LIFE AND WORKS OF M. DE SISMONDI.
BY M. MIGNET.
The sciences are of no country: they belong to the whole world. Those who cultivate them are but separated by the frontiers of states, and they understand one another, notwithstanding the difference of languages. Fellow citizens by thought, they form a vast intellectual society, obeying the same laws, those of the human mind; pursuing the same end, the discovery of universal truths; and animated by a common feeling, which is, so to speak, the patriotism of civilization. Learned bodies, established to be, as it were, the representative assemblies of this great society, receive into their bosom men of all nations, noted for the eminence of their works and the celebrity of their names. Thus the old academy of physical and mathematical science elected as associates Newton and Leibnitz, Linnæus and Euler.
The Academy of Moral and Political Sciences has followed this excellent custom. It has associated to itself five foreign members, and has chosen them among the most remarkable philosophers, jurisconsults, economists and historians in Europe. M. de Sismondi, whose life I have to relate to you today, was of this number. This rare distinction was due to the eminent man who has consecrated more than forty years to the study and the progress of the social sciences; to the generous economist who wished to introduce human feelings into a science till his time as inexorable as calculation; to the learned writer who has traced with so skilful a hand the picture of the Literature of the South of Europe; to the eloquent historian who, after having made the Italian republics live over again in the excellent work of his youth, passed the last quarter of his life in powerfully unfolding the long annals of our country;—in short, to the true-hearted philosopher who has constantly aimed at benefiting humanity with the ideas and in the language of France.
John Charles Leonard Simonde de Sismondi was born at Geneva the 9th of May, 1773. He traced his origin to the illustrious family of the Sismondi. Fallen from their ancient splendour, the Sismondis of Pisa had taken refuge in France with the army of Frederico Buzzolo, in 1524, after the definitive subiection of their country. They established themselves in Dauphiny, where in the oblivion of a long exile they had almost lost their name, which a foreign pronunciation had perverted by contracting it, and transformed into Simonde. Lastly, after having embraced Protestantism, they were obliged to expatriate themselves a second time, at the period of the revocation of the edict of Nantes. They went to seek an asylum in that city of Geneva, to which those banished from France for religion had, in the sixteenth century, given its constitution and its greatness, and which became a refuge for all the persecuted in Europe. There had been received, and there had lived honoured, under the name of Simonde, the great-grandfather, grandfather, and father of Sismondi, who, at a later time, guided by the resemblance of the two names and by the preservation of the same arms in his family, reassumed the old Pisan name of the Sismondis, and gave it new distinction.
The first years of his childhood were passed in a charming country house, called Châtelaine, which his family possessed at the gates of Geneva, at that very point where the troubled waters of the Arve mingle with the limpid Rhone, just issuing from the lake, by which, smoothed and pacified, it loses its impetuosity. Opposite the majaestic chain of the Alps and the smiling brow of the Jura, in the middle of the magnificent basin formed by these mountains, young Sismondi early looked with interest on the grand spectacles of nature. But what he first discovered was a precocious taste for political science. He was of the same country which had produced Rousseau, and he came into the world at the moment of revolutions. Thus, when scarcely ten years old, the natural disposition for imitation in children had for its object the gravest subjects, and he amused himself in founding a little ideal republic with his young friends, among whom was the brother of Benjamin Constant. This was in 1783, and the amusements and sports of children already announced the future labours of men and fathers. Assembled in a little grove where they had raised a monument to Rousseau, the little republicans had decreed, as was fit, that in their republic everybody should be virtuous and happy. Sismondi, without any ceremony, was ordained its Solon, and established this doctrine, at the end of a discourse of fourteen pages.
But this legislator of ten years old, after having made a constitution, must go to school. Hitherto brought up under the paternal roof, he must learn Latin and Greek at the school, and attend lectures at Geneva (A) . When he had finished his studies, he was sent to Lyons to acquire a knowledge of commercial business in the house of the Egnards, one of the greatest Genevese firms in that city. The father of Sismondi had some furtune, but he had endangered it by placing it in the French funds, through his confidence in the financial plans of his countryman, M. Necker. His losses determined him to place his son in a business which was not agreeable to him, but which might make him rich, wealth being then considered of as great importance at Geneva as it is now in every country. Young Sismondi submitted to the paternal will. He became an excellent clerk, and by his acquaintance with commercial business prepared himself to be an able economist. Every thing is useful to men of superior merit, even what is opposed to their wishes. Their minds are formed wherever they may be, and the strength of their vocation, with the assistance of some favourable circumstance which never fails to present itself, relieves them sooner or later from the false positions in which they have been placed, and affords them an opportunity of entering on their true path (B). This is what happened to Sismondi. The troubles of Lyons obliged him, after 1792, to return to Geneva. This republic soon received the impression of French opinions. The popular party overthrew the aristocratic families who directed the government. The father of Sismondi was imprisoned, and he was not spared himself. The remains of their fortune was put under contribution, their house was stripped of every thing of value, and when they came out of prison they decided upon a new emigration. Revolutions seemed to pursue from asylum to asylum a family so little favoured by fortune. After having quitted Italy for France, and France for Switzerland, it then left Switzerland for England (C).
