device was
resorted to (says the author of the _Remarques politiques sur le château
de la Bastille_) in order to draw from the prisoner some sort of
admission or avowal which might compromise either himself or some other
person or persons in whom the Government had a hostile interest. The
examiner might say that he was authorised to promise the prisoner his
freedom, but if he allowed himself to be taken by this ruse it was
generally the worse for him; for, on the strength of the confession thus
obtained, he was told that it would be impossible to release him at
present, but every effort would be made, etc. If the ministry had reason
to suspect that the prisoner was really a dangerous character, and
involved in political intrigue, there was little hesitation in resorting
to torture.

Ravaisson says that only two kinds of torture were applied in the
Bastille; the "boot," and the torture by water. Well, these were
sufficient; but it is to be remembered that the archives of the Bastille
date only from about the middle of the seventeenth century, and it is
improbable that the _Salle de la Question_ of this prison was less
horribly equipped than that of any other. The ordeal of the "boot" needs
no description; for the torture by water, the victim was bound on a
trestle, and water was poured down his throat by the gallon, until his
sufferings became unendurable. Torture was practised in the Bastille as
long as it was practised in any other French prison; a man named Alexis
Danouilh underwent the Question there ("ordinary" and "extraordinary")
in 1783—after the date at which Louis XVI. had forbidden and abolished
it by royal edict. To so small an extent had the absolute sovereigns of
France control over the administration of their own prisons of State!

At no point in the existence of an ordinary captive of the Bastille is
there any occasion to exaggerate his pains. Such as they were, they were
very real; and scant reason is there to wonder at the bitterness, the
vehemence, and even the violence of tone which characterises the memoirs
or narratives of those who had endured them. The apologists of the
Bastille will beg us to believe that the histories of Linguet and
certain others are mendacious, have been refuted, and so forth. The
gifted, caustic Linguet, who is one of their particular bugbears, was
not the most upright man, nor the most scrupulous writer, in the France
of his day; but the essential parts of his narrative are confirmed by
the statements of a host of others. It is not because Linguet has said
that the Bastille walls, which were from seven to twelve feet thick,
were from thirty to forty feet thick (which he might quite possibly have
supposed) that we are to discredit his account, highly wrought as it is,
of the general conditions of life within the prison. It is not more
highly wrought than the accounts of other prisoners of the Bastille, the
accuracy of which has not been questioned. These other histories are
plentiful, and we are under no necessity of resting upon the
better-known narratives which, for their qualities of style or their
greater picturesqueness, have been so often reproduced. Far on into the
eighteenth century—indeed until within a few years of our own—there lay
in the Bastille victims of public or private injustice, whose
complainings, stifled in its vaulted ceilings, have sent us down a faint
but faithful echo. What of Bertin de Frateaux, who was walled in there
from 1752 until his death in 1782? What of Tavernier, who, imprisoned in
1759 (after a previous ten years' sojourn in another gaol), was
liberated only by the wreckers of the Bastille, on the 14th of July,
1789? Here, too, in 1784, lies the Genoese, Pellissery, imprisoned, in
1777, for publishing a pamphlet on the finances of Necker. Dishonourable
terms of release are offered him which he will not accept, although
"rheumatic in every joint, scorbutic, and spitting blood for fifteen
months, owing to the atrocious treatment I have had here during seven
years." Here, two years later, is Brun de la Condamine, the inventor of
an explosive bomb, which he has importuned the ministry to make test of.
After a captivity of four years and a half, enraged at the indignities
he receives, he makes a wild attempt to escape. Here, at the same
period, is Guillaume Debure, the oldest and most respected bookseller in
France, lodged in the Bastille for refusing to stamp the pirated copies
of works issued by his brethren in the trade; treated apparently like a
common malefactor, and released only on the indignant representations of
the whole bookselling fraternity of Paris. Thus lightly was the liberty
of the subject held, even while the Revolution was fermenting.

The prisoner who was released never knew until then the full bitterness
of the treatment he had endured. It was perhaps the acutest part of his
sufferings, that the letters he had written to family and friends, the
entreaties he had addressed to ministers, magistrates, and chiefs of
police, brought him never a word in answer. It was thus that was
produced in so many cases that sense of utter desolation and abandonment
by the whole world which resulted in the madness of very many prisoners.
Those who were restored to liberty with their reason unimpaired learned
that their letters and petitions had never been received. They had
never, in fact, passed out of the Bastille. It was well to have the
truth of this at any time; but we are to remember the prisoners who died
in the belief that their dearest ones had denied them one kind or
sympathetic word. When the Bastille was sacked, piles of letters were
found which had never passed beyond the governor's hands. Amongst them
was one which (considering the circumstances of the writer, and the fact
that no line was ever vouchsafed him in response) may be regarded as
perhaps the very saddest ever penned: "If for my consolation," wrote the
prisoner to the lieutenant of police, "Monseigneur would have the
goodness, in the name of the God above us both, to give me but one word
of my dear wife, her name only on a card, that I might know she still
lives, I would pray for Monseigneur to the last day of my life." This
letter was signed "Queret Démery," a name known to nobody, but which
will be remembered while the Bastille is remembered. One does not choose
to ask, were there even a chance of an answer, how many other letters
not less piteous than this were read and drily docketed by governors of
the Bastille.

This inveterate and almost inviolable secrecy in which the government of
the Bastille enwrapped the majority of its prisoners seems on the whole
to have been the most cruel feature of its policy. After reading some
fifty volumes of cells with rats in them, and dungeons frozen or fiery,
and torture rooms, and filthy beds, and food not enough to keep life on,
one is shocked to find that the due and natural poignancy of sympathy
with human suffering begins insensibly to weaken. But this refinement of
pain, inflicted as a part of the routine, upon the common prisoners of
the Bastille, revives the sense of pity. It was the habit to pretend
that prisoners who were dungeoned there were not in there at all. Asked
as to the fate of this prisoner or the other, ministers would respond
with a blank look, assure the questioner that they had never heard the
prisoner's name, and that, wherever he might be, he was certainly not in
the Bastille. The governor and chief officers of the prison, who saw the
prisoner every day, would say that he was not in their keeping, and that
no such person was known to them. The common practice of imprisoning men
in the Bastille under names other than their own made these denials
easy. At other times, when it was desired to prejudice his friends or
society against a prisoner, the answer would be, that the less said
about him the better. The nominal cause of his imprisonment, his friends
were told, was not the real one; the Government had their information,
and if it could possibly be published the prisoner would be known in his
true character. The prisoner himself was often told that his friends had
ceased to believe in his innocence, or that they thought him dead, or
that they had given up all hope of procuring his release. The Bastille
and the Inquisition were singularly alike in their methods.

Dreary beyond expression must have been the daily round for all but the
privileged few. "Every hour was struck on a bell which was heard all
through the Faubourg St. Antoine." The sentries on the rampart
challenged one another ceaselessly throughout the night. There were
prisoners in solitary confinement to whom no other sounds than these
ever penetrated, except the grating of the key in the lock which
announced the daily visits of the gaoler. This was the life of such
prisoners as the Iron Mask, and of Tavernier, who told his liberators
that, during the thirty years of his captivity, he had passed nineteen
consecutive ones without crossing the threshold of his cell. Exercise in
the yard, for those who enjoyed this favour, was limited to an hour a
day, and this period might be reduced to a few minutes if there were
many prisoners to be exercised in turn,—for, in general, the utmost care
was taken to prevent them from meeting one another. If a stranger were
shewn into the yard, the prisoner who was taking his mouthful of air had
to retreat to a cabinet in the wall. These walks were solitary, except
for the presence of a dumb sentinel; and, unless the prisoner were now
and then permitted or compelled to share his chamber with a
fellow-captive, not less solitary was his whole existence. The most
stringent rules were in force respecting the admission of friends or
relatives. "Strangers cannot enter the Bastille," ran the official
injunction, "without very precise orders from the governor"; and such
rare interviews as were permitted took place in the council-chamber, in
the presence of this officer or his deputy. The length of the interview
was always fixed in the letter which the visitor bore from the
lieutenant of police, and nothing might be said relative to the cause of
the prisoner's detention.

A certain Mme. de Montazau, visiting her husband in the Bastille, took
with her a little dog, and, while pretending to caress it in her own
Portuguese tongue, was trying to tell Montazau what efforts she was
making for his release. "Madame," interrupted De Launay, his gaoler's
instinct aroused, "if your dog does not understand French you cannot
bring him here." Even such poor barren visits as these were of the
rarest possible occurrence.

But, M. Ravaisson will tell us, prisoners were frequently visited by the
lieutenant of the King or some other high personage. It would be more to
the point to say that such visits were occasionally inflicted, for the
comfort that prisoners derived from them was slender. Abbé Duvernet
receives the visit of the minister Amelot, who tells him that he can
have nothing to complain of, since he has had access to the prison
library. The Bastille library, by the way, seems to have been founded
not by the Government, but by a prisoner who was confined there early in
the eighteenth century. Abbé Duvernet had made a catalogue of the
collection. "I have catalogued your library," he replied to the
minister, "and there are not ten volumes in it which a man of ordinary
education would trouble himself to read. Library, indeed! Listen,
monsieur: when a man has had the hardihood to expose one of the blunders
of you ministers, you will spend any quantity of money to be avenged on
him. You will hunt him to Holland, England, or the heart of Germany, if
it costs the State two thousand pounds. But to afford a little solace to
the poor devils in your Bastille, by buying a few books for them to
read—no! I dare be sworn that Government has not spent ten pounds on
books for this place since the Bastille was built!"

