Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

teenth:

"Mors sola fatetur Quantula sint hominum corpuscula."

His person and his government have had the same fate. He had the art of making both appear grand and august, in spite of the clearest evidence that both were below the ordinary standard. Death and time have exposed both the deceptions. The body of the great king has been measured more justly than it was measured by the courtiers who were afraid to look above his shoe-tie. His public character has been scrutinized by men free from the hopes and fears of Boileau and Molière. In the grave, the most majestic of princes is only five feet eight. In history, the hero and the politician dwindles into a vain and feeble tyrant, the slave of priests and women, little in war, little in government, little in every thing but the art of simulating greatness.

rect judgment. He was not a great general; singularly applicable, both in its literal and in he was not a great statesman; but he was, in its metaphorical sense, to Louis the Four. one sense of the words, a great king. Never was there so consummate a master of what our James the First would have called kingcraft-of all those arts which most advantageously display the merits of a prince, and most completely hide his defects. Though his internal administration was bad, though the military triumphs which gave splendour to the early part of his reign were not achieved by himself, though his later years were crowded with defeats and humiliations, though he was so ignorant that he scarcely understood the Latin of his massbook, though he fell under the control of a cunning Jesuit and of a more cunning old woman, he succeeded in passing himself off on his people as a being above humanity. And this is the more extraordinary, because he did not seclude himself from the public gaze like those Oriental despots whose faces are never seen, and whose very names it is a crime to pronounce lightly. It has been said that no man is a hero to his valet; and He left to his infant successor a famished all the world saw as much of Louis the Four-and miserable people, a beaten and humbled teenth as his valet could see. Five hundred army, provinces turned into deserts by misgo people assembled to see him shave and put on vernment and persecution, factions dividing his breeches in the morning. He then kneeled the court, a schism raging in the church, an down at the side of his bed, and said his prayer, immense debt, an empty treasury, immeasurawhile the whole assembly awaited the end in ble palaces, an innumerable household, inessolemn silence, the ecclesiastics on their knees, timable jewels and furniture. All the sap and and ine laymen with their hats before their nutriment of the state seemed to have been faces. He walked about his gardens with a drawn to feed one bloated and unwholesome train of two hundred courtiers at his heels. excrescence. The nation was withered. The Ali Versailles came to see him dine and sup. court was morbidly flourishing. Yet it does He was put to bed at night in the midst of a not appear that the associations which attachcrowd as great as that which had met to see ed the people to the monarchy had lost strength him rise in the morning. He took his very during his reign. He had neglected or sacriemetics in state, and vomited majestically in ficed their dearest interests; but he had struck the presence of all the grandes and pétites en- their imaginations. The very things which trées. Yet though he constantly exposed him- ought to have made him most unpopular-the self to the public gaze in situations in which prodigies of luxury and magnificence with it is scarcely possible for any man to preserve which his person was surrounded, while, bemuch personal dignity, he to the last impress-yond the enclosure of his parks, nothing was ed those who surrounded him with the deepest to be seen but starvation and despair-seemed awe and reverence. The illusion which he to increase the respectful attachment which produced on his worshippers can be compared his subjects felt for him. That governments only to those illusions to which lovers are proverbially subject during the season of courtship. It was an illusion which affected even the senses. The contemporaries of Louis thought him tall. Voltaire, who might have seen him, and who had lived with some of the most distinguished members of his court, speaks repeatedly of his majestic staturc. Yet it is as certain as any fact can be, that he was rather below than above the middle size. He had, it seems, a way of holding himself, a way of walking, a way of swelling his chest and rearing his head, which deceived the eyes of the multitude. Eighty years after his death, the royal cemetery was violated by the revolutionists; his coffin was opened; his body was dragged out; and it appeared that the prince, whose majestic figure had been so long and loudly extolled, was in truth a little man. That fine expression of Juvenal is

Even M. de Chateaubriand, to whom, we should have thought, all the Bourbons would have seemed at least six feet high, admits this fact. "C'est une erreur," says he in his strange memoirs of the Duke of

exist only for the good of the people, appears to be the most obvious and simple of all truths. Yet history proves that it is one of the most recondite. We can scarcely wonder that it should be so seldom present to the minds of rulers, when we see how slowly, and through how much suffering, nations arrive at the knowledge of it.

