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The Miscellaneous Writings and Speeches of Lord Macaulay.

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have, for the sake of mankind, neglected the care of their own
fame. In his walk through life there was no obtrusiveness, no
pushing, no elbowing, none of the little arts which bring forward
little men. With every right to the head of the board, he took
the lowest room, and well deserved to be greeted with--Friend, go
up higher. Though no man was more capable of achieving for
himself a separate and independent renown, he attached himself to
others; he laboured to raise their fame; he was content to
receive as his share of the reward the mere overflowings which
redounded from the full measure of their glory. Not that he was
of a servile and idolatrous habit of mind:--not that he was one
of the tribe of Boswells,--those literary Gibeonites, born to be
hewers of wood and drawers of water to the higher intellectual
castes. Possessed of talents and acquirements which made him
great, he wished only to be useful. In the prime of manhood, at
the very time of life at which ambitious men are most ambitious,
he was not solicitous to proclaim that he furnished information,
arguments, and eloquence to Mirabeau. In his later years he was
perfectly willing that his renown should merge in that of Mr

The services which M. Dumont has rendered to society can be fully
appreciated only by those who have studied Mr Bentham's works,
both in their rude and in their finished state. The difference
both for show and for use is as great as the difference between a
lump of golden ore and a rouleau of sovereigns fresh from the
mint. Of Mr Bentham we would at all times speak with the
reverence which is due to a great original thinker, and to a
sincere and ardent friend of the human race. If a few weaknesses
were mingled with his eminent virtues,--if a few errors
insinuated themselves among the many valuable truths which he
taught,--this is assuredly no time for noticing those weaknesses
or those errors in an unkind or sarcastic spirit. A great man
has gone from among us, full of years, of good works, and of
deserved honours. In some of the highest departments in which
the human intellect can exert itself he has not left his equal or
his second behind him. From his contemporaries he has had,
according to the usual lot, more or less than justice. He has
had blind flatterers and blind detractors--flatterers who could
see nothing but perfection in his style, detractors who could see
nothing but nonsense in his matter. He will now have judges.
Posterity will pronounce its calm and impartial decision; and
that decision will, we firmly believe, place in the same rank
with Galileo, and with Locke, the man who found jurisprudence a
gibberish and left it a science. Never was there a literary
partnership so fortunate as that of Mr Bentham and M. Dumont.
The raw material which Mr Bentham furnished was most precious;
but it was unmarketable. He was, assuredly, at once a great
logician and a great rhetorician. But the effect of his logic
was injured by a vicious arrangement, and the effect of his
rhetoric by a vicious style. His mind was vigorous,
comprehensive, subtile, fertile of arguments, fertile of
illustrations. But he spoke in an unknown tongue; and, that the
congregation might be edified, it was necessary that some brother
having the gift of interpretation should expound the invaluable
jargon. His oracles were of high import; but they were traced on
leaves and flung loose to the wind. So negligent was he of the
arts of selection, distribution, and compression, that to persons
who formed their judgment of him from his works in their
undigested state he seemed to be the least systematic of all
philosophers. The truth is, that his opinions formed a system,
which, whether sound or unsound, is more exact, more entire, and
more consistent with itself than any other. Yet to superficial
readers of his works in their original form, and indeed to all
readers of those works who did not bring great industry and great
acuteness to the study, he seemed to be a man of a quick and
ingenious but ill-regulated mind,--who saw truth only by
glimpses,--who threw out many striking hints, but who had never
thought of combining his doctrines in one harmonious whole.

M. Dumont was admirably qualified to supply what was wanting in
Mr Bentham. In the qualities in which the French writers surpass
those of all other nations--neatness, clearness, precision,
condensation--he surpassed all French writers. If M. Dumont had
never been born, Mr Bentham would still have been a very great
man. But he would have been great to himself alone. The
fertility of his mind would have resembled the fertility of those
vast American wildernesses in which blossoms and decays a rich
but unprofitable vegetation, "wherewith the reaper filleth not
his hand, neither he that bindeth up the sheaves his bosom." It
would have been with his discoveries as it has been with the
"Century of Inventions." His speculations on laws would have
been of no more practical use than Lord Worcester's speculations
on steam-engines. Some generations hence, perhaps, when
legislation had found its Watt, an antiquarian might have
published to the world the curious fact that, in the reign of
George the Third, there had been a man called Bentham, who had
given hints of many discoveries made since his time, and who had
really, for his age, taken a most philosophical view of the
principles of jurisprudence.

Many persons have attempted to interpret between this powerful
mind and the public. But, in our opinion, M. Dumont alone has
succeeded. It is remarkable that, in foreign countries, where Mr
Bentham's works are known solely through the medium of the French
version, his merit is almost universally acknowledged. Even
those who are most decidedly opposed to his political opinions--
the very chiefs of the Holy Alliance--have publicly testified
their respect for him. In England, on the contrary, many persons
who certainly entertained no prejudice against him on political
grounds were long in the habit of mentioning him contemptuously.
Indeed, what was said of Bacon's philosophy may be said of
Bentham's. It was in little repute among us, till judgments in
its favour came from beyond sea, and convinced us, to our shame,
that we had been abusing and laughing at one of the greatest men
of the age.

M. Dumont might easily have found employments more gratifying to
personal vanity than that of arranging works not his own. But he
could have found no employment more useful or more truly
honourable. The book before us, hastily written as it is,
contains abundant proof, if proof were needed, that he did not
become an editor because he wanted the talents which would have
made him eminent as a writer.

Persons who hold democratical opinions, and who have been
accustomed to consider M. Dumont as one of their party, have been
surprised and mortified to learn that he speaks with very little
respect of the French Revolution and of its authors. Some
zealous Tories have naturally expressed great satisfaction at
finding their doctrines, in some respects, confirmed by the
testimony of an unwilling witness. The date of the work, we
think, explains everything. If it had been written ten years
earlier, or twenty years later, it would have been very different
from what it is. It was written, neither during the first
excitement of the Revolution, nor at that later period when the
practical good produced by the Revolution had become manifest to
the most prejudiced observers; but in those wretched times when
the enthusiasm had abated, and the solid advantages were not yet
fully seen. It was written in the year 1799,--a year in which
the most sanguine friend of liberty might well feel some
misgivings as to the effects of what the National Assembly had
done. The evils which attend every great change had been
severely felt. The benefit was still to come. The price--a
heavy price--had been paid. The thing purchased had not yet been
delivered. Europe was swarming with French exiles. The fleets
and armies of the second coalition were victorious. Within
France, the reign of terror was over; but the reign of law had
not commenced. There had been, indeed, during three or four
years, a written Constitution, by which rights were defined and
checks provided. But these rights had been repeatedly violated;
and those checks had proved utterly inefficient. The laws which
had been framed to secure the distinct authority of the executive
magistrates and of the legislative assemblies--the freedom of
election--the freedom of debate--the freedom of the press--the
personal freedom of citizens--were a dead letter. The ordinary
mode in which the Republic was governed was by coups d'etat. On
one occasion, the legislative councils were placed under military
restraint by the directors. Then, again, directors were deposed
by the legislative councils. Elections were set aside by the
executive authority. Ship-loads of writers and speakers were
sent, without a legal trial, to die of fever in Guiana. France,
in short, was in that state in which revolutions, effected by
violence, almost always leave a nation. The habit of obedience
had been lost. The spell of prescription had been broken. Those
associations on which, far more than on any arguments about
property and order, the authority of magistrates rests, had
completely passed away. The power of the government consisted
merely in the physical force which it could bring to its support.
Moral force it had none. It was itself a government sprung from
a recent convulsion. Its own fundamental maxim was, that
rebellion might be justifiable. Its own existence proved that
rebellion might be successful. The people had been accustomed,
during several years, to offer resistance to the constituted
authorities on the slightest provocation, and to see the
constituted authorities yield to that resistance. The whole
political world was "without form and void"--an incessant whirl
of hostile atoms, which, every moment, formed some new
combination. The only man who could fix the agitated elements of
society in a stable form was following a wild vision of glory and
empire through the Syrian deserts. The time was not yet come,

"Confusion heard his voice; and wild uproar
Stood ruled:"

when, out of the chaos into which the old society had been
resolved, were to rise a new dynasty, a new peerage, a new
church, and a new code.

The dying words of Madame Roland, "Oh, Liberty! how many crimes
are committed in thy name!" were at that time echoed by many of
the most upright and benevolent of mankind. M. Guizot has, in
one of his admirable pamphlets, happily and justly described M.
Laine as "an honest and liberal man, discouraged by the
Revolution." This description, at the time when M. Dumont's
Memoirs were written, would have applied to almost every honest
and liberal man in Europe; and would, beyond all doubt, have
applied to M. Dumont himself. To that fanatical worship of the
all-wise and all-good people, which had been common a few years
before, had succeeded an uneasy suspicion that the follies and
vices of the people would frustrate all attempts to serve them.
The wild and joyous exaltation, with which the meeting of the
States-General and the fall of the Bastile had been hailed, had
passed away. In its place was dejection, and a gloomy distrust
of suspicious appearances. The philosophers and philanthropists
had reigned. And what had their reign produced? Philosophy had
brought with it mummeries as absurd as any which had been
practised by the most superstitious zealot of the darkest age.
Philanthropy had brought with it crimes as horrible as the
massacre of Saint Bartholomew. This was the emancipation of the
human mind. These were the fruits of the great victory of reason
over prejudice. France had rejected the faith of Pascal and
Descartes as a nursery fable, that a courtezan might be her idol,
and a madman her priest. She had asserted her freedom against
Louis, that she might bow down before Robespierre. For a time
men thought that all the boasted wisdom of the eighteenth century
was folly; and that those hopes of great political and social
ameliorations which had been cherished by Voltaire and Condorcet
were utterly delusive.

