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CHAPTER V: Of the First War Between France and Europe. - 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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Of the First War Between France and Europe.
We need not be surprised that kings and princes never liked the principles of the French Revolution. “To be a royalist is my business,” said Joseph II. But as the opinion of the people always makes its way into the cabinet of kings, no sovereign in Europe thought of making war on France to oppose the Revolution at its outset, when the object was only to establish a limited monarchy. The progress of knowledge was such in every part of the civilized world that, at that time, as at present, a representative government more or less similar to that of England appeared suitable and just, and that system met with no formidable opponents among either the English or Germans. Burke, from the year 1791, expressed his indignation at the crimes already committed in France, and at the false systems of policy adopted there;1 but those of the aristocratic party on the Continent, who now quote Burke as the enemy of the Revolution, are perhaps not aware that in every page he reproaches the French with not having conformed to the principles of the English constitution.
“I recommend to the French,” he says, “our constitution; all our happiness arises from it.” “Absolute democracy,” he adds in another place,* “is no more a legitimate government than absolute monarchy. There is but one opinion in France against absolute monarchy;† it was at its close, it was expiring without agony, and without convulsions; all the dissensions arose from the quarrel between a despotic democracy, and a government with a balance of power.”
If the majority of Europe in 1789 approved the establishment of a limited monarchy in France, how then, it may be asked, does it happen that, from the year 1791, all provocations arose from foreign powers? For although France made a hasty declaration of war against Austria in 1792, the foreign powers were, in fact, the first to assume a hostile attitude toward the French, by the convention of Pilnitz and the assemblies at Coblentz.2 The reciprocal recriminations go back to that period. Yet the public opinion of Europe and the prudence of Austria would have prevented war, had the Legislative Assembly been moderate. The greatest precision in the knowledge of dates is necessary to judge with impartiality which of the two, France or Europe, was the aggressor. A lapse of six months makes that proper in politics which was not so six months before, and people often confound ideas because they confound dates.
The foreign powers did wrong in 1791, in allowing themselves to be drawn into the imprudent measures urged by the emigrants. But after the 10th of August, 1792, when the throne was overturned, the state of things in France became wholly incompatible with social order. Yet, would not this throne have stood, had not Europe threatened France with interfering by force of arms in her domestic concerns, and revolted the pride of an independent nation by imposing laws on it? Fate alone possesses the secret of such suppositions: one thing is indisputable; it is that the convention of Pilnitz was the beginning of the long war of Europe. The Jacobins3 were as desirous of this war as the emigrants: for both believed that a crisis of some kind or other could alone produce the chances necessary to enable them to triumph.4
In the beginning of 1792, before the declaration of war, Leopold, Emperor of Germany, one of the most enlightened princes of which the eighteenth century can boast,5 wrote to the Legislative Assembly a letter, which might be almost called familiar and confidential. Some deputies of the Constituent Assembly, as Barnave and Duport, had composed it, and the draft was sent by the Queen to Brussels, to the Count de Mercy-Argenteau, who had long been Austrian Ambassador at Paris. In this letter6 Leopold attacked the Jacobin party by name and offered his aid to the constitutionalists. His observations were, no doubt, extremely wise; but it was not thought becoming on the part of an emperor of Germany to enter with so much detail into the affairs of France; and the minds of the deputies revolted against the advice given them by a foreign monarch. Leopold had governed Tuscany with perfect moderation, and it is but justice to add that he always showed respect to public opinion, and to the advanced knowledge of the age. He was thus a sincere believer in the good that his advice might produce. But in political discussions where the mass of a nation takes a part, it is only the voice of events that is listened to; arguments but excite the wish of answering them.
