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no disclosures have been made in the
Public acts have been sufficiently emblazoned, but those who hold the seals of the private transactions of that age, may wish that they may remain unbroken. Tardily and reluctantly will truth be brought to light. It was, therefore, we formerly remarked, that a long series of years must pass away before the real history of the French Revolution will be fully revealed.
Another imperfection which would almost disqualify an individual from writing the history of a particular event, is the unfriendly feeling towards the French Revolution itself, so manifest on almost every page of this work. Whilst, occasionally, its importance, even its necessity, seems to be admitted, these concessions, sparingly. introduced, are followed by general denunciations, and the principles and authors of the Revolution are held responsible for every evil which occurred, even for those which destroyed the very fabric they were labouring to erect. It is difficult to make changes, even improvements in the form of society, without some particular evil. This taint of imperfection adheres to the nature and condition of man, and those who cry out with vehemence against such evils, are most generally persons interested in maintaining, undisturbed, the present relations of government, or the feeble, or the indolent, or the satisfied partakers of present abuses. The world may slumber in inglorious apathy and ignorance, provided those who preside over its tranquil movements remain unannoyed by the exertions of unquiet spirits, by those who endeavour to throw light upon the dark recesses of corruption and of usurpation.
These reflections arise almost unavoidably on reading some of Sir Walter's preliminary remarks on the French Revolution. If, as he observes, before that event, public opinion was not permitted to be freely expressed, if political discussion was not allowed to take a practical direction, these restrictions were not imposed by the reformers, nor should the evils which resulted from them be imputed to the Revolution—yet, while our author seems compelled, at one moment, (vol. i. p. 39) to acknowledge that freedom of discussion might have prepared the French nation for a more moderate and beneficial reform-yet, at another, (p. 34) he is disposed to impute to the licentiousness of the French press, every moral and political evil. Sir Walter surely forgets that the restrictions which he laments, and the excesses which he so severely censures, may both be traced to the government itself, or to those, at least, who were the supporters and controllers of the government; those, who, from prejudice, from interest, perhaps from position, became the opposers of the Revolution, and its first victims. While we feel disposed with him to reprobate the licentiousness of the press, -as in itself indicative of a most depraved state of manners, we must, in justice, remember that the extreme profligacy which disgraced the higher orders of French society for nearly a century preceding the Revolution, arose from the example of the highest classes, and was sanctioned and countenanced, if not encouraged by the monarchs themselves. Surely the Revolution must not be condemned, because those who in France were considered as the legitimate source of fashion, not only in manners, but in opinions and in morals, had vitiated and corrupted all that their example could influence or reach. The press seems to have been permitted by the rulers of Franceto indulge in any impurity, in everything relating to religion, or to abstract opinions in government, provided it did not touch on the practical details of the actual administration of the government of their own country, If, in the controversies that sprung out of these discussions, the philosophers, as Sir Walter states, (p. 34) “ drove from the field most of those authors, who, in opposition to their opinions, might have exerted themselves as champions of the church and monarchy," what must we conclude, was this done by the force of argument, by the power of truth? Surely this will not be admitted. On the side of the champions of the church and of monarchy, were arrayed numbers, and wealth, and authority, and the advantages of personal interest and of combined action. Talent could not be wanting, nor motives for its active exertion. If all failed, may we not rather suspect that these champions were encumbered by the weight and ornaments of their own armour; that they had to support, in this conflict, more than truth itself; that, in fact, no defence was welcome or satisfactory to the rulers of the day; but one, which included not only the fundamental and essential principles of government and of religion, but should embrace and protect every enormous pretension and prerogative, which time and prejudice, and accumulating power had annexed to their authority. It is no wonder that in such a contest, reason and wit found much to assail, and that many combatants retired from a conflict in which they were not permitted to rely upon the simple force of truth.
In like manner, every calamity that occurred in the stormy and sanguinary periods of the Revolution, is ascribed almost exclusively to its friends. Sir Walter condemns, we believe very justly, the emigration of the noblesse and the clergy; not, however, that we suppose the Revolution could have been arrested by their influence had they remained at hometo a certain extent it would inevitably have advanced. But their
But their presence and their acquiescence, in what appeared to be the will of so vast a
majority of the nation, would have moderated the violence of the predominant party, and restrained, perhaps suppressed the ferocious spirit that was permitted for a time to rule. The migration of nearly all the higher orders of society, the avowed supporters of the altar and the throne, was, in itself, an abandonment of their duties and stations, weakened the arm of the executive government, and injured their own cause; and even if no further measures had been adopted, would have been considered as an act of open hostility against the Revolution. But when the most illustrious of these emigrants, not satisfied with withdrawing in disgust from scenes which they might, perhaps, have softened or prevented; from events, which, by wisdom, they might have tempered, if not guided, were seen issuing manifestoes in the bitterest spirit against the Revolution and its leaders; were found, at every court in Europe, instigating monarchs to join in a crusade against their own country, who can wonder that by that country, children, so disloyal, should be considered as enemies, and that all who attempted to plead in , their behalf, should become suspected of conniving with them, and should necessarily lose, in the councils of the nation, their influence and authority? No measures could have been adopted better calculated to give a preponderance in the popular assemblies and public meetings in France to violent and intemperate resolutions; no means so curiously devised, to elevate into office and power, those individuals whose only qualifications were a rash and uncompromising spirit, and a fierce and unrelenting temper. It was under such circumstances, and by such means, that the moderate and wise and just among the promoters of the Revolution were driven from the helm of government, and the Marats and Dantons, and Carrieres, and Robespierres became so fatally conspicuous.
