Home  »  Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men  »  Camille Desmoulins

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

Camille Desmoulins

  • [One of the principal actors of the French Revolution; called “the attorney-general of the lantern,” from the summary manner in which he condemned royalists to be hanged to the ropes by which the street-lanterns were suspended; born in Picardy, 1762; a schoolmate of Robespierre in Paris; took part in the storming of the Bastille, 1789; became a partisan of Danton; elected to the Convention, 1792; endeavored to mitigate the cruelties of the Terror by the publication of the “Vieux Cordelier;” proscribed and executed with Danton, April 5, 1794.]
  • Burning is no answer (Brûler n’est pas répondre).

  • In reply to Robespierre, whose extreme measures Desmoulins and the Dantonists were then opposing; and who, in return, proposed to burn, by way of correction, the numbers of their moderate journal, “Le Vieux Cordelier.”
  • Desmoulins, “not afraid at one time to embrace liberty on a heap of dead bodies, begins to ask now, whether among so many arresting and punishing committees there ought not to be a ‘committee of mercy.’ His first number begins with ‘O Pitt!’ his last is dated 15 Pluviose, year 2 (Feb. 3, 1794), and ends with these words of Montezuma’s: ‘Les dieux ont soif’” (The gods are athirst).—CARLYLE: French Revolution, ii. 8, 1.
  • His retort to Robespierre became proverbial, and was applied, for instance, to the Swiss canton of Uri, which in the excess of its loyalty to the myth of William Tell, burned a book of the curé Freudenberger of Berne, entitled “William Tell: a Danish Fable.”
  • Desmoulins had not always opposed Robespierre; for he once asked, “What is Virtue, if Robespierre be not its image?” Now, however, his mot was fatal. “Let his paper be read!” cried Robespierre. In a few days, he who had written in 1789: “My motto is that of all honest people,—no superiors!” found his superior within his own party, and was denounced with the rest of the Dantonists. Being asked his age by the Revolutionary Tribunal, April 3, 1794, he replied, “I am thirty-three,—the age of the sans-culotte Jesus, a critical age for every patriot.” On his way to execution, remembering the days when Necker was dismissed, and he himself harangued the populace from a chair in the Palais-Royal, he bitterly exclaimed, “This is the reward destined to the first apostle of liberty!” Like Danton, he took credit to himself for generosity: “I go to the scaffold,” he said, “for having dropped a tear over the unfortunate: my only regret in dying is the want of ability to save them.” Only when he no longer was of the dominant faction did he see that the people had been imposed upon by high-sounding but empty phrases. “Poor people!” he cried to the multitude who flocked to his execution, “how they have deceived you!” (Pauvre peuple, on te trompe!)