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PART VI - 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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In recent years the English-speaking academic world has witnessed a renewed interest in the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville and Benjamin Constant. New English translations of Tocqueville’s and Constant’s political works have been published by prestigious presses, and special issues on their writings have appeared in important academic journals. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Madame de Staël, the other principal figure of nineteenth-century French political thought. None of her major political works are available in English at the present moment, and she remains an unknown figure among political theorists, vaguely linked to Constant, with whom she had a close intellectual and personal relationship.1
The lack of recognition given to Madame de Staël’s political writings in the Anglo-American world is both disappointing and surprising given her stature as one of the greatest writers and political thinkers of the nineteenth century. Readers interested in the debates on the events and legacy of the French Revolution can only regret the absence of an English translation of Staël’s On the Current Circumstances Which Can End the Revolution. Similarly, they have been deprived of access to the old English edition of her Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution because it has been out of print for almost two centuries (the book appeared in 1818). Perhaps even more surprising is the neglect of Staël’s political works by many feminists, a regrettable oversight that it is hoped will be corrected in the years ahead. Her works shed original light on the central role played by women in French cultural and political life and suggest a novel way of thinking about the role of women in society that challenges some of the assumptions espoused by contemporary feminist writers in the Anglo-American world.2
The Liberty Fund edition of Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution seeks to fill this important gap. Its purpose is to familiarize English-speaking readers with a writer whose unique and seductive voice retains a significant relevance today. Few titles are better suited to promote the principles of political freedom, responsibility, and open society than Considerations. By reprinting a substantially revised and corrected English translation of Considerations, we are making accessible to a large audience a neglected classic of political thought that will contribute to contemporary debates on constitutionalism, representative government, and political moderation. Madame de Staël’s work sheds light on what it takes to build a society of free and responsible individuals and explores other important related issues such as the prerequisites of liberty, limited power and the rule of law, the relation between social order and political order, the dependence of liberty on morality and religion, and the institutional foundations of a free regime. Her political writings offer a powerful critique of fanaticism and remind us that moderation and reason should always be allied with responsibility, respect for individual rights, and decency.3
The story behind the writing and publication of Considerations is not devoid of interesting ambiguities and speculations. We know that Madame de Staël had revised the first two volumes, but not the third one (containing parts V and VI), prior to her untimely death in 1817. Although the two French editors claimed that the published text of Considerations was “perfectly conformable” with Staël’s corrected manuscript, scholars agree that the original manuscript was altered extensively. The exact nature of the changes remains unclear and poses a considerable challenge to any interpreter of Staël’s work. As the late Simone Balayé pointed out, a considerable number of manuscripts of Considerations can be found in different archives. A critical edition of the book comparing the different versions of the manuscript, similar to the two critical editions of De l’Allemagne and Dix d’années d’exil coordinated by the Comtesse de Pange and Simone Balayé, is long overdue.4
Although the Liberty Fund edition follows the text of the 1818 English translation (which was originally published in three volumes),5 it is a substantially revised version that seeks to correct the errors and archaisms of the original translation. As editor, I have made numerous changes in the translation with a view to offering a more faithful version of the original text. In doing so, I have followed the French text of the 1983 Godechot edition, published by Tallandier. The notes of the Tallandier edition were valuable in preparing my own notes. In the present work, the original footnotes of both Madame de Staël and the first French editors (Auguste de Staël and Victor de Broglie) appear at the bottom of the page preceded by an asterisk. My explanatory footnotes, preceded by an arabic number to distinguish them from those of the author and original French editors, are meant to provide a minimal historical background to the general English-speaking reader. Typographical errors and archaic punctuation in the original translation have been corrected silently; English spellings have been Americanized. The English translators occasionally broke Staël’s extremely long paragraphs for clarity; for the most part, we have kept the format of the original translation. In addition, the editors of the 1818 English translation added quotation marks to ambiguous quotations from various authors that were not identified in the original French. I have attempted to give the proper citations where possible and eliminated the quotation marks if a proper citation could not be found.
Notice by the Editors1
Are Frenchmen Made to Be Free?
Frenchmen are not made to be free, says a certain party composed of Frenchmen who want to do the honors of the nation in such a way as to represent it as the most miserable of all human associations. What indeed is more miserable than to be incapable either of respect for justice, or of love for our country, or of energy of soul; virtues of which the whole, of which any one singly, is sufficient to render a nation worthy of liberty? Foreigners do not fail to lay hold of these expressions, and to glorify themselves as if they were of a nobler race than the French. This ridiculous assertion, however, means only one thing, that it suits certain privileged persons to be acknowledged as alone fitted to govern France with wisdom, and that the rest of the nation should be regarded as factious.
We shall examine, under a more philosophic and impartial point of view, what is meant by a “people made to be free.” I would simply answer: it is a people who wish to be free; for I do not believe that history affords one example of the will of a whole nation not being accomplished. The institutions of a country, whenever they are below the degree of knowledge diffused throughout it, tend necessarily to raise themselves to the same level. Now, since the latter years of Louis XIV down to the French Revolution, spirit and energy have belonged to individuals, while government has been on the decline. But it will be said that the French, during the Revolution, incessantly wandered between follies and crimes. If it was so, this must be attributed, I cannot too often repeat, to their former political institutions; for it was they that had formed the nation; and if they were of a nature to enlighten only one class of men and deprave the mass, they were certainly good for nothing. But the sophistry of the enemies of human reason lies in their requiring that a people should possess the virtues of liberty before they obtain liberty; while it cannot acquire these virtues till after having enjoyed liberty, since the effect cannot precede the cause. The first quality of a nation that begins to be weary of exclusive and arbitrary governments is energy. Other virtues can be only the gradual result of institutions which have lasted long enough to form a public spirit.
There have been countries, like ancient Egypt, in which religion, being identified with policy, left a passive and stationary character on the manners and habits of men. But, in general, nations are seen to improve or to retrograde according to the nature of their government. Rome has not changed her climate, and yet, from the Romans to the Italians of our days, we can run through the whole scale of the modifications which men undergo by diversity of government. Doubtless, that which constitutes the dignity of a people is to know how to give itself a suitable government; but this work may encounter great obstacles, and one of the greatest certainly is the coalition of the old states of Europe to prevent the progress of new ideas. We must then make an impartial estimate of its difficulties and its efforts before deciding that a nation is not made to be free, which at bottom is a phrase devoid of meaning; for, can there exist men to whom security, emulation, the peaceable application of their industry, and the untroubled enjoyment of the fruits of their labor are not suitable? And if a nation was condemned by a curse of Heaven never to practice either justice or public morality, why should one part of this nation account itself exempt from the curse pronounced on the race? If all are equally incapable of virtue, what part shall oblige the other to possess it?
During twenty-five years, it will still be said, there has been no government founded by the Revolution which has not shown itself mad or wicked. Be it so; but the nation has been incessantly agitated by civil troubles, and all nations in that situation resemble each other. There exist in mankind dispositions which always reappear when the same circumstances call them forth. But if there is not an era of the Revolution in which crime has not borne its part, neither is there one in which great virtues have not been displayed. The love of country, the desire of securing independence at whatever cost, have been constantly manifested by the patriotic party; and if Bonaparte had not enervated public spirit by introducing a thirst for money and for honors, we would have seen miracles performed by the intrepid and persevering character of some of the men of the Revolution. Even the enemies of new institutions, the Vendeans, have exhibited the character which makes men free. They will rally under liberty when liberty shall be offered them in its true features. A keen resolution and an ardent spirit exist, and will always exist, in France. There are powerful souls among those who desire liberty; there are such among the young men who are coming forward, some exempt from the prejudices of their fathers, others innocent of their crimes. When all is seen, when all is known of the history of a revolution; when the most active interests excite the most violent passions, it seems to contemporaries that nothing equal to this has stained the face of the earth. But when we recall the wars of religion in France and the troubles of England, we perceive, in a different form, the same party spirit and the same crimes produced by the same passions.
It seems to me impossible to separate the necessity of the improvement of society from the desire of improving oneself; and, to make use of the title of Bossuet’s work,1 in a different sense from that which he gives to it, policy is sacred because it contains all the motives which actuate men in a mass and bring them closer or further from virtue.