"Well, monsieur l'Abbé," said Amelot, "may I ask why you are here?"

"Why am I here! Because you yourself gave some one a _lettre de cachet_,
which had your own name and the King's attached to it. I am very sure
that his Majesty knows nothing of my detention, or the motive of it; but
_you_ can scarcely pretend to the same ignorance. Or, will you have me
believe that you set your signature to these _lettres_ without knowing
what it is that you are signing?" Then, turning to Lenoir, the
Lieutenant of Police, the Abbé asked: "Do _you_, sir, demand _lettres de
cachet_ of M. Amelot without giving him a reason? Come, as you are both
here together, perhaps one of you will be good enough to tell me what is
the excuse for my imprisonment." I have condensed this interview from
_Les Prisons de Paris_. It is not likely that ministers and chiefs of
police were often faced in this style by prisoners of the Bastille, but
it is probable enough that most interviews of the kind ended with the
same fruitless inquiry on the part of the prisoner.

It may be inferred from this how much protection was afforded to
prisoners by the daily reports of the governor or the major to the
minister, who was nominally responsible for the Bastille. These reports,
in fact, seem to have been merely a part of the system of espionage
which was regularly practised there. The governor writes:

    "I have the honour to inform you that the sieur Billard was engaged
    with the sieur Perrin yesterday, from six to nine in the evening.

    "This morning M. de la Monnoye saw and spoke with Abbé Grisel a good

    "M. Moncarré had an interview with his wife in the afternoon, in
    accordance with your instructions.

    "In obedience to your instructions of the 28th of this month, I have
    handed letters to Abbé Grisel and M. Ponce de Lèon.—I am, etc."


  1. Tour du Puit.
  2. Tour de la Liberté.
  3. Tour de la Bertaudière.
  4. Tour de la Basinière.
  5. Tour de la Comté.
  6. Tour du Trésor.
  7. Tour de la Chapelle.
  8. Tour du Coin.
  A. Entry from Street St. Antony.
  B. First Enclosure, Called Passage Court.
  C. Governor's House.
  D. Court before Governor's House.
  E. F. Drawbridge and Gate of Castle.
  G. Guard Room.
  H. Great Court of Castle.
  K. Council-Chamber.
  L. Well Court.
  O. Bastion.
  P. Woods and Grounds.
  Q. Gate of the Cour de l'Orme.


  The library which Abbé Duvernet dismissed with contempt was not at the
  disposal of every prisoner. Both books and writing materials were in
  the nature of indulgences, and doled out sparingly. The rule was
  terribly precise on the subject of relaxations of any kind. It stated,
  in so many words, that: "As regards a prisoner, the governor and the
  officers of the château cannot be too severe and firm in preventing
  the least relaxation in the discipline of the Bastille; they cannot
  pay too much attention to this, nor punish too severely any act of
  insubordination." How often was that rule interpreted in favour of a
  sojourn in the dungeon or the "ice-chamber"?

  Not only the governor and his immediate subordinates, but every
  turnkey, sentinel, guard of the watch, and invalid soldier on the
  staff was a gaoler and spy in himself. The inferior attendants of the
  Bastille were encouraged and sometimes directly charged to feign
  sympathy with a political prisoner, in order to lure him into some
  indiscreet avowal; but in the discharge of their ordinary duties they
  were enjoined to be watchful and mute. Amongst their orders were the

    "The sentinels will arrest immediately anyone of whom they have the
    slightest suspicion, and will send for a staff-officer to settle the

    "The sentinel will not let out of his sight, on any pretext,
    prisoners who are exercising in the court. He will watch carefully
    to see whether a prisoner drops any paper, note, or packet. He will
    be careful to prevent prisoners from writing on the walls, and will
    report upon everything he may have remarked whilst on duty.

    "When the corporal of the guard or any inferior officer is ordered
    to accompany a prisoner who may have leave to walk in the garden or
    on the towers, it is expressly forbidden him to hold any
    conversation with the prisoner. The officer is there solely to guard
    the prisoner, and to prevent him from signalling to anyone outside
    the walls."

Prisoners of a devout character must have been shocked by the studiously
cynical mode of worship in the Bastille. The chapel was a dingy den on
the ground floor of the prison, which Howard describes as containing

    "five niches or closets; three are hollowed out of the wall, the
    others are only in the wainscot. In these, prisoners are put one by
    one to hear mass. They can neither see nor be seen. The doors of
    these niches are secured on the outside by a lock and two bolts;
    within, they are iron-grated, and have glass windows towards the
    chapel, with curtains, which are drawn at the _Sanctus_, and closed
    again at the concluding prayer."

As not more than five prisoners were present at each mass, only ten
could hear it each day. "If there is a greater number in the castle,
either they do not go to mass at all (which is generally the case with
the ecclesiastics, prisoners for life, and those who do not desire to
go) or they attend alternately: because there are almost always some who
have permission to go constantly."

If a prisoner, sick and at the point of death, asked that masses might
be said for his soul, he was told that it was not customary for masses
to be said in the Bastille, either for the living or for the dead. "No
prayers are offered up in the Castle," ran the word, "except for the
King and the Royal Family." If it were promised him that he should be
prayed for in a church outside the prison, he was sent out of captivity
with a lie in his ear; for information of his death was withheld from
his family. He was buried by night and in secrecy in the graveyard of
St. Paul's, and the record of his name and rank in the parish register
"were fictitious, that all trace of him might be obliterated." The
register of the Bastille, in which his real name and station were
recorded, was a volume closed to the world. That false book of the dead,
which a turnkey edits by his lantern's glimmer in the sacristy of St.
Paul's, adds a mountain's weight to the sins of the keepers of the
Bastille. There is no reason why its memory should not increase in




                              CHAPTER XI.

                        THE PRISONS OF ASPASIA.

It is not easy, in telling the story of the prisons of old Paris, to
avoid mention of the subject with which this chapter is concerned. That
subject is not, however, an attractive one, and readers whom it repels
are invited to let the chapter go.

According to the authors of _Les Prisons de l'Europe_, Charlemagne was
the first monarch of France who "formally punished" the calling of the
_femme publique_. His edict swept the field, so to speak; the _femme
publique_ (known then, however, as the _femme du monde_) and all who
gave asylum to her were absolutely banned. The prison, the whip, and the
pillory were their portion; the keepers of houses of ill-fame had to
carry the pillory on their backs to the market-place, and the women whom
they lodged had to stand in it. This edict, completely prohibitive, was
in force during four centuries, and its principal result seems to have
been to augment the custom of Aspasia. She and her industry increased a

The state of France in this respect struck Saint Louis with horror on
his return from the Holy Land. His _ordonnance_ of 1254 bade the women
of the town renounce their calling, on pain of being deprived of house
and clothing, "even of the clothes in which they stood up." If, after
being warned, these women continued as before, they were to be banished
the country. But, wiser and more humane than Charlemagne, Saint Louis
set apart for repentant Magdalens a shelter in the convent of the
Filles-Dieu, and drew from his private purse the moneys to lodge and
maintain two hundred of them.

The new law, enforced with as much rigour as the old one, proved every
whit as impotent. Aspasia went her ways in secret, and devised many
arts. She borrowed the manners and the costume of her more respectable
sisters (_Les prostituées singèrent les manières et le costume des
femmes honnêtes_), glided into the churches, and went with sidelong
glances through the most frequented places of the town. This clandestine
pursuit of the calling, and the hypocrisy which of necessity it bred on
every side, were beyond measure distressing to Saint Louis. A good king,
and a pious one, he considered the matter deeply, and then, in the
interests, as he believed, of public and private morals, he resolved
upon a novel and hazardous measure. It was, to allow the _femmes
publiques_ a degree of liberty, and the exercise of their calling, under
certain strict conditions. Amongst other regulations, they were to live
in houses specially appointed to them, and these houses were to be
closed at six o'clock in the evening, no person being allowed to enter
them after that hour.

Thus, strangely enough in one point of view, the King who won the name
of "Saint," and whose memory has been justly cherished, was the first to
give legality in France to the calling of Aspasia. Yet this was also the
King who, above all others on that throne, had sought to keep in check
the moral disorders of his kingdom. It was only when he had seen that
measures of repression were of worse than no avail, inasmuch as the
immorality of the town appeared always to increase in proportion to the
stringency of laws, whilst the secrecy of the traffic confounded the
_femme du monde_ with the "respectable" woman, that he resolved upon
giving to the former a domain and status of her own. In this manner, the
unrecognised _femme du monde_ was transformed into the _femme publique_,
a woman with a standing of her own, and with the King's authority to
prosecute her mournful industry.

She entered under the special jurisdiction of the Provosts of Paris, who
from time to time made various enactments on her account. Thus, in 1360,
the chief magistrate forbade the _femmes publiques_ to wear certain
specified apparel in the streets; and, in 1367, a police order confined
them to particular streets in Paris, "a measure rendered necessary by
their unseemly behaviour in all places, to the great scandal of
everyone."[24] During the next two hundred years they were occasionally
transferred from one quarter of Paris to another, and Parliament more
than once took upon itself to "regulate their costume."

