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A Residence in France During the Years 1792, 1793, 1794 and 1795, by An English Lady

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Colbert.

But the style most difficult to be comprehended by foreigners, is that
of the newspapers; for the dread of offending government so entirely
possesses the imagination of those who compose such publications, that it
is not often easy to distinguish a victory from a defeat, by the language
in which it is conveyed. The common news of the day is worded as
cautiously as though it were to be the subject of judicial disquisition;
and the real tendency of an article is sometimes so much at variance with
its comment, that the whole, to a cursory peruser, may seem destitute of
any meaning at all. Time, however, has produced a sort of intelligence
between news-writers and their readers--and rejoicings, lamentations,
praise, or censure, are, on particular occasions, understood to convey
the reverse of what they express.

The affected moderation of the government, and the ascendency which some
of the Brissotin party are beginning to take in it, seem to flatter the
public with the hope of peace. They forget that these men were the
authors of the war, and that a few months imprisonment has neither
expiated their crimes, nor subdued their ambition. It is the great
advantage of the Brissotins, that the revolutionary tyranny which they
had contributed to establish, was wrested from them before it had taken
its full effect; but those who appreciate their original claims, without
regard to their sufferings under the persecution of a party, are disposed
to expect they will not be less tenacious of power, nor less arbitrary in
the exercise of it than any of the intervening factions. The present
government is composed of such discordant elements, that their very union
betrays that they are in fact actuated by no principle, except the
general one of retaining their authority. Lanjuinais, Louvet, Saladin,
Danou, &c. are now leagued with Tallien, Freron, Dubois de Crance, and
even Carnot.

At the head of this motley assemblage of Brissotins, Orleanists, and
Robespierrians, is Sieyes--who, with perhaps less honesty, though more
cunning, than either, despises and dupes them all. At a moment when the
Convention had fallen into increased contempt, and when the public
affairs could no longer be conducted by fabricators of reports and
framers of decrees, the talents of this sinister politician became
necessary; yet he enjoys neither the confidence of his colleagues nor
that of the people--the vanity and duplicity of his conduct disgust and
alarm the first, while his reputation of partizan of the Duke of Orleans
is a reason for suspicion in the latter. But if Sieyes has never been
able to conciliate esteem, nor attain popularity, he has at length
possessed himself of power, and will not easily be induced to relinquish
it.--Many are of opinion, that he is secretly machinating for the son of
his former patron; but whether he means to govern in the name of the Duke
of Orleans, or in that of the republic, it is certain, had the French any
liberty to lose, it never could have found a more subtle and dangerous
enemy.*

* The Abbe, in his _"notices sur la Vie de Sieyes,"_ declares that
his contempt and detestation of the colleagues "with whom his
unfortunate stars had connected him," were so great, that he
determined, from his first arrival at the Convention, to take no
part in public affairs. As these were his original sentiments of
the Assembly, perhaps he may hereafter explain by which of their
operations his esteem was so much reconciled, that he has
condescended to become their leader.

Paris may, without exaggeration, be described as in a state of famine.
The markets are scantily supplied, and bread, except the little
distributed by order of the government, not to be obtained: yet the
inhabitants, for the most part, are not turbulent--they have learned too
late, that revolutions are not the source of plenty, and, though they
murmur and execrate their rulers, they abstain from violence, and seem
rather inclined to yield to despair, than to seek revenge. This is one
proof, among a variety of others, that the despotism under which the
French have groaned for the last three years, has much subdued the
vivacity and impatience of the national character; for I know of no
period in their history, when such a combination of personal suffering
and political discontent, as exists at present, would not have produced
some serious convulsion.

Amiens, June 18, 1795.

We returned hither yesterday, and on Friday we are to proceed to Havre,
accompanied by an order from the Committee of Public Welfare, stating
that several English families, and ourselves among the number, have been
for some time a burthen on the generosity of the republic, and that for
this reason we are permitted to embark as soon as we can find the means.
This is neither true, nor very gallant; but we are too happy in quitting
the republic, to cavil about terms, and would not exchange our
pauper-like passports for a consignment of all the national domains.

I have been busy to-day in collecting and disposing of my papers, and
though I have taken infinite pains to conceal them, their bulk is so
considerable, that the conveyance must be attended with risk. While I
was thus employed, the casual perusal of some passages in my letters and
notes has led me to consider how much my ideas of the French character
and manners differ from those to be found in the generality of modern
travels. My opinions are not of importance enough to require a defence;
and a consciousness of not having deviated from truth makes me still more
averse from an apology. Yet as I have in several instances varied from
authorities highly respectable, it may not be improper to endeavour to
account for what has almost the appearance of presumption.

If you examine most of the publications describing foreign countries, you
will find them generally written by authors travelling either with the
eclat of birth and riches, or, professionally, as men of science or
letters. They scarcely remain in any place longer than suffices to view
the churches, and to deliver their letters of recommendation; or, if
their stay be protracted at some capital town, it is only to be feted
from one house to another, among that class of people who are every where
alike. As soon as they appear in society, their reputation as authors
sets all the national and personal vanity in it afloat. One is polite,
for the honour of his country--another is brilliant, to recommend
himself; and the traveller cannot ask a question, the answer to which is
not intended for an honourable insertion in his repertory of future fame.