Under the influence of these feelings, M. Dumont has gone so far
as to say that the writings of Mr Burke on the French Revolution,
though disfigured by exaggeration, and though containing
doctrines subversive of all public liberty, had been, on the
whole, justified by events, and had probably saved Europe from
great disasters. That such a man as the friend and fellow-
labourer of Mr Bentham should have expressed such an opinion is a
circumstance which well deserves the consideration of
uncharitable politicians. These Memoirs have not convinced us
that the French Revolution was not a great blessing to mankind.
But they have convinced us that very great indulgence is due to
those who, while the Revolution was actually taking place,
regarded it with unmixed aversion and horror. We can perceive
where their error lay. We can perceive that the evil was
temporary, and the good durable. But we cannot be sure that, if
our lot had been cast in their times, we should not, like them,
have been discouraged and disgusted--that we should not, like
them, have seen, in that great victory of the French people, only
insanity and crime.

It is curious to observe how some men are applauded, and others
reviled, for merely being what all their neighbours are,--for
merely going passively down the stream of events,--for merely
representing the opinions and passions of a whole generation.
The friends of popular government ordinarily speak with extreme
severity of Mr Pitt, and with respect and tenderness of Mr
Canning. Yet the whole difference, we suspect, consisted merely
in this,--that Mr Pitt died in 1806, and Mr Canning in 1827.
During the years which were common to the public life of both, Mr
Canning was assuredly not a more liberal statesman than his
patron. The truth is that Mr Pitt began his political life at
the end of the American War, when the nation was suffering from
the effects of corruption. He closed it in the midst of the
calamities produced by the French Revolution, when the nation was
still strongly impressed with the horrors of anarchy. He
changed, undoubtedly. In his youth he had brought in reform
bills. In his manhood he brought in gagging bills. But the
change, though lamentable, was, in our opinion, perfectly
natural, and might have been perfectly honest. He changed with
the great body of his countrymen. Mr Canning on the other hand,
entered into public life when Europe was in dread of the
Jacobins. He closed his public life when Europe was suffering
under the tyranny of the Holy Alliance. He, too, changed with
the nation. As the crimes of the Jacobins had turned the master
into something very like a Tory, the events which followed the
Congress of Vienna turned the pupil into something very like a

So much are men the creatures of circumstances. We see that, if
M. Dumont had died in 1799, he would have died, to use the new
cant word, a decided "Conservative." If Mr Pitt had lived in
1832, it is our firm belief that he would have been a decided

The judgment passed by M. Dumont in this work on the French
Revolution must be taken with considerable allowances. It
resembles a criticism on a play of which only the first act has
been performed, or on a building from which the scaffolding has
not yet been taken down. We have no doubt that, if the excellent
author had revised these Memoirs thirty years after the time at
which they were written, he would have seen reason to omit a few
passages, and to add many qualifications and explanations.

He would not probably have been inclined to retract the censures,
just, though severe, which he has passed on the ignorance, the
presumption, and the pedantry, of the National Assembly. But he
would have admitted that, in spite of those faults, perhaps even
by reason of those faults, that Assembly had conferred
inestimable benefits on mankind. It is clear that, among the
French of that day, political knowledge was absolutely in its
infancy. It would indeed have been strange if it had attained
maturity in the time of censors, of lettres-de-cachet, and of
beds of justice. The electors did not know how to elect. The
representatives did not know how to deliberate. M. Dumont taught
the constituent body of Montreuil how to perform their functions,
and found them apt to learn. He afterwards tried, in concert
with Mirabeau, to instruct the National Assembly in that
admirable system of Parliamentary tactics which has been long
established in the English House of Commons, and which has made
the House of Commons, in spite of all the defects in its
composition, the best and fairest debating society in the world.
But these accomplished legislators, though quite as ignorant as
the mob of Montreuil, proved much less docile, and cried out that
they did not want to go to school to the English. Their debates
consisted of endless successions of trashy pamphlets, all
beginning with something about the original compact of society,
man in the hunting state, and other such foolery. They sometimes
diversified and enlivened these long readings by a little
rioting. They bawled; they hooted; they shook their fists. They
kept no order among themselves. They were insulted with impunity
by the crowd which filled their galleries. They gave long and
solemn consideration to trifles. They hurried through the most
important resolutions with fearful expedition. They wasted
months in quibbling about the words of that false and childish
Declaration of Rights on which they professed to found their new
constitution, and which was at irreconcilable variance with every
clause of that constitution. They annihilated in a single night
privileges, many of which partook of the nature of property, and
ought therefore to have been most delicately handled.

They are called the Constituent Assembly. Never was a name less
appropriate. They were not constituent, but the very reverse of
constituent. They constituted nothing that stood or that
deserved to last. They had not, and they could not possibly
have, the information or the habits of mind which are necessary
for the framing of that most exquisite of all machines--a
government. The metaphysical cant with which they prefaced their
constitution has long been the scoff of all parties. Their
constitution itself,--that constitution which they described as
absolutely perfect, and to which they predicted immortality,--
disappeared in a few months, and left no trace behind it. They
were great only in the work of destruction.

The glory of the National Assembly is this, that they were in
truth, what Mr Burke called them in austere irony, the ablest
architects of ruin that ever the world saw. They were utterly
incompetent to perform any work which required a discriminating
eye and a skilful hand. But the work which was then to be done
was a work of devastation. They had to deal with abuses so
horrible and so deeply rooted that the highest political wisdom
could scarcely have produced greater good to mankind than was
produced by their fierce and senseless temerity. Demolition is
undoubtedly a vulgar task; the highest glory of the statesman is
to construct. But there is a time for everything,--a time to set
up, and a time to pull down. The talents of revolutionary
leaders and those of the legislator have equally their use and
their season. It is the natural, the almost universal, law, that
the age of insurrections and proscriptions shall precede the age
of good government, of temperate liberty, and liberal order.

And how should it be otherwise? It is not in swaddling-bands
that we learn to walk. It is not in the dark that we learn to
distinguish colours. It is not under oppression that we learn
how to use freedom. The ordinary sophism by which misrule is
defended is, when truly stated, this:--The people must continue
in slavery, because slavery has generated in them all the vices
of slaves. Because they are ignorant, they must remain under a
power which has made and which keeps them ignorant. Because they
have been made ferocious by misgovernment, they must be
misgoverned for ever. If the system under which they live were
so mild and liberal that under its operation they had become
humane and enlightened, it would be safe to venture on a change.
But, as this system has destroyed morality, and prevented the
development of the intellect,--as it has turned men, who might
under different training have formed a virtuous and happy
community, into savage and stupid wild beasts,--therefore it
ought to last for ever. The English Revolution, it is said, was
truly a glorious Revolution. Practical evils were redressed; no
excesses were committed; no sweeping confiscations took place;
the authority of the laws was scarcely for a moment suspended;
the fullest and freest discussion was tolerated in Parliament;
the nation showed, by the calm and temperate manner in which it
asserted its liberty, that it was fit to enjoy liberty. The
French Revolution was, on the other hand, the most horrible event
recorded in history,--all madness and wickedness,--absurdity in
theory, and atrocity in practice. What folly and injustice in
the revolutionary laws! What grotesque affectation in the
revolutionary ceremonies! What fanaticism! What licentiousness!
What cruelty! Anacharsis Clootz and Marat,--feasts of the
Supreme Being, and marriages of the Loire--trees of liberty, and
heads dancing on pikes--the whole forms a kind of infernal farce,
made up of everything ridiculous, and everything frightful. This
it is to give freedom to those who have neither wisdom nor

It is not only by bad men interested in the defence of abuses
that arguments like these have been urged against all schemes of
political improvement. Some of the highest and purest of human
beings conceived such scorn and aversion for the follies and
crimes of the French Revolution that they recanted, in the moment
of triumph, those liberal opinions to which they had clung in
defiance of persecution. And, if we inquire why it was that they
began to doubt whether liberty were a blessing, we shall find
that it was only because events had proved, in the clearest
manner, that liberty is the parent of virtue and of order. They
ceased to abhor tyranny merely because it had been signally shown
that the effect of tyranny on the hearts and understandings of
men is more demoralising and more stupifying than had ever been
imagined by the most zealous friend of popular rights. The truth
is, that a stronger argument against the old monarchy of France
may be drawn from the noyades and the fusillades than from the
Bastile and the Parc-aux-cerfs. We believe it to be a rule
without an exception, that the violence of a revolution
corresponds to the degree of misgovernment which has produced
that revolution. Why was the French Revolution so bloody and
destructive? Why was our revolution of 1641 comparatively mild?
Why was our revolution of 1688 milder still? Why was the
American Revolution, considered as an internal movement, the
mildest of all? There is an obvious and complete solution of the
problem. The English under James the First and Charles the First
were less oppressed than the French under Louis the Fifteenth and
Louis the Sixteenth. The English were less oppressed after the
Restoration than before the great Rebellion. And America under
George the Third was less oppressed than England under the
Stuarts. The reaction was exactly proportioned to the pressure,
--the vengeance to the provocation.