We cannot, however, conceal that people have as yet acquired in France only few ideas of justice. They do not imagine that an enemy can have a right to the protection of the laws when he is conquered. But in a country where favor and want of favor have so long disposed of everything, how should people know what principles are? The reign of courts has permitted the French to display only military virtues; a very limited class were occupied in the management of civil affairs; and the mass of the nation having nothing to do, learned nothing and did not at all exercise itself in political virtues. One of the wonders of English liberty is the number of men who occupy themselves with the interests of each town, of each province, and whose mind and character are formed by the occupations and the duties of citizens. In France, intrigue was the only field for exercising oneself, and a long time is necessary to enable us to forget that unhappy science.
The love of money, of titles, in short of all the enjoyments and all the vanities of society, re-appeared under the reign of Bonaparte: these form the train of despotism. In the frenzy of democracy, corruption at least was of no avail; and, even under Bonaparte, several warriors have remained worthy, by their disinterestedness, of the respect which foreigners have for their courage.
Without resuming here the unhappy history of our disasters, let us say it boldly, there are, in the French nation, energy, patience under misfortune, audacity in enterprise, in one word strength; and its aberrations will always be to be dreaded until free institutions convert a part of this strength into virtue. Certain commonplace ideas put in circulation are often what most mislead the good sense of the public, because the majority of men receive them for truths. There is so little merit in finding them that one is induced to think that reason alone can make them be adopted by so many persons. But in party times the same interests inspire the same discourses, without their acquiring more truth when a hundred times repeated.
The French, it is said, are frivolous, the English serious; the French are quick, the English grave; the former, therefore, must be governed despotically, and the latter enjoy liberty. It is certain that if the English were still contending for this liberty, people would find in them a thousand defects that would stand in its way; but the fact among them refutes the argument. In our France troubles are apparent, while the motives of these troubles can be comprehended only by reflecting minds. The French are frivolous because they have been doomed to a kind of government which could be supported only by encouraging frivolity; and as to quickness, the French possess it much more in the spirit than in the character. There exists among the English an impetuosity of a much more violent nature, and their history exemplifies it in a multitude of cases. Who could have believed, two centuries ago, that a regular government could ever have been established among these factious islanders? The uniform opinion at that time on the Continent was that they were incapable of it. They have deposed, killed, overturned more kings, more princes, and more governments than the rest of Europe together; and yet they have at last obtained the most noble, the most brilliant, and most religious order of society that exists in the Old World. Every country, every people, every man are fit for liberty by their different qualities; all attain or will attain it in their own way.
But before endeavoring to describe the admirable monument of the moral greatness of man presented to us by England, let us cast a glance on some periods of her history similar in all respects to that of the French Revolution. People may perhaps become reconciled with the French on seeing in them the English of yesterday.
Cursory View of the History of England.
It is painful to me to represent the English character in a disadvantageous light, even in past times. But this generous nation will listen without pain to all that reminds it that it is to its actual political institutions, to those institutions which it is in the power of other nations to imitate, that it owes its virtues and its splendor. The puerile vanity of believing themselves a separate race is certainly not worth, in the eyes of the English, the honor of encouraging mankind by their example. No people in Europe can be put on a parallel with the English since 1688; there are a hundred and twenty years of social improvement between them and the Continent. True liberty, established for more than a century among a great people, has produced the results which we witness; but in the preceding history of this people, there is more violence, more illegality, and, in some respects, a still greater spirit of servitude than among the French.
The English always quote Magna Charta as the most honorable title of their ancient genealogy as free men; and in truth, such a contract between a nation and its king is an admirable thing. So early as the year 1215, personal liberty and the trial by jury are declared there in terms which might be used in our days. At this same period of the middle age there was, as we have mentioned in the Introduction, a movement of liberty throughout Europe. But knowledge and the institutions created by knowledge, not being yet diffused, there resulted nothing stable from this movement in England until 1688, that is, almost five centuries after Magna Charta. During all this period the charter was subject to incessant infractions. The successor of him who had signed it (Henry III, the son of John) made war on his barons to release himself from the promises of his father.1 The barons had on this occasion favored the Third Estate, that they might find support in the people against the authority of the king. Edward I, the successor of Henry III, swore eleven times to maintain the great charter, which proves that he violated it even more often than that. Neither kings nor nations observe political oaths, except when the nature of things is such as to command sovereigns and satisfy the people. William the Conqueror had dethroned Harold; the House of Lancaster, in its turn, overset Richard II, and the act of election which called Henry IV to the throne was sufficiently liberal to be afterward imitated by Lord Somers in 1688. On the accession of Henry IV, in 1399, attempts were made to renew the great charter, and the King at last promised to respect the franchises and liberty of the nation. But the nation did not then know how to make herself respected. The war with France,2 the intestine wars between the Houses of York and Lancaster3 gave rise to the bloodiest scenes, and no history exhibits so many violations of individual liberty, so many executions, so many conspiracies of every kind. The result was that in the time of the famous Warwick,4 the “king-maker,” a law was passed enjoining obedience to the actual sovereign, whether rightfully so or not, in order to avoid the arbitrary judicial condemnations to which changes in government necessarily gave rise.
Next came the House of Tudor, which, in the person of Henry VII, united the rights of York and Lancaster.5 The nation was weary of civil war: the spirit of servitude succeeded, for a time, the spirit of faction. Henry VII, like Louis XI and Cardinal Richelieu, subjected the nobility and found means to establish the most complete despotism. Parliament, which has since been the sanctuary of liberty, served at that time only to sanction the most arbitrary acts by a false appearance of national consent; for there is not a better instrument of tyranny than an assembly when it is degraded. Flattery conceals itself under the appearance of general opinion, and fear, felt in common, almost resembles courage; so much do men animate each other in an enthusiasm for power. Henry VIII6 was still more despotic than his father, and more lawless in his desires. The Reformation, as far as he adopted it, served him surprisingly to persecute both orthodox Catholics and sincere Protestants. He made the English Parliament commit the most humiliating acts of servitude. It was the Parliament which took charge of the processes brought against the innocent wives of Henry VIII. It was it which solicited the honor of condemning Catherine Howard,7 declaring there was no need of the royal sanction to bring a bill of impeachment against her, that they might save the King (her husband), as they said, the pain of trying her. Thomas More,8 one of the most noble victims of the tyranny of Henry VIII, was accused by Parliament, as well as all those whose death the King desired. The two houses pronounced it a crime of high treason not to regard the King’s marriage with Anne of Clèves as legally dissolved; and Parliament, stripping itself of power, decreed that the King’s proclamations should have the force of law, and that they should be considered as having even the authority of revelation in matters of faith; for Henry VIII had made himself the head of the church in England, even while preserving the Catholic doctrine. It was then necessary to shake off the supremacy of Rome without exposing himself to the charge of dogmatic heresy. It was at this time that the bloody law of the Six Articles9 was passed, a law which established the points of doctrine to which it was necessary to conform: the real presence; the communion in one element; the inviolability of monastic vows (notwithstanding the abolition of convents); the utility of private mass; the celibacy of the clergy; and the necessity of auricular confession. Whoever did not admit the first point was burned as a heretic; and he who rejected the five others was put to death as a felon. Parliament thanked the King for the divine study, for the labor and the pains which His Majesty had bestowed on the composition of this law.
Yet Henry VIII opened the path to the religious reformation. It was introduced into England by his guilty amours, as Magna Charta had owed its existence to the crimes of John Lackland. It is thus that ages advance, proceeding unconsciously toward the object of human destiny.
Parliament, under Henry VIII, did violence to the conscience as well as to the person. It ordered, under pain of death, that the King should be considered the head of the church; and all who refused to acknowledge this perished martyrs to their courage. Parliaments changed the religion of England four times. They consecrated the schism of Henry VIII and the Protestantism of Edward VI; and when Queen Mary10 caused old men, women, and children to be cast into the flames, hoping thus to please her fanatic husband, even these atrocities were sanctioned by a Parliament lately Protestant.
The Reformation reappeared with Elizabeth,11 but the spirit of the people and of Parliament was not the less servile. That queen had all the grandeur which despotism conducted with moderation can confer. The reign of Elizabeth in England may be compared to that of Louis XIV in France.
Elizabeth had more capacity than Louis XIV, and finding herself at the head of Protestantism, the principle of which is toleration, she could not, like the French monarch, join fanaticism to absolute power. Parliament, which had compared Henry VIII to Samson for strength, to Solomon for prudence, and to Absalom for beauty, sent its speaker to declare, on his knees, to Queen Elizabeth that she was a divinity. But not confining itself to these insipid servilities, it stained itself with a sanguinary flattery in seconding the criminal hatred of Elizabeth against Mary Stuart,12 calling for the condemnation of her enemy and wishing thus to remove from the Queen the shame of a measure which she desired; but it only dishonored itself in her train.