In 1560, an edict given at Orleans formulated afresh the stern
prohibitions of Charlemagne. Once more, the calling of Aspasia was
forbidden throughout the whole of France. The difficulties of enforcing
this new-old _ordonnance_ were great everywhere, but nowhere so great as
in the capital; and the Provost, it is said, was five years in
concerting his measures. The statement is easily credited. Paris herself
was little in sympathy at that date with laws to restrict the liberty of
Aspasia; and it cannot be said that the average citizen had received
much encouragement to virtue from the examples of the Court, the
nobility, the clergy, or the magistracy itself. Dulaure asserts in his
_Histoire de Paris_ that "_La prostitution était considérée à l'égal des
autres professions de la société_." The _femmes publiques_, he adds,
formed a corporation by themselves, received their patents, as it were,
from the hands of Royalty, "_et même étaient protégées par les rois.
Charles VI. et Charles VII. ont laissé des témoignages authentiques de
cette protection._" The commerce to which was extended the august
protection of the throne "_était encore favorisé par le grand nombre de
célibataires, prêtres et moines, par le libertinage des magistrats, des
gens de guerre, etc. Les femmes publiques, richement vêtues, se
répandaient dans tous les quartiers de cette ville, et se trouvaient
confondues avec les bourgeoises, qui, elles-mêmes, menaient une vie fort
dissolue_." Provosts of Paris sometimes refused to put in force laws
which themselves had framed against the "daughters of joy"; and in so
refusing they seem usually to have had with them the sympathies of the

Footnote 24:

  _Les Prisons de l'Europe._

This being in general the attitude of society in Paris, it might be
thought that the attempt to revive the code of Charlemagne would be
received with small popular favour. It appears to have been received
with no favour whatever. Seven years, from 1560 to 1567, did the Provost
prepare his way, and then the edict was launched. It was read aloud at
either end of every street in which Aspasia had her dwelling, and in
several of these streets a violent resistance was offered, by the women
as well as by their friends and protectors, to the not too-willing
agents of the law. By main force at length the women were taken as by
press-gang, their streets were closed, the temple of Venus was
demolished, and there were once more no _femmes publiques_ in Paris.

So, at least, did the Law assure itself; what then had become of them?
As may be supposed, the great majority were still in Paris. Not a few
were in prison (but for short periods only); the rest were scattered
throughout the town, or in the villages surrounding Paris. As in the
days of Charlemagne, and before the second decree of Saint Louis,
Aspasia had merely disguised herself. No Magdalen repented on the order
of the State. She sought a retreat until the passing of the storm, and
in a little while the history of the affair repeated itself: _la
prostitution clandestine inonda Paris_.

Matters continued apparently without the slightest improvement until
1619, when the authorities could devise no better plan than a renewal of
the prohibitions of 1565. The _femmes publiques_ were commanded by
proclamation to betake themselves to some domestic or other occupation,
or to quit the town and suburbs within four and twenty hours. The utter
infeasibility of the injunction is not more striking than its stupendous
absurdity. Imagine the whole corporation of Aspasias, _richement
vêtues_, converting themselves at a day's notice into seamstresses,
cooks, or chambermaids. It would have been so easy for them to find
employers! Saint Louis had shewn himself more generous, more thoughtful,
and more sensible in opening his private purse to lodge and maintain the
would-be penitents of the order amongst the recluses of the Filles-Dieu.
Needless to say, the foolish and impossible decree was quite barren of
result. During the next sixty-five years, that is to say until 1684, no
definite legal action was taken with respect to the position of the
_femme publique_. Unlicenced and unacknowledged, she fared well or ill
according to the laxity or the vigilance of the bench and police, who
sometimes harried and sometimes tacitly or openly abetted her. The
secret or semi-open practice of her calling was often as profitable as
the pursuit of it by sanction of the Crown, but it was attended by the
risks of an illegal industry, and in seasons when provosts or
lieutenants of police shewed an unwonted activity, Aspasia went to
prison. Thus she fared, now sparkling in the finest company, now pinched
for a meal, and now doing penance on the prison flags, or perhaps sick
(eight to a bed) in Bicêtre hospital, until 1684. At that date, another
move was resolved upon, and for the second time Aspasia had the gracious
permission of the State to style herself _femme publique_, and to sell
her liberty to the police, to buy _une licence de débauche_,—for this
was what it came to.

At the period arrived at, it was no longer merely a question of
irregularities to be repressed, but of the public health to be
preserved; and in the new regulations the hospital was named along with
the prison. From this time forward, a brief interval under the Consulate
excepted, it does not seem to have been questioned in France that women
who chose to do so, or who might be driven to do so, were entitled under
specified conditions to enter on the calling of _femme publique_. What
steps must be taken to secure the dubious privileges of the order, and
what dissuasions were employed by the magistrate who dispensed them,
will presently be shewn.

Up to the reign of Louis XIV., the monarch responsible for the
provisions of 1684, there was no special prison for the women of this
class, who, when under lock and key, were herded with female offenders
of all degrees. The first special prison for the _femmes publiques_ was
the Salpêtrière, built by Louis XIV., under the designation of "Hospital
General." At this era, the women arrested were not put upon their trial,
nor was any formal judgment pronounced against them. They were under the
sole jurisdiction of the newly appointed lieutenant of police, who
dispatched them to prison on the King's warrant, which took the form of
a _lettre de cachet_. Curious, that the _fille de joie_ should be placed
in this respect on a footing of equality with the prince of the blood,
the nobleman, and the prelate!

At about the end of the eighteenth century (say, towards 1770), the
police authorities distinguished two classes of women of the town, the
_femmes publiques_, or authorised women, and a numerous and unlicenced
class, of more dissolute habits, officially stigmatised as _débauchées_.
To strengthen the line of demarcation between the two classes, the
_femmes publiques_, or the majority of them, were inscribed on the
police registers (paying a fee of twenty sous), and being to a certain
extent _protégées_ of the State, the treatment accorded to them was
generally of a more lenient character. The terms of their imprisonment
(for soliciting in the streets or public places, for brawling and
rioting, for signalling from their windows, etc.,) were entirely at the
discretion of the lieutenant of police; but it would appear that they
were frequently released, at the request or on the bond of a parent,
sister, or other relative, after a brief confinement. The houses in
which the members of the unlicenced class lived together were
continually raided by the police, who descended upon them after dark,
"_parce que les femmes en étaient arrivées à ce degré de scandale, qu'on
ne pouvait plus les arrêter pendant le jour, à cause du désordre
qu'elles causaient, et des collisions qu'excitaient leurs amants et
autres adhérents_."

Eighteenth-century documents concerning these houses are still to be
read, and some of them have a curiously modern flavour. There are
complaints of householders, and the reports of the police agents whom
these complaints set in motion. A certain, M. Ledure, writing under date
of the 23d of July, 1785, asks the attention of the police to an
unlicensed house of ill-fame adjoining his own, and details his
annoyances with a freedom of expression which debars translation. The
burden of his protest is, that being a gentleman with a family of
daughters, and the holder of a position which obliges him to entertain
"des personnes de distinction," his existence is rendered intolerable by
the worse than light behaviour of the "females over the way." He can
scarcely even get into his own house of an evening.

"To satisfy M. Ledure," runs the police report, "we began by visiting,
in Beaubourg Street, the house in which the women complained of were
lodging. We arrested there, Marguerite Lefèbvre, the other women having
taken themselves off.... In response to the complaints of the residents
in Rohan Street, against the women living at No. 63, we forced an entry
there, and arrested the woman Rochelet, and the two _filles d'amour_
kept by her. We fetched them out, to take them to Saint-Martin"—a house
of detention, from which the women were transferred to the
Salpêtrière,—"but, although our guard was composed of five men with
fixed bayonets, we were so set upon by the man Rochelet, a hairdresser,
and twenty blackguards with him, that we had to let the women go."

The origin of the prison of Saint-Martin, abolished by Louis XVI., is
quite unknown. It was a small confined place with a villainous
reputation. Regarded by the authorities as a temporary lodging for both
classes of public women, a sort of fore-chamber of the Salpêtrière, no
attempt was ever made to render it decently habitable. The dark and
dirty cells were absolutely destitute of furniture; a truss of straw,
thrown from time to time on the stone floor, was both bed and bedding.
The food was strictly in keeping; all that the prison gave was a loaf of
black bread a day, and whilst prisoners who could afford it were allowed
to do a little catering for themselves, the rest soaked their black
bread in the soup provided by charitable societies.

Every petition to improve Saint-Martin was answered by the formula that
no one stayed there above a few days, which was a callous misstatement
of the facts. It is true that the women arrested "by order of the King"
were not detained after their _lettres de cachet_ had been obtained; but
the women of the other class, who were arrested by simple act of police,
and tried at the bar as ordinary offenders, lay for weeks or months at
Saint-Martin, awaiting the pleasure of a judge of the Châtelet. When the
cases to be disposed of were numerous, a part only were heard, and the
women whose fate was still to be pronounced were remanded for a further
period of weeks or months to Saint-Martin. It was thus not less a prison
in the ordinary meaning of the word than what the French call a _dépôt_;
and when its inconveniences were no longer to be endured, Louis XVI.
abolished and demolished it, and constituted by letters-patent the Hôtel
de Brienne as a _prison des femmes publiques_, under the name of _La
Petite Force_. This continued to be the temporary prison until the
revolutionary era, and here at least the women had air to breathe and
beds to lie on.

The first rules for the conduct of the Salpêtrière were issued from
Versailles in April, 1684, over the signatures of Louis XIV. and his
minister Colbert.

