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Appendix to the “Discourse”: Extracts from the Lectures - Sir James Mackintosh, Vindiciae Gallicae and Other Writings on the French Revolution 
Vindiciae Gallicae and Other Writings on the French Revolution, edited and with an Introduction by Donald Winch (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2006).
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Appendix to the “Discourse”: Extracts from the Lectures
In laying open this plan, I am aware that men of finished judgment and experience will feel an unwillingness, not altogether unmingled with disgust, at being called back to the first rudiments of their knowledge. I know with what contempt they look down on the sophistical controversies of the schools. I own that their disgust is always natural, and their contempt often just. Something had already been said in vindication of myself on this subject in my published discourse, but perhaps not enough. I entreat such men to consider the circumstances of the times in which we live. A body of writers has arisen in all the countries of Europe, who represent all the ancient usages, all the received opinions, all the fundamental principles, all the most revered institutions of mankind, as founded in absurdity, requiring the aid both of oppression and imposture, and leading to the degradation and misery of the human race. This attack is conducted upon principles which are said to be philosophical, and such is the state of Europe, that I will venture to affirm, that, unless our ancient opinions and establishment can also be vindicated upon philosophical principles, they will not long be able to maintain that place in the affection and<112> veneration of mankind, from which they derive all their strength. In this case, I trust I shall be forgiven if I dig deeply into theory, and explore the solid foundations of practice—if I call in the aid of philosophy, not for the destruction, but for the defence, of experience. Permit me to say, the unnatural separation and, much more, the frequent hostility of speculation and practice, have been fatal to science and fatal to mankind. They are destined to move harmoniously, each in its own orbit, as members of one grand system of universal Wisdom. Guided by one common law, illuminated from one common source, reflecting light on each other, and conspiring, by their movements, to the use and beauty [of one grand] whole. Believe me, gentlemen, when we have examined this question thoroughly, we shall be persuaded that that refined and exquisite good sense, applied to the most important matters, which is called Philosophy, never differs, and never can differ in its dictates, from that other sort of good sense, which is employed in the guidance of human life. There is, indeed, a philosophy, falsely so called, which, on a hasty glance over the surface of human life, condemns all our institutions to destruction, which stigmatises all our most natural and useful feelings as prejudices; and which, in the vain effort to implant in us principles which take no root in human nature, would extirpate all those principles which sweeten and ennoble the life of man. The general character of this system is diametrically opposite to that of true philosophy:—wanting philosophical modesty, it is arrogant—philosophical caution, it is rash—philosophical calmness, it is headstrong and fanatical. Instead of that difference, and, if I may so speak, of that scepticism and cowardice, which is the first lesson of philosophy, when we are to treat of the happiness of human beings, we find a system as dog-<113>matical, boastful, heedless of every thing but its own short-sighted views, and intoxicated with the perpetual and exclusive contemplation of its own system of disorder, and demonstrations of insanity. This is not that philosophy which Cicero calls “philosophiam illam matrem omnium benefactorum beneque dictorum”;1 for its direct tendency is to wither and blast every amiable and every exalted sentiment, from which either virtue, or eloquence can flow, by holding up to the imagination an ideal picture of I know not what future perfection of human society. The doctors of this system teach their disciples to loathe that state of society in which they must live and act, to despise and abhor what they cannot be virtuous and happy without loving and revering—to consider all our present virtues either as specious vices, or at best but as the inferior and contemptible duties of a degraded condition, from which the human race must and will speedily escape. Of this supposed state of future perfection (though it be utterly irreconcilable with reason, with experience, or with analogy), the masters of this sect speak as confidently, as if it were one of the best authenticated events in history. It is proposed as an object of pursuit and attainment. It is said to be useful to have such a model of a perfect society before our eyes, though we can never reach it. It is said at least to be one of the harmless speculations of benevolent visionaries. But this is not true. The tendency of such a system (I impute no evil intentions to its promulgators) is to make the whole present order of human life appear so loathsome and hideous, that there is nothing to justify either warm affection, or zealous exertion, or even serious pursuit. In seeking an unattainable perfection, it tears up by the roots every principle which leads to the substantial and practicable improvement of mankind. It thwarts its own purpose,<114> and tends to replunge men into depravity and barbarism. Such a philosophy, I acknowledge, must be at perpetual variance with practice, because it must wage eternal war with truth. From such a philosophy I can hope to receive no aid in the attempt, which is the main object of these lectures, to conclude a treaty of peace, if I may venture so to express myself, between the worlds of speculation and practice, which were designed by nature to help each other, but which have been so long arrayed against each other, by the pretended or misguided friends of either. The philosophy from which I shall seek assistance in building up [my theory of] morals, is of another character; better adapted, I trust, to serve as the foundation of that which has been called, with so much truth, and with such majestic simplicity, “amplissimam omnium artium, bene vivendi disciplinam.”2 The true philosophy of morality and politics is founded on experience. It never, therefore, can contradict that practical prudence, which is the more direct issue of experience. Guided by the spirit of that philosophy, which is
I shall, in my inquiries into human nature, only to take to pieces the principles of our conduct, that I may the better show the necessity of putting them together—analyse them, that I may display their use and beauty, and that I may furnish new motives to cherish and cultivate them. In the examination of laws, I shall not set out with the assumption, that all the wise men of the world have been hitherto toiling to build up an elaborate system of folly, a stupendous edifice of injustice. As I think the contrary presumption more reasonable as well as more modest, I shall think it my duty to explore the codes of nations, for those treasures of reason which<115> must have been deposited there by that vast stream of wisdom, which, for so many ages, has been flowing over them.
