Home  »  Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men  »  Bertrand Barère

S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.

Bertrand Barère

  • [Called the “Anacreon of the guillotine,” on account of the flowery style with which he adorned the most atrocious measures of the Reign of Terror; born 1755; deputy to the States-General; voted in the Convention for the death of the king; moved the condemnation of Robespierre; banished 1816; returned to France, 1830; died miserably, 1841.]
  • Only the dead return not (Il n’y a que les morts qui ne reviennent pas).

  • A pun on reviennent, to return, or to stalk as a ghost; and so, sarcastically, “Only dead men’s ghosts do not walk.” In the Convention, 1794. The entire sentence is: “If a year ago the English soldiers had been refused pardon, which they begged on their knees; if our troops had destroyed them, one and all, instead of allowing them to disturb our fortresses,—the British government would not this year have renewed its attack upon our frontiers. It is only the dead who do not return.” Napoleon used the expression in regard to himself, on the 17th July and 12th December, 1816.—O’MEARA: Napoleon in Exile.
  • To Barère are due some of the most bloodthirsty utterances of this bloody epoch. He declared in the Convention, in 1792, “The tree of liberty only grows when watered by the blood of tyrants” (L’arbre de la liberté ne croît qu’arrosé par le sang des tyrans). He said to Robespierre and other Jacobins at dinner what Saint-Just repeated in public in 1794, “The ship of the revolution can only arrive in port on water red with blood” (sur une mer rougie de flots de sang). When it was feared that his exertions in the Reign of Terror would injure his health, he replied that he was less busy than they supposed. “The guillotine governs,” he coolly adds. He called the executioner’s cart, or the tumbril which carried the condemned from prison to the scaffold, “the bier of the living.”
  • Barère asserted in the Convention that revolutionary measures should be spoken of with respect: “Liberty is a virgin whose veil it is not lawful to lift.”
  • One of his expressions was calculated to flatter the vanity of the Jacobins: “You are called upon to remake history” (Vous êtes appelés à recommencer l’histoire).—MARTIN: Histoire de France, XVI. end.