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CHAPTER XXI. - William Edward Hartpole Lecky, A History of England in the Eighteenth Century, vol. V 
A History of England in the Eighteenth Century (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1878, 1917). 8 Vols. Vol. V.
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In the remarkable letter written in 1753, in which Lord Chesterfield described the signs of revolution which he saw already gathering in France, he added, ‘I am glad of it; the rest of Europe will be quieter and have time to recover.’ The judgment expressed in this passage was very generally shared by English statesmen when the French Revolution actually began. It was believed that for a long period the influence of France would be withdrawn from European politics, and that this withdrawal was certain to be very favourable to the interests both of England and of peace. With the exception of a few years that followed the accession of the House of Hanover, when dynastic and Hanoverian interests conspired to bring the English Government into close connection with the Government of France, the whole course of foreign policy since the Revolution of 1688 had been one continued contest against French power and ambition. From 1689 to the Peace of Ryswick in 1697, and from 1702 to the Peace of Utrecht in 1713, England had been engaged in a desperate struggle against Lewis XIV. The war which broke out in 1739 was, it is true, originally a Spanish war, produced by a Spanish trade quarrel, but it was soon merged in the French war of the Austrian Succession, and the original object was so completely forgotten that it was not even mentioned in the Peace of Aix la Chapelle. The Seven Years' War, which terminated in the glorious peace of 1763, was directed against French influence in Germany; and the American quarrel only became really formidable when France threw her sword into the scale and involved England in a great European and Asiatic struggle. From these facts it was naturally inferred that England was likely to benefit by the temporary eclipse of her rival; and many things had happened since France had entered into the zone of revolution which appeared to justify the prediction. In the autumn of 1787 her financial and other internal embarrassments secured the success of the Prussian invasion of Holland, and enabled England and Prussia to overthrow the French ascendency in that country. In the summer of 1788, three ambassadors from Tippoo Sahib arrived in Paris, offering the French great commercial privileges if they would support that chief against the English, as they had supported his father, Hyder Ali, and would send 3,000 men to his assistance. The ambassadors were received with great demonstrations of popular enthusiasm, but the condition of France was so critical that the Government did not venture to assist them, and England was enabled to carry her Indian war to a triumphant issue.1 In 1790, the threatened war between England and Spain on account of Nootka Sound was only averted because France was unable to support her ally; and during the whole of the Eastern war, which affected so deeply the interests and the relative power of Russia, Turkey, Austria, Sweden and Prussia, France, contrary to all previous example, remained almost absolutely passive.2 As we have already seen, the English Government rejected the Prussian project of interference with the revolt in the Austrian Netherlands, on the ground that there was no serious danger of those provinces passing under the influence or dominion of France, as recent events must have diverted the Flemish noblesse and clergy from the French system, and as ‘the present apparent and increasing weakness and distraction of that country must prevent any body of men from looking to that quarter for any present and effectual support.’3
Hostility to France, and especially to the House of Bourbon, had from the first formation of the great English parties been a characteristic sentiment of the Whigs. The subservience of the later Stuarts to French influence had been one of the great grounds for grievance against them; and the Revolution had made France more than ever a natural enemy. It was said that a French king had once asked the Abbé Gaultier the difference between a Whig and a Tory, and the Abbé had answered, that the Tories were the French King's only friends in England, and that the Whigs were all his enemies, ‘with this circumstance, that it is possible the Tories may become your enemies, but impossible the Whigs can become your friends.’1 After the peace of 1763, it had indeed been noticed that there had been a considerable tendency to approximation between the two nations. A writer in 1767 observed that ‘more French of distinction had visited England since the last war than at any other period since the English lost their great possessions in that country,’ and he added that the friendly communication of knowledge between the learned of all countries, even in time of war, was ‘a distinction peculiar to the present age.’2 The influence of English thought upon French literature was one of the most remarkable facts of the eighteenth century; and although French literary influence was much less apparent in England, the splendid scientific discoveries of Frenchmen were eagerly welcomed. But it may be doubted whether the popular feeling was really changed, and Pitt had seldom shown more political courage than when he introduced his commercial treaty with France, and maintained that the two great nations which confronted each other across the Channel were intended by Nature to be friends and not enemies. We have already seen with what vehemence Fox repudiated the assertion, declaring that France and England were and always must be natural enemies.
Before the capture of the Bastille, the events that were taking place in France appear to have excited only a rare and languid interest in England. Parliamentary government carried on by party conflicts has many merits, but it greatly narrows the horizon of political knowledge and interests; for the constant succession of domestic questions which it produces is quite sufficient to absorb the amount of time and attention that ordinary men can devote to public affairs. The King's illness, and the Regency question that grew out of it, fully engrossed the popular mind, and what little interest was felt in foreign affairs had of late been directed much more to St. Petersburg than to Paris. The only question relating to France, which at this time came before the public, was an application from the French Government, in the spring of 1789, for permission to export 20,000 sacks of flour from England to the northern provinces of France, which were suffering severely from famine. As the price of corn in England was higher than that at which the exportation was allowed by law, the French request could not be granted without the sanction of Parliament. The request was referred to a committee, and apparently carefully considered on its merits, and it was finally decided that, in consequence of the very high price of corn in England and the very bad prospects of the coming harvest, it could not be safely granted.1
The capture of the Bastille, however, was so startling and so dramatic, that it at once excited in England a strong and general interest, which the events that followed were well fitted to stimulate. The creation of a great national army independent of the Crown; the virtual assumption of absolute power by a representative body, which had transformed its own constitution, placed itself above the instructions of its constituents, and denied the King the right of dissolving it; the strange triumphal procession of July 17, when the King was carried almost a captive to the Hôtel de Ville and compelled to assume the national cockade; the blazing country houses and the innumerable scenes of pillage and murder that accompanied the insurrection of the country people against their feudal lords; the abolition on August 4 of the whole feudal system, and of nearly all the privileges of classes, provinces, and towns; the decree which ordered all tithes to be commuted for money, followed within a few days by the decree which abolished them without compensation; and finally, the promulgation of a Declaration of Rights of the most abstract and far-reaching character—all indicated the complete transformation of the Government of France. The most splendid and ancient monarchy of Europe was virtually overthrown. The Assembly rejected by great majorities all proposals to share its power with a second chamber, and it denied the King not only his ancient right of initiating laws and of dissolving the Assembly, but also the right of imposing more than a temporary veto on its proceedings.
Then came the horrible days of October 5 and 6, when Versailles was invaded by a furious and famished mob, when the Queen only saved her life by flying half-naked from her room, when the sentinels and several gentlemen of the Court were cut down and murdered in the palace, and when at last, after marvellous escapes, the Royal Family were conducted as prisoners to Paris by the mob. The journey lasted for six hours, and in the course of it muskets were more than once levelled at the royal carriage. In front were borne, transfixed upon pikes, the heads of two gentlemen of the Court. The disarmed and captive body guard were led one by one. Around the carriage of the Royal Family the mob danced, and sang, and shouted, ‘All bishops to the lamp-post.’ On the arrival of the procession in Paris, it was met by Bailly the mayor, who described the scene as ‘a beautiful day,’ while in the Assembly Mirabeau declared that the vessel of State, instead of being retarded by it, would only advance the more rapidly towards regeneration, and Barnave replied to those who spoke with horror of the murders, by asking whether the blood that was shed was indeed so pure. From this time the King of France was a helpless prisoner in the Tuileries, with scarcely any voice or power in the government of France.
All these events soon had their influence in England. The many small democratic societies which had arisen during the Wilkes troubles and during the American War, and which had of late been almost dormant, began to stir again. There were men of the school of Cartwright and Jebb, who had long been advocating, amid general neglect, parliamentary reform on grounds of à priori right, and who now, to their own astonishment, found their principles triumphant in the foremost nation of the Continent. There were political Dissenters who detested the Church Establishment, and especially the system of tithes, and who saw with unspeakable delight the total abolition of that system in France. The principles enunciated in the Declaration of Rights were of the broadest and most sweeping character, applicable to all nations, and well fitted to fascinate unguided, half-educated, and adventurous enthusiasts; and it was not unpleasing to the many local busybodies, who might be found in every great town, putting themselves forward as representatives of the people and trying to force themselves into political notoriety, to find that men who were very much of their own class and intellectual calibre were practically directing the Government of France. The unsuccessful efforts of the Dissenters in 1787, 1789, and 1790 to obtain a repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts had given a new energy and union to their political forces, and the very fact that the events in France were already beginning to throw great masses of men into violent and unreasonable opposition to all change gave a corresponding impulse to the opposite party.
A few men of station and ability belonged to it. Priestley was a really great man of science, and though his works on other subjects have little value, the amazing fertility and facility of his pen had made him very prominent, and he was a bitter enemy of the Established Church. His enthusiasm for the Revolution was from the first unbounded. ‘There is indeed,’ he wrote in October, ‘a glorious prospect for mankind before us. Flanders seems to be quite ripe for a similar revolution; and other countries, I hope, will follow in due time; and when civil tyranny is all at an end, that of the Church will soon be disposed of. … Our Court and courtiers will not like these things, and the bishops least of all.’1 ‘I do not wonder,’ he wrote a little later, ‘at the hatred and dread of this spirit of revolution in kings and courtiers. Their power is generally usurpation, and I hope the time is approaching when an end will be put to all usurpation in things civil or religious, first in Europe and then in other countries.’2 Dr. Price, who had a still greater weight with the Nonconformists, and who had obtained a considerable political importance on account of the part he had taken in the American contest, and on account of the popularity of his financial schemes, threw himself passionately into the same side, and a small section of the aristocracy had also adopted extreme principles of democratic reform. Only a few years had passed since the Duke of Richmond had harangued the House of Lords in favour of universal suffrage, equal electoral districts, and annual Parliaments. Lord Stanhope's political opinions fell little, if at all, short of republicanism, and there was a strong tinge of something very like republicanism in no less a person than Lord Lansdowne.1 In 1793 Burke wrote to the Duke of Portland: ‘It is truly alarming to see so large a part of the aristocratic interest engaged in the cause of the new species of democracy.’2 A few years later, on the occasion of Fox's birthday, it was the Duke of Norfolk, the head of the English aristocracy, who proposed as a toast ‘The health of our Sovereign—the Majesty of the People.’
On November 9, 1789, a not very important body of advanced politicians called ‘A Society for Commemorating the Revolution in Great Britain,’ or more shortly, ‘The Revolution Society,’ met under the presidency of Lord Stanhope at the London Tavern, and drew up an address of congratulation to the National Assembly, expressing a hope that ‘the glorious example given in France’ might ‘encourage other nations to assert the inalienable rights of mankind, and thereby introduce a general reformation into the Governments of Europe.’ It was on this occasion that Dr. Price preached before the Society the famous sermon which Burke afterwards made the text of his ‘Reflections on the French Revolution.’ It was an enthusiastic eulogy of all that had taken place in France. The preacher declared himself ready to repeat the ‘Nunc Dimittis’ of Simeon, as he had lived to see thirty millions of men spurning slavery; ‘their king led in triumph, and an arbitrary monarch surrendering himself to his subjects,’ and he predicted that the example of France would soon destroy the dominion both of kings and of priests, and would sweep away all despotism from Europe.
These proceedings gradually excited a large share of public attention. The National Assembly of France at once responded by a warm vote of thanks, and directed the Archbishop of Aix, who then presided over it, to write in its name to Lord Stanhope, and in almost every considerable town in France patriotic societies tooK the same course. The Revolution Society, which hitherto had been very little known in England, found itself suddenly invested with an extraordinary importance, and treated as the special and accredited representative of the English people. It printed a large volume of its correspondence with different societies in France; and other democratic societies, following its instigation or its example, began to spring up in the great towns, to pass resolutions expressing admiration of the French Revolution, and to send complimentary addresses to Paris. ‘The press,’ wrote one of the principal chroniclers of the time, ‘teemed with the most daring libels upon the Constitution of this country, and all its constituent parts. They were distributed gratis, and circulated with astonishing industry not only amongst the lower class of the community, but through the army and the navy. In these writings, the people were invited to form themselves into clubs and societies after the manner of the French; and many were actually formed in a great number of the most populous towns of the kingdom, avowedly affiliated (to use an expression of their own) by the democratic clubs in France.’1 The sermon of Price was published, widely distributed and translated into French. Priestley declared that it ‘moved him to tears,’ and he predicted that it would have as great an effect as the work on ‘Civil Liberty,’ by which the same writer had so powerfully stirred public opinion during the American War. The Revolution Society resolved to celebrate the anniversaries of the capture of the Bastille, and at the first anniversary Price made a speech which was much remarked. ‘Oh, heavenly philanthropists,’ he exclaimed, apostrophising the Revolutionists in France, ‘well do you deserve the admiration not only of your own country, but of all countries! You have already determined to renounce for ever all views of conquest and all offensive wars. This is an instance of wisdom and attention to human rights which has no example. But you will do more; you will invite Great Britain to join you in this determination, and to enter into a compact with you for promoting peace on earth, good will among men. … Thus united, the two kingdoms will be omnipotent. They will soon draw into their confederation Holland and other countries on this side of the globe, and the United States of America on the other.’1
We have already seen that in the debate on the Unitarian disabilities Burke had brought the proceedings of the Revolution Society prominently before Parliament; but as long as they were confined to mere irresponsible politicians they did not appear deserving of much serious attention. In no respect is the sagacity of a true statesman more needed or more displayed than in distinguishing between the strong, permanent, and for the most part silent currents of national opinion, and the noisy and frothy imitations which small knots of agitators can always produce. As far as can be now judged, the danger of England being seriously affected by the contagion of French example was as yet very small. It was true, indeed, that the British Constitution in nearly all its parts was hopelessly corrupt if measured by the canons of Rousseau; but the philosophy of Rousseau was not adapted to the English mind, and the conditions of England were in nearly every respect the extreme opposite of those of France. The unpopularity of the King, which had been very great during the ministry of Bute and during part of the American War, had wholly passed away, and his recent illness had raised the spirit of loyalty to the highest point. The administration of public affairs, which in France had been of late conducted with astonishing weakness and astonishing vacillation, was in England in the hands of a popular, brilliant, and most successful statesman; and there is no reason to believe that any possible change in the suffrage would have overthrown or even seriously weakened his power. The approach of bankruptcy was one main cause of the Revolution in France, but the Ministry of Pitt had in no respect been more distinguished than for the singular skill with which he had managed the national finances. There was in England no genuine republicanism, no exemption of the rich from taxation, no antagonism between the law courts and the Government. There were very few feudal rights which were seriously oppressive, and although there was a great aristocracy and an established Church, with many privileges, anomalies, and abuses, there was little or nothing of that profound separation of classes which made the social condition of France so dangerous.
Nor were the intellectual influences in the two countries at all similar. English literature, over which Dr. Johnson at this time exercised an extraordinary influence, presented a strange contrast in its orthodox and conservative tone to the great antichristian literature which was animated by the spirit of Voltaire; and the political philosophy of Hume, Burke, and Adam Smith was as far as possible removed from the philosophy of Rousseau. The highly conservative Whiggism of Burke and the highly liberalised Toryism of Pitt seemed equally safe, and among the middle and lower classes the Methodist and Evangelical movement was now at its height, and was drawing the strongest enthusiasm in directions wholly remote from politics and from French ideas. In England it is true, as in France, there was at this time a series of bad harvests which produced much distress and much political discontent, but distress in England fell far short of famine. The general level of well-being was very high, and the recent developments in manufacturing industry had opened out great fields of employment and prosperity. When we add to this the insular and unspeculative habits of the English mind, the large measure of political experience that pervaded all classes, and the strong English distrust for everything French, it appeared very improbable that the French Revolution should have a dangerous influence in England. The Bastille had no doubt gathered around it so many enormously exaggerated associations of oppression and cruelty1 that its destruction produced much genuine enthusiasm. The fine lines in ‘The Task’ in which Cowper commemorated the event, the highly coloured eulogy of French insurrection by Dr. Darwin, and the early enthusiasm of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey represented a feeling which was widely spread, but there was a deep chasm between such a feeling and any wish or design to subvert the ancient Constitution of England.
Much, however, depended on the wisdom and discretion of the party leaders, and while Pitt, at first at least, maintained a studied reticence, the French Revolution soon led to a complete schism among the Whigs.
We are fortunately able, from private letters which are preserved, to trace from the very beginning the impression which the events in Paris made both on Fox and Burke. A curious note is extant, written by Fox a few days after the arrival of the news of the capture of the Bastille, to Fitzpatrick, who was about to go to Paris. Referring apparently to the recent capture, Fox writes, ‘How much the greatest event it is that ever happened in the world! and how much the best!’ He sends his warm compliments to the Duke of Orleans, who was in violent opposition to the Court, and concludes, ‘Tell him and Lauzun that all my prepossessions against French connections for this country will be at an end, and indeed most part of my European system of politics will be altered if this Revolution has the consequences that I expect.’2
A few days after this letter, Burke wrote to Lord Charlemont, ‘Our thoughts of everything at home are suspended by our astonishment at the wonderful spectacle which is exhibited in a neighbouring and rival country. What spectators and what actors! England gazing with astonishment at a French struggle for liberty, and not knowing whether to blame or applaud. The thing, indeed, though I thought I saw something like it in progress for several years, has still somewhat in it paradoxical and mysterious. The spirit it is impossible not to admire; but the old Parisian ferocity has broken out in a shocking manner. It is true that this may be no more than a sudden explosion; if so, no indication can be taken from it; but if it should be character rather than accident, then that people are not fit for liberty, and must have a strong hand like that of their former masters to coerce them. Men must have a certain fund of natural moderation to qualify them for freedom, else it becomes noxious to themselves and a perfect nuisance to everybody else. What will be the event it is hard, I think, still to say.’1
The doubts that were expressed in this characteristic letter deepened rapidly in the mind of Burke. He had long paid much attention to the affairs of France and had several correspondents in that country, and to one of them towards the end of September he expressed his antipathy to the Revolution in no ambiguous terms. The freedom at which the French were aiming, he maintained, was a spurious freedom. True freedom is ‘that state of things in which the liberty of no man and no body of men is in a condition to trespass on the liberty of any person or any description of persons in society.’ ‘When I shall learn that in France the citizen, by whatever description he is qualified, is in a perfect state of legal security with regard to his life, to his property, to the uncontrolled disposal of his person, to the free use of his industry, and his faculties; that he is protected in the beneficial enjoyment of the estates to which, by the course of settled law, he was born, or is provided with a fair compensation for them; that he is maintained in the full fruition of the advantages belonging to the state and condition of life in which he had lawfully engaged himself, or is supplied with an equitable equivalent; when I am assured that a simple citizen may decently express his sentiments upon public affairs without hazard to his life or liberty, even though against a predominant and fashionable opinion; when I know all this of France, I shall be as well pleased as any one must be who has not forgot the general communion of mankind … in local and accidental sympathies.’
It was evident, however, to him that France was advancing to no such ideal. He predicted that ‘the same ferocious delight in murder and the same savage cruelty’ which had been already displayed would appear again, and he ridiculed the importance that was attached in France to the capture of the Bastille. ‘As a prison it was of little importance. Give despotism, and the prisons of despotism will not be wanting, any more than lamp irons will be wanting to democratic fury.’ In his judgment the new system in France was ‘a most bungling and unworkmanlike performance,’ and the members of the National Assembly had constructed little, though they had destroyed much, and among other things, ‘completely broken up their country as a State.’ The ‘Contrat Social’ he considered the work of an eloquent madman, ‘a performance of little or no merit.’ ‘Little did I conceive,’ he said, ‘that it could ever make revolutions and give law to nations. But so it is. I see some people here are willing that we should become their scholars too, and reform our State on the French model.’1
Considering the vehement characters of the two men, it was scarcely likely that these grave differences should be suppressed in public, and the first provocation was given by Fox. In a speech on the army estimates on February 5, 1790, he argued in favour of a reduction of the army, partly on the ground that the new form of government which had arisen in France was likely to make her a better neighbour than she had been, and one passage of his speech was universally understood as a eulogy of the conduct of the French army in taking part, during the insurrection, with the people against the Crown. ‘If there ever could be a period,’ he said, ‘in which he should be less jealous of an increase of the army from any danger to be apprehended to the Constitution, the present was that precise period. The example of a neighbouring nation had proved that former imputations on armies were unfo unded calumnies, and it was now universally known throughout all Europe that a man by becoming a soldier did not cease to be a citizen.’2
It would be difficult for a responsible statesman to speak more mischievously, and, as a member who was an officer in the army justly remarked, Fox would have found a much more substantial ground for panegyric in the conduct of the English army when the Gordon riots in 1780 had threatened for a time to reduce London to ruin. Little more was said on this occasion, but on the 9th the debate was resumed, and it took more formidable proportions. Pitt again dwelt on the necessity of keeping up the army at its present level, and he alluded to the French question in terms which were both generous and discreet. France, he said, was now passing through a period of convulsion and of trial, and was temporarily wrecked, but sooner or later the crisis must terminate in regular order. The period seemed to him distant, but if the result, as he hoped, was the establishment of that freedom which results from order and good government, France would at once become one of the most brilliant Powers in Europe. She would become more formidable than she ever had been, but also, he hoped, less obnoxious as a neighbour, and for his part he refused to ‘regard with envious eyes an approximation in neighbouring States to those sentiments which were the characteristic features of every British subject.’
Burke then arose and made a most elaborate speech. He spoke ostensibly on the side of Fox and in opposition to Pitt, for he argued in favour of a reduction of the military expenditure, but the main portion of his speech was devoted to a consideration of the events that had taken place in France. A large army in England he thought unnecessary, for he could not find that England was in the smallest danger from any State in Europe. ‘France had hitherto been our first object in all considerations concerning the balance of power. The presence or absence of France totally varied every sort of speculation relative to that balance. France is at this time in a political light to be considered as expunged out of the system of Europe. Whether she could ever appear in it again as a leading Power was not easy to determine; but at present he considered France as not politically existing, and most assuredly it would take up much time to restore her to her former active existence. “Gallos quoque in bellis floruisse audivimus” might possibly be the language of the rising generation. … The French had shown themselves the ablest architects of ruin that had hitherto existed in the world. In the short space of time since the House had been prorogued in the summer, they had completely pulled down to the ground their monarchy, their Church, their nobility, their law, their revenue, their army, their navy, their commerce, their arts, and their manufactures. They had done their business for us as rivals, in a way which twenty Ramilies or Blenheims could never have done it.’1
But if France was no longer dangerous from her power, it did not follow, in the judgment of Burke, that she was not dangerous from her example. France had always, he said, exercised to an extraordinary degree an attractive influence on surrounding States. He described vividly the system of splendid military despotism established by Lewis XIV., and how, in consequence of its example, ‘the same character of despotism insinuated itself into every Court in Europe; the same spirit of disproportioned magnificence; the same love of standing armies above the ability of the people.’ In England the attractive influence of France gave a fatal bias to the Government of the Stuarts; it affected in some degree all ranks of the people, and in consequence it became a main object of English patriots of the seventeenth century ‘to break off all communication with France, and to beget a total alienation from its councils and examples,’ which, through the religious animosities that divided the nations, they were able in some degree to effect. ‘This day the evil is totally changed in France, but there is an evil there … and the natural mental habits of mankind are such that the present distemper is far more likely to be contagious than the old one; for it is not quite easy to spread a passion for servitude among the people, but in all evils of the opposite kind our natural inclinations are flattered. … Our present danger from the example of a people whose character knows no medium is, with regard to Government, a danger from anarchy—a danger of being led, through an admiration of successful fraud and violence, to the excesses of a … proscribing, plundering, ferocious, and tyrannical democracy. On the side of religion, the danger is no longer from intolerance, but from atheism.’
He then proceeded to advert to the recent speech of Fox. In his own opinion, he said, ‘the very worst part of the example set is in the late assumption of citizenship by the army.’ It was with ‘inexpressible pain’ that he heard Fox, whom of all living politicians he most venerated and loved, drop some expressions eulogising the conduct of the French army. He attributed his language wholly to a ‘zeal for the best of all causes—liberty,’ and he digressed into a very eloquent eulogy of his character and services. If he came forward to mark ‘an expression or two of his best friend,’ it was on account of his anxiety ‘to keep the distemper of France from the least countenance in England, where he was sure some wicked persons had shown a strong disposition to recommend an imitation of the French spirit of reform … a spirit well calculated to overturn States, but perfectly unfit to amend them.’ That he was himself no enemy to reformation the whole of his parliamentary career abundantly showed, but he protested against those who gloried in making a revolution, as though revolutions were good things in themselves, and he declared that ‘everything which unnecessarily tore to pieces the contexture of the State, not only prevented all real reformation, but introduced evils’ of the gravest kind. ‘The French have made their way, through the destruction of their country, to a bad constitution. … They have destroyed all the balances and counterpoises which serve to fix the State and give it a steady direction, and which furnish sure correctives to any violent spirit which may prevail in any of the orders. … They have, with the most atrocious perfidy and breach of faith, laid the axe to the root of all property, and consequently of all national prosperity, by the principles they established and the example they set, in confiscating all the possessions of the Church,’ and they have justified their proceedings by ‘a sort of digest of anarchy, called the Rights of Man,’ which was well fitted to destroy every hold of authority by opinion, religious or civil, on the minds of the people.
Having dilated at considerable length on this theme, and especially on the ruinous consequences of emancipating the army from the obligations of discipline and obedience, Burke proceeded, by arguments which were more fully developed in his later writings, to show the great differences between the French Revolution and the English Revolution of 1688; and he concluded a very eloquent speech by declaring, that for his part he wished few alterations in the English Constitution, ‘happy if he left it not the worse for any share he had taken in its service.’
It was a strange speech to have been made upon the army estimates, but it foreshadowed clearly the whole course of Burke's French policy, and the approaching and inevitable disruption of the Whig party. Fox answered in a strain of the highest personal respect. If he put, he said, into one scale all the political information he had derived from books, from science, from knowledge of the world and its affairs, and in the other the improvement which he had derived from Burke's instruction and conversation, he would find it difficult to decide which scale preponderated. He declared himself equally the enemy of all absolute forms of government, whether they were monarchies, aristocracies, or democracies; and he deplored the recent bloodshed and cruelty in France, while ascribing these evils mainly to the tyranny of the old monarchy. At the same time, he reiterated his eulogy of the conduct of the French soldiers, and his gratification at the events in France; and he maintained that there was a closer parallel than Burke admitted between the French Revolution and the English Revolution of 1688. Sheridan, apparently nettled by some observations of Burke, greatly aggravated the situation by a speech in which he praised the French Revolution almost without reserve, and dilated with some acrimony on the inconsistency of Burke. Pitt in a short speech warmly praised Burke, and expressed a general agreement with his views.1
As is always the case, many personal motives were attributed to the principal actors in the drama. Fox, who during the Regency question had found himself in a great measure displaced by Pitt as the representative of popular opinions, was now accused of endeavouring to revive a waning popularity by appealing to strong democratic passions, while accusations of a corresponding character were more persistently urged against Burke. It was noticed that for the last three years his confidential intercourse with Fox had greatly diminished; that he was known to be dissatisfied with the manner in which Fox had conducted the Regency question; that he was much alienated from Sheridan, whose character he disliked, and who, through his personal intimacy with the Prince of Wales, had recently acquired a new prominence in the party.1 It was said, too, that Burke was profoundly disappointed and acidulated by the extreme unpopularity he had incurred both within and without the House; tired of long and fruitless opposition in company with men who were growing less and less congenial to him; overwhelmed with pecuniary embarrassments from which there seemed no outlet in opposition. How far considerations of this kind may have given any bias to the judgments of the two statesmen it is impossible to say; but no one, I think, who has studied their private letters, no one who has really gauged their characters, will doubt the sincerity or the energy of their convictions. The attitude of Fox on the French question was perfectly in harmony with the passionate and unqualified partisanship with which he had espoused the cause of the American Revolutionists; and all that I have written on the character and opinions of Burke has been written to no effect, if it has left any doubt in the minds of my readers that his later opinions were the natural, if not the legitimate, outcome of his earlier ones. The opinions he had invariably urged on the subject of parliamentary reform and triennial or annual parliaments; his abhorrence of the Bill of Rights Men, and of all those democratic societies which had been for some years advocating in England political theories closely resembling those of Rousseau; his repudiation of the authority of instructions by constituents in elections; the strongly aristocratic spirit that from first to last coloured his politics; the emphasis with which he always dwelt on the necessity of counterpoises, balances, and limitations in government; on the political value of habit, tradition, and unbroken continuity in institutions; on the danger of framing political measures by abstract reasoning, and of carrying a spirit of theory, experiment, and Utopia into practical politics— all indicated a nature organically and profoundly conservative. The very anomalies and inconsistencies of constitutions were venerable in his eyes, if they had been harmonised and consecrated by time; if they were compromises resulting from the pressure of multiform and conflicting interests; mitigations or adaptations created by, and suited to the feelings, habits, and necessities of society.1
The kind of politics which discards the traditions and institutions of the past, and endeavours to build up government anew on a logical and symmetrical plan furnished by political speculators, was beyond all others abhorrent to his mind, and it was this kind of politics which was now in the ascendant in France, and which was countenanced by some considerable men in England. Nor was the moral vehemence with which he threw himself into the contest other than might have been expected from him. No man ever possessed to a higher degree some of the noblest qualities of a judicial intellect; but no man was ever more wanting in the calmness, the coldness, and the discrimination of the judicial temperament. Acts of cruelty and oppression appealed to his imagination with an ungovernable force; and in the impeachment of Hastings, which was wholly unconnected with party interests, he showed exactly the same kind and measure of vehemence as in his speeches and writings on the French Revolution.
His speech on February 9 had an immense and immediate effect. During the debates on the Regency question, his ebullitions of extravagance and bad taste had almost deprived him of the ear of the House, and he often spoke amid an incessant clamour of scornful interruption. But it was impossible to mistake the deep thrill of approbation which now passed through all parts of the House, and the speech of the Minister, which contrasted curiously with that which he had made a few days before, showed clearly that Pitt shared the general feeling. Nor was the impression confined to Parliament. It was evident that Burke had expressed the unspoken fears of great sections of the community. ‘The ferment and alarm are universal,’ wrote Dr. Parr soon afterwards. ‘All the papers are with Burke, even the Foxite papers which I have seen. … He is uncorrupt, I know, but his passions are quite headstrong.’1
From this time the division in the Whig party rapidly deepened. Two days after the debate that has been described, there was a long interview at Burlington House between the Duke of Portland, Fox, Burke, Sheridan, and one or two others, but no agreement was arrived at.2 There was, however, still no open breach. Sheridan and Burke, though profoundly alienated, met at the tables of the Prince of Wales and of the Duke of Portland. In the beginning of March, when Fox introduced his motion for the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, Burke, as we have already seen, opposed it, on the ground that revolutionary opinions had extended widely among the Dissenters, and that additional political power should never be given to those who were likely to misuse it; but in the course of his speech, he spoke warmly of Fox, and answered an attack which Pitt had made on that statesman, and a few weeks later Sheridan spoke in terms of high eulogy of Burke.3
Burke was in the mean time busily engaged in throwing into a matured and highly elaborated form his opinions on French affairs, and in November 1790 he published his ‘Reflections on the French Revolution,’ one of the most famous and valuable books of the eighteenth century. His earlier political works had been pamphlets, speeches, or letters, relating for the most part to passing and not very important questions, and they would now be as little read as the speeches of Pitt and Fox, if it were not for the skill with which Burke was accustomed to interweave in transient controversies political principles and observations of perennial interest. But the French Revolution was a subject worthy of all his powers. It naturally opened out the great questions of the foundations of political authority, the object and scope of government, the principles which underlie the English Constitution as established in the seventeenth century, the fundamental rights of property, the place which corporations and especially ecclesiastical establishments occupy in the political system. Like nearly all Burke's works, his work ‘On the French Revolution’ is unfortunate in its form. It is a long, undivided, and ill-arranged letter to a member of the French Constituent Assembly, and some parts of it are much less valuable than the rest; but it is not too much to say that it contains pages of an eloquence which has never in any language been surpassed, and that no other English book affords so many lessons of enduring value to those who are engaged in the study either of the British Constitution or of the general principles of government. Together with the ‘Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs,’ which is its supplement and its defence, it should be read, re-read, and thoroughly mastered by everyone who desires to acquire wide and deep views on political questions, and to understand the best English political philosophy of the eighteenth century.
It is not a book to which adequate justice can be done by a simple abstract. Much of its charm lies in the numerous detached observations—the fruit of the lifelong experience of the most profound intellect that has ever been devoted in England to political questions—which are scattered over its pages, and in the wonderful power and beauty with which the writer expanded lines of argument which had been clearly foreshadowed, though less completely developed, in his earlier works. His main object was to contrast the system of government existing in England, in its principles and its genius, with that which had now obtained an ascendency in France. Dr. Price had represented the French Eevolution as only a more perfect repetition of the English Revolution of 1688, and he maintained that Englishmen had then asserted their undoubted and unlimited right to elect their governors, to cashier them for misconduct, and to form their Government for themselves. In opposition to this doctrine, Burke undertook to demonstrate the essentially hereditary, prescriptive, and traditional character of English freedom. He argued that the authors of the English Revolution, when they were compelled to deviate from the strict line of succession to the throne, justified this deviation on no plea of the rights of men, and on no vague and general charge of misconduct, but solely on the ground that the sovereign had committed a grave and manifest breach of the compact by which he held his crown; and he showed how carefully they studied in their legislation and public declarations to preserve unimpaired the hereditary character of the English monarchy, to maintain the continuity of English institutions and traditions, and to avoid grafting any alien or republican element on the old English stock. Developing this view, he proceeded to show, with a power of insight and an amplitude of illustration which no previous writer had approached, how institutions, laws, and governments only acquire their maximum of usefulness and strength, when they grow organically out of the traditions of the past, and form around themselves an appropriate atmosphere of habits and affections; how political institutions have indirect, remote, and often unforeseen effects which are frequently more important than their direct results; how good governments are formed by a slow and gradual process of adaptation and compromise extending over many generations, and not by either violent revolutions or political speculations.
To the steadiness with which this method had been maintained in English history he mainly attributed the permanence of English freedom and prosperity. ‘Our political system,’ he wrote, ‘is placed on a just correspondence and symmetry with the order of the world and with the mode of existence decreed to a permanent body composed of transitory parts, wherein by the disposition of a stupendous wisdom, moulding together the great mysterious incorporation of the human race, the whole at one time is never old or middle-aged or young, but in a condition of unchangeable constancy moves on through the varied tenor of perpetual decay, fall, renovation, and progression. Thus by preserving the method of nature in the conduct of the State, in what we improve we are never wholly new, in what we retain we are never wholly obsolete,’ and it has been ‘our old settled maxim never entirely nor at once to depart from antiquity.’ Old local institutions and bonds of union should be carefully preserved, for ‘to be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affection.’ Hereditary institutions in addition to their other merits have the great virtue of strengthening those traditional feelings, habits, and opinions which at once support, mitigate, and restrain authority and bind together successive generations in one organic whole. The union of Church and State gives a moral consecration to the acts of Government, and sustains and diffuses a sentiment of reverence and a tone of manners very conducive to political stability. Even prejudice and superstition, which were the special enemies of the new school of writers, have their place in the political system and will not be despised or neglected by a wise statesman.