Sismondi profited by his residence in that great country to study its language, its literature, its institutions, its industry, its agriculture, and its manners. Thus were developed those qualities which we recognise in all his writings: the spirit of an observer and the feelings of a cosmopolite. But at the end of eighteen months he was obliged once more to resume his wanderings. His mother, to whom he was devotedly attached through his life, though strong minded, was of a melancholy temperament. Her steady good sense and religious resignation were not proof against the sorrows of exile, and she could no longer support a continued residence in England. She wanted to see again the lake and the mountains of her native country, to hear its language spoken, to find herself once more, even at the risk of meeting again the dangers from which she had fled, under the roof-tree of her family abode. The family, therefore, set out for Geneva, and re-established themselves at their favourite Châtelaine.
It was not for long: a cruel catastrophe marked their return. One of the poor ancient syndics, proscribed by the popular party, M. Caila, closely connected with the family of the Sismondis, came to ask an asylum from them, and was hidden in a shed at the bottom of the garden, whence he could, at the least appearance of danger, pass into the neighbouring territory of France. Young Sismondi being placed as sentinel to watch over his safety during the night, heard, about two o'clock in the morning, the pacing of horses, and the sound of voices. He knocked at the door of the shed, which he found fastened, and vainly called with redoubled cries; the old syndic, who was deaf and sound asleep, did not answer. Soon the gendarmes came up, and he was himself struck down by blows with the butt end of a carbine, in attempting to defend the friend of his family, the guest of their house. The door was forced open and the unfortunate Caila was awakened from his sleep only to fall into the hands of his enemies (D). Madame de Sismondi, who had run to the place at the moment when they were dragging him away, bade him a mournful farewell, then throwing herself on her knees, continued in prayer till, towards morning, the distant sound of fire-arms informed her, that there was no more to hope from men, or to ask from God.
After this fatal event the Sismondi family again quitted Geneva. They seemed intent upon leaving it for ever, for they sold, though not without regret, Châtelaine, which might have induced them some time to return. This time they set out for Tuscany. There, with the price of that country house, which they called with poetic sorrow, their Paradise lost, they thought of buying a farm to which they might retire and on which they could live. Sismondi was commissioned to look for one: he traversed on foot those charming valleys which are formed on this side by the bends of the Apennines.
The rich territory of Pescia in the Val di Nievole between Lucca, Pistoia and Florence, attracted his attention by the beauty and variety of its cultivation. Its verdant plain, watered with astonishing art, cut into almost equal sized fields, covered with corn or cultivated as meadow land, gardens, orchards, all bordered with poplars intertwined with the branches of the vines; its hills formed in stages where the ground, kept up by walls of trees and grass, displayed, according to the exposure of their slopes, cheerful alleys of vines, pale olive woods, groves of orange and citron trees; lastly, even the summits of the mountains crowned with forests of chestnuts, and ornamented with villages, filled him with admiration. He did not hesitate fixing his family in this beautiful industrious abode. He found, in a little valley called Valchiusa, a country house in an enchanting situation, standing half way down the southern slope of the hill, from whence the eye wanders over the plain of Pescia, whose towers and steeples are outlined on the verdure of the opposite hill. It was in this agreeable abode, settled with his family, that Sismondi gave himself up to the care of its cultivation, and to the pleasure of deep study. It was there that, with the exception of some short imprisonments inflicted on him by the parties who alternately conquered Italy (E), he lived happily for five years. It was there that he composed his first and charming work on the agriculture of Tuscany, that he prosecuted his vast labour on the constitution of free nations, and that he prepared himself for writing the beautiful history of the Italian republics (F).
