1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Saint-Just, Antoine Louis Léon de Richebourg de

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1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 24
Saint-Just, Antoine Louis Léon de Richebourg de

SAINT-JUST, ANTOINE LOUIS LEON DE RICHEBOURG DE (1767–1794), French revolutionary leader, was born at Decize in the Nivernais on the 25th of August 1767. At the outbreak of the Revolution, intoxicated with republican ideas, he threw himself with enthusiasm into politics, was elected an officer in the National Guard of the Aisne, and by fraud—he being yet under age—admitted as a member of the electoral assembly of his district. Early in 1789 he had published twenty cantos of licentious verse, in the fashion of the time, under the title of Organt au Vatican. Henceforward, however, he assumed a stoical demeanour, which, united to a policy tyrannical and pitilessly thorough, became the characteristic of his life. He entered into correspondence with Robespierre, who, flattered by his worship, admitted him to his friendship. Thus supported, Saint-Just became deputy of the department of Aisne to the National Convention, where he made his first speech on the condemnation of Louis XVI.—gloomy, fanatical, remorseless in tone—on the 13th of November 1792. In the Convention, in the Jacobin Club, and among the populace his relations with Robespierre became known, and he was dubbed the “St John of the Messiah of the People.” His appointment as a member of the Committee of Public Safety placed him at the centre of the political fever-heat. In the name of this committee he was charged with the drawing up of reports to the Convention upon the absorbing themes of the overthrow of the party of the Gironde (report of the 8th of July 1793), of the Hérbertists, and finally, of that denunciation of Danton which consigned him and his followers to the guillotine. What were then called reports were rather appeals to the passions; in Saint-Just’s hands they furnished the occasion for a display of fanatical daring, of gloomy eloquence, and of undoubted genius; and—with the shadow of Robespierre behind him—they served their turn. Camille Desmoulins, in jest and mockery, said of Saint-Just—the youth with the beautiful countenance and the long fair locks—“He carries his head like a Holy Sacrament.” “And I,” savagely replied Saint-Just, “will make him carry his like a Saint Denis.” The threat was not vain: Desmoulins accompanied Danton to the scaffold. The same ferocious inflexibility animated Saint-Just with reference to the external policy of France. He proposed that the National Convention should itself, through its committees, direct all military movements and all branches of the government (report of the 10th of October 1793). This was agreed to, and Saint-Just was despatched to Strassburg, in company with another deputy, to superintend the military operations. It was suspected that the enemy without was being aided by treason within. Saint-Just’s remedy was direct and terrible: he followed his experience in Paris, “organized the Terror,” and soon the heads of all suspects sent to Paris were falling under the guillotine. But there were no executions at Strassburg, and Saint-Just repressed the excesses of J. G. Schneider (q.v.), who as public prosecutor to the revolutionary tribunal of the Lower Rhine had ruthlessly applied the Terror in Alsace. Schneider was sent to Paris and guillotined. The conspiracy was defeated, and the armies of the Rhine and Moselle having been inspirited by success—Saint-Just himself taking a fearless part in the actual fighting—and having effected a junction, the frontier was delivered and Germany invaded. On his return Saint-Just was made president of the Convention. Later, with the army of the North, he placed before the generals the dilemma of victory over the enemies of France or trial by the dreaded revolutionary tribunal; and before the eyes of the army itself he organized a force specially charged with the slaughter of those who should seek refuge by flight. Success again crowned his efforts, and Belgium was gained for France (May, 1794). Meanwhile affairs in Paris looked gloomier than ever, and Robespierre recalled Saint-Just to the capital. Saint-Just proposed a dictatorship as the only remedy for the convulsions of society. At last, at the famous sitting of the 9th Thermidor, he ventured to present as the report of the committees of General Security and Public Safety a document expressing his own views, a sight of which, however, had been refused to the other members of committee on the previous evening. Then the storm broke. He was vehemently interrupted, and the sitting ended with an order for Robespierre’s arrest (see Robespierre). On the following day, the 28th of July 1794, twenty-two men, nearly all young, were guillotined. Saint-Just maintained his proud self-possession to the last.

See Œuvres de Saint-Just, précédées d’une notice historique sur sa vie (Paris, 1833–1834); E. Fleury, Etudes révolutionnaires (2 vols., 1851), with which cf. articles by Sainte Beuve (Causeries du lundi, vol. v.), Cuvillier-Fleury (Portraits politiques et révolutionnaires); E. Hamel, Histoire de Saint-Just (1859), which brought a fine to the publishers for outrage on public decency; F. A. Aulard, Les Orateurs de la Législative et de la Convention (2nd ed., Paris, 1905). The Œuvres complètes de Saint-Just have been edited with notes by C. Vellay (Paris, 1908).