Such a philosophy will be terrible to none of my hearers. Empirical statesmen have despised science, and visionary speculators have despised experience; but he who was both a philosopher and a statesman, has told us, “This is that which will indeed dignify and exalt knowledge, if contemplation and action may be more nearly conjoined and united than they have hitherto been.”4 These are the words of Lord Bacon;* and in his spirit I shall, throughout these lectures, labour with all my might to prove, that philosophical truth is, in reality, the foundation of civil and moral prudence. In the execution of this task, I trust I shall be able to avoid all obscurity of language. Jargon is not philosophy—though he who first assumed the name of philosopher, is said by Lucian to have confessed that he made his doctrines wonderful to attract the admiration of the vulgar. You will, I hope, prefer the taste of a greater than Pythagoras, of whom it was said, “that it was his course to make wonders plain, not plain things wonderful.”5 <116>
As a part of general education, I have no intention to insinuate that there is any deficiency in the original plan, or in the present conduct of those noble seminaries of learning where the youth of England are trained up in all the liberal and ingenious arts: far be such petulant, irreverent insinuations from my mind. Though I am in<117> some measure a foreigner in England, though I am a stranger to their advantages, yet no British heart can be a stranger to their glory.
Non obtusa adeo gestamus pectora.6
I can look with no common feelings on the schools which sent forth a Bacon and a Milton, a Hooker and a Locke. I have often contemplated with mingled sensations of pleasure and awe, those magnificent monuments of the veneration of our ancestors for piety and learning. May they long flourish, and surpass, if that be possible, their ancient glory.
I am not one of those who think that, in the system of English education, too much time and labour are employed in the study of the languages of Greece and Rome; it is a popular, but, in my humble opinion, a very shallow and vulgar objection. It would be easy, I think, to prove that too much time can be scarcely employed on these languages by any nation which is desirous of preserving either that purity of taste, which is its brightest ornament, or that purity of morals, which is its strongest bulwark.
You may be sure, gentlemen, that I am not going to waste your time by expanding the common-places of panegyric on classical learning. I shall not speak of the necessity of recurring to the best models for the formation of taste. When any modern poets or orators shall have excelled Homer and Demosthenes; and when any considerable number of unlettered modern writers (for I have no concern with extraordinary exceptions) shall have attained eminence, it will be time enough to discuss the question. But I entreat you to consider the connexion between classical learning and morality, which I think as real and as close as its connexion with taste, although I do not find that it has been so often noticed. If we were to<118> devise a method for infusing morality into the tender minds of youth, we should certainly not attempt it by arguments and rules, by definition and demonstration. We should certainly endeavour to attain our object by insinuating morals in the disguise of history, of poetry, and of eloquence; by heroic examples, by pathetic incidents, by sentiments that either exalt and fortify, or soften and melt, the human heart. If philosophical ingenuity were to devise a plan of moral instruction, these, I think, would be its outlines. But such a plan already exists. Classical education is that plan; nor can modern history and literature even be substituted in its stead. Modern example can never imprint on the youthful mind the grand and authoritative sentiment, that in the most distant ages, and in states of society the most unlike, the same virtues have been the object of human veneration. Strip virtue of the awful authority which she derives from the general reverence of mankind, and you rob her of half her majesty. Modern character never could animate youth to noble exertions of duty and of genius, by the example of that durable glory which awaits them after death, and which, in the case of the illustrious ancients, they see has survived the subversion of empires, and even the extinction of nations. Modern men are too near and too familiar, to inspire that enthusiasm with which we must view those who are to be our models in virtue. When our fancy would exalt them to the level of our temporary admiration, it is perpetually checked by some trivial circumstance, by some mean association,—perhaps by some ludicrous recollection,—which damps and extinguishes our enthusiasm. They had the same manners which we see every day degraded by ordinary and vicious men; they spoke the language which we hear polluted by the use of the ignorant and the vulgar. But ancient sages and patriots are,<119> as it were, exalted by difference of language and manners, above every thing that is familiar, and low, and debasing. And if there be something in ancient examples not fit to be imitated, or even to be approved in modern times, yet, let it be recollected, that distance not only adds to their authority, but softens their fierceness. When we contemplate them at such a distance, the ferocity is lost, and the magnanimity only reaches us. These noble studies preserve, and they can only preserve the unbroken chain of learning which unites the most remote generations; the grand catholic communion of wisdom and wise men throughout all ages and nations of the world. “If,” says Lord Bacon, “the intention of the ship was thought so noble, which carrieth riches and commodities from place to place, and consociateth the most remote regions in participation of their fruits, how much more are letters to be magnified, which, as ships, pass through the vast seas of time, and make ages so distant participate of the wisdom, illuminations, and inventions, the one of the other.”7 Alas! gentlemen; what can I say that will not seem flat, and tame, and insipid, after this divine wisdom and divine eloquence? But this great commerce between ages will be broken and intercepted; the human race will be reduced to the scanty stock of their own age, unless the latest generations are united to the earliest by an early and intimate knowledge of their language, and their literature. From the experience of former times, I will venture to predict, that no man will ever obtain lasting fame in learning, who is not enlightened by the knowledge, and inspired by the genius, of those who have gone before him. But if this be true in other sciences, it is ten thousand times more evident in the science of morals.