There was indeed one Frenchman who had discovered those principles which it now seems impossible to miss-that the many are not made for the use of one; that the truly good government is not that which concen trates magnificence in a court, but that which diffuses happiness among a people; that a king who gains victory after victory, and adds province to province, may deserve, not the admiration, but the abhorrence and contempl of mankind. These were the doctrines which Fénélon taught. Considered as an Epic Poem,

Berri, “de croire que Louis XIV. étoit d'une hauce sta ture. Une cuirasse qui nous reste de lui, et les exhuma tions de St. Denys, n'ont laissé sur ce point aucun deute."

remain to us of that extraordinary man. The fierce and impetuous temper which he showed in early youth, the complete change which a judicious education produced in his character, his fervid piety, his large benevolence, the strictness with which he judged himself, the liberality with which he judged others, the fortitude with which alone, in the whole court, he stood up against the commands of Louis, when a religious scruple was concerned, the charity with which alone, in the whole court, he defended the profligate Orleans against calumniators, his great projects for the good of the people, his activity in business, his taste for letters, his strong domestic attachments, even the ungraceful person and the shy and awkward manner, which concealed from the eyes of the sneering courtiers of his grandfather so many rare endowments-make his character the most interesting that is to be found in the annals of his house. He had resolved, if he came to the throne, to disperse that ostentatious court, which was supported at an ex pense ruinous to the nation; to preserve peace; to correct the abuses which were found in every part of the system of revenue; to abo

Telemachus can scarcely be placed above Glover's Leonidas or Wilkie's Epigoniad. Considered as a treatise on politics and morals, it abounds with errors of detail, and the truths which it inculcates seem trite to a modern reader. But if we compare the spirit in which it is written with the spirit which pervades the rest of the French literature of that age, we shall perceive that, though in appearance trite, it was in truth one of the most original works that have ever appeared. The fundamental principles of Fénélon's political morality, the tests by which he judged of institutions and of men, were absolutely new to his countrymen. He had taught them, indeed, with the happiest effect, to his royal pupil. But how incomprehensible they were to most people, we learn from Saint Simon. That amusing writer tells us, as a thing almost incredible, that the Duke of Burgundy declared it to be his opinion, that kings existed for the good of the people, and not the people for the good of kings. Saint Simon is delighted with the benevolence of this saying; but startled by its novelty and terrified by its boldness. Indeed he distinctly says, that it was not safe to repeat the sentiment in the court of Louis.lish or modify oppressive privileges; to reform Saint Simon was, of all the members of that court, the least courtly. He was as nearly an oppositionist as any man of his time. His disposition was proud, bitter, and cynical. In religion he was a Jansenist; in politics, a less hearty royalist than most of his neighbours. His opinions and his temper had preserved him from the illusions which the demeanour of Louis produced on others. He neither loved nor respected the king. Yet even this man, one of the most liberal men in France, was struck dumb with astonishment at hearing the fundamental axiom of all government propounded-an axiom which, in our time, nobody in England or France would dispute which the stoutest Tory takes for granted as much as the fiercest Radical, and concerning which the Carlist would agree with the most republican deputy of the "extreme left." No person will do justice to Fénélon, who does not stantly keep in mind that Telemachus was written in an age and nation in which hold and independent thinkers stared to hear that twenty millions of human beings did not exist for the gratification of one. That work is commonly considered as a school-book, zery fit for children, because its style is easy and its morality blameless; but unworthy of the attention of statesmen and philosophers. We can distinguish in it, if we are not greatly mistaken, the first faint dawn of a long and splendid day of intellectual light, the dim promise of a great deliverance, the undeveloped germ of the charter and of the code.