The language of Burke on this subject is curiously characteristic: ‘It has been the misfortune (not, as these gentlemen think it, the glory) of this age, that everything is to be discussed, as if the Constitution of our country were to be always a subject rather of altercation than enjoyment.’ ‘To avoid the evils of inconstancy and versatility, ten thousand times worse than those of obstinacy and the blindest prejudice, we have consecrated the State, that no man should approach to look into its defects or corruptions but with due caution, that he should never dream of beginning its reformation by its subversion, that he should approach to the faults of the State as to the wounds of a father, with pious awe and trembling solicitude. By this wise prejudice we are taught to look with horror on those children of their country who are prompted rashly to hack that aged parent to pieces and put him into the kettle of magicians, in hopes that by their poisonous weeds and wild incantations they may regenerate the paternal constitution.’ ‘You see, sir,’ he continues, ‘that in this enlightened age I am bold enough to confess that we are generally men of untaught feelings; that instead of casting away all our old prejudices we cherish them to a very considerable degree, and to take more shame to ourselves we cherish them because they are prejudices, and the longer they have lasted and the more generally they have prevailed the more we cherish them.1 We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason because we suspect that this stock in each man is small, and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and of ages. Many of our men of speculation instead of exploding general prejudices employ their sagacity to discover the latent wisdom which prevails in them. If they find what they seek, and they seldom fail, they think it more wise to continue the prejudice with the reason involved, than to cast away the coat of prejudice and to leave nothing but the naked reason, because prejudice with its reason has a motive to give action to that reason, and an affection which will give it permanence. Prejudice is of ready application in the emergency. It previously engages the mind in a steady course of wisdom and virtue, and does not leave the man hesitating in the moment of decision, sceptical, puzzled, and unresolved. Prejudice renders a man's virtue his habit and not a series of unconnected acts. Through just prejudice his duty becomes a part of his nature.’ It is true that certain ‘institutions savour of superstition in their very principle, and they nourish it by a permanent and standing influence; … but this ought not to hinder you from deriving from superstition itself any resources which may thence be furnished for the public advantage. You derive benefits from many dispositions and many passions of the human mind which are of as doubtful a colour in the moral eye as superstition itself. … Superstition is the religion of feeble minds, and they must be tolerated in an intermixture of it in some trifling or some enthusiastic shape or other, else you will deprive weak minds of a resource found necessary to the strongest. … Wise men … do not violently hate these things. Wisdom is not the most severe corrector of folly. They are the rival follies which mutually wage so unrelenting a war.’ Nothing is more to be dreaded by statesmen than a shock in which old and traditional manners and opinions perish: ‘public affections combined with manners are required, sometimes as supplements, sometimes as correctives, always as aids to law. … There ought to be a system of manners in every nation which a well-formed mind would be disposed to relish. … When ancient opinions and rules of life are taken away the loss cannot possibly be estimated. From that moment we have no compass to govern us.’
Applying these principles to political action, Burke once more drew in strong and vivid lines his picture of a wise statesman. ‘The science of constructing a commonwealth or renovating it or reforming it is, like every other experimental science, not to be taught à priori. Nor is it a short experience that can instruct us in that practical science, because the real effects of moral causes are not always immediate. That which in the first instance is prejudicial may be excellent in its remoter operation, … and very plausible schemes with very pleasing commencements have often shameful and lamentable conclusions. In states there are often some obscure and almost latent causes, things which appear at first view of little moment, on which a very great part of its prosperity or adversity may most essentially depend. The science of government being … a matter which requires experience, and even more experience than any person can gain in his whole life, however sagacious and observing he may be, it is with infinite caution that any man ought to venture upon pulling down an edifice which has answered in any tolerable degree for ages the common purposes of society. … The nature of man is intricate, the objects of society are of the greatest possible complexity, and therefore no simple disposition or direction of power can be suitable either to man's nature or to the quality of his affairs. … The simple governments are fundamentally defective, to say no worse of them. If you were to contemplate society in but one point of view, the simple modes of polity are infinitely captivating. … But it is better that the whole should be imperfectly and anomalously answered, than that while some parts are provided for with great exactness, others might be totally neglected.’
‘The fixed form of a constitution whose merits are confirmed by the solid test of long experience, and an incrèasing public strength and national prosperity,’ can never be too sedulously protected. ‘The true lawgiver ought … to love and respect his kind and to fear himself. …. In my course I have known, and according to my measure have co-operated with, great men, and I have never yet seen any plan which has not been mended by the observations of those who were much inferior in understanding to the person who took the lead in the business. By a slow but well-sustained progress, the effect of each step is watched; the good or ill success of the first gives light to see the second, and so from light to light we are conducted with safety through the whole series. We see that the parts of the system do not clash. The evils latent in the most promising contrivances are provided for as they arise. One advantage is as little as possible sacrificed to another. We compensate, we reconcile, we balance. We are enabled to unite into a consistent whole the various anomalies and contending principles that are found in the minds and affairs of men. From hence arises not an excellence in simplicity, but one far superior, an excellence in composition.’
In opposition to this spirit of cautious and experimental legislation, he places the modes of political thought that had arisen among the politicians of France, ‘who think little or nothing has been done before their time, and who place all their hopes in discovery; who conceive very systematically that all things which give perpetuity are mischievous, and are therefore at inexpiable war with all establishments; who think that government may vary like modes of dress and with as little ill effect, and that there needs no principle of attachment, except a sense of present conveniency, to any constitution in the State.’ ‘A good patriot and a true politician always considers how he shall make the most of the existing materials of his country;’ he is animated at once by ‘a disposition to preserve, and an ability to improve;’ his supreme merit is found in the skill with which he corrects the errors and defects, without weakening the foundations, of old establishments, and cures common distempers by regular methods. But the Parisian legislators begin by making a clear sweep of all old establishments. They at once despair of making any use of common means in their legislation. They treat their country ‘as a kind of carte blanche on which they may scribble whatever they please.’ They endeavour to reconstruct the whole framework of government and society from its basis, on principles of geometrical equality, with a total disregard for the antecedents and traditions of their country; for ‘the ancient permanent sense,’ and ‘great influencing prejudices’ of mankind; for that prescription which is the chief foundation of all property, and which alone ‘mellows into legality governments that were violent in their commencement.’
It would carry us too far to follow Burke into his very elaborate and skilful examination of the measures of the National Assembly and of the revolutionary leaders in France. The magnificent pages in which he described the outrages which the King and Queen had received, and the ingratitude with which the repeated and ample royal concessions had been repaid, are well known. The contrast between Lewis XVI. and the two Stuart sovereigns who had been dethroned by revolution was indeed very marked, and Burke predicted with but too good reason that the fate which had fallen on the French King, Church, and aristocracy would put an end to that enlightened and tolerant spirit which had of late been so signally displayed by the chief sovereigns of Europe, and would make the governing classes everywhere suspicious, distrustful, and hostile to reform. Reviewing the state of the French Government as it existed before the Revolution, he said that, ‘though usually, and I think justly, reported the best of the unqualified or illqualified monarchies, it was still full of abuses;’ but he argued from the increase of French population and wealth, from the splendid achievements of France in so many forms and fields of greatness, that these abuses were far from intolerable. The Government was certainly not so ‘incapable and undeserving of reform’ that it was necessary that ‘the whole fabric should be at once pulled down and the area cleared for the erection of a theoretic, experimental edifice in its place.’ All France, he says, was of this opinion in the beginning of 1789. ‘The instructions of the representatives to the States-General from every district in that kingdom were filled with projects for the reformation of that Government without the remotest suggestion of a design to destroy it. Had such a design been even then insinuated, I believe there would have been but one voice, and that voice for rejecting it with scorn and horror.’ He showed that the Sovereign had for some years been continually favouring reform, that although there were great abuses in the French Church, the spirit of intolerance had been steadily declining, and that the clergy as well as the nobles in their instructions to their representatives had expressly declared their willingness to abandon their exemptions from taxation. It was no doubt a great and scandalous abuse that the privileged orders in France should be exempt from the payment of the taille, which was the heaviest tax; but Burke showed the gross falsehood of the assertion, which was so often made at the time of the Revolution, and which has been frequently repeated to our own day, that the privileged orders paid no taxes. The nobles paid the capitation, which was a progressive impost; they paid the land tax known as the ‘20th penny,’ ‘to the height sometimes of three, sometimes of four shillings in the pound;’ they paid all the indirect taxes which made up a great part of the French revenue. The clergy, it is true, except in certain provinces, did not pay the capitation and the twentieths, but they had purchased their exemption from the first tax by a large sum, and they were accustomed to make what they termed ‘free gifts,’ which were a partial compensation for their exemption from the latter. At all events, by the free act of the clergy and nobles, the grievance of the exemptions was now at an end.
For the abuses in the collection of the revenue, which Burke truly described as the most serious, the privileged orders were not responsible. The sale of offices was in some respects a great evil, but it had at least the effect of bringing a constant stream of new men into the French nobility. They maintained, however, too punctiliously their distinction from other classes, but, as Burke truly and acutely observed, less punctiliously than the same class in Germany and some other countries. So far from being opposed to reform, they had caught to an excessive degree the innovating spirit of the time. The theory which attributed the excesses of the Revolution to the desperation of a downtrodden people struggling against intolerable oppression, appeared to Burke fundamentally and demonstrably false. Like Governor Morris and Jefferson he maintained that, when the States-General met in 1789, no violence whatever was required to make France a free country, for no resistance was to be apprehended. ‘Read the instructions’ [of the nobility], he wrote, ‘to their representatives. They breathe the spirit of liberty as warmly, and they recommend reformation as strongly, as any other order. Their privileges relative to contribution were voluntarily surrendered, as the King from the beginning surrendered all pretence to a right of taxation. Upon a free Constitution there was but one opinion in France. The absolute monarchy was at an end. It breathed its last without a groan, without a struggle, without convulsion. All the struggle, all the dissension arose afterwards, upon the preference of a despotic democracy to a Government of reciprocal control. The triumph of the victorious party was over the principles of the British Constitution.’
The English admirers of the Revolution were accustomed to enumerate with triumph the many measures of incontestable reform which the National Assembly had carried. It was undoubtedly true, Burke answered, that ‘among an infinite number of acts of violence and folly some good may have been done. They who destroy everything will certainly remove some grievance. They who make everything new have a chance that they may establish something beneficial. But to give them credit for what they have done in virtue of the authority they have usurped … it must appear that the same things could not have been accomplished without producing such a revolution. Most assuredly they might; because almost every one of the regulations made by them, which is not very equivocal, was either in the cession of the King, voluntarily made at the meeting of the States, or in the concurrent instructions of the orders.’
Of the old Constitution of France—if indeed that could be regarded as a constitution which had never more than a shadowy and precarious existence—he spoke with more respect than it deserved. ‘You had the elements,’ he wrote, ‘of a constitution very nearly as good as could be wished. In your old states you possessed that variety of parts corresponding with the various descriptions of which your community was happily composed. You had all that combination and all that opposition of interests which in the natural and in the political world from the reciprocal struggle of discordant powers draws out the harmony of the universe. Those opposed and conflicting interests which you considered as so great a blemish in your old, and our present, Constitution, interpose a salutary check to all precipitate resolutions; they render deliberation a matter not of choice but of necessity; they make all change a subject of compromise, which naturally begets moderation … preventing the sore evil of harsh, crude, unqualified reformations, and rendering all the headlong exertions of arbitrary power in the few or in the many for ever impracticable. … You had all these advantages in your ancient states, but you chose to act as if you had never been moulded into civil society and had everything to begin anew.’
What, then, was likely to be the issue of the Revolution? The wisdom of a statesman is mainly shown in the justice of his forecasts, and in order to estimate the amount of sagacity which was exhibited by Burke we must remember that the ‘Reflections’ appeared as early as November 1790, in the golden days of the Revolution, before the September massacres, before the trial and execution of the King, before the Convention, before the Reign of Terror. The work of the Revolution was regarded by its admirers as substantially achieved, and it was believed that the National Assembly had constructed on a sure basis a great and enduring edifice of freedom.
The opposition of Burke to these views was fundamental. He not only predicted—which perhaps needed but little sagacity—that the paper money, with which the new governors of France were now flooding the country, could not possibly maintain its value, and that the confiscation of Church property would be wholly insufficient to avert bankruptcy; but he also maintained that the new system of government in all its parts was inevitably transitory. He declared that the position assigned to the King was an impossible one, and that it must lead to the complete destruction of the monarchy; that the new civic constitution of the clergy could only be considered ‘preparatory to the utter abolition under any of its forms of the Christian religion;’ that the present constitution of the legislative power could not possibly last; and that, as the Revolution proceeded, power would pass more and more into the most violent hands. ‘When the leaders choose to make themselves bidders at an auction of popularity … they will become flatterers instead of legislators; the instruments not the guides of the people. I fancy if any of them should happen to propose a scheme of liberty, soberly limited and defined, he will be immediately outbid by his competitors, who will produce something more splendidly popular. Suspicions will be raised of his fidelity to his cause. Moderation will be stigmatised as the virtue of cowards, and compromise as the prudence of traitors.’ Already in the National Assembly ‘their idea of their powers is always taken at the utmost stretch of legislative competency, and their examples for common cases from the exceptions of the most urgent necessity. The future is to be in most respects like the present Assembly; but by the mode of the new elections, and the tendency of the new circulations, it will be purged of the small minority chosen originally from various interests, and preserving something of their spirit. If possible, the next Assembly must be worse than the present.’
All these predictions, though indignantly repudiated by the admirers of the Revolution, proved literally and accurately true. But beyond the immediate future there were other consequences which it was perhaps more difficult to anticipate. That the movement was not in the direction of true political liberty, Burke firmly believed. Political liberty, according to his conception, flourishes when various interests are strongly organised, when power is so divided, limited, balanced, and controlled that no single element can obtain omnipotence. The three branches of legislative power in the British Constitution, the federal system in the United States and in Switzerland, the independent Parliaments of France, and the three orders in her States-General, supplied the indispensable materials for compromise and control; but the path which was taken by the National Assembly was a path that led to despotism, though it might be the despotism of an unqualified democracy. Nor were the moral conditions more favourable. ‘All other people have laid the foundations of civil freedom in severer manners and a system of a more austere and masculine morality. France when she let loose the reins of regal authority doubled the licence of a ferocious dissoluteness in manners, and an insolent irreligion in opinions and practice.’ In the opinion of Burke the probable close of the anarchy of the Revolution was a military despotism. ‘The army will remain for some time mutinous and full of faction, until some popular general who understands the art of conciliating the soldiery and who possesses the true spirit of command shall draw the eyes of all men upon himself. … But the moment in which that event shall happen, the person who really commands the army is your master; the master (that is little) of your King, the master of your Assembly, the master of your whole republic.’1 Should such a despot arise, he will find that the legislation which crushed and levelled all the orders in the State has greatly facilitated his career. ‘If the present prospect of a Republic should fail, all securities to a moderated freedom fall along with it; all the indirect restraints which mitigate despotism are removed; insomuch that if monarchy should ever again obtain an entire ascendency in France, under this or any other dynasty, it will probably be, if not voluntarily tempered at setting out by the wise and virtuous councils of the Prince, the most completely arbitrary power that has ever appeared on earth.’2
But while Burke as early as 1790 clearly foresaw the probable rise of a Napoleon, he did not undertake to forecast the final issue. A revolution which destroyed old orders, institutions, traditions, manners, reverence, and beliefs, and which concentrated all power in a single democratic chamber, seemed to him to destroy the essential elements that give permanence and security to Governments. No Government in Europe had hitherto been more firmly rooted through every vicissitude of fortune than that of France, but in the judgment of Burke a new principle of instability was now passing into French affairs. ‘You are young,’ he wrote, ‘you cannot guide but must follow the fortunes of your country; but hereafter my sentiments may be of some use to you in some future form which your Commonwealth may take. In the present it can hardly remain, but before its final settlement it may be obliged to pass, as one of our poets says, “through great varieties of untried being,” and in all its transmigrations to be purified by fire and by blood.’
Such were the judgments formed by Burke of these new and startling events which were regarded by Fox as so fortunate and so glorious, and it would be difficult to find a more striking instance of sagacity justified by the event. On some points, however, his forecast proved mistaken. Though much less confident than when he spoke in Parliament, he had not yet abandoned the opinion, which was at this time general among European statesmen, that the Revolution would reduce France to a long period of military and political impotence. He believed—as the event proved, very erroneously—that she would lose that wonderful recuperative energy which she had displayed after the civil wars of the Fronde, and he shared the delusion of Morris that when she was divided into eighty-three independent municipalities, all animated by the popular spirit of insubordination, those municipalities would never submit to the central Government in Paris. Revolts like that of La Vendée seemed to him likely to be frequent, and like Morris he thought it not impossible that France would be for a time broken up into a number of small republics.
His estimate also of the effects of the spoliation of Church property is tinged with much exaggeration and error. It is closely connected with his views of the nature of Church establishments, and the eloquent pages which he devoted to this subject, though extremely impressive to his contemporaries, are very alien to the opinions of our own day. On this subject, as we have already had some occasion to see, he agreed much less with Hoadley, Warburton, and Paley, than with Hooker and the Nonjurors. His opinions were in truth not Whig, but Tory, and they belonged to a kind of Toryism which, though once very prevalent, has now almost wholly ceased to be an operative principle in European politics. The prevailing Whig doctrine of an Established Church was simply, that the secular State of its own free will conferred certain endowments and privileges on the clergy of the most considerable religious body in the community, in order that they might more efficiently discharge functions which are of the highest importance to the nation. The connection between Church and State was based upon expediency, and it was defended by purely utilitarian arguments. These arguments have been rarely stated more skilfully than by Burke, but he himself always looked upon the connection between Church and State as something of a mystical and transcendental nature. One of the first principles of his political philosophy is that a nation is a distinct corporate entity, bound together by institutions, habits, opinions, and tendencies, and preserving its separate and continuous individuality from age to age. One of the supreme ends of politics is to strengthen this national life; to maintain that steady stream of habit, interest, and feeling, without which ‘the Commonwealth itself would in a few generations crumble away, be disconnected into the dust and powder of individuality, and at length dispersed to all the winds of heaven.’ Chief among these influences is the national religion, and without it the nation would be almost like a body without a soul.
But not only is a National Church the chief cementing influence in the State, it is ‘the oblation of the State itself’ to the Divinity. The people of England, he said, ‘persuaded that all things ought to be done with reference, and referring all to the point of reference to which all should be directed, think themselves bound … in their corporate character to perform their national homage to the Institutor, and Author, and Protector of civil society, without which civil society man could not by any possibility arrive at the perfection of which his nature is capable, nor even make a remote and faint approach to it. They conceive that He who gave our nature to be perfected by our virtue, willed also the necessary means of its perfection. He willed, therefore, the State. He willed its connection with the source and original Archetype of all perfection. … It is on some such principles that the majority of the people of England, far from thinking a religious National Establishment unlawful, hardly think it lawful to be without one. … They do not consider their Church Establishment as convenient, but as essential to their State; not as a thing heterogeneous and separable, something added for accommodation which they may either keep up or lay aside according to their temporary ideas of convenience. They consider it as the foundation of their whole Constitution, with which and with every part of which it holds an indissoluble union. Church and State are ideas inseparable in their minds, and scarcely is the one ever mentioned without mentioning the other,’ and he added, probably with perfect truth, that in attributing this high religious sanctity to the union of Church and State he faithfully represented the general sentiments of the English people.
It is obvious that such a doctrine has a vital bearing on the question of the right of the State to dispose of ecclesiastical property. The doctrine which is now most generally received is that the property of an Established Church, in as far as it is derived from public sources, is national property, and that the State has a right to alienate or resume it, subject to the obligation of compensating fully the life interests of its ministers. A doctrine of this kind was clearly implied in the admirable chapter of Paley on ‘Religious Establishments,’ and in the no less admirable article on Endowments inserted by Turgot in the ‘Encyclopaedia.’ It appears to have been widely, perhaps generally, held by the political classes in England;1 and even after the great struggles of the Reformation, the power of the State over Church property had been repeatedly and sometimes most violently exercised. The secularisation of some of the richest benefices in Germany that followed the Peace of Westphalia; the destruction of the Episcopal Church in Scotland; the suppression of some hundreds of monasteries by Joseph II.; and the confiscation of Jesuit property by the chief Catholic Governments of the Continent, are conspicuous examples. But Burke treated the sale of Church property in 1789 as if it was exactly equivalent to the confiscation of private property, except that it carried with it the added guilt of sacrilege. Nor did he base his argument to any great extent upon the inadequacy of the salaries that were granted to a portion of the dispossessed priests. ‘The estate of the Church’ he considered as ‘incorporated and identified with the mass of private property, of which the State is not the proprietor, either for use or dominion, but the guardian only and the regulator.’ ‘When once the Commonwealth has established the estates of the Church as property, it can consistently hear nothing of the more or the less. Too much and too little are treason against property.’ The act of the National Assembly in seizing the ecclesiastical property appeared to him a ‘dishonest, perfidious, and cruel confiscation of that property which it was their first duty to protect,’ and he declared that the paper money, which was issued on the security of this confiscated property, was ‘stamped with the indelible character of sacrilege.’
For this reason, though not for this reason alone, he considered the Revolution in France a most formidable blow to the rights of property. It was one of his firm convictions that property never can be secure under a representative Government in which it does not possess a preponderating power,1 and the property qualification which was exacted from the French electors under their new Constitution seemed to him wholly inadequate. The confiscation of Church property, he considered an act of robbery, and the certain precursor of still greater invasions of property. I have quoted the passage from his speech in February 1790, in which he denounced the French Assembly for having ‘laid the axe to the root of all property and consequently of all national prosperity, by the principles they established and the example they set, in confiscating all the possessions of the Church,’1 and in his ‘Reflections on the French Revolution’ he expressed his firm belief that the precedent was likely to be followed, and applied in turn to other large denominations of men.
It was not, he said, so much the confiscation of Church property that he dreaded, though this would be no trifling evil. What he feared was ‘lest it should ever be considered in England as the policy of a State to seek a resource in confiscations of any kind,’ and lest ‘one description of citizens should be brought to regard any of the others as their proper prey.’ The danger seemed the more imminent as the burden of national debts was rapidly increasing, and he predicted that ‘public debts, which at first were a security to Governments by interesting many in the public tranquillity, were likely in their excess to become the means of their subversion.’
But, in addition to these considerations, he maintained that the essential principles and modes of reasoning of a pure democracy were incompatible with the security of property. ‘If prescription be once shaken,’ he writes, ‘no species of property is secure when it once becomes an object large enough to tempt the cupidity of indigent power.’ But ‘with the National Assembly of France possession is nothing; law and usage are nothing.’ They ‘openly reprobate the doctrine of prescription, which one of the greatest of their own lawyers tells us, with great truth, is a part of the law of nature.’ They teach their followers ‘to abhor and reject all feudality as the barbarism of tyranny,’ and the people will soon come to recognise that ‘almost the whole system of landed property in its origin is feudal,’ and that the origin of the oldest properties was ‘the distribution of the possessions of the original proprietors, made by a barbarous conqueror to his barbarous instruments.’
‘The peasants,’ he continued, ‘in all probability are the descendants of these ancient proprietors, Romans or Gauls, but if they fail in any degree in the titles which they make on the principles of antiquaries and lawyers, they retreat into the citadel of the rights of men. There they find that men are equal, and the Earth, the kind and equal mother of all, ought not to be monopolised to foster the pride and luxury of any men who by nature are no better than themselves, and who if they do not labour for their bread are worse. They find that by the laws of nature the occupant and subduer of the soil is the true proprietor, that there is no prescription against nature, that the agreements (where any there are) which have been made with their landlords during the time of slavery are only the effects of duress and force, and that when the people re-entered into the rights of men, these agreements were made as void as everything else which had been settled under the prevalence of the old feudal and aristocratic tyranny. … As to the title by succession, they will tell you that the succession of those who have cultivated the soil is the true pedigree of property and not rotten parchments and silly substitutions; that the lords have enjoyed their usurpation too long; and that if they allow to these lay monks any charitable pension, they ought to be thankful to the bounty of the true proprietor, who is so generous towards a false claimant to his goods.’
Such language has a strangely familiar sound to a modern politician, but the connection of nineteenth century socialism with the French Revolution, though probably real, is not very close. In the great intellectual and speculative movement of innovation that preceded that Revolution, there were indeed several doctrines which, if pushed to their ultimate consequences, were very unfavourable to the existing social system. The doctrine that all morals spring from and depend on utility, and that therefore there can be no consideration of right in opposition to a well-ascertained and general utility; the doctrine that the State is omnipotent over its members, and that it is its task and duty to exert its powers to raise them to the highest level of virtue and happiness; the doctrine that man is essentially good, and that his vices and misery are mainly the result of the social system; and finally, the doctrine that equality is the supreme ideal at which the legislator should aim, were all well fitted to prepare the way for socialistic changes. A habit of mind was widely diffused, which systematically depreciated custom and prescription, and the great prominence which the writings of Plato and the institutions of Sparta had obtained in political speculation, tended in the same direction.
But on the whole, in the immense mass of speculation which appeared in France in the fifty years before the Revolution, there was very little directed against the institutions of property. I have already quoted the famous passage in the ‘Discourse on Inequality,’ in which Rousseau declared that the earth and its fruits were the property of all, and that the man who first claimed a portion of the earth as his own was the true founder of civil society, and the source of innumerable calamities to mankind. As we have seen, however, this passage by no means represents the true opinions of its author when he had arrived at his maturity, and it loses much of its significance when it is remembered that it forms part of an argument to prove the superiority of savage to civilised life. Doctrines of a more consistently and violently socialistic character had been promulgated by Morelly in his ‘Code of Nature,’ and in one of the early writings of Brissot de Warville, but neither of these works had much importance or influence. The true father of French socialism is Mably, who, in several of his writings, preached the necessity of a social revolution, and elaborately attacked the whole institution of property.1 Equality, he maintains, is the first object at which the legislator should aim, but equality can never permanently subsist where private property is suffered to accumulate. The true remedy for human ills is to be found in a community of goods such as he supposed to have existed in Sparta. Such a system, he admitted, was no longer practicable, but Government can at least do much to mitigate the evil. Instead of being intended to protect the property and the energies of individuals, and to promote the development of national resources, it should be its main object to maintain the citizens in an equality of fortune and of position; to prevent the accumulation either of individual or of national wealth, and to extirpate as far as possible from society the passions of ambition and avarice. A poor country with few wants, no luxury or art, and no division of classes, is the best, and the legislator should always remember that private property, with the passions and the inequalities it produces, is the supreme evil in the State. He should combat it systematically by severe laws of succession; by sumptuary laws crushing all luxury and commerce; by agrarian laws limiting the amount of land which each man may possess; by a system of education discouraging every kind of luxury and inequality; by imposing every trammel in his power on those natural superiorities of intellect and character that enable some men in the competitions of life to outrun their fellows.
Startling and systematic paradox, when accompanied by some real literary ability, seldom fails in attaining a speedy, though transient, notoriety, and the works of Mably were very widely read by the generation which preceded and which made the Revolution. But although the violence of class warfare and the extreme necessities of the State, led to some gigantic measures of confiscation, and although some of the acts and language of the Convention were clearly socialistic, the Revolution did not ultimately turn in this direction. In the Declaration of Rights it is stated that, ‘property being an inviolable and sacred right, no one can be deprived of it except when public necessity, legally established, evidently requires it, and then only on condition of a just indemnity paid in advance,’ and it would be a great injustice to the National Assembly to regard this declaration as mere idle words. In abolishing the sale of offices, and suppressing innumerable functionaries and corporations, it fully recognised rights to indemnity. It granted 450,000,000 livres for the magisterial posts, 35,000,000 for military employments, and 52,000,000 for places in the King's household. It laid down the principle that it is the duty of the nation to repay the price of every purchased office, and to assume the debts of every corporation which it suppressed,1 and it carried out this principle with an integrity which contrasts very favourably with many episodes in the history of the monarchy. It rejected, as inconsistent with the public faith, a proposed tax on the interest of the national debt, and it entirely abstained from the favourite socialistic policy of imposing excessive or confiscating duties on successions.1 In judging its legislation about the feudal system, it must be remembered that the revolt of the peasantry, reducing a great part of France to anarchy, and making the collection of feudal dues almost impossible had preceded by some weeks the famous sitting of August 4. That day is perhaps the most glorious in the French Revolution, and it ought not to be forgotten that it was the Vicomte de Noailles and the Duc d'Aiguillon, two conspicuous members of the privileged orders, who took the leading part in the abolition of the feudal rights. The Assembly declared the feudal system abolished, but, as I have already observed, it distinguished clearly the rights that grew out of ancient servitude, or old administrative functions which were no longer performed, from those which were of the nature of property and sprang for the most part from contract. The former it abolished without compensation, but the title of the owners of the latter to compensation was fully recognised. The Assembly may be blamed for having decreed the abolition of the feudal system, before it had taken measures for commuting the rights it recognised, but its original intention was a perfectly honest one, though it was defeated by the revolt of the peasantry, and abandoned in the confiscating legislation of the Convention.2
It is impossible, also, to deny the extreme and pressing necessity under which the measure of confiscating the ecclesiastical property was adopted. The Assembly had inherited a financial condition which was nearly desperate, and some of its most popular, and in the end most beneficial, measures contributed to make it hopeless. It abolished the gabelle, or salt monopoly, which had long been the occasion of deep popular discontent, and an amount of salt which had previously cost fourteen sous could now be purchased for one sou. It abolished or reduced the duties on tobacco, oil, leather, soap, and some other articles largely used by the poor. It put an end to the sale of offices, which had been a great source of revenue to the Crown, and, at a considerable cost to the State, it attached the army to the Revolution by raising its pay. Great sums were at the same time required for the indemnities for suppressed offices, and to meet the necessities of the famine. In the sphere of finance, as in all else, the National Assembly effected a complete revolution. It repealed most of the old taxes, and imposed a new stamp duty and new taxes on land, capital, and industry, and it abolished all the old exemptions from taxation, the arbitrary methods of fixing contributions, and the abusive and wasteful system of farming the revenue. But in the complete social and moral anarchy that prevailed, it was found scarcely possible to collect taxes, and every source of revenue diminished, while the expenditure was rapidly increasing. Desperate attempts were made to borrow; but though Necker was still at the head of the finances, the credit of the country was gone. In August 1789 two separate loans, one of thirty and the other of eighty millions, were decreed, but they proved almost absolute failures. Necker then proposed, as the only hope, an extraordinary contribution, amounting to a fourth of the revenue of each citizen; but although this brought in something, it proved wholly inadequate. Bankruptcy, complete or partial, was spoken of, and there were abundant precedents for it in the monarchy. It has been calculated that the public faith had been violated no less than fifty-six times between Henry IV. and the Revolution.1 But the Assembly protested strongly and earnestly against such a course, and it was as the one possible alternative, that it appropriated the ecclesiastical property and the domains of the Crown, compensating the clergy by salaries, and the King by a very liberal civil list.2
These are not the proceedings of a Legislature that was indifferent to the rights of property. It is true, however, that under the assemblies that followed, the prospect rapidly darkened. Enormous mob outrages unpunished and even uncensured; enormous and almost indiscriminate confiscations; laws of maximum regulating the prices of commodities; a forced paper currency, reducing to a small fraction all ancient debts; forced loans; requisitions on the rich, and the plunder of all charitable, literary, or educational corporations, fill the later history of the Revolution; and much of the language of Robespierre and of some of his colleagues, as well as the conspiracy of Babœuf, show clearly the influence of the socialistic element. That element, however, proved transitory. It was never the most powerful, and the violence of civil war, the necessities of a country engaged in a desperate contest against foreign enemies, and the hatred of the rich as an anti-revolutionary class, inspired the violences of the Revolution much more than any deliberate negation of the legitimacy of private property. The codes of law that have sprung out of the Revolution recognised the sanctity of property and the stringency of contracts at least as fully as the codes of the ancient monarchy; and, contrary to the anticipations of Burke, the Revolution which has destroyed, enfeebled, or remodelled almost all French institutions, has not permanently injured either French credit, French industry, or French property.
The causes of this fact form a matter of curious and important inquiry, but the more prominent may, I think, be easily ascertained. On no other subject is the conservative sentiment so powerful and so sensitive as in the protection of property. On most political questions, great multitudes of quiet and moderate men exhibit an habitual languor, which too often enables fanatical minorities and dexterous leaders to carry measures that are quite opposed to the genuine sense of the majority of the nation; while many others throw their influence into great movements of change, with a careless and unreflecting levity they would never have displayed on any matter directly affecting their private interests. But when the rights of property are touched these interests are at once alarmed. The indifference and the levity in a great measure disappear, and an unwonted spirit of earnestness and caution is aroused. In France there was a strong bulwark of resistance in the great multitude of small owners of land. The extent to which peasant proprietors had already multiplied, seems to have been almost entirely unknown in England until the publication in 1792 of Arthur Young's Tour; and Burke, though in general singularly well-informed about the social condition of France, appears to have been altogether ignorant of it.1 This class was still further strengthened by the great masses of Church and royal property thrown into the market at the Revolution, and by the extension of the law of equal division. At the same time, the sense of property among them was greatly intensified by the simplification of titles, which put an end to the confused, divided, and imperfect ownership growing out of the feudal system. The destruction of the feudal obligations, as it was actually accomplished, was in many instances an act of the most barefaced robbery. A crowd of money rights, which had been for ages sold and purchased under the full sanction of the law, and which had grown out of the most legitimate contracts, were swept away without compensation. But one of the results was the creation of a large class who, themselves enjoying absolute and undivided property, exhibited the instincts of proprietors in their utmost intensity. This class was much increased at a later period, by the wide diffusion of small portions of the obligations of the national debt. Revolutionary and anarchical doctrines relating to property have again and again risen to the surface, but the knowledge that an immense proportion of the French people are always ready, if the rights of property are seriously menaced, to throw themselves for protection into the arms of a military despotism, has hitherto proved a sufficient check upon socialistic tendencies in France.
In estimating the relations of the French Revolution to other countries, the language of Burke was much more moderate than it afterwards became. He admitted fully that the English party which sympathised with the Revolution was a small one, and one of the best known passages in the ‘Reflections’ is that contrasting the half-dozen grasshoppers which make the field ring with their importunate clink, with the herds of great cattle that chew the cud in silence under the shelter of the British Oak. He maintained, however, that the beginnings of disorder were very lately even more feeble in France. The world was in the presence of ‘a revolution of sentiments, manners, and moral opinions,’ and such a revolution could not be confined to one country. ‘France has always more or less influenced manners in England; and when your fountain is choked up, the stream will not run long and not run clear with us, or perhaps with any nation.’ ‘Of all things Wisdom is the most terrified with epidemical fanaticism, because of all enemies it is that against which she is the least able to furnish any kind of resource.’ It was idle to say that French affairs did not concern Englishmen, when they were steadily and persistently held up as a model. Nor was this a merely spontaneous and unforced admiration. One of the characteristic features of the new French fanaticism was its proselytising spirit. ‘They have societies to cabal and correspond at home and abroad, for the propagation of their tenets. The Republic of Berne, one of the happiest, the most prosperous, and the best governed countries upon earth, is one of the great objects at the destruction of which they aim. I am told they have in some measure succeeded in sowing there the seeds of discontent.1 They are busy throughout Germany; Spain and Italy have not been untried. England is not left out of the comprehensive scheme of their malignant charity, and in England we find those who stretch out their arms to them.’
The abstract I have now given of the contents of the ‘Reflections on the French Revolution’ has extended to considerable, and I fear somewhat tedious, length, but it is not, I think, disproportioned to its historical importance. ‘The first considerable check,’ wrote the French writer Dumont, ‘that was given to the general enthusiasm in the cause of the Revolution, came from the famous publication of Burke; when he attacked, himself entirely alone, the gigantic force of the Assembly, and represented these new legislators, in the midst of all their power and glory, as maniacs who could only destroy everything and produce nothing.’ Very few books have ever combined so remarkably the wide and rapid popularity of a successful political pamphlet with the enduring influence of a standard political treatise. With the doubtful exception of Swift's ‘Conduct of the Allies,’ it had probably a greater immediate effect on political opinion than any other English work of the eighteenth century. With the exception of ‘The Wealth of Nations,’ no other English book of the eighteenth century has so deeply and permanently influenced the modes of thought of serious political thinkers. Within the year of its publication about 19,000 copies were sold in England and about 13,000 in France, and the number of English copies sold soon rose to 30,000. It became the main topic of conversation in every political circle, and it rarely failed to produce violent feelings either of admiration or dislike.