I have said in my printed Discourse, that morality admits no discoveries; and I shall now give you some<120> reasons for a position, which may perhaps have startled some, in an age when ancient opinions seem in danger of being so exploded, that when they are produced again, they may appear novelties, and even be suspected of paradox. I do not speak of the theory of morals, but of the rule of life. First examine the fact, and see whether, from the earliest times, any improvement, or even any change, has been made in the practical rules of human conduct. Look at the code of Moses. I speak of it now as a mere human composition, without considering its sacred origin. Considering it merely in that light, it is the most ancient and the most curious memorial of the early history of mankind. More than three thousand years have elapsed since the composition of the Pentateuch; and let any man, if he is able, tell me in what important respects the rule of life has varied since that distant period. Let the Institutes of Menu be explored with the same view; we shall arrive at the same conclusion. Let the books of false religion be opened; it will be found that their moral system is, in all its grand features, the same. The impostors who composed them were compelled to pay this homage to the uniform moral sentiments of the world. Examine the codes of nations, those authentic depositories of the moral judgments of men; you every where find the same rules prescribed, the same duties imposed: even the boldest of these ingenious sceptics who have attacked every other opinion, has spared the sacred and immutable simplicity of the rules of life. In our common duties, Bayle and Hume agree with Bossuet and Barrow. Such as the rule was at the first dawn of history, such it continues till the present day. Ages roll over mankind; mighty nations pass away like a shadow; virtue alone remains the same, immortal and unchangeable.
The fact is evident, that no improvements have been<121> made in practical morality. The reasons of this fact it is not difficult to discover. It will be very plain, on the least consideration, that mankind must so completely have formed their rule of life, in the most early times, that no subsequent improvements could change it. The chances of a science being improvable, seem chiefly to depend on two considerations.
When the facts which are the groundwork of a science are obvious, and when the motive which urge men to the investigation of them is very powerful, we may always expect that such a science will be so quickly perfected, in the most early times, as to leave little for after ages to add. When, on the contrary, the facts are remote and of difficult access, and when the motive which stimulates men to consider them is not urgent, we may expect that such a science will be neglected by the first generations of mankind; and that there will be, therefore, a boundless field for its improvement left open to succeeding times. This is the grand distinction between morality, and all other sciences. This is the principle which explains its peculiar history and singular fortune. It is for this reason that it has remained for thirty centuries unchanged, and that we have no ground to expect that it will be materially improved, if this globe should continue inhabited by men for twice thirty centuries more. The facts which lead to the formation of moral rules are as accessible, and must be as obvious, to the simplest barbarian, as to the most enlightened philosopher. It requires no telescope to discover that undistinguishing and perpetual slaughter will terminate in the destruction of his race. The motive that leads him to consider them is the most powerful that can be imagined. It is the care of preserving his own existence. The case of the physical and speculative sciences is directly opposite. There the facts are remote, and scarcely acces-<122>sible; and the motive that induces us to explore them is comparatively weak. It is only curiosity; or, at most, only a desire to multiply the conveniences and ornaments of life. It is not, therefore, till very late in the progress of refinement, that these sciences become an object of cultivation. From the countless variety of the facts, with which they are conversant, it is impossible to prescribe any bounds to their future improvement. It is otherwise with morals. They have hitherto been stationary; and, in my opinion, they are likely for ever to continue so.
On the State of France in 1815.<184><185>
To appreciate the effects of the French Revolution on the people of France, is an undertaking for which no man now alive has sufficient materials, or sufficient impartiality, even if he had sufficient ability. It is a task from which Tacitus and Machiavel would have shrunk; and to which the little pamphleteers, who speak on it with dogmatism, prove themselves so unequal by their presumption, that men of sense do not wait for the additional proof which is always amply furnished by their performances. The French Revolution was a destruction of great abuses, executed with much violence, injustice, and inhumanity. The destruction of abuse is, in itself, and for so much, a good: injustice and inhumanity would cease to be vices, if they were not productive of great mischief to society. This is a most perplexing account to balance.
As applied, for instance, to the cultivators and cultivation of France, there seems no reason to doubt the unanimous testimony of all travellers and observers, that agriculture has advanced, and that the condition of the agricultural population has been sensibly improved. M. de la Place calculates agricultural produce to have increased one fifth during<186> the last twenty-five years. M. Cuvier, an unprejudiced and dispassionate man, rather friendly than adverse to much of what the Revolution destroyed, and who, in his frequent journeys through France, surveyed the country with the eyes of a naturalist and a politician, bears the most decisive testimony to the same general result. M. de Candolle, a very able and enlightened Genevese, who is Professor of Botany at Montpellier, is preparing for the press the fruit of several years devoted to the survey of French cultivation, in which we are promised the detailed proofs of its progress.1 The apprehensions lately entertained by the landed interest of England, and countenanced by no less an authority than that of Mr. Malthus, that France, as a permanent exporter of corn, would supply our market, and drive our inferior lands out of cultivation,—though we consider them as extremely unreasonable,—must be allowed to be of some weight in this question.2 No such dread of the rivalship of French corn-growers was ever felt or affected in this country in former times. Lastly, the evidence of Mr. Birkbeck, an independent thinker, a shrewd observer, and an experienced farmer, though his journey was rapid, and though he perhaps wished to find benefits resulting from the Revolution, must be allowed to be of high value.3
But whatever may have been the benefits conferred by the Revolution on the cultivators, supposing them to have been more questionable than they appear to have been, it is at all events obvious, that the division of the confiscated lands among the peasantry must have given that body an interest and a pride in the maintenance of the order or disorder which that revolution had produced. All confiscation is unjust. The French confiscation, being the most extensive, is the most abominable example of that species of legal robbery. But we speak only of its political effects on the temper of the peasantry. These effects are by no means confined to those who had become proprietors. The promotion of many inspired all with<187> pride: the whole class was raised in self-importance by the proprietary dignity acquired by numerous individuals. Nor must it be supposed that the apprehensions of such a rabble of ignorant owners, who had acquired their ownerships by means of which their own conscience would distrust the fairness, were to be proportioned to the reasonable probabilities of danger. The alarms of a multitude for objects very valuable to them, are always extravagantly beyond the degree of the risk, especially when they are strengthened by any sense, however faint and indistinct, of injustice, which, by the immutable laws of human nature, stamps every possession which suggests it with a mark of insecurity. It is a panic fear;—one of those fears which are so rapidly spread and so violently exaggerated by sympathy, that the lively fancy of the ancients represented them as inflicted by a superior power.
Exemption from manorial rights and feudal services was not merely, nor perhaps principally, considered by the French farmers as a relief from oppression. They were connected with the exulting recollections of deliverance from a yoke,—of a triumph over superiors,—aided even by the remembrance of the licentiousness with which they had exercised their saturnalian privileges in the first moments of their short and ambiguous liberty. They recollected these distinctions as an emancipation of their caste. The interest, the pride, the resentment, and the fear, had a great tendency to make the maintenance of these changes a point of honour among the whole peasantry of France. On this subject, perhaps, they were likely to acquire that jealousy and susceptibility which the dispersed population of the country rarely exhibit, unless when their religion, or their national pride, or their ancient usages, are violently attacked. The only security for these objects would appear to them to be a government arising, like their own property and privileges, out of the Revolution.
We are far from commending these sentiments, and<188> still farther from confounding them with the spirit of liberty. If the forms of a free constitution could have been preserved under a counter-revolutionary government, perhaps these hostile dispositions of the peasants and new proprietors against such a government, might have been gradually mitigated and subdued into being one of the auxiliaries of freedom. But, in the present state of France, there are unhappily no elements of such combinations. There is no such class as landed gentry,—no great proprietors resident on their estates,—consequently no leaders of this dispersed population, to give them permanent influence on the public counsels, to animate their general sluggishness, or to restrain their occasional violence. In such a state they must, in general, be inert;—in particular matters, which touch their own prejudices and supposed interest, unreasonable and irresistible. The extreme subdivision of landed property might, under some circumstances, be favourable to a democratical government. Under a limited monarchy it is destructive of liberty, because it annihilates the strongest bulwarks against the power of the crown. Having no body of great proprietors, it delivers the monarch from all regular and constant restraint, and from every apprehension but that of an inconstant and often servile populace. And, melancholy as the conclusion is, it seems too probable that the present state of property and prejudice among the larger part of the people of France, rather disposes them towards a despotism deriving its sole title from the Revolution, and interested in maintaining the system of society which it has established, and armed with that tyrannical power which may be necessary for its maintenance.
Observations of a somewhat similar nature are applicable to other classes of the French population. Many of the tradesmen and merchants, as well as of the numerous bodies of commissaries and contractors grown rich by war, had become landed proprietors. These classes in general had participated in the early<189> movements of the Revolution. They had indeed generally shrunk from its horrors; but they had associated their pride, their quiet, almost their moral character, with its success, by extensive purchases of confiscated land. These feelings were not to be satisfied by any assurances, however solemn and repeated, or however sincere, that the sales of national property were to be inviolable. The necessity of such assurance continually reminded them of the odiousness of their acquisitions, and of the light in which the acquirers were considered by the government. Their property was to be spared as an evil, incorrigible from its magnitude. What they must have desired, was a government from whom no such assurances could have been necessary.
The middle classes in cities were precisely those who had been formerly humbled, mortified, and exasperated by the privileges of the nobility,—for whom the Revolution was a triumph over those who, in the daily intercourse of life, treated them with constant disdain,—and whom that Revolution raised to the vacant place of these desposed chiefs. The vanity of that numerous, intelligent, and active part of the community—merchants, bankers, manufacturers, tradesmen, lawyers, attorneys, physicians, surgeons, artists, actors, men of letters—had been humbled by the monarchy, and had triumphed in the Revolution: they rushed into the stations which the gentry—emigrant, beggared, or proscribed—could no longer fill: the whole government fell into their hands.
Buonaparte’s nobility was an institution framed to secure the triumph of all these vanities, and to provide against the possibility of a second humiliation. It was a body composed of a Revolutionary aristocracy, with some of the ancient nobility,—either rewarded for their services to the Revolution, by its highest dignities, or compelled to lend lustre to it, by accepting in it secondary ranks, with titles inferior to their own,—and with many lawyers, men of letters,<190> merchants, physicians, &c., who often receive inferior marks of honour in England, but whom the ancient system of the French monarchy had rigorously excluded from such distinctions. The military principle predominated, not only from the nature of the government, but because military distinction was the purest that was earned during the Revolution. The Legion of Honour spread the same principle through the whole army, which probably contained six-and-thirty thousand out of the forty thousand who composed the order. The whole of these institutions was an array of new against old vanities,—of that of the former roturiers against that of the former nobility. The new knights and nobles were daily reminded by their badges, or titles, of their interest to resist the re-establishment of a system which would have perpetuated their humiliation. The real operation of these causes was visible during the short reign of Louis XVIII. Military men, indeed, had the courage to display their decorations, and to avow their titles: but most civilians were ashamed, or afraid, to use their new names of dignity; they were conveyed, if at all, in a subdued voice, almost in a whisper; they were considered as extremely unfashionable and vulgar. Talleyrand renounced his title of Prince of Beneventum; and Massena’s resumption of his dignity of Prince was regarded as an act of audacity, if not of intentional defiance.