The work on the Agriculture of Tuscany appeared in 1801. It is purely descriptive. In it M. de Sismondi presents us with as soft and animated a picture of the labours and manners of the Tuscan agriculturists, as the one which, at a later period, he drew of the unpeopled but imposing campagna of Rome was vigorous and gloomy. He was at this time a fervent disciple of Smith. The two volumes which he published in 1803 on commercial wealth, show that he was so without any reservation. In his admiration of the celebrated Scotch economist, he wished to apply the whole of his theories to France, of which the canton of Geneva was become a department. He avowed himself the advocate of complete freedom of trade, and raised his voice against monopolies, custom-houses, colonial privileges, and all those restrictive measures by which, yielding to the wish of protection, according to him ill understood, the laws of a country shackle its prosperity, with the view of incressing it. Latterly he had little value for this work, when, led by the study of history from theoretic abstractions to social realities, he began to think that the sciences relating to man have not the same rigidness as those relating to matter; that the laws of the latter are unvarying, because the actions which they regulate are simple and constant, whilst the complex and changing acts of the former will only admit of varying laws; that consequently, if those where every thing is fixed act on absolute principles, the others, where all is succession and rotation, where the present state proceeds from a state that is past and differs from it, where interests make slower steps than ideas, where manners and customs long resist innovation, are founded on more qualified principles, and whose true merit consists in an opportune and cautious application of them. However that may be, this work on commercial wealth began and advanced very much the reputation of M. de Sismondi (G). Shortly after he had published it, the chair of political economy, which was vacant in the University of Wilna, was offered to him with a considerable salary. He was then at Geneva, whither he had been brought back in 1800 by the wisdom of the Consular government, and where he had been named secretary of the Chamber of Commerce of the Léman. So advantageous an offer might have seduced him, and been a temptation especially to his poverty. He refused it, that he might not lose any of his liberty, and that he might remain near his mother (H). Become a French citizen, he was for a moment disposed to seek employment for his talents in the career of administration and of business; but the prudence of Madame de Sismondi turned him from this design. She knew her son better than he knew himself. His bold convictions, which he would never have been able to bend to the varying exigencies of politics; his generous sentiments, which it would have been as difficult for him to sacrifice as to satisfy; an absolute love of right which would not easily admit of temporizing or delay; that deep pride which causes embarrassment in the presence of others when it does not give the power to govern them; the enthusiasm of a thinker, the awkwardness of a recluse, the candour of an upright man, little flexibility, no address, but a strong intellect, high talent, constant meditation on right and useful things, rendered M. de Sismondi less suited for public affairs than intellectual labour. His mother persuaded him to become an historian He followed this advice, which was also in accordance with his own taste, and also because he had not found it possible to publish his manuscript on the Constitutions of free nations, of which he had brought the first part to Pescia. Theories did not meet with the same favourable reception which they had formerly done. Their time seemed to be gone by—that of history was come.
Among all nations, history shows itself latest of all the productions of mind. It is the work of their intelligence arrived at maturity, as the epic is the triumph of their imagination in the first spring of their youth. To excel in it, it is requisite to be in a position to know well, in a state fully to comprehend, having a right to pass judgment on every thing. Thus history has never truly existed except in enlightened ages, and in free countries. It is at Athens, at Rome, at Florence, in England, in France, enlightened by the most vivid intelligence, by the teaching of the grandest scenes, under the protection of the liberty of the state, or of independence of thought, that the masters in the art of writing history have been formed. The favourable conditions amidst which these have appeared have been renewed in our times, and are still extending. A philosophical revolution which has made the reasoning of the historian more sound; a political revolution which has made it more free; the progress of certain sciences which have given him a more complete knowledge of facts, of times, of places, of men, of institutions, so many fruitful experiments, so many instructive events, accumulated for him in half a century, beliefs abandoned and resumed, communities destroyed and formed afresh, the excesses of the people, the errors of great men, the fall of governments, the prodigies of conquest, and the calamities of invasions; after the most extended wars, the longest peace, and the worship of interest succeeding to enthusiasm for ideas, have shown him the different aspects of human affairs, and must have made him penetrate more deeply than any of his forerunners have been able to do, into the secrets of history. Thus his responsibilities are increased with his resources. To make use of the spirit of his own times, in order to become acquainted with those of former ages; to unite firmness in judging and fidelity in describing; to unfold the consequences of events by ascending to their causes; to show every fault followed by punishment, every aggression provoking reprisals; to assign, in the performance of actions, what share is owing to individual will, attesting the moral liberty of man, and what to the operation of the general laws of human nature, tending to great ends under the hidden direction of Providence: such is this day his mission. Hence, history becomes a spectacle full of emotion, and a science fertile in instruction, the drama and lesson of human life.
M. de Sismondi was one of the first who entered on this new path. His inquiries into the constitutions of free countries had made him acquainted with the varied and stormy existence of the Italian republics of the middle ages. He then undertook to retrace their history, so original, so little known, so difficult; the history of that country which has outstripped every other in prosperity and in misfortune; which has twice conquered and organized the world, under the Romans, and under the Popes; of that Italy, which in a manner expiating her victories and her dominion, has fallen from the height of greatness and of unity into the excess of weakness and division; has been by turns invaded by barbarous nations and by the chiefs of the military monarchies of the continent; yet has been strong enough during six centuries to triumph over all conquerors, has been able to re-establish herself in disunion; has produced and made republics, some of which have become considerable states; and thanks to the natural genius of the admirable race of her inhabitants, has preserved the moral governent of Europe in spite of her weakness, has continued during the middle ages to be the country of wealth, the principal seat of thought, the school of art, the stage on which have been performed the most important events, and where the greatest men have appeared.