The women were to hear mass on Sundays and Saints' days; to pray
together a quarter of an hour morning and evening, and to submit to
readings from "the catechism and pious books" whilst they were at work.

They were to be soberly attired in dark stuff gowns, and shod with
sabots; bread and water with soup were to be their portion; and they
were to sleep on mattresses with sufficient bed-gear.

The nature of their tasks was left to the discretion of the directors,
but the labour was to be "both long and severe." After a period of
probation, prisoners of approved behaviour might be employed at lighter
occupations, and receive a small percentage of the profits, which they
were to be at liberty to spend on the purchase of meat, fruit, "_et
autres rafraîchissements_."

Swearing, idleness, and quarrelling with one another were to be punished
by a diminution of rations, the pillory, the dark cell, or such other
pains as the directors might think proper to inflict.

These continued to be the rules for the prisons of the _femmes
publiques_; their spirit is modern, but we shall see later on to what
extent they were enforced.

In no long time, indeed, after the decrees of 1684, the conditions of
life in the Salpêtrière seem to have been little if at all better than
those in Saint-Martin. Six women shared a cell by night; the one bed
which was supposed to hold them all accommodated four; two of whom slept
at the head and two at the foot, while the two latest comers made shift
on the bare floor. When one of the bed-fellows got her discharge, or
went sick to Bicêtre, the elder of the floor-companions took the vacant
place in the bed, resigning her share of the boards to a new _fille
d'amour_. Complaints evoked the cut-and-dried response that the bed was
intended to hold six. The cells were always damp, and "_il y régnait
absolument, et surtout le matin, une odeur infecte, capable de faire
reculer_." Despite the lack of sanitation, and the fact that the food
was always of an inferior quality, the death-rate was not abnormal in
the Salpêtrière.

Such was the first regular prison of the _femmes publiques_, and its
régime. The sensible intentions of Louis XIV. were never realised, nor
does the character of the monarch himself permit it to be inferred that
he was very seriously concerned on the subject. The Salpêtrière
continued to receive, if not to chasten, the "daughters of joy" until
two days before the September massacres, when, as the beds for six were
wanted for political prisoners, they were restored to liberty.

The year '91 saw the overthrow of everything, and the women of pleasure,
so-called, entered upon halcyon days. Aspasia, left to her own devices,
was "regarded as exercising an ordinary trade." Scandals and disorders
followed, and when the public health was again in danger, there being
neither control nor supervision of this traffic, a new census of the
women was ordered. This was in 1796, but the work was so badly done that
the opening days of the Directory found the situation more deplorable,
if possible, than ever. Strange to say, the dissolute Directory (which
admitted to its salons "gallant dames" who lacked nothing of the status
of _filles d'amour_ save inscription on the police registers) turned a
severe eye upon the morals of the public. The police were bidden to be
active in the haunts of Aspasia, but Aspasia had not forgotten the
Republican doctrine of liberty, and when haled before the bench she
gathered her lovers and friends about her in such numbers, that the
cloud of witnesses in her favour quite overawed the magistrates, who
were fain to let her go free.

The Consulate renewed the attack. It was at this era that the Central
Bureau, which displaced the old office of Lieutenant of Police, was
created, with a special sub-department called the _Bureau des Mœurs_.
This department gave its attention principally to the sanitary aspects
of the matter. Then was established the _Préfecture de Police_; and the
new prefect, M. Dubois, ordered a fresh numbering of the women, which
was made in 1801. The police, however, continued to ask for larger
powers, which, to be brief, were conferred on them by article 484 of the
_Code Pénal_. There were here revived at a stroke the _ordonnances_ of
1713, 1778, and 1780, which gave to the heads of police, "_une autorité
absolue sur les femmes publiques_."

During the period which has been thus hastily reviewed and which
commenced soon after the close of the Reign of Terror, three prisons in
succession served for the women of the town: La Force, Les
Madelonnettes, and Saint-Lazare.

For many years—indeed, until the year after the battle of Waterloo—they
were taken to prison in the keeping of soldiers, who led them through
the streets in broad day; a crowd following, the women in tears or
swearing, the crowd jeering or applauding. If a woman were well known in
the town, there was an attempt to rescue her, and she was often snatched
from the soldiers before the prison was reached. This public scandal,
and bitter humiliation to all women above the most degraded class, was
allowed until the year 1816, when the _femmes publiques_ were conveyed
to prison in a closed car.

They went to the Force, which has not left a kinder memory than the
Salpêtrière. Prison rule was, an art as yet in its infancy, and there
was scarcely an idea of cleanliness, moral control, or discipline. The
Force, it is said, was "as inconvenient a place as could be found for
its purpose." The infirmary, always an important department of prisons
of this class, was "unwholesome and wretchedly ventilated." The women
were altogether undisciplined, and as workrooms had not been opened they
passed their days in idleness and gaming. In the summer months they
swarmed in the yard; in winter, they slept, played cards, quarrelled,
and fought in dusky and ill-smelling common-rooms. They had no keepers
but men, before whom they displayed the most cynical effrontery. It is
asserted that, on the days on which clean linen was distributed, the
women were accustomed to present themselves before the warders in the
precise state in which Phryne astonished her judges.[25] These things
were noised, and the prefect of police had to devise afresh. In 1828,
the _filles d'amour_ were transferred from the Force to the
Madelonnettes. The record of the Madelonnettes in this connection is not
important, except that here it was attempted to employ the women at some
strictly penal tasks. This project was more fully developed at
Saint-Lazare, to which prison all classes of women of the town were
relegated in 1831. At this date, the number of registered public women
in Paris was 3517.

Footnote 25:

  Un ancien gardien de la Force nous a dit que le samedi, jour où on
  leur donnait des chemises, pendant l'été, elles se mettaient
  entirement nues dans le préau pour les recevoir des mains des
  gardiens.—_Les Prisons de l'Europe._

Before penetrating within the prison of Saint-Lazare, the reader will be
curious to know by what means a woman desirous of doing so enrolled
herself in this singular militia. She must seek the countenance and aid
of a magistrate of Paris, whose task was in equal measure a delicate and
a painful one. Without doubt, it was a strange spectacle; a woman
presents herself before a magistrate and says that, renouncing her
woman's modesty, her hope or desire of an honourable future, she wishes
to be cut off from the world, that she may cast herself _dans la
prostitution publique_. At first sight, she seems to make the magistrate
her accomplice, but that this was not the case the sequel will shew.

The applicant underwent a most minute interrogation. She was asked if
she were a married woman, a widow, or a spinster; if her parents were
living and whether she lived with them, or why she had separated from
them. She was asked how long she had inhabited Paris, and whether she
had no friends there whose interest the magistrate might evoke for her.
She was asked whether she had ever been arrested, how often, and for
what causes. She was asked whether she had ever followed the calling of
_femme publique_ in any other place, and finally, what were the true
motives of her application. Procès-verbal of the examination was drawn
up, and the applicant had then to be seen by a medical man attached to
the police service. Next, her certificate of birth was asked for, and if
she could not produce it, and had been born out of Paris, she must give
the name of the mayor of her department. The magistrate wrote forthwith
to the mayor, and after setting forth the facts which the applicant had
submitted in her examination, requested him to report upon them, asking
particularly whether the relatives of the woman could not be moved to
induce her to return to them. All this was done in the case where the
girl or woman went alone to solicit her enrollment, but it has to be
said that not infrequently one or both of the parents of the applicant
attended with her at the bureau, to support her request!

When every effort of the magistrate had proved unavailing, a final
Procès-verbal was prepared, to the effect that such-and-such a female
had requested to be inscribed "_comme fille publique_," and had been
enrolled on the decision of the examining magistrate, "after undertaking
to submit to the sanitary and other regulations established by the
Prefecture for women of that class." Thus, and in all cases by her own
act, was she launched upon those turbid waters.

Of the 3517 women on the Paris police registers in 1831, 931 were from
Paris and the department of the Seine, 2170 from the provincial
departments, 134 from foreign countries, and the remaining 282 had been
unable or unwilling to satisfy the authorities as to their place of
birth. There were amongst them seamstresses, modistes, dressmakers,
florists, lacemakers, embroiderers, glove-makers, domestic servants,
hawkers, milliners, hairdressers, laundresses, silk-workers, jewellers,
actresses or figurantes, acrobats, and representatives of many other
trades and callings, together with six teachers of music, and one
"landscape painter." As regards the education of this army of outcasts,
rather more than one-half were unable to sign their names on the cards
or badges which they received from the bureau; a somewhat smaller number
appended "an almost illegible signature" (_fort mal, et d'une manière à
peine lisible_); whilst a hundred, or thereabouts, wrote "a neat and
correct hand."

As for the causes which induced them to cast in their lot with their
sister pariahs, they were traceable for the most part to the weaknesses
or defects of the social organisation. Thus, a majority of the women
pleaded "excess of misery," and the class next in point of numbers were
"_simples concubines ayant perdu leurs amants, et ne sachant plus que
faire_." A large proportion had lost both parents, or had been driven
from home; many had left the provinces to seek work in Paris; some were
widows who could find no other means of supporting their children; and
others were daughters looking for bread for aged parents, or for younger
sisters and brothers.


