To the Bastille!

All morning, since nine, there has been a cry everywhere: To the Bastille!…

July 14, 1789: Today is Bastille Day, the above excerpted from Thomas Carlyle’s famous account of the events of July 14, 1789. In preparation for A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens said he read Carlyle’s The French Revolution “about 500 times,” absorbing not just the facts but the tone and sentiment. Although subtitled “A History,” Carlyle’s swelling prose seems written by one who is part Parisian citizen, part Romantic poet, and part embedded reporter:

On, then, all Frenchmen, that have hearts in your bodies! Roar with all your throats, of cartilage and metal, ye Sons of Liberty; stir spasmodically whatsoever of utmost faculty is in you, soul, body, or spirit; for it is the hour! Smite, thou Louis Tournay [governor of the Bastille]…; smite at that Outer Drawbridge chain, though the fiery hail whistles round thee! Never, over nave or felloe, did thy axe strike such a stroke. Down with it, man; down with it to Orcus: let the whole accursed Edifice sink thither, and Tyranny be swallowed up forever!… Jail, Jailoring and Jailor, all three, such as they may have been, must finish.

The following lines are from William Wordsworth’s “The French Revolution as It Appeared to Enthusiasts at Its Commencement,” composed years after the Reign of Terror had put a deeper tint on the rose-colored glasses:

Oh! pleasant exercise of hope and joy!
For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood
Upon our side, we who were strong in love!
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!—Oh! times,
In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute, took at once
The attraction of a country in romance!…



Hugo Ball read out the first Dada Manifesto on this day in 1916 at the Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich. Delivered to a gathering of like-minded artist-anarchists, the Manifesto was a bugle call from the ramparts of modernism, announcing “a dada world war without end, dada revolution without beginning”:

…How does one achieve eternal bliss? By saying dada. How does one become famous? By saying dada. With a noble gesture and delicate propriety. Till one goes crazy. Till one loses consciousness. How can one get rid of everything that smacks of journalism, worms, everything nice and right, blinkered, moralistic, europeanised, enervated? By saying dada. Dada is the world soul, dada is the pawnshop. Dada is the world’s best lily-milk soap….