Page:History of the Guillotine.djvu/21

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their silence, that the French writers have been naturally reluctant to enter into details so disgraceful to the national character, and have therefore abstained, through patriotism—as the Romans used to do through superstition—from uttering the ill-omened word. But we regret to say that Mr. Alison, who, indeed, is too apt on all occasions to copy implicitly his French models, has fallen into their error, without their patriotic excuse. Of the first victims of the Tribunal and the Guillotine he only says, in the very words of Mignet, 'several persons were condemned;' he does not even say executed—still less does he give any idea that they died in an unusual way; and even the King's execution is described by the words, 'the descending axe terminated his existence;' which—there having been no preceding allusion to any machine—would have equally described that of Charles I.[1] In short, those who are hereafter to learn the French Revolution from what are called Histories[2] will see it very much curtailed of many of its more terrible, yet most interesting features, and especially of the most prominent of them all—the Guillotine.

We shall endeavour, as far as our limited space

  1. It was said that the attempt of the executioners to bind the king to the balance-plank (bascule) was the occasion of a kind of struggle between him and them, and the cause that the execution was performed with more than usual mutilation, but this was altogether a misrepresentation: see in the Appendix the curious evidence of the executioner himself.
  2. Nor is this neglect to be objected to the historians alone. In Dr. Rees's great Encyclopædia (ed. 1819), neither the man Guillotin, nor the instrument guillotine, is to be found. The Penny Cyclopædia gives a very good account of the instrument.