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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 wit
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, 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
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'état. On one occasion, the legislative councils were placed under military restraint by the directors. Then again, directors were de.
posed 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, when
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. Lainé 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 exultation 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 specious 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 St. 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-laborer of Mr. Bentham, should have expressed such an opinion, is a circumstance which well de. serves 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 neighbors 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 illiberal 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 gag. ging 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 country
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 Whig.
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 to 1832, it is our firm belief that he would have been a decided reformer.
The judgment passed by M. Dumont in this work on the French Revolution must be taken with considerable allow
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 Na. tional 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