The first king of the House of Stuart,13 equally weak but more regular in his morals than the successor of Louis XIV, professed constantly the doctrine of absolute power, without having in his character the means of supporting it. Information was spreading in all directions. The impulse given to the human mind at the beginning of the sixteenth century was diffusing itself more and more; religious reform fermented in every mind. At last burst out the revolution under Charles I.14
The principal points of analogy between the revolutions of England and France15 are: a king brought to the scaffold by the spirit of democracy, a military chief getting possession of power, and the restoration of the old dynasty. Although religious and political reform have many things in common, yet when the principle that puts men in movement is somehow connected with what they deem their duty, they preserve more morality than when their impulse has no other motive than a desire of recovering their rights. The passion for equality was, however, so great in England that the King’s daughter, the Princess of Gloucester, was put apprentice to a mantua-maker. Several traits of this kind equally strange might be quoted, although the management of public affairs during the revolution of England did not descend into such coarse hands as in France. The commoners, having earlier acquired importance by trade, were more enlightened. The nobility who had at all times joined these commoners against the usurpations of the throne did not form a separate caste as among the French.16 The blending of occupations, which does not prevent the distinction of ranks, had existed for a length of time. In England the nobility of the second class was joined to the commoners.* The families of peers alone were apart, while in France one knew not where to find the nation, and everyone was impatient to get out of the mass that he might enter into the privileged class. Without entering on religious discussions, it cannot be denied that the opinions of the Protestants, being founded on inquiry, are more favorable to knowledge and to the spirit of liberty than the Catholic religion, which decides everything by authority and considers kings equally infallible with popes, unless popes happen to be at war with kings. Lastly, and it is here that we must admit the advantages of an insular position, Cromwell conceived no projects of conquest on the Continent; he excited no anger on the part of kings who did not consider themselves threatened by the political experiments of a country that had no immediate communication with Continental ground. Still less did the nations take part in the quarrel; and the English had the remarkable good fortune of neither provoking foreigners nor calling in their aid.
The English rightly say that in their last civil troubles they had nothing that bore a resemblance to the eighteen months of the Reign of Terror in France. But in viewing the whole of their history, we shall find three kings deposed and put to death, Edward II, Richard II, and Henry VI; one king assassinated, Edward V; Mary of Scotland and Charles I perishing on the scaffold; princes of the blood royal dying a violent death; judicial assassinations in greater number than in all the rest of Europe together; along with I know not what of harsh and factious, which hardly indicated the public and private virtues of which England has afforded an example for the past century. Doubtless, it would be impossible to keep an open account of the vices and virtues of both nations; but in studying the history of England, we do not begin to see the English character, such as it rises progressively to our eyes since the foundation of liberty, except in a few men at the time of the Revolution and under the Restoration. The era of the return of the Stuarts, and the changes accomplished on their expulsion, again offer new proofs of the all-powerful influence of political institutions on the character of nations. Charles II and James II reigned, the one in an arbitrary, the other in a tyrannical manner;17 and the same acts of injustice which had sullied the history of England in earlier ages were renewed at a period when knowledge had made however a very great progress. But despotism produces in every country, and in every time, nearly the same results; it brings back darkness in the midst of day. The most noble friends of liberty, Russell and Sidney,18 perished under the reign of Charles II; and a number of other persons of less celebrity were in like manner unjustly condemned to death. Russell refused to redeem his life on condition of acknowledging that resistance to the sovereign, however despotic he may be, is contrary to the Christian religion. Algernon Sidney said, on mounting the scaffold, “I come here to die for the good old cause, which I have cherished since my infancy.” The day after his death there were found writers who attempted to ridicule these beautiful and simple words. Flattery of the basest kind, that which surrenders the rights of nations to the good pleasure of sovereigns, was exhibited in all quarters. The University of Oxford condemned all the principles of liberty and showed itself a thousand times less enlightened in the seventeenth century than the barons in the beginning of the thirteenth. It proclaimed that there existed no mutual contract, either express or implied, between nations and their kings. It was a town destined to be a center of learning that sent forth this declaration, which placed a man above all laws, divine and human, without imposing on him either duties or restraints. Locke, then a young man, was expelled from the university for having refused his adherence to this servile doctrine; so true it is that men of reflection, whatever be the object of their occupation, are always agreed in regard to the dignity of human nature.
Parliament, although very obsequious, was still an object of dread; and Louis XIV feeling, with remarkable sagacity, that a free constitution would give great strength to England, bribed not only the ministry but the King himself to prevent the establishment of such a constitution. It was not, however, from the dread of example that he wished to see no liberty in England. France was at that time too remote from any spirit of resistance to give him the least disquietude; it was solely, and the diplomatic documents prove it, because he considered a representative government as a source of wealth and power to the English. He caused 200,000 livres to be offered to Charles II if he would become a convert to the Catholic faith and convoke no more parliaments. Charles II, and after him James II, accepted these subsidies without venturing to adhere to all the conditions. The prime ministers, the wives of these prime ministers, received presents from the ambassador of France on promising to render England submissive to the influence of Louis XIV. Charles II would have desired, it is said in the negotiations published by Dalrymple,19 to bring over French troops into England that they might be employed against the friends of liberty. We cannot easily persuade ourselves of the truth of these facts when we know the England of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. There were still remains of a spirit of independence among some members of Parliament; but as the liberty of the press did not support them in the public opinion, they could not oppose the strength of that opinion to the strength of government. The law of Habeas Corpus,20 on which individual liberty is founded, was passed under Charles II, and yet there never were more violations of that liberty than under his reign, for laws without security are of no avail. Charles II made the towns surrender to him all their privileges, all their particular charters; nothing is so easy to a central authority as to overthrow each separate part in succession. The judges, to please the King, gave to the crime of high treason a greater extension than what had been fixed three centuries before, under the reign of Edward III. To this serious tyranny was joined as much corruption, as much frivolity, as Frenchmen can be reproached with at any period. The English writers, the English poets, who are now animated by the truest sentiments and the purest virtues, were under Charles II coxcombs, sometimes sad, but always immoral. Rochester, Wycherley, above all, Congreve21 drew pictures of human life which appear parodies of hell. In some of these pictures the sons jest on the old age of their fathers; in others, the younger brothers long for the death of their eldest brother; marriage is there treated according to the maxims of Beaumarchais; but there is no gaiety in these saturnalia of vice; the most corrupt men cannot laugh at the sight of a world in which even the wicked could not make their way. Fashion, which is still the weakness of the English in small matters, trifled at that time with whatever was most important in life. Charles II had over his court, and his court had over his people, the influence which the regent had over France.22 And when we see in English galleries the portraits of the mistresses of this King, arranged methodically together, we cannot persuade ourselves that little more than a century has yet passed since so depraved a frivolity seconded the most absolute power among Englishmen. Finally, James II, who made an open declaration of the opinions which Charles II introduced by underhand practices, reigned during three years with a tyranny happily without moderation, since it was to his very excesses that the nation was indebted for the peaceful and wise revolution on which its liberty was founded. Hume, the historian, a Scotsman, a partisan of the Stuarts, and a defender of royal prerogative in the way in which an enlightened man can be so, has rather softened than exaggerated the crimes committed by the agents of James II. I insert here only a few of the traits of this reign in the way they are related by Hume.23
Such arbitrary principles had the court instilled into all its servants that Feversham, immediately after the victory,24 hanged above twenty prisoners; and was proceeding in his executions when the Bishop of Bath and Wells warned him that these unhappy men were now by law entitled to a trial, and that their execution would be deemed a real murder. This remonstrance, however, did not stop the savage nature of Colonel Kirke, a soldier of fortune who had long served at Tangiers and had contracted, from his intercourse with the Moors, an inhumanity less known in European and in free countries. At his first entry into Bridgewater, he hanged nineteen prisoners without the least inquiry into the merits of their cause. As if to make sport with death, he ordered a certain number to be executed while he and his company should drink the King’s health, or the Queen’s, or that of Chief Justice Jefferies.25 Observing their feet to quiver in the agonies of death, he cried that he would give them music to their dancing, and he immediately commanded the drums to beat and the trumpets to sound. By way of experiment, he ordered one man to be hung up three times, questioning him at each interval whether he repented of his crime: but the man obstinately asserting that, notwithstanding the past, he still would willingly engage in the same cause, Kirke ordered him to be hung in chains. One story commonly told of him is memorable for the treachery, as well as barbarity, which attended it. A young maid pleaded for the life of her brother and flung herself at Kirke’s feet, armed with all the charms which beauty and innocence, bathed in tears, could bestow upon her. The tyrant was inflamed with desire, not softened into love or clemency. He promised to grant her request, provided that she, in her turn, would be equally compliant to him. The maid yielded to the conditions: but after she had passed the night with him, the wanton savage the next morning showed her, from the window, her brother, the darling object for whom she had sacrificed her virtue, hanging on a gibbet, which he had secretly ordered to be there erected for the execution. Rage and despair and indignation took possession of her mind and deprived her forever of her senses. All the inhabitants of that country, innocent as well as guilty, were exposed to the ravages of this barbarian. The soldiery were let loose to live at free quarters; and his own regiment, instructed by his example and encouraged by his exhortations, distinguished themselves in a particular manner by their outrages. By way of pleasantry he used to call them his lambs; an appellation which was long remembered with horror in the west of England.
