It was in vain that immense pits were opened to receive the dead bodies; they were soon filled, and new ones obliged to be dug.Grey-headed people of eighty years old and girls of sixteen, fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, husbands, wives and children died covered with the blood of each other.He was thunderstruck, and knew not whether he was a wake. There he espied the ghastly heads and hideous trunks of those unfortunate wretches, who had perhaps refused to march at the first summons, only that they might take a last farewell of their families. Where were the leaders, under whom he could place himself in order to avoid the requisition?
François-René Chateaubriand, Historical, Political, and Moral Essay on Revolutions, Ancient and Modern (English translation, 1815; original French Essai historique, politique et moral, sur les révolutions anciennes et modernes, considérées dans leurs rapports avec la Révolution française, 1815), 46–54.
These infuriated men alone could have devised the means, and what is still more incredible, partly have succeeded in the execution of their project. Hence they displayed, at the same time, a degree of energy which was completely without example, and an extent of crimes, which all those of history, put together, can scarcely equal.
The French novelist and essayist François–René Chateaubriand (1768–1848) was a royalist who for a time admired Napoleon.
Like Burke, he denounced the revolutionary reliance on reason and advocated a return to Christian principles.
Here then were the rudiment of a military force, but it was necessary that this force should be organized.
A committee, of which it has been said that its talents could not have been surpassed except by its crimes, employed itself in connecting these disjointed corps.The unfortunate confounded people no longer knew where they were, nor whether they existed.They sought in vain for their ancient customs—these had vanished. Thus was the unhappy nation bandied about by the hands of a powerful faction, suddenly transported into another world, stunned by the cries of victims, and the acclamations of victory resounding from all the frontiers, when God, casting a look towards France, caused these monsters to sink into nothingness.As to numbers, two or three armies immediately followed each other, to keep up an imposing mass of strength . The telegraph conveyed flying orders, the earth yielded saltpeter, and France vomited forth innumerable legions.While the armies were forming, the prisons were filled with all the wealthy persons of France.At the same moment a thousand sanguinary guillotines were erected in all the towns and villages of France.The citizen was suddenly awoke in the night by the report of cannon and roll of the drum, to receive an order for his immediate departure to the army.On arriving soon afterwards at the frontiers, the necessity of defending his life, the courage natural to the French, the inconstancy and the enthusiasm of which they are characteristically susceptible, considerable pay, abundant food, the tumult and dangers of a military life, the women, the wine, and his native gaiety of disposition, made him forget that he had been brought thither by force, and he became a hero.Thus persecution on the one hand, and rewards on the other, created armies by enchantment; for when once the first example had been set, and the requisition obeyed, men by a natural imitative impulse, were eager, whatever might be their opinions, to walk in the steps of others.As if, therefore, the establishment of a republic and the defense of France, taken separately, afforded too little employment for their genius, they resolved on attempting both at the same time. gave the fearful signal which was to recall Sparta from its ruins.Agents having been placed at their posts in every corner of the republic, and the word communicated to affiliated societies, the monsters . It resounded though France like the trump of the exterminating angel—the monuments of the sons of men crumbled away, and the graves opened.