Journals of General Tone during his mission in France. Part I. Comprising his Negotiations with the French Government at Paris, 1796 (Continued. Part II).

FEBRUARY 13, 1796: Capt Sisson, with whom we travelled up, called to breakfast. Settled our account of expenses. From Havre to Paris is 160 miles, or thereabouts. We lay two nights on the road. We were charged once or twice extravagantly. We were driven with four, five, and, during, during two stages, with six horses, and yet our expense for the whole was but 60 crowns, or £15 sterling, which was £5 a piece. In England, to travel the same distance, with four horses, would have cost us, at the very lowest, double the money. So much for the relative expense of the two countries, which I am fond of comparing, and I think I know England pretty well.

Council of war with D’Aucourt. Agree to keep close for a day or two, until we get French clothes made, and then pay my first visit to Monroe, (the American Ambassador) and deliver my letters. In the meantime to make inquiries.

The Directoire Executif have presented General Jourdan with six horses, magnificently caparisoned, a sword, and a case of pistols. What a present for a Republican General! I observe they have given nothing to Pichegru. It looks odd that he should be passed over. Do they intend to fix the public attention on Jourdan? Mind this. I should be sorry if Pichegru were thrown into the shade.

In the evening, at the Grand Opera, Theatre des Arts, Iphigenie. The theatre magnificent, and, I should judge, about one hundred performers in the orchestra. The dresses most beautiful, and a scrupulous attention to the costume in all the decorations, which I have never seen in London. The performers were completely Grecian statues animated, and I never saw so manifestly the superiority of the taste of the ancients in dress, especially the women. Iphigenie (La citoyenne Cheron) was dressed entirely in white, without the least ornament, and nothing can be imagined more truly elegant and picturesque. The acting admirable, but the singing very inferior to that of the Haymarket. The French cannot sing like the Italians. Agamemnon excellent. Clytemnestra still better. Acilles abominable, and more applauded than either of them. Sung in the old French style, which is most detestable, shaking and warbling on every note; Vile! Vile! Vile! The others sung in a style sufficiently correct. The ballet, L’Offrande à la Liberte, most superb.

In the centre of the stage was the statue of liberty, with an altar blazing before her. She was surrounded by the characters in the opera, in their beautiful Grecian habits. The civic air "Veillons au salut de l’Empire," was sung by a powerful bass, and received with transport by the audience. Whenever the word "esclavage" was uttered, it operated like an electric shock. The Marseillaise hymn was next sung, and produced still greater enthusiasm. At the word, "Aux armes citoyens!" all the performers drew their swords, and the females turned to them as encouraging them.

Before the last verse, there was a short pause, the time of the music was changed to a very slow movement, and supported only by the flutes and oboes; a beautiful procession entered; first little children like cherubs, with baskets of flowers; these were followed by boys, a little more advanced, with white javelins (the Hasta pura of the ancients) in their hands. Then came two beautiful female figures, moving like the graces themselves, with torches blazing; these were followed by four Negroes, characteristically dressed, and carrying two tripods between them, which they placed respectfully on each side of the altar; next came as many Americans, in the picturesque dress of Mexico, and these were followed by an immense crowd of other performers, variously habited, who ranged themselves on both sides of the stage.

The little children then approached the altar with their baskets of flowers, which they laid before the goddess; the rest in their turn succeeded, and hung the altar and the base of the statue with garlands and wreaths of roses; the two females with the torches approached the tripods, and, just touching them with the fire, they kindled into a blaze. The whole then knelt down, and all of this was executed in cadence to the music, and with a grace beyond description. The first part of the last verse, Amour sacré de la patrie," was then sung slowly and solemnly, and the words "Liberté, Libertié, cherie," with an emphasis which affected me most powerfully.

All this was at once pathetic and sublime, beyond what I had ever seen, or could almost imagine; but it was followed by an incident which crowned the whole, and rendered it indeed a spectacle worthy of a free republic: At the words "Aux armes, citoyens!" the music changed again to a martial style, the performers sprung on their feet, and in an instant the stage was filled with National Guards, who rushed in with bayonets fixed, their sabres drawn, and their tri-colour flag flying. It would be impossible to describe the effect of this.