The violent Jefferies succeeded after some interval; and showed the people that the rigors of law might equal, if not exceed, the ravages of military tyranny. This man, who wantoned in cruelty, had already given a specimen of his character in many trials where he presided; and he now set out with a savage joy, as to a full harvest of death and destruction. He began at Dorchester; and thirty rebels being arraigned, he exhorted them, but in vain, to save him, by their free confession, the trouble of trying them. And when twenty-nine were found guilty, he ordered them, as an additional punishment of their disobedience, to be led to immediate execution. Most of the other prisoners, terrified with this example, pleaded guilty; and no less than two hundred and ninety-two received sentence at Dorchester. Of these, eighty were executed. Exeter was the next stage of his cruelty; two hundred and forty-three were there tried, of whom a great number were condemned and executed. He also opened his commission at Taunton and Wells; and everywhere carried consternation along with him. The juries were so struck with his menaces that they gave their verdict with precipitation; and many innocent persons, it is said, were involved with the guilty. And on the whole, besides those who were butchered by the military commanders, two hundred and fifty-one are computed to have fallen by the hand of justice. The whole country was strewed with the heads and limbs of traitors. Every village, almost, beheld the dead carcass of a wretched inhabitant. And all the rigors of justice, unabated by any appearance of clemency, were fully displayed to the people by the inhuman Jefferies.
Of all the executions during this dismal period, the most remarkable were those of Mrs. Gaunt and Lady Lisle, who had been accused of harboring traitors. Mrs. Gaunt was an anabaptist noted for her beneficence, which she extended to persons of all professions and persuasions. One of the rebels, knowing her humane disposition, had recourse to her in his distress and was concealed by her. Hearing of the proclamation which offered an indemnity and rewards to such as discovered criminals, he betrayed his benefactress and bore evidence against her. He received a pardon as a recompense for his treachery; she was burned alive for her charity.
Lady Lisle was widow of one of the regicides who had enjoyed great favor and authority under Cromwell, and who having fled after the Restoration to Lauzanne in Swisserland, was there assassinated by three Irish ruffians, who hoped to make their fortune by this piece of service. His widow was now prosecuted for harboring two rebels the day after the battle of Sedgemoor; and Jefferies pushed on the trial with an unrelenting violence. In vain did the aged prisoner plead that these criminals had been put into no proclamation; had been convicted by no verdict; nor could any man be denominated a traitor till the sentence of some legal court was passed upon him; that it appeared not by any proof that she was so much as acquainted with the guilt of the persons, or had heard of their joining the rebellion of Monmouth; that though she might be obnoxious on account of her family, it was well known that her heart was ever loyal, and that no person in England had shed more tears for that tragical event in which her husband had unfortunately borne too great a share; and that the same principles which she herself had ever embraced she had carefully instilled into her son, and had, at that very time, sent him to fight against those rebels whom she was now accused of harboring. Though these arguments did not move Jefferies, they had influence on the jury. Twice they seemed inclined to bring in a favorable verdict; they were as often sent back with menaces and reproaches; and at last were constrained to give sentence against the prisoner. Notwithstanding all applications for pardon, the cruel sentence was executed. The King said that he had given Jefferies a promise not to pardon her.
Even those multitudes who received pardon were obliged to atone for their guilt by fines, which reduced them to beggary; or, where their former poverty made them incapable of paying, they were condemned to cruel whippings or severe imprisonments. . . . The people might have been willing on this occasion to distinguish between the King and his ministers; but care was taken to prove that the latter had done nothing but what was agreeable to their master. Jefferies, on his return, was immediately, for those eminent services, created a peer; and was soon after vested with the dignity of chancellor.26
Such were the sufferings which a king could impose on Englishmen, and such was the treatment which they supported. It was in 1686 that England exhibited to Europe such examples of barbarity and servility; and two years after, when James II was deposed and the constitution established, began that period of one hundred and twenty-eight years down to our days, in which a single session of Parliament has not passed without adding some improvement to the state of society.
James II was highly culpable; yet we cannot deny that there was treason in the manner in which he was abandoned. His daughters deprived him of the crown.27 The persons who had professed for him the greatest attachment, and who owed him the greatest gratitude, left him. The officers broke their oath; but success having, according to an English epigram, excused this treason, it no longer bore the name.*
William III was a firm and wise statesman, accustomed, by his situation of Stadtholder in Holland, to respect liberty whether he naturally liked it or not. Queen Anne,28 who succeeded him, was a woman without talents and with no strong attachments but to prejudices. Although in possession of a throne which, according to the principles of legitimacy, she ought to have relinquished to her brother, she preserved a predilection for the doctrine of divine right; and although the party of the friends of liberty had made her queen, she always felt an involuntary disinclination to them. Yet political institutions were by this time acquiring so much strength that, abroad as at home, this reign was one of the most glorious in the annals of England. The House of Hanover completed the securities of religious and political reform; yet, till after the battle of Culloden, in 1746, the spirit of faction often got the better of the spirit of justice.29 A price of 30,000 livres was put on the head of Prince Edward, and much as people feared for liberty, they had difficulty in resolving on the only manner of establishing it, that is, on respecting principles, whatever be the circumstances of the moment.
But if we read with care the reign of the three Georges,30 we shall see that, during that period, morality and liberty have been in a course of uninterrupted advancement. What a beautiful spectacle is this constitution, unsteady on leaving its harbor, like a vessel launched into the sea, and at last spreading wide its sails and giving a spring to all that is great and generous in the human mind! I know that the English will assert that they have at all times had a stronger spirit of liberty than the French; that from the time of Caesar they repelled the Roman yoke; and that the code of these Romans, composed under the emperors, was never introduced into the English laws; it is equally true that by adopting the Reformation, the English founded at once morality and liberty on a firmer basis. The clergy, having always sat in Parliament along with the lay lords, had no distinct power in the state, and the English nobility showed themselves more factious, but less of courtiers, than the nobility of France. These differences are, it cannot be denied, to the advantage of England. In France, the beauty of the climate, the relish for society, all that embellishes life operated in favor of arbitrary power, as in the countries of the South, in which the pleasures of existence are sufficient for man. But as soon as the call for liberty takes possession of the mind, even the defects with which the French are reproached, their vivacity, their self-love, attach them more to what they have determined to conquer. They are the third people, reckoning the Americans, who are making the trial of a representative government, and the example of their predecessors begins at last to guide them. In whatever way we consider each nation, we find in it always that which will render a representative government not only possible but necessary. Let us then examine the influence of that government in the country which had first the glory of establishing it.
Of the Prosperity of England, and the Causes by Which It Has Been Hitherto Promoted.
In the year 1813, the English had been twenty-one years at war with France, and for some time the whole Continent had been in arms against them. Even America, from political circumstances foreign to the interests of Europe, made a part of this universal coalition.1 During several years the respectable monarch of Great Britain was no longer in possession of his intellectual faculties.2 The great men in the civil career, Pitt and Fox, were now no more, and no one had yet succeeded to their reputation. No historical name could be cited at the head of affairs, and Wellington alone attracted the attention of Europe. Some ministers, several members of the opposition, lawyers, men of science and literature enjoyed a great share of the public esteem; and if on the one hand, France, in bending beneath the yoke of one man, had seen the reputation of individuals disappear; on the other, there was so much ability, information, and merit among the English that it had become very difficult to take the first rank amidst this illustrious crowd.
