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Chapter 35

MIRABEAU


A large hall was chosen which was surrounded with benches, then they took boards, and with these boards constructed, in the middle of the hall, a kind of platform. When this platform was finished, what in those days was called the nation, that is to say, the clergy, in their red and violet robes, the nobility in spotless white, with their swords at their sides, and the bourgeoisie dressed in black, took their seats upon the benches. Scarcely were they seated when there was seen to ascend the platform and there take its stand an extraordinary figure. "Who is this monster?" said some; "Who is this giant?" said others. It was a singular being, unforeseen, unknown, emerging abruptly from the obscurity, who terrified, and who fascinated. A dreadful disease had given him a kind of tiger's head; every degree of ugliness seemed to have been imprinted upon that mask by every possible vice. Like the bourgeoisie, he was dressed in black, that is to say, in mourning. His bloodshot eye cast upon the assembly a dazzling glance; it resembled menace and reproach--all looked upon him with a degree of curiosity in which was mingled horror. He raised his hand, and there was silence.

Then were heard to issue from this hideous face sublime words. It was the voice of the new world speaking through the mouth of the old world; it was '89 that had risen, and was questioning, and accusing and denouncing to God and man all the fatal dates of the monarchy; it was the past,--an august spectacle,--the past, bruised with chains, branded on the shoulder, ex-slave, ex-convict,--the unfortunate past, calling aloud upon the future, the emancipating future! that is what that stranger was, that is what he did on that platform! At his word, which at certain moments was as the thunder, prejudices, fictions, abuses, superstitions, fallacies, intolerance, ignorance, fiscal infamies, barbarous punishments, outworn authorities, worm-eaten magistracy, discrepit codes, rotten laws, everything that was doomed to perish, trembled, and the downfall of those things began. That formidable apparition has left a name in the memory of men; he should be called Revolution,--his name is Mirabeau!


Victor Hugo