When Mr Burke was reminded in his later years of the zeal which
he had displayed in the cause of the Americans, he vindicated
himself from the charge of inconsistency, by contrasting the
wisdom and moderation of the Colonial insurgents of 1776 with the
fanaticism and wickedness of the Jacobins of 1792. He was in
fact bringing an argument a fortiori against himself. The
circumstances on which he rested his vindication fully proved
that the old government of France stood in far more need of a
complete change than the old government of America. The
difference between Washington and Robespierre,--the difference
between Franklin and Barere,--the difference between the
destruction of a few barrels of tea and the confiscation of
thousands of square miles,--the difference between the tarring
and feathering of a tax-gatherer and the massacres of September,
--measure the difference between the government of America under
the rule of England and the government of France under the rule
of the Bourbons.

Louis the Sixteenth made great voluntary concessions to his
people; and they sent him to the scaffold. Charles the Tenth
violated the fundamental laws of the state, established a
despotism, and butchered his subjects for not submitting quietly
to that despotism. He failed in his wicked attempt. He was at
the mercy of those whom he had injured. The pavements of Paris
were still heaped up in barricades;--the hospitals were still
full of the wounded;--the dead were still unburied;--a thousand
families were in mourning;--a hundred thousand citizens were in
arms. The crime was recent;--the life of the criminal was in the
hands of the sufferers;--and they touched not one hair of his
head. In the first revolution, victims were sent to death by
scores for the most trifling acts proved by the lowest testimony,
before the most partial tribunals. After the second revolution,
those ministers who had signed the ordinances, those ministers,
whose guilt, as it was of the foulest kind, was proved by the
clearest evidence,--were punished only with imprisonment. In the
first revolution, property was attacked. In the second, it was
held sacred. Both revolutions, it is true, left the public mind
of France in an unsettled state. Both revolutions were followed
by insurrectionary movements. But, after the first revolution,
the insurgents were almost always stronger than the law; and,
since the second revolution, the law has invariably been found
stronger than the insurgents. There is, indeed, much in the
present state of France which may well excite the uneasiness of
those who desire to see her free, happy, powerful, and secure.
Yet, if we compare the present state of France with the state in
which she was forty years ago, how vast a change for the better
has taken place! How little effect, for example, during the
first revolution, would the sentence of a judicial body have
produced on an armed and victorious partty! If, after the 10th
of August, or after the proscription of the Gironde, or after the
9th of Thermidor, or after the carnage of Vendemiaire, or after
the arrests of Fructidor, any tribunal had decided against the
conquerors in favour of the conquered, with what contempt, with
what derision, would its award have been received! The judges
would have lost their heads, or would have been sent to die in
some unwholesome colony. The fate of the victim whom they had
endeavoured to save would only have been made darker and more
hopeless by their interference. We have lately seen a signal
proof that, in France, the law is now stronger than the sword.
We have seen a government, in the very moment of triumph and
revenge, submitting itself to the authority of a court of law. A
just and independent sentence has been pronounced--a sentence
worthy of the ancient renown of that magistracy to which belong
the noblest recollections of French history--which, in an age of
persecutors, produced L'Hopital,--which, in an age of courtiers,
produced D'Aguesseau,--which, in an age of wickedness and
madness, exhibited to mankind a pattern of every virtue in the
life and in the death of Malesherbes. The respectful manner in
which that sentence has been received is alone sufficient to show
how widely the French of this generation differ from their
fathers. And how is the difference to be explained? The race,
the soil, the climate, are the same. If those dull, honest
Englishmen, who explain the events of 1793 and 1794 by saying
that the French are naturally frivolous and cruel, were in the
right, why is the guillotine now standing idle? Not surely for
want of Carlists, of aristocrats, of people guilty of incivism,
of people suspected of being suspicious characters. Is not the
true explanation this, that the Frenchman of 1832 has been far
better governed than the Frenchman of 1789,--that his soul has
never been galled by the oppressive privileges of a separate
caste,--that he has been in some degree accustomed to discuss
political questions, and to perform political functions,--that he
has lived for seventeen or eighteen years under institutions
which, however defective, have yet been far superior to any
institutions that had before existed in France?

As the second French Revolution has been far milder than the
first, so that great change which has just been effected in
England has been milder even than the second French Revolution,--
milder than any revolution recorded in history. Some orators
have described the reform of the House of Commons as a
revolution. Others have denied the propriety of the term. The
question, though in seeming merely a question of definition,
suggests much curious and interesting matter for reflection. If
we look at the magnitude of the reform, it may well be called a
revolution. If we look at the means by which it has been
effected, it is merely an Act of Parliament, regularly brought
in, read, committed, and passed. In the whole history of
England, there is no prouder circumstance than this,--that a
change, which could not, in any other age, or in any other
country, have been effected without physical violence, should
here have been effected by the force of reason, and under the
forms of law. The work of three civil wars has been accomplished
by three sessions of Parliament. An ancient and deeply rooted
system of abuses has been fiercely attacked and stubbornly
defended. It has fallen; and not one sword has been drawn; not
one estate has been confiscated; not one family has been forced
to emigrate. The bank has kept its credit. The funds have kept
their price. Every man has gone forth to his work and to his
labour till the evening. During the fiercest excitement of the
contest,--during the first fortnight of that immortal May,--there
was not one moment at which any sanguinary act committed on the
person of any of the most unpopular men in England would not have
filled the country with horror and indignation.

And now that the victory is won, has it been abused? An immense
mass of power has been transferred from an oligarchy to the
nation. Are the members of the vanquished oligarchy insecure?
Does the nation seem disposed to play the tyrant? Are not those
who, in any other state of society, would have been visited with
the severest vengeance of the triumphant party,--would have been
pining in dungeons, or flying to foreign countries,--still
enjoying their possessions and their honours, still taking part
as freely as ever in public affairs? Two years ago they were
dominant. They are now vanquished. Yet the whole people would
regard with horror any man who should dare to propose any
vindictive measure. So common is this feeling,--so much is it a
matter of course among us,--that many of our readers will
scarcely understand what we see to admire in it.

To what are we to attribute the unparalleled moderation and
humanity which the English people had displayed at this great
conjuncture? The answer is plain. This moderation, this
humanity, are the fruits of a hundred and fifty years of liberty.
During many generations we have had legislative assemblies which,
however defective their constitution might be, have always
contained many members chosen by the people, and many others
eager to obtain the approbation of the people:--assemblies in
which perfect freedom of debate was allowed;--assemblies in which
the smallest minority had a fair hearing; assemblies in which
abuses, even when they were not redressed, were at least exposed.
For many generations we have had the trial by jury, the Habeas
Corpus Act, the freedom of the press, the right of meeting to
discuss public affairs, the right of petitioning the legislature.
A vast portion of the population has long been accustomed to the
exercise of political functions, and has been thoroughly seasoned
to political excitement. In most other countries there is no
middle course between absolute submission and open rebellion. In
England there has always been for centuries a constitutional
opposition. Thus our institutions had been so good that they had
educated us into a capacity for better institutions. There is
not a large town in the kingdom which does not contain better
materials for a legislature than all France could furnish in
1789. There is not a spouting-club at any pot-house in London in
which the rules of debate are not better understood, and more
strictly observed, than in the Constituent Assembly. There is
scarcely a Political Union which could not frame in half an hour
a declaration of rights superior to that which occupied the
collective wisdom of France for several months.

It would be impossible even to glance at all the causes of the
French Revolution within the limits to which we must confine
ourselves. One thing is clear. The government, the aristocracy,
and the church were rewarded after their works. They reaped that
which they had sown. They found the nation such as they had made
it. That the people had become possessed of irresistible power
before they had attained the slightest knowledge of the art of
government--that practical questions of vast moment were left to
be solved by men to whom politics had been only matter of theory
--that a legislature was composed of persons who were scarcely
fit to compose a debating society--that the whole nation was
ready to lend an ear to any flatterer who appealed to its
cupidity, to its fears, or to its thirst for vengeance--all this
was the effect of misrule, obstinately continued in defiance of
solemn warnings, and of the visible signs of an approaching

Even while the monarchy seemed to be in its highest and most
palmy state, the causes of that great destruction had already
begun to operate. They may be distinctly traced even under the
reign of Louis the Fourteenth. That reign is the time to which
the Ultra-Royalists refer as the Golden Age of France. It was in
truth one of those periods which shine with an unnatural and
delusive splendour, and which are rapidly followed by gloom and

Concerning Louis the Fourteenth himself, the world seems at last
to have formed a correct judgment. He was not a great general;
he was not a great statesman; but he was, in 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 mass-book,--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 all the world saw as much of Louis
the Fourteenth as his valet could see. Five hundred people
assembled to see him shave and put on his breeches in the
morning. He then kneeled down at the side of his bed, and said
his prayer while the whole assembly awaited the end in solemn
silence--the ecclesiastics on their knees, and the laymen with
their hats before their faces. He walked about his gardens with
a train of two hundred courtiers at his heels. All Versailles
came to see him dine and sup. He was put to bed at night in the
midst of a crowd as great as that which had met to see him rise
in the morning. He took his very emetics in state, and vomited
majestically in the presence of all the grandes and petites
entrees. Yet, though he constantly exposed himself to the public
gaze in situations in which it is scarcely possible for any man
to preserve much personal dignity, he to the last impressed those
who surrounded him with the deepest awe and reverence. The
illusion which he produced on his worshippers can be compared
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 stature. 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. (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 Berri, "de croire
que Louis XIV. etait d'une haute stature. Une cuirasse qui nous
reste de lui, et les exhumations de St Denys, n'ont laisse sur
certain point aucun doute.") That fine expression of Juvenal is
singularly applicable, both in its literal and in its
metaphorical sense, to Louis the Fourteenth:

"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 Moliere. 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 everything but the art of simulating

He left to his infant successor a famished and miserable people,
a beaten and humbled army, provinces turned into deserts by
misgovernment and persecution, factions dividing the court, a
schism raging in the church, an immense debt, an empty treasury,
immeasurable palaces, an innumerable household, inestimable
jewels and furniture. All the sap and nutriment of the state
seemed to have been drawn to feed one bloated and unwholesome
excrescence. The nation was withered. The court was morbidly
flourishing. Yet it does not appear that the associations which
attached the people to the monarchy had lost strength during his
reign. He had neglected or sacrificed their dearest interests;
but he had struck their imaginations. The very things which
ought to have made him most unpopular,--the prodigies of luxury
and magnificence with which his person was surrounded, while,
beyond the inclosure of his parks, nothing was to be seen but
starvation and despair,--seemed to increase the respectful
attachment which his subjects felt for him. That governments
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 concentrates 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 Fenelon taught.
Considered as an epic poem, 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 Fenelon's political
morality, the test 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 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 Fenelon, who does not
constantly keep in mind that Telemachus was written in an age and
nation in which bold 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
schoolbook, 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

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 anything in history more remarkable than the
descriptions which 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
expense 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.

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 which 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-

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 roue 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

The Regent was in many respects the fac-simile of our Charles the
Second. Like Charles, he was a good-natured man, uttl 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 corrupted 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 fellow-creatures 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
council-table. 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 calamities,
had reverenced the conqueror. She despised 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
sultana to sultana, 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 galling and hateful to the new wealth and
the new knowledge. Everything indicated the approach of no
common revolution,--of a revolution 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
anything 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 corvees; 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 Robespierre.

Then the rulers of France, as if smitten with judicial blindness,
plunged headlong into the American war. They thus committed at
once two great errors. They encouraged the spirit of revolution.
They augmented at the same time those public burdens, the
pressure of which is generally the immediate cause of
revolutions. The event of the war carried to the height the
enthusiasm of speculative democrats. The financial difficulties
produced by the war carried to the height the discontent of that
larger body of people who cared little about theories, and much
about taxes.

The meeting of the States-General was the signal for the
explosion of all the hoarded passions of a century. In that
assembly, there were undoubtedly very able men. But they had no
practical knowledge of the art of government. All the great
English revolutions have been conducted by practical statesmen.
The French Revolution was conducted by mere speculators. Our
constitution has never been so far behind the age as to have
become an object of aversion to the people. The English
revolutions have therefore been undertaken for the purpose of
defending, correcting, and restoring,--never for the mere purpose
of destroying. Our countrymen have always, even in times of the
greatest excitement, spoken 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 politics 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 skill
in the management of affairs. They did not 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 the future. Hopes were to them all that
recollections are to us. In the institutions of their country
they found nothing to love or to admire. As far back as they
could look, they saw only the tyranny of one class and the
degradation of another,--Frank and Gaul, knight and villein,
gentleman and roturier. They hated the monarchy, the church, the
nobility. They cared nothing for the States or the Parliament.
It was long the fashion to ascribe all the follies which they
committed to the writings of the philosophers. We believe that
it was misrule, and nothing but misrule, that put the sting into
those writings. It is not true that the French abandoned
experience for theories. They took up with theories because they
had no experience of good government. It was because they had no
charter that they ranted about the original contract. As soon as
tolerable institutions were given to them, they began to look to
those institutions. In 1830 their rallying cry was "Vive la
Charte". In 1789 they had nothing but theories round which to
rally. They had seen social distinctions only in a bad form; and
it was therefore natural that they should be deluded by sophisms
about the equality of men. They had experienced so much evil
from the sovereignty of kings that they might be excused for
lending a ready ear to those who preached, in an exaggerated
form, the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people.

The English, content with their own national 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 having ever had a country, and eulogised
tyrannicide while crouching before tyrants. The maxim which the
French legislators learned in this school was, 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 scruple
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.

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
successful in affairs of gallantry.

Resembling Wilkes in the lower and grosser parts of his
character, he had, in his higher qualities, some affinity 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 everything before them--sentences which, spoken at critical
moments, decided the fate of great questions--sentences which at
once became proverbs--sentences which everybody still knows by
heart--in these chiefly lay the oratorical power both of Chatham
and of Mirabeau. There have been far greater speakers, and far
greater statesmen, than either of them; but we doubt whether any
men have, in modern times, exercised such vast personal influence
over stormy and divided assemblies. The power of both was as
much moral as intellectual. 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. In their language and manner there was a
disdainful self-confidence, an imperiousness, 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 anything 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 portraits of eminent men in
these Memoirs. That of Sieyes in particular, and that of
Talleyrand, are master-pieces, 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 expected from his heart.



(April 1844.)

"Memoires de Bertrand Barere": publies par MM. Hippolyte Carnot,
Membre de la Chambre des Deputes, et David d'Angers, Membre de
l'Institut: precedes d'une Notice Historique par H. Carnot.
4 tomes. Paris: 1843.

This book has more than one title to our serious attention. It
is an appeal, solemnly made to posterity by a man who played a
conspicuous part in great events, and who represents himself as
deeply aggrieved by the rash and malevolent censure of his
contemporaries. To such an appeal we shall always give ready
audience. We can perform no duty more useful to society, or more
agreeable to our own feelings, than that of making, as far as our
power extends, reparation to the slandered and persecuted
benefactors of mankind. We therefore promptly took into our
consideration this copious apology for the life of Bertrand
Barere. We have made up our minds; and we now purpose to do him,
by the blessing of God, full and signal justice. It is to be
observed that the appellant in this case does not come into court
alone. He is attended to the bar of public opinion by two
compurgators who occupy highly honourable stations. One of these
is M. David of Angers, member of the institute, an eminent
sculptor, and, if we have been rightly informed, a favourite
pupil, though not a kinsman, of the painter who bore the same
name. The other, to whom we owe the biographical preface, is M.
Hippolyte Carnot, member of the Chamber of Deputies, and son of
the celebrated Director. In the judgment of M. David and of M.
Hippolyte Carnot, Barere was a deserving and an ill-used man--a
man who, though by no means faultless, must yet, when due
allowance is made for the force of circumstances and the
infirmity of human nature, be considered as on the whole entitled
to our esteem. It will be for the public to determine, after a
full hearing, whether the editors have, by thus connecting their
names with that of Barere, raised his character or lowered their

We are not conscious that, when we opened this book, we were
under the influence of any feeling likely to pervert our
judgment. Undoubtedly we had long entertained a most
unfavourable opinion of Barere: but to this opinion we were not
tied by any passion or by any interest. Our dislike was a
reasonable dislike, and might have been removed by reason.
Indeed our expectation was, that these Memoirs would in some
measure clear Barere's fame. That he could vindicate himself
from all the charges which had been brought against him, we knew
to be impossible; and his editors admit that he has not done so.
But we thought it highly probable that some grave accusations
would be refuted, and that many offences to which he would have
been forced to plead guilty would be greatly extenuated. We were
not disposed to be severe. We were fully aware that temptations
such as those to which the members of the Convention and of the
Committee of Public Safety were exposed must try severely the
strength of the firmest virtue. Indeed our inclination has
always been to regard with an indulgence, which to some rigid
moralists appears excessive, those faults into which gentle and
noble spirits are sometimes hurried by the excitement of
conflict, by the maddening influence of sympathy, and by ill-
regulated zeal for a public cause.

With such feelings we read this book, and compared it with other
accounts of the events in which Barere bore a part. It is now
our duty to express the opinion to which this investigation has
led us.

Our opinion then is this: that Barere approached nearer than any
person mentioned in history or fiction, whether man or devil, to
the idea of consummate and universal depravity. In him the
qualities which are the proper objects of hatred, and the
qualities which are the proper objects of contempt, preserve an
exquisite and absolute harmony. In almost every particular sort
of wickedness he has had rivals. His sensuality was immoderate;
but this was a failing common to him with many great and amiable
men. There have been many men as cowardly as he, some as cruel,
a few as mean, a few as impudent. There may also have been as
great liars, though we never met with them or read of them. But
when we put everything together, sensuality, poltroonery,
baseness, effrontery, mendacity, barbarity, the result is
something which in a novel we should condemn as caricature, and
to which, we venture to say, no parallel can be found in history.