On my arrival in England, no particular person was present to my thoughts: I knew scarcely anyone in that country; but I went there with confidence.3 I was persecuted by an enemy of liberty, and therefore believed myself sure of an honorable sympathy in a country where every institution was in harmony with my political sentiments. I counted also greatly on my father’s memory as a protection, and I was not deceived. The waves of the North Sea, which I crossed in going from Sweden, still filled me with dread when I perceived at a distance the verdant isle that had alone resisted the subjugation of Europe. Yet it contained only a population of twelve million; for the five or six additional million which compose the population of Ireland had often, during the course of the last war, been a prey to intestine divisions.4 Those who will not acknowledge the ascendency of liberty in the power of England are perpetually repeating that the English would have been vanquished by Bonaparte, like every Continental nation, if they had not been protected by the sea. This opinion cannot be refuted by experience; but I have no doubt that if, by a stroke of the Leviathan, Great Britain had been joined to the European continent, she would indeed have suffered more; her wealth would, no doubt, have been diminished; but the public spirit of a free nation is such that it would never have submitted to the yoke of foreigners.
When I landed in England, in the month of June 1813, intelligence had just arrived of the armistice concluded between the Allied Powers and Napoléon. He was at Dresden, and it was still in his power to reduce himself to the miserable lot of being Emperor of France as far as the Rhine, and King of Italy. It was probable that England would not subscribe to this treaty;5 her position was therefore far from being favorable. A long war menaced her anew; her finances appeared exhausted; at least if we were to judge of her resources according to those of every other country of the world. The bank note, serving instead of coin, had fallen one-fourth on the Continent; and if this paper had not been supported by the patriotic spirit of the nation, it would have involved the ruin of public and private affairs. The French newspapers, comparing the state of the finances of the two countries, always represented England as overwhelmed with debt, and France as mistress of considerable treasure. The comparison was true; but it was necessary to add that England had the disposal of unbounded resources by her credit, while the French Government possessed only the gold which it held in its hands. France could levy millions in contributions on oppressed Europe; but her despotic sovereign could not have succeeded in a voluntary loan.
From Harwich to London you travel by a high road of nearly seventy miles, which is bordered, almost without interruption, by country houses on both sides; it is a succession of habitations with gardens, interrupted by towns; almost all the people are well clad; scarcely a cottage is in decay, and even the animals have something peaceful and comfortable about them, as if there were rights for them also in this great edifice of social order. The price of everything is necessarily very high; but these prices are for the most part fixed: there is such an aversion in that country to what is arbitrary that when there is no positive law, there is first a rule, and next a custom, to secure, as far as possible, something positive and fixed even in the smallest details. The dearness of provisions, occasioned by enormous taxes, is, no doubt, a great evil; but if the war was indispensable, what other than this nation, that is, this constitution, could have sufficed for its expenses? Montesquieu is right in remarking that free countries pay far more taxes than those who are governed despotically; but we have not yet ascertained, though the example of England might have taught us, the extent of the riches of a people who consent to what they give and consider public affairs as their own. Thus the English nation, far from having lost by twenty years of war, gained in every respect, even in the midst of the Continental blockade. Industry, become more active and ingenious, made up in an astonishing manner for the want of those productions which could no longer be drawn from the Continent. Capitals, excluded from commerce, were employed in the cultivation of waste lands and in agricultural improvements in various counties. The number of houses increased everywhere, and the extension of London, within a few years, is scarcely credible.6 If one branch of commerce fell, another arose soon. Men whose property was increased by the rise of land appropriated a large portion of their revenue to establishments of public charity. When the Emperor Alexander arrived in England,7 surrounded by the multitude, who felt so natural an eagerness to see him, he inquired where the lower orders were, because he found himself surrounded only by men dressed like the better class in other countries. The extent of what is done in England by private subscription is enormous: hospitals, houses of education, missions, Christian societies were not only supported but multiplied during the war; and the foreign who felt its disasters, the Swiss, the Germans, and the Dutch, were perpetually receiving from England private aid, the produce of voluntary gifts. When the town of Leyden was almost half destroyed by the explosion of a vessel laden with gunpowder,8 the English flag was soon after seen to appear on the coast of Holland; and as the Continental blockade existed at that time in all its rigor, the people on the coast thought themselves obliged to fire on this perfidious vessel; she then hoisted a flag of truce and made known that she brought a considerable sum for the people of Leyden, ruined by their recent misfortune.
But to what are we to attribute all these wonders of a generous prosperity? To liberty, that is to the confidence of the nation in a government which makes the first principle of its finances consist in publicity; in a government enlightened by discussion and by the liberty of the press. The nation, which cannot be deceived under such a state of things, knows the use of the taxes which it pays, and public credit supports the amazing weight of the English debt. If, without departing from proportions, anything similar were tried in the governments of the European continent that are not representative, not a second step could be made in such an enterprise. Five hundred thousand proprietors of public stock form a great guarantee for the payment of the debt in a country where the opinion and interest of every man possess influence. Justice, which in matters of credit is synonymous with ability, is carried so far in England that the dividends due to French proprietors were not confiscated there, even when all English property was seized in France. The foreign stockholder was not even made to pay an income tax on his dividends, though that tax was paid by the English themselves. This complete good faith, the perfection of policy, is the basis of the finances of England; and the confidence in the duration of this good faith is connected with political institutions. A change in the ministry, whatever it may be, occasions no prejudice to credit, since the national representation and publicity render all dissimulation impossible. Capitalists who lend their money are of all people in the world the most difficult to deceive.
There still exist old laws in England which cause some obstacles to different enterprises of industry in the interior; but some are progressively abolished, and others are fallen into disuse. Thus everyone creates resources for himself, and no man endowed with any activity can be in England without finding the means of acquiring property by doing that which contributes to the good of the state. The government never interferes in what can be equally well done by individuals: respect for personal liberty extends to the exercise of the faculties of every man; and the nation is so jealous of managing its own affairs, whenever possible, that in several respects London lacks a police necessary to the comfort of the town, because the ministers cannot encroach on the local authorities.
Political security, without which there can be neither credit nor accumulated capital, is not, however, sufficient to bring forth all the resources of a nation; men must be excited to labor by emulation, while the law secures to them the fruits of labor. Commerce and industry must be honored, not by recompenses bestowed on such or such an individual, which supposes two classes in a country, one of which believes it has the right to pay the other; but by an order of things which allows each man to reach the highest rank, if he is worthy. Hume says “that commerce stands still more in need of dignity than of liberty”;9 and indeed, the absurd prejudice which forbade the French nobles to engage in business was more prejudicial than all the other abuses of the Old Regime to the progress of wealth in France. Peerages have been recently given in England to merchants of the first class; when once made peers, they do not remain in business, because it is understood that they should serve their country in another manner. But it is their functions as magistrates, and not the prejudices of a caste, which removes them from the occupations of trade, into which the younger sons of the greatest families, when called on by circumstances, enter without hesitation. The same family is often connected with peers on one side and, on the other, with the plainest merchants of a provincial town. This political order stimulates all the faculties of the individual, because there are no bounds to the advantages which riches and talent may attain; and because no exclusion withholds either alliances, or employment, or society, or titles from the last of English citizens, if he is worthy of being the first.
But it will be said that in France, even under the old government, individuals without high birth were named to the greatest places. Yes; they were sometimes employed where they were useful to the state; but a bourgeois citizen could in no case be made the equal of a man of noble family. How was it possible to give decorations of the first order to a man of talent, without high birth, when genealogical titles were requisite to have the right of wearing them? Have we ever seen the title of duke and peer conferred on one who could have been called an upstart? And was not this word parvenu in itself an offense? Even the members of the French parliament could never, as we have already stated, cause themselves to be considered the equals of the nobility of sword. In England, rank and equality are combined in the manner most favorable to the prosperity of the state, and the happiness of the nation is the object of all social distinctions. There, as everywhere else, historical names inspire that respect of which a grateful imagination cannot refuse the tribute; but the titles remaining the same, though passing from one family to another, there results from this a salutary ignorance in the minds of the people, which leads them to pay the same respect to the same titles, whatever may be the family name to which they are attached. The great Marlborough10 was called Churchill, and was certainly not of so noble an origin as the ancient house of Spencer, to which the present Duke of Marlborough belongs; but without speaking of the memory of a great man, which would have sufficed to honor his descendants, the people of the better classes only know that the Duke of Marlborough of our days is of more illustrious descent than the famous General, and the respect in which he is held by the mass of the nation neither gains nor loses from that circumstance. The Duke of Northumberland,11 on the contrary, descends, by the female branch only, from the famous Percy Hotspur;12 and, nevertheless, he is considered by everybody as the true heir of that house. People exclaim against the regularity of ceremonials in England; the seniority of a single day, in point of nomination to the peerage, gives one peer precedence of another named some hours later. The wife and daughter share the advantages of the husband or father; but it is precisely this regularity of ranks which prevents qualms of vanity; for it may happen that the last created peer is of a nobler birth than he by whom he is preceded; he may at least think so; and everyone takes his share of self-love without injuring the public.