M. de Sismondi has treated this subject in a manner at once learned and brilliant. He has gone back to the origin of those numerous cities, proudly erected into republics on the ruins of the imperial power, or of feudal establishments; he has described their constitutions, shown their interior existence, related their struggles, exhibited their end. Turbulent Genoa, heroic Milan, mournful Pisa, prudent and powerful Venice, democratic Florence, and all those republics which, confined in a small space, had during a short period more animated life, more intoxicating passions, more varying vicissitudes than the kingdoms of the continent; and which have all fallen sooner or later under an ambitious usurper, because they were too free, or under the attacks of foreigners, because they were too weak; this is the long and grand history which has been retraced by M. de Sismondi. He has drawn it with vast knowledge, in a noble spirit, with vigorous talent, considerable art, and much eloquence. The interest which he gives to it, comes, as it always does, from the interest he takes in it. He does not merely relate the events; he passes judgment on them, he is moved by them; we feel the heart of the man beat in the pages of the historian. He carries us on with animation, his colouring is free, his thoughts are judicious. In spite of the defect— want of unity—which his subject presents, and over which M. de Sismondi has not been able in his work entirely to triumph, we pass without effort from one of his recitals to another, feeling, as in the cantos of Ariosto, regret for what we leave, till we are again carried away by what we take up (I).
The sixteen volumes of the Italian republics, begun in 1803, were not finished till 1818. It was not till 1807, and then with some difficulty, that M. de Sismondi succeseded in getting the two first volumes printed at Zurich. Their success facilitated the publication of the rest of the work, and gave it value.
During these fifteen years, the life of M. de Sismondi was spent in labour; his works and his affections were its principal events. M. Necker having conceived a friendship for him, he became from 1803 one of the accustomed guests at the chateau of Coppet, which was enlivened by the talents of Madame de Staël, where he met the clever Benjamin Constant; the celebrated historian of Switzerland, Jean de Müller; the learned critic, Sehlegel; where he became acquainted with Cuvier, and was introduced to De Candolle, and which was visited by the most remarkable men of Paris and of Europe. He there found himself in the society of his equals. Superior minds were mutually enriched and improved by a useful interchange of ideas, by happy and involuntary emulation. M. de Sismondi received excellent advice, and gained much in this illustrious and intellectual society. His thoughts embraced a greater number of subjects, and he learned to be more difficult in pleasing himself with what he wrote (J).
A tender and unchanging friendship bound him to Madame de Staël as long as she lived. He accompanied her in her travels in Italy (K) and Germany, when she visited those countries to compose her eloquent work “Corinne,” and to trace the brilliant picture of a foreign literature which, at a later period, was destined to open to ours, new and bold views (L).
Nearly at the time when Madame de Staël was prepared to make known the great productions and the celebrated men of contemporary Germany, M. de Sismondi devoted himself to an analogous labour on the literature of the South of Europe. In 1811 he gave at Geneva a course of public lectures on this subject, which had the most eminent success, and which, at a later period, afforded matter for an excellent book. The Provençale, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese literatures, produced in countries near one another, having a sort of relationship, from their languages being all sprung from the same Latin stock, developed at different times and under different conditions, denoting in their works the successive phases of society in the middle ages, have been learnedly distinguished by M. de Sismondi as to what they possess that is original, and how much has been borrowed, in the resemblances of their forms, and the peculiarities of their genius.
We see that M. de Sismondi finds as great a charm in giving them again to the world, as he did in studying them. He quotes ample fragments, and submits them to a skilful analysis: especially he considers each in its relations with the political and religious history of the nation which has produced it. His object is to show how the works of the intellect, and most particularly those of the imagination, a faculty which seems to depend only on itself, are however subject to austere laws of progress and decline, of fertile production or of sterile imitation, according to the social state of nations, and the general condition of their intelligence. He established the fact that letters acquire their greatest brilliancy at the moment when the nationality of a country arrives at its greatest strength, and that their decline begins with the abasement of the state. In this very attractive work it may be seen that great poets, those representatives of the imagination of nations, have no fertile inspirations but what have struck every imagination at the same time, as there are no great thoughts but what are in the minds of every one.