In the upper circles, both in England and on the Continent, it was, in general, received with unbounded enthusiasm. The King spoke of it with the warmest admiration, and himself distributed several copies; and messages or letters of approval soon poured in to the author from the sovereigns assembled at Pilnitz, from Catherine of Russia, from Stanislaus of Poland, from the French Princes, from some of the leading members of the French clergy. His own University of Dublin conferred on him an honorary degree; an address expressive of admiration was presented to him by the graduates of Oxford; and among the many private persons who warmly applauded the work were Gibbon and Reynolds. In Whig circles, however, a deep division of opinion was already shown. The Duke of Portland, Lord Fitzwilliam, the Duke of Devonshire, Lord John Cavendish, Montagu, and several other members of the old Rockingham connection, expressed their full approbation of the principles of the work, and among younger men Sir Gilbert Elliot was emphatic on the same side. On the other hand Fox, Sheridan, Francis, Erskine, and Grey, regarded the work with unconcealed dislike. Fox not only expressed in private his entire disapprobation of it, but even declared that in point of composition it was the worst which Burke had ever produced;1 and as early as December 1790 Sir Gilbert Elliot clearly saw in the leaning of Fox towards Sheridan and in his alienation from Burke the sign of the approaching disruption of the Whig party.1 In the Radical party there was a moment of consternation, and it was noticed that the attendance at the revolutionary clubs for a time greatly fell off, but a host of pens were soon employed in answering Burke. Among his opponents were Priestley, Price, Mrs. Macaulay, and Mary Wollstonecraft, but the only answers which made any considerable impression were the ‘Vindiciæ Gallicæ,’ which was the earliest and one of the best works of Mackintosh, and the ‘Rights of Man,’ which was the most popular work of Paine.
But though the subject was rapidly becoming the main topic of political discussion in the country, it was still kept in a great degree out of Parliament. As we have already seen, in the early session of 1790 it was not Burke but Fox who had introduced it, and the one great speech in which Burke had stated his views on the subject, cannot be accused of recklessness or violence. Parliament was dissolved in the autumn of 1790, and the new Parliament met on November 25. In the short session between its first meeting and the Christmas holidays, no allusion appears to have been made to French affairs. The difficulties with Spain and with Tippoo Sahib were the chief subjects of discussion, and Fox, Burke, and Pitt contended side by side, and with triumphant ability, for the doctrine that the impeachment of Hastings was not terminated by a dissolution.
This impeachment and the French Revolution now almost equally divided the attention of Burke. From the time when the events of October 5 and 6, 1789, had made the French King a virtual prisoner in the hands of the democracy, the movement of revolution had been advancing with terrible energy towards its goal. The National Assembly as well as the King had been transferred from Versailles to Paris, and it was now exposed to the ceaseless intimidation of the clubs and of the mob. Soon after the outrageous scenes of October 5 and 6, nearly three hundred of the most respectable members, including Mounier, Lally Tollendal, and the Bishop of Langres, seceded in disgust, and power fell more and more into the most violent hands. Measure after measure was pushed on with a feverish haste, blotting out all the institutions, traditions, and characteristics of ancient France. The privileges enjoyed by particular provinces in matters of taxation had been already abolished, but now the ancient divisions of the provinces, with their names, laws, organisations, usages, customs, and infinite diversities of administration, were all swept away. The whole country was reorganised on a plan of perfect uniformity in eighty-three departments, divided symmetrically into districts, cantons, and municipalities, governed by an entirely new set of administrative and judicial institutions. Functionaries of almost every order were made elective, and the basis of the whole fabric was an electoral body comprising all Frenchmen, except domestics, who were twenty-five years of age, who had resided in one district for a year, and who paid direct taxation to the value of three days' labour. The old Parliaments, which had for centuries played so great a part in French history, were destroyed. The judges were made temporary and elective. The clergy, who had shown themselves imbued with the liberal ideas of the age to a degree which those who know the spirit of their successors find it difficult to realise; who had so readily abandoned their privileges in taxation; who had been the first of the privileged orders to join the commons in the States-General; and who, by the mouth of the Archbishop of Paris, had consented with signal generosity to the abolition of their tithes, soon found that they had gained nothing by their policy. They ceased to be a separate corporation in the State. Their Church property was seized and sold, and they were reduced to the position of mere salaried functionaries. The monasteries were abolished. Monastic vows were forbidden, and soon the ‘civil constitution’ drove the clergy to the alternative of abandoning either their cures or their allegiance to the Pope.
This measure was not, it is true, altogether unprecedented in its general character, for it bore a striking resemblance to the legislation of Joseph II. in Austria. The State by its own authority diminished the number of bishoprics, rearranged the dioceses in accordance with the new division of departments, made the bishops and curés eligible by the same electors as the members of the National Assembly, forbade the newly elected bishops to demand their confirmation from the Pope, and finally exacted from the clergy an oath of adhesion to a constitution which was directly opposed to the principles of their Church. Out of 138 bishops only four consented to take it. Out of 70,000 priests 46,000 were deprived of their cures,1 and a great schism divided France. The nobles had lost their privileges, their political power, and their feudal revenues. It was decreed that there should be no longer any distinction of orders in France, and all titles were forbidden. The great commercial companies were dissolved, and the first steps were taken in the legislation for the equal division of successions.
The moral authority of the King had been totally destroyed by successful revolts, and although the Assembly sincerely desired to maintain the monarchical constitution of the Government, it had left him scarcely a shadow of his influence. He was deprived of almost all patronage, of all initiative in legislation, of the right of pardon, of the right of dissolving the Assembly. His ministers were excluded from the Assembly, and superseded in their chief administrative functions by committees appointed by it. The King could only declare peace or war in accordance with its decrees. His veto on its proceedings was limited to two Legislatures. At the same time the condemnation of the hereditary principle and the destruction of all the natural bulwarks of the throne had made him a manifest anomaly in the State,2 while the disorganisation of the regular army and the creation of a great democratic force wholly independent of the Crown had deprived him of every element of power. Even the right of commanding the army had passed into the hands of the new municipal bodies.1
It is strange to look back and remember how lately the Sovereign, who was now so impotent, had been, in the eyes of the law and of the people, the absolute ruler of France, the sole initiator of legislation, the sole source of political power. The States-General could only be convened by his free will, and he was fully authorised by the precedents of French history to regard them as a mere consultative body which had no legislative power except by his concession. As late as the end of 1788 Necker in his report to the King had declared that ‘it would never enter into the mind of the Third Estate to diminish the seigneurial and honorary prerogatives that distinguish the first two orders in their properties and their persons.’ In the royal declaration of June 23, 1789, the King had formally announced that all properties without exception must be respected, and that under the name of property were comprised tithes and all the feudal and seigneurial rights and obligations, all the useful and honorary prerogatives, attached to lands or fiefs or belonging to persons. The complex and balanced Constitution of the States-General, as it had existed in 1614, seemed to contain ample guarantees that the change from an absolute to a representative Government would proceed with a measured and orderly course. Under such a Constitution the new Assembly would be like one of those engines which are intended to descend by a steep declivity from the mountain to the plain, and are furnished with elaborate and powerful machinery to regulate and moderate their course. But the rope had snapped. The springs had broken. The whole machinery of control had given way, and it was now hurrying on with a speed which no power could check. The Third Order had dominated and absorbed the two others. The Assembly, which was convoked to give a moral support to the Crown, had destroyed the royal prerogatives; it had set aside the instructions of its constituents; it had by its own will prolonged its tenure of power; it had usurped the whole authority, it had transformed the whole political character of the State.
All the old orders, corporations, tribunals, customs, checks and counterpoises, heterogeneous and complex forms of administration that had surrounded and restricted the most absolute sovereigns, had in a few months been swept away by the resistless energy of one democratic chamber, and all compromise and partition of power had been rejected. It was in vain that the King at the very outset of the movement had agreed to accord to the States-General the functions of a complete legislative body, with annual meetings and a complete control of the purse; it was in vain that the nobles had formally renounced their exemptions from taxation, had welcomed the opening to all classes of the higher grades in the army, and had shown themselves on August 4 perfectly willing to abandon one class of their feudal rights and to accept a reasonable commutation for the rest; it was in vain that the clergy had abandoned all their privileges relating to taxation, had consented to the entire abolition of their tithes, and had offered to raise a loan of 400 millions for the State, if their other property was maintained. All this, together with a complete system of provincial self-government, might have been obtained without violence or revolution, but all this proved insufficient. In a few months the institutions, traditions, and governing maxims of centuries had been overthrown. In the total destruction of the political power of the King, of the privileged orders, of the Parliaments, and of all provincial corporations, authority seemed wholly concentrated in one great, unmanageable assembly; but behind that assembly were the Jacobin clubs, which were multiplying rapidly in every part of France; the Paris mobs, which were threatening the more moderate deputies, and shrieking their orders from the galleries of the Assembly; the new elective and almost independent councils of inexperienced men, which were springing up in every part of France, pushed on by fierce democratic passions and burning to realise the conceptions of Rousseau.
Much, however, was done by the Constituent Assembly which was of great and permanent value, and which has remained unchanged through all the fluctuations of French Governments. The abolition of the feudal system with its manifold and intolerable abuses proved the first condition of the prosperity of France. The laws which abolished all religious disqualifications and all exemptions from taxation, which opened all civil and military employments to all Frenchmen, which emancipated trade and industry and labour from the countless restrictions and monopolies that encumbered them, and which remitted some of the taxes that were most wasteful, and most oppressive to the poor, were measures of incontestable value. The Assembly was full of able lawyers, and its reforms in the judicial institutions were of great importance, and carried out some of the chief recommendations of Voltaire and Beccaria. The scandalous abuses of the sale of judicial as of other offices, the infinite variety and complexity of the administration of justice in the different provinces, the exceptional tribunals by which the King could withdraw cases from the ordinary law courts, the shameful privileges which gave the upper orders lighter penalties for crime, all disappeared. The same system of law was now established through the whole of France, and it was enacted that all privilege in matters of jurisdiction should cease, and that all citizens without distinction should plead before the same tribunals and in the same form and should be liable to the same penalties. The admirable institution of the ‘juge de paix’ greatly diminished litigation. Juries were introduced into criminal cases. It was provided that the reasons of every judgment should be fully set forth. Confiscation of goods, and penalties inflicting degradation on the family of the culprit, were abolished. Corporal punishment was no longer admitted into the military code.
It is idle to question the value of these reforms, but many of them might easily have been attained without revolution, and the others were dearly purchased by the fatal enfeeblement of the great pillars of order in the State. Through the whole country anarchy was rapidly spreading, and it was anarchy intensified by famine. The revolt of the peasants against the nobles, which seemed for a time to have diminished, broke out again with redoubled violence. From almost all parts of France came accounts of the plunder and destruction of country houses; of the refusal of peasants to pay rents or any of those feudal dues which the Assembly had reserved for future compensation; of fierce conflicts between the supporters of the old and new order of things; of the revival of ancient feuds and passions, and the total destruction of order and subordination. The events of the last months had spread a vague and unwonted agitation through classes which had very rarely been touched by any political emotion, and the French peasants were now as passionate supporters of the Revolution as any of the worshippers of the ‘Contrat Social.’ For forms of government and speculative politics they cared nothing, but they hated tithes; they hated the feudal system with an intensity which neither the privileged classes nor the literary politicians had ever understood, and their instinct of acquisition was aroused to the utmost. They had seen with astonishment a great part of their burdens suddenly removed. They were told that the feudal system was abolished, and they were resolved that like the system of tithes it should be abolished absolutely and without compensation. The Revolution in their eyes meant simply the cessation of all the dues and services to which they were liable, and with the complete destruction of the institutions and customs under which they had grown up, all their landmarks of authority and of morals had disappeared. The landed gentry were for the most part ruined, and multitudes were flying persecuted and panic-stricken to seek shelter in the towns or in foreign lands. In the beginning of 1790 six thousand estates were said to have been in the market, and they could find no purchasers.1 The great emigration of the nobles had already begun. Some had gone with the Prince de Condé in July and many others after October 6, and it was already known that a large party were imploring foreign princes and especially the German Emperor to take arms for the restoration of the monarchy of France.
In November 1790 Morris wrote to Washington: ‘The country I now inhabit, on which so many other countries depend, having sunk to absolute nothingness has deranged the general state of things in every quarter. … This unhappy country, bewildered in the pursuit of metaphysical whimsies, presents to our moral view a mighty ruin. … The Sovereign humbled to the level of a beggar's pity, without resources, without authority, without a friend. The Assembly at once a master and a slave, new in power, wild in theory, raw in practice. It engrosses all functions though incapable of exercising any, and has taken from this fierce, ferocious people every restraint of religion and of respect. Sole executors of the law and therefore supreme judges of its propriety, each district measures out its obedience by its wishes, and the great interests of the whole, split up into fractional morsels, depend on momentary impulse and ignorant caprice. Such a state of things cannot last. But how will it end? … One thing only seems to be tolerably ascertained—that the glorious opportunity is lost, and (for this time at least) the Revolution has failed. … But I think from the chaos of opinion and the conflict of its jarring elements a new order will at length arise which, though in some degree the child of chance, may not be less productive of human happiness than the forethought provisions of human speculation.’1
The enthusiasm of the English admirers of the French Revolution was, however, still unqualified, and they admired it with no mere speculative or Platonic devotion. It was as a lesson to Englishmen that Price and Priestley especially praised it, and Mackintosh declared that the one point on which its friends and enemies were agreed, was that its influence could not be confined to France, but must produce important changes in the general state of Europe.2 This brilliant, conscientious, and on most subjects moderate writer, did not hesitate to say that though ‘the grievances of England did not at present justify a change by violence,’ ‘they were in a rapid progress to that fatal state,’ and he declared that ‘whatever may be the ultimate fate of the French Revolutionists the friends of freedom must ever consider them as the authors of the greatest attempt that has hitherto been made in the cause of man.’3 By far the most popular answer to Burke was Paine's ‘Rights of Man,’ of which the first part was published in the beginning of 1791, and this work was throughout a comparison of the French and English theories of government to the infinite advantage of the former. Burke, Paine said, had done real service in exhuming the servile language of the authors of the Revolution of 1688, for he had shown how little the rights of men were then understood, and how absurdly the English Revolution had been overrated. It would now, however, soon find its level. ‘It is already on the wane, eclipsed by the enlarging orb of reason and the luminous Revolutions of America and France.’ The time would soon come when ‘mankind would scarcely believe that a country calling itself free would send to Holland for a man and clothe him with power, on purpose to put themselves in fear of him, and give him almost a million sterling a year for leave to submit themselves and their posterity like bondmen and bondwomen for ever.’ ‘Everything,’ he continues, ‘in the English Government appears to me the reverse of what it ought to be,’ and he proceeded to show how the true model for Englishmen was the new French Constitution, and to contrast its provisions, clause by clause, with the corruption and injustice of the English one.
In France, he says, every man who pays a tax of sixty sous a year has a vote; the number of representatives bears a fixed ratio to the number of electors; the National Assembly is to be elected every two years; game laws and monopolies are abolished; no member of the National Assembly is suffered to be an officer of the Government, a placeman, or pensioner; the right of making peace or war has been taken from the King and vested with the nation; all titles and other aristocratic privileges have been extinguished; tithes have been put an end to; liberty of conscience has been established, not as a matter of toleration but as of universal right; and while the King is still retained as an official, the sole sovereignty of the nation itself has been fully and formally acknowledged. ‘Much is to be learned from the French Constitution. Conquest and tyranny transplanted themselves with William the Conqueror from Normandy into England, and the country is yet disfigured with the marks. May, then, the example of all France contribute to regenerate a freedom which a province of it destroyed.’ ‘From the Revolutions of America and France and the symptoms that have appeared in other countries, it is evident that the opinion of the world is changing with respect to systems of government. … All the old Governments have received a shock from the revolutions that already appear, and which were once more improbable, and are a greater subject of wonder, than a general revolution in Europe would be now. When we survey the wretched condition of man under the monarchical and hereditary systems of government … it becomes evident that those systems are bad, and that a general revolution in the principle and construction of Governments is necessary.’1
Such was the character of the work which the Revolution Society was zealously disseminating. The leaven was rapidly spreading. Early in 1791 there was a branch society established at Norwich, and another, which was especially active in disseminating the works of Paine, at Manchester. The London society hired Ranelagh for the celebration of the anniversary of the French Confederation in July, and it was announced that Sheridan would be present. A flag had been sent from France to be used on the occasion, in which the national colours of France and England were blended, but as it was composed of contraband materials it was seized in the Custom House.2 The addresses of the Revolution Society to the French patriots continued in a strain of the most devoted enthusiasm. ‘The admiration,’ they said in April 1791, ‘with which you Frenchmen have long beheld the British Government has, we believe, arisen from your having hitherto contemplated with more attention the excellencies of our Constitution than its defects; a moderate portion of political freedom and the existence of bearable oppressions appeared to you an enviable condition.’ ‘Royal prerogatives,’ they wrote a few months later, ‘injurious to the public interest; a servile peerage; a rapacious and intolerant clergy; and a corrupt representation, are grievances under which we suffer, but as you perhaps have profited from the example of our ancestors, so shall we from your late glorious and splendid actions.’3
To Burke, on the other hand, the dangers of the Revolution as a centre of malefic contagion appeared continually more terrible, and he soon began to change his first opinion of the military impotence to which France had been reduced. It is remarkable, too, and I think melancholy to observe how entirely he shared the hopes and wishes of the French emigrants, and looked forward to European intervention in favour of the King. Turin was a great centre of the French emigration, and in a letter to the English Minister at that city, written as early as January 1791, he clearly stated his views on the subject. He urged that nothing could be effected in France without a great force from abroad; that the predominant faction was undoubtedly the strongest and not likely to be overturned by internal resistance. ‘Nothing else,’ he emphatically added, ‘but a foreign force can or will do. In this design too Great Britain and Prussia must at least acquiesce. Nor is it a small military force that can do the business. It is a serious design, and must be done with combined strength. Nor must that strength be under any ordinary conduct. It will require as much political management as military skill in the commanders. France is weak, indeed, divided and deranged; but God knows when the things came to be tried whether the invaders would not find that the enterprise was not to support a party but to conquer a kingdom. … Every hour any system of government continues, be that system what it will, the more it obtains consistency, and the better will it be able to provide for its own support. … If the powers who may be disposed to think, as I most seriously do, that no monarchy, limited or unlimited, nor any of the old republics can possibly be safe as long as this strange, nameless, wild, enthusiastic thing is established in the centre of Europe, may not be in readiness to act in concert, and with all their forces—if this be the case, to be sure nothing is to be attempted but the preluding war of paper. For my part I am entirely in the dark about the designs and means of the Powers of Europe in this respect. However, this I am quite sure of, all the other policy is childish play in comparison. … Theoretic plans of constitution have been the bane of France, and I am satisfied that nothing can possibly do it any real service but to establish it upon all its ancient bases. Till that is done one man's speculation will appear as good as another's.’1
In a letter written about the same time, apparently to a lady in attendance on the Queen of France, he expressed similar views with equal energy. ‘I feel,’ he wrote, ‘as an Englishman great dread and apprehension from the contagious nature of these abominable principles and vile manners, which threaten the worst and most degrading barbarism to every adjacent country. No argument can persuade me that if they are suffered finally to triumph in France they will want more than the occasion of some domestic trouble or disturbance … to extend themselves to us and to blast all the health and vigour of that happy Constitution which we enjoy. … You have an armed tyranny to deal with, and nothing but arms can pull it down.’1
It was not in the nature of Burke to conceal views which he strongly held, and in February 1791 he publicly stated them in his ‘Letter to a Member of the National Assembly.’ In this pamphlet he emphatically declared that no country could be secure while there was established in the centre of Europe ‘a State (if so it may be called) founded on principles of anarchy, and which is in reality a college of armed fanatics.’ The creed of Mohammed, he maintained, in the first days of its fierce and proselytising fanaticism was not a more necessary danger to the Christian communities about it than this new and revolutionary State to the settled Governments of Europe. Nothing but a force from without would be sufficient to quell it. ‘The princes of Europe in the beginning of this century did well not to suffer the monarchy of France to swallow up the others. They ought not now, in my opinion, to suffer all the monarchies and commonwealths to be swallowed up in the gulf of this polluted anarchy. They may be tolerably safe at present, because the comparative power of France for the present is little. But times and occasions make dangers. Intestine troubles may arise in other countries.’ If the King of Prussia was justified in interfering to save Holland from confusion, much more would he be justified in employing the same power to rescue a virtuous monarch dethroned by traitors and rebels.
Burke, at the same time, entirely disclaimed all desire to see the English Constitution established in France. All reformation in a State, he contended, should be based upon existing materials, and the traditions and ancient constitution of the estates in France, the circumstances of the country, and the state of its property pointed to a form of government essentially different from that prevailing in England. Nor was the English Constitution one which could be easily or safely imitated. It was ‘a much more subtle and artificial combination of parts and powers than people were generally aware of,’ and depended very largely for its efficacy on restraints, limitations, understandings, and customs which are not to be found in the Statute-book. ‘The parts of our Constitution have gradually and almost insensibly, in a long course of time, accommodated themselves to each other and to their common as well as their separate purposes.’ It was, however, in the opinion of Burke a total mistake to suppose that political liberty of any kind can be, or ought to be, possessed by all nations, and he greatly doubted whether France was ripe for it. ‘Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites … in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.’
Fox, in a private letter, spoke of the recommendation in this pamphlet of ‘a general war for the purpose of destroying the present Government of France’ as ‘mere madness;’1 and it greatly accelerated the breach. It is remarkable, however, that in Parliament the provocation still came steadily from Fox. On April 8, 1791, in a debate on the Quebec Government Bill, when Burke was not present, Fox expressed his delight at the enlightened principles of freedom which were now advancing rapidly over a considerable part of the globe; and with an evident allusion to the treatise of Burke, ridiculed the alleged attempt of the Ministers to revive in Canada that ‘spirit of chivalry’ which had fallen into disgrace in the neighbouring country. On the 15th, in a debate on the Russian armament, he again most gratuitously introduced the subject, declaring that he ‘admired the new Constitution of France, considered altogether, as the most stupendous and glorious edifice of liberty which had been erected on the foundation of human integrity in any time or country.’1 Burke at once, with much visible emotion, rose to reply, but it was the end of a long debate, and the cries of ‘Question,’ chiefly from his own side of the House, were so loud that he was forced to resume his seat.
It was tolerably certain that the division was too serious to be closed. It was impossible that Burke, with his position in the Whig party, with his opinions of the French Revolution, and after the writings he had published, could acquiesce by his silence in the language of the leader of his party. There was a slight skirmish between the two leaders on April 21, in the course of which Burke, while speaking with much courtesy, uttered a most significant warning: ‘Should it happen,’ he said, ‘as he hoped would not be the case, that he and his right honourable friend differed from each other on principles of government, he desired it to be recollected that, however dear he considered his friendship, there was something still dearer to his mind—the love of his country.’2
It was not, however, till the strange, disorderly, and passionate session of May 6, that the breach was fully consummated. The subject, which was the proposed new Constitution for Canada, seemed at first sight wholly unconnected with the French Revolution, but Burke privately informed Fox that he intended to make use of this occasion to express his views upon French affairs. The question being the nature of the Constitution to be given to a French province under English dominion, a comparison of French and English ideas of government appeared to him not irrelevant, and he also selected the occasion because the House being in committee, each member had a right to speak as often as he pleased. Fox called upon Burke, and endeavoured without success to induce him at least to postpone the discussion till a later period. Burke urged the extreme importance of the subject; the manner in which it had been already more than once introduced into Parliament; the impossibility that he could, with his opinions, and after the part which he had taken, suffer the doctrines that had been propounded to pass unchallenged; the improbability of any equally favourable opportunity of expressing his views occurring during the present session of Parliament. The two statesmen entered largely into the question, and Burke stated fully and particularly the grounds of his opinions; the plan of his intended speech; the limits which he meant to impose upon himself. Neither party convinced the other, but there was no quarrel, and they walked together to the House still conversing amicably on the subject.
This interview took place on April 21.1 The Quebec Bill was postponed till after the Easter holidays, and when on May 6 the House went into committee, Burke opened the debate by a speech on the rights of man as illustrated by the Constitutions of Canada, the United States, and Great Britain, and soon launched into an elaborate dissertation upon the measures and principles now prevailing in France, and upon the enormous dangers they threatened to England. ‘If,’ he said, ‘the French Revolutionists were to mind their own affairs, and had shown no inclination to go abroad and to make proselytes, neither he nor any other member of the House would have had any right to meddle with them,’ but they showed as much zeal in making proselytes as Lewis XIV. in making conquests.
It was soon evident that his own party were anxious that he should not be heard. At least seven times he was called to order,2 and at last Lord Sheffield formally moved that a discussion of the French Constitution when the House was in committee on the Quebec Bill was out of order. Pitt, however, after being more than once appealed to, interposed, and supported the contention of Burke that a discussion of the general principles on which political power should be based was germane to a consideration of the new Constitution to be established in Canada, though he added that as a matter of discretion he greatly wished that French politics had not been introduced into the debate. But Fox, in his reply, completely threw away the scabbard. He dilated with keen irony upon the disorderly character of the speech of Burke, who, he said, was manifestly seeking to force on a quarrel with ‘his nearest and dearest friend’ by introducing a subject which was totally alien to a detailed examination of the clauses of the Quebec Bill, and who had selected as the occasion for that quarrel a time when his friend had been ‘grossly misrepresented and traduced’ as a Republican. For his part he refused to countenance such an irregularity as a discussion of the French Constitution in a committee on the Quebec Bill. If such a discussion continued he would leave the House. At the same time he had no hesitation in repeating his former statement, that he considered the French Revolution, ‘on the whole, one of the most glorious events in the history of mankind.’ He accused Burke of abandoning the principles of his whole life, and especially those which he held during the American Revolution; and he pronounced his recent writings and speeches to be libels on the British Constitution, which was founded, like the new Constitution in France, on the rights of man. He had said more, he added, than he intended, possibly more than was wise and proper; but the ministerial side of the House had encouraged this discussion apparently in order to elicit his views. It was very unnecessary, as he never concealed them. On the French Revolution his opinions and those of his right honourable friend ‘were wide as the poles asunder.’
The sequel of the debate has been often told. Burke began his reply in slow, grave, and measured tones, but rose at last into a perfect tempest of passion. He had not introduced the topic of the French Revolution into Parliament; he had spoken only after repeated provocation, and he now complained bitterly of the virulence of the attacks of one who had for twenty-two years been his intimate friend; of the charges of something like treachery that were brought against him, though he had fully and fairly warned his opponent of his determination to raise this discussion; of the persistent and organised attempts to prevent him from being heard—attempts which seemed doubly ungrateful, as he had himself, during the twenty-six years of his parliamentary life, never called a member to order. He repeated that the discussion of a new Constitution to be provided for a portion of the British Empire was a proper occasion for examining the principles on which Constitutions should be framed, and he persisted in the strain of argument that had been denounced. He expatiated with passionate eloquence on the revolutionary doctrines that were now industriously propagated by clubs and papers; the perpetual comparison of the Constitutions of England and France to the disparagement of the former; the active correspondence established between English demagogues and French revolutionists; the enormous aggravation of the danger when French principles were countenanced and eulogised by the leader of one of the great parties in the State. He had on several previous occasions differed from Fox, but no such differences had ever for a moment interrupted their friendship. He now knew that he stood in Parliament isolated and unsupported, and that he was sacrificing his oldest friendship at an age when friendships could not be replaced. But the call of public duty was imperative, and if it was with his last breath he would say, ‘Fly from the French Constitution.’ At this point Fox interposed and whispered, ‘There is no loss of friends.’ ‘Yes,’ Burke fiercely rejoined, ‘there is a loss of friends; I know the price of my conduct. Our friendship is at an end.’
It was but too true. Fox, over whose healthy, affectionate, and not very profound nature political passions never acquired the fierce and undivided empire they obtained in Burke, had now but one wish—to appease the quarrel. As he rose to answer, the tears trickled down his cheeks. For some moments he was unable to speak, and men who were but too apt to look on the conflicts of party as they looked on those of the cock pit or the prize ring, were moved to an unwonted emotion by the pathos of the scene. ‘It was painful,’ he said in beginning a most admirable and temperate defence of his views, ‘painful to be unkindly treated by those to whom they felt the greatest obligations, and who, notwithstanding their harshness, they must still love and esteem. He could not forget that when little more than a boy he had received favours from his right honourable friend, that their friendship had grown with their years, that it had continued for upwards of twenty-five years, and that for the last twenty years they had acted together and lived on terms of the most familiar intimacy. He hoped that, notwithstanding what had happened, his right honourable friend would think on those past times, and however any imprudent or intemperate words might have offended him, it would show that he had not been intentionally in fault.’ Much more was said in the same strain, but the language of conciliation had no longer any influence on Burke. The prophetic fury, whether of inspiration or possession, was upon him, and that night closed a friendship which was one of the most memorable in English history. The two statesmen met and co-operated in the impeachment of Hastings, and they sometimes conversed amicably together;1 but the breach was never healed, and the Whig party for at least a generation was shattered by their quarrel.2 A trivial incident which took place at the close of the sitting illustrated but too plainly the morbid excitement under which Burke was labouring. It was a wet night, and he asked a member, whose carriage was standing near, to set him down at his house. As they drove they began to speak on the question that had been discussed, but when Burke discovered that his friend had French sympathies he seized the check string in a fury and was with difficulty restrained from descending into the rain. When the carriage at length arrived at his house, he hurried out without speaking a word, nor did he ever renew his acquaintance.3
It seemed as though the victory lay with Fox. The newspapers of the party in general assailed Burke with great bitterness as a deserter—a charge which must have been especially painful to one who more than any other living man had dwelt upon the importance and the obligation of party discipline. In the debate on May 6 the interruptions appear to have all come from his own party, and no member of that party openly supported him, nor did any yet follow him in his secession. In a debate a few days later Fox guarded himself against the imputation of republicanism by a speech, which has been quoted in a former chapter, strongly asserting the necessity of a monarchical and aristocratic element in a well-constituted State, while Burke spoke of himself in melancholy terms as excluded from and disgraced by his party. This language was hardly exaggerated, for a few days after the rupture the ‘Morning Chronicle,’ which was known to represent especially the opinions of Fox, contained the following paragraph: ‘The great and firm body of the Whigs in England, true to their principles, have decided on the dispute between Mr. Fox and Mr. Burke, and the former is declared to have maintained the pure doctrines by which they are bound together and upon which they have invariably acted. The consequence is that Mr. Burke retires from Parliament.’1
Scarcely a year, however, had passed when all this was changed. The signs of discontent and division began to multiply rapidly in the Whig party, and at length in 1794 a great portion of it adopted the principles of Burke and seceded openly from Fox. Public opinion warmly supported them, and the minority which adhered to Fox became one of the weakest and most discredited oppositions ever known in England.
The position of Burke for some time after his quarrel with Fox was very painful and isolated. The impeachment of Hastings still occupied much of his thoughts, but in addition to Fox he was now much alienated from Francis, with whom this impeachment had brought him into close contact, and for whom he seems to have entertained a warm respect. Francis, who had seen part of Burke's book on the French Revolution before its publication, had expressed his strong disapprobation in letters of very powerful and skilful criticism, and as time rolled on he identified himself closely with Fox and with the democratic section of the party.2
Burke himself now seldom appeared in Parliament. Much has been said of the extreme horror of reform which the French Revolution produced in his mind, but on this subject there is some prevalent exaggeration. His opposition to parliamentary reform, as we have already seen, dates from a much earlier period, and although he undoubtedly now thought that the main danger was not, as at the beginning of the reign, from royal influence but from democratic innovation; although he was now strongly opposed to any measures in favour of the Dissenters, and especially the Unitarians, which might either furnish a precedent for attacks against the Church or strengthen the political power of the partisans of the Revolution, there was still a large class of questions on which he was an earnest reformer. He spoke powerfully in favour of the abolition of the slave trade. He advocated the abolition of imprisonment for debt, and he threw himself with great ardour and effect into the movement for the relief of the Irish Catholics. One of the causes with which he had especially identified himself in his early life, now triumphed with general concurrence. The Bill which he had framed in 1771 giving juries jurisdiction in cases of libel was revived by Fox in 1791 with very slight alterations, and was carried with scarcely any opposition. Fox had himself opposed this measure when it had been previously introduced, and it is remarkable that in taking up the question he appears to have made no acknowledgment whatever of the previous services of Burke, who treated the neglect with a disdainful silence.
Burke did not join Pitt, and his relations to the Whig party were very ambiguous. In his ‘Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs’ he not only defended with triumphant power the consistency of his own political career, but also continued the line of argument which he had pursued in his ‘Reflections on the French Revolution,’ showing that the original doctrines of the Whigs of 1688 were essentially opposed to the new French maxims. From the words of the Declaration of Rights and of the Act of Settlement; from the language of Somers; from the speeches of the managers of the impeachment of Sacheverell, when the Whig doctrine of resistance was defined and elaborated with special care by the most accredited lawyers and statesmen of the party, he showed that according to the original Whig theory the English Crown was in no sense elective, but was a limited and hereditary monarchy settled in one family by a stringent, permanent contract, which was equally binding on the ruler and on the subjects. He showed that the English Revolution was justified only on the ground that the Sovereign had broken his contract, and that no other means were left for the recovery, maintenance, and security of the ancient Constitution, and that those who made it took the utmost pains to restrict it within these limits, and to avoid giving the smallest countenance to the doctrine of the inalienable right of nations to change their Government when they pleased, that had prevailed during the Commonwealth. ‘Resistance,’ said Walpole, ‘ought never to be thought of but when an utter subversion of the laws of the realm threatens the whole frame of our Constitution, and no redress can otherwise be hoped for. It therefore does, and ought for ever to stand in the eye and letter of the law as the highest offence.’ ‘In no case,’ said Sir Joseph Jekyll, ‘can resistance be lawful but in case of extreme necessity and when the Constitution cannot otherwise be preserved; and such necessity ought to be plain and obvious to the sense and judgment of the whole nation, and this was the case at the Revolution.’ ‘Neither the few nor the many,’ wrote Burke, ‘have a right to act merely by their will in any matter connected with duty, trust, engagement or obligation. The Constitution of a country being once settled upon some compact, tacit or expressed, there is no power existing of force to alter it without the breach of the covenant or the consent of all the parties. Such is the nature of a contract. And the votes of a majority of the people, whatever their infamous flatterers may teach in order to corrupt their minds, cannot alter the moral any more than they can alter the physical essence of things. The people are not to be taught to think lightly of their engagements to their governors; else they teach governors to think lightly of their engagements to them.’1
It will hardly be denied that there is something in this language very alien to the tone of thought now prevailing in England, and especially in the English Liberal party. Their sentiment is probably expressed with much greater fidelity by Paine. ‘What is government,’ he asked, ‘more than the management of the affairs of a nation? It is not, and from its nature cannot be, the property of any particular man or family, but of the whole community at whose expense it is supported; and though by force or contrivance it has been usurped into an inheritance, the usurpation cannot alter the right of things. Sovereignty as a matter of right appertains to the nation only, and not to any individual, and a nation has at all times an inherent, indefeasible right to abolish any form of government it finds inconvenient, and establish such as accords with its interest, disposition, and happiness.’