The nobility of France, on the contrary, could be classed only by the genealogist of the court. His decisions, founded on parchments, were without appeal; and thus, whilst the English aristocracy is the hope of all, since every person can attain it, French aristocracy was necessarily the despair of all, since it was impossible for an individual to obtain, by the efforts of his whole life, that which chance had refused him. It is not the inglorious order of birth, said an English poet to William III, which has raised you to the throne, but genius and virtue.
In England they have made respect for ancestry serve to form a class which gives the power of flattering men of talents by associating them with it. In fact, we cannot too often ask, what folly can be greater than that of arranging political associations in such a way as may lead a celebrated man to regret that he is not his own grandson; for, once ennobled, his descendants of the third generation obtained by his merit privileges that could not be granted to himself. Thus in France all persons were eager to quit trade, and even the law, whenever they had money enough to purchase a title. Hence it happened that no career, except that of arms, was ever carried as far as it might have been; and it has thus been impossible to judge how far the prosperity of France would extend if it enjoyed in peace the advantages of a free constitution.
All classes of respectable individuals are accustomed to meet in England in different committees when engaged in any public undertaking, in any act of charity supported by voluntary subscriptions. Publicity in business is a principle so generally admitted that though the English are by nature the most reserved of men, and the most averse to speak in society, there are always seats for spectators in the halls where the committees meet and an elevation from which the speakers address the assembly.
I was present at one of these discussions, in which motives calculated to excite the generosity of the hearers were urged with much energy. The question was sending of relief to the inhabitants of Leipzig after the battle fought under the walls of that town.13 The first who spoke was the Duke of York, the King’s second son and the first person in the kingdom after the Prince Regent, a man of ability and much esteemed in the direction of his department; but who has neither the habit of, nor a taste for, speaking in public. He, however, conquered his natural timidity because he was thus hopeful of giving useful encouragement. Courtiers in an absolute monarchy would not have failed to insinuate to a king’s son, first, that he ought not to do anything which cost him trouble; and, secondly, that he was wrong to commit himself by haranguing the public in the midst of merchants, his colleagues in speaking. This idea never entered the Duke of York’s mind, nor that of any Englishman, whatever might be his opinion. After the Duke of York, the Duke of Sussex, the King’s fifth son, who expresses himself with great ease and elegance, spoke in his turn; and the man the most respected and esteemed in all England, Mr. Wilberforce,14 could scarcely make himself heard, so much was his voice drowned in acclamations. Obscure citizens, holding no other rank in society than their fortune or their zeal for humanity, followed these illustrious names; every one, according to his powers, insisted on the honorable necessity in which England was placed of helping those of her allies who had suffered more than herself in the common contest. The auditors subscribed before their departure, and considerable sums were the result of this meeting. It is thus that are formed the ties which strengthen the unity of the nation; and it is thus that social order is founded on reason and humanity.
These respectable assemblies do not merely aim at encouraging acts of humanity; some of them serve particularly to consolidate the union between the great nobility and the commercial class, between the nation and the government; and these are the most solemn.
London has always had a Lord Mayor, who presides during a year in the council of the city, and whose administrative powers are very extensive. They are very careful in England not to concentrate everything in ministerial authority; they choose that in every county, in every town, local interests should be placed in the hands of men chosen by the people to manage them. The Lord Mayor is usually a merchant in the city, and not always a great merchant; but often a trader in whom a great many individuals may see their equal. The Lady Mayoress, for it is thus the Mayor’s wife is called, enjoys, during a year, all the honors attached to the most distinguished ranks of the state. The election of the people and the power of a great city are honored in the man by whom they are represented. The Lord Mayor gives two grand official dinners, to which he invites English of all classes and foreigners. I have seen at his table sons of the King, several of the ministers, ambassadors of foreign powers, the Marquis of Lansdowne, the Duke of Devonshire, as well as gentlemen of the highest respectability on various accounts: some sons of peers; others members of the House of Commons; merchants, lawyers, literary men, all English citizens, all equally attached to their noble country. Two of the King’s ministers rose from table to address the company; for while on the Continent a minister confines himself, even in the midst of select society, to the most insignificant phrases, the heads of government in England always consider themselves as representatives of the people and endeavor to win its approbation with as much solicitude as the members of the opposition; for the dignity of the English nation soars above every office and every title. Various toasts, of which the objects were political interests, were given according to custom: sovereigns and nations, glory and independence were celebrated, and there at least the English showed themselves the friends of the liberty of the world. In fact, a free nation may have an exclusive spirit in regard to the advantages of trade or power; but it ought to associate itself in every country with the rights of mankind.
This meeting took place in an ancient edifice in the city, whose gothic vaults have witnessed the bloodiest struggles: tranquillity has reigned in England only in conjunction with liberty. The official dress of all the members of the Common Council is the same as it was several centuries ago. Some customs of that period are likewise preserved, and the imagination is affected by them; but this is because the recollections of former ages do not recall odious prejudices. Whatever is Gothic in the habits, and even in some of the institutions of England, seems a ceremony of the worship of the age; but neither the progress of knowledge nor the improvement of the laws suffers from it in any respect.
We cannot believe that Providence has placed this fine monument of social order so near to France merely to give us the pain of never being able to equal it; and we shall examine with attention that which we should wish to imitate with energy.
Of Liberty and Public Spirit Among the English.
The first basis of all liberty is individual security; and nothing is finer than English legislation in this respect. A criminal suit is in every country a horrible spectacle. In England the excellence of the procedure, the humanity of the judges, the precautions of every kind taken to secure the life of the innocent man, and means of defense to the guilty mingle a sentiment of admiration with the anguish of such a discussion. How will you be tried? says the officer of the court to the accused. By God and my country, replies the latter. God grant you good deliverance, rejoins the officer of the court. From the opening of the proceedings, if the prisoner be confused, if he commit himself by his answers, the judge sets him in the proper path and takes no account of inconsiderate words which might escape him. In the progress of the trial he never addresses himself to the accused, fearing that the emotion naturally experienced by the latter might expose him to injure himself. Indirect witnesses, that is, witnesses who depose on hearsay, are never admitted, as in France. In short, all the precautions have the interest of the accused for their object. Religion and liberty preside over the imposing act which permits man to condemn his fellow creature to death. The admirable institution of juries, which in England goes back to a very remote period, introduces equity into the administration of justice. Those who are momentarily invested with the right of sending a guilty person to death have a natural sympathy with the habits of his life, as they are in general chosen in a class nearly similar to his own; and when juries are obliged to find a criminal guilty, he himself is at least certain that society has done everything to procure his acquittal, if he had deserved it; and this conviction cannot but produce some tranquillity in his heart. For the past century, there is perhaps no example in England of a capital conviction in which the innocence of the individual was discovered too late. The citizens of a free state have so large a share of good sense and conscientiousness that, with these two directing lights, they never err.
We know what a noise was produced in France by the sentence pronounced against Calas,1 by that against Lally;2 and shortly before the Revolution, president Dupaty published a most energetic pleading in favor of three accused persons who had been condemned to die on the wheel, and whose innocence was proved after their death. Such misfortunes could not occur under the laws and criminal procedure of England; and public opinion, that court of appeal, would, with the liberty of the press, make known the slightest error in that respect, were it possible that it could be committed.
Moreover, offenses which have no connection whatever with politics are not those in which we have to dread the application of arbitrary power. In general, it is of little consequence to the great personages of this world in what way robbers and assassins are tried; and no person has an interest in wishing that the laws should not be respected in such trials. But when political crimes are in question, those crimes with which opposite parties reproach each other with so much hatred and bitterness, then it is that we have seen in France all kinds of extraordinary tribunals, created by existing circumstances, applied to such an individual and justified, it was said, by the greatness of the offense; while it is exactly when this offense is of a nature to excite the passions strongly that we are under the greatest necessity of recurring for its trial to the dispassionate firmness of justice.
