THE SOUL OF THE EARTH ABSORBED BY MEN.
La Vendee during the revolt numbered no less than five hundred thousand men, women, and children. Half a million of soldiers, these were the figures given by Tuffin de la Rouarie.
The federalists gave their assistance; the Gironde was a party to la Vendée, la Lozère sent thirty thousand men to the Bocage. Eight departments united; five in Brittany, three in Normandy. Evreux, which fraternized with Caen, was represented in the rebellion by Chaumont, its mayor, and Gardembas, one of its leading men. Buzot, Gorsas, and Barbaroux, at Caen; Brissot, at Moulins; Chassann, at Lyons; Rabaut Saint-Etienne, at Nismes: Meillan and Duchâtel, in Brittany,—all these mouths blew the furnace.
There were two Vendées, Great Vendée, which carried on the forest war; and Little Vendée, which carried on the war of the thickets,—that was the slight difference which separated Charette from Jean Chouan, Little Vendée was innocent; Great Vendée was corrupt. Little Vendée was more important. Charette was made marquis, lieutenant-general of the king's armies and was decorated with the great cross of Saint Louis; Jean Chouan remained Jean Chouan. Charette inclined to the bandit, Jean Chouan was more of a knight-errant.
As for those magnanimous chiefs, Bonchamps, Lescure, la Rochejaquelein, they were mistaken. The great Catholic army was a foolish attempt; disaster was inevitable. Can one imagine a tempest of peasants attacking Paris? a coalition of villages besieging the Panthéon? a pack of Christmas carols and orisons barking around the Marseillaise? a crowd of sabots rushing on a legion of intellects? Le Mans and Savenay punished this madness. It was impossible for la Vendée to pass the Loire. She could accomplish anything except this stride. Civil war does not conquer. Crossing the Rhine is the crowning work of Cæsar and the additional glory of Napoleon; crossing the Loire kills la Rochejaquelein.
The true sphere of la Vendée is within her own boundaries, there she is more than invulnerable, she is intangible. The Vendéan at home is a smuggler, a farmer, soldier, shepherd, poacher, sharpshooter, goatherd, bellringer, peasant, spy, assassin, sacristan, wild beast of the woods.
La Rochejaquelein is only Achilles; Jean Chouau is Proteus.
La Vendée miscarried.
Other revolts have been successful; the Swiss insurrection for example. There was this difference between a mountainous revolt like the Swiss, and a forest revolt like the Vendéan, that almost always because of the fatal influence of environment, the one is struggling for an ideal, and the other for prejudices. One soars, the other crawls. One fights for humanity; the other, for solitude. One desires liberty; the other, isolation. One defends the Commune; the other, the parish.—"Communism! Communism!" cried the heroes of Marat.—One has to do with precipices; the other, with quagmires. One is the man of torrents and foamy waters; the other, the man of stagnant puddles where fever lurks. The head of one is among the stars; that of the other, in the thicket. The one is on a summit; the other, in a shadow.
Education arising from mountain tops and low lands is not the same.
The mountain is a citadel; the forest, an ambuscade: one inspires boldness; the other, strategy. Antiquity placed the gods on pinnacles, and satyrs in grooves. The satyr is the savage; half man, half beast. Free countries have their Appenines, their Alps, their Pyrenees an Olympus. Parnassus is a mountain. Mont Blanc was the colossal auxiliary of William Tell; behind and above the great contests of spirits, against the darkness which fills the poems of India, the Himalayas are seen. Greece, Spain, Italy, Helvetia, have the mountain for a type; Cimmeria, Germany, or Brittany have the woods. The forest is barbarous.
The formation of the ground affects many of man's actions. It is more of an accomplice than is realized. In sight of some wild landscapes, one is tempted to exonerate man, and incriminate creation; one feels the silent rebellion of nature; the desert is sometimes injurious to conscience, especially an unenlightened conscience; conscience may be gigantic, as with Jesus and Socrates; it may be dwarfed, as with Atreus and Judas. A small conscience quickly becomes reptile; the shady forest trees, the brambles, the thorns, the marshes under the branches, are a fatal habitation for it; it is mysteriously permeated there by evil persuasions. Optical illusions, inexplicable shadows, terrors of the hour or place, throw men into a sort of fear, half religious, half brutal, which in ordinary times engenders superstition, and in periods of violence, brutality. Hallucinations hold the torch which lights the path of murder. There is a touch of madness in the brigand. Wonderful nature has a double meaning, which dazzles great minds and blinds uncultivated souls. When man is ignorant, when the desert is filled with visions, the darkness of solitude is added to the darkness of intelligence; hence, in man, the possibilities of perdition.
Certain rocks, certain ravines, certain copses, certain wild openings through the trees at evening, impel man to mad and awful deeds. One might almost say that there are evil places.
What tragic deeds that gloomy hill between Baignon and Plélan has witnessed!
Wide horizons lead the soul to broad ideas; circumscribed horizons engender narrow ideas; this sometimes condemns great hearts to become small minded: as, for example, Jean Chouan.
Broad ideas hated by narrow ideas,—this is the very struggle of progress.
Country, Fatherland,—these two words comprise the whole Vendéan war; a quarrel of the local idea with the universal idea; peasants against patriots.