BLTC Press Titles

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Theory of Colours

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The Story of Doctor Dolittle

Hugh Lofting

The Revolt of the Netherlands

Friedrich Schiller

The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas

Legends of the Bastille

by Frantz Funck-Brentano


" The Bastille," wrote Sainte-Foix, " is a castle which, without being strong, is one of the most formidable in Europe, and about it I shall say nothing." " Silence is safer than speech on that subject," was the saying in Paris.

At the extremity of the Rue Saint-Antoine, as one entered the suburb, appeared the eight lofty towers, sombre, massive, plunging their moss-grown feet into pools of muddy water. Their walls were pierced at intervals with narrow, iron-barred windows : they were crowned with battlements. Situated not far from the Marais, the blithe and wealthy quarter, and quite near to the Suburb Saint-Antoine, where industry raised its perpetual hum, the Bastille, charged with gloom and silence, formed an impressive contrast.

The common impression it made is conveyed by Restif de la Bretonne in his Nights of Paris : "It was a nightmare, that awesome Bastille, on which, as I passed each evening along the Rue Saint-Gilles, I never dared to turn my eyes."

The towers had an air of mystery, harsh and melancholy, and the royal government threw mystery like a cloud around them. At nightfall, when the shutters were closed, a cab would cross the drawbridge, and from time to time, in the blackness of night, funeral processions, vague shadows which the light of a torch set flickering on the walls, would make their silent exit. How many of those who had entered there had ever been seen again ? And if perchance one met a former prisoner, to the first question he would reply that on leaving he had signed a promise to reveal nothing of what he had seen. This former prisoner had, as a matter of fact, never seen anything to speak of. Absolute silence was imposed upon the warders. " There is no exchanging of confidences in this place," writes Madame de Staal, " and the people you come across have all such freezing physiognomies that you would think twice before asking the most trifling question." " The first article of their code," says Linguet, " is the impenetrable mystery which envelops all their operations."

We know how legends are formed. Sometimes you see them open out like flowers brilliant under the sun's bright beams, you see them blossom under the glorious radiance that lights up the life of heroes. The man himself has long gone down into the tomb ; the legend survives ; it streams across the ages, like a meteor leaving its trail of light ; it grows, broadens out, with everincreasing lustre and glow: in this light we see Themistocles, Leonidas, Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, Napoleon.

Or may be, on the contrary, the legend is born in some remote corner, covered with shade and silence. There men have lived their lives, there it has been their lot to suffer. Their moans have risen in solitude and confinement, and the only ears that heard them were harder than their stone walls. These^ moans, heard by no compassionate soul, the great resounding soul of the people catches up, swelling them with all its might. Soon, among the mass of the people, there passes a blast irresistible in its strength, like the tempest that upheaves the restless waves. Then is the sea loosed from its chains : the tumultuous breakers dash upon the affrighted shore : the sea-walls are all swept away !

In a letter written by Chevalier, the major of the Bastille, to Sartine, the chief of the police, he spoke of the common gossip on the Bastille that was going about. " Although utterly false," he said, " I think it very dangerous on account of its dissemination through the kingdom, and that has now been going on for several years." No attention was paid to Chevalier's warning. Mystery continued to be the rule at the Bastille and in all that related to it. " The mildness of manners and of the government," writes La Harpe, " had caused needlessly harsh measures in great part to disappear. They lived

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