James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

January 21

Execution of Louis XVI

By William Makepeace Thackeray (1811–1863)

(Beheaded Jan. 21, 1793)

From “The Chronicle of the Drum”

“YOU all know the Place de la Concorde?

’Tis hard by the Tuileries wall.

’Mid terraces, fountains, and statues,

There rises an obelisk tall.

There rises an obelisk tall,

All garnish’d and gilded the base is:

’Tis surely the gayest of all

Our beautiful city’s gay places.

“Around it are gardens and flowers,

And the cities of France on their thrones

Each crown’d with his circlet of flowers,

Sits watching this biggest of stones!

I love to go sit in the sun there,

The flowers and fountains to see,

And to think of the deeds that were done there

In the glorious year ninety-three.

“’Twas here stood the Altar of Freedom;

And though neither marble nor gilding

Was used in those days to adorn

Our simple republican building,

Corbleu! but the Mère Guillotine

Cared little for splendour or show,

So you gave her an axe and a beam,

And a plank and a basket or so.

“Awful, and proud, and erect,

Here sat our republican goddess.

Each morning her table we deck’d

With dainty aristocrats’ bodies.

The people each day flocked around

As she sat at her meat and her wine:

’Twas always the use of our nation

To witness the sovereign dine.

“Young virgins with fair golden tresses,

Old silver-hair’d prelates and priests,

Dukes, marquises, barons, princesses,

Were splendidly served at her feasts.

Ventrebleu! but we pampered our ogress

With the best that our nation could bring,

And dainty she grew in her progress,

And called for the head of a King!

“She called for the blood of our King,

And straight from his prison we drew him;

And to her with shouting we led him,

And took him, and bound him, and slew him

‘The monarchs of Europe against me

Have plotted a godless alliance;

I’ll fling them the head of King Louis,’

She said, ‘as my gage of defiance.’

“I see him as now, for a moment,

Away from his gaolers he broke;

And stood at the foot of the scaffold,

And linger’d and fain would have spoke.

‘Ho, drummer! quick, silence yon Capet,’

Says Santerre, ‘with a beat of your drum.’

Lustily then did I tap it,

And the son of Saint Louis was dumb.”