The success of the ‘Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs’ was very great, but the leading Whigs kept a careful silence, and without disputing Burke's theory of the Constitution blamed the precipitance with which he had brought the question to an issue in Parliament. Lord Stormont had a long interview with him, in which he said that the breach in the party was solely due to the mutual imprudence of Fox and Burke. There was, he believed, no real material difference of principle between them, and on the subject of the confiscation of Church property they were completely at one. Fox was too sensible a man to wish for the destruction of the Constitution, and as for the rest of the party, he had not seen a single man who approved of the doctrines of Paine, or of anything like them, or who differed in any considerable degree from the principles of Burke. It was therefore in the highest degree imprudent to force these questions into discussion, and exceedingly unfavourable to the interests of the French aristocracy to represent a great English party as adverse to them, when in reality it was not.
Burke fully admitted that there was some force in these views. He did not himself believe that more than ten, or at most thirteen, members of the two Houses of Parliament really sympathised with the French, and he believed that ‘inwardly even Fox did not differ from him materially, if at all,’ but he answered that doctrines of the most dangerous character, and absolutely inconsistent with the British Constitution and with the original principles of the Whig party, were now industriously circulated by societies and newspapers which purported to represent that party, and that all his endeavours to induce the Whig leaders to disclaim such doctors and doctrines had proved fruitless. On the contrary, Fox had repeatedly pronounced unqualified eulogies on the French Revolution, and in the very speech in which he had endeavoured to heal the quarrel, he had taken occasion to express his entire dissent from ‘every doctrine’ contained in the book in which Burke had most fully expressed his views on the British Constitution as well as on French affairs.1 Stormont could only answer that Fox could not really have meant to condemn every part of Burke's book, and that the silence of the other Whig leaders was due to their fear of showing that there were divisions among them. Burke retorted that ‘the sort of unanimity produced was a supposed common adherence to sentiments odious to the best of them.’2
He strenuously and fiercely maintained, in his private correspondence, that it was ‘now absolutely necessary to separate those who cultivate a rational and sober liberty upon the plan of our existing Constitution, from those who think they have no liberty, if it does not comprehend a right in them of making to themselves new Constitutions at their pleasure.’ The Whig party, he urged, as it had been originally formed and as he had always defended it, was as far as possible from a democratic party; and if it ever became a democratic party, it lost all right to the allegiance of those who joined it on its original principles. ‘The party,’ he wrote, ‘with which I acted had by the malevolent and unthinking been reproached, and by the wise and good always esteemed and confided in as an aristocratic party. Such I always understood it to be in the true sense of the word. I understood it to be a party in its composition and in its principles connected with the solid, permanent, long-possessed property of the country; a party which, by a temper derived from that species of property and affording a security to it, was attached to the ancient, tried usages of the kingdom; a party, therefore, essentially constructed upon a ground plot of stability and independence, … equally removed from servile Court compliances and from popular levity, presumption, and precipitation.’ Its members were bound ‘by the very constitution of the party … to support these aristocratic principles and the aristocratic interests connected with them as essential to the real benefit of the body of the people, to which all names of party, all ranks and orders in the State, and even Government itself ought to be entirely subordinate.’ ‘Against the existence of any such description of men as our party is in a great measure composed of, against the existence of any mode of government on such a basis, we have seen a serious and systematic attack attended with the most complete success, in another country, but in a country at our very door. … If I were to produce an example of something diametrically opposite to the composition, to the spirit, to the temper, to the character and to all the maxims of our old and unregenerated party, something fitted to illustrate it by the strongest opposition, I would produce what has been done in France. … They who cry up the French Revolution, cry down the party which you and I had so long the honour and satisfaction to belong to. … My party principles, as well as my general politics and my natural sentiments, must lead me to detest the French Revolution in the act, in the spirit, in the consequences, and most of all in the example.’
Among the many examples of apostasy from the old Whig creed the most flagrant was furnished by the Prince of Wales. In the Regency debates no one had taken so prominent a part, no one had incurred so much odium on behalf of the claims of the Prince, as Burke, and he had argued against the Government measure on essentially the same principles as those on which he was arguing against the French Revolution. ‘I endeavoured,’ he wrote, ‘to show that the hereditary succession could not be supported whilst a person who had the chief interest in it was, during a virtual interregnum, excluded from the Government; and that the direct tendency of the measure, as well as the grounds upon which it was argued, went to make the Crown itself elective, contrary (as I contended) to the fundamental settlement made after the Revolution.’ The Prince ‘is much more personally concerned in all questions of succession than the King, who is in possession;’ yet ‘he has been persuaded not only to look with all possible coldness on myself, but to lose no opportunity of publicly declaring his disapprobation of a book written to prove that the Crown to which (I hope) he is to succeed is not elective. For this I am in disgrace at Carlton House! … Those the most in his favour and confidence are avowed admirers of the French democracy. Even his Attorney and his Solicitor General1 … are enthusiasts, public and declared for the French Revolution and its principles. … A Prince of Wales with democratic law servants, with democratic political friends, with democratic personal favourites! If this be not ominous to the Crown, I know not what is.’2
There had already, as we have seen, in the early years of the reign, been a marked divergence of tendency between the more aristocratic Whigs of the Rockingham section to which Burke belonged, and the more democratic Whigs who followed the standard of Chatham. It is, however, a remarkable fact that Lord Camden, who had been the most trusted colleague of Chatham, and who more than any other man might be regarded as the exponent of his opinions, now wrote to Burke expressing his warm admiration of the ‘Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs’ and his ‘perfect concurrence in every part of the argument from the beginning to the end.’ ‘I have always,’ he said, ‘thought myself an old Whig and held the same principles with yourself; but I suppose none or very few of us ever thought upon the subject with so much correctness, and hardly any would be able to express their thoughts with such clearness, justness, and force of argument.’3
Burke was now living to a great degree among French gentlemen who had been driven into exile by the Revolution. The fearful sufferings that were inflicted in France during its first stage by the peasant war against the gentry, by the cessation of rents and feudal dues, by the violent expulsion of immense numbers from their homes, by the new oath which drove the clergy by thousands from their cures, and by the sudden suppression of the monasteries, is in general but little realised. These things have been thrown into the shade by the still darker and more dramatic atrocities of the Reign of Terror, and by the art of those French historians of the Revolution, who have laboured to persuade the world that the horrors which incontestably accompanied the movement they admire were mainly due to the emigration of the gentry and to the fear of invasion. This is a theory which will hardly survive among educated men its recent crushing exposure by Taine, and it was not likely to occur to those who came in contact with the innumerable fugitives who appeared in England within the first year of the Revolution. ‘France,’ said Fox in the debate on May 6, ‘has established a complete, unequivocal toleration, and I heartily wish that a complete toleration was also established in England.’ It is easy, replied Burke, to estimate the value of this toleration under which the whole French clergy have been deprived of their bread, unless they take an oath inconsistent with the teaching of their Church, while Sisters of Charity, engaged in tending the sick in the hospitals, have been dragged into the streets and scourged, for no other crime than that of receiving the Sacraments from a priest who had not submitted to the revolutionary test.1
The sufferings of the ruined gentry of France, with whom he was constantly associating, filled Burke with a compassion which at last blinded him to every other consideration, and excited his passions against their spoliators to the very verge of madness. In appeals for subscriptions to the English public he enumerated their wrongs with an admirable pathos,2 and as early as November 1790 he described the Revolution with little exaggeration as ‘the entire destruction (for it is no less) of all the gentlemen of a great country, the utter ruin of their property, and the servitude of their persons.’ His indignation was all the greater because he knew as few Englishmen knew the many reforms which had been effected in France in the preceding decade; the readiness with which the King had surrendered his arbitrary power, and the privileged orders their most obnoxious privileges; the liberal spirit they displayed in the provincial assemblies, in the electoral assemblies, and at the opening of the States-General; and the perfect facility with which a system of constitutional liberty could have been established with their concurrence. The French, he wrote, ‘possessed sessed a vast body of nobility and gentry, amongst the first in the world for splendour, and the very first for disinterested services to their country, in which I include the most disinterested and uncorrupt judicature (even by the confession of its enemies) that ever was. These they persecuted; they hunted them down like wild beasts; they expelled them from their families and their houses and dispersed them into every country in Europe, obliging them either to pine in fear and misery at home, or to escape into want and exile in foreign lands; nay, … they abrogated their very names and their titular descriptions as something horrible and offensive to the ears of mankind. The means by which all this was done leaves an example in Europe never to be effaced and which no thinking man, I imagine, can present to his mind without consternation, that is, the bribing of an immense body of soldiers taken from the lowest of the people to a universal revolt against their officers, who were the whole body of the country gentlemen and the landed interest of the nation.’ ‘When I saw,’ he continued, ‘this mingled scene of crime, of vice, of disorder, of folly, and of madness, received by very many here not with the horror and disgust which it ought to have produced, but with rapture and exultation as some almost supernatural benefit showered down upon the race of mankind; and when I saw that arrangements were publicly made for communicating to these islands their full share of these blessings, I thought myself bound to stand out and by every means in my power to distinguish the ideas of a sober and virtuous liberty (such as I thought our party had ever cultivated) from that profligate, immoral, impious, and rebellious licence which, through the medium of every sort of disorder and calamity, conducts to some kind or other of tyrannic domination.’ ‘The name of the Monarchy and of the hereditary Monarchy, too, they preserve in France … but against the nobility and gentry they have waged inexpiable war. There are at this day1 no fewer than 10,000 heads of respectable families driven out of France. … What are we to think of a Constitution as a pattern, from which the whole gentry of a country … fly as from a place of infection?’2
The extreme terror and hatred, however, with which Burke regarded the Revolution, sprang mainly from his deep conviction that its influence must be necessarily contagious, and probably cosmopolitan.
The English Revolution of 1688 had been a purely national event, turning mainly on the question whether James II. in dispensing with the penal statutes against Roman Catholics and committing the other acts complained of in the Declaration of Rights, had exceeded the defined and legitimate powers of an English king. The American Revolution had turned mainly on the constitutional question whether the Imperial Parliament in imposing, for the defence of the Empire, direct taxation on the colonies, had transgressed its lawful province and invaded that of the local Legislatures. But the French Revolution, in the opinion of Burke, was of a wholly different kind. It belonged to the same category of events as the foundation of Mohammedanism and the Reformation of the sixteenth century. It was not a revolt against local or particular grievances, but the introduction into Europe of a new species of government resting on doctrines of the rights of man, which were equally applicable to all nations, and absolutely inconsistent with all ancient governments. It was emphatically one of those revolutions of doctrine in which a spirit of proselytism makes an essential part, which must affect not only the external relations but also the internal constitutions of all surrounding countries, must introduce into them new interests, passions, and divisions, and must, like the religious movement of the sixteenth century, weaken and supersede the spirit of local patriotism, and combine in a single connection the inhabitants of many countries. ‘In the modern world,’ it is true, ‘before this time there had been no instance of this spirit of general political faction, separated from religion, pervading several countries and forming a principle of union between the partisans in each,’1 but it was quite in accordance with human nature that a political doctrine should act as widely and powerfully upon the passions and interests, as a religious one. ‘There is a wide difference between the multitude when they act against their Government from a sense of grievance, or from zeal for some opinions. When men are thoroughly possessed with that zeal it is difficult to calculate its force. It is certain that its power is by no means in exact proportion to its reasonableness. It must always have been discoverable by persons of reflection, but it is now obvious to the world that a theory concerning government may become as much a cause of fanaticism as a dogma in religion.’1
The new political creed which it was attempted to establish in Europe was a perfectly definite one. It was ‘that the majority, told by the head, of the taxable people in every country, is the perpetual, natural, unceasing, indefeasible sovereign; that this majority is perfectly master of the form as well as the administration of the State, and that the magistrates, under whatever names they are called, are only functionaries to obey the orders (general as laws or particular as decrees) which that majority can make; that this is the only natural government, and that all others are tyranny and usurpation.’2 ‘The principle of the French Revolution admits of no compromise, no temperament, no qualification. Like all metaphysical positions, if true at all, it must be true at all times, at all places, and under all circumstances; and it is a principle pointing necessarily to practice, inasmuch as it requires the perpetual exercise of the sovereignty by the existing majority, who cannot bind their good faith by any compact however solemn, for a year, a month, a week, or a single day.’ ‘All forms of government are but provisional till it shall please the sovereign to change them, which he may do without any motive of moral or political necessity, without any consideration of expediency.’ ‘The tendency of such a creed is obvious. At a touch it crumbles the bond of every political society now in existence to a rope of sand. It is a sentence of deposition to all the kings of Europe, who claim to be sovereigns by the respective constitutions of their countries; it is an edict of proscription to all aristocratical bodies, which must be always dangerous to the necessary equality of this new system, and in mixed governments have a share in legislation directly incompatible with the right of a majority told by the head; and it is an absolute grant of every kingdom to the inferior orders, for they are and ever will be the many.’3
The existence in the centre of Europe of a powerful government resting on this creed was, in the eyes of Burke, the most tremendous fact in modern politics. By the confiscation and division of great masses of property, by the annihilation of all old privileges and monopolies, by the destruction in a few months of all the institutions, corporations, traditional controls, usages and settled maxims of a great and venerable monarchy, the French politicians had appealed irresistibly to the most dangerous passions in societies—cupidity, envy, extravagant ambition, inordinate and intoxicating self-confidence. If a government founded on these principles, and appealing systematically to these passions, was firmly established in the country which, from its geographical position and from the character of its people, had at all times exercised the greatest influence over its neighbours, no government in Europe would be safe. French emissaries of sedition would multiply in every land. French examples and influence would be everywhere felt, stimulating into activity the most dangerous classes, shaking the whole settled order of Europe, holding out ideals of spoliation and anarchy which would make sober and regulated progress impossible. As Athens had once been at the head of a democratic, and Sparta of an aristocratic, faction in every Greek State, as the King of Sweden had once been at the head of a Protestant, and the King of Spain of a Catholic interest in many countries, so France would now become the head of a party of anarchy in every land. The new system ‘as it has first been realised dogmatically and practically in France, makes France the natural head of all factions formed on a similar principle, wherever they may prevail.’ ‘As long as it exists in France it will be the interest of the managers there, as it is the very essence of their plan, to disturb and distract all other governments, and their endless succession of restless politicians will continually stimulate them to new attempts.’1
This was the estimate of the Revolution which now obtained a complete empire over the mind of Burke, and which inspired all he wrote. The activity of the correspondence between English democrats and French revolutionists; the multiplication of affiliated societies in the great English towns; the constant accounts of French political proselytism in the Netherlands, in Switzerland, and in some parts of Germany; and the avowed intention of the French, if a European war broke out, to make an encouragement of revolutionary passions in other countries their chief weapon in the conflict, corroborated and intensified his fears, and he was fully convinced of ‘the utter impossibility of a counter revolution from any internal cause.’ All the calculations and analogies drawn from the old settled governments of Europe seemed to him misleading when applied to this new and portentous phenomenon. ‘The political and civil power in France,’ he wrote, ‘is now wholly separated from its property of every description, and neither the landed nor the moneyed interest possesses the smallest weight or consideration in the direction of any public concerns.’ Reckless, unscrupulous, proselytising fanatics, commanding all the energies and ambitions unconnected with birth and property, were at the head of affairs; they had effectually bribed the richer peasantry by the confiscation of Church property and of feudal dues; they had constructed in the municipalities the most tremendous engine of government and terrorism; they had infused into politics all the fanaticism and distempered energy of a new religion, and they taught a system of doctrine which was certain to spread if it was recommended for but a short time by the authority of example and of success. It had already ‘very many partisans in every country in Europe, but particularly in England.’ ‘It is gaining ground in every country. Being founded on principles most delusive indeed, but the most flattering to the natural propensities of the unthinking multitude, and to the speculations of all those who think without thinking very profoundly, it must daily extend its influence.’1
Such were the opinions and such the feelings that animated Burke in preaching with the passion of another Peter the Hermit a crusade against the French Revolution. He had from the beginning watched with sympathy the great combination of the continental Powers that was forming against it, and at the request of Calonne, who acted as minister for the emigrant princes, Burke's son paid them a visit in the summer of 1791 as the representative of his father.1
Of the legitimacy of the intended war Burke had no doubt. It was to be undertaken for the relief of the oppressed King, Church, and landed gentry of France. All treaties with France had been made with the monarch, and supposed a monarchy to be the legal government of the country, and they were all, therefore, in his opinion, annulled when the monarchy was virtually destroyed. He quoted the opinion of Vattel, that when any country is divided the other Powers are free to take which side they please, and that when any country in the great federation of Europe has made itself a manifest source of danger and disturbance to its neighbours, they have a right to interfere. He pointed to the recent suppression of popular movements in Holland, in the Austrian Netherlands, and in the bishopric of Liége, and he contended that such an invasion as he desired would be welcomed as a relief by all that was best in the French nation. Interference in a divided country ‘must indeed always be a right whilst the privilege of doing good to others and of averting from them every sort of evil is a right. Circumstances may render this right a duty. It depends wholly on this, whether it be a bonâ fide charity to a party, and a prudent precaution with regard to yourself, or whether under the pretence of aiding one of the parties in a nation, you act in such a manner as to aggravate its calamities and accomplish its final destruction.’2
Of the magnitude and imminence of the danger to all nations, but especially to England, he had no doubt, and although he did not at first urge that she should take an active part, he claimed for the allies her moral support, and he predicted that she would be inevitably drawn into the conflict. Never before in the long history of the antagonism of the two nations had France, in his opinion, been so much a danger to England, and none of the many struggles to maintain the balance of power in Europe had involved more vital issues. ‘This league is for the preservation of that state of things in Europe, to which we owe all that we are, and which furnished just grounds of expectation for further and safe improvement. Its foundation is just and honest.’1 ‘This evil in the heart of Europe must be extirpated from that centre, or no part of the circumference can be free from the mischief which radiates from it, and which will spread circle beyond circle, in spite of all the little defensive precautions which can be employed against it.’2
The French policy of Burke will now find few defenders, and the present writer is certainly not among the number. It is incontestable, indeed, that Burke realised the true character and the wide influence of the French Revolution much earlier and more clearly than his contemporaries; that he foresaw in the palmy days of 1790 the deepening horrors that ensued, and that he alone truly estimated the tremendous force both for aggression and defence which the revolutionary movement was about to generate. He was right in predicting that England would be dragged into the war, and whether he was right or wrong in urging the necessity to the peace of Europe of a Bourbon restoration, it is at least certain that long after he was in his grave the great Powers of Europe adopted and acted on his opinion. It is impossible to say with confidence whether he exaggerated the evils that would have ensued if a revolutionary government, such as Robespierre conceived, had been permanently established in France. The experiment was not tried, and after a brief period which forms one of the most hideous pages in the history of humanity, a great military despotism arose, which terminated the anarchical phase of the Revolution, at the cost of appalling calamities to the world. To a discriminating reader even the most violent writings of Burke on the French Revolution are full of interest and instruction, but it is impossible to deny that they are steeped in passion and exaggeration. Mirabeau and Lafayette were scarcely less abhorrent to him than Clootz and Robespierre; the sale of Church property under manifest and pressing necessity, and with a provision for paying salaries to the life tenants, seemed to him not less outrageous than the wholesale confiscations of the revolutionary tribunals; and the Constituent Assembly, with its manifest good intentions, and its many great and lasting reforms, was denounced in language scarcely less vehement than that which was justly applied to the Convention.
It showed a strange flaw in his judgment that he should have ever imagined that the great Powers of Europe would combine in a disinterested crusade for the restoration of the old order in France, or that a foreign invasion could fail to aggravate the evil it was intended to cure. For the reasons already stated, Burke appears to me to have enormously exaggerated the dangers to England from French example. A policy of strict noninterference was probably that which would have given France the best chance of speedily throwing off the fever under which she was suffering, and if such a policy was not pursued by the other Powers it was at least in the highest degree for the advantage of England to remain as long as possible neutral in the conflict, while preparing herself for any eventuality. Whether, however, Burke had any real influence in plunging England into the war with France is extremely doubtful. He taught the nation to look with horror on the Revolution, and to wage the war against it with energy and unanimity, but it is not probable that any policy could have avoided it.
It must be remembered, too, that he strenuously insisted on three conditions as essential to the justification of an armed interference. The first was that the war should not be undertaken for any territorial aggrandisement, but for the sole purpose of restoring a settled order of government to a leading nation in Europe, and suppressing a system of rebellion, and contagious and proselytising anarchy, which was a manifest source of danger and disturbance to surrounding nations. The second was that in this war the part of the foreigner should not be that of a principal but of an ally, ‘If I could command the whole military arm of Europe,’ he wrote, ‘I am sure that a bribe of the best province in that kingdom would not tempt me to intermeddle in their affairs, except in perfect concurrence and concert with the natural legal interests of the country, composed of the ecclesiastical, the military, the several corporate bodies of justice and of barghership, making under a monarch (I repeat it again and again) the French nation according to its fundamental constitution. No considerate statesman would undertake to meddle with it upon any other condition.’1
The third condition was that the war should not be one for the restoration of despotism. On this subject he wrote most earnestly to his son, who was advising the French princes. They ought, he said, to promise distinctly and without ambiguity the restoration with the monarchy of a free constitution; the meeting of the States freely chosen, and voting by order, according to the ancient legal form; the abolition of letters of ‘cachet’ and all other arbitrary imprisonment. All taxes should be voted by the States; the Ministry should be made responsible; the revenue should be put out of the reach of malversation, and a synod of the Gallican Church should be summoned to reform its abuses. ‘Without such a declaration,’ he continued, ‘or to that effect, they can hope no converts. For my part for one, though I make no doubt of preferring the ancient course, or almost any other, to this vile chimera and sick man's dream of government, yet I could not actively, or with a good heart and clear conscience, go to the re-establishment of a monarchical despotism in the place of this system of anarchy.’2
If these three conditions were observed, Burke believed that all the more respectable classes in France would welcome an invasion which freed them from intolerable terrorism, but he soon saw that his views were little likely to be adopted. ‘I fear,’ he once said, ‘that I am the only person in France or England who is aware of the extent of the danger with which we are threatened.’ ‘In the whole hemisphere of politics I can scarcely see a ministerial head which rises to the level of the circumstances.’3
His letters are full of complaints of the supineness of the French King and nobles; of the inveterate intrigues of the French Queen; of the selfishness of the continental Sovereigns, who thought only either of their own order or of territorial aggrandisement; of the blindness and the levity of English politicians. While Fox—though with growing misgiving—looked upon the Revolution as a millennial dawn, while Pitt considered it as little more than a passing cloud, Burke saw plainly that it was a great crisis in human affairs, portending terrible and as yet unknown calamities to mankind. To many he seemed a mere dreamer of dreams, but the event soon justified his forecast. The tyranny of the Convention and the Committee of Public Safety which was fast approaching, was on the whole the most sanguinary and odious in modern history, and the career of Napoleon, which was a direct consequence of the subversion of the old order of French government, sacrificed about two millions of human lives, and all but ended in a total eclipse of the liberties of Europe.
For some time, as we have already seen, Burke had been painfully conscious that he was unfit to bear the strain of political excitement. He could not cast it off; it haunted him like a nightmare, and threw his nerves into a morbid irritation. He complained that he was not well, and that he scarcely slept.1 He had ardently wished to leave Parliament, and only shrank from doing so on account of the Indian business which he had undertaken, and which had more and more assumed in his mind the character of a solemn religious duty.2 In private life Miss Burney noticed that while no one on other subjects could be more attractive, politics had to be carefully avoided. ‘His irritability is so terrible on that theme, that it gives immediately to his face the expression of a man who is going to defend himself from murderers.’3 Age was beginning to press visibly upon him, and although it had taken nothing from the power of his intellect, although it seemed to have even imparted a richer and more gorgeous splendour to his eloquence, it had robbed him of all elasticity of spirits. He felt himself, and his friends clearly saw, that he needed absolute repose, but French affairs plunged him into a condition of the most violent and painful excitement, and the correspondence which poured in upon him from all Europe, and his constant intercourse with men who had lost everything by the calamities in France, never suffered it to flag.
No one saw so deeply or so accurately into the future, but no one was at the same time more constantly haunted by the sense of the extreme uncertainty of all political predictions.1 In his ‘Remarks on the Policy of the Allies,’ which was published in 1793, there is a most impressive and powerful passage on the little weight that can on these matters be attached even to the most careful inferences drawn from history and speculation. ‘There are some fundamental points in which nature never changes, but they are few and obvious, and belong rather to morals than to politics. But so far as regards political matters the human mind and human affairs are susceptible to infinite modifications, and of combinations wholly new and unlooked for. Very few, for instance, could have imagined that property, which has been taken for natural dominion, should through the whole of a vast kingdom lose all its importance and even its influence. How many could have thought that the most complete and formidable revolution in a great empire should be made by men of letters? that atheism could produce one of the most violently operative principles of fanaticism? that in a Commonwealth, in a manner cradled in war, and in an extensive and dreadful war, military commanders should be of little or no account? that the Convention should not contain one military man of name? that administrative bodies in a state of the utmost confusion and of but a momentary duration, and composed of men with not one imposing part of character, should be able to govern the country and its armies with an authority which the most settled senates and the most respected monarchs scarcely ever had in the same degree?’ The possibility that the French Revolution was the beginning of a new political state which would gradually unfold itself, and in which the old maxims and principles on which the ancient freedom of England mainly rested might become inapplicable, was not altogether absent from his mind. ‘If a great change is to be made in human affairs,’ he wrote in 1791, ‘the minds of men will be fitted to it; the general opinions and feelings will draw that way. Every fear, every hope, will forward it; and then they who persist in opposing this mighty current in human affairs will appear rather to resist the decrees of Providence itself than the mere designs of men. They will not be resolute and firm, but perverse and obstinate.’1
It was soon evident that the opinions of men in England were steadily veering round to Burke, and testimonies of adhesion came from many sides. His old friend Sir Joshua Reynolds, who had always been a steady Whig, took occasion shortly after the breach to express his feelings, by appending to an engraving of one of his pictures of Burke the famous lines in ‘Paradise Lost,’ describing the solitary fidelity of Abdiel. A considerable number of impressions had been worked off before Burke learnt the compliment, and with characteristic modesty he at once hastened to Reynolds, and insisted that the lines should be obliterated on the plate and that all impressions from it which had not been distributed should be destroyed.2 Some of his warmest personal as well as political friends, however, for a time stood aloof in manifest and painful perplexity. Such was Lord Fitzwilliam, who in private avowed his full agreement with Burke's estimate of the Revolution, and who retained all his affection for him, but who accused him of disloyalty to his party, and refused on this ground to give a seat in Parliament to his son.3 Such was Sir Gilbert Elliot, who shrank from seeing him, fearing, as he frankly said, the influence which Burke seldom failed to obtain over his judgment.4 Such was Windham, who had long looked on Burke as the wisest and best of living men, and had welcomed with enthusiasm his ‘Reflections on the French Revolution,’ but who now refused to meet him at a dinner party.1 Yet all these were soon reunited to him, not only in personal friendship and affection, but also in political agreement. Miss Burney relates a characteristic conversation she had, at a somewhat earlier period, with Windham. She had spoken of Burke's wonderful abilities, but had kept a significant silence about his judgment. ‘Suddenly,’ she says, ‘and with a look of extreme keenness, Mr. Windham turned his eyes upon me, and exclaimed, “Yes, and he has very highly also the faculty of being right … not the world alone, even his friends are apt to misjudge him. What he enters upon, however, with earnestness, you will commonly find, turns out as he represents it.”’2
It was noticed as a sign of the direction of opinion, that Burke now seldom appeared in the popular caricatures as the ‘Jesuit of St. Omer,’ while he was constantly represented as a patriot denouncing the Revolution and its apologists.3 The cry ‘Church in danger’ was fast rising as it had not done since the days of Sacheverell. In spite of the languor of the English Church during the eighteenth century, and the powerful anti-ecclesiastical influences that were abroad, Burke had probably not exaggerated when he described the English attachment to a religious national establishment as ‘above all other things, and beyond all other nations,’4 and although the destruction of a popish establishment in a foreign land might seem a matter of little consequence to Englishmen, it was too industriously held up as an example to be regarded with indifference. The clergy were soon thoroughly alarmed, and the pulpits began to ring with denunciations of the Revolution. More than one sermon against it was delivered in the presence of Burke; but though they echoed his views, he heard them with undisguised impatience. ‘Surely,’ he said, ‘the Church is a place where one day's truce may be allowed to the dissensions and animosities of mankind.’5
The destruction of the privileges of the French aristocracy, and especially the exciting and dramatic episode of the flight to Varennes and the recapture of the King, greatly strengthened the popular interest in French affairs. In London there was no mistaking the delight at the news of the King's escape, and the dejection at his recapture, and if the flight had succeeded, there would probably have been a general illumination.1 When the King escaped from Paris, the Jacobins in that city at once addressed a circular letter to all the societies affiliated with them, and a copy of this letter was sent to the Revolution Society in London, which published it in the English newspapers.2 At the end of June 1791, Priestley wrote from Birmingham to Lindsey, ‘Our anxiety during the King of France's escape, and our joy on his capture, cannot be described. … The High Church party are mortified in the extreme. … A majority, I fear, of Englishmen are in their sentiments, so that we are far indeed behind the French. In spite of all we can write or do, an attachment to high maxims of Government gains ground here, and the love of liberty is on the decline.’3
The Society at Birmingham, of which Priestley was the most prominent member, advertised their intention of meeting at an hotel on Thursday, July 14, to commemorate the taking of the Bastille; and a few days before the meeting, an exceedingly seditious and inflammatory handbill, which was afterwards disclaimed by the Society, had been circulated. The result was a popular rising, which on a smaller scale reproduced nearly all the features of the Gordon riots in London. It began with an attack on the hotel where the members of the Society were assembled, but before the day had closed, the mob had totally destroyed two of the principal meeting houses in Birmingham, as well as the house of Priestley, his library, his manuscripts, and his philosophical apparatus. On Friday the magistrates enrolled a large body of special constables, but they proved too weak to restrain the mob. For three days the houses of prominent dissenters or democrats in Birmingham and its immediate neighbourhood were wrecked or burned. Many lives were lost, and as in London, the rioters were often too intoxicated to escape from the flames they had kindled. Churchmen and Methodists were in general unmolested, but there were bands of men levying indiscriminately contributions of drink and money. It was not till Monday morning that the arrival of a troop of cavalry from Nottingham restored order.1
The tide ran so high that Priestley found it necessary to leave Birmingham, and after a short residence in London he took refuge in America. His pecuniary losses were compensated by private contributions and by a rate levied on the district where they had occurred,2 but the loss of his manuscripts could not be replaced, and he could not console himself by any belief in his popularity. ‘The same bad spirit,’ he wrote, ‘pervaded the whole kingdom,’ and at Hackney, Manchester, and all over the West of England he believed it to be nearly as powerful as at Birmingham.3 Burke looking at the situation from another point of view corroborates this opinion. He noticed that at this time in all parts of England the Government had difficulty in protecting the affiliated democratic societies from the attacks of the mob.4
While these things were happening, the Constituent Assembly, which fills the first act of the great drama of the French Revolution, was drawing rapidly to its close. The reorganisation of France which has been described had been mainly accomplished by April 1791, but on the second of the preceding month France had experienced a fatal loss in the death of Mirabeau, the only really great leader before Napoleon, produced by the Revolution, the only man whose prescient and dazzling intellect, and whose indomitable will, might have at once guided and moderated its course. If his moral character had been in any degree on a level with his abilities, and if a few more years had been granted him, he might have taken a foremost place among the rulers of men. He died predicting great calamities to his country. ‘Pigmies,’ he once said, ‘can destroy, but it needs a great man to build,’ and he fully saw that in spite of all that had been done, no lasting edifice had as yet been constructed.
To the Court with which he had of late been negotiating, his loss was irreparable. Ever since October 5 and 6, 1789, the position of Lewis XVI. had been an intolerable one. Denuded one by one of his royal prerogatives, wounded deeply in his religious feelings by the civil constitution of the clergy, which had now been formally condemned by the Pope, deprived of his bodyguard, restricted in his movements, and repeatedly menaced and insulted, he was a virtual prisoner, while the princes of his family were in Germany endeavouring to form a league for his deliverance. At last after long and painful hesitation, he resolved to make an effort to recover his freedom by flying to the frontier town of Montmédy, where the Marquis de Bouillé, at the head of a body of troops who had not yet swerved from their allegiance, was ready to receive him. If these were not sufficient, the Emperor Leopold promised an Austrian force. On the night of June 20, the royal fugitives left the Tuileries on their ill-fated enterprise. The next day they were arrested at Varennes, and brought back prisoners to Paris.
The danger of the situation was much aggravated by the memorial which the King had left behind him, protesting against and invalidating all that had been done during his captivity. He enumerated in this remarkable document the long series of concessions which he had made. He had of his own free will summoned the States-General, doubled the number of the deputies of the third estate, invested the States-General in the session of June 23 with the essential powers of a free Parliament, put an end to the long conflict of orders by himself directing their union, introduced large and searching economies into his Court. But all his acts, he complained, had been misconstrued and perverted. The States-General, usurping the character of a Constituent Assembly, had undertaken to remodel the whole Constitution of France. It denied the King the right of withholding his assent from articles which were constitutional; it assumed to itself the sole right of deciding what articles belonged to this class, and it had reduced his authority to a mere phantom. His right of dissolving the Assembly, and his right of pardon, had been annulled. His veto on legislation was so limited as to be purely illusory. Almost all his power, almost all his patronage in the law courts, in the army, in the interior administration of the country, in the department of finances, in the management of foreign affairs, had been taken away, and for nearly two years he had been a prisoner, exposed to gross indignities in his own capital. In the mean time the whole country had been thrown into unexampled confusion; ‘all the powers of Government disowned; all property violated; personal safety everywhere endangered; crimes remaining unpunished; perfect anarchy triumphing over the laws;’ a multitude of self-constituted clubs ruling France with a rod of iron. The decrees which he had signed, he had signed because he had no power to resist, and he had withdrawn for a time from his capital in order to appeal freely to his people. With their assistance he hoped to give France well-established liberty, resting on a Constitution freely accepted, consistent with the due respect for religion and property, and with the firm administration of the law.1
Fox afterwards said to Madame de Staël that the French ought at this time to have suffered the King to escape, and to have established a Republic in his absence. It seemed, indeed, as if the restoration of the monarchy under Lewis XVI. had become impossible, and if the National Assembly had been a body such as Burke described it, there was everything to be feared from its exasperation. But, in truth, the language of Burke as applied to the first Assembly of the Revolution, though in no degree stronger than that of Mounier and of Lally Tollendal, was both exaggerated and misleading. This Assembly had indeed done some things which were grossly tyrannical, and many things which were manifestly foolish. It had remained shamefully passive while its proceedings were systematically interrupted from the galleries, while its most respectable members were intimidated and insulted, while scenes of intolerable outrage and violence were multiplying throughout France. There had never, as Mounier truly said,2 been an example in Europe ‘of a country of equal size and population in which the means of maintaining order were so completely annihilated, and in which anarchy had been more general and more unbridled,’ but the Assembly had as yet made no single effort to arrest the evil by armed repression, or even by serious protest. It had destroyed or paralysed all the institutions and organisations of France; it had usurped the whole legislative authority; it had made the Executive so feeble that anarchy was inevitable, and all real power was passing fatally and swiftly into the most dangerous hands.
All this may be truly said, but it is also true that this Assembly, though seriously weakened by the secession of many of its best members, still consisted for the most part of men who, though they were theorists and enthusiasts, were not voluntary tyrants or voluntary anarchists, and were far from vicious or malevolent. It contained a very unusual amount of talent, and many men of high character and unobtrusive knowledge; but it was inexperienced and unguided, and divisions, jealousies, cowardice, contagious enthusiasm, and a servile devotion to general maxims and abstract principles played a great part in its proceedings. One of the most remarkable lessons which history teaches is how difficult it is to infer from the acts of legislators their dispositions or even their intentions. It is quite possible for measures to be carried by a Government, a party, or a Parliament, which the majority of the members who compose that Government, party, or Parliament, heartily dislike. The resolution of a few extreme and united men, the admission in an apparently innocuous form of some principle which may be afterwards extended, the surprises and unexpected combinations and compromises of party tactics, the lassitude or cowardice or want of foresight of majorities, the piecemeal and unconnected manner in which great questions are debated, often give a turn to events wholly different from the genuine wishes of the actors. A numerous assembly, inexperienced, intoxicated with enthusiasms and wild political doctrines, and entirely uncontrolled by any leading statesman or well-established party organisations, was peculiarly liable to blind, sudden, inconsiderate and dangerous impulses.