The English had been vexed like the French, like every people of Europe, where the empire of law is not established, by the Star Chamber,3 by extraordinary commissions, by the extension of the crime of high treason to all that was displeasing to the possessors of power. But since liberty has been consolidated in England, not only has no individual accused of an offense against the state ever had to dread a removal from his natural judges—who could admit such a thought?—but the law gives to him more means of defense than to any other, because he has more enemies. A recent circumstance will show, in all its beauty, this respect of the English for justice, one of the most admirable traits of their admirable government.
Three attempts have been made, during the present reign, on the life of the King of England, and certainly it was very dear to his subjects. The veneration which he inspires under his present malady has something affecting and delicate, of which one would never have thought an entire nation capable; and yet none of the assassins who endeavored to kill the King have been condemned to death. Having been found to show symptoms of mental derangement, this was made the object of an inquiry the more scrupulous in proportion to the violence of public indignation against them. Louis XV was wounded by Damien toward the middle of the last century,4 and it is asserted that this wretch also was deranged; but supposing even that he possessed his reason to a degree that merited a capital punishment, can a civilized nation tolerate the tortures to which he was condemned? And it is said that those tortures had inquisitive and voluntary witnesses: what a contrast between such barbarity and the proceedings in England! But let us beware of deducing from this any consequence unfavorable to the French character; it is arbitrary government that depraves a nation, and not a decree of Heaven awarding every virtue to one and every vice to another.
Hatfield is the name of the third of the madmen who attempted to assassinate the King of England. He chose the day when the King reappeared at the theater after a long illness, accompanied by the Queen and the royal family. At the moment the King entered the house was heard the report of a pistol fired in the direction of his box; and as he stepped back a few paces, the public were, for a moment, doubtful whether the murder had not been committed; but when the courageous monarch again advanced to relieve the crowd of spectators, whose disquietude was extreme, nothing can express the transport they felt. The musicians, by a spontaneous impulse, struck up the sacred tune, “God Save the King,” and this prayer produced, in the midst of the public anxiety, an emotion of which the recollection still lives in the bottom of the heart. After such a scene, many persons unacquainted with the virtues of liberty would have loudly demanded a cruel death for the assassin, and the courtiers would have been seen acting the part of the populace in their frenzy, as if the excess of their affection no longer left them masters of themselves: nothing of this kind could take place in a free country. The King, in the capacity of magistrate, was protector of his assassin from a feeling of justice, and no Englishman imagined it was possible to please his sovereign by the sacrifice of the immutable law which represents the will of God on earth.
Not only was the course of justice not hastened a single hour, but we shall see, by the preamble to the pleading of Mr. Erskine, now Lord Erskine,5 what precautions are adopted in favor of a state criminal. Let us add that in trials for high treason, the defender of the accused has a right to plead in his defense. In ordinary cases of felony, he can only examine witnesses and call the attention of the jury to their answers. And what a defender was he who was given to Hatfield? Erskine, the most eloquent lawyer in England, the most ingenious in the art of pleading. It was thus that his speech began:*
Gentlemen of the Jury. The scene which we are engaged in, and the duty which I am not merely privileged but appointed by the authority of the court to perform, exhibits to the whole civilized world a perpetual monument of our national justice.
The transaction, indeed, in every part of it, as it stands recorded in the evidence already before us, places our country, and its government, its inhabitants, and its laws upon the highest pinnacle of moral elevation that social order can attain. It appears that, on the 15th day of May last, His Majesty, after a reign of forty years, not merely in sovereign power but spontaneously in the very hearts of his people, was openly shot at (or to all appearance shot at), in a public theater in the center of his capital, and amidst the loyal plaudits of his subjects; yet not a hair of the head of the supposed assassin was touched. In this unparalleled scene of calm forbearance, the King himself, though he stood first in personal interest and feeling, as well as in command, gave an example of calmness and moderation equally singular and fortunate.
Gentlemen, I agree with the Attorney General (indeed there can be no possible doubt) that if the same pistol had been maliciously fired by the prisoner in the same theater at the meanest man within its walls, he would have been brought to immediate trial and, if guilty, to immediate execution. He would have heard the charge against him for the first time when the indictment was read upon his arraignment. He would have been a stranger to the names and even to the existence of those who were to sit in judgment upon him, and of those who were to be witnesses against him; but upon the charge of even this murderous attack upon the King himself, he is entirely covered with the armor of the law. He has been provided with counsel by the King’s own judges, and not of their choice but of his own. He has had a copy of the indictment ten days before his trial. He has had the names, descriptions, and abodes of all the jurors returned to the court; he has enjoyed the important privilege of peremptorily rejecting them without assigning the motive of his refusal. He has had the same description of every witness who could be received to accuse him; and there must at this hour be twice the testimony against him that would be legally competent to establish his guilt on a similar prosecution by the meanest and most helpless of mankind.
Gentlemen, when this unfortunate catastrophe happened, I remember to have said to some now present that it was, at first view, difficult to go back to the principle of those indulgent exceptions to the general rules of procedure, and to explain why our ancestors extended to conspiracies against the king’s person the precautions which concern treasons against government. In fact, in cases of political treason, passions and interests of great bodies of powerful men being engaged and agitated, a counterpoise became necessary to give composure and impartiality to criminal tribunals; but a mere murderous attack upon the king’s person, not at all connected with his political character, seemed a case to be ranged and dealt with like a similar attack upon any private man.
But the wisdom of the law is greater than any man’s wisdom; how much more, therefore, than mine! An attack upon the king is considered to be parricide against the state; and the jury and the witnesses, and even the judges, are its children. It is fit, on that account, that there should be a solemn pause before we rush to judgment; and what can be a more sublime spectacle of justice than that of a whole nation declared disqualified from judging during a limited period? Was not a fifteen days’ quarantine necessary to preserve the mind from the contagion of so natural a partiality?
What a country is that in which such words are only the plain and accurate exposition of the existing state of things!
The civil jurisprudence of England is much less entitled to praise; the suits in it are too tedious and too expensive. It will certainly be ameliorated in course of time, as it has already been in several respects; for what, above all things, characterizes the English government is the possibility of improving itself without convulsion. There remain in England old forms, originating in the feudal ages, which surcharge the civil administration of law with a number of useless delays; but the constitution was established by engrafting the new on the old, and if the result has been the keeping up of certain abuses, it can, on the other hand, be said that liberty has in this way received the advantage of claiming an ancient origin. The condescension for old usages does not extend in England to anything that concerns individual security and liberty. In that respect, the ascendancy of reason is complete, and it is on the basis of reason that all reposes.
Before we proceed to the consideration of political powers, without which civil rights would possess no guarantee, we must speak of the only infraction of individual liberty with which England can be reproached—the impressment of seamen.6 I will not urge the motives founded on the great interest which a country whose power is maritime has to maintain itself in this respect in strength; nor will I say that this kind of violence is confined to those who have already served either in the mercantile or in the Royal Navy, and who consequently know, as soldiers do on land, the kind of obligation to which they are subjected. I shall prefer to admit frankly that it is a great abuse, but an abuse which will doubtless be reformed in some way; for in a country in which the thoughts of all are turned toward the improvement of the state of society, and where the liberty of the press is favorable to the extension of public spirit, it is impossible that truths of every kind should not, in the long run, attain effectual circulation. We may predict that at a period more or less remote, we shall see important changes in the mode of recruiting the navy of England.
“Well!” exclaim the enemies of all public virtue, “supposing the good that is said of England to be well founded, the only result is that it is a country ably and wisely governed, as every other country might be; but it is by no means free in the way that philosophers understand freedom, for ministers are masters of everything in that as in other countries. They purchase votes in Parliament in such a way as to obtain constantly a majority; and the whole of this English constitution, which we hear spoken of with so much admiration, is nothing but the art of bringing political venality into play.” Mankind would be much to be pitied were the world thus stripped of all its moral beauties, and it would then be difficult to comprehend the views of the Divinity in the creation of man; but happily these assertions are combated by facts as much as by theory. It is inconceivable how ill England is known on the Continent, in spite of the little distance that separates the two. Party spirit rejects the light which it would receive from this immortal beacon; and people refuse to look at anything in England but her diplomatic influence, which is not, as I shall explain in the sequel, the fair side of that country.
Can people in good faith persuade themselves that the English ministers give money to the members of the House of Commons or to members of the House of Peers to vote on the side of government? How could the English ministers, who render so exact an account of the public money, find sums of sufficient magnitude to bribe men of such large fortune, to say nothing whatever of their character? Mr. Pitt, several years ago, threw himself on the indulgence of the House in consequence of having lent 40,000 livres to support some commercial establishments during the last war; and what is called secret service money is of too small amount to command the least political influence in the interior of the country. Moreover, would not the liberty of the press, the torch which sheds light on the smallest details of the life of public men, would it not expose those presents of corruption which would forever ruin those who had received them as well as the ministers who had bestowed them?