From these middle classes were chosen another body, who were necessarily attached to the Revolutionary government,—the immense body of civil officers who were placed in all the countries directly or indirectly subject to France,—in Italy, in Germany, in Poland, in Holland, in the Netherlands,—for the purposes of administration of finance, and of late to enforce the vain prohibition of commerce with England. These were all thrown back on France by the peace. They had no hope of employment: their gratitude, their resentment, and their expectations bound them to the fortune of Napoleon.<191>
The number of persons in France interested, directly or indirectly, in the sale of confiscated property—by original purchase, by some part in the successive transfers, by mortgage, or by expectancy,—has been computed to be ten millions. This must be a great exaggeration: but one half of that number would be more than sufficient to give colour to the general sentiment. Though the lands of the Church and the Crown were never regarded in the same invidious light with those of private owners, yet the whole mass of confiscation was held together by its Revolutionary origin: the possessors of the most odious part were considered as the outposts and advanced guards of the rest. The purchasers of small lots were peasants; those of considerable estates were the better classes of the inhabitants of cities. Yet, in spite of the powerful causes which attached these last to the Revolution, it is certain, that among the class called “La bonne bourgeoisie” are to be found the greatest number of those who approved the restoration of the Bourbons as the means of security and quiet. They were weary of revolution, and they dreaded confusion: but they are inert and timid, and almost as little qualified to defend a throne as they are disposed to overthrow it. Unfortunately, their voice, of great weight in the administration of regular governments, is scarcely heard in convulsions. They are destined to stoop to the bold;—too often, though with vain sorrow and indignation, to crouch under the yoke of the guilty and the desperate.
The populace of great towns (a most important constituent part of a free community, when the union of liberal institutions, with a vigorous authority, provides both a vent for their sentiments, and a curb on their violence,) have, throughout the French Revolution, showed at once all the varieties and excesses of plebeian passions, and all the peculiarities of the French national character in their most exaggerated state. The love of show, or of change,—the rage for liberty or slavery, for war or for peace, soon<192> wearing itself out into disgust and weariness,—the idolatrous worship of demagogues, soon abandoned, and at last cruelly persecuted,—the envy of wealth, or the servile homage paid to it,—all these, in every age, in every place, from Athens to Paris, have characterised a populace not educated by habits of reverence for the laws, or bound by ties of character and palpable interest to the other classes of a free commonwealth. When the Parisian mob were restrained by a strong government, and compelled to renounce their democratic orgies, they became proud of conquest,—proud of the splendour of their despotism,—proud of the magnificence of its exhibitions and its monuments. Men may be so brutalised as to be proud of their chains. That sort of interest in public concerns, which the poor, in their intervals of idleness, and especially when they are met together, feel perhaps more strongly than other classes more constantly occupied with prudential cares, overflowed into new channels. They applauded a general or a tyrant, as they had applauded Robespierre, and worshipped Marat. They applauded the triumphal entry of a foreign army within their walls as a grand show; and they huzzaed the victorious sovereigns, as they would have celebrated the triumph of a French general. The return of the Bourbons was a novelty, and a sight, which, as such, might amuse them for a day; but the establishment of a pacific and frugal government, with an infirm monarch and a gloomy court, without sights or donatives, and the cessation of the gigantic works constructed to adorn Paris, were sure enough to alienate the Parisian populace. There was neither vigour to overawe them,—nor brilliancy to intoxicate them,—nor foreign enterprise to divert their attention.
Among the separate parties into which every people is divided, the Protestants are to be regarded as a body of no small importance in France. Their numbers were rated at between two and three millions; but their importance was not to be estimated<193> by their numerical strength. Their identity of interest,—their habits of concert,—their common wrongs and resentments,—gave them far more strength than a much larger number of a secure, lazy, and dispirited majority. It was, generally speaking, impossible that French Protestants should wish well to the family of Louis XIV., peculiarly supported as it was by the Catholic party. The lenity with which they had long been treated, was ascribed more to the liberality of the age than that of the Government. Till the year 1788, even their marriages and their inheritances had depended more upon the connivance of the tribunals, than upon the sanction of the law. The petty vexations, and ineffectual persecution of systematic exclusion from public offices, and the consequent degradation of their body in public opinion, long survived the detestable but effectual persecution which had been carried on by missionary dragoons, and which had benevolently left them the choice to be hypocrites, or exiles, or galley-slaves. The Revolution first gave them a secure and effective equality with the Catholics, and a real admission into civil office. It is to be feared that they may have sometimes exulted over the sufferings of the Catholic Church, and thereby contracted some part of the depravity of their ancient persecutors. But it cannot be doubted that they were generally attached to the Revolution, and to governments founded on it.
The same observations may be applied, without repetition, to other sects of Dissidents. Of all the lessons of history, there is none more evident in itself, and more uniformly neglected by governments, than that persecutions, disabilities, exclusions,—all systematic wrong to great bodies of citizens,—are sooner or later punished; though the punishment often falls on individuals, who are not only innocent, but who may have had the merit of labouring to repair the wrong.
The voluntary associations which have led or influenced the people during the Revolution, are a very material object in a review like the present. The<194> very numerous body who, as Jacobins or Terrorists, had participated in the atrocities of 1793 and 1794, had, in the exercise of tyranny, sufficiently unlearned the crude notions of liberty with which they had set out. But they all required a government established on Revolutionary foundations. They all took refuge under Buonaparte’s authority. The more base accepted clandestine pensions or insignificant places: Barrere wrote slavish paragraphs at Paris; Tallien was provided for by an obscure or a nominal consulship in Spain. Fouché, who conducted this part of the system, thought the removal of an active Jacobin to a province cheaply purchased by five hundred a year. Fouché, himself, one of the most atrocious of the Terrorists, had been gradually formed into a good administrator under a civilized despotism,—regardless indeed of forms, but paying considerable respect to the substance, and especially to the appearance of justice,—never shrinking from what was necessary to crush a formidable enemy, but carefully avoiding wanton cruelty and unnecessary evil. His administration, during the earlier and better part of Napoleon’s government, had so much repaired the faults of his former life, that the appointment of Savary to the police was one of the most alarming acts of the internal policy during the violent period which followed the invasion of Spain.