But there is, I think, abundant evidence, both from the writings of its contemporaries and from its own proceedings, that the National Assembly was an essentially well-meaning body. Its most honourable repudiation of bankruptcy at a time when bankruptcy seemed most tempting, its refusal to protect itself by any press law from the most constant and virulent attacks, its refusal to abridge the liberty which it had proclaimed by any permanent measure against emigration,1 its disinterested though most foolish resolution that none of its members should during the next four years accept any office under the Crown, show clearly the better side of its character, and its proceedings after the capture of the King prove decisively that although it had completely sapped the monarchy it had no real wish to destroy it. A strong and genuine desire was shown to maintain Lewis XVI. on the throne, to abstain from any measure which might give occasion for a foreign invasion, and, above all, to terminate as quickly as possible the Revolution. The Republican party under Robespierre, which desired the deposition of the King, proved wholly insignificant in the Chamber,2 and Barnave, who had once been in the extreme party of Revolution, threw all his eloquence into the cause of the King. Among the Paris clubs a more violent and formidable republican party appeared, but for the first and only time in its history the National Assembly nerved itself to maintain order by force. Martial law was proclaimed. The red flag was hung out from the Town Hall, and Lafayette, at the head of the National Guard, suppressed energetically and with some bloodshed a republican rising. It was determined that the Constitution should be revised, embodied in a single instrument, and formally adopted by the King, and that if he consented to swear to it, this should be deemed his reconciliation with the nation and his captivity should cease. Till that time he was provisionally suspended.
The King accepted these terms, and on September 14, 1791, he solemnly promised to observe the Constitution containing the many changes that have been already described. It is only here necessary to add that the future Legislatures were limited to periods of two years, which the King had no power to abridge by a dissolution; that they were to consist of 745 members, irrespective of those who might be afterwards granted to the colonies; and that they were to be chosen by a process of double election, primary Assemblies consisting of all ‘active citizens,’ who fulfilled the conditions that have been already named, electing electors who in their turn chose the deputies. On the motion of Robespierre all property qualification for the deputies was abolished, but it was still necessary for the electors in the primary Assemblies to pay a small direct tax equal to the value of three days' labour, and a substantial property qualification was exacted from the members of the electoral Assemblies. In towns of more than 6,000 souls, it consisted of a revenue equal to the value of 200 days' labour, drawn from property, or of the occupation of a house of the annual value of 500 days' labour. In the country and in the smaller towns the qualification was somewhat lower. One part of the Constitution is curious, because it shows that the National Assembly was not absolutely blind to the lesson which the experience of its own proceedings had abundantly supplied, of the facility with which a single Chamber can change all the institutions of a country, and of the extreme danger of such a facility of organic change. It was provided that no change could be made in the Constitution until three successive Legislatures had asked for it, and until it had been enacted by a fourth Legislature specially chosen and specially enlarged in numbers for this very purpose. It is a strange thing if an Assembly, which had shown itself so contemptuous of all the limitations of its own authority, and which had so effectually destroyed every possible counterpoise to its power, should have imagined that it could in this way effectually bind its successors.
One other act of the first National Assembly must be mentioned, which, though carried with excellent intentions, was perhaps in its consequences the worst of all. It was the act of abnegation by which it decreed that none of its members should be eligible for the succeeding Legislature. In this way an Assembly, whose chief faults sprang from inexperience in the management of public affairs, and which had at last acquired some experience, condemned the country to fall again into the hands of men who had none, and the French people were forbidden to select as their representatives any of those eminent and respectable men to whom they had spontaneously turned at the time when the elections were really free, and before the tyranny of the clubs had begun. Hardly any other single step contributed so largely to prepare the way for the horrors that followed. France soon presented to the world the appalling spectacle of a great nation which was mainly governed by its criminal classes, and by fanatics who in wisdom and sobriety of judgment were hardly above the level of Bedlam.
At the time when the Constituent Assembly dissolved itself, the political horizon around France was rapidly darkening. During the latter half of 1789, during the whole of 1790, and during the first half of 1791 it appeared probable to the best observers that whatever effect the French Revolution might have upon the internal constitutions of the great kingdoms of Europe, it would not lead to any foreign war. It is true that some signs of a menacing description might be already detected. Several of the German princes had large possessions and feudal rights in Alsace which had been acquired when that province was part of Germany, but which had been recognised when Alsace had become French, and had been formally confirmed and guaranteed by the Treaty of Westphalia; and the abolition of these, with all other feudal rights, in August 1789 produced angry protests from the German princes, and great indignation in the German Diet. There were also many disquieting symptoms of the close connection between French demagogues and the discontented members of other nations. French influence was clearly traced in the troubles in the Austrian Netherlands, and in Liége. The so-called patriotic party in Holland began to revive. There were signs of the new spirit in Poland, in Saxony, in the ecclesiastical electorates of Germany, in Berne, and in Geneva. Refugees from the insurgent provinces of other Powers were received with ostentatious favour by French politicians, and letters of sympathy were read in the Jacobin Club of Paris from every capital in Europe. In June 1790 the Prussian Anarcharsis Clootz, accompanied by a number of adventurers in foreign dresses, appeared in the National Assembly as ‘the ambassador of the human race,’ claiming in the name of the enslaved nations of Europe the sympathy of emancipated France, and the Assembly treated this grotesque masquerade with perfect seriousness, and welcomed the ‘ambassador’ to the sitting. On the other hand, it was well known that streams of emigrants were passing from France, and imploring succour in the chief Courts of the Continent. Rumours of coming invasion were frequently circulated and readily believed, and Lameth declared that the approaching war would be a war of all the kings against all the nations.1
At the same time nothing can be more certain than that the bulk of the first National Assembly was as far as possible from desiring any foreign conquest. The whole enthusiasm, the whole ambition of the rising party was directed to realising in France a Government in accordance with the theories of Rousseau. The one serious danger of war was that which arose in the autumn of 1790, in the quarrel between England and Spain on the question of Nootka Sound, when Spain, in accordance with the terms of the still subsisting alliance, claimed the assistance of France, and when the King's Ministers showed some inclination to accede to the demand. The Assembly, as we have seen, acting in this case at the instigation of the most revolutionary party, entirely refused its assent. It marked its emphatically peaceful policy, by enacting that the King could never proclaim war except after its decree. It voted a solemn declaration that it disclaimed in the name of the French nation every desire for conquest or aggression. It ordered the chained figures representing conquered nations that surrounded the statue of Lewis XIV. to be taken away, as they were an insult to other countries inconsistent with the spirit of the new Government, and, what was more important, it voted after some months' delay an indemnity to the German princes in compensation for their feudal rights. These things, but especially the extreme intensity with which the national mind was concentrated on internal and organic changes, seemed to foreshadow a long period of peace, and the impression was strengthened by the utter confusion of French finances, and the complete disorganisation of the French army. All discipline and subordination seemed to have disappeared from the ranks, and when directions were given to arm the fleet at Brest, in consequence of the English preparations for war with Spain, the alarming fact was disclosed that the same spirit of mutiny was equally prevalent among the sailors, and that the French fleet was entirely unfit for a serious war.
The question of peace or war seemed, therefore, to depend on the attitude of the other continental Powers. Their combinations, alliances, and antagonisms had during the last few years been continually changing like the patterns in a kaleidoscope, and the last chapter but one will, I hope, have given a sufficiently clear idea of the objects at which they were aiming.
The policy of Russia was simple and perfectly consistent. She desired to appropriate as much as she could of the territory of Turkey, and what remained of the territory of Poland, and as a means to the latter end, to maintain in that unfortunate country a general anarchy and a strong Russian interest. Age had in no degree diminished the energy and ambition of Catherine, and a long career of success had given her a boundless self-confidence. No sovereign in Europe was employed in enterprises of aggrandisement so incessantly or so skilfully, with a more complete disregard for all moral scruple, with a more absolute and cynical indifference to the sacrifice of hecatombs of human lives. When, however, the French Revolution broke out, she was still occupied with her Turkish war.
The objects of the Emperor were less constant and more various. The close and unnatural connection which had subsisted between the Courts of Vienna and St. Petersburg during the reign of Joseph II. was diminished—it was at first thought destroyed—by the death of that sovereign in February 1790, and the Convention of Reichenbach, which was completed in the following summer, withdrew Austria from the Turkish War. The unexpected protraction, however, through more than a year, of the negotiation for the definite peace, soon showed that the connection between Austria and Russia was not at an end, and that by supporting Russian policy, the Emperor still hoped to gain some Turkish territory on the side of Orsova. He was also desirous of minimising as much as possible the popular privileges he was obliged to concede or recognise in Flanders, and perhaps of reverting, if an occasion offered, to the idea of Joseph of exchanging Austrian Flanders for Bavaria. As the brother of the French Queen he was more interested than other sovereigns in French affairs, and the peculiar dignity of his position as the head of the Empire made him the natural champion of monarchy, and of the interests of the minor German princes who were aggrieved by the abolition of feudal rights in Alsace. Leopold had come to the throne with the reputation of an eminently far-seeing, cautious, and sagacious man, and his phlegmatic and procrastinating disposition was curiously unlike the restless and impulsive nature of his brother; but, like most men of his temperament, he was hesitating and irresolute, and these faults are more dangerous in foreign than in domestic policy. The bad condition of Austrian finances greatly strengthened his pacific tendencies. Since 1756 Austria had been in close alliance with France, and Kaunitz, who was the chief author of that alliance, though in extreme old age, had still a great influence on Austrian affairs. With Russia the Emperor was on terms of alliance. With Poland he was on friendly terms, but his relations with Holland were still troubled, and the difficulties which had arisen about the negotiations at Sistova made it for some months very probable that the Eastern war might again extend its area, and that Russia and the Emperor might be found in armed opposition to Prussia, England, and Turkey. Among English politicians the Emperor was at this time regarded with extreme distrust.
Prussia, as we have seen, was still in close alliance with England and Holland, but her national policy was steadily directed to two objects. The first was, to oppose and weaken in every field the Austrian power, which overshadowed her in Germany. The second was, to increase her Polish possessions by the annexation of Dantzig and Thorn. She was much disappointed by the failure of the ingenious combinations by which she had sought to obtain this end, and the Triple Alliance had been more than once severely strained. England and Holland were great colonial Powers, but in Europe their supreme interest was the maintenance of a permanent and secure peace. Prussia, on the other hand, was a rising Power eagerly bent on territorial aggrandisement. Unlike the other continental Powers, she possessed a regular treasure accumulated with a view to war, and it was the firm conviction of her King that his army was the best in Europe. Under such circumstances it is not surprising that the difficulty of maintaining a united policy between England, Holland, and Prussia, should have been extremely great; but Pitt attached the utmost value to the Prussian alliance, and hoped, by gradually drawing the Emperor into it, to establish a connection which would secure to Europe that long period of peace which he most ardently desired.
It was on the action of these three Powers that the question of peace or war with France mainly depended. The Kings of Spain and Naples, indeed, and the Duke of Savoy were ready to give the French emigrants some hopes and even some money, and Gustavus III. of Sweden was not only ready but eager to draw the sword on their behalf. Perfectly incapable either of lasting attachment or resentment, and caring for little but the excitement of adventure, this strange sovereign was now in close alliance with his old enemy Russia, and was burning to distinguish himself in new fields. But his exchequer, as usual, was empty, and he could do nothing without the subventions of his neighbours.
The real interest and attention of the three great continental Powers, however, were now directed much less to France and its Revolution than to another revolution which appeared to them much more closely connected with their interests, and which it will now be necessary very briefly to describe.
Ever since the death of Sobieski in 1696, the condition of Poland had been one of deplorable and increasing anarchy. In an open country surrounded by ambitious and intriguing neighbours, a strong internal organisation and a powerful and well-disciplined army were absolutely essential, but Poland was cursed with the most miserable Constitution that ever enfeebled and demoralised a nation. Her elective monarchy continually exposed her to civil war, to foreign interference, to sovereigns who were foreign nominees; while the fear lest the reigning sovereign should found a dynasty led the Diet to reduce the army much below the limits which were essential to the safety of the country. Political power was almost wholly in the hands of a numerous and poor nobility, while the absurd institution of the Liberum Veto enabled a single dissenter to invalidate the proceedings of a whole Diet.1 Never was there a Constitution more manifestly framed to paralyse national prosperity, and to invite and facilitate foreign intrigue. Russia carefully and with great expenditure maintained her party in the country, and Sweden, Prussia, Austria, and France, had all at different times pursued the same policy. Augustus II., who succeeded Sobieski, drew Poland into close alliance with Russia in her long conflict with Charles XII. of Sweden, and the Polish crown became one of the great objects of the war. Twice Augustus was dethroned. Twice he regained his crown, and when he died in 1733 he left his country almost ruined by war, and incurably divided into hostile factions. Stanislaus, who was then elected, was dethroned by a Russian army, and Russian power placed both Augustus III. of Saxony and his successor, Stanislaus Poniatowski, on the Polish throne.
Already, and indeed for many years, there had been frequent plans and predictions of a partition of Poland.2 Corruption and anarchy had greatly weakened the national character, but Poland contained many true patriots, and they saw clearly that a reform of the Constitution was indispensable to the security of their country. If the nation had been left free to work out its own destinies such a reform would probably have been effected, but it was the deliberate and systematic policy of Russia and Prussia to maintain anarchy in Poland in order that it might never rise to prosperity or power or independence. With this object they agreed at the beginning of the reign of Stanislaus Poniatowski, that they would maintain by force the existing Constitution and oppose any attempt to abolish the Liberum Veto or to make the monarchy hereditary. A strong and earnest effort was, notwithstanding, made to effect the former object, and the reform was so powerfully supported that it would have undoubtedly succeeded had not Russia again interfered, and re-established, with the concurrence of Prussia, the Liberum Veto in its full stringency.1 Religious dissensions which now broke out gave new pretexts for Russian interference. Russian armies menaced, invaded, ravaged, and occupied the country, and Polish patriots were sent by Russian authority to Siberia. The jealousy of the three great Powers alone for a time saved Poland. At last they agreed upon their share of the spoil. In 1772 they signed ‘in the name of the Holy Trinity’ treaties for the plunder of Poland, and in a few months the first partition was easily effected. It was justified at the time, and has been defended by some later historians on the ground of that very anarchy, which it had been for many years a main object of two of the plundering Powers to foment and to perpetuate.
Poland emerged from the ordeal weakened, mutilated, and humiliated, but still a not inconsiderable Power, and for a time there seemed some hope that the greed of her neighbours was sated, and that she would be allowed to attain some measure of prosperity. A strong national spirit was aroused by disaster, and great efforts were made to improve the army, to disseminate education, and to raise up a party favourable to administrative reform.2 The three Powers at the time of the partition formally guaranteed the integrity of the portion of Poland which remained, but Kaunitz and Frederick the Great at this very time distinctly foresaw that when it became convenient another partition would follow.3 For the present, however, the language of the three Powers was very conciliatory, and as the Turkish War was impending, all parties desired a Polish alliance. In 1776 the King himself urged upon the Diet the necessity of revising the Constitution. In 1780 the Chancellor Zamoiski proposed the abolition of the Liberum Veto and of the election of the sovereign, but the propositions were rejected by the Diet. The serfs, however, on many large properties were emancipated, and there was a strong movement towards a union of classes. In 1787, when Catherine was making her triumphal journey through the Crimea and preparing another invasion of Turkey, Stanislaus obtained from her an assurance that Russia would not make a change in the Constitution of Poland a pretext for a new partition, and a similar assurance was obtained from Joseph of Austria.1 Catherine had at this time great hopes of obtaining an alliance of the Poles against their old supporters the Turks, and such an alliance was formally tendered, but it was rejected by the Poles, who had suffered intolerable misery from the semi-barbarous hordes of Russia, while the Turks had observed all the terms of the Peace of Carlowitz with that scrupulous fidelity which so remarkably distinguished them from Christian Powers.
Another alliance, however, was speedily formed, which seemed to promise happier days for Poland. When the negotiation with Russia was pending, the Minister of the King of Prussia presented to the Polish Diet in the name of his Court a remarkable paper, solemnly protesting against the proposed alliance. It could add nothing, the Prussian Minister said, to the security of Poland, for both Russia and the Emperor had already guaranteed its integrity. Rumours, it is true, had been circulated, deeply derogatory to the honour of the King of Prussia, imputing to him designs inconsistent with the integrity of Poland. Against all such imputations the Prussian Minister solemnly protested, and in exchange for the Russian alliance he offered Poland a close alliance with Prussia with a renewed promise to defend her against every enemy.
This alliance was speedily accepted. Prussia solemnly guaranteed the integrity of Poland. She promised to assist her against all hostile attacks and all interference with her internal concerns. The King of Prussia not only fully recognised the right of the Polish people as an independent nation to revise their Constitution, but he also strongly urged them to do so.
It is probable that the hope of obtaining, by some amicable arrangement, Dantzig and Thorn was already in the minds of the Prussian statesmen, but this question was not as yet brought forward, and the immediate motives of their policy were of a different kind. It was at this time their main object to build up a system of alliances in opposition to Russia and the Emperor; and if, as appeared probable, the chief scene of the conflict was in Turkey, the assistance of Poland would be very valuable. The Prussian policy of detaching Poland from Russia was, however, perfectly successful, and relying on Prussian support the Polish Diet, which first met in September 1788 and which was confederated for the emergency, carried a series of reforms which totally changed the Constitution and condition of Poland. It was decreed that the army should be raised from 20,000 to 100,000 men. The system of taxation was thoroughly revised. A considerable representation was given to the trading towns. The excessive powers of the Dietines were abolished. The Liberum Veto was swept away, and finally on May 3, 1791, a new Constitution was voted, in which, after the reigning King, the crown was offered to the Elector of Saxony and to his heirs for ever.
It became evident at an early stage of these reforms how greatly the consideration of Poland in Europe had been raised. Sweden and Turkey now eagerly sought her alliance, and the establishment of hereditary monarchy was believed throughout Europe to have laid the foundation of Polish stability. It was, however, clear to all close observers that Polish statesmen were playing a very dangerous game, and it is easy in the light of subsequent events to detect the grave mistakes of their policy. It was certain that Russia would resent bitterly what was done, and she early announced to the Diet that she would permit no change whatever in the Constitution of 1775. She was at present deeply involved in the Eastern question, but the Polish reforms were prolonged over so long a period that they had no time to consolidate themselves before Russia was again free. Everything too depended upon the fidelity of Prussia to her engagements, but the Poles had neglected one powerful means of attaching her. The King of Prussia had offered a commercial treaty in consideration of the cession of Dantzig and Thorn, and English mediation was urgently employed to support him. But the national feeling of Poland was so strongly opposed to the cession that the demand was refused.
It is not surprising that it should have been so. No country in which a strong national sentiment exists has ever voluntarily consented to cede a well-affected portion of its territory; but the impolicy of the refusal was not the less conspicuous. There was a perceptible shade of coldness introduced into the relations between the two countries, and it was deepened by a rumour which was spread in Poland that Prussia and Russia had been negotiating another partition, and by jealousy felt at Berlin at the somewhat more friendly relations of the Emperor to Poland. At the same time there was no breach or quarrel. The King of Prussia on perceiving the feeling of the Poles withdrew his demand. The treaty of alliance, the solemn guarantee of the integrity of Poland, the promise so recently and so emphatically made that Prussia would defend Poland from any attempt to meddle with her internal affairs, still remained, but Polish statesmen ought to have learned from recent experience how little reliance is to be placed on national honour when it is dissevered from national interest. It was extremely probable that war might at this time speedily break out between Prussia and Russia, and it was therefore a pressing interest of the former Power to be on good terms with Poland. But when the dangers of a Turkish war had passed away, when the changing aspect of continental policy again drew Prussia into connection with Russia and Austria, was it certain that Prussia would not break her compact, betray the country which had trusted to her, and once more seek for her aggrandisement by fomenting and maintaining anarchy in Poland?1
To many the imputation would have seemed too gross to have been for a moment entertained, but there were some good judges to whom such possibilities seem to have already occurred. Hailes, who was at this time the English Minister at Warsaw, had formed a very unfavourable judgment both of the strength of Poland and of the character of her political classes, and his bias was evidently intensified by irritation at the failure of his attempts to negotiate a commercial treaty between Great Britain and Poland, and to induce the Poles to cede Dantzig and Thorn to Prussia. He wrote to his Government that he had strongly discouraged the design of the Polish statesmen to establish an hereditary monarchy. The Elector of Saxony, he predicted, would never accept the crown except with the assent of the three Powers and the unanimous wish of the nation, and these conditions could never be attained. The enemies of order and the friends of Russia would be sure to intervene, and a civil war would probably break out. ‘The nation itself has neither will nor opinion, and it may be easily led into any system which those who guide it think proper to adopt.’
His warnings were not attended to. It was answered, he said, that as long as the crown of Poland was elective there could be no stability, no security against a civil war at every vacancy; that the present moment, when the three Courts were occupied with more material concerns, was a good opportunity for settling the matter; that the condition of the country was humiliating and precarious; that all foreign Ministers complained of the want of system and concert in the Government, and that it was time that the Polish nation should be freed from dishonourable subjection to foreign influence.1 Hailes was obliged to admit that in some respects his predictions were signally falsified. The great constitutional change was carried through the Diet on a wave of enthusiasm, and was received with perfect acquiescence by the country. Not a drop of blood was shed. ‘Everything,’ wrote Hailes, two months later, ‘is perfectly quiet at Warsaw and in the provinces, and there is no apparent opposition to the new establishment, and the Russian party, so violent a short time since, has totally disappeared.’ All the Dietines ratified the new Constitution without difficulty. The oath of fidelity to it was readily taken. There was not the smallest attempt at insurrection, and it seemed evident that if Poland were left to herself the change would be completely successful.2
One letter of Hailes is especially significant. The answer, he said, of the King of Prussia to the letter of the Polish King announcing the change had just arrived, and it was ‘perfectly cordial and satisfactory.’ This fact, Hailes remarked, was surprising, prising, as the King, ‘two years ago only, was of opinion that nothing could be more contrary to his interests than the establishment of the hereditary succession in Poland, and indeed his expression of similar sentiments to me at Berlin at that time has constantly been uppermost in my mind, and made me apprehensive for the effect of so bold a measure.’1
The letters from Berlin were at first equally reassuring. The King of Prussia expressed his satisfaction at what had occurred to the Polish Minister at his Court, to the King of Poland and to the Elector of Saxony. He urged the Elector to accept the Polish crown; he offered him his warm alliance, and he professed himself fully determined to fulfil his own treaty obligations.2 The relations of Poland with Leopold were at this time very good, and with a Prussian alliance and a people to an unusual extent united, its prospects appeared to foreigners singularly happy. Burke contrasted the bloodless and beneficent Revolution in Poland with the destructive Revolution in France. Fox described the Polish Revolution as a work in which ‘every friend to reasonable liberty must be sincerely interested.’ Leeds, representing the English Government, wrote on the subject in friendly though cautious terms. He instructed Hailes not to press any further the cession of Dantzig and Thorn since it was so unpopular. His Majesty, he said, had never meant to urge it except with the full assent of the Polish nation and in return for commercial advantages. It was difficult and by no means desirable for England to give any opinion on the new Constitution. There could, however, be very little doubt that the peaceable establishment of hereditary monarchy in Poland would be for the good of that country if it was acquiesced in. ‘The present situation of the Imperial Courts may render them less likely to disturb at this moment than at any other, a system by which the Government of Poland may acquire that degree of solidity and consistency which have so long been wanting to it.’3
This was the first scene of a momentous drama which, as we shall see, soon assumed very different aspects, and blended to a remarkable degree with the course of events relating to France. We must now turn to this latter subject, and trace the causes which led to the great European war.
The multitude of ruined French gentry who had fled beyond the frontier had already found their chiefs, and were beginning to take active measures for preparing their return. A small party had collected round the Prince de Condé at Worms, and another round the Count d'Artois at Turin, but after the departure of d'Artois for Coblentz in the beginning of 1791, and the arrival of the Count de Provence in the following July, Coblentz became the chief centre of the emigration. With the assent of the Elector of Trèves a considerable force was organised and armed, and the exiled princes were indefatigable in their efforts to induce the chief Powers in Europe to take part in a counter revolution. As early as September 1790, the English Minister at Berlin wrote to his Government that they were urging at Berlin, Vienna, and Munich, an invasion of France by the King of Prussia, the King of Hungary, and the Elector Palatine, and that if a counter revolution was effected they were ready that Haynault should be given to the King of Hungary, and Alsace to the Elector Palatine, who was in his turn to cede to Prussia the Duchies of Juliers and Berg.1 In June 1791, new negotiations on the part of the Count d'Artois were carried on at Berlin and Vienna, and shortly after, at the time of the meeting at Pilnitz, D'Artois tried to induce the Emperor to draw the sword by the offer of Lorraine.2
Except from England the French princes appear to have met with no positive refusals of assistance, but they found few cordial friends. The King of Sweden, it is true, was eager for the war. He made a journey to Brunswick for the purpose of concerting it with the Duke.3 He wrote to the Empress of Russia, offering to furnish a corps of 12,000 men with ships to carry them, for the assistance of the French Royal Family, if the Empress would pay the expenses.4 He made a similar offer to the King of Spain and to the Emperor, and he urgently but vainly begged the Emperor to grant him the use of the port of Ostend as the basis for an expedition against France. Catherine from the beginning strongly favoured an intervention in France, but her chief object, from first to last, was simply to entangle her neighbours in a European war, which might leave her at liberty to do as she pleased in Poland.
The question of intervention or non-intervention depended mainly on the two great German Powers, and these Powers had of late been steadily approximating.1 The movement began during the long and troubled negotiations which preceded the Peace of Sistova, and which had at one time brought them to the very brink of war. Leopold, though he desired, by supporting Russian pretensions, to modify in his favour the terms which had been agreed on at the Convention of Reichenbach, was unwilling to be dragged into war with Prussia, not altogether pleased at the ascendency Russia was acquiring near his frontier, and perplexed by the growing difficulties on the side of France and the Austrian Netherlands, and he accordingly made secret overtures to the King of Prussia to close their long rivalry by an alliance. The King of Prussia speedily responded. Kaunitz and Hertzberg, who on opposite sides chiefly represented the old traditional antagonism, were kept almost entirely in the dark, and the latter retired from office in July 1791. The negotiation was largely conducted by the sovereigns themselves, almost without the knowledge of their Ministers. It was the object of the King of Prussia by detaching Austria to isolate Russia. Leopold desired to secure peace on the side of Prussia; to free himself from the domineering influence of Russia, and to obtain the assistance of Prussia if it became necessary to intervene in France. Colonel Bischoffswerder, a favourite of the Prussian King, was chiefly employed in the negotiation, and he for some time in a great measure superseded the regular Ministers at Berlin. The negotiation began in May 1791, and among the questions considered was the possibility of intervention in France. At Berlin every member of the Cabinet is said to have been at first opposed to such intervention, and the King himself, though he was violently irritated against the French Jacobins, appeared resolved to leave the task of ‘mounting the breach’ to the Emperor,1 but it was at last agreed that the two sovereigns should meet at Pilnitz in August, and consider the subject.
The French question had for some months thrown Leopold into a state of great perplexity and hesitation. He was extremely unwilling to involve himself in new complications in the West, while the Eastern question was still unsettled, and he had a great dislike and contempt for the Count d'Artois, and the other leaders of the emigration. The part, indeed, which these personages were playing was a very strange one. They were endeavouring, without the smallest authority or countenance from their own sovereign, to provoke an invasion, and even a partial dismemberment, of France. The King of France repeatedly wrote to discourage and disavow their proceedings, and in the most confidential letters of Marie Antoinette to her brother, as well as in her conversations with her most intimate friends, there is abundant evidence of the extreme dislike and distrust with which the French Court regarded the plans and conduct of the emigrant princes, and of their constant fear lest an invasion of armed emigrants, or some rash measure due to emigrant prompting, should complete the ruin of the monarchy.2 On the other hand, the princes regarded the King and Queen as mere puppets in the hands of the revolutionists, and they acted with complete independence. They detested the Queen on account of her supposed sympathy with revolution; refused to obey the royal orders; deprecated every kind of compromise with the Revolution, and at last, when the King accepted the Constitution in September 1791, they desired that the Emperor should treat that act as equivalent to an abdication, and should recognise the eldest brother of the King as Regent of France.1
To all this policy Leopold was strongly opposed. His confidential correspondence with Marie Antoinette, and the correspondence also between the Queen and Mercy, who had formerly been Austrian ambassador at Paris but was now established as Minister Plenipotentiary at Brussels, have both been published, and they enable us to thread with considerable confidence the perplexed maze of the secret policy of the time. In the very beginning of 1791, some form of foreign pressure or intervention was looked forward to by the Court of France as the sole means of re-establishing the royal power. In February, the Queen wrote to her brother: ‘Spain has answered us that she would aid us with her forces, if you, the King of Sardinia, and the [Swiss] Cantons would do the same, and would treat together and directly with us with this object;’2 but the Emperor in reply urged patience, and a temporising policy, and finally declared that it was impossible for him to take any efficacious step in her favour without the assistance of many of the chief Courts in Europe.3 Mercy wrote more fully explaining the difficulties—a war between Austria and Prussia probably impending; England malevolent and opposed to intervention; the uncertain issue of the Russian War keeping all Europe in perplexity; the danger to the lives of the Royal Family if a foreign intervention took place when they were helpless prisoners in Paris. If, indeed, they could escape and place themselves at the head of a powerful body of loyal French troops, the whole aspect of affairs would change. Foreign assistance might then flow in from all sides, and it was even possible that a simple demonstration on the frontiers of France might accomplish the work by giving the loyal party an irresistible impulse and courage.4 The fact that Bouillé and a considerable body of French soldiers were still faithful, was the brightest spot on the horizon,s and the Emperor would gladly mass his troops on such points near the frontier that they would be of use if required. The flight of the Royal Family, which had been long contemplated, and which was at last effected on June 20, was taken in accordance with this policy, and the Emperor promised, if necessary, to place an Austrian force at the service of the fugitives.
Leopold has himself described his policy before the flight to Varennes. It was his object, he said, first of all to dissuade D'Artois from any rash step which might endanger the life of the captive King, and next to form an agreement with the Kings of Spain, Sardinia, and Prussia, the Swiss Cantons and the Empire, to protect the Royal Family of France from violence by a joint declaration, by a military demonstration, and if absolutely necessary by actual force. The unanimous declaration which he desired was impossible, for England refused to join; but he had as he believed secured the support of the King of Sardinia, the Swiss, and the Empire, and he had great reason to expect that of the Kings of Prussia and Spain.1
Leopold was in Italy when the flight took place, and the first accounts that arrived stated that though the French King had been arrested, he had been again released and was in safety at Metz. On the arrival of this news, the Emperor at once declared his intention of giving him an unequivocal support. He directed Mercy, who was then in the Austrian Netherlands, to supply him with money, to publish in the name of the Emperor any declaration to the National Assembly which the King judged necessary, to send Austrian troops to the French frontier, and, if Lewis desired it, even across the border.2 The truth, however, of the position of the King was soon known, and the Emperor speedily reverted to his former policy. He sent a circular from Padua to the princes of Europe, calling their attention to the outrages to which the French Royal Family had been exposed, and inviting them to meet him for the purpose of taking common measures for securing the freedom of the King of France, and putting bounds to the dangers that might spring from the French Revolution,3 but in the meantime he positively refused the military assistance against France, which the emigrants and the King of Sweden urgently requested.1 He proposed, however, a declaration to the National Assembly, threatening a united war against the French unless they set at liberty their King and Royal Family, and re-established the power of the monarch on a reasonable basis; but he professed his unwillingness to act without the assent of England, and he complained that he was not adequately supported by other Powers.2
His position was indeed a very difficult one. He was strongly opposed to an invasion of France, which might open a limitless field to dangerous ambitions. He knew that the Austrian Netherlands were seething with the revolutionary spirit, and had been fatally weakened for the purpose of defence by the dismantlement of the barrier fortresses. But, on the other hand, the question of the feudal rights of the German princes in Alsace was still open. The seizure of Avignon by the French, in July 1791, was a new complication, for Avignon and its territory, though they had long been papal, still retained a nominal connection with the Empire.3 Revolutionary agitation radiating from Paris, or at least stimulated by Parisian example, appeared in several parts of his dominions. The emigrant princes, the King of Sweden, the Empress of Russia, and above all his own sister, were urging him to action, and he felt that an obligation of affection and an obligation of honour lay upon him.
The letters of Marie Antoinette to her brother at this time, are painful reading. On July 30 she sent him a long, able, and statesmanlike letter deprecating foreign intervention. The moderate party, she wrote, had obtained an indisputable ascendency in the Assembly. The revolutionary section had been defeated by a great majority. There was an urgent desire among all moderate men to terminate the Revolution, restore peaceful and normal government, and secure the constitutional changes that had been effected, and with quiet times the monarchy would gradually regain its dignity and much of its authority. A foreign invasion would destroy all these happy prospects, and it would be far more formidable to the invader than was generally imagined. The French army was, it is true, deficient in officers and discipline, but the whole country was covered with armed and excited men, who would cast aside every other consideration to defend their soil against the foreigner. It was not an armed intervention, but the confidence and respect of the nation, that the King now needed for the restoration of his dignity, and it was in the power of the Emperor to give him what he required. If at the desire of the French King the Emperor put an end to all fears of invasion, if he set the example to the Powers of Europe of recognising the French Constitution, the whole situation would change. All moderate Frenchmen would at once acknowledge the great service which their Royal House had rendered to the country. The period of passion, panic, and uncertainty would terminate, and Austria, being the first country to recognise the Constitution of France, would become her natural ally.1
The letter was sent to its destination, but it was speedily followed by others, chiefly in cipher, in which the Queen passionately declared that she had written only under constraint, and that she would be in despair if she thought that her brother took these for her real sentiments. The dangers of the situation, she said, were incalculable. The wretches who surrounded her were in convulsions of rage, and seeking in every way to attack her. The new Constitution was ‘a tissue of impracticable absurdities,’ but the King had no power of resisting. He was a helpless prisoner; he could do nothing but make a few criticisms while accepting it, criticisms which would not be attended to now, but which, like the protest he had left behind him when he fled from Paris, might hereafter be appealed to. ‘The moment,’ she added, ‘is terrible, and why are we kept in total ignorance of all that passes beyond France? At present we must follow a course which diverts suspicion from us, and which may at the same time serve to baffle and overthrow as soon as possible the monstrous system we are compelled to adopt. We have no resource except in the foreign Powers. They must at all hazards come to our assistance. The Emperor must place himself at their head, and he must insist as the first condition that the brothers of the King, and all Frenchmen, but especially the first, keep in the background.’ France is infested with ‘a race of tigers.’1
Such were the influences pressing upon the Emperor, and it was under these circumstances that the alliance with Prussia, negotiated by Bischoffswerder, was concluded. Each Power guaranteed the possessions of the other, and the treaty also contained a formal and unqualified engagement that both Powers would respect the integrity and Constitution of Poland; an engagement that no Austrian or Prussian prince should marry the Princess of Saxony, and a promise that the two Powers would do their best to bring about a European agreement on the French question.2
In the memorial which the Emperor had sent from Padua, proposing a Congress and a possible intervention in French affairs, he had expressed a hope that, considering the great cause that was to be defended, all the Powers would renounce every aim of aggrandisement.3 A recommendation so little in harmony with their prevailing spirit, and also the earnestness with which the Emperor insisted on the concurrence of England, which was most unlikely to be obtained, gave the whole transaction an air of great uncertainty and unreality. As early as March 7, 1791, Mercy, when discussing with the Queen the possibility of European intervention in favour of the French Crown, had lifted in part the curtain of decorous professions which concealed the real sentiments of the sovereigns. ‘It is a generally received principle,’ he wrote, ‘that the Great Powers do nothing for nothing,’ and the pretext of ‘reasons of State’ is always there to cover their covetousness. His master the Emperor, he said, was the sole example of a sovereign who would promise disinterested support. The King of Sardinia had long had his eye on Geneva, and an extension of his frontier in the French part of the Alps and on the Var would be very gratifying to him, and of little consequence to France. Spain desired some rectification of the limits of Navarre, and this, too, might be easily granted; while the German princes who had feudal rights in Alsace might be gained ‘at a small expense.’1 To Prussia the self-denying agreement proposed by the Emperor was certainly not likely to be satisfactory, and in the English diplomatic correspondence from Berlin we may trace the first signs of the ambitions which were beginning to grow up.