I never knew what enthusiasm was before, and what heightened it beyond all conception was, that the men I saw before me were not hirelings, acting a part; they were what they seemed, French citizens flying to arms, to rescue their country from slavery. They were the men who had precipitated Cobourg into the Sambre, and driven Clairfait over the Rhine, and were, at this very moment, on the eve of again hurrying to the frontiers, to encounter fresh dangers and gain fresh glory. This made the spectacle interesting beyond all description. I would willingly sail again from New York to enjoy again what I felt at that moment. Set the ballets of the Haymarket beside this!

This sublime spectacle concluded the ballet; but why must I give it so poor a name? It was followed by a ballet, which one might call so, but even this was totally different from what they used to be. The National Guards were introduced again, and, instead of dancing, at least three-fourths of the exhibition were military evolutions, which, it should seem, are more now to the French taste than allemandes and minuets and pas de deux. So best!

It is curious now to consider at what rate one may see all this. I paid for my seat in the boxes 150 livres, in assignats, which, at the present rate, is very nearly sixpence sterling. The highest price seats were but 200 livres, which is eightpence. I mention this principally to introduce a conjecture which struck me at Havre, but which seems much more probable here, that the Government supports the theatres privately. And, in France, it is excellent policy, where the people are so much addicted to spectacles, of which there are now about 20 in Paris, and all full every night. What would my dearest love have felt at the "Offrande à la liberte?"

FEBRUARY 14, 1796: Dined at a tavern in a room covered with gilding and looking glasses down to the floor. Superb beyond anything I had seen. It was the Hotel of the Chancellor to the Duke of Orleans. There went much misery of the people to the painting and ornamenting of that room, and now it is open to anyone to dine for three shillings. "Make aristocracy laugh at that." But Paris now yields so many thousand instances of a similar complexion that nobody minds them.

Comedie, ballet, (improperly so called) Le chant du depart. A battalion under arms, with their knapsacks at their backs, ready to march, with their officers and a representative of the people (whom PP would call a tyrant) at their head. On one side of the stage a group of venerable figures, representing the parents of the warriors. On the other, a band of females, who, I can venture to say, were not selected for their ugliness, appeared as their wives and lovers, and a number of beautiful children were scattered over the stage.

The representative began the song, which was answered by the soldiers; the next verse was sung by the women, and I leave it to any man with a soul capable of feeling, what the effect of such a song from such beautiful beings must have been. The next was sung by the old men, and, at the end of it, the little boys and girls ran in amongst the soldiery, who caught them up in their arms and caressed them. Some of the little fellows pulled off the grenadiers’ caps, and out them on their own heads, whilst others were strutting about with great sabres longer than themselves.

At length the battalion was formed again and filed off, the representative and officers saluting the audience as they passed, whilst the women and children were placed on an eminence, and waved their hands to them as they passed along. Nothing could exceed the peals of applause when the ensign passed with the tricolour flag displayed. Here was no fiction, and that it was which gave it an interest, that drew the tears irresistibly into my eyes

– NB. From all this it is evident that the French are a nation of cannibals, incapable of human feeling, and that John Bull will just begin at the banks of the Wahal, and never stop ‘till he has driven them into the Mediterranean.

FEBRUARY 15, 1796: Went to Monroe’s, the Ambassador, and delivered in my passport and letters. Received very politely by Monroe, who enquired a great deal into the state of the public mind in America, which I answered as well as I could, and in a manner to satisfy him pretty well as to my own sentiments.

I enquired of him where I was to deliver my dispatches. He informed me, at the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and gave me his address. I then rose and told him that when he had read B___’s letter, (which was in cipher) he would, I hope, find me excused in taking the liberty to call again. He answered, he would be happy at all times to see me, and, after he had enquired about Hamilton Rowan, how he liked America, &c, I took my leave, and returned to his office for my passport. The Secretary smoked me for an Irishman directly. A la bonne heure.

Went at three o’clock to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Rue du Bacq, 471. Delivered my passport, and enquired for someone who spoke English. Introduced immediately to the Chef de Bureau, Lamre, a man of an exceedingly plain appearance. I showed my letter, and told him I wished for an opportunity to deliver it into the Minister’s hands. He asked me "would it not do if he took charge of it." I answered, he undoubtedly knew the official form best, but if it was not irregular, I should consider myself much obliged, by being allowed to deliver it in person.