In this manner an author is passed from the literati and fashionable
people of one metropolis to those of the next. He goes post through
small towns and villages, seldom mixes with every-day life, and must in a
great degree depend for information on partial enquiries. He sees, as it
were, only the two extremes of human condition--the splendour of the
rich, and the misery of the poor; but the manners of the intermediate
classes, which are less obtrusive, are not within the notice of a
temporary resident.

It is not therefore extraordinary, that I, who have been domesticated
some years in France, who have lived among its inhabitants without
pretensions, and seen them without disguise, should not think them quite
so polite, elegant, gay, or susceptible, as they endeavour to appear to
the visitant of the day. Where objects of curiosity only are to be
described, I know that a vast number may be viewed in a very rapid
progress; yet national character, I repeat, cannot be properly estimated
but by means of long and familiar intercourse. A person who is every
where a stranger, must see things in their best dress; being the object
of attention, he is naturally disposed to be pleased, and many
circumstances both physical and moral are passed over as novelties in
this transient communication, which might, on repetition, be found
inconvenient or disgusting. When we are stationary, and surrounded by
our connections, we are apt to be difficult and splenetic; but a literary
traveller never thinks of inconvenience, and still less of being out of
humour--curiosity reconciles him to the one, and his fame so smooths all
his intercourse, that he has no plea for the other.

It is probably for these reasons that we have so many panegyrists of our
Gallic neighbours, and there is withal a certain fashion of liberality
that has lately prevailed, by which we think ourselves bound to do them
more than justice, because they [are] our political enemies. For my own
part, I confess I have merely endeavoured to be impartial, and have not
scrupled to give a preference to my own country where I believed it was
due. I make no pretensions to that sort of cosmopolitanism which is
without partialities, and affects to consider the Chicktaw or the Tartars
of Thibet, with the same regard as a fellow-countryman. Such universal
philanthropists, I have often suspected, are people of very cold hearts,
who fancy they love the whole world, because they are incapable of loving
any thing in it, and live in a state of "moral vagabondage," (as it is
happily termed by Gregoire,) in order to be exempted from the ties of a
settled residence. _"Le cosmopolytisme de systeme et de fait n'est qu'un
vagabondage physique ou moral: nous devons un amour de preference a la
societe politique dont nous sommes membres."_ ["Cosmopolytism, either in
theory or in practice, is no better than a moral or physical vagrancy:
the political society of which we are members, is entitled to a
preference in our affections."]

Let it not be imagined, that, in drawing comparisons between France and
England, I have been influenced by personal suffering or personal
resentment. My opinions on the French characters and manners were formed
before the revolution, when, though my judgment might be deficient, my
heart was warm, and my mind unprejudiced; yet whatever credit may be
allowed to my general opinions, those which particularly apply to the
present situation and temper of the French will probably be disputed.
When I describe the immense majority of the nation as royalists, hating
their government, and at once indignant and submissive, those who have
not studied the French character, and the progress of the revolution, may
suspect my veracity. I can only appeal to facts. It is not a new event
in history for the many to be subdued by the few, and this seems to be
the only instance in which such a possibility has been doubted.*

* It is admitted by Brissot, who is in this case competent
authority, that about twenty factious adventurers had oppressed the
Convention and the whole country. A more impartial calculator would
have been less moderate in the number, but the fact is the same; and
it would be difficult to fix the period when this oppression ceased.

--The well-meaning of all classes in France are weak, because they are
divided; while the small, but desperate factions that oppress them, are
strong in their union, and in the possession of all the resources of the
country.

Under these circumstances, no successful effort can be made; and I have
collected from various sources, that the general idea of the French at
present is, to wait till the new constitution appears, and to accept it,
though it should be even more anarchical and tyrannic than the last.
They then hope that the Convention will resign their power without
violence, that a new election of representatives will take place, and
that those representatives, who they intend shall be men of honesty and
property, will restore them to the blessings of a moderate and permanent
government.

--Yours.

Havre, June 22, 1795.

We are now in hourly expectation of sailing for England: we have agreed
with the Captain of a neutral vessel, and are only waiting for a
propitious wind. This good ally of the French seems to be perfectly
sensible of the value of a conveyance out of the republic, and
accordingly we are to pay him about ten times more for our passage than
he would have asked formerly. We chose this port in preference to Calais
or Boulogne, because I wished to see my friend Madame de ------ at Rouen,
and leave Angelique with her relations, who live there.

I walked this morning to the harbour, and seeing some flat-bottomed boats
constructing, asked a French gentleman who accompanied me, perhaps a
little triumphantly, if they were intended for a descent on the English
coast. He replied, with great composure, that government might deem it
expedient (though without any views of succeeding) to sacrifice ten or
twenty thousand men in the attempt.--It is no wonder that governments,
accountable for the lives and treasure they risk, are scarcely equal to a
conflict sustained by such power, and conducted on such principles.--But
I am wearied and disgusted with the contemplation of this despotism, and
I return to my country deeply and gratefully impressed with a sense of
the blessings we enjoy in a free and happy constitution.

--I am, &c.

FINIS.

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