previous next

Charge to Corday.

We find that in our article respecting John Morgan yesterday, we did not state the circumstances attending the death of Charlotte Corday with historical exactness. Our only object was to impress the public as strongly as we could with the distinction between guilt and punishment — to show that the most sublime patriot, if thrown by misfortune into the hands of a malignant enemy, might be made to suffer the penalty of a common felony — that, therefore, the only proper rule in such cases — and that a rule which had been adopted by the instinctive discretion of ages — was to affix to guilt itself the brand of disgrace, and to leave to innocence its own vindication at its own proper time. But history ought, in all cases where it is possible, to be enunciated with the utmost distinctness. We, therefore,--in obedience to what we consider a maxim that never should be departed from — give a succinct history of the trial and execution of Charlotte Corday. It is one of the most affecting incidents in all history.

Charlotte was a native of St. Saturnine in the department of the Orme. She had received, under the superintendence of her father, a classical education — had become deeply imbued with the spirit of the ancient writers — and was in the habit of assimilating certain periods of ancient history to the scenes and events that were passing immediately before her eyes. In imitation of her father, she had deeply imbibed the principles of the Girondist, and believed that their overthrow would certainly produce the destruction of the sanguinary triumvirate, (Marat, Danton, Robespierre,) who were at that time overwhelming France with blood. But when she saw the citizens of the department of Cash enrolling to march to the defence of the Convention, she saw that there was no hope in the people, and she conceived the singular design of freeing the world of that monstrous tyrant, who had declared that 300,000 heads must fall before liberty could be safe in France. She went to Paris without the knowledge of her father — obtained admission to Marat — pretended to be a violent Jacobin — presented to him a list of several thousand who had been concerned in the late insurrection against the Convention — and, with out difficulty obtained from him a promise that every man of them should be sent to the guillotine. No sooner had this promise been obtained than she struck the tyrant to the heart with a knife which she had purchased expressly for the occasion. She was immediately arrested and brought before the revolutionary tribunal, where she boldly acknowledged what she had done, and declared that whilst she detested assassination (on principle) she yet felt that she owed it as a duty to her country, to God, and to human nature, to rid the world by any means of a monster whose sole object in life seemed to be to destroy everything that bore the form of humanity.--Her deportment during the trial was exceedingly modest, and the farthest possible removed from everything that we can conceive of what is called in modern times a "strong minded woman." At the close of her trial she took three letters from her bosom and presented them to the Court. Two of them were directed to Barbarous, and related entirely to her adventures from the time of her leaving home. The third was directed to her father. In it she took a solemn farewell of him — spoke with the utmost simplicity of what she had done — begged him not to suppose that she could be affected by the criminal's doeth that awaited her — said that she had ty of nothing for which he need blush — and concluded with the line of Corneille, which we had by mistake supposed she spoke on the scaffold:

‘ "Cest la crime qui fait la brute, et nou pasil'schaf fand."

She was not insulted by the mob on the way to the guillotine. On the contrary, she was the only victim of those bloody times who was not thus insulted. It is true that the women who were called the "Furies of the Guillotine" had been assembled at the door of the prison for the purpose of insulting her; but when the door was thrown open, and, instead of a strong minded virago, whom probably they expected to see and to hear, they saw her as she was — so young, so beautiful, so unpromising, and so entirely helpless — even their hard hearts relented, and while some of them uncovered their heads, others burst into a passion of tears. She ascended the scaffold with undaunted firmness. She had learned the mode of her death, but not the details, and when the executioner proceeded to tie her feet she resisted from an apprehension that he meant to insult her. When he took off the handkerchief, that covered her bosom, at the moment of the fetal stroke, she blushed deeply; and it is even said that her head, which was held up to the multitude immediately after it had fallen, retained this impression of offended modesty.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
France (France) (2)
Charlotte (North Carolina, United States) (1)
hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Charlotte Corday (3)
John Morgan (1)
Danton (1)
Corneille (1)
Cash (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: