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

Pierre Vergniaud

  • [A French orator; born at Limoges, May 31, 1759; member of the National Assembly and of the Convention; as president of the latter he pronounced sentence upon Louis XVI.; arrested with twenty-one other Girondists, and executed, October, 1793.]
  • An effort is made to consummate the revolution by terror: I would accomplish it by love.

  • In the Convention, April 10, 1792. Camille Desmoulins wrote to his wife just before his death: “I had dreamed of a republic which everybody would have adored” (J’avais rêvé d’une république que tout le monde eût adorée).
  • Vergniaud perceived the course affairs were taking, when it was too late. Thus he said in the Girondist Club shortly before his death, “Citizens, there is too much reason to believe that the Revolution, like Saturn, will successively devour all its progeny, and finally leave only despotism with all the calamities which it produces.” None of the leaders of the Jacobin party could perform the task before it: “France alone,” he cried, “can save France.” When the Girondists awoke from their dream, Vergniaud bitterly exclaimed, “We thought ourselves at Rome, and we were at Paris.” He saw that Robespierre had struck deeper: “My friends,” said the leader of the Girondists on that “last night” which the histories of a poet and a novelist have too highly colored, “we have killed the tree by pruning it. It was too old. Robespierre cut it.” Still their death would not be useless: “our blood is sufficiently warm to fertilize the soil of the republic.”
  • When arraigned, October, 1793, Vergniaud asked, “What is now required to confirm the republic by the example of its devoted friends? To die? I will do that.” It was said in the spirit of Arnold von Winkelried, at the battle of Sempach, July 9, 1386, who cried to his friends and neighbors before the impenetrable mass of Austrian spears, “I will open a path for freedom! My dear and faithful confederates, take care of my wife and children.”—ZSCHOKKE: History of Switzerland. That Winkelried really said that he would open a path for freedom, is less certain than that he did open one. Had he said it, Büchmann thinks his loyal countrymen would not have omitted the words in raising a monument to him at Stanz in 1865. A contemporaneous poet, himself an actor on the glorious stage of Sempach, has left an account of the fight in homely verse, which tells how Arnold seized an armful of spears and gave his life away while he opened a path for his confederates. Hence may have originated the story that he promised to make a road for freedom, “eine Gasse der Freiheit bahnen,” as G. Hervegh has sung. (V. KLEISSNER: Die Quellen zur Sempacher Schlact.)
  • Death rather than dishonor.

  • When his name was called on the morning of his execution, Vergniaud answered, “Present! If our blood can cement liberty, we welcome you.” He wrote on the wall of his cell with his blood: “Potius mori quam fœdari.”
  • For a truthful narrative of the “last night of the Girondists,” the account of Riouffe (“Mémoirs d’un détenu,” pp. 61–63), one of those who survived the general slaughter, may be opposed to the florid descriptions of Thiers, Nodier, and Lamartine. M. Granier de Cassagnac, having in a “History of the Girondists” reproduced the account of M. de Lamartine, dryly remarks, “It would be impossible to add any thing to this recital,—any thing except the truth.”