At the beginning of 1813, M. de Sismondi came to Paris to publish the four volumes of his lectures. It was the first time that he had visited this great city, where he became intimately acquainted with many persons of distinguished merit, and formed some lasting friendships. The public mind at that moment was very little directed to literary subjects. Agitated by a recent and immense disaster, the future was regarded with anxiety. Soon, in fact, the empire came to an end, and Geneva, which had been annexed to its territory, recovered her ancient independence. Elected member of the sovereign council of the republic, M. de Sismondi assisted in the work of its reorganization. The joy caused by the reestablishment of his country and the return of peace, was not of long duration. He was afflicted at the manner in which the allied kings abused their victory. In Europe, the arbitrary distribution of territories and of souls, without regard to the indications of justice, or the wishes of the people; in France, the threatening spirit of intolerance and reaction, filled him with grief and distrust (M).
Thus when Napoleon returned in 1815 from the Isle of Elba to the Tuileries without any obstacle, and without any fighting, M. de Sismondi, who was in Paris, saw in him the triumphant chosen of the people, the defender of those principles and results of the revolution which had been compromised, the legitimate representative of a great nation, whose choice and independence ought to be respected by the sovereigns of Europe, and after the publication of l'Acte Additionnel of the Champ de Mai, the framer of the best constitution which had yet been given to France. M. de Sismondi, who not long before blamed the excess of his ambition and of his power, declared himself openly in his favour, without being afraid of appearing inconsistent (N). In a series of remarkable articles inserted in the “Moniteur,” he ably defended his cause and his acts. The Emperor was very much struck with them. He wished to give M. de Sismondi a token of his satisfaction, and offered him the cross of the Legion of Honour, which M. de Sismondi refused, that by preserving his approbation disinterested it might have more power. But Napoleon invited him to l' Elysée Bourbon; and in a long conversation spoke to him of his return, of his position, of his projects, of the character of the different nations of Europe, on the principles of the revolution, on forms of government, with a frankness, a clear-sightedness, an equity, which charmed and won upon his free and respectful interlocutor. Already he was rising to that superiority of judgment, he was showing that serenity of mind which afterwards, at St. Helena, added the calm greatness of thought to the old and dazzling greatness of power and glory.
The sentiments which influenced M. de Sismondi in this meeting continued to animate him after the second triumph of the European coalition, and during the period of the Restoration (O). He wrote with power, and not without effect, against the slave trade in 1817; in 1823 he was enthusiastic for the emancipation of Greece; he applauded the attempts of those countries which endeavoured to make themselves free, and suffered much at their reverses. The love of the human race was in him so sincere, so lively, so universal, that it had the power of giving him the greatest delight and the deepest affliction. It governed him to such a degree that it affected the theories of his mind, as well as the dispositions of his soul.
He had assisted the great economical revolution which has been effected in our time. He had followed and admired the brilliant effects of those doctrines which had set labour free, overthrown the barriers which companies, corporations, customs levied in the interior of countries, and the multitude of monopolies, opposed to its productions and exchanges; which had excited the abundant production and free circulation of commodities; encouraged the emulation of competition; made even the elements of nature serve to accomplish the work of man with a skilful exactness, a productive promptitude; and which, aided by the disciplined forces of matter, the expeditious processes of science, the accumulated action of capital, the vast eagerness for wealth, brought forth those miracles of industry, which have raised so high, and carried so far, the power and prosperity of states.
But soon he penetrated farther, and spectacles less suited to make him proud of the progress of man, and to reassure him as to human happiness, were presented to him in that very country where the new theories had been most quickly and most completely developed, in England, where they reigned with power and authority. What had he seen there?—all the grandeur, but also all the abuse, of unlimited production, every progress of industry causing a revolution in the means of living; every closed market reducing whole populations to die of hunger; the irregularities of competition; that state naturally produced by contending interests, often more destructive than the ravages of war; he had seen man reduced to be the spring of a machine more intelligent than himself, human beings heaped together in unhealthy places, where life does not attain half its length; where family ties are broken, where moral ideas are lost; he had seen the weakest infancy condemned to labours which brutalize its mind, and prematurely waste its strength; he had seen the country, as well as the towns, transformed into manufactories; small properties and trades disappearing before great factories; the peasant and the artisan become day-labourers, the day-labourers falling into the lowest and most indigent class, and thus becoming paupers; in a word, he had seen extreme wretchedness and frightful degradation mournfully counterbalance and secretly threaten the prosperity and the splendour of a great nation.