It would be grossly unjust, we acknowledge, to try a man situated
as Barere was by a severe standard. Nor have we done so. We
have formed our opinion of him, by comparing him, not with
politicians of stainless character, not with Chancellor
D'Aguesseau, or General Washington, or Mr Wilberforce, or Earl
Grey, but with his own colleagues of the Mountain. That party
included a considerable number of the worst men that ever lived;
but we see in it nothing like Barere. Compared with him, Fouche
seems honest; Billaud seems humane; Hebert seems to rise into
dignity. Every other chief of a party, says M. Hippolyte Carnot,
has found apologists: one set of men exalts the Girondists;
another set justifies Danton; a third deifies Robespierre: but
Barere has remained without a defender. We venture to suggest a
very simple solution of this phenomenon. All the other chiefs of
parties had some good qualities; and Barere had none. The
genius, courage, patriotism, and humanity of the Girondist
statesmen more than atoned for what was culpable in their
conduct, and should have protected them from the insult of being
compared with such a thing as Barere. Danton and Robespierre
were indeed bad men; but in both of them some important parts of
the mind remained sound. Danton was brave and resolute, fond of
pleasure, of power, and of distinction, with vehement passions,
with lax principles, but with some kind and manly feelings,
capable of great crimes, but capable also of friendship and of
compassion. He, therefore, naturally finds admirers among
persons of bold and sanguine dispositions. Robespierre was a
vain, envious, and suspicious man, with a hard heart, weak
nerves, and a gloomy temper. But we cannot with truth deny that
he was, in the vulgar sense of the word, disinterested, that his
private life was correct, or that he was sincerely zealous for
his own system of politics and morals. He, therefore, naturally
finds admirers among honest but moody and bitter democrats. If
no class has taken the reputation of Barere under its patronage,
the reason is plain: Barere had not a single virtue, nor even
the semblance of one.

It is true that he was not, as far as we are able to judge,
originally of a savage disposition; but this circumstance seems
to us only to aggravate his guilt. There are some unhappy men
constitutionally prone to the darker passions, men all whose
blood is gall, and to whom bitter words and harsh actions are as
natural as snarling and biting to a ferocious dog. To come into
the world with this wretched mental disease is a greater calamity
than to be born blind or deaf. A man who, having such a temper,
keeps it in subjection, and constrains himself to behave
habitually with justice and humanity towards those who are in his
power, seems to us worthy of the highest admiration. There have
been instances of this self-command; and they are among the most
signal triumphs of philosophy and religion. On the other hand, a
man who, having been blessed by nature with a bland disposition,
gradually brings himself to inflict misery on his fellow-
creatures with indifference, with satisfaction, and at length
with a hideous rapture, deserves to be regarded as a portent of
wickedness; and such a man was Barere. The history of his
downward progress is full of instruction. Weakness, cowardice,
and fickleness were born with him; the best quality which he
received from nature was a good temper. These, it is true, are
not very promising materials; yet, out of materials as
unpromising, high sentiments of piety and of honour have
sometimes made martyrs and heroes. Rigid principles often do for
feeble minds what stays do for feeble bodies. But Barere had no
principles at all. His character was equally destitute of
natural and of acquired strength. Neither in the commerce of
life, nor in books, did we ever become acquainted with any mind
so unstable, so utterly destitute of tone, so incapable of
independent thought and earnest preference, so ready to take
impressions and so ready to lose them. He resembled those
creepers which must lean on something, and which, as soon as
their prop is removed, fall down in utter helplessness. He could
no more stand up, erect and self-supported, in any cause, than
the ivy can rear itself like the oak, or the wild vine shoot to
heaven like the cedar of Lebanon. It is barely possible that,
under good guidance and in favourable circumstances, such a man
might have slipped through life without discredit. But the
unseaworthy craft, which even in still water would have been in
danger of going down from its own rottenness, was launched on a
raging ocean, amidst a storm in which a whole armada of gallant
ships was cast away. The weakest and most servile of human
beings found himself on a sudden an actor in a Revolution which
convulsed the whole civilised world. At first he fell under the
influence of humane and moderate men, and talked the language of
humanity and moderation. But he soon found himself surrounded by
fierce and resolute spirits, scared by no danger and restrained
by no scruple. He had to choose whether he would be their victim
or their accomplice. His choice was soon made. He tasted blood,
and felt no loathing; he tasted it again, and liked it well.
Cruelty became with him, first a habit, then a passion, at last a
madness. So complete and rapid was the degeneracy of his nature,
that within a very few months after the time when he had passed
for a good-natured man, he had brought himself to look on the
despair and misery of his fellow-creatures with a glee resembling
that of the fiends whom Dante saw watching the pool of seething
pitch in Malebolge. He had many associates in guilt; but he
distinguished himself from them all by the Bacchanalian
exaltation which he seemed to feel in the work of death. He was
drunk with innocent and noble blood, laughed and shouted as he
butchered, and howled strange songs and reeled in strange dances
amidst the carnage. Then came a sudden and violent turn of
fortune. The miserable man was hurled down from the height of
power to hopeless ruin and infamy. The shock sobered him at
once. The fumes of his horrible intoxication passed away. But
he was now so irrecoverably depraved that the discipline of
adversity only drove him further into wickedness. Ferocious
vices, of which he had never been suspected, had been developed
in him by power. Another class of vices, less hateful perhaps,
but more despicable, was now developed in him by poverty and
disgrace. Having appalled the whole world by great crimes
perpetrated under the pretence of zeal for liberty, he became the
meanest of all the tools of despotism. It is not easy to settle
the order of precedence among his vices, but we are inclined to
think that his baseness was, on the whole, a rarer and more
marvellous thing than his cruelty.

This is the view which we have long taken of Barere's character;
but, till we read these Memoirs, we held our opinion with the
diffidence which becomes a judge who has only heard one side.
The case seemed strong, and in parts unanswerable; yet we did not
know what the accused party might have to say for himself; and,
not being much inclined to take our fellow-creatures either for
angels of light or for angels of darkness, we could not but feel
some suspicion that his offences had been exaggerated. That
suspicion is now at an end. The vindication is before us. It
occupies four volumes. It was the work of forty years. It would
be absurd to suppose that it does not refute every serious charge
which admitted of refutation. How many serious charges, then,
are here refuted? Not a single one. Most of the imputations
which have been thrown on Barere he does not even notice. In
such cases, of course, judgment must go against him by default.
The fact is, that nothing can be more meagre and uninteresting
than his account of the great public transactions in which he was
engaged. He gives us hardly a word of new information respecting
the proceedings of the Committee of Public Safety; and, by way of
compensation, tells us long stories about things which happened
before he emerged from obscurity, and after he had again sunk
into it. Nor is this the worst. As soon as he ceases to write
trifles, he begins to write lies; and such lies! A man who has
never been within the tropics does not know what a thunderstorm
means; a man who has never looked on Niagara has but a faint idea
of a cataract; and he who has not read Barere's Memoirs may be
said not to know what it is to lie. Among the numerous classes
which make up the great genus Mendacium, the Mendacium
Vasconicum, or Gascon lie, has, during some centuries, been
highly esteemed as peculiarly circumstantial and peculiarly
impudent; and, among the Mendacia Vasconica, the Mendacium
Barerianum is, without doubt, the finest species. It is indeed a
superb variety, and quite throws into the shade some Mendacia
which we were used to regard with admiration. The Mendacium
Wraxallianum, for example, though by no means to be despised,
will not sustain the comparison for a moment. Seriously, we
think that M. Hippolyte Carnot is much to blame in this matter.
We can hardly suppose him to be worse read than ourselves in the
history of the Convention, a history which must interest him
deeply, not only as a Frenchman, but also as a son. He must,
therefore, be perfectly aware that many of the most important
statements which these volumes contain are falsehoods, such as
Corneille's Dorante, or Moliere's Scapin, or Colin d'Harleville's
Monsieur de Crac would have been ashamed to utter. We are far,
indeed, from holding M. Hippolyte Carnot answerable for Barere's
want of veracity; but M. Hippolyte Carnot has arranged these
Memoirs, has introduced them to the world by a laudatory preface,
has described them as documents of great historical value, and
has illustrated them by notes. We cannot but think that, by
acting thus, he contracted some obligations of which he does not
seem to have been at all aware; and that he ought not to have
suffered any monstrous fiction to go forth under the sanction of
his name, without adding a line at the foot of the page for the
purpose of cautioning the reader.

We will content ourselves at present with pointing out two
instances of Barere's wilful and deliberate mendacity; namely,
his account of the death of Marie Antoinette, and his account of
the death of the Girondists. His account of the death of Marie
Antoinette is as follows:--"Robespierre in his turn proposed that
the members of the Capet family should be banished, and that
Marie Antoinette should be brought to trial before the
Revolutionary Tribunal. He would have been better employed in
concerting military measures which might have repaired our
disasters in Belgium, and might have arrested the progress of the
enemies of the Revolution in the west."--(Volume ii. page 312.)

