Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

illustrating by fiction the natural laws of social welfare. Political economy is far more ingeniously as well as justly illustrated in the Absentee' and Castle Rackrent,' than in Ireland. There is not indeed one tale of Miss Edgeworth’s but conveys some useful lesson on questions which materially concern the economy of society. But the difference between the two writers is, that the moral of Miss Edgeworth's tales is naturally suggested to the reader by the course of events of which he peruses the narrative; that of Miss Martineau is embodied in elaborate dialogues or most unnatural incidents, with which her stories are interlarded and interrupted, to the utter destruction of the interest of all but detached bits of them. *

ART. VIII.-The Causes of the French Revolution. Svo.

pp. 274. London. 1832. THIS THIS thin book, or rather thick pamphlet, is—his booksellers

make no secret about it—the production of Lord John Russell

. Some years ago his Lordship undertook what he called Memoirs of the Affairs of Europe since the Peace of Utrecht,' and of these he had already presented to the world two massy volumes, which, however, the world was not pleased to accept. Had he continued his story on the original scale, Lord John must have become as voluminous as Thomas Aquinas, before he could have reached the peace of Anniens. But the construction of the Reform Bill, correspondence with Political Unions, and other useful public labours, have diverted his attention from the prosecution of this gigantic task; and we must be contented, it seems, with sixpence in the pound—with a few detached sections on the most momentous revolution of modern times, which the noble author had at first designed to interweave with the narrative of his thirtieth or thirty-fifth quarto.

His Lordship is perhaps not aware,—for Whig lords, even when not cabinet ministers, have always been averse to hear wholesome truths,--that a man, who played a considerable part in that revolution, had already characterized his Lordship as a ' petit littérateur ;' but we do not believe that the French language has any diminutive by which that eminent person could express the contempt which he—and every man who knows anything of French literature or history-must have for such an impudent catchpenny as this.

* It gives us much pleasure to see, that Miss Edgeworth's stories are now in the course of republication in a cheap series of monthly volumes, with corrections and notes, after the fashion of the current editions of the Waverley novels and the works of Lord Byron. But are we never to have any more new novels from her now unrivalled hand ?

literature

In the first place, these · Causes of the French Revolution' extend no farther than the death of Louis XV. The two first chapters contain a very high-coloured description of the profligacy of the court during the latter years of that monarch; but they contain no attempt to prove that such profligacy led to a general system of misgovernment, or that such misgovernment existed either before or since. It is easy to produce instances of vice and folly in the upper classes of a nation, which may nevertheless not be, as regards the happiness and prosperity of the middle and lower classes, ill governed. Some theorists may dream that private vices may be public benefits; but let not the absurdity of such a position drive us into the contrary absurdity, that all the misfortunes of an empire are to be referred to the immorality of the fashionable world. But however this may be, Lord John at least takes no trouble about proving his position ; and it would have been very interesting to have followed the series of demonstration by which he should have proved that Louis XV.'s profligacy had excited the virtuous indignation of men quite as profligate, and a thousand times more wicked. The third chapter (twice as long as the other two together) gives us an account of the lives and personal adventures of the principal writers of that period, and more especially Voltaire and Rousseau. In the two hundred and seventy-four pages of this pamphlet, it is almost incredible how large a space is devoted to the most insignificant details. No less than three dinners are minutely described in different passages. The first, we are told, comprised good brown bread, made entirely of wheat;' 'a ham that looked very tempting;' a bottle of wine, the sight of which rejoiced the heart, and a large omelette.' The next, seventy pages afterwards, consists of juicy vegetables and mutton of the valley, admirably roasted. Of the third dinner the dishes are not recorded, but we are told that it began between tive and six ; that it lasted nearly two hours, and was followed by different childrens' games,' and especially the royal game of goose!' It is a little hard to have the cranbe repetita, and to have the game of goose continued by Lord John Russell. Lord John Russell is equally communicative as to all the dirty little amours of Rousseau, and revels through a dozen pages on Voltaire's liaison with Madame du Chatelet. Describing the same great man at a later period, he informs us, that• His usual habit was to stay in bed till twelve o'clock; till two, he wrote or received company; from two till four he was out in his carriage with his secretary; on his return he took coffee or chocolate, and worked till eight or nine, when, if well, he appeared at supper.

He

1

He went to bed at eleven or twelve, and never slept more than five
hours. When he wished to write down his thoughts, he rang for his
secretary, whose room was below his,' &c., &c.!!-p. 117.
And such trifling, forsooth, is to pass for philosophy and history-
for a critical inquiry into the real causes of the French Revolution !

We are also bound to say, that short as this essay is, it affords conclusive proof that Lord John Russell is as slightly and superficially acquainted with the French language as with French history. Thus, for instance, in one of his favourite descriptions of a dinner, translated from Rousseau, he concludes by saying, that it was such as pedestrian never made before. Now, the original is tel qu'autre qu'un piéton n'en connut jamais, and we need hardly point out that these words do not bear the meaning which Lord John Russell gives them, but allude to the healthy appetite derived from a journey on foot—a mode of travelling which Rousseau frequently practised, and which he highly extols in his Emile. Thus again, Lord John repeats a good, but somewhat threadbare jest, in the following words :- Madame du Deffand said, on being asked whether she could believe that St. Denys had walked a whole league with his head under his arm ? Et cependant ce n'est que le premier pas qui coute. Every critical reader of French must at once perceive, as every one acquainted with the anecdote knows, that the words et cependant are inconsistent with the point of the bon mot.