The hope of recovering Alsace for the German Empire was indeed not new. It was an old grievance against the House of Hapsburg that at the end of the war of the Spanish succession it had rejected a peace which would have restored that province to the Empire, because it only offered to Austria, Naples and Sicily in exchange for the crown of Spain, and that in 1738 the Emperor, in order to recover Tuscany, consented to sacrifice the interests of Germany by allowing France to obtain Lorraine.2 Thirty-two years later Frederick the Great had tried to turn the ambition of the Emperor in this direction, and he even drew up a detailed plan for the conquest of Alsace and Lorraine from France.3 From an interesting secret letter written by Ewart to Grenville, it appears that this scheme was now revived. Ewart describes a long conversation which he had with Count Schulenburg, the Prussian Minister, from which he learned that although Schulenburg himself was much opposed to an intervention with France, the King of Prussia, under the influence of Bischoffswerder and the Duke of Brunswick, had committed himself much more than he at first intended. In the course of this conversation, Ewart continues, ‘we considered the two cases stated in the secret despatch to Baron Jacobi4 of the combination to restore the French monarchy succeeding or failing. Count Schulenburg thinks it would be impossible to subdue France by foreign Powers, and that the attempt would contribute to unite and strengthen the different parties. But, supposing it to be otherwise, he conceived each of the Powers concerned would require an indemnification for their expenses. He thinks the same thing would happen in the case of their failing, as some conquests would always be made, particularly that of Alsace, and probably Lorraine, and that the Emperor would be disposed to keep these provinces, after restoring their rights to the princes of the Empire. The King, his master, would then, he observed, be obliged to require an equivalent, and his great object would be to obtain the Austrian part of Upper Silesia. Some arrangement with the Elector Palatine was likewise alluded to, by which he might receive a compensation in the Netherlands equal to the cession of Juliers and Berg to Prussia. … The day after I had this conversation with the Prussian Minister, Mr. Jackson learnt from an indirect source that Colonel Bischoffswerder had actually settled a convention at Vienna for an effective plan of operations relative to French affairs … that upon taking Alsace and Lorraine the Prussian troops should remain there, and the Austrians penetrate into the interior provinces of France, and that the Emperor was bound to indemnify his Prussian Majesty in any case.’1
The question of armed intervention in France was now considered very seriously in Berlin, and it is evident from the confidential diplomatic correspondence, that the King of Prussia, adopting the views of Bischoffswerder in opposition to those of some of the most prominent of his Ministers, was increasingly anxious for such an expedition, while the Emperor recoiled from it more and more,2 and would have gladly abandoned it if any improvement in the condition of French politics, and in the position of the French Royal Family, could be alleged as a pretext. Bouillé, who had been compelled to fly from France after the capture of the King, had taken refuge at Coblentz, and was now in close co-operation with the German Powers, and furnished them with military intelligence, and he may possibly have sent an interesting account of the state of public opinion in France which exists in the archives of Prussia. According to this paper, more than half France was opposed to the new Constitution. In the country districts the attachment to the Revolution was due to the cessation of the old imposts, and would disappear when it became clear to the peasantry that there was no intention of re-establishing them, and when the banished curés had returned. The small towns were more revolutionary than the great ones. The ‘Ancien Régime’ was universally detested, and could never be fully restored. The army was entirely with the people. This was due to the general opinion among the soldiers of the utter incapacity of the King, and to the influence of the Assembly which had raised the pay, relaxed discipline, thrown open the ranks, and diffused amongst the soldiers the sentiment of equality. But the army was now so disorganised that it would not prove more formidable than the National Guard, when it was encountered by disciplined soldiers. At the same time the only way of subduing Prance was by a general coalition. A partial attack would only increase the evil. France must be surrounded with armies from Bayonne to Dunkirk.1
The extreme reluctance, however, of the Emperor in a great measure paralysed the ardour of the Prussian King, and the interview between the two sovereigns at Pilnitz had little result. D'Artois again urged his plans of immediate invasion, and the recognition of the Count de Provence as Regent, but his views were emphatically rejected. A public declaration was, however, issued by the two sovereigns on August 27, 1791, stating that they considered the present situation of the King of France a matter of common interest to all the sovereigns of Europe; that they claimed the assistance of those sovereigns, who would, they trusted, co-operate with the signers of the declaration in proportion to their strength, in order to enable the King of France to establish in perfect liberty the foundations of a monarchical Government, equally in harmony with the rights of sovereigns and the prosperity of the French nation. ‘Then, and in this case, their Majesties the Emperor and the King of Prussia were determined to act promptly, under a common agreement, and with the forces necessary to obtain the common object which they proposed, and in the mean time they will give such orders to their troops that they may be put without delay into activity.’
To those who believed that sovereigns reigned by a Divine right, and were bound to one another by personal alliances, the Declaration of Pilnitz must have seemed natural and legitimate. To those who rejected these doctrines it must have appeared an insult to France and an interference with her internal concerns, which was amply sufficient to justify a war. It at the same time left the action of the sovereigns who signed it so conditional upon the general concurrence of the European Powers that it bound them to nothing, and the Emperor and his Ministers constantly alleged the attitude of England as a reason for abstaining for the present from any more active measure.
The English policy, though it suited the purpose of some foreign politicians to describe it as ambiguous and Machiavellian, was in truth from first to last perfectly simple and consistent From the very beginning of the French troubles it was the determination of Pitt that his Government should take no part directly or indirectly in the internal affairs of France. In public declarations, and in confidential diplomatic communications, in speeches in Parliament and in the most private letters, this policy was uniformly and emphatically announced, and on every critical occasion it was reiterated. Thus, when the news of the capture of the King after the flight of Varennes arrived in England, Grenville at once wrote to the ambassador at Paris, ‘I have for the present only to recommend to your Excellency to avoid with the utmost caution any step which may have the appearance of committing the sentiments of this country on any point respecting the internal politics of France, or in support or opposition to any line of conduct which may be adopted under the critical circumstances of the present moment.’1 When in 1791 the Chevalier de la Bintinaye brought to England a letter from the Count de Provence to the King, he received an answer which was perfectly unambiguous. It was a formal assurance ‘that his Majesty's resolution extends not only to the taking no part either in supporting or opposing the measures which other Powers may adopt, but also to the not influencing in any manner their determination in that respect.’2 The close relations established between the King of Prussia and the Emperor, without any frank communication with England, tended manifestly to weaken that Prussian alliance which Pitt regarded as of the highest importance, and Grenville instructed Ewart to express the deep regret of the English Government at the reserve and coldness which had arisen, and their earnest desire to maintain the defensive alliance altogether unimpaired. But he was at the same time instructed that ‘it is impossible for him [the King of England] to enter into any stipulations which would oblige him to take a part in the affairs of France, with respect to which he has already declared his intention of observing a strict neutrality.’1 In order that there should be no possible misunderstanding, Ewart was directed not to accompany the King of Prussia to Pilnitz.2 In England alone, the circular of the Emperor calling for the advice and assistance of the different Powers in Europe for the protection of the King of France from violence, was met by a distinct refusal. It was the intention of the English Government, they officially replied, to observe on the French question ‘the strictest neutrality.’3
Keith, who represented England at Vienna, was instructed at the time of the Pilnitz meeting not to introduce any topics relating to France, but if the Emperor or his Ministers referred to them his language must be such as to leave no possible opening for misconstruction. He must say that ‘during the whole course of the troubles which have so much distracted the kingdom of France, his Majesty has observed the most exact and scrupulous neutrality, abstaining from taking any step which might give encouragement or countenance to any of the parties which have prevailed there, or from mixing himself, in any manner whatever, in the internal dissensions of that country. It is his Majesty's intention still to adhere to this line of conduct, unless any new circumstance should arise by which his Majesty should be of opinion that the interests of his subjects would be affected, and even in that case any measures to be taken by his Majesty would be directed to that object only. With respect to the concert which has been proposed to his Majesty and other Powers by the Emperor, or to the measures of active intervention which appear to have been in contemplation for the restoration of the French monarchy, either on its former footing or at least in a state of more dignity and authority than at present, the King has determined not to take any part either in supporting or opposing them.’1
Few things are more admirable in the career of Pitt than the fidelity with which he observed this neutrality not only in deeds but in words, and the latter is, perhaps, the more difficult in a free Government, which is largely swayed by popular passions, and in which it is in the power of any member of Parliament to force almost any subject into discussion. In our own generation, when the American Civil War deeply divided public opinion in England, we have seen an English Government proclaiming the strictest neutrality; maintaining it with evident good faith, and preventing by its refusal of concurrence a French intervention which would have almost certainly shattered the American Union; but half the good effects of this neutrality were destroyed by the indiscreet and offensive language of English public men. But no such indiscretion can be attributed to Pitt or to his colleagues, and their speeches up to the close of 1792 are models of what in difficult times the speeches of the Minister of a neutral Power should be. Fox, as we have seen, from the very beginning of the Revolution, did all in his power to embarrass their policy by constant and perfectly needless eulogies of the proceedings in France, and by systematically holding them up as a model to Englishmen. On the other hand, Burke had given an anti-revolutionary impulse to opinion which was growing almost daily in intensity. During the Nootka Sound difficulty, when the relations of the two countries were for a time very strained, there was a great temptation to deviate from this neutrality. Hugh Elliot, who, though without any diplomatic position, happened to be in Paris, came into close intercourse with some of the leading members of the Diplomatic Committee which the National Assembly had appointed, and which then governed almost absolutely the foreign policy of France. They expressed strongly their good will to England, and Pitt, who was most anxious that France should not join Spain, welcomed their overtures. But even then, he insisted that two points were essential to the whole business—the one that the negotiation should be carried on by accredited Ministers, the other ‘that no assurances shall be given, directly or indirectly, which go farther than that this country means to persevere in the neutrality which it has hitherto scrupulously observed with respect to the internal dissensions of France, and from which it will never depart unless the conduct held there, should make it indispensable as an act of self-defence.’1
In the democratic party in France, Pitt's honest efforts to maintain a perfect neutrality appear to have been at this time fully acknowledged, but, as usual among continental statesmen, motives of the most insidious and subtle nature were continually ascribed to him. Mercy wrote to Marie Antoinette as early as March 1791, that England was the chief obstacle to the re-establishment of royal power in France; that she considered herself secure from the effects of democracy, and that she wished to plunge France into the horrors of Revolution in order to complete her ruin.2 Sometimes her conduct was attributed to resentment at the part which the French Court had taken during the American Revolution; sometimes to a simple desire to enfeeble a rival; sometimes it was said that ‘Mr. Pitt was secretly in the democratic interest, or at least wishes it to exist, in order to make it some way or other subservient to his designs.’ The Emperor and the King of Sweden believed, or pretended to believe, that the attitude of England was less neutral than hostile, and that it would therefore be dangerous for them to support the French King. At the very time when Keith was expressly instructed not to introduce French topics into his conversations with the Ministers at Vienna, Calonne imagined that English influence was strenuously opposing the emigrants in that capital.3
Reports of this kind were brought under the notice of the English Government both by Burke,4 and by the French emigrants, grants, but on this side also, Grenville guarded himself against any suspicion of deviating from neutrality. Probably the best view of the real sentiments of the English Government is to be found in the confidential correspondence with Berlin, and in July 1791 Grenville devoted a long letter to the question. Calonne had recently come to England bearing letters from the emigrant princes to the King, and the principal object of his mission was ‘to solicit from his Majesty an assurance of his neutrality in the event, which M. de Calonne represents as almost certain, of an attempt being made by the Emperor and other Powers in support of the royal party in France. But from the circumstances of M. de Calonne's situation,’ Grenville writes, ‘and from other reasons it was not thought proper to receive M. de Calonne as having any formal power to treat upon these subjects, or to authorise him to convey to the French princes such an assurance as he requested, especially as no communication had been made by the Emperor relative to his intentions on this subject.’
It was the opinion of the Government that it was not for the interest of the allied Powers to enter into explanations on this or any other subject till the Reichenbach negotiations were completed and confirmed. As it was likely, however, that peace would soon be made at Sistova; that the Emperor would then be on good terms with the Allies, and that he would interfere with the affairs of France; the time had come for giving an explanation which had been hitherto withheld. ‘The measures which the Emperor seems inclined to adopt may be productive of consequences advantageous to the Allies, and on the whole they have no interest in preventing or discouraging his interference in French affairs. But, on the other hand, the King's servants are far from thinking that there exist at present any considerations of sufficient weight to induce his Majesty to commit himself by any co-operation or assistance to be given to the attempts which may be made in favour of the royal cause in France, either by foreign Powers or by any description of persons within that kingdom. The line of conduct which his Majesty is disposed to adopt on this subject is, to observe the most exact and rigorous neutrality in the event of any interference by other Powers in the affairs of France.’ England, Grenville says, would gladly enter into alliance with the Emperor in conjunction with Prussia and Holland; and in that case she is quite ready to give such explanations ‘as may give his Imperial Majesty a confidence of receiving no interruption from this country in any measures which he may pursue on that subject.’ Grenville did not know, and much wished to know, whether Prussia intended to follow on the French question a policy of interference, or the English policy of amicable neutrality; but in any case negotiations should be entered into with the Emperor as soon as peace is made at Sistova. It must, however, be clearly explained that ‘the object and stipulations of the alliance cannot extend to induce his Majesty to take any part in the Emperor's measures in favour of the royal party in France, although the conclusion of that alliance would afford the strongest additional motive, neither directly nor indirectly to obstruct those measures.’1
The instructions of Grenville to the English ambassador at Vienna were very similar. He wrote to him that La Bintinaye, who had been charged with a letter from the Count de Provence to the King, had represented ‘that the Emperor alleged to the French princes as a motive for his not taking immediate and active steps in support of their cause, that he was retained by some declaration of his Majesty, from marching any of the troops which were then in the Netherlands, and that he was therefore under the necessity of delaying his measures till he could bring forward that part of his army which had been opposed to the Turks.’ If anything of this kind was said at Vienna, Keith was instructed to reply that ‘no note or declaration of any sort has passed on the subject between this Court and that of Vienna, since the letter of his Majesty to the Emperor.’ It was true, indeed, that in some conversations with the Austrian ambassador, Grenville had spoken of ‘the anxiety of this Government for the maintenance of tranquillity in the Netherlands, to the re-establishment of which his Majesty had by his friendly interposition so much concurred, and in the preservation of which he feels that he has a strong interest,’ and of the possible danger ‘of fresh disturbances if the Imperial army now stationed there was to act on the side of France.’ But this was merely urged as an argument to induce the Emperor to bring to a speedy conclusion the constitutional arrangements in the Netherlands, which he had promised and had hitherto delayed. It was never for a moment the intention of the English Government to prescribe to the Emperor how many troops were wanted in the Netherlands, or to make any formal representation on the subject. On French affairs the policy of England was ‘declared neutrality.’ She was determined not only not to second and not to oppose any measure the Emperor might take, but also not to attempt to influence his decision by any advice. There is strong reason, Grenville said, to believe that he ‘has no longer the same desire of interfering in the affairs of France, which he had a short time since,’ and that he is making use of the English conversations as a pretext for inaction. ‘It is by no means his Majesty's wish to take any step for altering his Imperial Majesty's disposition on this subject, whatever it be.’ He only wishes it to be clearly known that he has himself maintained, and that he will maintain, ‘the most strict and scrupulous neutrality on the subject.’ Keith as usual is directed to abstain from introducing the subject, but if it was introduced, this was to be his answer.1
In their communications with Burke, the Ministers showed much reserve, and Burke was for a time so doubtful of their dispositions, that he cautioned his son not to trust them with any secrets relating to the French princes. The fear of French faction in England, he said, was disappearing from their minds. They seemed wholly indifferent to its prevalence in other countries, and they were much governed by the opinions of their ambassadors. The Court and the majority of the people, he had no doubt, were opposed to the Revolution, but Burke was by no means certain that the leaning of the Ministry was not in its favour. Dundas, however, positively assured him of their determination to be strictly neutral, and he wrote to the same effect to Richard Burke. ‘The line of the British Government,’ he said, ‘to adhere to an honest and fair neutrality being taken and everywhere announced, it is impossible for any member of Government to give way to the indulgence of any speculations on the subject of French affairs. I had a visit from your father this morning, and I took occasion to express to him my surprise at the contents of your last letter: never having heard and at this moment not believing, that this country ever interfered directly or indirectly to prevent the Emperor moving any of his troops in any manner he pleased.’1 Edmund Burke himself had several conversations with Pitt, and fully recognised that there was no moving him from his idea of ‘a neutrality,’ ‘a very literal’ neutrality.2
It is impossible to resist the force of this evidence. The Emperor in September 1791 informed Bouillé that he had received replies from all the Powers he had addressed on the French question, assuring him of their co-operation, ‘with the exception of England, which is resolved to preserve the most strict neutrality,’3 and the French Minister of War in the following month, in a report enumerating in great detail all that had been done by different Powers in Europe hostile to France, made no charge of any kind against England.4
During the whole of 1791, and, indeed, until the closing months of 1792, French affairs occupy a curiously small place in the correspondence of Pitt and of the other Ministers,5 and Lord Auckland, who had lived long on the Continent, was greatly struck with the general indifference to foreign politics. Ewart returned to England in November 1791, and Auckland says, ‘He thinks that on coming home, he will be listened to respecting foreign politics. He will be astonished to find that nobody here enters into such subjects.’ ‘This indifference to foreign affairs,’ he wrote five months later, ‘is general through the kingdom. You may find it even in our newspapers; perhaps it may be justly attributed to the great prosperity of the country, which confines all attention to interior and insular details.’6 Lord Malmesbury was persuaded that it was ‘the fixed opinion’ of Lord Grenville, ‘that we should not interfere at all in the affairs of the Continent.’7 Pitt was generally believed to know and care less about foreign politics than about any other department of administration, and all his correspondence shows that his thoughts were at this time mainly directed to commercial extension, to financial reform, and especially to the reduction of the debt. The two great ends of his foreign policy were to prevent disturbances in Europe and to multiply commercial treaties, and he was fully convinced that a long period of peace lay before England.
Opinions on the French Revolution greatly differed, but the one point on which the vast majority of statesmen agreed, was that for a long period France was not likely to be aggressive. ‘The state of France,’ wrote Pitt, at a time when the Revolution was still impending, ‘whatever else it may produce, seems to promise us more than ever, a considerable respite from dangerous projects.’1 ‘From France,’ wrote Lord Malmesbury, two years later, ‘I fear very little. Its situation puts it as a Power quite out of the line, and it is not worthy to be reckoned either as a friend or foe.’2 By strengthening as much as possible the internal resources of England, Pitt and his colleagues believed that she must rise steadily and spontaneously in the European system. It is a curious illustration of the spirit of his Government that at a time when the complications of the Continent were rapidly thickening, one of his great pre-occupations appears to have been the arrival of a few shipwrecked Japanese at St. Petersburg. In a long, anxious, and able despatch, which though signed by Grenville was probably written by Pitt himself, he represented to Whitworth the extreme importance to the East Indian dominions of the King, of making use of the occasion to form some commercial connection with Japan; and Whitworth was directed to employ all his efforts to induce the Japanese to go to London, where their presence might ‘possibly lead to consequences in the highest degree advantageous to the commercial interests of this country.’ He was directed to negotiate with the Empress on the subject, but as the Empress was not likely to consent, the object must be disguised, and some pretext, such as the convenience of embarking in Holland, must be invented. This is perhaps the only instance in the Government of Pitt of a diplomacy which was not perfectly straightforward.1
I have dwelt long on this subject, for in order to judge fairly the causes of the outbreak of the war of 1793, it is necessary to ascertain what were the dispositions of England when the great struggle first began on the Continent. It is, I believe, absolutely impossible to study the evidence with candour without acknowledging that, up to this time at least, the English Government was thoroughly pacific, and that the neutrality which it professed was a sincere neutrality, honestly professed and faithfully observed. If Pitt had any designs of aggression, the opportunity was not wanting, for in the French navy insubordination and disorganisation were at their height, and the great negro insurrection at St. Domingo in the summer of 1791 almost led to the total destruction of that important French colony. In their extreme distress the colonists appealed for assistance to Lord Effingham, the Governor of Jamaica, who saved them from almost certain massacre by sending to their assistance three English frigates with ammunition, and his conduct received the full and formal approbation of the British Government.2
Though he made no efficient effort to prevent it, the language of Ewart at Berlin tended to discourage Prussia from embarking in a war with France,3 and the evident reluctance of the King, in his capacity of Elector of Hanover, to support any warlike policy, was one of the reasons alleged by the Emperor for shrinking from the contest.4 There is, indeed, little doubt that the English Ministers sincerely regretted the continental war. In a conversation with Burke shortly before it broke out, Pitt and Grenville observed ‘that they had now in Europe a situation in which it never stood before and might never be again—a general peace among the Powers, and a general good disposition to support the common cause of order and government.’1 They feared new troubles in the Netherlands, which lay within the sphere of English interests; they profoundly distrusted the Emperor, and they entirely rejected Burke's estimate of the dangers and even of the importance of the Revolution. After a long conversation with Pitt and Grenville in September 1791, Burke wrote to his son, ‘They seem to be quite out of all apprehension of any effect from the French Revolution on this kingdom, either at present or at any time to come.’2 ‘Do not fear,’ Pitt once said to Burke, ‘depend upon it we shall go on as we are till the day of judgment;’3 and he recommended him to praise the Constitution of Great Britain as much as he pleased, but not to attack that of France. The Ministers probably agreed with Stanley that the present anarchy could only be very transient, and must lead in a short time to the re-establishment of the monarchy under constitutional limitations;4 and Pitt, looking on the whole question with the eye of a Chancellor of the Exchequer, believed that a speedy bankruptcy must destroy the credit of the Assembly and terminate the crisis.5 So little danger did he fear from France, that almost to the eve of the great struggle which lasted for more than twenty years, he was reducing the armaments of England.
The attitude of England was very little calculated to disturb or influence that of other Powers; but the attitude of Catherine was very different. She had just concluded her Turkish war, and was able to turn her energies to the destruction of the new Constitution and independence of Poland. This now became her main object, but in order more easily to attain it, it was her first desire to embroil the Emperor and Prussia with France. She received with the utmost warmth the emigrant princes. She issued a circular to all the princes of Europe, calling them to take arms for the common cause of monarchy. She appealed specially and vehemently to the honour of the two German sovereigns, and she lost no occasion of protesting the ardour of her enthusiasm for the royalist cause in Europe. It was unfortunate for these protestations, Whitworth somewhat sarcastically observed, that the two revolutions of the century which had been most favourable to the cause of hereditary monarchy—the Revolution in Sweden and the recent Revolution in Poland—had both found in the Empress the most implacable enemy. Those, however, who will read those singular letters to Grimm, in which Catherine expressed, apparently without a shadow of reserve, her opinions about the Revolution, will, I think, agree with me that the English ambassador somewhat underrated her sincerity. She had, I believe, a real interest in the royal cause, a real pity for the Queen of France, and a strong dread of the contagious influence of the Revolution in Europe. She was quite ready to take some part as a member of an anti-revolutionary confederation, but she was never likely to allow her enthusiasm to divert her from the objects of her own ambition. In one of her confidential letters she very frankly said, ‘I am breaking my head to make the Cabinets of Vienna and Berlin intervene in the affairs of France. I wish to see them plunged in some very complicated question in order to have my own hands free. I have before me so many enterprises not finished. It is necessary that these two Courts should be occupied, in order that they may not prevent me from bringing them to a good ending.’1
Poland by herself was wholly unable to resist her powerful neighbour. The great constitutional changes which had been recently effected, had indeed been carried with admirable unanimity, and they promised the best results, but very little had been done to put the country in a condition of security. With an indefensible frontier, a governing class by no means destitute of real patriotism, but corrupted and divided by a long period of anarchy and foreign intrigue, an army wholly inadequate to the wants of the nation, and a peasantry cowed and broken by repeated Russian invasions and occupations, the safety of this unhappy country was certain to depend for some years on the abstinence or the assistance of its neighbours. In Leopold, Poland had a real friend. In spite of the participation of Austria in the first partition, the long alliance between the two countries, strengthened by the community of faith, was not forgotten, and Leopold, in the spirit of a true statesman, recognised the importance of interposing a powerful kingdom between Muscovite ambition and Western Europe. Prussia also was attached to Poland by every engagement that could bind the honour of a nation. She had guaranteed the integrity of Poland. She had bound herself by a solemn treaty to prevent any foreign interference with her internal concerns. She had entered into alliance with her. The Prussian King had been the first to express his gratification at the recent changes in her Constitution. He had reiterated his assurances of friendship again and again. He had quite recently entered into a new agreement with the Emperor to respect the integrity and the Constitution of Poland, and to induce the Elector of Saxony to accept the hereditary crown.1 If public faith was more than an empty name, Poland seemed likely to find powerful supporters in her difficulties.
It is one of the great interests in reading history in original diplomatic despatches, that it enables us to trace almost from the beginning the rise of great questions, which first appear like small clouds scarcely visible on the horizon, and gradually dilate and darken till the whole political sky is overcast. The earliest clear notification of what was impending, which was received by the Ministers in England, appears to have come from a secret despatch of Ewart written in August 1791. He relates a long conversation with Count Schulenburg, the Prussian Minister, chiefly about the concerns of France, but in the course of it there was a digression on Polish affairs which must have afforded the ambassador grave subject for thought. Schulenburg described himself as much pleased that the Emperor had guaranteed the integrity of Poland; but he expressed his belief that this would be of little use against the ambition of Russia; that Russia having obtained an advantageous port on the Black Sea, would be confirmed in the idea of fixing the seat of empire there; that the Emperor, finding it impossible to stop the ambition of Russia, will find himself obliged to participate in some plan for the partition of Poland, and that Prussia will not be able to avoid joining.1
Ewart was soon after recalled from Berlin and replaced by Eden, a brother of Lord Auckland. A few extracts from his confidential despatches will carry us further in our story.
At the end of November he wrote: ‘In several of my letters from Dresden I informed your lordship of the express orders sent to the Prussian Minister there, to remove if possible the apprehensions entertained at that Court of the evils which might arise to Saxony, should the Elector accept the offered succession to the crown of Poland. This line of conduct appears contrary to that ever pursued by his late Prussian Majesty, who looked for his own aggrandisement from the anarchy of Poland. The Dutch Minister now tells me, that he has good reason to believe that the instructions given to M. de Luchesini are to endeavour to replunge that country into the anarchy from which it is scarcely emerged.’2
The more Eden saw of Prussian statesmen, the worse he augured for the future of Poland. The Court of St. Petersburg, he says, will never be brought to any favourable declaration, and the King of Prussia refuses to give a formal guarantee to the new Constitution, ‘alleging that that assurance which he had already given of his approbation, when it was communicated to him, proceeded merely from his personal regard for the Elector.’3 That sovereign was still procrastinating, and it is believed that he will not accept the succession to the Polish throne until the three Powers give their consent.4
‘With regard to Poland,’ Eden wrote a little later, ‘I shall briefly state that though there may be no actual concert, yet it appears to be equally the system of the three Courts to prevent that kingdom from rising into consequence. The Polish Minister at Dresden boasts, I understand, of his country being assured of the good will and protection of his Prussian Majesty; yet the language of his Ministers to me has uniformly been, that his Majesty's approbation of the new Constitution was in as much only as it regarded the choice of the Elector. … They expect the Elector's silence or his refusal will produce a perfect anarchy in Poland, and they add that as the Poles formed their Constitution without foreign intervention, they must be left to themselves to accomplish it. I should observe that the little bickerings relative to trade which the Poles have imprudently too much given rise to, will strengthen the arguments of those who think the aggrandisement of this country can be secured only by the anarchy and spoils of that unhappy kingdom.’1 ‘The Poles must not expect any support from hence. Even the friendly professions of this Court towards Poland ceased, from the moment that all appearance of war with Russia was at an end, and her assistance was no longer wanted.’2
As the probabilities of war with France increased, the situation became more clearly defined. Count Schulenburg observed that ‘he did not suppose her Imperial Majesty would give a decisive answer to the communication of the Court at Warsaw, nor to the pressing instances of the Elector; but that she would order the troops to be withdrawn from Moldavia and Wallachia, to be stationed on the frontier of Poland to encourage the malcontents; that new confederacies will be formed, and anarchy with its usual train of ills ensue. He added that the Elector was aware of this, and would not venture to accept the crown.’3 A week later Schulenburg said to Eden ‘that it was evidently the Empress's intention to station her troops on the frontiers of Poland, that she might encourage her partisans and foment the divisions in that country.’ ‘I have uniformly,’ Eden continued, ‘described to your lordship the disposition of this Court as no longer favourable to the Revolution, since the appearance of a rupture was at an end, and I stated that the general opinion here is that Prussia can alone look for aggrandisement from the spoils of that unhappy country. In the Act signed at Vienna its present limits are indeed fully guaranteed. This I fear will prove but a feeble barrier; and if Russian troops overrun the country and the Empress proposes a new partition, plausible arguments will easily be found for the political necessity of its being accepted. Resistance even would be difficult, if this Court and that of Vienna be once fully embarked in the prospect of an armed negotiation with France, for as in that business it does not appear probable that the Empress can take any effective part, she will be left the sole arbiter of the fate of Poland.’1
This consideration was undoubtedly one of those which made the Emperor especially reluctant to embark in a French war, and the acceptance of the Constitution by Lewis XVI. appeared to furnish a valid reason for relinquishing the enterprise. It was, indeed, the opinion of a great part of the European world that this acceptance substantially closed the Revolution. On September 14 the King went down in state to the Assembly to swear to the Constitution, and he returned to the Tuileries accompanied by the members, through a vast and applauding multitude.2 An amnesty was granted on the occasion, for all offences connected with the Revolution; and the King, in the opinion of the English ambassador, did everything in his power to win popularity, and to convince the people that the course he was pursuing was voluntary. The Tuileries were twice splendidly illuminated. The King and Queen drove through the Champs Elysées to see the illuminations ordered by the municipality. They appeared, for the first time since the Revolution, at the opera and in the theatres. They sent 50,000 livres to be distributed among the poor. The King wrote official letters to all the sovereigns of Europe, notifying his acceptance of the Constitution, and he wrote a long and earnest letter to the emigrant princes, urging them to abstain from any measures that could indicate hostility to it, or lead to foreign invasion or civil war.3 When the King closed the Constituent Assembly on September 29, he was received with enthusiasm, and one of the last acts of this body had been to decree that the members of any club or other society which should oppose any act of legal authority should lose for two years the rights of French citizenship.4
But in spite of these reassuring signs, a careful observer could easily discern the growing dangers of the situation. It was an ominous proof of the little confidence felt by serious men in the permanence of the new Constitution, that the funds fell when the King signed it.1 All the chief municipal posts in Paris were passing into the hands of Republicans,2 and when Bailly, in November, ceased to be Mayor of Paris, he was succeeded in that great office by Pétion, a vehement and intolerant Jacobin. Lafayette had resigned the command of the National Guard, which was then divided under six commanders, and it could no longer be counted on to support the cause of order. Over a great part of France there was a total insecurity of life and property, such as had perhaps never before existed in a civilised country except in times of foreign invasion or successful rebellion. Almost all the towns in the south—Marseilles, Toulon, Nîmes, Arles, Avignon, Montpellier, Carpentras, Aix, Montauban—were centres of Republicanism, brigandage, or anarchy. The massacres of Jourdain at Avignon, in October, are conspicuous even among the horrors of the Revolution. Caen in the following month was convulsed by a savage and bloody civil war. The civil constitution of the clergy having been condemned by the Pope, produced an open schism, and crowds of ejected priests were exciting the religious fanaticism of the peasantry. In some districts in the south, the war between Catholic and Protestant was raging as fiercely as in the seventeenth century, while in Brittany, and especially in La Vendée, there were all the signs of a great popular insurrection against the new Government. Society seemed almost in dissolution, and there was scarcely a department in which law was observed and property secure.
The price of corn, at the same time, was rising fast under the influence of a bad harvest in the south, aggravated by the want of specie, the depreciation of paper money, and the enormously increased difficulties of transport. The peasantry were combining to refuse the paper money. It was falling rapidly in value, and month after month Lord Gower sent the English Government estimates of the vast excess of national expenditure over national income. The new Legislative Assembly, which met on October 1, filled sober men with alarm. All the experienced politicians who sat in the Constituent Assembly had been disqualified. The elections had begun amid the excitement caused by the flight to Varennes. They were conducted with the utmost violence and directed mainly by Jacobin clubs, and it was soon evident that the Republican party, which in the first Assembly was said not to have numbered more than seven members, was about to obtain a great prominence.