What mighty interests were staked on the life of the Duke of Burgundy! and how difterent an aspect might the history of France have orne, if he had attained the age of his grandfather or of his son; if he had been permitted to show how much could be done for humanity by the highest virtue in the highest fortune! There is scarcely any thing in history mote remarkable, than the descriptions which

the administration of justice; to revive the institution of the States-General. If he had ruled over France during forty or fifty years, that great movement of the human mind which no government could have arrested, which bad government only rendered more violent, would, we are inclined to think, have been conducted, by peaceable means, to a happy termination.

Disease and sorrow removed from the world that wisdom and virtue of which it was not worthy. During two generations France was ruled by men who, with all the vices of Louis the Fourteenth, had none of the art by whic that magnificent prince passed off his vices for virtues. The people had now to see tyranny naked. That foul Duessa was stripped of her gorgeous ornaments. She had always been hideous; but a strange enchantment had made her seem fair and glorious in the eyes of her willing slaves. The spell was now broken; the deformity was made manifest; and the lovers, lately so happy and so proud, turned away loathing and horror-struck.

First came the regency. The strictness with which Louis had, towards the close of his life, exacted from those around him an outward attention to religious duties, produced an effect similar to that which the rigour of the Puritans had produced in England. It was the boast of Madame de Maintenon, in the time of her greatness, that devotion had become the fashion. A fashion indeed it was, and, like a fashion, it passed away. The austerity of the tyrant's old age had injured the morality of the higher orders more than even the licentiousness of his youth. Not only had he not reformed their vices, but, by forcing them to be hypocrites, he had shaken their belief in virtue. They had found it so easy to perform the grimace of piety, that it was natural for them to consider all piety as grimace. The times were changed. Pensions, regiments, and abbeys were no

longer to be obtained by regular confession and severe penance; and the obsequious courtiers, who had kept Lent like monks of La Trappe, and who had turned up the whites of their eyes at the edifying parts of sermons preached before the king, aspired to the title of roué as ardently as they had aspired to that of devot; and went, during Passion Week, to the revels of the Palais Royal as readily as they had formerly repaired to the sermons of Massillon.

The Regent was in many respects the facsimile of our Charles the Second. Like Charles, he was a good-natured man, utterly destitute of sensibility. Like Charles, he had good natural talents, which a deplorable indolence rendered useless to the state. Like Charles, he thought all men corrupt and interested, and yet did not dislike them for being so. His opinion of human nature was Gulliver's; but he did not regard human nature with Gulliver's horror. He thought that he and his fellowcreatures were Yahoos; and he thought a Yahoo a very agreeable kind of animal. No princes were ever more social than Charles and Philip of Orleans; yet no princes ever had less capacity for friendship. The tempers of these clever cynics were so easy and their minds so languid, that habit supplied in them the place of affection, and made them the tools of people for whom they cared not one straw. In love, both were mere sensualists, without delicacy or tenderness. In politics, both were utterly careless of faith and of national honour. Charles shut up the Exchequer. Philip patronised the System. The councils of Charles were swayed by the gold of Barillon; the councils of Philip by the gold of Walpole. Charles for private objects made war on Holland, the natural ally of England. Philip for private objects made war on the Spanish branch of the house of Bourbon, the natural ally, indeed the creature of France. Even in trifling circumstances the parallel might be carried on. Both these princes were fond of experimental philosophy; and passed in the laboratory much time which would have been more advantageously passed at the counciltable. Both were more strongly attached to their female relatives than to any other human being; and in both cases it was suspected that this attachment was not perfectly innocent. In personal courage, and in all the virtues which are connected with personal courage, the Regent was indisputably superior to Charles. Indeed Charles but narrowly escaped the stain of cowardice. Philip was eminently brave, and, like most brave men, was generally open and sincere. Charles added dissimulation to his other vices.