No obloquy ought to be thrown on the national assembly, or on the Revolution itself, on account of extravagant opinions uttered or entertained, even at its commencement, any more than for those ultra monarchical harangues, which were far more frequently pronounced. The convention of the notables, and afterwards of the States General, were events, in themselves, sufficient to awaken every reflecting, and to rouse every active mind in the kingdom. Unlimited scope was given to speculation, because undefined and untried powers were called into existence, and theoretical, rather than practical men were summoned to repair and adjust that political fabric which the abuses of a century had been silently subverting. Can we wonder that under such a summons, many opinions, wild, visionary and fantastic, should have been mingled even with the sound discretion of
those who took a more sober and practical view of the difficulties before them? Even if it were true, that, at the commencement of the Revolution, in the national assembly itself, there might have been found some individuals, republicans in principle (for this seems to have been the inexpiable offence) and willing to hazard, in France, the establishment of a republican government, yet, their numbers were so inconsiderable, both within and without the assembly, that they could not so much as avow their opinions. It was only when it became manifest that the higher orders of society, the nobility and the dignitaries of the church were almost unanimously hostile to the Revolution in all its objects and modifications, that this party increased in numbers, in importance, in confidence, and began openly to encourage the opinion that government might be conducted without the cooperation of those orders, who appeared so unwilling to unite in any liberal and mutually dependent system
It is unnecessary, almost idle to inquire, in such a convulsion, who gave the first provocation, or committed the first injury. In a mob, excited to action, it is always difficult to ascertain the first outrage, or in what gradation the passions of the people were worked up
to violence and frenzy. So, in the French Revolution, it seems impossible to detail and establish, chronologically, the many incidents on each side which tended to create suspicion, to excite discord, to embitter personal animosity, to generate, finally, open hostility. Errors, injuries, crimes, were committed on all sides, but success gave to the most violent and most unprincipled party the power of trampling on all rights with impunity, and grievously, indeed, was this power abused. But it certainly is not to one party alone, nor to the Revolution itself, that all these offences can be justly imputed.
It is not uncommon to find authors, kindling with zeal, as they advance with their subject, and entering, at last, with so perfect a sympathy into the views and feelings of their heroes, as to become disposed to dwell only on the bright light of the picture, and to soften, if not to efface its shades.
But we can truly say, that in the work before us, there is not, with regard either to Napoleon or to the French Revolution, any manifestation of this good natured propensity. The author catches no ardour from the lofty feelings which engendered and ushered in the Revolution; he is inspired with no enthusiasm by the magnanimous sacrifices which appeared to sanctify its principles.The liberal concessions, the voluntary offerings, the apparently unanimous resignation on the altar of their country of personal, local and feudal privileges are related with a speer and a sarcasm. That day, distinguished by the abandonment of so many inju
rious claims, of rights which tended only to mortify the humble, without exalting the powerful, of laws and customs, obsolete and neglected, yet, prized like the ancient eschutcheons to which they were incidents, because it occasioned some unnecessary, perhaps unsolicited sacrifices, is designated as the “day of dupes."
Of this day, so memorable in the early annals of this Revolution, we will exhibit a brief picture, drawn by one of the first historians of these great events.
The contrast of feeling may amuse some who have read the pages of Sir Walter Scott, The extract will, at least, shew what were the nature and object of those sacrifices, which became, afterwards, the subjects of calumny and reproach. We will merely premise that almost every speaker, on this memorable occasion, belonged to the highest order of the nobility:
“For several days the National Assembly solely occupied with the constitution, engaged with ardour in profound discussions on the rights of nature, and although carried away in the course of its debates by that generous warmth so natural to the French, its deliberations were characterized by that sage caution which was not expected from a nation, considered in Europe to be as imprudent and thoughtless, as it was amiable and brave. All at once the scene changes. This assembly so politic, so moral, so profoundly occupied with metaphysical questions, marches suddenly to the most decisive results. No sacrifice alarms, no difficulty arrests its progress; its patriotic enthusiasm surmounts all obstacles, its impetuous zeal breaks down all barriers; it destroys all privileges, tramples under foot the prerogatives of pride, changes the form of property, annihilates the feudal system, and in one night overturns that ancient oak whose branches covered the surface of the empire, whose roots had exhausted for so many ages, the nutritious juices of the earth, and stricken with sterility the happy soil of France. This, doubtless, was doing much. It effected still more-consecrating this act of vigour and of power, not by a simple law, but by an article of the constitution, it accomplished by one effort, the long and painful career which lay before it, and did more in a few hours for the happiness of the people, than they could have dared to hope from the improvements of a century.
“ It was evening when this ever memorable session commenced. It began by the reading of some project relative to the safety of the kingdom.
“M. de Noailles first arose to point out the only means of re-establisbing peace and after some observations on the disorders existing in France, remarked, “To obtain this tranquillity so necessary to all, I propose, 1st. That taxes shall be paid by all individuals in the kingdom in proportion to their revenue. 2d. That all public burthens shall in future be borne equally by all. 3d. That the feudal rights be redeemable in money at a fair valuation. 4th. That the Seigneurial corveès, mortmains and personal services be suppressed.'