Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER I: Mirabeau. - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
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CHAPTER I: Mirabeau. - Germaine de Staël, Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.) 
Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution, newly revised translation of the 1818 English edition, edited, with an introduction and notes by Aurelian Craiutu (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008).
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One would almost say that in every era of history there are personages who should be considered as the representatives of the good and of the wicked principle. Such, in Rome, were Cicero and Catiline; such, in France, were M. Necker and Mirabeau. Mirabeau, gifted with the most comprehensive and energetic mind, thought himself sufficiently strong to overthrow the government, and to erect on its ruins a system, of some kind or other, that would have been the work of his own hands. This gigantic project was the ruin of France, and the ruin of himself; for he acted at first in the spirit of faction, although his real manner of judging was that of the most reflecting statesman. He was then of the age of forty, and had passed his whole life in lawsuits, abduction of women, and in prisons; he was excluded from good society, and his first wish was to regain his station in it. But he thought it necessary to set on fire the whole social edifice, that the doors of the Paris saloons might be opened to him. Like other immoral men, Mirabeau looked first to his personal interest in public affairs, and his foresight was limited by his egoism.1
An unfortunate deputy of the Third Estate, a well-intentioned but a very weak man, gave the Constituent Assembly an account of what had passed at the Hotel de Ville, and of the triumph obtained by M. Necker over the emotions of hatred which some persons had attempted to excite among the people. This deputy hesitated so much, expressed himself with so much coldness, and still showed such a desire to be eloquent, that he destroyed all the effect of the admirable recital which he had taken on himself. Mirabeau, his pride deeply wounded at the success of M. Necker, promised himself to defeat the outcome of enthusiasm by throwing out ironical insinuations in the Assembly, and suspicions among the people. He repaired on that very day to all the sections of Paris, and prevailed on them to retract the amnesty granted the day before. He endeavored to excite exasperation against the late projects of the court, and alarmed the Parisians by the dread of passing for the dupes of their good nature, an apprehension that operates very potently on them, for they aim above all things at being considered quick-sighted and formidable. Mirabeau, by snatching from M. Necker the palm of domestic peace, struck the first blow at his popularity; but this reverse was bound to be followed by a number of others; for from the time that the popular party were urged to persecute the vanquished, M. Necker could no longer make common cause with the victors.
Mirabeau proceeded to circulate doctrines of the wildest anarchy, although his intellect, when viewed apart from his character, was perfectly sound and luminous. M. Necker has said of him in one of his writings that he was a demagogue by calculation and an aristocrat by disposition.2 There cannot be a more correct sketch of the man; not only was his mind too enlightened to avoid perceiving the impossibility of a democratic government in France, but he would not have desired it had it been practicable. He was vain in attaching a high price to his birth, and could not speak of the day of St. Bartholomew without saying, “Admiral Coligni, who, by the way, was a relation of my family.” So desirous was he of reminding people on all occasions of his noble descent.
His expensive habits made money extremely necessary to him, and M. Necker has been blamed for not having given him money on the opening of the Estates General. But other ministers had undertaken this kind of business, for which M. Necker was by no means calculated. Besides, Mirabeau, whether he accepted the money of the court or not, was determined to render himself not the instrument but the master of the court, and he never would have been willing to renounce his power as a demagogue until that power had raised him to the head of the government. He urged the union of all power in a single assembly, although perfectly aware that such a plan was hostile to the public good; but he flattered himself that France would thus fall into his hands, and that, after having precipitated her into confusion, he should have the power of saving her when he thought proper. Morality is the first of sciences, even in the light of calculation! There are always limits to the intellect of those who have not felt the harmony that exists between the nature of things and the duties of man. “La petite morale tue la grande—morality in small things destroys morality in great,” was a frequent remark of Mirabeau; but an opportunity of exercising the latter hardly occurred, according to his views, in the course of a life.