Now, it is notorious that Marie Antoinette was sent before the
Revolutionary Tribunal, not at Robespierre's instance, but in
direct opposition to Robespierre's wishes. We will cite a single
authority, which is quite decisive. Bonaparte, who had no
conceivable motive to disguise the truth, who had the best
opportunities of knowing the truth, and who, after his marriage
with the Archduchess, naturally felt an interest in the fate of
his wife's kinswomen, distinctly affirmed that Robespierre
opposed the trying of the Queen. (O'Meara's "Voice from St
Helena", ii. 170.) Who, then, was the person who really did
propose that the Capet family should be banished, and that Marie
Antoinette should be tried? Full information will be found in
the "Moniteur". ("Moniteur", 2d, 7th and 9th of August, 1793.)
From that valuable record it appears that, on the first of August
1793, an orator, deputed by the Committee of Public Safety,
addressed the Convention in a long and elaborate discourse. He
asked, in passionate language, how it happened that the enemies
of the Republic still continued to hope for success. "Is it," he
cried, "because we have too long forgotten the crimes of the
Austrian woman? Is it because we have shown so strange an
indulgence to the race of our ancient tyrants? It is time that
this unwise apathy should cease; it is time to extirpate from the
soil of the Republic the last roots of royalty. As for the
children of Louis the conspirator, they are hostages for the
Republic. The charge of their maintenance shall be reduced to
what is necessary for the food and keep of two individuals. The
public treasure shall no longer be lavished on creatures who have
too long been considered as privileged. But behind them lurks a
woman who has been the cause of all the disasters of France, and
whose share in every project adverse to the revolution has long
been known. National justice claims its rights over her. It is
to the tribunal appointed for the trial of conspirators that she
ought to be sent. It is only by striking the Austrian woman that
you can make Francis and George, Charles and William, sensible of
the crimes which their ministers and their armies have
committed." The speaker concluded by moving that Marie
Antoinette should be brought to judgment, and should, for that
end, be forthwith transferred to the Conciergerie; and that all
the members of the house of Capet, with the exception of those
who were under the sword of the law, and of the two children of
Louis, should be banished from the French territory. The motion
was carried without debate.

Now, who was the person who made this speech and this motion? It
was Barere himself. It is clear, then, that Barere attributed
his own mean insolence and barbarity to one who, whatever his
crimes may have been, was in this matter innocent. The only
question remaining is, whether Barere was misled by his memory,
or wrote a deliberate falsehood.

We are convinced that he wrote a deliberate falsehood. His
memory is described by his editors as remarkably good, and must
have been bad indeed if he could not remember such a fact as
this. It is true that the number of murders in which he
subsequently bore a part was so great that he might well confound
one with another, that he might well forget what part of the
daily hecatomb was consigned to death by himself, and what part
by his colleagues. But two circumstances make it quite
incredible that the share which he took in the death of Marie
Antoinette should have escaped his recollection. She was one of
his earliest victims. She was one of his most illustrious
victims. The most hardened assassin remembers the first time
that he shed blood; and the widow of Louis was no ordinary
sufferer. If the question had been about some milliner,
butchered for hiding in her garret her brother who had let drop a
word against the Jacobin Club--if the question had been about
some old nun, dragged to death for having mumbled what were
called fanatical words over her beads--Barere's memory might well
have deceived him. It would be as unreasonable to expect him to
remember all the wretches whom he slew as all the pinches of
snuff that he took. But, though Barere murdered many hundreds of
human beings, he murdered only one Queen. That he, a small
country lawyer, who, a few years before, would have thought
himself honoured by a glance or a word from the daughter of so
many Caesars, should call her the Austrian woman, should send her
from jail to jail, should deliver her over to the executioner,
was surely a great event in his life. Whether he had reason to
be proud of it or ashamed of it, is a question on which we may
perhaps differ from his editors; but they will admit, we think,
that he could not have forgotten it.

We, therefore, confidently charge Barere with having written a
deliberate falsehood; and we have no hesitation in saying that we
never, in the course of any historical researches that we have
happened to make, fell in with a falsehood so audacious, except
only the falsehood which we are about to expose.

Of the proceeding against the Girondists, Barere speaks with just
severity. He calls it an atrocious injustice perpetrated against
the legislators of the republic. He complains that distinguished
deputies, who ought to have been readmitted to their seats in the
Convention, were sent to the scaffold as conspirators. The day,
he exclaims, was a day of mourning for France. It mutilated the
national representation; it weakened the sacred principle, that
the delegates of the people were inviolable. He protests that he
had no share in the guilt. "I have had," he says, "the patience
to go through the 'Moniteur', extracting all the charges brought
against deputies, and all the decrees for arresting and
impeaching deputies. Nowhere will you find my name. I never
brought a charge against any of my colleagues, or made a report
against any, or drew up an impeachment against any." (Volume ii.

Now, we affirm that this is a lie. We affirm that Barere himself
took the lead in the proceedings of the Convention against the
Girondists. We affirm that he, on the twenty-eighth of July
1793, proposed a decree for bringing nine Girondist deputies to
trial, and for putting to death sixteen other Girondist deputies
without any trial at all. We affirm that, when the accused
deputies had been brought to trial, and when some apprehension
arose that their eloquence might produce an effect even on the
Revolutionary Tribunal, Barere did, on the 8th of Brumaire,
second a motion for a decree authorising the tribunal to decide
without hearing out the defence; and, for the truth of every one
of these things so affirmed by us, we appeal to the very
"Moniteur" to which Barere has dared to appeal. ("Moniteur",
31st of July 1793, and Nonidi, first Decade of Brumaire, in the
year 2(?).)

What M. Hippolyte Carnot, knowing, as he must know, that this
book contains such falsehoods as those which we have exposed, can
have meant, when he described it as a valuable addition to our
stock of historical information, passes our comprehension. When
a man is not ashamed to tell lies about events which took place
before hundreds of witnesses, and which are recorded in well-
known and accessible books, what credit can we give to his
account of things done in corners? No historian who does not
wish to be laughed at will ever cite the unsupported authority of
Barere as sufficient to prove any fact whatever. The only thing,
as far as we can see, on which these volumes throw any light, is
the exceeding baseness of the author.

So much for the veracity of the Memoirs. In a literary point of
view, they are beneath criticism. They are as shallow, flippant,
and affected, as Barere's oratory in the Convention. They are
also, what his oratory in the Convention was not, utterly
insipid. In fact, they are the mere dregs and rinsings of a
bottle of which even the first froth was but of very questionable

We will now try to present our readers with a sketch of this
man's life. We shall, of course, make very sparing use indeed of
his own Memoirs; and never without distrust, except where they
are confirmed by other evidence.

Bertrand Barere was born in the year 1755, at Tarbes in Gascony.
His father was the proprietor of a small estate at Vieuzac, in
the beautiful vale of Argeles. Bertrand always loved to be
called Barere de Vieuzac, and flattered himself with the hope
that, by the help of this feudal addition to his name, he might
pass for a gentleman. He was educated for the bar at Toulouse,
the seat of one of the most celebrated parliaments of the
kingdom, practised as an advocate with considerable success, and
wrote some small pieces, which he sent to the principal literary
societies in the south of France. Among provincial towns,
Toulouse seems to have been remarkably rich in indifferent
versifiers and critics. It gloried especially in one venerable
institution, called the Academy of the Floral Games. This body
held every year a grand meeting which was a subject of intense
interest to the whole city, and at which flowers of gold and
silver were given as prizes for odes, for idyls, and for
something that was called eloquence. These bounties produced of
course the ordinary effect of bounties, and turned people who
might have been thriving attorneys and useful apothecaries into
small wits and bad poets. Barere does not appear to have been so
lucky as to obtain any of these precious flowers; but one of his
performances was mentioned with honour. At Montauban he was more
fortunate. The academy of that town bestowed on him several
prizes, one for a panegyric on Louis the Twelfth, in which the
blessings of monarchy and the loyalty of the French nation were
set forth; and another for a panegyric on poor Franc de
Pompignan, in which, as may easily be supposed, the philosophy of
the eighteenth century was sharply assailed. Then Barere found
an old stone inscribed with three Latin words, and wrote a
dissertation upon it, which procured him a seat in a learned
Assembly, called the Toulouse Academy of Sciences, Inscriptions,
and Polite Literature. At length the doors of the Academy of the
Floral Games were opened to so much merit. Barere, in his
thirty-third year, took his seat as one of that illustrious
brotherhood, and made an inaugural oration which was greatly
admired. He apologises for recounting these triumphs of his
youthful genius. We own that we cannot blame him for dwelling
long on the least disgraceful portion of his existence. To send
in declamations for prizes offered by provincial academies is
indeed no very useful or dignified employment for a bearded man;
but it would have been well if Barere had always been so

In 1785 he married a young lady of considerable fortune. Whether
she was in other respects qualified to make a home happy, is a
point respecting which we are imperfectly informed. In a little
work, entitled "Melancholy Pages", which was written in 1797,
Barere avers that his marriage was one of mere convenience, that
at the altar his heart was heavy with sorrowful forebodings, that
he turned pale as he pronounced the solemn "Yes," that unbidden
tears rolled down his cheeks, that his mother shared his
presentiment, and that the evil omen was accomplished. "My
marriage," he says, "was one of the most unhappy of marriages."
So romantic a tale, told by so noted a liar, did not command our
belief. We were, therefore, not much surprised to discover that,
in his Memoirs, he calls his wife a most amiable woman, and
declares that, after he had been united to her six years, he
found her as amiable as ever. He complains, indeed, that she was
too much attached to royalty and to the old superstition; but he
assures us that his respect for her virtues induced him to
tolerate her prejudices. Now Barere, at the time of his
marriage, was himself a Royalist and a Catholic. He had gained
one prize by flattering the Throne, and another by defending the
Church. It is hardly possible, therefore, that disputes about
politics or religion should have embittered his domestic life
till some time after he became a husband. Our own guess is, that
his wife was, as he says, a virtuous and amiable woman, and that
she did her best to make him happy during some years. It seems
clear that, when circumstances developed the latent atrocity of
his character, she could no longer endure him, refused to see
him, and sent back his letters unopened. Then it was, we
imagine, that he invented the fable about his distress on his
wedding day.