In the mean time the stream of emigrants continued unabated, and it included the great body of the officers of the army who had been driven from the regiments by their own soldiers.1 Bouillé, one of the best French generals, was among them. The greater part of the Irish regiment of Berwick had left its garrison at Landau, and gone over to the Prince de Coudé.2 At Brussels, Worms, and Coblentz, emigrants were forming armed organisations. On September 10, when the intention of the King to accept the Constitution was well known, the King's brothers published a letter to the King, protesting against that Constitution, declaring their belief that if the King accepted it this would be only through compulsion, denying his right to sacrifice the ancient prerogatives of the French monarchy, and threatening France with invasion.3
And while the emigrant leaders were holding this language, nearly all Europe seemed arming. Spain appears to have been the first to have excited serious alarm, for Florida Blanca, who then directed its affairs, was in complete sympathy with the emigrants. In August 1791, Lord Gower mentions the efforts of French Ministers to allay the alarm arising from this quarter. ‘They own,’ he says, ‘that the Spanish Ministers will not treat with their Minister at the Court of Madrid; they acknowledge the defenceless state of that frontier and the impossibility of sending any number of regular troops into that part of France, owing to the greater necessity for them in other parts of the kingdom; they acknowledge also the danger of trusting some of the regular regiments on the frontiers; they have been obliged, for instance, to order into the interior part of the kingdom the regiments of Berwick and Nassau, or rather what remain of those regiments, lest the fancy should take them to join their fellow-soldiers on the other side of the Rhine, and a total want of subordination will render useless the regiment of Auvergne which is now at Phalsbourg.’1 The negotiations between the emigrant princes and foreign Powers were only dimly suspected, till the Declaration of Pilnitz flashed a sudden light upon the hostile dispositions of Europe. The Emperor was believed to be more desirous of war than he actually was. Prussia had a great army ready for the field. The Empress of Russia and the King of Sweden were ostentatiously preaching a crusade against revolutionary France. The Kings of Sardinia and Spain were likely to be on the same side, and suspicions were now industriously circulated that England, the old rival of France, was secretly negotiating the alliance between Austria and Prussia, and, without avowing her policy, had become the real oul of the league.2 When the news arrived of the negro insurrection at St. Domingo, it appears to have been at once attributed to English machinations.3
These suspicions, as we have seen, were absolutely unfounded, and I have already adduced abundant evidence, which might be still further increased,4 of the sincerity of English neutrality and even of the great indifference of English Ministers to foreign affairs. But, as is usually the case, England was suspected on both sides, and on opposite grounds. In September, Marie Antoinette expressed her belief that English influence was being secretly exerted for the ruin both of the Emperor and of the Royal Family of France,5 and Mercy, in whom she placed the greatest confidence, steadily encouraged the idea. This diplomatist, during a short journey to England in August 1791, had seen the King, Pitt, Burke and Grenville, and he came back with his unfavourable impressions only confirmed. ‘Foreign assistance,’ he wrote to the Queen, ‘will be of no avail unless England shares all the chances; her neutrality is not sufficient, and there is little appearance of her departing from it.’1 He wrote to Kaunitz that the affected silence maintained on political matters by Pitt and Grenville during his interview with them, ‘seemed a new proof that it was the decided system of the Cabinet of St. James's to observe a passive and free attitude in the events of France, so as to derive advantages for herself from the measures on which the other Powers may decide;’ and he believed that, in spite of her enormous prosperity, discontent was rapidly gaining ground in England, and that she was menaced by the same doctrines and the same dangers as France.2 In other letters he accused the English Government of dissuading Spain from joining the alliance against the Revolution, and of throwing every obstacle in her power in the way of the coalition.3
Another element of anxiety was the deep and by no means unfounded distrust of the King and Queen, prevailing in France. Could it be doubted, it was asked, that their sympathies were with a league which was formed for the restoration of the royal prerogatives, promoted by the brothers of the King, directed by the brother of the Queen, and supported by the head of the Spanish Bourbons? In truth, after the flight of Varennes and the total destruction of the chief prerogatives of the French Crown, the monarchy under the existing sovereign had become impossible, and it would have been probably a wise policy to have at once changed the form of government, or at least placed a new sovereign on the throne. The King sincerely dreaded civil war and foreign invasion, but if he accepted the Constitution it was only because he deemed it inevitable, and with a full conviction that it would be impracticable and ruinous to the country.4 He objected to most of the proceedings of the emigrants, and especially to their designs of making an armed incursion into France; but as early as July 1791 he gave powers to his brothers to negotiate with foreign sovereigns for the restoration of order and tranquillity in France, though he at the same time added his hope that force might be kept in the background.1 The Queen, who played a far more active and important part in the political correspondence of the time, never for a moment seriously accepted the Constitution, and never abandoned the hope of foreign intervention. We have already seen the sentiments she expressed in the weeks that followed the flight of Varennes, and her confidential letters show that during the whole of the latter half of 1791, while she dreaded and detested the emigrants and deprecated any immediate invasion, she still placed her one hope of safety in a European Congress supported by an armed force.
On September 8, only a few days before the King formally accepted the Constitution, she sent the Emperor a remarkable memoir clearly indicating her policy and her hopes. The Constitution, it was argued, cannot possibly endure, and the danger of an immediate civil war was extreme. It was the first object of the King to avert such a calamity, and he was therefore inflexibly opposed to an invasion of France by the emigrants or to a declaration of Regency, either of which measures would infallibly produce it. At the same time nothing but armed foreign intervention could possibly restore France to tranquillity, and Europe to safety. The present condition of France, says the writer, is altogether unparalleled. The King has no liberty. A frantic minority is ruling by undisguised terrorism. All the ancient forms and modes of administration, all the traditions and habits of the nation, have been destroyed, and the disturbing influence of the Revolution will certainly not be confined to France. Its principles are of a nature to incite all nations against their sovereigns, and to sap every constitutional authority. It has established a great centre of political propagandism. Its emissaries have taken a leading part in the troubles in Brabant, and have endeavoured to sow seeds of anarchy in Switzerland, Holland, Turin, Rome, and Spain. The whole public system of Europe will be endangered or ruined if the monarchy of France is subverted, for by such a catastrophe all the treaties, engagements, and alliances of France will be cancelled, and left at the mercy of an armed democracy, governed by abstract notions of the rights of men, hostile on principle to all monarchies, and perfectly disdainful of the compacts of the past. Nor is this all, There is a tacit agreement among nations that a certain proportion must be maintained between their armies, and no sovereign can be allowed to increase his forces to such a point as to become a menace to his neighbours. But the present armaments of France are beyond all ancient and modern example. The revolutionary chiefs have armed and equipped no less than four millions of men, in addition to the troops of the line, which amount to 150,000 men on a peace footing, and to more than 250,000 men on a war footing; and all citizens under sixty are to serve in the National Guard. If such a force was properly disciplined, and suffered to acquire the organisation and consistency of a regular army, no Power in Europe would be safe.
It is impossible, the memoir argues, that such a state of affairs could be indifferent to the continental Powers. Those Powers ought clearly to lay down the principle that they will not attempt to interfere with the internal government of France except so far as it affected its neighbours. But it was a vital interest to the public system of Europe that France should continue a monarchy; that her monarch should maintain the freedom necessary for contracting and enforcing engagements; that her institutions should not be established on principles and maxims subversive of all the settled Governments of the world. To maintain this policy a Congress of the European Powers, supported by overwhelming force, should be employed, and the writer of the memoir hoped that without the necessity of actual warfare such a demonstration would be sufficient to restore the monarchy to its proper place in the Government of France.1
The same policy was persistently maintained by the Queen in her later letters. ‘There must be a demonstration,’ she wrote, ‘of armed forces, or at least preparations for the march of troops. I am sure that if the Emperor showed himself thus the other Powers will not hesitate.’2 ‘I insist on an armed Congress. … It alone can stop the follies of the princes and the emigrants, and I see on all sides that there may soon be such a degree of disorder here, that every one but the Republicans will be delighted to find a superior force able to bring about a general settlement. But let my brother be well persuaded that all the ostensible steps we are obliged to take are the consequence of our position; that we must at any price win the confidence of the majority here, but that we neither will nor can keep to a Constitution which would be the calamity and the ruin of the whole kingdom. We desire to arrive at a tolerable condition of things, but this cannot be established by the French. The spirit of party rules exclusively on both sides. It is therefore necessary that the Powers should come to our assistance, but in a manner both useful and imposing.1
The Queen, however, soon saw with great bitterness that there was little hope of the assistance she asked. ‘Since the almost unqualified acceptance [of the Constitution] by the King,’ wrote Mercy, in November, ‘foreign Powers have evidently grown somewhat cold about the affairs of France.’2
Kaunitz sent a circular to the different Courts to whom the Emperor had appealed, stating that the free acceptance of the Constitution had essentially changed the situation, and that the King and monarchy of France were no longer in any immediate danger.3 The plan of a Congress of the Powers was rejected at Vienna, and Marie Antoinette complained with much pathos of her abandonment, and of her almost complete ignorance of the intentions of her brother.
The Legislative Assembly fully justified the fear of those who anticipated that it would consist mainly of violent, ignorant, and incapable men, swayed to and fro by mobs, and Jacobin clubs, and childish rhetoric. The most conspicuous fact in its composition was the almost complete absence of the old privileged orders, who had borne so large a part in the previous Assembly. The majority of the members were petty advocates or petty writers without fortune or distinction. They began by voting, by a large majority, that when the King came down to open formally the Session he should not be addressed by the terms ‘Sire’ and ‘Majesty,’ or suffered to sit on a gilt chair; but next day, probably because it became known that the King under these circumstances would refuse to take part in the ceremony,1 they rescinded their vote. The first serious legislation related to the emigrants and the refractory priests. The Constituent Assembly in the preceding June and July had forbidden any one to pass the frontier without passports, and had subjected every Frenchman who did not return to France within an assigned period to a triple taxation; but when the Constitution was completed these measures were revoked, and the Assembly asserted that it was the constitutional right of every Frenchman to leave the country, as well as to travel in it without restriction.2 In October the King wrote a letter to his brothers, summoning them to return to France, and he issued at the same time a proclamation against the emigration, and sent letters to the same effect to his commanders by land and sea. The Assembly, however, took much stronger measures. By one decree it summoned the eldest brother of the King to return to France within two months on pain of losing all right to the Regency. By a second decree the French princes and all other Frenchmen assembled beyond the frontiers were declared suspected of conspiracy against France, and were condemned to death and confiscation of their property unless they returned before January 1. By a third decree all the priests who had hitherto refused to take the civil oath which was condemned by the Church, were deprived of the pensions which the previous Assembly had granted them. The first of these decrees received the sanction of the King, but to the second and third he opposed his veto, and the result was that in November 1791 the King and the new Chamber were already at enmity.
The question of emigration, however, being brought into such prominence could not be neglected, and it was soon evident that, unlike the Constituent Assembly, the Legislative Assembly contained a strong party desirous of war. That it should have been so was not surprising, for the European sovereigns had undoubtedly given to France a kind and degree of provocation which no powerful monarchy would have accepted with patience, and their attitude, which was in reality menacing, appeared much more so to perfectly ignorant and inexperienced legislators who had at their command scarcely any of the secret information of a regular diplomatic service. Montmorin, indeed, who still for a short time held the portfolio of foreign affairs, was a skilful and experienced statesman, and he was fully convinced that since the acceptance of the Constitution the principal Powers of Europe had given up every idea of war against France, and that although the hopes of the emigrants were kept alive by vain and conditional promises, they would receive no real support.1 When the King informed the different Powers of Europe that he had accepted the Constitution, the Kings of Spain and Sweden and the Empress of Russia refused to acknowledge this acceptance as the act of a free agent, and the Swedish and Russian Ministers soon after left Paris on an indefinite leave of absence; but the answers of the other Powers, if vague, were at least amicable and reassuring, and Montmorin, on the last day of October 1791, presented to the Assembly a report on the relations of France with foreign Powers, in which he showed in detail that the position had very greatly improved.2
The key-note of the situation lay in the fact, which is established beyond all doubt, that the Emperor now fully shared the opinion of Kaunitz, and was determined to do the utmost in his power to avoid a war with France. Such a war he clearly saw would lead to two of the events which he most dreaded, a revolutionary explosion in the Austrian Netherlands, and a Russian invasion of Poland; and the new Constitution seemed to him to furnish a sufficient pretext for abstaining. Neither Spain, nor Naples, nor Sardinia, nor the smaller German Powers, were in the least likely to take any part against France except as very subordinate members in a great coalition. The King of Sweden could do nothing without subsidies, which no one was inclined to give him. The Empress of Russia wrote, ardently hoping that the Allies had not abandoned the French princes, and pro-claiming her readiness to exert herself vigorously in their cause; but it was tolerably clear that she would not risk a man or a rouble in the enterprise unless the two German Powers embarked in it. The King of Prussia, who was now greatly separated from his own Ministers, and very much under the influence of Bischoffswerder, appears to have regretted the acceptance of the Constitution by the French King, and to have really desired a war; but he distrusted the Emperor, and was perfectly resolved not to engage in a French invasion without his assistance, especially at a time when a new Polish question was impending. The armed emigrants were much fewer and much more imperfectly equipped than was supposed in France, and without foreign support they were little to be feared.
Under these circumstances the confidential diplomatic correspondence of Europe, which for some weeks after the flight of Varennes had indicated rapidly approaching war, pointed in September, October, and till near the end of November, with a striking unanimity to peace. If France desired it, or if the decision was still left in the hands of the Emperor, it would almost certainly have been preserved. But the tide in France, impelled by many and very various influences, was now beginning to run violently in the direction of war.
According to the official view, which prevailed in nearly all the Courts, Cabinets, and armies of Europe, France was at this time almost helpless, and certainly totally unfit to encounter a European coalition. The facts of the situation were few and simple. The French army, which had lately been incontestably the first in Europe, was now utterly disorganised, nearly all the higher officers having been expelled by their own soldiers, and all obedience and subordination having ceased. The fleet, which had been greatly improved by Lewis XVI., and which was only second to that of England, was in a very similar state. The finances were so disordered that speedy bankruptcy seemed inevitable, and there was scarcely a department which was not in a condition of anarchy or even of civil war. To suppose that a country so situated could encounter with any prospect of success the settled Governments and great disciplined armies of Europe, seemed to most statesmen absurd.
There was, however, another order of considerations, which though at this time generally neglected, in reality governed the event. It was true that the French army was in a condition of extraordinary disorganisation, but it was also true that there never had been a period in which so large a proportion of the nation was under arms, acquainted with at least the rudiments of the military art, and at the same time wound up to the highest pitch of excitement. Those who know French character, know how quickly in a great emergency Frenchmen can acquire the habits and capacities of military life; how large a part the element of enthusiasm bears among the conditions of their military success, and how easily strong passions when once excited among them take new forms and directions. In spite of the multitude of officers who had fled to Coblentz, France was still rich in military talent, and the army was full of excellent subordinate officers, who were thoroughly capable of higher commands and well aware that a war would open to them fields of ambition much like that which the Fire of London had given to the architectural genius of Wren. All restrictions on promotion having been abolished, and almost all the superior officers having been removed, there seemed a boundless prospect to an ambitious and capable soldier. A great war under such conditions could hardly fail to stimulate to an unexampled degree military enthusiasm, enterprise, and talent, and it seemed the one remaining chance of restoring the tone and discipline of the army.
Bankruptcy, again, if it took place when the nation was at peace, would be manifestly due to the Revolution, and it might completely discredit it; but bankruptcy incurred in a desperate struggle against united Europe would have no such moral effect, and was not likely even to check the impetus of the war. A settled Government, depending mainly on the owners of property, will calculate carefully material consequences, and will shrink from too serious sacrifices of the present resources and future prospects of the nation. But the new French Government could not be judged by the ordinary methods of political calculation, for it was fast passing into the hands of men who were wholly unconnected with property, who were at violent enmity with the wealthier classes, who shrank from no measure of confiscation or violence, who were absolutely indifferent to every end except the triumph of their cause. It was possible, too, that the very excess of anarchy into which the country had fallen, and the apparent hopelessness of repressing it, might lead many to desire a foreign war, which, by giving a new vent or channel to the passions of the nation, might enable it to throw off the internal fever that was consuming it.
Nor was there any difficulty in exciting a military enthusiasm. It was only necessary to say—what was partly true—that France was surrounded by despotic Powers who were conspiring with the Royal Family and the anti-revolutionary classes against it on account of its Revolution; and to add—what was wholly false—that they intended to reimpose on the French peasantry the feudal and ecclesiastical burdens which had been abolished. The danger seemed the more imminent from the obscurity that hung over the dispositions of the different Courts in Europe. The attitude the French Chamber had assumed towards monarchy and monarchical institutions had excluded French diplomatists from all intimate and confidential intercourse with foreign Powers, and public opinion was therefore left, unguided and unchecked, to its own suspicions and alarms. It was not likely that an armed and excited nation would remain passive in such a position, and of all nations France was the least likely to do so. No nation can meet approaching dangers with a swifter, a fiercer, a more tiger-like spring, but no nation is constitutionally less fitted to endure the tension of long-continued and inactive suspense. Besides this, as Burke had long warned the world, the Revolution was an essentially cosmopolitan thing, aiming at a fraternity of nations, and the subversion of all ancient Governments. Such a movement passed easily into a military phase. To carry the torch of liberty through benighted Europe was now preached as the mission of France, and if kings and armies were leagued against her, she was to look to insurgent nations for her allies. There was at least but little doubt that it needed but a spark, to throw the Austrian Netherlands into a flame.
With these considerations, motives of national ambition were blended. Such motives did not, indeed, occupy a foremost place in the revolutionary movement, but it would be an entire mistake to suppose that they were ever altogether absent. The implacable hatred with which Marie Antoinette was pursued, was not wholly due to the extravagance of her Court or to her supposed hostility to the Revolution. It was also industriously fomented by politicians who regarded the daughter of Maria Theresa as the chief support of that Austrian alliance which it was their main object to dissolve. Through the whole of the Revolution there were a few able and cool-headed men who were never dupes of the passions which they flattered and stimulated, but who saw in them a great force that might be directed to the attainment of old objects of French ambition. To such men it was no immaterial circumstance that the country which was likely to be most quickly revolutionised by French ideas, was the country over which, for more than a century, French statesmen had most desired to establish their ascendency and dominion.1 If Austrian Flanders could become French, a capital object of French ambition would be attained, and if French armies could overrun Austrian Flanders, they were not likely to stop there. One of the most humiliating defeats which French policy had of late years undergone, had been the overthrow of the French party and influence in Holland, and there is some evidence that as early as 1791 the prospect of restoring them had been conceived.
It was a daring game, but the men who took the most prominent part in the Legislative Assembly were not men from whom any prudence or measure could be expected. Obscure young provincial lawyers, petty writers of no antecedents or character, adventurers and fanatics without any reputation or position to lose, without any practice in affairs or any serious political knowledge, had climbed into the foremost places, commanded the wealth and power of France, and found themselves able to defy the sovereigns of Europe. Was it surprising that they should have proved arrogant and reckless, eager for adventure, ready like desperate gamblers to risk everything on a throw?
There was also one clear and definite calculation among them. The most energetic section of the Assembly desired to overthrow the new Constitution, which had in their eyes the great fault of maintaining the monarchical form of government. If, however, a war with the Emperor was declared, it was scarcely possible that the monarchy could continue. The relations of the Queen to the Emperor would make the position of the Court intolerable. A war of nations against sovereigns, it was calculated, would speedily turn France into a Republic, and give the more violent party a complete command of the Ministry.
The Republican party, however, was divided on this question. Robespierre, Couthon, and their friends, feared that a war might concentrate new powers in the hands of the King, and that a victorious invasion might shatter the Revolution; but the party of the Gironde, which had now obtained the ascendency under the guidance of Brissot and Vergniaud, vehemently advocated a war, and Brissot has himself acknowledged that his main object in pushing it on was to overthrow the monarchy.1 The French tribune began to ring with passionate appeals to arms, with denunciations of the kings and Governments of Europe, with predictions of the coming war between insurgent nations and despotic sovereigns. As late as October the Austrian Minister had replied to one of the appeals of the King of Sweden that ‘all thoughts of active interference in the affairs of France on the part of his Imperial Majesty were entirely laid aside,’2 and in accordance with this policy the Emperor had in August forbidden any enrolments of French emigrants in his dominions, and in October had ordered the dispersion of emigrants who had assembled in too great numbers at Ath and Tournay.3 The Electors of Trèves and Mayence, however, still suffered French emigrants to arm in their dominions, and on November 29 the Assembly passed a decree calling on the King to demand their disbandment within a short period, on pain of war, and requesting the Emperor to enforce the demand. They at the same time urged the King to settle the claims of the German princes on the lines indicated by the Constituent Assembly, and to change the diplomatic agents who had not efficiently represented French demands.4
These demands were not in themselves unreasonable, but they were accompanied by speeches of the most violent provocation against the sovereigns of Europe. The country was rapidly arming; Narbonne, the young Minister of War, showed extraordinary power and promptitude in organising three armies under the command of Rochambeau, Luckner, and Lafayette; and a manifesto clearly foreshadowing war was addressed to all the Courts of Europe. Refugees from the Austrian Netherlands were received with ostentatious favour, and all the language and proceedings of the dominant party in the Assembly proved that they were not only ready but eager for war.
The French King considered that he had no alternative but to yield to the wishes of the Assembly. Montmorin, who represented the policy of peace, resigned, and soon after a great number of changes were made in the diplomatic body. On December 14, the King announced to the Assembly that in accordance with their decree he had summoned the Elector of Trèves to put a stop, before January 15, to all enrolments on pain of immediate war, and that he was about to write to the Emperor desiring him if necessary to exert his authority as head of the Empire to avert the miseries which the conduct of some of the members of the Germanic body, if not speedily altered, must necessarily produce. An immense war credit was voted, and a French army marched to the German frontier.
But while the King was thus apparently consenting to the wishes, and making himself the mouthpiece, of the dominant party in the Assembly, his secret wishes and policy were very different, and he now for the first time formally and in person requested the assistance of foreign Powers against his subjects. On December 3, he wrote to the King of Prussia, stating that in spite of his acceptance of the new Constitution there was a manifest determination in the Assembly to destroy altogether what remained of the monarchy; that he accordingly addressed the King of Prussia, the Emperor, the Russian Empress, and the Kings of Spain and Sweden, and that he suggested to them a Congress of the chief Powers of Europe supported by an armed force, as the best means of stopping the factions in France, making it possible to establish a better order of things, and preventing the evil under which France was suffering from spreading to the other European Powers. He trusted that the King of Prussia would approve of his ideas, and would at the same time maintain a profound secrecy about this overture.1
To the same effect, but in language still more compromising, Marie Antoinette wrote to Mercy on the 16th, only two days after the King had made his declaration to the Assembly. She reminded the Austrian ambassador that ever since July she had been asking for a Congress of the Great Powers of Europe, but that her brother had hitherto abandoned her. Even now, however, it was not too late, and the fate of the Royal Family in France was in his hands. He had seen how the Assembly in its late message had invited the King ‘in a manner to declare war against the Electors and princes of Germany;’ how the King had taken the only course open to him in declaring that he would comply with the wishes of the Assembly, and how he had assured them that if in the fixed period he did not receive the satisfaction which he demanded it would only remain for him to propose a war. ‘No comment is necessary,’ the Queen proceeded, ‘to show the folly of this step. Without army, or discipline, or money, it is we who wish to attack. But the King is not free. He must obey the general wish, and for our personal safety here, it is necessary for him to follow exactly the course which is prescribed to him. It is for the Emperor and the other Powers now to help us. … It is at this moment that an armed Congress appears to us likely to be of the greatest use. Let my brother not deceive himself. Sooner or later he will be mixed in our affairs. First of all, if we are fools enough to attack, he will be obliged as chief of the Empire to support the Germanic body, and moreover, with soldiers as undisciplined as ours, his territory will soon be violated on all sides. It is no longer time to fear for our persons. The course which we have adopted here, of appearing to move frankly in the direction they desire, places us in safety, and the greatest danger of all would be to remain always as we are. … There is no longer any time to procrastinate. The moment to help us is come. If it is missed there is no more to be said. The Emperor will then only have to accept in the eyes of the whole universe the shame and the reproach of having suffered his sister, his nephew, and his ally, to be dragged through the very depths of humiliation when it was in his power to have saved them.’1
The situation of the Emperor was very perplexing. His anxiety for peace cannot reasonably be doubted. The reader will remember the letter deprecating foreign interference which the French Queen had written after the acceptance of the Constitution, at the dictation of the constitutional party; and he will also remember the passionate manner in which the Queen, almost immediately after, wrote to her brother declaring that this letter did not contain her real sentiments, that she had written only on compulsion, that she placed all her hopes on foreign assistance. She now complained bitterly that her brother had taken no notice whatever of these latter letters, while the former letter had been made use of all over Europe as a justification of his neutrality.1 But in addition to foreign Powers, the German Diet was now pressing upon the Emperor, urging him to support the claims of the princes to their rights in Alsace, and beginning manifestly to resent his passive endurance of the insults of the French Assembly,2 and the French Royal Family were almost as much prisoners as after their capture at Varennes. The Emperor, indeed, in his interviews with the emigrant princes appears to have denied this,3 but he was not ignorant of their real position, and he was exceedingly alarmed lest new outrages should force him to intervene.4 He was also probably troubled and irritated by learning that Ségur had been sent from Paris to Berlin, if not to obtain a Prussian alliance for France, at least to detach Prussia from Austria.
The Prussian King, it is true, entirely rejected the French overture, but there was an uneasy and suspicious feeling at Vienna.5 The menace and the influence of the Revolution were beginning to be felt even in very remote parts of the Austrian dominions. ‘The tiers état in several of the provinces of this monarchy,’ wrote Keith, ‘are extremely urgent in their solicitations to the Emperor to obtain the right of sending representatives from their body to their provincial States. A deputation from the peasantry of Styria has been sent hither with a petition to that effect, which the Emperor has referred to the Bohemian Chancery, with orders to each councillor of that board to deliver to his Imperial Majesty his opinion in writing and sealed. … The example set by Styria will probably be followed by the other countries in the Emperor's dominions.’1 The Austrian Netherlands were evidently on the verge of revolt under the influence of French example and incitements, and a French irruption into the territory of the Empire might at any time take place. ‘If,’ wrote Keith, ‘to these events the near prospect of a war in Poland should be added (which appears to me far from improbable), the wisdom as well as firmness of the Austrian Cabinet will be put to hard trials.’2
Under these circumstances, the Emperor tried to strike out a middle course which would at once support his dignity, satisfy his allies, and make it not wholly impossible to preserve the peace. He sent the most urgent and peremptory directions to the Elector of Trèves, and to the other minor German princes, to put an end to all enrolment, organisation, and assembling of French emigrants in their dominions; and his injunctions were so fully carried out, that in January the French Minister at Coblentz informed his Government that this grievance had been entirely removed. On the other hand, the Austrian Chancellor officially informed the French ambassador at Vienna that any act of violence to the Elector would be immediately repelled by an Austrian force. The Emperor, he said, had full confidence in the moderate intentions of the French King, but he had daily reason to fear that those intentions might not be respected, and he therefore, while officially informing the French Government that all armed assemblies of emigrants had been dispersed in Germany, as they had previously been in the Austrian Netherlands, thought it necessary to inform them also, that Marshal Bender had received orders to give the Elector effectual assistance if he were attacked. The Emperor also wrote a letter to the French King, reminding him that the feudal rights of the German princes in Alsace and Lorraine, which had been swept away by the French Chamber in August, had never been subject to the sovereignty or legislation of France; that they had been expressly reserved in a long series of international treaties; that they had been placed under the protection and guarantee of the German Empire. He protested against the decree of the National Assembly as an arbitrary usurpation and violation of the rights of the Empire, and he declared his full resolution of supporting the German princes and the Diet, if they did not obtain a full restoration of their property and rights, as settled by treaties.
He also sent a declaration to the different Courts of Europe suspending and explaining away the Declaration of Pilnitz. The measures, it said, taken by the allied Powers at that time, had been taken on the supposition that the King of France was a prisoner. But the situation had changed. The Emperor considered that the King of France should now be deemed free, and consequently his acceptance of the Constitution and all the acts which had ensued from it as valid. He hoped that the acceptance of this Constitution would restore order to France, and raise the moderate party to power. As, however, it was possible that the former excesses and violence might be renewed, he considered that the Powers should hold themselves in a state of observation, and cause their respective Ministers at Paris to declare that their alliance still exists, and that they will be ready on every occasion to support in concert the rights of the King and of the French monarchy.1 On January 5, 1792, almost identical notes were presented at Paris by the ambassadors o the Emperor and of the King of Prussia, declaring that if, in spite of the determination of the German princes to maintain in their territory the regulations relating to the emigrants which were in force in the Austrian Netherlands, the German territory was violated, the two sovereigns would consider this proceeding a declaration of war against themselves.2
These measures left the French Assembly a very large practical latitude. If it wished for war, the feudal claims of the German princes and the attempted or threatened interference with French affairs furnished obvious grounds. If it desired peace, the complete concession of the demands about the emigrants paved the way, and the other questions might easily be submitted to negotiations, which in the present disposition of the Emperor would almost certainly be successful. The French were at the same time clearly informed that the attempt to disunite the two German Powers had failed, and that both must be encountered in the event of a war.
There was soon no doubt of the alternative which was preferred. Brissot, Isnard, and other Girondins who now led the Assembly, at once attacked the Emperor with a fury of invective which could scarcely be surpassed, and they openly advocated immediate war. ‘The one calamity to be feared,’ said Brissot, ‘is that there should not be a war.’ ‘There can be no sincere treaty between tyranny and liberty. Your Constitution is an eternal anathema to despotic thrones. All kings must hate it, for it tries them and it sentences them;’ and his answer to the treaties which were cited in support of the feudal rights of the German princes was that the ‘sovereignty of the people is not bound by the treaties of tyrants.’ The Diplomatic Committee, in a report which was presented to the Assembly on January 14, called upon the King to exact from the Emperor before February 10, and on pain of immediate war, a distinct promise to do nothing against the French nation and its independence, and to assist France in accordance with the treaty of 1756 against any Power that attacked her, and the Assembly itself on January 25, after several days of the most insulting and frantic denunciation, formally accused the Emperor of having violated the treaty of 1756 by promoting a coalition against France, and called upon the King to demand, in an interval which was now prolonged to March 1, a full explanation and satisfaction, on pain of war.
This debate and vote made peace impossible. The Emperor, indeed, determined that he would still endeavour to temporise, but the preliminary treaty of July, between Austria and Prussia, was at once converted into a close definitive alliance, and a united army under the Duke of Brunswick was concentrated on the French frontier. The English diplomatic despatches of the time show very vividly the dispositions of the different parties. ‘Nothing short of dire necessity,’ wrote Keith, on the last day of 1791, ‘will determine his Imperial Majesty to unsheathe the sword in good earnest against France or any other foreign Power,’ and he described the anxiety with which the Austrian Court sought for pretexts to avoid immediate action, and their repeated and urgent warnings to the minor German princes to avoid any provocation to France.1 ‘I am persuaded,’ he wrote a week later, ‘that this Court at length conceives imminent danger of a rupture with France, and will proceed to make serious military preparations. … With this I remain in the conviction that the reluctance of the Emperor to draw the sword on any account, is in no shape diminished, notwithstanding that he has been heard to say within these ten days, that if the French madmen are determined to force him into a war, they should find that the pacific Leopold knew how to wage it with the greatest vigour, and would oblige them to pay the expenses of that war in more solid coin than their assignats.’2 No formal proposition had been made on the part of France for the re-establishment of the rights and possessions of the German princes in Alsace and Lorraine, ‘who by the Constitution of the Empire are not at liberty to accept any pecuniary compensation for those rights;’ but even after the hostile vote of January 25, there was still hope at Vienna that France would propose a territorial indemnification to the princes. ‘The Emperor has it extremely at heart to preserve peace with France if it can be done with any degree of dignity and propriety. It is well understood here that the French King has not put a direct veto on the hostile decree of the National Assembly, and that although he has been able to throw a momentary barrier in the way of the democratical impetuosity, he may soon find himself obliged to go all lengths which the madness of that party may dictate.’3 The King of Spain, Keith reports, had said he could take no more part in French affairs than to form a cordon around his own frontiers, and pay a subsidy to the troops of Russia and Sweden. The chances of Russian and Swedish assistance seemed to the Emperor doubtful and distant. The Imperial treasury was very low; the Emperor would be obliged, if the war broke out, to impose a heavy war tax in the first year; but he still, in the opinion of Keith, hoped to intimidate the French by making his war preparations very public.4
Among his most serious causes of anxiety were his relations with Prussia and with Poland. Prussia had just acquired the Margravates of Anspach and Baireuth through the resignation of their sovereigns and by right of succession, a good deal to the dissatisfaction of the Emperor,1 and she was beginning to lean towards Russia in a manner which was not a little disquieting. As I have already remarked, it was the sincere and earnest desire of Leopold that the integrity and independence of Poland should be preserved, and he was perfectly aware that the Empress of Russia was plotting against both. The signature of the definitive Peace of Jassy on January 9, by putting an end to all alarms from Turkey, had left her free to pursue her policy, and on this side of Europe the moment of crisis was at hand.
At this anxious period, when the issues of peace and war were in suspense, Europe was startled in quick succession by three great events—the fall of the Ministry of Florida Blanca in Spain on February 28; the death, after an illness of only two days, of the Emperor Leopold, on March 1; and the assassination of Gustavus III. sixteen days later at a masked ball at Stockholm. Two of these events had a great and immediate effect on French affairs. Florida Blanca had been one of the first, and Gustavus III. had been the most zealous, of the supporters of the emigrants; but Spain, under the Ministry of Aranda, and Sweden, under the Regency of the Duke of Sudermania, now adopted the English policy of complete neutrality. The effects of the death of Leopold were somewhat more complex. An eminently wise, experienced, cautious, and pacific sovereign, in the prime of his powers and in the most critical period of his reign, disappeared from the scene, and was replaced by a mere boy without knowledge, experience, or talent. War with France, however, had become inevitable before the death of Leopold, and it is not probable that this event even accelerated it. But it gave Prussia an ascendency in the new alliance, and it deprived Poland in the moment of her extreme need of her only friend.