The administration of the Regent was scarcely less pernicious, and infinitely more scandalous, than that of the deceased monarch. It was by magnificent public works, and by wars conducted on a gigantic scale, that Louis had brought distress on his people. The Regent aggravated that distress by frauds, of which a lame duck on the stock-exchange would have been ashamed. France, even while suffering under the most severe calami

ties, had reverenced the co. eror. She de spised the swindler.

When Orleans and the wretched Dubois had* disappeared, the power passed to the Duke of Bourbon; a prince degraded in the public eye by the infamously lucrative part which he had taken in the juggles of the System, and by the humility with which he bore the caprices of a loose and imperious woman. It seemed to be decreed that every branch of the royal family should successively incur the abhorrence and contempt of the nation.

Between the fall of the Duke of Bourbon and the death of Fleury, a few years of frugal and moderate government intervened. Then recommenced the downward progress of the monarchy. Profligacy in the court, extravagance in the finances, schism in the church, faction in the Parliaments, unjust war terminated by ignominious peace-all that indicates and all that produces the ruin of great empires, make up the history of that miserable period. Abroad, the French were beaten and humbled everywhere, by land and by sea, on the Elbe and on the Rhine, in Asia and in America. At home, they were turned over from vizier to vizier, and from sultan to sultan, till they had reached that point beneath which there was no lower abyss of infamy, till the yoke of Maupeou had made them pine for Choiseul, till Madame du Barri had taught them to regret Madame de Pompadour.

But unpopular as the monarchy had become the aristocracy was more unpopular still; and not without reason. The tyranny of an individual is far more supportable than the tyranny of a caste. The old privileges were galiing and hateful to the new wealth and the new knowledge. Every thing indicated the approach of no common revolution; of a revolu tion destined to change, not merely the form of government, but the distribution of property and the whole social system; of a revolution the effects of which were to be felt at every fireside in France; of a new Jaquerie, in which the victory was to remain with Jeques bonhomme. In the van of the movement were the moneyed men and the men of letters-the wounded pride of wealth and the wounded pride of intellect. An immense multitude, made ignorant and cruel by oppression, was raging in the rear.

We greatly doubt whether any course which could have been pursued by Louis the Sixteenth could have averted a great convulsion. But we are sure that, if there was such a course, it was the course recommended by M. Turgot. The church and the aristocracy, with that blindness to danger, that incapacity of believing that any thing can be except what has been, which the long possession of power seldom fails to generate, mocked at the couns which might have saved them. They would not have reform; and they had revolution. They would not pay a small contribution place of the odious corvées; and they lived to see their castles demolished, and their lands sold to strangers. They would not endure Turgot; and they were forced to endure Ro bespierre.