Surprised and troubled, he asked himself if a science which sacrifices the happiness of man to the production of wealth, which oppresses thousands of creatures with labour without securing them bread, was the true science, the science which, according to the primitive sense of its name, ought to be the rule of a city and of a household? He answered no; and he uttered a cry of alarm to warn governments and nations of the danger which threatened them. From that moment he contended that political economy ought to have for its object much less the abstract production of wealth, than its equitable distribution. He maintained that all the members of society had a right to work and to happiness, as it had been proclaimed in the preceding century that they had a right to justice and to liberty. He set forth his views in the work which he published in 1819, under the title of Nouveaux principes d'économie politique, (New Principles of Political Economy,) and to which he gave its latest form in 1836. In this work, consisting of two volumes, of which one relates to landed property and the condition of the cultivators, (richesse territoriale et a la condition des cultivateurs,) and the other to commercial wealth, and the condition of the inhabitants of towns, (à la richesse commercielle et à la condition des habitans des villes,) he raised his voice against the effects of letting land in large farms, and of applying the manufacturing system to land, declaring that the consequence of it would be to transform fields of corn into pasturage, to replace men by machines, or to drive them off the land to be succeeded by sheep. He attacked the abuses of competition, the disturbances and gluts of production, and deplored in a style of eloquence the sudden ruin caused by the too frequent crises of ill regulated industry.
M. de Sismondi excels in showing the evil, but he does not point out the remedy. He nowhere dares to invest the community with the power of moderating the movement, and regulating the distribution of public wealth; for in that case it must preside at the production of all commodities, dispose of all property, divert the freest faculties of man, restrain his sudden advance, limit his enterprises, circumscribe his knowledge. Thus M. de Sismondi has laid down the problem without resolving it.
At all events his warnings have been opportune and salutary. They have powerfully contributed to awaken the attention of the economists and the solicitude of governments. If they have led some generous but rash minds, to imagine impracticable systems in the organization of labour, if they have not been free from dreams, hardly dangerous in an age so little chimerical, they have inspired producers with more circumspection in their undertakings, masters with more humanity towards their workmen, the workmen themselves with a greater spirit of order and economy. Thanks to this useful impulse, the state has laboured, proportionably to its powers, at the amelioration and well-being of the labouring classes; it has moderated the labour of children, opened houses of refuge, multiplied primary schools, established saving banks, founded conseils de prud'-hommes , and facilitated to these classes, so deserving of interest, the means to obtain instruction, property, justice.
Without doubt the inconveniences of the system which M. de Sismondi attacked have not all disappeared. Some of them are inherent in its nature, for here below there is good and evil in every thing. Restrained by too strict rules, human nature vegetates; set at liberty, it develops itself with exuberance. Too happy if it could advance towards liberty with moderation, towards wealth with safety, use the intellect without self-deception, follow the passions without doing wrong, wisely satisfy its wants, without being carried away by the warm pursuit of its interests. But God has not made life so easy, man so moderate, the world so regular. He has ordained that the well-being of life, the wisdom of man, the equilibrium of the world, shall be purchased by great and long efforts. It is, however, towards this magnificent end that He has directed humanity, by giving to men intelligence to regulate better and better their relations to one another: the idea of justice to correct their deviations from right, the feeling of beneficence to repair misfortune. (P)
The limits of this notice do not allow me to expatiate either on the numerous and important articles inserted by M. de Sismondi in periodical collections, or on a crowd of works, political, historical, and even belonging to the imagination, which, with an indefatigable activity of mind, he did not cease to produce and publish. I will only just mention the instructive novel of Julia Severa, in which, following, at a distance no doubt, the steps of the celebrated novelist who, by the help of dramatic pictures, has so deeply penetrated into history, he has made us acquainted, in a manner more exact than interesting, with the state of Gaul in 492, at the moment of the invasion of the barbarians. I shall also only name in passing the Précis des Républiques Italiennes, (Summary of the Italian Republics,) and the Tableau de la chûte de l'Empire Romain, (Picture of the fall of the Roman Empire,) which appeared in 1832 and 1835 in one of the most esteemed English Cyclopædias. Neither shall I examine with detail his Etudes sur les Conditions des Peuples (Studies on the Condition of Nations); a book which, after having been the idea of his youth, became the work of his experience, and in which he sets forth the different forms of political societies, appreciates the nature and bearing of each principle of government, and advises states to advance towards liberty by the natural developments of their internal constitution, and not by the sudden application of theories foreign to their history. (Q)
But there is a work of M. de Sismondi, the fruit of the labour of twenty-four years, the greatest of his historical compositions, one of the principal foundations of his fame, on which I must detain your attention for a longer time. After having finished the history of the Italian republics, M. de Sismondi undertook that of a country equally dear to his recollections. He wrote the history of that people whose territory having been the field of so many passing conquests, was formed of the wrecks of so many invasions, who preserving the impetuosity of the Gauls, Roman traditions, Germanic independence, intelligent, warlike, stirring, reasoning, with a character turned towards high enterprises, with a mind inclined to prompt conclusions, disciplined in action, unruly in repose, has for seven centuries prosecuted the great work of its national formation, beginning from the most extreme disunion to become most strongly united; which has been brought to equality through monarchy; and which, externally, placed by its central position in contact with the different nations of Europe, adding their ideas to its own, interfering continually in their destinies, having thence acquired a genius more extended, a more noble character, a more philanthropic patriotism, has been in times past, as in our own days, the promoter of general ideas, the support of universal interests, and has more than any other served the great cause of human kind. (R)
At the moment when M. de Sismondi began L'Histoire des Français, (the History of the French,) his mind was in its fullest power. The profound study of original documents, a labour as rigorous as intellectual, allowed of his presenting this history in a more complete and truthful manner than had ever been done before. Far better than any of those who preceded him, he has apprehended and treated most of those great problems which belong to the invasions and co-existence of many nations on the same soil, to feudalism, and to the formation of different classes in the same state; ultimately, to the progressive triumph of monarchical power; through that, to the slow consolidation of the territory, to the mixed composition of the nation, to the gradual concentration of the government. Many of these problems have suggested to him satisfactory solutions, since admitted wholly or in part; and it may be said, that among the modem insights into historical science, many belong to him.
He was the first to trace with exactness the dark picture of the Roman empire in its decline, the disorganizing action of the central power on the provinces, the misery of the towns, the depopulation of the country, the ruin of the free and military class, the exhausted state of public wealth; he has been the first to assign to the Germanic invasions their true character; he has shown their feeble beginnings; he has shown the operation of the mixture of barbarism and organzation in the two first races; he has assigned the complex causes of the fall of the Carlovingian empire. With not less knowledge and sagacity has he related the local history of each portion of the territory decomposed under the feudal régime, traced back the origin of the municipalities, (communes,) pointed out the first associations of burghers and of peasants, and made known the state of property, the relations of commerce, the regeneration of industry in the middle ages. It is on these subjects that M. de Sismondi excels. No one has so well shown the influence which economical changes, taking place in the interior condition of a nation, have exercised on the form of its government, and the crises of its existence. He has equally well pointed out the share which the provinces have had in the history of the kingdom, and followed out the relations of the kingdom with the rest of Europe.
It is to be regretted that to these eminent merits M. de Sismondi has not added others which would have given something more exact, and particulars more finished, to his work. We wish for more art in the composition, more life in the recitals, more colouring in the descriptions, more elegance in the language. It is to be wished also that he had gone beyond the judicious explanations of detail, to present us with the grand laws of the whole, that he had passed judgment on the manners of the time, and the actions of men, not according to a moral rule, absolute and inflexible, but by estimating ideas which are no longer ours, wants which we have ceased to feel. We should like, in short, not to perceive sometimes the spirit of the Protestant and of the citizen of the republic, of Geneva, in the severity of the historian, towards Catholicism and royalty. In spite of these imperfections, the History of France is a vast monument raised to the honour, and for the instruction of our country, by a man who loved it, though he was sometimes severe towards it: a man of immense knowledge, of sound and steady judgment, of great ability, of scrupulous honesty; who, belonging to two distinct eras, has marked the transition between the school of the eighteenth century, whose generous principles he has followed up without its scoffing levity, and that of our own time, whose knowledge he possessed without having all its freedom of mind.
The History of the French, of which at a later time M. de Sismondi made an abstract in two volumes, was the assiduous employment of the remainder of his life. He was able to devote himself to it more completely, because he had refused, in 1819, a chair of political economy which had been offered to him in France, and in 1835, the title of special professor of history, which had been awarded to him by the Council of State at Geneva. To the first of these refusals he had been prompted by the wish to pass, as he had till then always done, part of the year in Tuscany with his mother.
But of this happiness he was soon deprived. He had lost his father suddenly in 1810, without being present to close his eyes. A similar misfortune struck him still more grievously in 1821: he was at Geneva, when he learned, at the end of the month of September, that his mother was dying at Pescia. He set out immediately, travelled day and night, and arrived too late. On the 30th of September, in the evening, Madame de Sismondi, feeling the approach of death, and preserving to the last her strong and pensive imagination, caused herself to be carried to the window of her room, where, in sight of the beautiful landscape lighted by the setting sun, she expired in a transport of pious ecstasy, with no regret but that of not having her son by her side. The grief of M. de Sismondi was extreme at losing one who had been the guide and the joy of his life.
He soon quitted Pescia, where he left a married sister to whom he was much attached, and whose children were to him a constant object of solicitude, as beneficial as it was affectionate. He returned to Geneva to the dear companion whom he had made his own two years before. He had married, in 1819, Miss Jessy Allen, whose elder sister was the wife of his friend, the intellectual and celebrated Sir James Macintosh, and he found in her an elevation of mind, a beauty of character, a sweetness of disposition, an agreeableness, a tenderness and devotion of heart, which spread a charm over the rest of his life.
After his marriage he had established himself in a country house which he had bought, near the village of Chine, at a league and a half from Geneva. With the exception of occasional journeys into France, England, and Italy, he there passed more than twenty years, occupied by his learned and useful labours, exercising a cordial hospitality, especially towards those who were expatriated by the misfortunes of liberty, and encompassed by that great and pure fame which made the Genevese proud of his talents, and which procured him visits from the most illustrious foreigners. There his days rolled on with little variety; eight hours at least were set apart for history; the remainder of his time was given to propagating some generous idea, or to the defence of some noble interest, to the recreation of walking, to the effusions of correspondences full of mind, of tenderness, and of grace, which he kept up with persons who were dear to him in the different countries of Europe; and his evenings to the animated repose of conversation, which he could keep up in the language of each of his guests.
It was there that, in 1838, he heard with allowable satisfaction the choice which the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences had made of him as one of its five foreign associates. It was there also that he received, in 1841, as a precious remembranes of France, the distinction which had been offered to him in 1815 by the emperor, and which he had then so nobly refused.
In an unpublished journal, the depository of his sentiments and of his thoughts, he prayed Providence to grant him life to finish the great history which he had undertaken. But this wish of a noble mind, which, before quitting this world desires to finish its task, was not wholly granted. Almost uninterrupted labour for forty-seven years, long and warm friendships broken by death, generous hopes in great measure destroyed by events, had produced the most cruel of diseases. During a long time he suffered from a cancer in the stomach, and be continued during two years writing the History of France amidst the anguish of this terrible complaint, which was accelerated in its progress by the troubles which overthrew the constitution of Geneva in 1841.
M. de Sismondi had always rigidly and zealously fulfilled his duties to his country. In the councils of the republic he had wisely contributed, concurring particularly with Etienne Dumont, to the amelioration of the constitution of 1814. Geneva was governed by four annual syndics, a council of state, removable, and a representative council which was chosen by the whole of the citizens; when the radical party, finding this government not sufficiently democratic, violently overthrew it, and demanded the convocation of a constituent assembly. M. de Sismondi was elected a member of it, and notwithstanding his state of suffering and weakness, he caused himself to be carried there to defend to the last the old and salutary institutions of his country. Alone he dared to resist the popular torrent, and alone he combated the changes proposed by the victorious party, with the energy of a soul which pain had not the power to subdue, with all the brilliancy of talent which seemed to lise higher before it disappeared for ever. On the 30th of March, 1842, in a pathetic speech, interrupted by feelings of suffocation and almost by faintings, he made his countrymen hear, but in vain, the advice of experienced reason, and of stern patriotism. This trial exhausted all his remaining strength: he returned to Chêne, never again to leave it; he did not think lfimself so near his end, and he hoped still to be able to go into Tuscany. “I shall have nothing to regret,” wrote he, “in going away from hence: almost all my Genevese friends are dead, and I shall feel myself relieved in losing sight of so much ruin, and so many tombs.” Alas, he was not long in discovering, by signs every day more certain, that he must abandon that last hope, and give up the conclusion of his great work which he had so much wished to terminate before his death. He could only continue it to the twenty-ninth volume, of which the last proofs were corrected with a hand growing weaker and weaker. His strength of mind did not fail him for a moment; he bore with unalterable serenity the slow approaches of a cruel death. Extended on his bed of pain, he shed consolation around him, and when his voice failed, casting on his agonized companion a look of tender resignation, he expired on the 25th of June, 1842, aged sixty-nine.
M. de Sismondi is one of those men who have done most honour to literature by the greatness of their labours, and the dignity of their lives. No one has more earnestly considered the duties of intellect. Amiable in his private relations, devoted in friendships, indulgent towards others, severe to himself, endowed with an activity which never at any time relaxed, with a sincerity which never on any occasion belied itself, he possessed in the highest degree the love of justice, and a passion for good. With these noble sentiments he has imbued politics, history, social economy; to make these contribute to the cautious progress of the institutions of states, to the instruction and well-being of nations. For half a century he has thought nothing that was not honourable, written nottring that was not moral, wished nothing that was not useful; thus has he left a glorious memory, which will be ever respected. In him the Academy has lost one of its most eminent associates, Geneva one of her most illustrious citizens, humanity one of its most devoted defenders. (S)