In 1788 Barere paid his first visit to Paris, attended reviews,
heard Laharpe at the Lycaeum, and Condorcet at the Academy of
Sciences, stared at the envoys of Tippoo Sahib, saw the Royal
Family dine at Versailles, and kept a journal in which he noted
down adventures and speculations. Some parts of this journal are
printed in the first volume of the work before us, and are
certainly most characteristic. The worst vices of the writer had
not yet shown themselves; but the weakness which was the parent
of those vices appears in every line. His levity, his
inconsistency, his servility, were already what they were to the
last. All his opinions, all his feelings, spin round and round
like a weathercock in a whirlwind. Nay, the very impressions
which he receives through his senses are not the same two days
together. He sees Louis the Sixteenth, and is so much blinded by
loyalty as to find his Majesty handsome. "I fixed my eyes," he
says, "with a lively curiosity on his fine countenance, which I
thought open and noble." The next time that the king appears all
is altered. His Majesty's eyes are without the smallest
expression; he has a vulgar laugh which seems like idiocy, an
ignoble figure, an awkward gait, and the look of a big boy ill
brought up. It is the same with more important questions.
Barere is for the parliaments on the Monday and against the
parliaments on the Tuesday, for feudality in the morning and
against feudality in the afternoon. One day he admires the
English constitution; then he shudders to think that, in the
struggles by which that constitution had been obtained, the
barbarous islanders had murdered a king, and gives the preference
to the constitution of Bearn. Bearn, he says, has a sublime
constitution, a beautiful constitution. There the nobility and
clergy meet in one house, and the Commons in another. If the
houses differ, the King has the casting vote. A few weeks later
we find him raving against the principles of this sublime and
beautiful constitution. To admit deputies of the nobility and
clergy into the legislature is, he says, neither more nor less
than to admit enemies of the nation into the legislature.

In this state of mind, without one settled purpose or opinion,
the slave of the last word, royalist, aristocrat, democrat,
according to the prevailing sentiment of the coffee-house or
drawing-room into which he had just looked, did Barere enter into
public life. The States-General had been summoned. Barere went
down to his own province, was there elected one of the
representatives of the Third Estate, and returned to Paris in May

A great crisis, often predicted, had at last arrived. In no
country, we conceive, have intellectual freedom and political
servitude existed together so long as in France, during the
seventy or eighty years which preceded the last convocation of
the Orders. Ancient abuses and new theories flourished in equal
vigour side by side. The people, having no constitutional means
of checking even the most flagitious misgovernment, were
indemnified for oppression by being suffered to luxuriate in
anarchical speculation, and to deny or ridicule every principle
on which the institutions of the State reposed. Neither those
who attribute the downfall of the old French institutions to the
public grievances, nor those who attribute it to the doctrines of
the philosophers, appear to us to have taken into their view more
than one half of the subject. Grievances as heavy have often
been endured without producing a revolution; doctrines as bold
have often been propounded without producing a revolution. The
question, whether the French nation was alienated from its old
polity by the follies and vices of the Viziers and Sultanas who
pillaged and disgraced it, or by the writings of Voltaire and
Rousseau, seems to us as idle as the question whether it was fire
or gunpowder that blew up the mills at Hounslow. Neither cause
would have sufficed alone. Tyranny may last through ages where
discussion is suppressed. Discussion may safely be left free by
rulers who act on popular principles. But combine a press like
that of London with a government like that of St Petersburg; and
the inevitable effect will be an explosion that will shake the
world. So it was in France. Despotism and License, mingling in
unblessed union, engendered that mighty Revolution in which the
lineaments of both parents were strangely blended. The long
gestation was accomplished; and Europe saw, with mixed hope and
terror, that agonising travail and that portentous birth.

Among the crowd of legislators which at this conjuncture poured
from all the provinces of France into Paris, Barere made no
contemptible figure. The opinions which he for the moment
professed were popular, yet not extreme. His character was fair;
his personal advantages are said to have been considerable; and,
from the portrait which is prefixed to these Memoirs, and which
represents him as he appeared in the Convention, we would judge
that his features must have been strikingly handsome, though we
think that we can read in them cowardice and meanness very
legibly written by the hand of God. His conversation was lively
and easy; his manners remarkably good for a country lawyer.
Women of rank and wit said that he was the only man who, on his
first arrival from a remote province, had that indescribable air
which it was supposed that Paris alone could give. His
eloquence, indeed, was by no means so much admired in the capital
as it had been by the ingenious academicians of Montauban and
Toulouse. His style was thought very bad; and very bad, if a
foreigner may venture to judge, it continued to the last. It
would, however, be unjust to deny that he had some talents for
speaking and writing. His rhetoric, though deformed by every
imaginable fault of taste, from bombast down to buffoonery, was
not wholly without force and vivacity. He had also one quality
which, in active life, often gives fourth-rate men an advantage
over first-rate men. Whatever he could do, he could do without
effort, at any moment, in any abundance, and on any side of any
question. There was, indeed, a perfect harmony between his moral
character and his intellectual character. His temper was that of
a slave; his abilities were exactly those which qualified him to
be a useful slave. Of thinking to purpose, he was utterly
incapable; but he had wonderful readiness in arranging and
expressing thoughts furnished by others.

In the National Assembly he had no opportunity of displaying the
full extent either of his talents or of his vices. He was indeed
eclipsed by much abler men. He went, as was his habit, with the
stream, spoke occasionally with some success, and edited a
journal called the "Point du Jour", in which the debates of the
Assembly were reported.

He at first ranked by no means among the violent reformers. He
was not friendly to that new division of the French territory
which was among the most important changes introduced by the
Revolution, and was especially unwilling to see his native
province dismembered. He was entrusted with the task of framing
Reports on the Woods and Forests. Louis was exceedingly anxious
about this matter; for his majesty was a keen sportsman, and
would much rather have gone without the Veto, or the prerogative
of making peace and war, than without his hunting and shooting.
Gentlemen of the royal household were sent to Barere, in order to
intercede for the deer and pheasants. Nor was this intercession
unsuccessful. The reports were so drawn that Barere was
afterwards accused of having dishonestly sacrificed the interests
of the public to the tastes of the court. To one of these
reports he had the inconceivable folly and bad taste to prefix a
punning motto from Virgil, fit only for such essays as he had
been in the habit of composing for the Floral Games--

"Si canimus sylvas, sylvae sint Consule dignae."

This literary foppery was one of the few things in which he was
consistent. Royalist or Girondist, Jacobin or Imperialist, he
was always a Trissotin.

As the monarchical party became weaker and weaker, Barere
gradually estranged himself more and more from it, and drew
closer and closer to the republicans. It would seem that, during
this transition, he was for a time closely connected with the
family of Orleans. It is certain that he was entrusted with the
guardianship of the celebrated Pamela, afterwards Lady Edward
Fitzgerald; and it was asserted that he received during some
years a pension of twelve thousand francs from the Palais Royal.

At the end of September 1791, the labours of the National
Assembly terminated, and those of the first and last Legislative
Assembly commenced.

It had been enacted that no member of the National Assembly
should sit in the Legislative Assembly; a preposterous and
mischievous regulation, to which the disasters which followed
must in part be ascribed. In England, what would be thought of a
Parliament which did not contain one single person who had ever
sat in parliament before? Yet it may safely be affirmed that the
number of Englishmen who, never having taken any share in public
affairs, are yet well qualified, by knowledge and observation, to
be members of the legislature is at least a hundred times as
great as the number of Frenchmen who were so qualified in 1791.
How, indeed, should it have been otherwise? In England,
centuries of representative government have made all educated
people in some measure statesmen. In France the National
Assembly had probably been composed of as good materials as were
then to be found. It had undoubtedly removed a vast mass of
abuses; some of its members had read and thought much about
theories of government; and others had shown great oratorical
talents. But that kind of skill which is required for the
constructing, launching, and steering of a polity was lamentably
wanting; for it is a kind of skill to which practice contributes
more than books. Books are indeed useful to the politician, as
they are useful to the navigator and to the surgeon. But the
real navigator is formed on the waves; the real surgeon is formed
at bedsides; and the conflicts of free states are the real school
of constitutional statesmen. The National Assembly had, however,
now served an apprenticeship of two laborious and eventful years.
It had, indeed, by no means finished its education; but it was no
longer, as on the day when it met, altogether rude to political
functions. Its later proceedings contain abundant proof that the
members had profited by their experience. Beyond all doubt there
was not in France any equal number of persons possessing in an
equal degree the qualities necessary for the judicious direction
of public affairs; and, just at this moment, these legislators,
misled by a childish wish to display their own disinterestedness,
deserted the duties which they had half learned, and which nobody
else had learned at all, and left their hall to a second crowd of
novices, who had still to master the first rudiments of political
business. When Barere wrote his Memoirs, the absurdity of this
self-denying ordinance had been proved by events, and was, we
believe, acknowledged by all parties. He accordingly, with his
usual mendacity, speaks of it in terms implying that he had
opposed it. There was, he tells us, no good citizen who did not
regret this fatal vote. Nay, all wise men, he says, wished the
National Assembly to continue its sittings as the first
Legislative Assembly. But no attention was paid to the wishes of
the enlightened friends of liberty; and the generous but fatal
suicide was perpetrated. Now the fact is, that Barere, far from
opposing this ill-advised measure, was one of those who most
eagerly supported it; that he described it from the tribune as
wise and magnanimous; that he assigned, as his reasons for taking
this view, some of those phrases in which orators of his class
delight, and which, on all men who have the smallest insight into
politics, produce an effect very similar to that of ipecacuanha.
"Those," he said, "who have framed a constitution for their
country are, so to speak, out of the pale of that social state of
which they are the authors; for creative power is not in the same
sphere with that which it has created."