The Legislative Assembly, which foresaw a rupture ready to break out, felt also that the King could hardly take an interest in the success of Frenchmen fighting in the cause of the Revolution. The Assembly was distrustful of ministers, under the persuasion that they did not in their hearts wish to repel those enemies whose assistance they secretly invoked. The war department was entrusted in the end of 1791 to M. de Narbonne,7 who afterward lost his life at the siege of Torgau. He employed himself with unfeigned zeal in all the preparations necessary for the defense of the kingdom. Possessing rank and talents, the manners of a courtier, and the views of a philosopher, that which was predominant in his soul was military honor and French valor. To oppose the interference of foreigners under whatever circumstances always seemed to him the duty of a citizen and a gentleman. His colleagues combined against him and succeeded in obtaining his removal. They seized the moment when his popularity in the Assembly was lessened to get rid of a man who was then performing his functions of minister of war as conscientiously as he would have done under any other circumstances.
One evening, M. de Narbonne, in giving the Assembly an account of certain matters in his department, made use of this expression: “I appeal to the most distinguished members of this Assembly.” At that moment the whole party of the Mountain rose up in a fury, and Merlin, Bazire, and Chabot declared that “all the deputies were equally distinguished.” Aristocracy of talent was as repugnant to their feelings as aristocracy of birth.
The day after this setback, the other ministers, no longer afraid of the ascendancy of M. de Narbonne with the popular party, prevailed on the King to remove him. This ill-judged triumph was of short duration. The republicans forced the King to take ministers devoted to them, and these ministers obliged him to make use of the initiative given him by the constitution, by going in person to the Assembly to recommend war with Austria. I was present at the meeting in which Louis XVI was forced to a measure which was necessarily painful to him in so many ways. His features were not expressive of his thoughts, but it was not from dissimulation that he concealed them; a mixture of resignation and dignity repressed in him every outward sign of his sentiments. On entering the Assembly he looked to the right and the left, with that kind of vague curiosity which is usual to persons who are so short-sighted that their eyes seem to be of no use to them. He proposed war in the same tone of voice as he might have used in requiring the most indifferent decree possible. The president replied to him with the laconic arrogance adopted in this Assembly, as if the dignity of a free people consisted in insulting the King whom it had chosen for its constitutional chief.
When Louis XVI and his ministers had left the hall, the Assembly voted war by acclamation. Some members took no share in the deliberations; but the galleries applauded with transport: the deputies threw their hats in the air, and that day, the first of the bloody struggle which has torn Europe during twenty-three years, that day did not, in most minds, produce the slightest disquietude. Yet, of the deputies who voted for this war, many fell by a violent death, and those who rejoiced at it the most were unconsciously pronouncing their own death sentence.
[1. ] For Burke’s writings on the French Revolution after 1790, see his Further Reflections on the Revolution in France.
[* ] Burke’s Works, vol. iii. p. 179.
[† ] Ibid., p. 183.
[2. ] The Declaration of Pilnitz (August 27, 1791) was signed by Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II and King Frederick William II of Prussia, who expressed their intention to help the king of France in case of need. The assemblies at Koblenz were organized by the émigrés.
[3. ] A notable exception in this regard was Robespierre.
[4. ] Austria, England, and Prussia followed closely the political developments in France and in 1791 began contemplating the possibility of intervening to support Louis XVI and restore order. The actual war began in April 1792, when France declared war on Austria; Prussia joined the Austrian side a few weeks later and invaded France in July. The battle of Valmy (September 20, 1792) stopped the march of the Prussian armies, which subsequently retreated from France. In November, the French occupied Belgium.
[5. ] Leopold II (1747–92), Duke of Tuscany (1765–90), the penultimate Holy Roman Emperor (1790–92), and son of Empress Maria Theresa, personified the image of the enlightened monarch. As Grand Duke of Tuscany, Leopold endorsed a progressive constitution that, had it been ratified, would have been the first free, written liberal constitution of Europe. In the end, Emperor Joseph II opposed its ratification.
[6. ] On December 21, 1791.
[7. ] Louis de Narbonne-Lara (1755–1813) was nominated minister of war on December 6, 1791, and retained his position until March 9, 1792 (he emigrated soon after that). Many believed Narbonne to be the illegitimate son of Louis XV. He was one of Madame de Staël’s lovers and arguably the father of her first two children. For a selection of their correspondence, see Madame de Staël, ses amis, ses correspondants. Choix de lettres (1778–1817), 71–79, 81–83, 94–100, 107–8, 113–15.