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

July 28

The Death of Robespierre

By Henry Howard Brownell (1820–1872)

  • Robespierre, who had sent so many people to the guillotine, met the same fate on July 28th, 1794.

  • HERE let us stand—windows, and roofs, and leads

    Alive with clinging thousands—what a scene!

    And in the midst, above that sea of heads,

    Glooms the black Guillotine.

    A scene like that in the Eternal City,

    When on men’s hearts the Arena feasted high—

    While myriads of dark faces, void of pity,

    Looked on to see them die.

    How the keen Gallic eyes dilate and glare!

    The flexible brows and lips grimace and frown—

    How the walls tremble to their shout, whene’er

    That heavy steel comes down!

    ’Tis nearly over—twenty heads have rolled,

    One after one, upon the block—while cheers

    And yells and curses howled by hate untold

    Rang in their dying ears.

    One more is left—and now amid a storm

    Of angry sound from that great human Hive

    They rear upright a dizened ghastly form,

    Mangled, yet still alive.

    Like one emerging from a deadly swoon,

    His eyes unclose upon that living plain—

    Those livid, snaky eyes!—he shuts them soon,

    Never to ope again.

    As that forlorn, last, wandering gaze they took,

    Perhaps those cruel eyes, in hopeless mood,

    Sought in their agony, one pitying look

    ’Mid that vast multitude.

    Sought, but in vain,—inextricably mixed

    On square and street and housetop—he surveys

    A hundred thousand human eyes, all fixed

    In one fierce, pitiless gaze.

    Down to the plank! the brutal headsmen tear

    Those blood-glued rags—nay, spare him needless pain.

    One cry! God grant that we may never hear

    A cry like that again!

    A pause—and the axe falls on Robespierre.

    That trenchant blade hath done its office well—

    Hark to the mighty roar! Down, Murderer—

    Down to thy native Hell!

    Again that terrible shout! till suburb far

    And crowded dungeon marvel what it mean—

    Hurrah! and louder, louder yet, hurrah

    For the good Guillotine!

    And breasts unladen heave a longer breath—

    And parting footsteps echo fast and light—

    Our Foe is lodged in the strong Prison of Death!

    Paris shall sleep to-night.