He then brought me into a magnificent antechamber, where a general officer and another person were writing, and, after a few minutes delay, I was introduced to the Minister, Charles de la Croix, and delivered my letter, which he opened, and seeing it in cipher, he told me, in French, he was much obliged to me for the trouble I had taken, and that the Secretary would give me a receipt, acknowledging the delivery. I then made my bow and retired with the secretary, the Minister seeing us to the door.

He is a respectable looking man; I should judge him near 60, and has very much the air of a bishop. The Secretary has given me a receipt, of which the following is a translation: "I have received from Mr James Smith, a letter addressed to the Committee of Public Safety, and which he tells me comes from the citizen Adet, Minister Plenipotentiary of the French Republic at Philadelphia, Paris, 26th Pluviose, third year of the French republic. The Secretary General of Foreign Affairs, Lamre."

I have thus broken the ice. In a day or two I shall return for my passport.

I am perfectly pleased with my reception at Monroe’s and at the Minister’s, but can form no possible conjecture as to the event. The letter being in cipher, he could form no guess, as to whom I might be, or what might be my business. All I can say, is, that I found no difficulty in obtaining access to him; that his behaviour was extremely affable and polite, and, in a word, that if I have no ground to augur anything good, neither have I reason to expect anything bad. All is in equilibrio.

I have now a day or two to attend to my private affairs, and the first must be that of Mr W Browne (my brother Matthew).

Opera in the evening. The "Chant du depart" again. I lose three-fourths of the pleasure I should otherwise feel, for the want of my dear love, or my friend PP to share it with. How they would glory in Paris just now. And then the Burgundy every day at the restaurateurs. Poor PP, he is the only possible bearable companion, except the boys. Well " ‘Tis but in vain," &c.

FEBRUARY 16, 1796: Walked out alone to see sights. The Thuilleries, the Louvre, Poutneuf &c. Superb. Paris a thousand times more magnificent than London, but less convenient for those who go afoot.

Saw two companies of grenadiers, in the garden of the Thuilleries, the first I have met. All very fine fellows, but without the air militaire of private sentinels; many in the ranks have the appearance of gentlemen in soldiers’ coats, and, on the whole, they exactly resembled two companies of Irish volunteers, as I have seen them in that country, in the days of my youth and innocence. These are the youth of the first requisition. Their uniform blue, faced white, red cape and cuffs, red shoulder knots, and plumes in their hats, white belts, vest and breeches, black stocks and gaiters. I think them equal in figure to any men I have ever seen of their number.

The women! Only to think what a thing fashion is! The French women have been always remarkable for fine hair, and, therefore, at present they all prefer to wear wigs. They actually roll and pin up their own beautiful tresses, so that they become invisible, and over them they put a little shock perriwig. Damn their wigs! I wish they were all burnt, but it is the fashion, and that is a solution for every absurdity.

In the evening walked to the Palais Royal; filled with the military, most of them superb figures. I do not mean as to dress, but air, manners, and gait. I now perceive the full import of the expression, an armed nation, and I think I know a country, that, for its extent and population, could produce as many and as fine fellows as France. Well, all in good time. It will be absolutely necessary to adopt measures similar to those which have raised and cherished this spirit here, if ever God Almighty is pleased, in his goodness, to enable us to shake off our chains. I think Ireland would be formidable as an armed nation.

FEBRUARY 17, 1796: Went at one o’clock to the Minister’s bureau, for my passport. A clerk tells me that a person called yesterday, in my name, and got it. I assured him I knew nobody in Paris, and had not sent anyone to demand it, and reminded him that it was on this day he had desired me to call. He looked very blank at this, and just then the principal Secretary coming up, I informed him of what had happened. He recollected me, and had sent to the Ambassador to learn my address. I answered I should attend him whenever he pleased; he replied, "instantly," and, accordingly, I followed him into the Minister’s cabinet, who received me very politely.

He told me, in French, that he had had the letter I brought deciphered, and laid instantly before the Directoire Executif, who considered the contents as of the greatest importance; that their intentions were, that I should go immediately to a gentleman, whom he would give me a letter to, and, as he spoke both languages perfectly and was confidential, that I should explain myself to him without reserve; that his name was Madgett. I answered, that I knew him by reputation, and had a letter of introduction to him, but did not consider myself at liberty to make myself known to any person, without his approbation. He answered that I might communicate with Madgett, without the least reserve; sat down and wrote a note to him, which he gave me; I then took my leave, the Minister seeing me to the door.