And now, standing on the threshold of their prison, we may ask what were
the commoner causes which sent these unfortunates to Saint-Lazare. It
has been made sufficiently clear that by the act of procuring their
licences they sold their liberty to the police. This indeed was the sole
condition on which enrolment could be obtained. The _femme publique_, in
becoming such, bought herself an army of masters; the whole force of
police were in authority over her, and almost equally so were their
agents and spies, and the medical men in their employ. She had
subscribed obedience to all the regulations invented by the Préfecture,
and she was under perpetual surveillance. The great power of the police
over her rested on her submission in writing to the prefect's
"_règlements sanitaires_" and his "_mesures exceptionelles de
surveillance_," and infringement of the most arbitrary enactment brought
her within the danger of prison. Failing to render her prescribed visit
to the police doctor, she was almost certain to find herself a day or
two later in Saint-Lazare. Special rules and regulations apart, the
irregularities of life and infractions of common law which at times were
almost inevitable in the calling she had entered on, were amongst the
causes contributive to her troubles with the powers at whose mercy she
had placed herself. On the whole, one gathers that the _fille de joie_
paid at siege rates for that none too felicitous title.

She seems to have found herself often on the less desirable side of the
prison door; and as the class of _filles publiques_ in Paris has always
included some of the handsomest and some of the most ill-favoured, some
of the most elegant and some of the least refined, some of the brightest
and some of the most villainous women in the town, it may be supposed
that the floating population of Saint-Lazare (which amounted sometimes
to fourteen hundred) offered a marvellous variety of types.

It was the place of waiting for women and girls whose applications to be
registered had not been disposed of, and for the women who were to be
tried on police charges; and it was also the place of punishment for
those who had received sentence.

The position of the untried was in many respects worse than that of the
convicted prisoners. The former had the privilege, to be sure, of hiring
what was called a private room, but if they went in penniless they were
in a bad case indeed. They had no right to the full prison rations, and
were fed strictly on bread and water. The convicted prisoners were
warmly clad in winter, but the untried were not allowed to add to the
clothing they took in with them a wrap or comforter from the prison
wardrobe. In hard weather the public women of the poorer class seem to
have suffered keenly both from hunger and from cold. Untried, and
presumably innocent (and many honest women were sent to Saint-Lazare on
the vaguest accusations or suspicions of the police), they were
compelled to receive the visits of the doctors, which were not always of
the most delicate character. Women awaiting trial sometimes offered
money to escape this humiliation, and the case is recorded of a girl who
preferred suicide to submission.

It was better, in respect of physical comfort, on the penal side of the
prison. There the women were clad to the season, fed not meanly, and
lodged with a certain decency. The untaught and feckless had opportunity
to learn a trade, for the workrooms were now conducted on a much more
practical principle, and the small bonuses bestowed on the industrious
were to some extent a corrective of the _femme publique's_ inveterate
indolence. There was, for the first time in the history of French penal
discipline, a clean, more or less wholesome, and well ordered infirmary
for the treatment of maladies peculiar to that class.

In the material point of view, in a word, the prison of Saint-Lazare
was, for convicted prisoners, an infinitely better place than any of its
predecessors. But the régime from the standpoint of morals left more
than a little to desire.

Certainly, it offered none of the grosser features of the old system.
The male attendants had disappeared. The principle of work had been
established, and discipline was pretty well maintained in the wards,
cells, and refectories. When the women had lived together in all but
absolute idleness, their prison was always in a state of disorder, and
often in a state of uproar. Quarrels were of daily occurrence, and a
quarrel usually issued in a fight. Two women, armed with combs or
holding copper coins between their fingers, stood up to do battle for an
absent lover, whom each claimed for her own; and the other prisoners
made a ring around them, not so much in the interests of fair play, as
to see that each combatant got her due share of "punishment." If the
warders attempted to interfere, they probably retired with broken heads.

There was almost no restraint upon the women, and the lack of
discipline, which permitted sanguinary fights at any hour of the day,
pervaded the entire system. The _femme publique_ could receive what
visitors she pleased, and her lovers and friends crowded the "parlour,"
and laughed, sang, and swore at their ease. They brought her money,
food, clothing, and whatever else she desired. As long as her purse was
filled, she was never without luxuries, and she selected from amongst
her fellow-prisoners some table companion, called a _mangeuse_, with
whom she shared her meals. This companionship was usually a _liaison_,
the character of which permits no more than a reference; the cult of
Sappho was universal in the women's prisons.

At a pinch for money, or for food more dainty than the prison kitchen
furnished, the women had recourse to the prison usurers. These were old
crones, very familiar with prison, who committed some petty offence
which would entail about a month's confinement; a strictly commercial
speculation on their part. They took in with them a certain sum of
money, with which they bought clothes from, and made loans to,
necessitous prisoners. To procure money a woman would sell the clothes
on her back, until "_elle restait presque nue, et dans un état
indécent_." Others borrowed from the old women at a fixed rate of
interest, which was never less than fifty per cent. These were regarded
as debts of honour, and the payments were punctually made.

Letters might be written and received without the scrutiny of the
director; and the _écrivains publics_, or scriveners of the prison, were
continuously employed in composing for their illiterate bond-sisters
(always, of course, at a price) epistles to lovers outside, which are
described as _brûlantes d'amour_. All unknown to the authorities,
betrothals of a very curious kind were made through the prison post.

Five male prisoners at La Roquette, let us suppose, were on the point of
completing their sentences; but the prospect of liberty without a
companion of the other sex held no attractions. Where were the fiancées
to be found? At Saint-Lazare, where five engaging hearts might be
expecting their release at about the same date.

In the men's prison there was always an artist whose services could be
hired for an affair of this kind, and to him the five gallants would
present themselves, with a request for "a bouquet."

"Of how many flowers?" asked the artist.


The artist then traced on paper five separate flowers, to each of which
a number was attached; and the five prisoners made their choice of a
blossom. From La Roquette the "bouquet" was magically wafted to
Saint-Lazare, and once there it seldom failed to reach the hands it was
destined for. The recipient summoned to her four other single hearts,
and each of the five chose her flower. The same mysterious agency which
had introduced the bouquet to Saint-Lazare conveyed a fitting answer to
La Roquette, and the affair was arranged.

But the new brooms of the Préfecture swept out of the system all these
injurious relaxations. At Saint-Lazare, the director took note of every
letter that passed into or out of the prison, and the _écrivains
publics_ had need to chasten their epistolary style. At Saint-Lazare,
Aspasia had no clothes to sell for pocket-money, for the black gown
striped with blue, which was her daily wear, was the property of the
State. At Saint-Lazare, she could hold no receptions of her lovers; and
the presents of money and jewels with which they sought to solace her
through the post could not be converted into spiced meats; for all
Aspasia's moneys and other valuables were taken care of by the director,
who rewarded her good behaviour with a few sous at a time. At
Saint-Lazare, she could seldom use her comb as a weapon of offence, and
the hours which had been devoted to the duel were absorbed by some
industrial or penal task.

All this implied a moral reform of no inconsiderable kind; but, as has
been stated, the morals of the new régime were not perfection. The great
shortcoming in this respect was that no attempt was made to classify the

This, however, in such a prison as Saint-Lazare should have been
regarded by the authorities as a paramount duty and necessity. It has
been suggested, though not yet expressly stated, how great a variety of
types this population embraced. Not all of these were _femmes
publiques_, and of those who belonged to that class by no means all were
of a really abandoned or degraded character. There were prisoners
scarcely out of their teens, who had not yet quite crossed the Rubicon,
and who were importuned day and night by the old and vicious hags to be
rid once for all of their virtue, and betake themselves to the "life of
pleasure." The crones who had traded as clothes-dealers and
money-lenders in the older prisons were not less active in Saint-Lazare,
albeit in another and baser capacity. They acted here as the agents and
procuresses of the women who kept houses of ill-fame in Paris and the
provincial towns. A large proportion of the population of Saint-Lazare
were essentially women of the people, girls fresh from the restraints
and hard monotony of shop and warehouse. They were in prison perhaps for
the first time, paying the penalty of some not very serious offence
against the law. But they would leave the gaol with its taint upon them,
and whither should they go? The young and pretty ones amongst them were
flattered by the addresses and importunities of the harridans who were
there to recruit for the _maisons de tolérance_, and who promised them
silk gowns, fine company, and gold pieces. There were here also wives of
the middle class, whose first false step in life had changed its whole
aspect for them, and who knew that home was closed to them forever.
There were young _filles d'amour_ who had sickened of their calling
almost before the ink had dried on the page of the register which they
had signed, and who longed for a means of escape.

This was good soil to work in, and it would be unjust to say that it was
quite neglected. The prison was visited by sisters of mercy and other
charitable women, and there were even at that date homes and refuges for
the penitent, whose agents sought in the prison and at the prison door
to rescue the young offenders, and those whose feet were still
half-willing to lead them back to virtue. But for inexperience which
lacked strength of character, and for indecision which had no moral or
religious sign-post, the influence of the prison was omnipotent. Without
separation of the classes there was no hope for the weak, and the
classes were not separated. At the moment of her release, at the door of
the prison itself, the woman who had made no plan for her future found
three to pick from. Philanthropy was ready to receive her into one of
the houses of refuge. But she was hungry and ill-clad, and a toothless
procuress came forward with an offer of clothes, a dinner, and a soft
bed. If she still wavered, there was a skulking limb of the law on the
watch—probably the creature by whom she had been arrested—whose
"protection" was hers if she would accept it; and in this case, at
least, refusal was indeed dangerous. For the police spy knew the
"history of the case" and would dog the steps of his victim.