At the head of this sort of persons, not indeed in guilt, but in the conspicuous nature of the act in which they had participated, were the Regicides. The execution of Louis XVI. being both unjust and illegal, was unquestionably an atrocious murder: but it would argue great bigotry and ignorance of human nature, not to be aware, that many who took a share in it must have viewed it in a directly opposite light. Mr. Hume himself, with all his passion for monarchy, admits that Cromwell probably considered his share in the death of Charles I. as one of his most distinguished merits.4 Some of those who voted for the death of Louis XVI. have proved that they acted only from erroneous judgment, by<195> the decisive evidence of a virtuous life. One of them perished in Guiana, the victim of an attempt to restore the Royal Family.5 But though among the hundreds who voted for the death of that unfortunate Prince, there might be seen every shade of morality from the blackest depravity to the very confines of purity—at least in sentiment, it was impossible that any of them could be contemplated without horror by the brothers and daughter of the murdered Monarch. Nor would it be less vain to expect that the objects of this hatred should fail to support those Revolutionary authorities, which secured them from punishment,—which covered them from contempt by station and opulence,—and which compelled the monarchs of Europe to receive them into their palaces as ambassadors. They might be—the far greater part of them certainly had become—indifferent to liberty,—perhaps partial to that exercise of unlimited power to which they had been accustomed under what they called a “free” government: but they could not be indifferent in their dislike of a government, under which their very best condition was that of pardoned criminals, whose criminality was the more odious on account of the sad necessity which made it pardoned. All the Terrorists, and almost all the Regicides, had accordingly accepted emoluments and honours from Napoleon, and were eager to support his authority as a Revolutionary despotism, strong enough to protect them from general unpopularity, and to ensure them against the vengeance or the humiliating mercy of a Bourbon government.
Another party of Revolutionists had committed great errors in the beginning, which co-operated with the alternate obstinacy and feebleness of the Counter-revolutionists, to produce all the evils which we feel and fear, and which can only be excused by their own inexperience in legislation, and by the prevalence of erroneous opinions, at that period, throughout the most enlightened part of Europe. These were the best leaders of the Constituent Assembly, who never<196> relinquished the cause of liberty, nor disgraced it by submissions to tyranny, or participation in guilt.
The best representative of this small class, is M. de La Fayette, a man of the purest honour in private life, who has devoted himself to the defence of liberty from his earliest youth. He may have committed some mistakes in opinion; but his heart has always been worthy of the friend of Washington and of Fox. In due time the world will see how victoriously he refutes the charges against him of misconduct towards the Royal Family, when the palace of Versailles was attacked by the mob, and when the King escaped to Varennes. Having hazarded his life to preserve Louis XVI., he was imprisoned in various dungeons, by Powers, who at the same time released Regicides. His wife fell a victim to her conjugal heroism. His liberty was obtained by Buonaparte, who paid court to him during the short period of apparent liberality and moderation which opened his political career. M. de la Fayette repaid him, by faithful counsel; and when he saw his rapid strides towards arbitrary power, he terminated all correspondence with him, by a letter, which breathes the calm dignity of constant and intrepid virtue. In the choice of evils, he considered the prejudices of the Court and the Nobility as more capable of being reconciled with liberty, than the power of an army. After a long absence from courts, he appeared at the levee of Monsieur, on his entry into Paris; and was received with a slight,—not justified by his character, nor by his rank—more important than character in the estimate of palaces. He returned to his retirement, far from courts or conspiracies, with a reputation for purity and firmness, which, if it had been less rare among French leaders, would have secured the liberty of that great nation, and placed her fame on better foundations than those of mere military genius and success.
This party, whose principles are decisively favourable to a limited monarchy, and indeed to the general outlines of the institutions of Great Britain, had some<197> strength among the reasoners of the capital, but represented no interest and no opinion in the country at large. Whatever popularity they latterly appeared to possess, arose but too probably from the momentary concurrence, in opposition to the Court, of those who were really their most irreconcileable enemies,—the discontented Revolutionists and concealed Napoleonists. During the late short pause of restriction on the press, they availed themselves of the half-liberty of publication which then existed, to employ the only arms in which they were formidable,—those of argument and eloquence. The pamphlets of M. Benjamin Constant were by far the most distinguished of those which they produced; and he may be considered as the literary representative of a party, which their enemies, as well as their friends, called the “Liberal,” who were hostile to Buonaparte and to military power, friendly to the general principles of the constitution established by Louis XVIII., though disapproving some of its parts, and seriously distrusting the spirit in which it was executed, and the maxims prevalent at Court. M. Constant, who had been expelled from the Tribunat, and in effect exiled from France, by Buonaparte, began an attack on him before the Allies had crossed the Rhine, and continued it till after his march from Lyons. He is unquestionably the first political writer of the Continent, and apparently the ablest man in France. His first Essay, that on Conquest, is a most ingenious development of the principle, that a system of war and conquest, suitable to the condition of barbarians, is so much at variance with the habits and pursuits of civilized, commercial, and luxurious nations, that it cannot be long-lived in such an age as ours.6 If the position be limited to those rapid and extensive conquests which tend towards universal monarchy, and if the tendency in human affairs to resist them be stated only as of great force, and almost sure within no long time of checking their progress, the doctrine of M. Constant will be generally<198> acknowledged to be true. With the comprehensive views, and the brilliant poignancy of Montesquieu, he unites some of the defects of that great writer. Like him, his mind is too systematical for the irregular variety of human affairs; and he sacrifices too many of those exceptions and limitations, which political reasonings require, to the pointed sentences which compose his nervous and brilliant style. His answer to the Abbé Montesquiou’s foolish plan of restricting the press, is a model of polemical politics, uniting English solidity and strength with French urbanity.7 His tract on Ministerial Responsibility, with some errors (though surprisingly few) on English details, is an admirable discussion of one of the most important institutions of a free government, and, though founded on English practice, would convey instruction to most of those who have best studied the English constitution.8 We have said thus much of these masterly productions, because we consider them as the only specimens of the Parisian press, during its semi-emancipation, which deserve the attention of political philosophers, and of the friends of true liberty, in all countries. In times of more calm, we should have thought a fuller account of their contents, and a free discussion of their faults, due to the eminent abilities of the author. At present we mention them, chiefly because they exhibit, pretty fairly, the opinions of the liberal party in that country.