I mention these minute circumstances of my reception, not that I am a man to be too much elevated by the attentions of any man in any station, at least, I hope so, but that I consider the respect shown to me, by De la Croix, as really shown to my mission, and, of course, the readiness of access, and the extreme civility of reception, that I experience, I feel as so many favourable presages. I have been at the bureau twice, and both times have been admitted to the Minister’s cabinet without a minute’s delay. Surely all this looks well.

The costume of the Minister was singular; I have said, already, that he had the presence of a bishop. He was dressed, today, in a grey silk robe de chambre, under which he wore a kind of scarlet cassock of satin, with rose coloured silk stockings, and scarlet ribbands in his shoes. I believe he has as much the manners of a gentleman as Lord Grenville.

I mention these little circumstances, because I know they will be interesting to her whom I prize above my life, ten thousand times. There are about six persons in the worlds who will read these detached memorandums with pleasure; to everyone else they would appear sad stuff. But they are only for the women of my family, for the boys, if ever we meet again, and for my friend PP. Would to God he were here just now. Well, "if wishes were horses, beggars would ride." And there is another curious quotation, equally applicable, on the subject of wishing, which I scorn to make.

Set off for Madgett’s and delivered my letter. Madgett delighted to see me, tells me he has the greatest expectation our business will be taken up in the most serious manner; that the attention of the French Government is now turned to Ireland, and that the stability and form it had assumed, gave him the strongest hopes of success; that he had written to Hamilton Rowan, about a month since, to request I might come over instantly, in order to confer with the French Government, and determine on the necessary arrangements, and that he had done this by order of the French Executive.

He then asked me had I brought any papers or credentials; I answered that I only brought the letter of Adet to the Executive, and one to the American Ambassador, that I had destroyed a few others on the passage, including one from Mr Rowan to himself, as we were chased by a Bermudian; that, as to my credentials, the only ones I had, or that the nature of the case would permit, I had shown to Adet on my first arrival in Philadelphia, in August last. That these were the vote of thanks of the General Committee of the Catholics of Ireland, for my services as their agent, signed by Mr Edward Byrne and the two secretaries, Richard McCormick and John Sweetman, and dated in April, 1793. A second vote of thanks from the Catholics of Dublin, signed by the Chairman and Secretary, and the resolution of the Belfast regiment of volunteers, electing me an honorary member, in testimony of their confidence, and signed by the officers of the regiment. These I had offered to Adet to bring with me to France, but he said it was sufficient that I satisfied him, and, as they were large papers, it would be running an unnecessary risk of discovery, in case we were stopped by British cruisers. That he would satisfy the French Executive, and that the fewer papers of any kind I carried the better, and, consequently, that I had brought only those I mentioned. Madgett then said, that was enough, especially as he had the newspapers containing the resolutions I mentioned, and that the French Executive were already fully apprised who I was.

He then added, that we should have ten sail of the line, any quantity of arms that were wanted, and such money as was indispensable, but that this last was to be used discreetly, as the demands for it on all quarters were so numerous and urgent; and, that he thought a beginning might be made through America, so as to serve both Ireland and France. That is to say, that military stores might be sent through this channel from France to Ireland, purchased there by proper persons, and provisions, leather, &c returned in neutral bottoms. I answered, this last measure was impracticable, on account of the vigilance of the Irish Government, and the operation of the gunpowder act, which I explained to him;

I then gave him a very short sketch of what I considered the state of Ireland, laying it down as a positum that nothing effectual could be done there unless by a landing; that a French army was indispensably necessary as a point de ralliement, and I explained to him the grounds of my opinion. He then told me it was necessary we should arrange all the information we possessed, and, for that purpose, fixed me to breakfast with him tomorrow, when we could go at length into the business, and so we parted.

NB. I shall, in all my negotiations here, press upon them the necessity of a landing being effectuated. If it is not, the people will never move, but to the destruction of a few wretches, and we have had already but too much of that in Ireland. A French army, with a General of established reputation at their head, is a sine qua non; Pichegru to choose, but, if not, Jourdan. Their names are known in Ireland, and that is of great consequence.
Continue journal

Contents of Life of Wolfe Tone