It resulted that, up to close upon the middle of the century, the prison
of Saint-Lazare, its intelligent aims notwithstanding, was largely a
recruiting ground for the _maisons de tolérance_ of Paris and the
departments, and a place in which uncertain virtue had every opportunity
to decline into finished vice. The _maisons de tolérance_ have been
mentioned once or twice in this connection, and a word in explanation
will dispose of them. The _femme publique_ had her own house or lodging,
or she lived with others of her calling, under a common roof, a _maison
de tolérance_. Licences for these houses were obtained from the _Bureau
des Mœurs_ by a process similar to, though less tedious than, that which
has been described. The applicant was almost always a retired _femme
publique_, and her request to the prefect was usually composed for her
by an _écrivain public_, who kept an office for the purpose, under the
discreet sign, "_Au tombeau des secrets_." He had two styles of
composition, the plain and the ornate. Adopting the first, he would

    "Monsieur le Préfet: M——, a native of Paris, and inscribed on your
    registers during the past eighteen years, has the honour to request
    your permission to open a licenced house. Her excellent conduct
    during the lengthened period of her connection with a class which is
    not remarkable for sober living, will, I trust, be a sufficient
    guarantee for you that she will not abuse her new position, etc."

For a sample of his finer style, the following petition will serve:

    "To his Excellency, the Prefect of Police, whose signally successful
    administration has changed the face of Paris.

    "You will be gracious enough, Monsieur le Préfet, to pardon the
    importunity of my client, Mme. D——, who solicits your authority to
    open forthwith a _maison de tolérance_. She knows and appreciates
    the responsibility which this undertaking involves, but the
    austerity and circumspection of her conduct, her calm and peaceful
    life in the past, proclaim her fitness; and the inquiries which you
    may deign to make on my client's account can only result to her

This was the tenor, and these the terms, of the official requests to the
prefect; and if the applicant could show that she was in a position to
support an establishment, she generally received her licence. Amongst
the women whom she lodged, and the frequenters of her house, she was
styled at different periods _maman_, _abbesse_, _supérieure_, _dame de
maison_, and _maîtresse de maison_. During the Consulate and the Empire,
she might be sent to prison as a _femme publique_; but after the
Restoration it became the custom to punish her—on any conviction
involving the conduct of her house—by suppression of her licence.

If, however, no attempt at classification was made by the prison
director, certain distinctions of rank existed which were generally
acknowledged by the prisoners themselves. The authors of _Les Prisons de
Paris_ mention a class of elegant adventuresses who were always apart in
Saint-Lazare, and who stood as the shining examples of the aristocracy
of vice. The passage is interesting and worth translation:

    "Amongst the class of swindlers, so numerous in Saint-Lazare, who
    boast their skill in exploiting the ambitious fools of Paris, you
    might recognise beneath the prison cap, so coquettishly worn, dames
    whom you had met perchance in the most elegant houses in town, and
    whose protection you might have sought. This one was a countess,
    that one a baroness, and, rightly or wrongly, the badge of nobility
    was painted on the panels of their carriages. Did you need the
    friendly word of a minister or the countenance of a capitalist, it
    was enough that you were known to have one of these angels for your
    friend. There were four of them in the sewing-room of
    Saint-Lazare,—rogues and swindlers of the first water! For years
    these corsairs have laid violent hands on all fortunes they could
    come at, but they continue to hold a position in society which is in
    itself a more scathing satire on the morals of the age than any
    which I am able to imagine. At intervals, these dames are lodged for
    a time at the country's cost in one or other of the houses of
    detention, without, however, losing one jot or tittle of their
    prestige in the world of fashion! When they reappear, society
    receives them open-armed, as poor banished exiles who have returned
    to the fatherland, or prodigal children whose wanderings are ended."

Nothing delighted plebeian Saint-Lazare so much as to hear the
countesses and baronesses discussing the merits, as a gallant, of this
or the other minister, nobleman, poet, or banker of renown; and the
interest culminated when the question arose as to which of the two could
produce the greater number of letters signed by names with which all
Paris was familiar.

Roving like satellites around these gaudy planets were a small class of
habitual criminals who, out of prison, served the noble adventuresses in
several offices, as spies, go-betweens, receivers, etc. These also
enjoyed a certain celebrity in the prison. One of them used to open
chestnuts with a knife with which, in a passion of jealousy, she had all
but murdered her lover, and which had become an object of the devoutest
worship since the lover had gone to hide his scars under the red jacket
of the galley-slave. Another woman arrived at the prison in a flutter of
pride, eager to display a novel charm which decorated her ears. She also
had lost her latest lover, but _Monsieur de Paris_ had been kind enough
to extract for her two teeth from the head which he had just severed.
The disconsolate mistress had had them set in gold as earrings! Nearly
all these women carried on the neck, arms, and upper portion of the body
specimens of the work of the professional tattooer; they preserved in
this way the names of their successive lovers, and the figured emblems
sometimes included the most ignoble devices.

Of the licenced women who restricted themselves mainly if not entirely
to the calling of _femme_ _publique_, Saint-Lazare recognised two
separate orders. They were the _Panades_ and the _Pierreuses_. The
_Panades_ carried a high chin in the society of their humbler
associates; they were generally members of some _maison de tolérance_,
where, so long as the mistress found it profitable to maintain them,
they lived in luxurious indolence; fed, and pampered, and extravagantly
dressed; captives, but in gilded fetters. In prison they separated
themselves, as far as it was possible, from the rest, to whom they never
addressed a word. They would be known only by some delicate or romantic
name: Irma, Zélie, Amanda, Nathalie, Arthemise, Balsamine, Léocadie,
Isménie, Malvina, Lodoïska, Aspasie, Delphine, Reine, and Fleur de

The _Pierreuses_ regarded them with the bitterest jealousy, and spited
and abused them at every opportunity. Memories of a gayer past
intensified the feelings of the _Pierreuses_; they too had been
_Panades_ until the _abbesse_ had cast them out, faded and worn, to join
the foot-sore legion of street-walkers. They used to whisper mockingly:
"You may sneer, you _Panades_; but we were like you once, and you'll be
like us;" and as for the prophetic part of the reproof, it was more than
likely to be realised. Like the _Panades_, the _Pierreuses_ had a
peculiar set of names: Boulotte, Rousselette, Parfaite, la Ruelle, la
Roche, le Bœuf, Bouquet, Louchon, la Bancale, la Coutille, Colette,
Peleton, Crucifix, etc. To the _Panade_, prison was a place of horror
and disgrace; to the _Pierreuse_ it was often the kindest home she had;
and as years advanced on her, and the gains of her trade grew ever
miserably smaller, the poor creature felt never so happy as in the hands
of the police, on the once dreaded journey to Saint-Lazare.

There was a strangely sympathetic side to this saddest of the prisons of
Paris. The sick and worn-out were always tenderly regarded by their
fellow-prisoners, and a woman who brought in with her a child in arms
was an object of intense and almost affectionate interest. If a woman
died in the prison, it was not unusual for the rest to club together to
provide a substantial and costly funeral, and masses for the repose of
her soul. Sometimes the affections of the whole prison, directed upon
one weak girl, had the result of saving her from ruin and insanity.

In the early years of the Restoration, Marie M——, a pretty peasant girl,
was sent to Saint-Lazare for stealing roses. She had a passion for the
flower, and a thousand mystical notions had woven themselves about it in
her mind. She said that rose-trees would detach themselves from their
roots, glide after her wherever she went, and tempt her to pluck their
blossoms. One in a garden, taller than the rest, had compelled her to
climb the wall, and gather as many as she could,—and there the
_gendarmes_ found her. She was terrified in prison, believing that when
she went out the roses would lure her amongst them again, and that she
would be sent back to Saint-Lazare.

This poor girl excited the vividest interest amongst the _femmes
publiques_ in that sordid place. They plotted to restore her to her
reason, christened her Rose, which delighted her, and set themselves to
make artificial roses for her of silk and paper. Those fingers, so
rebellious at allotted tasks, created roses without number, till the
cell of Marie M—— was transformed into a bower. An intelligent director
of prison labour seconded these efforts, and opened in Saint-Lazare a
workroom for the manufacture of artificial flowers, to which Marie M——
was introduced as an apprentice. Here, making roses from morning till
night, and her dread of the future dispelled, the malady of her mind
reached its term with the term of her sentence, and she left the prison
cured and happy. The authors of _Les Prisons de Paris_, from whose pages
her story is borrowed, declare that Marie M—— became one of the most
successful florists in Paris.




                              CHAPTER XII.

                              LA ROQUETTE.

There is to be a flitting of the guillotine. For nearly fifty years
executions in Paris, which are not private as with us, have taken place
immediately outside the prison of La Roquette, known officially as the
_dépôt des Condamnés_.

Four slabs of stone sunk in the soil, a few yards beyond the gaol door,
mark the spot where, on the fatal morning, at five in summer, and about
half-past seven in winter, the red "timbers of justice" are set up by
the headsman's assistants.

But La Roquette is to be demolished, and the dismal honour of furnishing
a last lodging to the condemned will be conferred on La Santé. This
change effected, the guillotine will flit to the Place Saint-Jacques.
Criminals of a modest habit will not approve the change, but the
murderer with a touch of vanity (and vanity is notoriously a weakness of
murderers) will doubtless welcome it; for the progress from the prison
to the scaffold will be somewhat longer.

