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This webpage reproduces a portion of
Royal Memoirs

on the
French Revolution

as translated by
John Wilson Croker
and published by
John Murray, Albemarle Street, London,

the text of which is in the public domain.

This text has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though, please let me know!


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Appendix 2


 p281  I.

Of what passed between Louis XVI and M. de Malesherbes.


M. de Malesherbes has left a journal, containing the following details upon what passed at the Temple, between Louis XVI and himself, which supplies some circumstances wanting in all the other accounts, and which it is therefore thought right to reprint here.

The moment I received permission to enter the apartment of the King, I hastened thither. On perceiving me, he immediately quitted a Tacitus, which lay open before him on a small table. He embraced me, his eyes filled with tears, and he said to me, "Your sacrifice is so much the more generous, that you will expose your own life, and you will not save mine." I observed to him that there was no danger for me; that, besides, I at once fulfilled the most sacred of duties, and the warmest wishes of my heart; and that I hoped we might save him by a successful defence. He replied, "I am certain that they will put me to death; they have both the power and the will: nevertheless, let us attend to my trial, as if I were likely to succeed; and indeed I shall succeed, for my memory shall be without a stain. But when will the two counsel come?" He had seen Tronchet in the Constituent Assembly, but was not acquainted with Desèze. He made some inquiries concerning the latter, and appeared much satisfied with the account I gave of him.

He was every day employed with us in analyzing the various documents, suggesting arguments, and refuting charges, with a presence of mind and firmness, which filled his other advocates as well as myself with admiration, and of which they availed themselves by taking notes in addition to their  p283 own. We flattered ourselves that we might hope for a sentence of banishment. We mentioned this to him; and by our reasonings in support of this idea we alleviated the acuteness of his feelings. He entertained the idea for some days; but the public papers undeceived him, and proved that we must abandon any such hope.

When Desèze had drawn up his speech, he read it to us. I have never heard any thing more pathetic than the conclusion: it drew tears from us: but the King said to him — "It must be omitted; I do not wish to touch their feelings."

On another occasion, when we were alone, he said to me — "One thing distresses me much: Desèze and Tronchet owe me nothing; they devote to me their time, their talents, and perhaps their lives; what return can I make for such services? I have nothing left: if I made a bequest in their favour, it would not be carried into effect: but, indeed,  p284 it is not with money that such a debt can be discharged." "Sire, I replied, "their own conscience and posterity will confer on them their just reward. But you may yourself bestow one which will overpay them." "How?" "Embrace them, Sire." The following day the King folded them in his arms, and they shed tears whilst they seized his hands.

The day of trial was approaching, when he, one morning, said to me, "My sister has mentioned to me a worthy clergyman, who has not taken the oath, and whose obscure station may hereafter shelter him from persecution: this is his direction.º Will you go to him, speak with him, and prepare him to come, when I shall have obtained permission to see him?" He added, "This is a strange commission for a philosopher,​1 as I know  p285 you to be; but, if you had suffered as much as I have, and were about to die, as I am, I should wish you to enjoy those religious sentiments, which would support and console you much better than philosophy. My dear Monsieur de Malesherbes, it is with all my heart that I pray God to enlighten you."

After the sitting, at which he and his advocates had been heard at the Bar, he said to me, "You now perceive that, from the first instant, I was not mistaken, and that my sentence was pronounced before I had been heard." On my return from the Assembly, where we had urged an appeal to the people, and where we had all three spoken, I told him that, on coming out, I had been surrounded by a great number of persons, who had assured me that he should not perish, or, at least, not till after they themselves, and their friends, had died in the attempt to save him. He said to me, "Do you know them? Return to the Assembly instantly;  p286 try to find them: tell them that I should never forgive them if a drop of blood were shed on my account. I would not consent that any should be spilled, when, perhaps, it might have saved my throne and my life; and I do not repent my forbearance."

I was the first who announced his sentence to him: his back was turned to a lamp which stood on the chimney, his elbows on the table, and his face covered with his hands. The noise I made in entering roused him from his meditation: he looked steadily at me, and rising, said to me, "For two days I have been occupied considering, whether, during the course of my reign, I have deserved the slightest reproach from my subjects: well, M. de Malesherbes, I declare to you, with all the sincerity of my heart, as a man about to appear before his God, that I have always wished and laboured for the happiness of my people; and I have not, in my whole life, had one idea that was inconsistent with this  p287 feeling of my heart." I saw, once more, my unfortunate Sovereign: two municipal officers were standing by his side: he also stood, and was reading. One of them told me to speak to him, adding, that they should not listen. I assured the King that the priest he had wished for was coming: he embraced me, and said: "Death does not alarm me: I have the greatest confidence in the mercy of God."

J. W. Croker's Note:

1 Philosophe and infidel were synonymous terms, since Voltaire had persuaded the wits of Paris that religion was a superstition, and that to deny Christ was the test of good sense.

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Page updated: 3 May 07