Page:History of the Guillotine.djvu/38

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23
DIFFICULTY AS TO MODE OF BEHEADING.

During all these legislative discussions the old practice of hanging seems to have been going on—sometimes, as M. de Liancourt said, "irregularly applied," under the popular cry of "Les aristocrates à la lanterne!"—sometimes also in the regular course of justice; but this last decree now put an end to the judicial practice, without having substituted any other.

At length, however, on the 24th of January, 1792, a person of the name of Nicholas Jacques Pelletier was condemned to death by the criminal tribunal of Paris, for robbery and murder. This event (decapitation being now the only legal punishment) brought the question of the precise mode of death to a practical crisis. The magistrates inquired of the Minister how the sentence was to be executed; and, after the delay of a month, the Minister himself and the Directory of the Department of Paris were obliged to have recourse to the Legislative Assembly for instructions. The letter of the Minister—Duport du Tertre—is remarkable for the reluctance with which he enters on the subject, and the deep and almost prophetic horror he expresses at having had to examine its odious details. "It was," he said, "a kind of execution [espèce de supplice] to which he had felt himself condemned" This, alas! was but an anticipation of a fatal reality. On the 28th of November, 1793, he himself was condemned by the revolutionary tribunal, and suffered on the 29th, by the machine first used under his involuntary auspices, and in company with that same Barnave, the first and