In another place, talking of Sophie Arnoud (not. Arnaud ') the opera girl, (for such are his Lordship's historical authorities,) Lord John tells us, “ It was she who, seeing the head of the Duke of Choiseul placed on the reverse of a medal of Sully, said, " I suppose it means receipts and expenses,' (p. 164). What Sophie did say was, la recette-et la dépense-i. é. the receipt and the expenditure. Now that he is an official personage, Lord John might be expected to understand the dialect of quarterday; at least it is hard upon poor Sophie that an English cabinet minister should destroy the only reputation she ever possessed that of wit.

We might also, were it worth while, prove his Lordship to be a frequent blunderer in even his slight sketches of the lives of Rousseau and Voltaire, which, while he thought he was translating, he has only transformed. To give a single instance : speaking of the children of the sentimental Swiss being sent to the Foundling Hospital, the Noble Paymaster observes, ' It was for telling this secret that he quarrelled for ever with Diderot.' Now this is wholly incorrect. This secret was known so early as 1751, as we find by a letter of Rousseau's to Madame de Francueil on the 20th of April in that year, and it had even become a topic of

[ocr errors]

common

common gossip amongst his neighbours at Paris.* Rousseau and Diderot continued on intimate terms for several years afterwards: Their final quarrel was connected with the affair of Madame d'Epinay, and took place in the winter of 1757.

We have no right to blame Lord John Russell for not being so accurate a French scholar as his colleague, Lord Palmerston. But we do blame him for passing, under these circumstances, such very decided and presumptuous judgments on the old French manners and the old French government. We do blame him for saying, without a shadow of proof—nay, in opposition to all proof --that this government was totally beyond all capability of improvement-it is the fashion of his party and his day to confound reform and destruction ;—and above all we pity him for thinking that to collect, and mangle, a few gossiping anecdotes, is to write history-and that to mistranslate jest-books is to develope the origin of a great national convulsion.

The important public functions of the noble author have of course prevented him from studying any very recent books on the subject of his own lucubrations—but we are of opinion that, even as an English minister, he might have profited had he stolen a few hours for Dumont's Souvenirs de Mirabeau ; or, to speak more truly, stolen a few pages from that volume, as he has done from so many

others less worth the theft. He would not indeed have found there any silly twaddle about the loves and suppers of journalists and encyclopædists ; but he would have been presented with the true causes and true men of the French Revolution. That work proves, that its hitherto unappreciated author's original powers of thinking were of the highest order, and made him as far

superior to the petits littérateurs,' whom Lord John congenially loves to quote, as Mirabeau himself was to Jeremy Bentham. It displays at the same time that sensitive and shrinking disposition, often attendant on real genius, which left him nearly indifferent to personal fame or distinction, and ready to give out his own ideas under the sanction of some other more aspiring name. His characters of Mirabeau and the other real heroes of the Revolution are drawn with the hand of a master, and disfigured neither by flattery nor satire. His views of that Revolution itself deserve still deeper attention. Above all, we must express our feelings of gratification at the justice which this eminent and clear-sighted writer has done to another writer still more eminent and clear-sighted than himself-to one of the brightest names in the bright annals of this country of the world--to Edmund Burke. He is far from being an unqualified admirer of Mr. Burke's Letters on the French Revolution ; he charges them with exaggeration and party tone, and * See Rousseau's works. (Vol. ii., p. 127, ed. 1822.)

at

at the time he even wrote a reply to them. Yet he owns, that ! by directing the attention of governments and of men of property to the dangers of this new political religion, Mr. Burke was probably THE SAVIOUR OF EUROPE !' But Lord John quotes the loose (in both senses) notes of Bezenval, and the Jesuit malice of Soulavieand seems never to have heard of Dumont or of Mirabeau.

Of Mirabeau himself we had always conceived that he must have been distinguished for powers of extemporaneous speaking and readiness of reply. It was to this that we ascribed his ascendancy over those six hundred school-boy declaimers and shallow theorists, called the National Assembly. It appears, on the contrary, that he could do little without previous preparation. His speeches were composed for him at home by dependents or friends, whom he had skilfully enlisted into his service, and he himself only gave them a few finishing and masterly touches. Dumont, one of his principal assistants, compares him to the jay with borrowed plumage in the fable. Any objections raised against his premeditated bursts of oratory used to disconcert him, and he commonly contrived to obtain an adjournment before his reply. It is true, that he sometimes shot forth at the moment expressive nicknames never afterwards forgotten; or some single sentence-like that at the Séance Royalewhich struck every ear as a thunderbolt, and passed into every mouth as a proverb. But such brilliant flashes, elicited by the collisions of party, belong rather to the talents of conversation than to those of oratory, and are epigrams, not speeches.

With every deduction, however, and even with the fact that Lord John never mentions his name, Mirabeau must have been a man of extraordinary genius. As a mere orator he may perhaps be ranked low; but in the aim and object of all oratory-leading the minds of others—he stood pre-eminent. If his plumage was borrowed, none at least knew better how to raise his flight and how to poise his wings. He was the modern Dædalus, and tempted many an Icarus to a fatal catastrophe. He had to elevate himself from the lowest depths. His private character was infamous. considered a low political hireling, so base, as to be always ready to betray his own party—50 worthless, that he could seldom be of use to any other. The first announcement of his name in the National Assembly was received, says Dumont, with murmurs and hootings. A few months pass, and we find him the chief, the sovereign, the idol, of those very men, who had been ashamed to admit him as their colleague. We find him become a sort of third power in the state ; we find him standing forth--in hiniself a personification of a whole house of peers--as a barrier

between

He was

« ZurückWeiter »