Then the rulers of France, as if smitten with | country they found nothing to love or to adjudicial blindness, plunged headlong into the mire. As far back as they could look, they American war. They thus committed at once saw only the tyranny of one class and the detwo great errors. They encouraged the spirit gradation of another-Frank and Gaul, knight of revolution. They augmented at the same and villein, gentleman and roturier. They hated time those public burdens, the pressure of the monarchy, the church, the nobility. They which is generally the immediate cause of cared nothing for the States or the Parliament. revolutions. The event of the war carried to It was long the fashion to ascribe all the follies the height the enthusiasm of speculative demo- which they committed to the writings of the crats. The financial difficulties produced by philosophers. We believe that it was misrule, the war carried to the height the discontent and nothing but misrule, that put the sting into of that larger body of people who cared little those writings. It is not true that the French about theories, and much about taxes. abandoned experience for theories. They took The meeting of the States-General was the up with theories because they had no expesignal for the explosion of all the hoarded pas-rience of good government. It was because sions of a century. In that assembly there they had no charter that they ranted about the were undoubtedly very able men. But they original contract. As soon as tolerable instihad no practical knowledge of the art of go- tutions were given to them, they began to luok vernment. All the great English revolutions to those institutions. In 1830 their rallyinghave been conducted by practical statesmen. cry was Vive la Charte. In 1789 they had noThe French Revolution was conducted by thing but theories round which to rally. They mere speculators. Our constitution has never had seen social distinctions only in a bad form; been so far behind the age as to have become and it was therefore natural that they should an object of aversion to the people. The Eng- be deluded by sophisms about the equality of lish revolutions have therefore been undertaken men. They had experienced so much evil for the purpose of correcting, defending, and from the sovereignty of kings, that they might restoring; never for the mere purpose of de- be excused for lending a ready ear to those stroying. Our countrymen have always, even who preached, in an exaggerated form, the in times of the greatest excitement, spoken doctrine of the sovereignty of the people. reverently of the form of government under which they lived, and attacked only what they regarded as its corruptions. In the very act of innovating they have constantly appealed to ancient prescription; they have seldom looked abroad for models; they have seldom troubled themselves with Utopian theories; they have not been anxious to prove that liberty is a natural right of men; they have been content to regard it as the lawful birthright of Englishmen. Their social contract is no fiction. It is still extant on the original parchment, sealed with wax which was affixed at Runnymede, and attested by the lordly names of the Marischals and Fitzherberts. No general arguments about the original equality of men, no fine stories out of Plutarch and Cornelius Nepos, have ever affected them so much as their own familiar words, Magna Charta, Habeas Corpus, Trial by Jury, Bill of Rights. This part of our national character has undoubtedly its disadvantages. An Englishman too often reasons on pitics in the spirit rather of a lawyer than of a philosopher. There is too often something narrow, something exclusive, something Jewish, if we may use the word, in his love of freedom. He is disposed to consider popular rights as the special heritage of the chosen race to which he belongs. He is inclined rather to repel than to encourage the alien proselyte who aspires to a share of his privileges. Very different was the spirit of the Constituent Assembly. They had none of our narrowness; but they had none of our practical skil in the management of affairs They did rot understand how to regulate the order of their own debates; and they thought themselves able to legislate for the whole world. All the past was loathsome to them. All their agreeable associations were connected with ine future. Hopes were to them all that recolections are to us. In the institutions of their

[ocr errors]

The English, content with their own nation al recollections and names, have never sought for models in the institutions of Greece or Rome. The French, having nothing in their own history to which they could look back with pleasure, had recourse to the history of the great ancient commonwealths: they drew their notions of those commonwealths, not from contemporary writers, but from romances written by pedantic moralists long after the extinction of public liberty. They neglected Thucydides for Plutarch. Blind themselves, they took blind guides. They had no experience of freedom, and they took their opinions concerning it from men who had no more experience of it than themselves, and whose imaginations, inflamed by mystery and privation, exaggerated the unknown enjoyment; from men who raved about patriotism.without hav ing ever had a country, and eulogized tyranni cide while crouching before tyrants. maxims which the French legislators learned in this school were, that political liberty is an end, and not a means; that it is not merely valuable as the great safeguard of order, of property, and of morality, but that it is in itself a high and exquisite happiness, to which order, * property, and morality ought without one scru ple to be sacrificed. The lessons which may be learned from ancient history are indeed most useful and important; but they were not likely to be learned by men who, in all their rhapsodies about the Athenian democracy, seemed utterly to forget that in that democracy there were ten slaves to one citizen; and who constantly decorated their invectives against the aristocrats with panegyrics on Brutus and Cato, two aristocrats, fiercer, prouder, and more exclusive than any that emigrated with the Count of Artois.

The

We have never met with so vivid and interesting a picture of the National Assembly as

that which M. Dumont has set before us. His Mirabeau, in particular, is incomparable. All the former Mirabeaus were daubs in comparison. Some were merely painted from the imagination, others were gross caricatures; this is the very individual, neither god nor demon, but a man, a Frenchman, a Frenchman of the eighteenth century, with great talents, with strong passions, depraved by bad education, surrounded by temptations of every kind, made desperate at one time by disgrace, and then again intoxicated by fame. All his opposite and seemingly inconsistent qualities are in this representation so blended together as to make up a harmonious and natural whole. Till now, Mirabeau was to us, and, we believe, to most readers of history, not a man, but a string of antitheses. Henceforth he will be a real human being, a remarkable and eccentric being indeed, but perfectly conceivable.

