« AnteriorContinuar »
"Mors sola fatetur
rect judgment. He was not a great general; singularly applicable, both in its literal and in
litary triumphs which gave splendour to the
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 contempt of mankind. These were the doctrines which Fénélon taught. Considered as an Epic Poem,
Even M. de Chateaubriand, to whom, we should Berri, "de croire que Louis XIV, étoit d'une hause sta have thought, all the Bourbons would have seemed at ture. Une cuirasse qui nous reste de lui, et les exhuma least six feet high, admits this fact. "C'est une er- tions de St. Denys, n'ont laissé sur ce point aucun teur," says he in his strange memoirs of the Duke of deute."
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. 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 Disease and sorrow removed from the world man, one of the most liberal men in France, that wisdom and virtue of which it was not was struck dumb with astonishment at hear-worthy. During two generations France was ing the fundamental axiom of all government ruled by men who, with all the vices of Louis propounded-an axiom which, in our time, the Fourteenth, had none of the art by whic nobody in England or France would dispute that magnificent prince passed off his vices for which the stoutest Tory takes for granted as virtues. The people had now to see tyranny much as the fiercest Radical, and concerning naked. That foul Duessa was stripped of her which the Carlist would agree with the most gorgeous ornaments. She had always been republican deputy of the extreme left." No hideous; but a strange enchantment had made person will do justice to Fénélon, who does her seem fair and glorious in the eyes of her not stantly keep in mind that Telemachus willing slaves. The spell was now broken; was written in an age and nation in which the deformity was made manifest; and the bold and independent thinkers stared to hear lovers, lately so happy and so proud, turned that twenty millions of human beings did not away loathing and horror-struck. exist for the gratification of one. That work is commonly considered as a school-book, very 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.
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 awk ward 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 abolish or modify oppressive privileges; to reform 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.
What mighty interests were staked on the life of the Duke of Burgundy! and how different an aspect might the history of France have borne, 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 more remarkable, than the descriptions which
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.
eror. She de. 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.
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 philcsophy; 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.
ties, had reverenced the co spised the swindler.
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 Jaques 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 counsel which might have saved them. They would not have reform; and they had revolution. They would not pay a small contribution in place of the odious corvées; and they lived to see their castles demolished, and their lands
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 sold to strangers. They would not endure would have been ashamed. France, even Turgot; and they were forced to endure Ro while suffering under the most severe calami- | 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 up with theories because they had no expe
The meeting of the States-General was the signal 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 look 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 The English, content with their own nation which they lived, and attacked only what they al recollections and names, have never sought regarded as its corruptions. In the very act for models in the institutions of Greece or of innovating they have constantly appealed Rome. The French, having nothing in their to ancient prescription; they have seldom own history to which they could look back looked abroad for models; they have seldom with pleasure, had recourse to the history of troubled themselves with Utopian theories; the great ancient commonwealths: they drew they have not been anxious to prove that li- their notions of those commonwealths, not berty is a natural right of men; they have been from contemporary writers, but from romances content to regard it as the lawful birthright of | written by pedantic moralists long after the Englishmen. Their social contract is no fic-extinction of public liberty. They neglected tion. It is still extant on the original parch- Thucydides for Plutarch. Blind themselves, ment, sealed with wax which was affixed at they took blind guides. They had no expeRunnymede, and attested by the lordly namesrience of freedom, and they took their opinions of the Marischals and Fitzherberts. No gene- concerning it from men who had no more exral arguments about the original equality of perience of it than themselves, and whose imamen, no fine stories out of Plutarch and Cor- ginations, inflamed by mystery and privation, nelius Nepos, have ever affected them so much exaggerated the unknown enjoyment; from as their own familiar words, Magna Charta, men who raved about patriotism without hav. Habeas Corpus, Trial by Jury, Bill of Rights. ing ever had a country, and eulogized tyranni This part of our national character has un- cide while crouching before tyrants. The doubtedly its disadvantages. An Englishman maxims which the French legislators learned too often reasons on politics in the spirit rather in this school were, that political liberty is an of a lawyer than of a philosopher. There is end, and not a means; that it is not merely too often something narrow, something exclu- valuable as the great safeguard of order, of sive, something Jewish, if we may use the property, and of morality, but that it is in itself word, in his love of freedom. He is disposed a high and exquisite happiness, to which order, to consider popular rights as the special heri- property, and morality ought without one scru tage of the chosen race to which he belongs. ple to be sacrificed. The lessons which may He is inclined rather to repel than to encou- be learned from ancient history are indeed rage the alien proselyte who aspires to a share most useful and important; but they were not of his privileges. Very different was the spirit likely to be learned by men who, in all their of the Constituent Assembly. They had none rhapsodies about the Athenian democracy, of our narrowness; but they had none of our | seemed utterly to forget that in that democracy practical skil in the management of affairs there were ten slaves to one citizen; and who They did rot understand how to regulate the constantly decorated their invectives against order of their own debates; and they thought the aristocrats with panegyrics on Brutus and themselves able to legislate for the whole world. Cato, two aristocrats, fiercer, prouder, and All the past was loathsome to them. All their more exclusive than any that emigrated with agreeable associations were connected with the Count of Artois. ine future. Hopes were to them all that recolections are to us. In the institutions of their
We have never met with so vivid and interesting a picture of the National Assembly as
that which M. Dumont has set before us. 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. Wilkes's sensuality, Wilkes's levity, Wilkes's He had 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 knows by heart; in these chiefly lay the
beau. There have been far greater speakers oratorical power both of Chatham and of Mira 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 much moral as in tellectual. In true dignity of character, in private and public virtue, it may seem absurd to institute any comparison between them; but they had the same haughtiness and vehemence of temper. there was a disdainful self-confidence, an im In their language and manner 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 AssemMen, except in bad novels, are not all good or bly, flinched before the energy of Mirabeau. 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 bility to the beautiful and the good, which is found in almost all superior minds, a sensisometimes 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.
of eminent men in these Memoirs. That of There are several other admirable portraits 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, unrectitude, the large charity, the good-nature, consciously, of his own character. The sturdy 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, promised ourselves, and it is, on the other more picturesque, more amusing than we had 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 a. might have been ex pected from his heart