But, not to dwell longer on this little fraternity (who are too enlightened and conscientious to be of importance in the shocks of faction, and of whom we have spoken more from esteem for their character, than from an opinion of their political influence), it will be already apparent to our readers, that many of the most numerous and guiding classes in the newly arranged community of France, were bound, by strong ties of interest and pride, to a Revolutionary government, however little they might be qualified or sincerely disposed for a free constitution,—which they<199> struggled to confound with the former; that these dispositions among the civil classes formed one great source of danger to the administration of the Bourbons; and that they now constitute a material part of the strength of Napoleon. To them he appeals in his Proclamations, when he speaks of “a new dynasty founded on the same bases with the new interests and new institutions which owe their rise to the Revolution.”9 To them he appeals, though more covertly, in his professions of zeal for the dignity of the people, and of hostility to feudal nobility, and monarchy by Divine right.
It is natural to inquire how the conscription, and the prodigious expenditure of human life in the campaigns of Spain and Russia, were not of themselves sufficient to make the government of Napoleon detested by the great majority of the French people. But it is a very melancholy truth, that the body of a people may be gradually so habituated to war, that their habits and expectations are at last so adapted to its demand for men, and its waste of life, that they become almost insensible to its evils, and require long discipline to re-inspire them with a relish for the blessings of peace, and a capacity for the virtues of industry. The complaint is least when the evil is greatest:—it is as difficult to teach such a people the value of peace, as it would be to reclaim a drunkard, or to subject a robber to patient labour.
A conscription is, under pretence of equality, the most unequal of all laws; because it assumes that military service is equally easy to all classes and ranks of men. Accordingly, it always produces pecuniary commutation in the sedentary and educated classes. To them in many of the towns of France it was an oppressive and grievous tax. But to the majority of the people, always accustomed to military service, the life of a soldier became perhaps more agreeable than any other. Families even considered it as a means of provision for their children; each parent labouring to persuade himself that his children would<200> be among those who should have the fortune to survive. Long and constant wars created a regular demand for men, to which the principle of population adapted itself. An army which had conquered and plundered Europe, and in which a private soldier might reasonably enough hope to be a marshal or a prince, had more allurements, and not more repulsive qualities, than many of those odious, disgusting, unwholesome, or perilous occupations, which in the common course of society are always amply supplied. The habit of war unfortunately perpetuates itself: and this moral effect is a far greater evil than the mere destruction of life. Whatever may be the justness of these speculations, certain it is, that the travellers who lately visited France, neither found the conscription so unpopular, nor the decay of male population so perceptible, as plausible and confident statements had led them to expect.
It is probable that among the majority of the French (excluding the army), the restored Bourbons gained less popularity by abolishing the conscription, than they lost by the cession of all the conquests of France. This fact affords a most important warning of the tremendous dangers to which civilized nations expose their character by long war. To say that liberty cannot survive it, is saying little:—liberty is one of the luxuries which only a few nations seem destined to enjoy;—and then only for a short period. It is not only fatal to the refinements and ornaments of civilized life:—its long continuance must inevitably destroy even that degree (moderate as it is) of order and security which prevails even in the pure monarchies of Europe, and distinguishes them above all other societies ancient or modern. It is vain to inveigh against the people of France for delighting in war, for exulting in conquest, and for being exasperated and mortified by renouncing those vast acquisitions. These deplorable consequences arise from an excess of the noblest and most necessary principles in the character of a nation, acted upon by<201> habits of arms, and “cursed with every granted prayer,”10 during years of victory and conquest. No nation could endure such a trial. Doubtless those nations who have the most liberty, the most intelligence, the most virtue,—who possess in the highest degree all the constituents of the most perfect civilization, will resist it the longest. But, let us not deceive ourselves,—long war renders all these blessings impossible: it dissolves all the civil and pacific virtues; it leaves no calm for the cultivation of reason; and by substituting attachment to leaders, instead of reverence for laws, it destroys liberty, the parent of intelligence and of virtue.
The French Revolution has strongly confirmed the lesson taught by the history of all ages, that while political divisions excite the activity of genius, and teach honour in enmity, as well as fidelity in attachment, the excess of civil confusion and convulsion produces diametrically opposite effects,—subjects society to force, instead of mind,—renders its distinctions the prey of boldness and atrocity, instead of being the prize of talent,—and concentrates the thoughts and feelings of every individual upon himself,—his own sufferings and fears. Whatever beginnings of such an unhappy state may be observed in France,—whatever tendency it may have had to dispose the people to a light transfer of allegiance, and an undistinguishing profession of attachment,—it is more useful to consider them as the results of these general causes, than as vices peculiar to that great nation.