He was fond, M. Dumont tells us, of giving odd compound nicknames. Thus, M. de Lafayette was Grandison-Cromwell; the King of Prussia was Alaric-Cottin; D'Espremenil was Crispin-Catiline. We think that Mirabeau himself might be described, after his own fashion, as a Wilkes-Chatham. He had Wilkes's sensuality, Wilkes's levity. Wilkes's insensibility to shame. Like Wilkes, he had brought on himself the censure even of men of pleasure by the peculiar grossness of his immorality, and by the obscenity of his writings. Like Wilkes, he was heedless, not only of the laws of morality, but of the laws of honour. Yet he affected, like Wilkes, to unite the character of the demagogue to that of the fine gentleman. Like Wilkes, he conciliated, by his good-humour and his high spirits, the regard of many who despised his character. Like Wilkes, he was hideously ugly; like Wilkes, he made a jest of his own ugliness; and, like Wilkes, he was, in spite of his ugliness, very attentive to his dress, and very successiul in affairs of gallantry.

Resembling Wilkes in the lower and grosser parts of his character, he had, in his higher qualities, some affinities to Chatham. His eloquence, as far as we can judge of it, bore no inconsiderable resemblance to that of the great English minister. He was not eminently successful in long set speeches. He was not, on the other hand, a close and ready debater. Sudden bursts, which seemed to be the effect of inspiration; short sentences, which came like lightning, dazzling, burning, striking down every thing before them; sentences which, spoken at critical moments, decided the fate of great questions; sentences which at once became proverbs; sentences which everybody sti knows by heart; in these chiefly lay the

oratorical power both of Chatham and of Mira beau. There have been far greater speakers and far greater statesmen than either of them; but we doubt whether any men have, in mo dern times, exercised such vast personal in fluence over stormy and divided assemblies The power of both was as inuch moral as in tellectual. In true dignity of character, in private and public virtue, it may seem absurd to institute any comparison between thein; but they had the same haughtiness and vehemence of temper. In their language and manner there was a disdainful self-confidence, an im periousness, a fierceness of passion, before which all common minds quailed. Even Murray and Charles Townshend, though intellectually not inferior to Chatham, were always cowed by him. Barnave, in the same manner, though the best debater in the National Assembly, flinched before the energy of Mirabeau. Men, except in bad novels, are not all good or all evil. It can scarcely be denied that the virtue of Lord Chatham was a little theatrical. On the other hand, there was in Mirabeau, not indeed any thing deserving the name of virtue, but that imperfect substitute for virtue which is found in almost all superior minds, a sensibility to the beautiful and the good, which sometimes amounted to sincere enthusiasm, and which, mingled with the desire of admiration, sometimes gave to his character a lustre resembling the lustre of true goodness; as the "faded splendour wan" which lingered round the fallen archangel, resembled the exceeding brightness of those spirits who had kept their first estate.

There are several other admirable prtraits of eminent men in these Memoirs. That of Sieyes in particular, and that of Talleyrand, are masterpieces, full of life and expression But nothing in the book has interested us more than the view which M. Dumont has presented to us, unostentatiously, and, we may say, unconsciously, of his own character. The sturdy rectitude, the large charity, the good-nature, the modesty, the independent spirit, the ardent philanthropy, the unaffected indifference to money and to fame, make up a character which, while it has nothing unnatural, seems to us to approach nearer to perfection than any of the Grandisons and Allworthys of fiction. The work is not indeed precisely such a work as we had anticipated; it is more lively, more picturesque, more amusing than we had promised ourselves, and it is, on the other hand, less profound and philosophic. But if it is not, in all respects. such as might have been expected from the intellect of M. Dumont. it is assuredly such as might have been ex pected from nis heart

« AnteriorContinuar »