The answer to Mr. Gibbon's letter is annexed, as giving the best account I have seen of the barbarous transaction alluded to. — Lord Sheffield
Sheffield Place, November, 1792.
Your three letters received yesterday caused the most sincere pleasure to each individual of this family; to none more than myself. Praise (I fear, beyond my deserts), from one whose opinion I so highly value, and whose esteem I so much wish to preserve, is more pleasing than I can describe. I had not neglected to make the collection of facts which you recommend, and which the great variety of unfortunate persons whom we see, or with whom we correspond, enables me to make.
As to that part of your letter which respects my studies , I can only say, the slightest hint on that subject is always received with the greatest gratitude, and attended to with the utmost punctuality; but I must decline that topic for the present, to obey your commands, which require from me the horrid account of the massacre aux Carmes . — Eight respectable ecclesiastics landed, about the beginning of October, from an open boat at Seaford, wet as the waves. The natives of the coast were endeavouring to get from them what they had not, viz. money, when a gentleman of the neighbourhood came to their protection; and, finding they had nothing, showed his good sense, by dispatching them to Milord Sheffield: they had been pillaged, and with great difficulty had escaped from Paris. The reception they met with at this house seemed to make the greatest impression on them; they were in ecstasy on finding M. de Lally living: they gradually became cheerful, and enjoyed their dinner: they were greatly affected as they recollected themselves, and found us attending on them. Having dined, and drank a glass of wine, they began to discover the beauties of the dining-room, and of the chateau: as they walked about, they were overheard to express their admiration at the treatment they met, and from Protestants . We then assembled in the library, formed half a circle round the fire, M. de Lally and Milord occupying the hearth, à l'Angloise , and questioning the priests concerning their escape. Thus we discovered, that two of these unfortunate men were in the Carmelite Convent at the time of the massacre of the one hundred and twenty priests, and had most miraculously escaped, by climbing trees in the garden, and from thence over the tops of the buildings. One of them, a man of superior appearance, described, in the most pathetic manner, the death of the Archbishop of Arles, to the following purport, and with such simplicity and feeling, as to leave no doubt of the truth of all that he said. On the second of September, about five o'clock in the evening, at the time they were permitted to walk in the garden, expecting every hour to be released, they expressed their surprise at seeing several large pits, which had been digging for two days past: they said, " The day is almost spent; and yet Manuel told a person who interceded for us last Thursday, that on the Sunday following not one should remain in captivity: we are still prisoners": soon after, they heard shouts, and some musket-shots. An ensign of the national-guard, some commissaries of the sections, and some Marseillois rushed in: the miserable victims, who were dispersed in the garden, assembled under the walls of the church, not daring to go in, lest it should be polluted with blood. One man, who was behind the rest, was shot. " Point de coup de fusil ," cried one of the chiefs of the assassins, thinking that kind of death too easy. These well-trained fusileers went to the rear; les piques, les haches, les poignards came forward. They demanded the Archbishop of Arles; he was immediately surrounded by all the priests. The worthy prelate said to his friends,
" Let me pass; if my blood will appease them, what signifies it, if I die? Is it not my duty to preserve your lives at the expense of my own? "
He asked the eldest of the priests to give him absolution: he knelt to receive it; and when he arose, forced himself from them, advanced slowly, and with his arms crossed upon his breast, and his eyes raised to heaven, said to the assassins, " Je suis celui que vous cherchez ." His appearance was so dignified and noble, that, during ten minutes, not one of these wretches had courage to lift his hand against him: they upbraided each other with cowardice, and advanced; one look from this venerable man struck them with awe, and they retired. At last, one of the miscreants struck off the cap of the Archbishop with a pike; respect once violated, their fury returned, and another from behind cut him through the skull with a sabre. He raised his right hand to his eyes; with another stroke they cut off his hand. The Archbishop said, " O! mon Dieu! " and raised the other: a third stroke across the face left him sitting; the fourth extended him lifeless on the ground; and then all pressed forward, and buried their pikes and poignards in the body. The priests all agreed, that he had been one of the most amiable men in France; and that his only crime was having, since the revolution, expended his private fortune, to support the necessitous clergy of his diocese. The second victim was the General des Bénédictines. Then the national guards obliged the priests to go into the church, telling them, they should appear, one after another, before the Commissaires du section. They had hardly entered, before the people impatiently called for them; upon which, all kneeling before the altar, the Bishop of Beauvais gave them absolution: they were then obliged to go out, two by two; they passed before a commissaire, who did not question, but only counted, his victims; they had in their sight the heaps of dead, to which they were going to add. Among the one hundred and twenty priests thus sacrificed were the Bishops of Zaintes and Beauvais (both of the Rochefoucauld family). I should not omit to remark, that one of the priests observed they were assassinated because they would not swear to a constitution which their murderers had destroyed. We had (to comfort us for this melancholy story) the most grateful expressions of gratitude towards the English nation, from whom they did not do us the justice to expect such a reception.
There can be no doubt that the whole business of the massacres was concerted at a meeting at the Duke of Orleans' house. I shall make you as dismal as myself by this narration. I must change the style....Citoyen Gibbon, je suis ton égal .
MARIA J. HOLROYD.