A very readable and useful companion book to the more academic treatments of the French Revolution. Paris in the Terror is a fascinating probe into the personalities, motivations, emotions and drives of some of the personalities that shaped this particular stage of the French Revolution. To those who believe that men shape history, the backgrounds and fuller portraits of the important duo - Danton and Robespierre - whose drives for personal influence on the direction the Revolution was taking by 1794, whether for idealistic reasons, fame or just survival matched, clashed and diverged - is important.

There's not a single source employed by Loomis, whether from archives, letters, diaries, contemporary press (such as it was) libelles or memoirs that is not verifiable. That Robespierre exceeded his grasp to the point of finding himself a clinging-to-his-power tyrant fighting his opponents by the only means left to him, denunciation and death, is true. That he was hated when he finally died is just as true, as is the rejoicing by Paris' citizens, literally in the streets, at the relief, when "le monstre" finally perished, from the dreadful fear that had taken over the city. There's even a contemporary cartoon of Robespierre guillotining the executioner, the only person left in France for him to send to his death. If posterity has been kinder, the fact remains that the paranoia that comes with absolute power drove his every act at the end, and nothing can ameliorate that. No use extending responsibility to the likes of Fouquier Tinville, Couthon or St.Just. Their cooler heads were at the service of Robespierre, and in full agreement with is plans to purge and dispatch.

Loomis is kinder in turn with Danton, a man already in the throes of regrets and second thoughts, and the fatigue such emotions produce. It's easier for the reader to identify with his earthiness, sensuality and pragmatism, but such a more moderate view of him I see as a distinction made between 'lesser evils'. Danton is recognizable, but it is hard to forgive him for instigating the September Massacres with the idea of eliminating internal enemies, a ferocious act that resulted in the wholesale and wanton butchery of hundreds of innocents.

It helps to know the chronology of the Revolution up to this point, The Terror, and Loomis, despite drawing up a fine background into which he weaves his analyses of the personalities involved, does assume the reader is familiar with the course of it - from the "best goals achieved" by 1790 to the events and causes that turned a movement with a social ideal into a national security priority that opened the door to the abuses outlined in this book, and the subsequent submission of France to another eventual tyranny. But that's another story - 


Paris in the Terror

  • 1964 L.B. Lippincott Philadelphia & NY 

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