M. Hippolyte Carnot has noticed this untruth, and attributes it
to mere forgetfulness. We leave it to him to reconcile his very
charitable supposition with what he elsewhere says of the
remarkable excellence of Barere's memory.

Many members of the National Assembly were indemnified for the
sacrifice of legislative power by appointments in various
departments of the public service. Of these fortunate persons
Barere was one. A high Court of Appeal had just been instituted.
This court was to sit at Paris: but its jurisdiction was to
extend over the whole realm; and the departments were to choose
the judges. Barere was nominated by the department of the Upper
Pyrenees, and took his seat in the Palace of Justice. He
asserts, and our readers may, if they choose, believe, that it
was about this time in contemplation to make him Minister of the
Interior, and that in order to avoid so grave a responsibility,
he obtained permission to pay a visit to his native place. It is
certain that he left Paris early in the year 1792, and passed
some months in the south of France.

In the mean time, it became clear that the constitution of 1791
would not work. It was, indeed, not to be expected that a
constitution new both in its principles and its details would at
first work easily. Had the chief magistrate enjoyed the entire
confidence of the people, had he performed his part with the
utmost zeal, fidelity, and ability--had the representative body
included all the wisest statesmen of France, the difficulties
might still have been found insuperable. But, in fact, the
experiment was made under every disadvantage. The King, very
naturally, hated the constitution. In the Legislative Assembly
were men of genius and men of good intentions, but not a single
man of experience. Nevertheless, if France had been suffered to
settle her own affairs without foreign interference, it is
possible that the calamities which followed might have been
averted. The King, who, with many good qualities, was sluggish
and sensual, might have found compensation for his lost
prerogatives in his immense civil list, in his palaces and
hunting grounds, in soups, Perigord pies, and champagne. The
people, finding themselves secure in the enjoyment of the
valuable reforms which the National Assembly had, in the midst of
all its errors, effected, would not have been easily excited by
demagogues to acts of atrocity; or, if acts of atrocity had been
committed, those acts would probably have produced a speedy and
violent reaction. Had tolerable quiet been preserved during a
few years, the constitution of 1791 might perhaps have taken
root, might have gradually acquired the strength which time alone
can give, and might, with some modifications which were
undoubtedly needed, have lasted down to the present time. The
European coalition against the Revolution extinguished all hope
of such a result. The deposition of Louis was, in our opinion,
the necessary consequence of that coalition. The question was
now no longer, whether the King should have an absolute Veto or a
suspensive Veto, whether there should be one chamber or two
chambers, whether the members of the representative body should
be re-eligible or not; but whether France should belong to the
French. The independence of the nation, the integrity of the
territory, were at stake; and we must say plainly that we
cordially approve of the conduct of those Frenchmen who, at that
conjuncture, resolved, like our own Blake, to play the men for
their country, under whatever form of government their country
might fall.

It seems to us clear that the war with the Continental coalition
was, on the side of France, at first a defensive war, and
therefore a just war. It was not a war for small objects, or
against despicable enemies. On the event were staked all the
dearest interests of the French people. Foremost among the
threatening powers appeared two great and martial monarchies,
either of which, situated as France then was, might be regarded
as a formidable assailant. It is evident that, under such
circumstances, the French could not, without extreme imprudence,
entrust the supreme administration of their affairs to any person
whose attachment to the national cause admitted of doubt. Now,
it is no reproach to the memory of Louis to say that he was not
attached to the national cause. Had he been so, he would have
been something more than man. He had held absolute power, not by
usurpation, but by the accident of birth, and by the ancient
polity of the kingdom. That power he had, on the whole, used
with lenity. He had meant well by his people. He had been
willing to make to them, of his own mere motion, concessions such
as scarcely any other sovereign has ever made except under
duress. He had paid the penalty of faults not his own, of the
haughtiness and ambition of some of his predecessors, of the
dissoluteness and baseness of others. He had been vanquished,
taken captive, led in triumph, put in ward. He had escaped; he
had been caught; he had been dragged back like a runaway galley-
slave to the oar. He was still a state prisoner. His quiet was
broken by daily affronts and lampoons. Accustomed from the
cradle to be treated with profound reverence, he was now forced
to command his feelings, while men who, a few months before, had
been hackney writers or country attorneys, sat in his presence
with covered heads, and addressed him in the easy tone of
equality. Conscious of fair intentions, sensible of hard usage,
he doubtless detested the Revolution; and, while charged with the
conduct of the war against the confederates, pined in secret for
the sight of the German eagles and the sound of the German drums.
We do not blame him for this. But can we blame those who, being
resolved to defend the work of the National Assembly against the
interference of strangers, were not disposed to have him at their
head in the fearful struggle which was approaching? We have
nothing to say in defence or extenuation of the insolence,
injustice, and cruelty with which, after the victory of the
republicans, he and his family were treated. But this we say,
that the French had only one alternative, to deprive him of the
powers of first magistrate, or to ground their arms and submit
patiently to foreign dictation. The events of the tenth of
August sprang inevitably from the league of Pilnitz. The King's
palace was stormed; his guards were slaughtered. He was
suspended from his regal functions; and the Legislative Assembly
invited the nation to elect an extraordinary Convention, with the
full powers which the conjuncture required. To this Convention
the members of the National Assembly were eligible; and Barere
was chosen by his own department.

The Convention met on the 21st of September 1792. The first
proceedings were unanimous. Royalty was abolished by
acclamation. No objections were made to this great change; and
no reasons were assigned for it. For certainly we cannot honour
with the name of reasons such apophthegms, as that kings are in
the moral world what monsters are in the physical world; and that
the history of kings is the martyrology of nations. But, though
the discussion was worthy only of a debating club of schoolboys,
the resolution to which the Convention came seems to have been
that which sound policy dictated. In saying this, we do not mean
to express an opinion that a republic is, either in the abstract
the best form of government, or is, under ordinary circumstances,
the form of government best suited to the French people. Our own
opinion is, that the best governments which have ever existed in
the world have been limited monarchies; and that France, in
particular, has never enjoyed so much prosperity and freedom as
under a limited monarchy. Nevertheless, we approve of the vote
of the Convention which abolished kingly government. The
interference of foreign powers had brought on a crisis which made
extraordinary measures necessary. Hereditary monarchy may be,
and we believe that it is, a very useful institution in a country
like France. And masts are very useful parts of a ship. But, if
the ship is on her beam-ends, it may be necessary to cut the
masts away. When once she has righted, she may come safe into
port under jury rigging, and there be completely repaired. But,
in the meantime, she must be hacked with unsparing hand, lest
that which, under ordinary circumstances, is an essential part of
her fabric should, in her extreme distress, sink her to the
bottom. Even so there are political emergencies in which it is
necessary that governments should be mutilated of their fair
proportions for a time, lest they be cast away forever; and with
such an emergency the Convention had to deal. The first object
of a good Frenchman should have been to save France from the fate
of Poland. The first requisite of a government was entire
devotion to the national cause. That requisite was wanting in
Louis; and such a want, at such a moment, could not be supplied
by any public or private virtues. If the king were set aside,
the abolition of kingship necessarily followed. In the state in
which the public mind then was, it would have been idle to think
of doing what our ancestors did in 1688, and what the French
Chamber of Deputies did in 1830. Such an attempt would have
failed amidst universal derision and execration. It would have
disgusted all zealous men of all opinions; and there were then
few men who were not zealous. Parties fatigued by long conflict,
and instructed by the severe discipline of that school in which
alone mankind will learn, are disposed to listen to the voice of
a mediator. But when they are in their first heady youth, devoid
of experience, fresh for exertion, flushed with hope, burning
with animosity, they agree only in spurning out of their way the
daysman who strives to take his stand between them and to lay his
hand upon them both. Such was in 1792 the state of France. On
one side was the great name of the heir of Hugh Capet, the
thirty-third king of the third race; on the other side was the
great name of the republic. There was no rallying point save
these two. It was necessary to make a choice; and those, in our
opinion, judged well who, waving for the moment all subordinate
questions, preferred independence to subjugation, and the natal
soil to the emigrant camp.

As to the abolition of royalty, and as to the vigorous
prosecution of the war, the whole Convention seemed to be united
as one man. But a deep and broad gulf separated the
representative body into two great parties.

On one side were those statesmen who are called, from the name of
the department which some of them represented, the Girondists,
and, from the name of one of their most conspicuous leaders, the
Brissotines. In activity and practical ability, Brissot and
Gensonne were the most conspicuous among them. In parliamentary
eloquence, no Frenchman of that time can be considered as equal
to Vergniaud. In a foreign country, and after the lapse of half
a century, some parts of his speeches are still read with
mournful admiration. No man, we are inclined to believe, ever
rose so rapidly to such a height of oratorical excellence. His
whole public life lasted barely two years. This is a
circumstance which distinguishes him from our own greatest
speakers, Fox, Burke, Pitt, Sheridan, Windham, Canning. Which of
these celebrated men would now be remembered as an orator, if he
had died two years after he first took his seat in the House of
Commons? Condorcet brought to the Girondist party a different
kind of strength. The public regarded him with justice as an
eminent mathematician, and, with less reason, as a great master
of ethical and political science; the philosophers considered him

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