To this we must add, before we conclude our cursory survey, that frequent changes of government, however arising, promote a disposition to acquiesce in change. No people can long preserve the enthusiasm, which first impels them to take an active part in change. Its frequency at last teaches them patiently to bear it. They become indifferent to governments and sovereigns. They are spectators of revolutions, instead of actors in them. They are a prey to be fought for by the hardy and bold, and are generally disposed of<202> by an army. In this state of things, revolutions become bloodless, not from the humanity, but from the indifference of a people. Perhaps it may be true, though it will appear paradoxical to many, that such revolutions as those of England and America, conducted with such a regard for moderation and humanity, and even with such respect for established authorities and institutions, independently of their necessity for the preservation of liberty, may even have a tendency to strengthen, instead of weakening, the frame of the commonwealth. The example of reverence for justice,—of caution in touching ancient-institutions,—of not innovating, beyond the necessities of the case, even in a season of violence and anger, may impress on the minds of men those conservative principles of society, more deeply and strongly, than the most uninterrupted observation of them in the ordinary course of quiet and regular government.
[1. ]“Philosophy, that mother of all good deeds and eloquent sayings.”
[2. ]“This the most fruitful of all arts, which teaches the way of right living.” Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, trans. J. E. King (London and Cambridge, Mass.: Heinemann and Harvard University Press, 1960), 332–33 (IV.iii.5).
[3. ]John Milton, A Mask (Comus), in Comus and Some Shorter Poems of Milton, ed. E. M. W. Tillyard (London: Harrap, 1952), 90, lines 477–78.
[4. ]Bacon, “The Dignity and Advancement of Learning,” in Works, 3:294.
[* ]In his copy of Lord Bacon’s Works was the following note:—“Jus naturae et gentium diligentius tractaturus, omne quod in Verulamio ad jurisprudentiam universalem spectat relegit J M apud Broadstairs in agro Rutupiano Cantiae, anno salutis humanae 1798, latè tum flagrantè per Europae felices quodam populos misero fatalique bello, in quo nefarii et scelestissimi latrones infando consilio apertè et audacter, virtutem, libertatem, Dei Immortalis cultum, mores et instituta majorum, hanc denique pulcherrimè et sapientissimè constitutam rempublicam labefactare, et penitùs evertere conantur.” [“When he came to deal with the Law of Nature and of Nations J[ames] M[ackintosh] reread everything in Verulam [Lord Bacon’s writings] that had to do with universal jurisprudence. He did this reading in Broadstairs in the district of Richborough in Kent, in the year of Salvation 1798, a time when there was a dreadful and deadly war raging widely among the once happy peoples of Europe. In this war impious and criminal mercenaries, with unspeakably evil intent, openly and boldly tried to dislodge and completely overturn virtue, freedom, worship of the Everlasting God, ancestral customs and practices, and lastly this finely and wisely founded commonwealth.”]—A plan of study, which, some time after he wrote out for a young friend, concludes thus: “And as the result of all study, and the consummation of all wisdom, Bacon’s Essays to be read, studied, and converted into part of the substance of your mind.”
[5. ]Unable to find the source of this quotation.
[6. ]“Not so dull are our Punic hearts.” Virgil, “Aeneid,” in Virgil, trans. H. Rushton Fairclough, 2 vols. (London and Cambridge, Mass.: Heinemann and Harvard University Press, 1967), 1:280–81 (bk. 1, line 567).
[7. ]Bacon, “The Dignity and Advancement of Learning,” in Works, 3:318.
[1. ]Augustin Pyramus de Candolle, Botanicon Gallicum seu Synopsis Plantarum in Flora Gallica Descriptarum, 2d ed. (Paris, 1828).
[2. ]T. R. Malthus, The Grounds of an Opinion on the Policy of Restricting the Importation of Foreign Corn (London, 1815), 12–14.
[3. ]Morris Birkbeck, Notes on a Journey through France from Dieppe through Paris and Lyons to the Pyrenees, and back through Toulouse, in July, August, and September 1814 (London, 1814).
[4. ]“The murder of the King, the most atrocious of all [Cromwell’s] actions, was to him covered under a mighty cloud of republican and fanatical illusions; and it is not impossible, but he might believe it, as many others did, the most meritorious action, that he could perform.” David Hume, History of England, 6 vols. (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1983), 6:110.
[5. ]This is probably a reference to Jean-Marie Collot d’Herbois (1749–96). Involved in the theater under the ancien régime, Collot d’Herbois was a member of both the National Convention and the Committee of Public Safety. He played a leading role in Thermidor and was subsequently deported to Guiana, where he died.
[6. ]Benjamin Constant, De l’ésprit de conquête et de l’usurpation (Hanover, 1814). For a recent English translation see “The Spirit of Conquest and Usurpation and Their Relation to European Civilization,” in Constant, Political Writings, ed. B. Fontana (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).
[7. ]B. Constant, Observations sur le discours de M. de Montesquiou (Paris, 1814).
[8. ]B. Constant, De la responsabilité des ministres (Paris, 1815). Translated into English as “The Responsibility of Ministers,” The Pamphleteer (London) 5 (1815): 299–329.
[9. ]No statement to this effect can be found in any of the proclamations or decrees issued by Napoleon during the period of his advance on Paris.
[10. ]”Cursed with every granted prayer” is from Alexander Pope, Moral Essays, epistle 2, To a Lady, line 147, in The Twickenham Edition of the Poems of Alexander Pope, ed. John Butt, 6 vols. (London: Methuen; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1951–1969), 62.