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The Fall Of The Bastille
by [?]

“To the Bastille! to the Bastille!” was the cry. Paris surged with an ungovernable mob. Month by month, week by week, day by day, since the meeting of the States-General,–called into being chiefly to provide money for the king and kept in being to provide government for the people,–the revolutionary feeling had grown, alike among the delegates and among the citizens. Now the population of Paris was aroused, the unruly element of the city was in the streets, their wrath directed against the prison-fortress, the bulwark of feudalism, the stronghold of oppression, the infamous keeper of the dark secrets of the kings of France. The people had always feared, always hated it, and now against its sullen walls was directed the torrent of their wrath.

The surging throng besieged the Hotel de Ville, demanding arms. Gaining no satisfaction there, they rushed to the Invalides, where they knew that arms were stored. The governor wished to parley. “He asks for time to make us lose ours!” cried a voice in the crowd. A rush was made, the iron gates gave way, the cellar-doors were forced open, and in a short time thirty thousand guns were distributed among the people.

Minute by minute the tumult increased. Messengers came with threatening tidings. “The troops are marching to attack the Faubourgs; Paris is about to be put to fire and sword; the cannon of the Bastille are about to open fire upon us,” were the startling cries. The people grew wild with rage.

This scene was the first of those frightful outbreaks of mob violence of which Paris was in the coming years to see so many. It was the 14th of July, 1789. As yet no man dreamed of the horrors which the near future was to bring forth. The Third Estate was at war with the king, and fancied itself the power in France. But beneath it, unseen by it, almost undreamed of by it, was rousing from sleep the wild beast of popular fury and revenge. Centuries of oppression were about to be repaid by years of a wild carnival of slaughter.

The Bastille was the visible emblem of that oppression. It was an armed fortress threatening Paris. The cannon on its walls frowned defiance to the people. Momentarily the wrath of the multitude grew stronger. The electors of the Third Estate sent a message to Delaunay, governor of the Bastille, asking him to withdraw the cannons, the sight of which infuriated the people, and promising, if he would do this, to restrain the mob.

The advice was wise; the governor was not. The messengers were long absent; the electors grew uneasy; the tumult in the street increased. At length the deputation returned, bringing word that the governor pledged himself not to fire on the people, unless forced to do so in self-defence. This message the electors communicated to the crowd around the Hotel de Ville, hoping that it would satisfy them. Their words were interrupted by a startling sound, the roar of a cannon,–even while they were reporting the governor’s evasive message the cannon of the Bastille were roaring defiance to the people of Paris! An attack had been made by the people on the fortress and this was the governor’s response.

That shot was fatal to Delaunay. The citizens heard it with rage. “Treason!” was the cry. “To the Bastille! to the Bastille!” again rose the shout. Surging onward in an irresistible mass, the furious crowd poured through the streets, and soon surrounded the towering walls of the detested prison-fortress. A few bold men had already cut the chains of the first drawbridge, and let it fall. Across it rushed the multitude to attack the second bridge.

The fortress was feebly garrisoned, having but thirty Swiss soldiers and eighty invalids for its defence. But its walls were massive; it was well provided; it had resisted many attacks in the past; this disorderly and badly-armed mass seemed likely to beat in vain against those century-old bulwarks and towers. Yet there come times in which indignation grows strong, even with bare hands, oppression waxes weak behind its walls of might, and this was one of those times.