When the doors of La Roquette are thrown open, the victim, bareheaded
and manacled, has but a few paces to shuffle to the spot where old M.
Deibler awaits him, with his finger on the button of the knife. Between
La Santé and the Place Saint-Jacques there is rather more than the
length of a thoroughfare to be traversed, and, as in the old days, some
form of tumbril will probably be called for.

It is a pity, of course, for it has been proved abundantly that this
kind of spectacle is anything but good for the public health. Humane and
enlightened opinion on the subject has ceased to be that which Dr.
Johnson gave utterance to. "Sir," said the Doctor to Boswell,
"executions are intended to draw spectators. If they do not draw
spectators, they do not answer their purpose. The old method [Tyburn had
been abolished] was most satisfactory to all parties: the public was
gratified by a procession, the criminal is supported by it; why is all
this to be swept away?"

The sheriffs of the year 1784 gave the answer in a pamphlet which
exposed all the horrors and indecencies of the public progress to the
gallows. As for the "support" accorded to the criminal, he might, if he
were unpopular, be nearly stoned to death before the hangman could
despatch him.

Public executions in Paris are not, and have never been, the scandalous
exhibitions that they were in London during the whole of the last
century, but the scene in the neighbourhood of La Roquette for four or
five hours before a guillotining is something less than edifying.

In leaving its present site for the Place Saint-Jacques the guillotine
will only be returning home. The Place Saint-Jacques was the scene of
punishment for nineteen years and a half; it was dispossessed in favour
of La Roquette in 1851. The first person to suffer death at the Place
Saint-Jacques (the Place de Grève having been abandoned) was an old man
named Désandrieux, sixty-eight years of age, condemned for the murder of
a man whose age was eighty-four. Owing to the disgraceful neglect of the
authorities, Désandrieux lay in prison one hundred and twenty-eight days
before he was led to execution. After him came the parricide, Benoît,
the atrocious Lecenaire, David, the regicides Fieschi, Morey, and Pepin,
and other murderers of greater or less notoriety. The Place
Saint-Jacques saw the guillotine erected thirty-five times, and beheld
the fall of thirty-nine heads.

At this date the _dépôt des Condamnés_ was remote Bicêtre, which, as we
have seen, was also the gaol from which the criminals convicted in Paris
were despatched on their journey to the _bagne_.

A vivid picture of the condemned cell, or _cachot du Condamné_, very
painful in its blending of the imaginative with the realistic, is given
in Victor Hugo's _Le Dernier Jour d'un Condamné_. It was a day when that
veil of decent mystery which our age casts over the last torturing hours
of the condemned had not been woven; and callous curiosity could, for a
trifling bribe to the turnkey, uncover the grating behind which the
criminal in his strait waistcoat was couched on mouldy straw.

It was a veritable journey from Bicêtre to the Place Saint-Jacques, by
way of the Avenue d'Italie and the outer boulevards; midway along the
Boulevard d'Italie the guillotine came in sight, and for five and twenty
minutes before he reached it, the miserable victim had the death-machine
for his horizon, the huge blade gripped between the blood-red arms
gleaming deadlier moment by moment.

The progress was even longer and more wretched when La Grande Roquette
was substituted for Bicêtre as the prison of the _Condamné à mort_. On a
day in mid-December, 1838, a certain Perrin was carried to death from La
Roquette to the barrière Saint-Jacques. An icy rain was falling, and the
streets beyond the Seine were so choked with mud that at certain points
the vehicle became almost embedded in it, and had to be hauled along by
the crowd. Think of riding to one's death in that fashion! The Abbé
Montès, riding beside the young assassin, saw him shivering, and
insisted on covering him with his own hat. At the scaffold, Perrin was
lifted from the cart almost dead from cold and exhaustion.

From that date there began to be a talk of changing the place of
execution, but the proposals had no result, and during the next thirteen
years five and twenty murderers traversed the whole length of Paris in
their passage to the guillotine. Amongst them may be named the regicide
Darmés, the terrible and dreaded Poulmann, Fourier, chief of the famous
band of the _Escarpes_, the _garde Général_ Lecompte, who fired on
Louis-Philippe at Fontainebleau, and Daix and Lahr, the assassins of
General Bréar. At length, in 1851, the Place Saint-Jacques ceded its
dubious honours to the Place de la Roquette,—which is now about to
restore them.

As La Roquette (or properly La Grande Roquette, to distinguish it from
La Petite Roquette, the prison for juvenile offenders, which stands
opposite) is to be abolished, it will be interesting to make a brief
survey of the place in which some of the most celebrated French
criminals of modern times have awaited the visit of M. Deibler, with his
scissors and pinioning straps.

Here the "toilet of the guillotine" has been performed on Orsini, Piéri,
Verger, La Pommerais, Troppmann, Moreau, Billoir, Prévost, Barré and
Lebiez, Campi, Pranzini, and so many others, down to Vaillant and Emile

It would be impossible even to summarise all that has been said and
written in France in favour of abolishing the guillotine. It was
vigorously advocated during the Revolution itself, while the scaffold
was flowing with blood.

Under the Convention, Taillefer rose one day with the demand: "Let our
guillotines be broken and burned!" At the sitting of the of "9th
Vendémiaire, year iv," Languinais exclaimed: "Should we not be happy if,
having begun our session by establishing the Republic, we were able to
end it by pronouncing once for all against capital punishment!"

At the last siting of the Convention, Chénier in energetic terms
denounced the guillotine. A voice called out: "What o'clock is it?" A
voice responded: "The hour of justice." A moment later this vote was
proclaimed: "Dating from the publication of the general peace, the
punishment of death shall be abolished throughout the French Republic."

That vote has not yet become effective!

After a long sleep the question re-awoke on the lips of M. de Tracy, son
of the orator who had been amongst the first to entreat that the code of
France might be cleansed of blood. In the same historic mention we must
gather in the names of the Duc de Broglie, the Marquis de
Lally-Tallendal, the Marquis de Pastoret ("A man attacks me; I can
defend myself only by killing him: I kill him. For society to do the
same thing, it must find itself in precisely the same situation.") de
Bérenger, Lafayette, Glais-Bizoin, Taschereau, Appert, Lèon Fancher, and
Guizot the historian.

"If," added the authors of _Les Prisons de Paris_, "all these
enlightened publicists and statesmen, with M. Guizot amongst them, did
not succeed in pulling down the scaffold, at an epoch when, to quote M.
de Bérenger, the very executioners were weary, it must be concluded, we
suppose, that it is necessary to proceed with prudent hesitation, and,
by a gradual abolition, to convince the most timid and incredulous that
society has nothing to dread from this reform."

This was written fifty years ago, and as "prudent hesitation" has not
yet attained its goal it is still possible to penetrate within the
condemned hold of La Roquette.

The prison is chiefly interesting in this day as the fore-scene of the
scaffold. It is built with a wealth of precautions; and escape, if not
impossible by ordinary means, is exceptionally difficult to compass. No
successful flight from La Roquette has been recorded in modern times.

Three iron _grilles_ and four doors of massive oak conduct to the great
courtyard. The foundations of the prison are in layers of freestone; the
two walls which enclose the buildings are of a thickness proportionate
to their elevation, and the builder took care to efface the angles by
rounded stonework. Buildings surround the courtyard on the north, east,
and west, and the prison chapel occupies the south.

For the ordinary prisoner (convicts awaiting shipment to the penal
colonies, or undergoing short sentences of hard labour), the day at La
Roquette begins early. The warders are at their posts soon after light,
and the second bell summons the prisoners half an hour later. Thirty
minutes are allowed for dressing, bed-making, and cell-cleaning, and at
the third bell there is a general descent to the yard, each prisoner
receiving his first allowance of bread as he goes down. After half an
hour's exercise the regular labour of the day begins, and at nine
o'clock there is a distribution of soup. Between nine-thirty and ten the
prisoners take another turn in the yard, and the second period of work
lasts till three in the afternoon. At three is served another allowance
of bread, with vegetables or meat according to the day; and from
half-past three to four the courtyard echoes again the monotonous tramp
of hundreds of pairs of sabots. The last sortie—there are four in
all—varies with the seasons; and after supper the prisoners are locked
in for the night.

Fifty years ago, there was here and there in the _bagnes_, and the
general prisons of France, a priest of exalted ideals, and such
unwearied patience as the task demands, toiling to reclaim the
_Condamnés_ who were his spiritual charge. One such was the Abbé Touzè,
chaplain of La Roquette at about the middle period of our century. The
Abbé set himself to inquire what causes sent men to prison at that day,
what might be done or attempted to prevent them from returning there;
and knowing that the part which thinks may be reached through the part
which feels, it was in the sanctuary of the heart that he began his
experiments on a population whose emotions are none too easily turned to
moral or religious profit. To a Touzè in France, a Horsley in England,
prison is not all the barren vineyard which a lazy chaplain finds it;
and the _aumônier_ of La Roquette did not labour in vain. He has been
mentioned here as a herald of the philanthropic scientist of later days,
who has occasionally done for the prison world what genius alone—with
religious fervour for its basis—can accomplish there.

When the secret history of the condemned cell comes to be written, the
material will be furnished for a new and important chapter in the
history of criminal psychology; but it must not be a patchwork of lurid
gossip on a background of stale religious sophisms, such as Newgate
chaplains of the last century were not above compiling and selling for
their profit in the crowd on a hanging Monday; nor a mere spicy morsel
for the sensation-hunter, such as, for example, the copious gutter-stuff
printed and circulated about Lacenaire, who drew the gaze of Paris to
the condemned cell of La Roquette some half-century ago.

Thief, blackmailer, and assassin, this was a wretch whose blood defiled
the scaffold itself, yet his position in the condemned cell was made
little less than heroic. A loathsome murderer, he was for weeks the
fashion in Paris. His portrait was hawked about the quays and

    "from all sides exquisite meats and delicate wines reached his cell;
    every day some man of letters visited him, carefully noting his
    sarcasms, his phrases composed in drunkenness or studiously
    calculated for effect; women, young, beautiful, and elegantly
    attired, solicited the honour of being presented to him, and were in
    despair at his refusal."

Criminals as indifferent as, but less notorious or less popular than
Lacenaire, idling the weeks while their appeal was under consideration,
were chiefly anxious as to whether the charity of the curious would keep
them in tobacco until their fate was decided.

If the tobacco ran out, and the supply seemed not likely to be renewed,
the prisoner sometimes met that and all other unpleasantnesses,
immediate and prospective, by taking his own life—not because he feared
the guillotine, but because suicide (which, with the limited means at
his disposal, was probably far the worse death of the two) offered the
shortest cut to nothingness.

Lesage, calculating that his _pourvoi_ or appeal would run just forty
days, summed up without a tremor the days that remained to him.
"Thirty-two days I've been here; eight to follow. If I don't get a sou
or two, _je manquerai de tabac_. Five sous a day to smoke, and ten to
drink,—that's not much for a poor chap to ask, the last eight days of
his life!" Seemingly, this modest address to charitable Paris was coldly
answered, for a day or two later Lesage was found dead in his bed. The
companion of his guilt, Soufflard, in the adjoining cell, had already
taken poison.

In all condemned cells there is a considerable proportion of criminals
for whom the prospect of a violent and shameful death seems to hold no
terrors whatever. The chief warder of Wandsworth prison, an experienced
observer of death on the gallows, assured me that he remembered no
instance in which the victim had needed support under the beam, and he
cited the case of Kate Webster, who, with the halter about her neck, put
up her pinioned hands to adjust it more comfortably. Dr. Corre[26] found
that out of 88 criminals condemned to death, of whom 64 were men and 24
women, about two-fifths of the men "died in a cowardly manner," whilst
only about one-fifth of the women showed a lack of self-possession.

Footnote 26:

  _Les Criminels._

Let us pass into the _cachot du Condamné à mort_, the condemned cell of
La Roquette.

Three types are found in the condemned cell: the indifferent, the
penitent, and the impenitent. The indifferent is a lymphatic creature
(there have been several female prisoners of this type), scarcely
susceptible of any normal emotion, and—of whichever sex—as cold in
repentance as in crime.

The second category includes offenders quite removed from the ordinary
criminal classes. Several of these, impulsive murderers, reprieved from
the gallows, were pointed out to me at Portland last summer, and one I
remembered in particular—a handsome, well-set man, not yet middle-aged,
trudging along under a warder's eye round and round the infirmary yard,
who had been seventeen years in confinement. The impenitent of this
order is such an egoistic maniac as Wainwright, who, the night before
his death, paced the yard of Newgate with the governor, smoking a cigar,
and recounting his successes with women; or he is a criminal of the
great sort, strong in mind as in body, the fearless disciple of a
dreadful philosophy of his own, which lets him face death as boldly as
he inflicts it, and which, at the last, inspires him only with a hatred
of the law that has vanquished him.

Poulmann was a criminal of this type; an ultra-sanguine temperament, an
athletic form, a constitution physically and morally energetic, an
Herculean force of body, and a pride which the _cachot du Condamné_
could not reduce. "It shall never be said that Poulmann changed!" was
his first and last confession. A "monstrous atheist," he admitted that
he had prayed for the woman who was condemned with him: "But there can
be no God, since Louise also is to die." Abbé Touzè suggested that the
last days of Louise might be embittered by his impenitence. This shook
him for a moment, but he returned to himself: "No! Poulmann will never

But, alike for the weak-hearted, the indifferent, and the valiant, the
way to the scaffold is rendered in these days as easy as may be.
Victor Hugo's condemned man in the old, abhorred Bicêtre was turned
out by day among the _forçats_ awaiting their despatch to the _bagne_;
they made sport of him, and ghastly jokes about the "widow" or
guillotine—time-honoured amongst the criminal classes—were pointed
afresh for his benefit.

His treatment at the hands of the prison officers was scarcely less
callous; no one had a thought or cared that this poor wight was biding
the morning when he should be rudely severed from all the living.

The position of convicts cast for death in the Newgate of the early
years of this century was every jot as cruel.

It was thus under the old order; it is more commendable to-day. The
tenant of the condemned cell, withdrawn from the stare of the world, is
surrounded by people who have no desire but to soften the few days or
weeks that remain to him. He is no longer on view at a price. He has
not, like Lacenaire, the privilege of refusing the visits of duchesses,
nor the indignity to endure of being exposed at a few francs per head to
the indecent gaze of sensation-mongers.

In La Roquette nowadays no one can admire or contemn him until he
shuffles out to meet his fate just beyond the prison door.

The condemned cell is, as in most modern prisons, both in France and
England, the most comfortable quarters in the building. There are
actually three _cachots des Condamnés_, as there are two in Newgate, and
those in the Paris gaol are better lighted and rather more spacious.

The last scene of all, though it is a public execution, is no longer a
feast for the ghouls. Justice is done swiftly, and the crowd sees little
more than the preparation in the grey morning hours. The preparations,
however, are sufficiently enticing to draw to the Place de la Roquette
the riff-raff of Paris, the frequenters of the night-houses, of the
boulevards, the women of the town, and some foreign amateurs of the
scaffold who, like George Selwyn, would "go anywhere to see an

Selwyn, by the way, would find the spectacle in the Place de la Roquette
tame enough after some that he had witnessed. He went to Paris on
purpose to be present at the torture of the wretched Damiens, who, after
suffering unheard-of pains, was torn asunder by four horses. A French
nobleman, observing the Englishman's interest in the savage scene,
concluded that he must be a hangman taking a lesson abroad, and said:
"_Eh bien, monsieur, êtes vous arrivé pour voir ce spectacle?_"—"_Oui,
monsieur._"—"_Vous êtes bourreau?_" "_Non, monsieur_," replied Selwyn,
"_je n'ai pas l'honneur; je ne suis qu'un amateur_."

It is after midnight that the rush begins to the spot where the scaffold
is raised, and for hours the throng continues to increase in numbers and
variety. All night there is feeding and drinking in the public-houses
around, and, as it used to be in the Old Bailey, windows commanding a
view of the scene are hired at any price.

A swarm of pressmen wait through the night just outside the prison gate.
At this time the victim himself is probably unaware that his last hour
is at hand.

When day has dawned, two carts come out from a street adjoining the
prison, bearing the disjointed pieces of the guillotine. The headsman's
five brawny assistants (one of whom is his son and probable successor)
set up the machine, and the knife falls three or four times to test the

Then the guard arrives; and when the city police, the _Gardes de la
République_, and the mounted _gendarmes_ are marshalled, the crowd
behind can see only the top of the guillotine. A place within the cordon
is reserved for the press.

The genius-in-chief of the ceremony does not appear until the doors of
the prison are thrown open. He is within, preparing the victim, and
coaxing him, when the toilet is finished, to take a cigarette and a
little glass of rum.

Louis Stanislas Deibler, the _Monsieur de Paris_, came to Paris in 1871,
as assistant headsman to Roch. He had been a provincial executioner,
but, in 1871, a new law ordered that all criminals condemned in France
should be despatched by _Monsieur de Paris_.

Deibler, who was born in Dijon in 1823, is a joiner by trade. His first
head (as chief executioner) was Laprade's, in 1879, and the case was one
of his worst. Laprade, who had murdered his father, mother, and
grandmother, felt a natural disinclination to join them on the other
side, and struggled so desperately on the scaffold that Deibler had to
thrust his head by main force into the lunette.

M. Deibler is lame, and usually carries a very old umbrella. "Scenes" on
the scaffold are rare. The victim may struggle for a moment, but it is
only for a moment that, in the practised hands of the assistants, he can
postpone the inevitable. In general, the whole affair lasts but a few

There is no such thing as a "last dying speech" from the guillotine.
Even if the man were not too dazed to speak, time would not be allowed
him. There is time only for the last ministrations of the Church, which
are almost always rejected.

The instant the criminal is secured on the bascule, M. Deibler touches
the spring, the knife shears through the uncovered neck, there is a
spurt of blood in the air, and all is over.

The head and body are enclosed at once in a rough coffin, and trundled
off with a guard of mounted _gendarmes_ (officials and priest following
in a cab) to the Champ des Navets, or Turnip Field, at Ivry Cemetery,
where a burial service is read. The remains are then handed over to one
of the medical schools for dissection, and what is left is interred.

                                THE END.



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 ● Transcriber's Notes:
    ○ Missing or obscured punctuation was corrected.
    ○ Unbalanced quotation marks were left as the author intended.
    ○ Typographical errors were silently corrected.
    ○ Names were corrected according to historial records.
       ▪ Bérenger should be Béranger


       ▪ Bertandière should be Bertaudière


    ○ Spelling was made consistent when a predominant form was found in
      this book; otherwise it was not changed.

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