He possessed a larger share of intellect than of talent, and he was never fully at ease when speaking extemporaneously at the tribune. A similar difficulty in composing made him have recourse to the assistance of friends in all his works;3 yet not one of them after his death would have been capable of writing what he had found means to inspire into them. In speaking of the Abbé Maury he used to say, “When he is on the right side of the question, we debate; when he is on the wrong, I crush him”; but the truth was, that the Abbé Maury often defended even a good cause with that kind of eloquence which does not proceed from real emotion of the heart.4
Had ministers been allowed to sit in the Assembly, M. Necker, who was capable of expressing himself with the greatest warmth and force, would, I believe, have triumphed over Mirabeau. But he could not enter on debate, and was obliged to confine himself to the transmission of memorials. Mirabeau attacked the minister in his absence, while also praising his goodness, his generosity, his popularity, the whole expressed with a deceitful respect that was particularly dangerous. Yet he had a sincere admiration for M. Necker, and acknowledged it to his friends; but he well knew that so scrupulous a character would never coalesce with his own, and his grand object was to destroy his influence.
M. Necker was reduced to acting on the defensive; the other assailed with the more confidence, that neither the success nor the responsibility of administration was his concern. M. Necker, by defending the royal authority, necessarily sacrificed his favor with the popular party. He knew besides, by experience, that the King had secret counselors5 and private plans, and he was by no means certain of prevailing on him to follow the course that he thought best. Obstacles of every kind impeded his measures; he was not at liberty to speak openly on any subject; the line, however, which he invariably followed was that which was pointed out to him by his duty as minister. The nation and the King had exchanged places: the King had become by much, far too much, the weaker party. It was thus incumbent on M. Necker to defend the throne against the nation, as he had defended the nation against the throne. But Mirabeau was not to be restrained by those generous sentiments; he put himself at the head of a party that aimed at political importance regardless of the cost; and the most abstract principles were in his hands nothing but instruments of intrigue.
Nature had effectually seconded him by giving him those defects and advantages that operate on a popular assembly: sarcasm, irony, force, and originality. The moment he rose to speak, the moment he stepped to the tribune, the curiosity of all was excited; nobody esteemed him, but the impression of his talents was such that no one dared to attack him, if we except those members of the aristocratic body, who, declining a conflict in debate, thought proper to send him challenge after challenge to meet them with the sword. He always refused these challenges, and merely noted the names of the parties in his pocket book, with a promise that they should be answered at the dissolution of the assembly. It is not fair, he said, in speaking of an honest country gentleman, of I do not know what province, to expose a man of talent like me against a blockhead like him. And, what is very extraordinary in such a country as France, this behavior had not the effect of bringing him into contempt; it did not even make his courage suspected. There was something so martial in his mind, and so bold in his manner, that no one could impute cowardice in any way to such a man.
[1. ] Madame de Staël’s view of Mirabeau was hardly objective because the latter was a powerful rival of Staël’s father. Bailleul was among the first to criticize Madame de Staël’s views of Mirabeau (Examen critique de l’ouvrage posthume de Mme. la Bnne. de Staël, vol. I, 239–75). For another opinion on Mirabeau, see chap. X of Lord Acton’s Lectures on the French Revolution. “Odious as he was and foredoomed to fail,” wrote Acton, “he [Mirabeau] was yet the supreme figure of the time. . . . As a Minister, he might have saved the Constitution. . . . If Mirabeau is tried by the test of public morals, . . . the verdict cannot be doubtful. His ultimate policy was one vast intrigue, and he avowedly strove to do evil that good might come. . . . The answer is different if we try him by a purely political test, and ask whether he desired power for the whole or freedom for the parts. Mirabeau was not only a friend of freedom . . . but a friend of federalism. . . . If in this he was sincere, he deserves the great place he holds in the memory of his countrymen.” (Lectures on the French Revolution, 136–37)
[2. ] The French text contains some quotations that are not properly referenced, and I have thus removed the quotation marks.
[3. ] An allusion to the “Mirabeau workshop” composed of friends (such as Clavière, du Roveray, Reybaz, and Dumont) who helped Mirabeau compose his works. For more details, see Bénétruy, L’atelier de Mirabeau.
[4. ] For Abbé Maury, see pt. I, chap. xvii, note 7.
[5. ] Mirabeau had a secret correspondence with Louis XVI. His notes to the King were published in Chaussinand-Nogaret, ed., Mirabeau entre le roi et la Révolution.