The English diplomatic correspondence shows clearly how quickly the Polish question was coming to maturity. We have seen, in the despatches from Berlin, the evident signs of the great act of treachery which the Prussian King was already meditating, and in April Count Schulenburg informed Eden that he would never admit that Prussia had guaranteed the new Polish Constitution, which he considered contrary to Prussian interests, ‘since the Polish monarch, if ever he should become hereditary, might rapidly rise into a very formidable neighbour.’1 At Vienna, Keith learnt from the Austrian Ministers that they had certain knowledge that the Empress of Russia had already sent a large sum of money to her Minister at Warsaw for the express purpose of fomenting internal troubles in Poland,2 and it was the belief both at Vienna and St. Petersburg that the new King of Hungary had Russian sympathies derived from his uncle Joseph.3 Bischoffswerder had arrived at Vienna shortly before the death of Leopold, and it was noticed that he was in close and constant communication with the Russian Minister, who was an active fomenter of the discord in Poland. ‘Should a connection,’ wrote Keith, ‘be formed between the King of Prussia and the Czarina, the unhappy kingdom of Poland may possibly become the propitiatory sacrifice.’ He observed that there was a growing belief in Vienna that Bischoffswerder was instructed to make an alliance with Russia, allowing the Empress to carry out her designs in Poland; and Keith confessed himself at a loss to reconcile the proceedings of the Prussian favourite ‘with the very friendly professions he is constantly making to the Polish chargé d'affaires here, of the upright intentions of the King his master towards the Republic of Poland.’4
It was evident that some kind of compact was established between Prussia and Russia, and the terms were beginning to ooze out. ‘The first principle,’ wrote Keith, ‘laid down by these two Courts is that the “intégrité” of the Polish dominions shall be invariably preserved. For all the rest a very wide scope will be left to the Russian efforts to bring back the government of that country to its ancient form. Your lordship will best judge how much that counter revolution is to be effected without drawing the sword, and whether or not, if the connivance of Austria and Prussia shall be carried so far as to abet that enterprise (though by less violent means), the former ideas of aggrandisement may not once more creep into the Cabinets of the Triumvirate.’ Grenville, on the other hand, wrote that many circumstances convinced the English Government that it was the intention of the Empress of Russia to make use of the first favourable opportunity, to overthrow by arms the new Constitution of Poland, and that she was only restrained by the Courts of Vienna and Berlin; and he expressed his earnest hope that this restraint might continue.1
At St. Petersburg the extreme and general corruption gave great facilities for obtaining information. Whitworth, the English ambassador, appears to have been the first who succeeded in discovering the intentions of the Empress. He had once believed that she would content herself with protesting against the new Constitution, but he soon discovered that he had been deceived. ‘I have learnt,’ he wrote, ‘through a very particular but sure channel, that it is the intention of this Court to fall upon the Republic of Poland in the spring with an army of 130,000 men, which will be brought from Moldavia and continue on the frontier till the proper season. … Should other neighbouring Powers interfere, as they naturally will, a plan of partition is already framed, and it is supposed will meet with the concurrence, as it will do the convenience, of all three. In this plan Dantzic and Thorn, with a district in Great Poland, are allotted to the share of the King of Prussia. Advantages in the same proportion (the particulars of which the person who gave me the intelligence does not recollect) are made to the Emperor, and there is no doubt that her Imperial Majesty will secure to herself as much as will reduce the remains of the devoted Republic to a state of the most wretched and humiliating dependence, and indemnify herself fully for the expense of the war with the Turks.’ Whitworth had reason for believing that this scheme was still unknown to most of the Ministers of Catherine; that the Prussian ambassador at St. Petersburg knew nothing of it, and that the chief Ministers at Berlin were equally in the dark; but he added, ‘I am, however, very much inclined to believe that those most in the confidence of his Prussian Majesty, and particularly General Bischoffswerder, are acquainted with the business, and it is not impossible that even the King of Prussia himself may have been sounded upon it. I have for some time suspected that there has been a mysterious negotiation of some kind or other on foot between the two Courts, unknown to the Cabinets of either.’1
The information and conjectures of Whitworth appear to have been perfectly correct. Goltz, the Prussian ambassador at St. Petersburg, contrived to see an autograph letter written by the Empress during the Turkish war, stating that as soon as this war was over she intended to send a Russian force into Poland, and if the Emperor and Prussia resisted, to bribe them by an indemnity or a partition.2
It soon appeared that the scheme was by no means unwelcome to the Prussian King. On March 12, 1792, he wrote a confidential letter to his Ministers on the affairs of Poland, which places his intentions beyond dispute. ‘Russia,’ he said, ‘is not far from the idea of a new partition. It would be in truth the best means of restricting the power of the King of Poland, whether he be hereditary or elective, but I doubt whether we can find for Austria a suitable indemnity, and whether the Elector of Saxony, after such a diminution of power, would still accept the crown of Poland. Nevertheless, if Austria could be indemnified, the Russian plan would be always the most advantageous for Prussia. It is well understood that we should gain all the left bank of the Vistula, and that we should be thus perfectly secure on that frontier, which it has hitherto been so difficult for us to protect. Such is my opinion with reference to Poland.’3
This letter has been truly described by a German historian, as the death sentence of Poland. It did not, of course, come to the knowledge of the English Ministers; but, as we have seen, they were under no illusions about the character and intentions of the Prussian King. At Vienna, Keith received the communications of Whitworth without surprise, and he was able to bring strong corroborative evidence. ‘I wish,’ he wrote, in reporting the matter to Grenville, ‘that I could see any ground for supposing that his Prussian Majesty will oppose an effectual resistance to these ambitious views of Russia. … That the Court of Vienna has not been an original projector in this new system of depredation, I believe I may safely aver; but where this Court is to find the national vigour or the political virtue to withstand the other Powers, I cannot see.’1
In the mean time the inevitable French War was rapidly approaching. The real dispositions of the different parties are clearly disclosed in the correspondence of the time. The King of Prussia, who was governed by Bischoffswerder, by views of military and territorial ambition, and by a violent personal hatred of the Revolution, was resolved upon war; and he pushed on his policy in spite of the opposition of his most experienced counsellors, and especially of Count Schulenburg and General Mollendorf. At Vienna the young Sovereign was more warlike than his father, and war was now generally looked on as inevitable, but it was not contemplated with pleasure. The French decree of January 25, and the despatch which was based on it, arraigning the recent conduct of the Emperor and demanding an immediate explanation on pain of war, could hardly be looked upon in any other light than as an insulting ultimatum, and one of the last acts of Leopold was to revise the Austrian reply. It was written temperately and in some parts almost apologetically. The French complained that the Emperor had ordered General Bender to repel any attack on the Elector of Trèves. It was answered that the Emperor had only taken this step after he had secured the full satisfaction of the French demand for the disbandment of the emigrants, and that he had only authorised his general to draw the sword in case of an actual invasion of German territory, and on the express condition that all provocation to France had ceased. Such a policy was no menace; it was only a fulfilment of his strict duty as head of the Empire. The French complained that by the circular from Padua and the alliance and Declaration of Pilnitz, the Emperor had interfered with their internal affairs, and violated the treaty of alliance of 1756. The Emperor answered that he had taken these measures solely for the support of the French monarch and monarchy, at a time when his brother-in-law and ally was so manifestly a prisoner that he had fled by night from his palace and had been brought back by an armed force, and when the legal Government of France was destroyed by usurpation. No sooner had the King regained his freedom, accepted the Constitution, and thus reconstituted a legal Government, than the Emperor recognised the fact and ordered that all active measures should be suspended. The coalition, however, still existed though it was dormant, for France was still a cause of the gravest European concern. Its justification was found in the enormous French armaments, continued and augmented when the dispersion of the emigrants had taken away every reasonable pretext; in the fury of the republican party which was seeking to overthrow both the monarchy and the new Constitution; in the manifest determination of the Jacobins to force on a war, contrary to the wishes of the King and, as the Emperor believed, of the great majority of the French nation. To that nation the Emperor now made a solemn appeal against the Jacobin party. In the interests of France as well as of the rest of Europe, he denounced this pernicious sect as the enemies at once of their King, their Constitution, and the peace of Europe.1
Keith has mentioned the curious fact that ‘in a moment of extreme deference to his Prussian ally, and with the mistaken hope of intimidating France,’ the Emperor added ‘with his own pen’ to the draft drawn up by Kaunitz, those expressions relating to the Jacobins which so greatly added to the flame in Paris. After the death of Leopold, Bischoffswerder strongly urged upon his successor the policy of immediately declaring war, but Kaunitz resisted, and although military preparations were rapidly pushed on, a few weeks still passed before the sword was drawn.2
In France, meanwhile, the movement towards war was sweeping on with resistless impetuosity. The few moderate men who still remained in the Ministry and the diplomatic service were now weeded out, and the whole direction of affairs passed into the hands of violent Republicans. De Lessart, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, was not only displaced, but impeached on the ground that he had not sufficiently upheld the dignity of France, and Dumouriez took his place. This eminently skilful, daring, and ambitious soldier, while echoing in their extreme forms the shibboleths of the Revolution, had objects of his own which were perfectly distinct. He wished, if possible, to isolate Austria from Prussia, and from the minor German princes, but at all events to provoke a war that would give the Austrian Netherlands to France. The anarchy and excitement of the country were now at their height. Nineteen departments were in a state of open insurrection. Even around Paris the price of corn in the markets was regulated by great bands of armed peasantry. The National Guard in the southern provinces not only connived at, but assisted in, the destruction and pillage of country houses; and while the most atrocious murders of functionaries and suspected Royalists were reported from all sides, the Assembly passed an Act of Amnesty in favour of Jourdain and his fellow-murderers at Avignon, and suffered them to return in triumph to the scene of their crimes. A great civic festival was given to forty Swiss soldiers who had been condemned to the galleys for mutiny at Nancy. The monthly deficit in December was above 35,000,000 livres, and it rose rapidly in January and February. At the end of December, Lord Gower stated that 2,100,000,000 of assignata had been already decreed, and that on the best calculation the whole of the national property did not exceed 3,000,000,000. Multitudes of forged assignats were abroad, and in spite of the supplies that were expected from the sale of the forest lands and from a vast confiscation of the estates of the emigrants, the prospect to any statesman formed in the school of a settled Government might have seemed absolutely desperate. But the one wish of the great majority of the Assembly was for immediate war. A despatch was sent to Vienna summoning the King of Hungary at once to renounce all alliances unsanctioned by, or hostile to, France, and to withdraw the troops that menaced her, and the answer being evasive, the Assembly, on April 20, declared war against him. Only seven members opposed the decree.
In this way the war was begun which for more than twenty years deluged Europe with blood. Before ten days had passed a French army had invaded the Austrian Netherlands, and within a month a Russian army was invading Poland. For a short time, however, England kept clear of the struggle, and she still looked forward to a long course of political and financial reforms. We must now trace the faults and the misfortunes that baffled the hopes of her statesmen, drew her speedily into the vortex, and soon made her the most important member of the great coalition against France.
END OF THE FIFTH VOLUME.
See Mém. de Malonet, i 206.
On July 28, 1789, Ewart wrote: ‘This Court [Prussia] is persuaded that the great popular revolution in France will prevent that country effectually from interfering in any shape in favour of the Imperial Court.’
Leeds to Ewart, Feb. 26, 1790.
Toland's State Anatomy of England. As a Radical writer says, ‘The Whigs of that day always beheld France with an invidious eye, and rejoiced at her humiliation and disgrace. Considering the example of successful tyranny as contagious, they vowed eternal enmity and everlasting hatred against a king who kept more than twenty-five millions of his subjects in slavery; and they would willingly have waged perpetual war with a nation base and abject enough to hug their chains.’ Stephens' Life of Horne Tooke, i. 56.
Ann. Reg 1787, p. 4. Horace Walpole also notices that great numbers of French travellers visited England, and some even Ireland, after the peace. Mem of Geo. III. iii. 107. See, too, his letter to Mann, April 30, 1763.
Parl. Hist. xxviii. 226–230. Wilberforce's Life, i. 226–228.
Rutt's Life of Priestley, ii. 38.
See his very curious letter to Morellet about the Revolution, in Fitzmaurice's Life of Shelburne, iii. 488–498.
Letter to the Duke of Portland, accompanying the ‘Observations on the Conduct of the Minority’ Burke's Works, vii. 220.
Annual Register, 1790, p. 65.
Rutt's Life of Priestley, ii. 79, 80. See, too, Morgan's Life of Price, pp. 161–163; and a volume (printed, I believe, privately) called The Correspondence of the Revolution Society in London with the National Assembly, and with various Sucieties of the Firends of Liberty in France and England. (London, 1792)
When the Bastille was taken, it was found to contain only seven prisoners, four of whom were accused of forgery; one was an idiot, and one was detained at the request of his family. Taine, Ancien Régime, p. 397. According to the registers which were published in 1789, 300 persons had been confined in this prison in the space of three centuries. Mallet du Pan, Mercure Britannique, iii. 213.
Fox's Correspondence, ii 361. This was written July 30, 1789.
Prior's Life of Burke (2nd ed.) ii. 41, 42.
Prior's Burke, ii. 43–50.
Parl. Hist. xxviii. 330.
It is curious to compare these very erroneous predictions with the judgment formed about the same time in Paris by Governor Morris. Writing to Washington (Jan. 24, 1790) he says, ‘It is very difficult to guess whereabouts the flock will settle when it flies so wild; but as far as it is possible to guess at present, this (late) kingdom will be cast into a congeries of little democracies, laid out not according to the rivers, mountains, &c., but with the square and compass … Their Assemblée Nationale will be something like the old Congress, and the King will be called Executive Magistrate.’ Morris's Works, ii. 91.
Parl. Hist. xxviii. 337–374. There is an interesting account of this debate in Lady Minto's Life of Sir G. Elliot, i. 349–354.
See Prior's Life of Burke, ii. 23, 24 70, 71, 76–78.
I have quoted in former volumes much from Burke in this sense, but I may add a characteristic and beautiful passage in a letter to a French gentleman written in 1789. ‘There is, by the essential, fundamental constitution of things, a radical infirmity in all human contrivances, and the weakness is often so attached to the very perfection of our political mechanism that some defect in it—something that stops short of its principle, something that controls, that mitigates, that moderates it—becomes a necessary corrective to the evils that the theoretic perfection would produce.’ Burke's Correspondence, iii. 117.
Prior's Life of Burke, ii. 72, 79.
Compare Moore's Life of Sheridan, ii. 107. Lady Minto's Life of Sir G. Elliot, i. 351–354.
Parl. Hist. xxviii. 433, 694.
Compare Pascal: ‘L'art de bouleverser les Etats est d'ébranler les coutumes établies; en sondant jusques dans leur source, pour y faire remarquer le défaut d'autorité et de justice. II faut, dit-on, recourir aux loix fondamentales et primitives de l'Etat, qu' une coutume injnste a abolies C'est un jeu sûr pour tout perdre. Rien ne sera juste à cette balance.’ Pensées, ‘Foiblesse de l'Homme.’ In a very characteristic letter expostulating against the ecclesiastical innovations which the Emperor was introducing into the Austrian Netherlands, Burke wrote: ‘Whilst he is destroying prejudices which (under good management) may become the surest support of his Government, is he not afraid that the discussion may go further than he wishes? If he excites men to inquire too scrupulously into the foundation of all old opinion, may he not have reason to apprehend that several will see as little use in monarchs as in monks? The question is not whether they will argue logically or not, but whether the turn of mind which leads to such discussions may not become as fatal to the former as the latter.’ Correspondence, iii. 209.
This prediction may be compared with the forecast of Catherine II. as it appears in that most curious and most unreserved correspondence with Gumm, which has recently been published by the Société Hist. of Russia. In 1791 she wrote: ‘Quand viendra ce César? Oh! il viendra, gardez vous d'en douter. Il faudrant femlleter l'histoire et voir si jamais pays ait été sauvé par autre qu'un réellement grand homme, et d'après cette découverte je prédirais ce qu'il en sera de la France. “Finis coronat opus.” … Selonmoi ilssont bien propres à discréditer pour longtemps la liberté et à la rendre odieuse à tous les peuples.’ ‘Si la Révolution Franĉaise prend en Europe, il viendra un autre Gengis on Tamerlan la mettre à la raison. Voilà son sort, soyez en assuré’ Lettres de Catherine à Grimm, pp. 503, 520, 537, 555 John Adams, who, like Morris, looked with great repulsion on the French Revolution, predicted, in 1789, that it would probably lead to the destruction of a million of human beings. Morgan's Life of Price, p. 158.
So Machiavelli maintained that a usurper who has acquired sovereignty without right, and who does not wish to govern by fixed laws, can find no better way of maintaining himself upon the throne than by revolutionising at the very beginning of his reign all the old institutions of the State. Discorsi sopra Tito Lic. lib i. c. 26.
‘When I entered life,’ Wilberforce once wrote, ‘it is astonishing how general was the disposition to seize upon Church property. I mixed with very various circles, and I could hardly go into any company, where there was not a clergyman present, without hearing some such measure proposed. I am convinced that if the public feeling had not been altered by our seeing how soon every other kind of plunder followed the destruction of tathes in France, our clergy would by this time have lost their property.’ Life of Wilberforce, i. 261. The arguments of those who maintain that the tithes of the Anglican Church were not derived from the State, and that their alienation from the Church is beyond its moral competence, and would be an act of plunder, will be found powerfully stated in Dr Brewer's Endonments and Establishment of the Church of England, and in Lord Selborne's recent work, Defence of the Church of England against Lesestablushment.
‘Nothing is a due and adequate representation of a State that does not represent its ability as well as its property. But as ability is a vigorous and active principle, and as property is sluggish, inert, and timid, it never can be safe from the invasion of ability unless it be out of all proportion predominant in the representation. It must be represented, too, in great masses of accumulation, or it is not rightly protected. The characteristic essence of property formed out of the combined principles of its acquisition and conservation is to be unequal. The great masses, therefore, which excite envy and temptrapacity must be out of the possibility of danger. There they form a natural rampart about the lesser properties in all their gradations. The same quantity of property which is by the natural course of things divided among many has not the same operation Its defensive power is weakened as it is diffused. In this diffusion each man's portion is less than what in the eagerness of his desires he may flatter himself to obtain by dissipating the accumulations of others. The plunder of the few would indeed give but a share inconceivably small in the distribution to the many, but the many are not capable of making this calculation.’ See, too, Aristotle's remarks on the causes of revolution in democracies, Politics, book v. c. 5.
Part. Hist. xxviii. 358.
See especially his Traité de la, Législation, his Entretvens de Phocion, and his Doutes sur l'Ordre Naturel des Sociités. In England, similar attacks on hereditary property were afterwards made by Godwin, and by one or two other less known writers. See Godwin's Political Justice, book viii.
Laferrière, Hist, des Principes, des Institutions, et des Lois pendant la Récolution, pp. 104, 105.
Laferrière, pp. 44, 45, 47.
The history of the abolition of he feudal system has been lately very carefully examined by Doniol, La Révolution Franĉaise et la Féodalité, and by Chénon, Les Démembrements de la Propriété foncière acant et après la Revolution.
Taine, L'Ancien Régime, p. 405.
Rabaut, Précis de la Révolution, pp. 195–199; Laferrière, pp. 37–49, Garet, pp. 177–233.
I infer this not only from the silence of Burke, but also from his statement that ‘the general circulation of property, and in particular the mutual convertibility of land into money, and of money into land,’ was less in France than in England. In another passage of his Reflections he says that the comparative wealth of France was not only much inferior to that of England, but was also ‘not so equal in the distribution, nor so ready in the circulation.’ Henry Swinburne, who travelled from Bayonne to Marseilles in 1776, and published his travels in 1785, noticed the passion of the people of Bigorre for purchasing little plots of land out of their earnings, and their proneness to run into debt for that purpose.
Burke's statement about Berne is fully corroborated by Mallet du Pan, Essai Historique sur la Destruction de la Ligue Helvétique, ch. ii.
See a letter of Burke, in Lady Minto's Life of Sir G. Elliot, i. 365–368, and Burke's Correspondence, iii. 171, 172. In the famous debate on May 6, 1791, Fox said that as soon as Burke's book on the French Revolution was published, ‘he condemned that book both in public and private, and every one of the doctrines it contained.’ Parl. Hist. xxix. 389
Lady Minto's Life of Sir G. Elliot, i. 368–370.
Taine, Hist. de la Révolution, i. 237, 238.
‘Corporations which have a perpetual succession, and hereditary noblesse who themselves exist by succession, are the true guardians of monarchical succession. On such orders and institutions alone an hereditary monarchy can stand. Where all things are elective, you may call a king hereditary, but he is for the present a cipher: and the succession is not supported by any analogy in the State, nor combined with any sentiments whatsoever existing in the minds of the people. It is a solitary, unsupported, anomalous thing’ Burke's Correspondence, 11i. 212. ‘To think of the possibility of the existence of a permanent and hereditary royalty where nothing else is hereditary or permanent in point either of personal or corporate dignity, is a ruinous chimera.’ ‘Remarks on the Policy of the Allies,’ Burke's Works, vii. 130.
Sybel, pp. 92, 127, 128
Annual Register, 1790, p. 121.
Morris's Works, ii. 115–119.
Vindwice Gallicæ, p. 358.
Ibid. p. 352.
Rights of Man, part i.
Lady Minto's Life of Sir G. Elliot, i. 379; Burke s Correspondence, iii. 398.
Smyth's Lectures on the French Revolution, iii. 36.
Burke's Correspondence, iii. 182–186.
Burke's Correspondence, iii. 192, 193.
Fox's Correspondence, ii. 363.
Part. Hist. xxix. 105–107, 249.
Ibid. xxix. 363.
Annual Register, 1791. See, too, Burke's Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs The intention of Burke was soon known Wmdham mentions (Diary, p. 223) that on the 22nd he had an angry discussion with Sir Gilbert Elliot on the subject.
Lord Sidmouth was accustomed to relate a strange, characteristic incident in this debate, which is not mentioned in the Parl. Hist. As long as the interruptions came from the leaders of the party, Burke bore them with tolerable composure, but when the lesser lights ventured to treat him in the same way, he broke out in the words of Lear, ‘The little dogs and all—Tray, Blanche, and Sweetheart; see, they bark at me.’ Pellew's Life of Sidmouth, i. 85. It is noticed in the account in the Annual Register, which was evidently drawn up under Burke's eye, that the interruptions all came from his own side, and it is plain that they were premeditated, for on April 21 Mr. Taylor had announced that he would call anyone to order who, in considering the Quebec Bill, entered into a discussion of the constitutions of other countries. Compare Parl Hist. xxix 360, and Prior's Life of Burke, ii. 149. Burke evidently attributed the interruptions to Fox, but Fox very emphatically repudiated the imputation. Parl. Hist. xx ix. 391.
In a letter to his son dated Feb. 19, 1792, he says: ‘As to opposition, and my relation to them, things remain nearly as they were; no approximation on the part of Fox to me, or of me to him, or to or from any of his people, except general civility, when seldom we meet. I never stay in the House to hear any debates much less to divide on any question. On the affair of Hastings we converse just as we did. Fox sitting by me at Hastings's trial, spoke to me about the business of the Catholics of Ireland, and expressed himself, as I thought he would, very strongly in their favour; but with little hopes of anything being done.’ Burke's Correspondence, iii. 415.
Parl. Hist. See, too, the excellent account in the Annual Register, 1791.
Prior's Life of Burke, ii. 154, 155.
Prior's Life of Burke, ii. 169.
See Parkes and Merivale's Life of Francis, ii. 453. In those very acute notes in which Francis delineated some of his contemporaries, he says, after describing Fox, ‘I would have much sooner trusted Edmund Burke with the posthumous care of my name and reputation, though from 1791 we had been almost entirely disunited after a real friendship and intimacy of many years; because I am sure that if he had undertaken the task he would have performed it heartily and bona fide.’
Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs.
See Parl Hist xxix. 389.
Burke's Correspondence, iii. 224–226, 235, 236, 274.
Erskine and Piggott.
Burke's Correspondence, iii. 388–401.
Ibid. 228, 229.
Parl. Hist. xxix. 393, 397. Compare Taine, Hist, de la Révolution, i. pp. 439–455.
Prior's Life of Burke, ii. 171–175.
Jan. 31, 1792.
Burke's Correspondence, iii. 392–394, 403, 404, 406.
Thoughts on French Affairs.
Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs.
Thoughts on French Affairs.
Annual Register, 1791, pp. 211–215. There is, I think, very little doubt that this was written by Burke himself.
Thoughts on French Affairs. ‘Wherever this principle prevails more or less, there is, and must be, a French faction proportionately strong; and it will be much more closely united in politics to the great head at Paris, than even were the religious factions which so long distracted Europe, and have been so recently laid at rest. For the latter became political, not primarily and necessarily, but secondarily and incidentally. Here the very ground of distinction is the first and most important question of politics. That spirit of ambition which was formerly dreaded in the French Monarchy, has actuated the French Republic from its birth, and with such a powerful lever planted under the foundations of every Government in Europe, she threatens sooner or later to shake them all to pieces.’ Annual Register, 1791, p. 215.
Thoughts on French Affairs.
Burke's Correspondence, iii. 220, 221.
Remarks on the Policy of the Allies.
Correspondence, iii. 271.
Considerations on the Present State of Affairs.
Remarks on the Policy of the Allies.
Burke's Correspondence, iii. 349.
Butler's Reminiscences, i. 171.
Pellew's Life of Sidmouth, i. 85.
See the singularly solemn, touching, and characteristic letter which he wrote, when he knew himself to be dying (July 1796), to Dr. Laurence, who had been one of the counsel of the managers for the impeachment of Hastings. Correspondence of Burke and Dr. Laurence, pp. 53–56. Compare, too, in the same work the Introduction, pp. 22, 23. There may be much controversy about the merits of the case against Hastings, but no one who reads Burke's later letters and speeches, can have any doubt about the spirit in which Burke undertook it.
Diary of Madame D'Arblay, 1792. Francis, comparing Fox and Burke, says Fox ‘seldom spoke very harshly of any individual. In this respect he was the reverse of Burke, with whom all mankind, as far as party and politics went, were God or devil.’ Parkes and Merivale's Life of Francis, ii. 45.
The same conviction was constantly expressed by Frederick the Great, the keenest practical observer of his time. Thus in one of his letters he writes, ‘Il y a une sorte de fatalité, ou à défaut de fatalité des causes secondes tout aussi inconnues, qui tournent souvent les évènements d'une manière que l'on ne peut ni concevoir ni prévoir. Nous sommes des aveugles qui s'avancent en tâtonnant dans l'obscurité Lorsqu'il se présente des circonstances favorables, il se fait une sorte d'éclaircle subite dont profitent les habiles. Tout le reste est le jonet de l'incertitude.’ See Sorel, Question d'Orient au XVIIIme Siècle, pp. 81, 82, 108.
Thoughts on French Affairs.
Prior's Life of Burke, ii. 163, 164.
Lady Minto's Life of Sir G. Elliot, ii. 8.
Windham's Diary, p. 226.
Madame d'Arblay's Diary, 1790.
Prior's Life of Burke, ii. 164.
Reflections on the French Revolution.
Prior's Life of Burke, ii. 162.
Burke's Correspondence, iii. 225.
Tomline's Life of Pitt, iii. 273.
Rutt's Life of Priestley, ii. 114.
See a full account of the riots, Annual Register, 1791, pp. 29–32. Rutt's Life of Priestley, ii. 116, 117.
Rutt's Life of Priestley, ii. 121.
Ibid ii. 125.
Burke's Correspondence, iii. 225.
See for this document and the reply of the National Assembly, the Annual Register, 1791, pp. 217–238.
Mounier, Recherches sur les Causes qui out empĉché les Franĉais de decenir libres, ii. 174.
Some temporary measures were taken after the flight to Varennes, but they were abolished on Sept. 14. See Laferrière, Hist. des Principes de la Révolution, pp. 248, 249.
On the very small number of real Republicans in France in 1791, see Gentz, ‘La Marche de l'Opinion publique en Europe relativement à la Révolution Franĉaise,’ Meroure Britannique, iii. 209, 210. Brissot even declared (though no doubt with much exaggeration) that in the August of that year he knew but two Republicans, Pétion and Buzot, beside himself.
See Annual Register, 1791, pp. 213, 214. Sybel, Hist. de la Révolution, i. 197, 198, 201.
In cases of extreme necessity, it was possible to ‘confederate’ the Diet, in which case the Liberum Veto was for a short time suspended, and questions were carried by plurality of votes. See Count von Moltke's Poland (English trans.), pp. 14, 15. Rousseau, Gour, de Pologne, ch. ix. La Croix, Constitutions of Europe, i. 312–315.
For an interesting collection of predictions and schemes of partition, see Sorel, Question d'Orient an XVIIIme Siècle, pp. 19–21, 37. Fletcher's History of Poland, pp. 86–88.
Sorel, pp. 15, 24. Fletcher, pp. 206, 218, 219.
See on these reforms, Oginski's Mémoires sur la Pologne, i. 23–26.
Sorel, Question d'Orient au XVIIIme Siècle, pp. 271, 272.
Mémovres d'Oginski, i. 28; Fletcher, p. 297.
See Sybel, Hist. de l'Europe pendant la Rérolution Franĉaise, i. 285–297. The account of these transactions in Sybel is naturally written with a strong Prussian bias.
Hailes to Leeds, May 3, 5. Hailes to Grenville, May 28, June 15, 1791. Record Office.
Hailes to Grenville, June 7, 1791; March 11, 1792. See, too, the account of the Revolution, by Goltz, the Prussian Minister, sent to Grenville by Ewart.
Hailes to Grenville, May 31, 1791.
Ewart to Grenville, May 7, 31, 1791.
Leeds to Hailes, May 25, 1791.
Ewart to Leeds, Sept. 12, 1790.
Sybel, i. 308.
Ewart to Grenville, June 8, 1791.
Whitworth to Grenville, Sept. 30, 1791. Whitworth said, the King of Sweden was acting ‘with a spirit of chivalry worthy of Charles XII.’ In England, however, he seems to have been less favourably judged. Some time before Whitworth's letter was written, Grenville wrote to Ewart: ‘There are circumstances which appear to furnish grounds for an opinion that the King of Sweden has actually engaged in the project of the French counter revolution, and that he looks to that quarter for pecuniary assistance, which seems to be his principal object, and which I imagine there is little prospect of his receiving from the Empress of Russia.’ (July 29, 1791.)
See, on the policy of the Emperor at this time, Keith to Grenville, Sept. 10; Oct. 1, 5, 8, 1791; Forneron, Hist, des Emigrés, i. 261.
Ewart to Grenville, June 8, July 17, 1791.
Arneth, Marie Antoinette, Joseph II. und Leopold II. pp. 143, 147, 151, 166, 168, 204, 205, 207
Forneron, Hist. des Emigrés, i. 286–289, 295.
Arneth, Marie Antoinette, Joseph II. und Leopold II. (Feb. 27, 1791), p. 147.
Ibid. p. 151 (March 14).
Ibid. pp. 147–150, 152–154, 156–161.
Feuillet de Conches, iii. 373–377.
Ibid. 374, 375, 378; ii. 152–155. See, too, his letters to Lewis XVI. and Marie Antoinette when he believed them to be free, in Arneth, pp. 181–184.
Feuillet de Conches, iii. 388–390.
Feuillet de Conches, iii. 423–427.
Ibid. 430, 431, 434, 435; Sybel, i. 303, 304.
For the history of the connection of Avignon with the German Empire, see Coxe's House of Bourbon, ii. 705.
Arneth, Marie Antoinette, Joseph II. und Leopold II. pp. 188–192.
Arneth, pp. 193–198, 203–208.
Sybel, i. 302, 303.
Ibid. i. 304.
Arneth, p. 149.
Sybel, i. 154, 155.
Sorel, Question d'Orient au XVIIIme Siècle, pp. 104, 105.
Prussian Minister at Vienna.
Ewart to Grenville, Aug. 4, 1791 (most secret). Sorel, L'Europe et la Révolution Franĉaise, p. 546. See, too, the statement of Burges, who, as English Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, had good means of information, Bland Burges Papers, p. 184.
Ewart to Grenville, Aug. 9, 13, 1791.
Copy sent by Ewart to Grenville, August 1791.
Grenville to Gower, June 28, 1791. It is remarkable that Fox at this time wrote earnestly to Barnave and other leading French politicians, dissuading the anti-monaichical party from violence, and warning them' que si l'dssemblée n'était pas très reservée et très sage non seulement elle compromettrait sa révolution de France mais aussi qu'elle nwroit infiniment au parti de l'opposition qui dans le parlement d'Angleterre soutient la révolution Franĉaise,’ This appears from a letter of Roederer sent by Gower to Grenville, July 17, 1791.
Grenville to Aust (French correspondence at the Record Office), Sept. 20, 1791.
Grenville to Ewart, Aug. 26, 1791
Ibid. Aug. 12, 1791.
Diaries of the First Lord Malmes-bury, ii. 448. Correspondence, iii. 260.
Grenville to Keith, Sept. 19,1791.
Stanhope's Life of Pitt, ii. 59. This confidential communication was discovered by the Russian ambassador. See Burke's Correspondence, iii. 267.
Arneth, Mare Antoinette, Joseph und Leopold, p. 148.
See Burke's Correspondence, iii. 239, 261, 291–302, 318. See, too, the letters of Leopold and Gustavus III. in the collections of Arneth and of Feuillet de Conches. Also Marsh's History of the Politics of Great Britain and France, i. 39.
Burke's Correspondence, iii. 346.
Grenville to Ewart, July 26, 1791.
Grenville to Keith, Sept. 27, 1791.
Burke's Correspondence, iii. 224, 265, 266, 268, 274, 336.
Ibid. pp. 343, 347.
Marsh's Politics of Great Britain and France, i. 36.
Ibid. pp. 40, 41.
See the remarks of Rose, on Pitt's correspondence at this time. Diaries and Correspondence, i. 108.
Auckland's Correspondence, ii. 392, 398.
Malmesbury's Correspondence, ii. 441.
Rose's Diaries and Correspondence, i. 85. This was written in Sept. 1788.
Malmesbury's Correspondence, ii. 437, 438 (Oct. 1790). See, too, Auckland's Correspondence, ii. 377.
Grenville to Whitworth, April 20, 1792. Whitworth was not able to succeed, for special orders were given to keep the Japanese from all contact with Englishmen and Dutchmen, May 18, 1792. Whitworth to Grenville.
Marsh's Politics of Great Britain and France, i. 43–57
See Eden to Grenville, Feb. 14, 1792.
Burke's Correspondence, iii. 240, 260, 261. Keith to Grenville, Dec 31, 1791.
Burke's Correspondence, iii. 345.
Ibid. iii. 344, 345.
Pellew's Life of Sidmouth, i. 72. ‘Very likely, sir,’ Burke answered. ‘It is the day of no judgment I am afraid of.’ In politics, Burke once said, he was sometimes ‘most afraid of the weakest reasonings, because they discover the strongest passions.’ Letter to Sir H. Langrishe.
Auckland's Correspondence, ii. 380.
Burke's Correspondence, iii. 345.
Sybel, ii. 142.
See Sybel, i. 307, 311.
Ewart to Grenville (most secret), Aug. 4, 1791.
Eden to Grenville, Nov. 26, 1791.
Ibid. Dec. 3, 1791.
Ibid Dec. 3, 5, 1791.
Eden to Grenville, Dec. 17, 1791.
Ibid. Jan. 3, 1792.
Ibid. Feb. 7, 1792.
Eden to Grenville, Feb. 16, 1792.
Gower to Grenville, Sept. 14, 1791.
See Feuillet de Conches, ii. 328–336.
Gower to Grenville, Sept. 9, 14, 16, 23, 30; Oct. 7, 1791.
Gower to Grenville, Sept. 16, 1791.
Ibid. Nov. 18, 1791.
Gower to Grenville, June 3, 10, 1791.
Feuillet de Conches, iv. 135.
Bourgoing, Hist. Dipl. de la Récolution, i. 398.
Gower to Grenville, Aug. 19, 1791.
Lacretelle, Précis de la Révolution, pp. 58, 59.
Gower to Grenville, Oct. 31, 1791.
I have quoted the language of the English Ministers to their ambassadors at Paris, Vienna, and Berlin. In Sept. 1791, when Woronzow, the Russian ambassador in London, made an appeal to the English Government respecting the affairs of France, Grenville answered that ‘from the beginning of the French troubles his Majesty had invariably observed the strictest neutrality respecting them, abstaining from mixing himself in any manner whatever in the internal dissensions of that country, and that with respect to the measures of active intervention which other Powers might have in contemplation, it was his Majesty's determination not to take any part either in supporting or in opposing them.’ Grenville to Whitworth, Sept. 27, 1791.
Arneth, Marie Antoinette, Joseph und Leopold, p. 209.
Feuillet de Conches, ii. 244.
Ibid. ii. 274.
Arneth, pp 214, 231.
Ibid. p. 218.
Feuillet de Conches, ii. 156.
Feuillet de Conches, ii. 287–309. See, too, Bourgoing, Hist Diplomatique de la Révolution, i. 400.
Arneth, pp. 219, 220.
Arneth, p 226.
Ibid p. 221.
Bourgoing, Hist. Diplomatique de la Révolution, i. 404.
Bertrand de Molleville, Annales de la Révolution. According to Lord Gower, the revocation was due to the sudden fall in the funds caused by the decree. Gower to Grenville, Oct. 7, 1791.
Laferrière, Hist. des Institutions et des Lois de la Révolution, p. 249.
Bertrand de Molleville, Annales, Oct. 1791.
On the steady persistence with which French policy was directed to the acquisition of the Belgic provinces, see Sorel, L'Europe et la Révolution Franĉaise, pp. 319–322.
See a remarkable passage from one of his pamphlets, quoted in the Annual Register, 1792, part i. p. 273.
Keith to Grenville, Oct. 8, 1791.
Taine, Hist. de la Révolution, ii. 129, 130.
Bourgoing, i. 421. Sybel, i. 326, 327.
Feuillet de Conches, iv. 269–271.
Arneth, pp. 231–235.
Arneth, p. 232.
Ibid. p. 228.
Keith to Grenville, Dec. 3, 1791.
Ibid. Dec. 17, 1791.
See on Ségur's mission, Arneth, p. 237. Eden to Grenville, Jan. 10, 14, 21, 1792.
Keith to Grenville, Dec. 21, 1791.
Ibid. Dec. 24, 1791.
Bertrand de Molleville, Annales, Dec. 1791.
Bourgoing, i. 450, 451.
Keith to Grenville, Dec. 31, 1791; Jan. 7, 1792.
Ibid. Jan. 7, 1792.
Ibid. Jan. 18, Feb. 11, 1792.
Ibid. Feb. 15, 18, 1792.
Keith to Grenville, Feb. 8.
Eden to Grenville, April 14, 1792
Keith to Grenville, Feb. 18, 1792.
Ibid March 3. Whitworth to Grenville, March 16, 1792.
Keith to Grenville, March 7, 10, 14, 1792.
Keith to Grenville, March 17. Grenville to Keith, March 26, 1792
Whitworth to Grenville, Jan. 30, 31, 1792.
Sybel, i. 455.
Ibid, 460, 461.
Keith to Grenville, April 25, 1792.
Beitrand de Molleville, appendix xiv.
Keith to Grenville, Sept. 10, 1792.