There did, I confess, exist under Mr. Pitt’s predecessors some examples of bargains concluded for government in such a way as to give an indirect advantage to members of Parliament; but Mr. Pitt abstained altogether from expedients so unworthy of him; he established a free competition for loans and contracts; and yet no man exercised a greater sway over both houses. “Yes,” it will be said, “peers and members of the commons are not gained by money, but their object is places for themselves and their friends; and corruption in this way is as effectual as in the other.” Doubtless, the favors at the disposal of the Crown form a part of the prerogative of the king, and consequently of the constitution. This influence is one of the weights in the balance so wisely combined; and moreover, it is as yet very limited. Never would ministry have either the power or the idea of making any change in what regards the constitutional liberties of England. Public opinion presents in that respect an invincible barrier. Public delicacy consecrates certain truths as above attack; and the opposition would no more think of criticizing the institution of the peerage than the ministerial party would presume to blame the liberty of the press. It is only in the circle of momentary circumstances that certain personal or family considerations can influence the direction of some minds; but never to a degree to cause the infraction of constitutional laws. Even if the King wanted to exempt himself from these laws, the responsibility of ministers would not permit them to support him in it: and those who compose the majority in the two houses would be still less disposed to renounce their real rights as lords, representatives, and citizens to acquire the favor of a court.
Fidelity to a party is one of the virtues founded on respect for public spirit, from which the greatest advantages result to English liberty. If tomorrow the ministers go out of office, those who voted with them and to whom they have given places quit those places along with them. A man would be dishonored in England were he to separate himself from his political friends for his own particular interest. Public opinion in this respect is so strong that a man of a very respectable name and character was known, not very long ago, to commit suicide because he reproached himself to have accepted a place independent from his party. Never do you hear the same mouth give utterance to two opposite opinions; and yet, in the existing state of things in England, the differences lie in shades, not colors. Tories, it has been said, approve of liberty and love monarchy, while Whigs approve of monarchy and love liberty; but between these two parties, no question could arise about a republican or a regal form of government, about the old or the new dynasty, liberty or servitude; in short, about any of those extremes and contrasts which we have seen professed by the same men in France, as if we ought to say of power as of love that the object is of no consequence provided one be always faithful to the sentiment, that is, to devotedness to power.
Dispositions of a very opposite character are the objects of admiration in England. For nearly half a century the members of the opposition have been in place only three or four years; yet party fidelity has not been shaken among them; and even recently, at the time I was in England, I saw lawyers refuse places of 7 or 8000 livres a year, which were not immediately connected with politics, only because they had engagements of opinion with the friends of Fox. Were a man in France to refuse a place of 8000 livres a year, truly his relations would think it high time to take out against him a statute of lunacy.
The existence of a ministerial and opposition party, although it cannot be prescribed by law, is an essential support of liberty founded on the nature of things. In every country where you see an assembly of men constantly in accord, be assured that despotism exists, or that despotism, if not the cause, will be the result of unanimity. Now, as power and the favors at the disposal of power possess attraction for men, liberty could not exist but with this fidelity to party, which introduces, if we may use the phrase, a discipline of honor into the ranks of members enrolled under different banners.
But if opinions are formed beforehand, how can truth and eloquence operate on the assembly? How can the majority change when circumstances require it, and of what avail is discussion if no one can vote according to his conviction? The case is not so: what is called fidelity to your party consists in not separating your personal interests from those of your political friends, and in your not treating separately with men in power. But it often happens that circumstances or arguments influence the mass of the assembly, and that the neutral party, whose number is considerable, that is, the men who do not take an active part in politics, produce a change in the majority. It is in the nature of the English government that ministers cannot remain in office without having this majority in their favor; yet Mr. Pitt, although he lost it for an interval during the first illness of the King, was enabled to keep his place because public opinion, which was in his favor, enabled him to dissolve Parliament and have recourse to a new election.7 In short, public opinion bears the sway in England, and it is public opinion that constitutes the liberty of a country.
The jealous friends of this liberty desire a reform in Parliament and maintain that there is no truth in the existence of a representative government so long as the elections shall be so managed as to put the choice of a great number of deputies at the disposal of the ministry. The ministry, it is true, can influence a number of elections, such as those of the Cornish boroughs and some others of the same nature, in which the right of electing has been preserved although the electors have, in a great measure, disappeared; while towns of which the population is greatly increased have not so many deputies as their population would require, or have even none at all.8 We may reckon, in the number of the prerogatives of the Crown, the right of introducing by its influence sixty or eighty members into the House of Commons out of six hundred and fifty-eight who compose it; but this abuse, for it is one, has not, down to the latest times, altered the strength and independence of the English Parliament.
The bishops and archbishops, who have seats in the House of Peers, vote likewise almost always with the ministry, except in points relative to religion. It is not from corrupt motives but from a sense of propriety that prelates appointed by the king do not in general attack ministers; but all these different elements that enter into the composition of the national representation do not prevent it from proceeding under the eye of public opinion; nor prevent men of importance in England, whether for talent, fortune, or personal respectability, from being in general members of the House. There are great proprietors and peers who dispose of certain seats in the House of Commons in the same way as ministers; and when these peers are in the opposition, the members whom they have caused to be elected vote in like manner on their side. All these accidental circumstances make no change in the nature of the representative government. What, above all, is of importance is the publicity of debate and the admirable forms of deliberation which protect the minority. Deputies elected by lot would, with the liberty of the press, represent the national opinion in a country more faithfully than the most regularly elected deputies, if they were not guided and enlightened by that liberty.
It would, however, be desirable to make a gradual suppression of elections that have become illusory, and that, on the other hand, a fairer representation be given to population and property in order to re-animate a little the spirit of Parliament which the reaction against the French Revolution has rendered in some respects too docile toward the executive power.9 But there exists a dread of the strength of the popular element composing the third branch of the legislature, although modified by the discretion and dignity of the members of the House of Commons. There are, however, some men in that assembly whose opinions are very decided in favor of democracy. Not only must that be the case wherever opinion is free, but it is even desirable that the existence of such opinions should remind the grandees of the country that they cannot preserve the advantages of their rank otherwise than by consulting the rights and welfare of the nation. Yet it would be a great error to imagine on the Continent that the opposition party is democratic. What strange democrats would be the Duke of Devonshire, the Duke of Bedford, the Marquis of Stafford! On the contrary, it is the high aristocracy of England which serves as a barrier to royal authority. Opposition are, it is true, more liberal than ministers in their principles: to combat power is sufficient to give a new temper to the mind and heart. But how could one fear a revolutionary commotion on the part of individuals possessed of every kind of property which order causes to be respected; of fortune, rank, and, above all, of knowledge? For knowledge, when real and profound, gives men a consistency equal to that of wealth.
In the House of Commons in England, no attempts are made at that kind of eloquence which excites the multitude; discussion predominates in that assembly, the spirit of business presides there, and there prevails perhaps too great a strictness in regard to oratorical display. Even Burke, whose political writings are now so much admired, was not listened to with attention when speaking in the Lower House, because he introduced into his speeches ornaments foreign to his subject and belonging properly to literature. Ministers are often required to give, in the House of Commons, particular explanations which do not at all enter into the debates. The deputies from the different towns or counties apprise the members of government of the abuses which may occur in local administration, of the reforms and improvement of which it is susceptible; and these habitual communications between the representatives of the people and the heads of the executive power produce the happiest results.
“If the majority of Parliament is not bribed by ministers,” say those who think they are pleading their own cause by demonstrating the degradation of mankind, “at least you will admit that candidates expend enormous sums on their elections.” It cannot be denied that in certain elections there exists venality, notwithstanding the severity of the law. The greatest part of the cost consists in traveling expenses, that is, in bringing to the place of election voters who live at a great distance. The consequence is that none except very opulent persons can venture to run the risk of coming forward as candidates for such places, and that the expense of elections is sometimes carried to a foolish extreme in England, like expense of every kind in other monarchies. Yet in what country can popular elections exist without endeavors to win the favor of the people? This is precisely the grand advantage of the institution. It happens then for once that the rich stand in need of the class which in general is dependent on them. Lord Erskine told me that in his career of counselor and member of the House of Commons, there was perhaps not one inhabitant of Westminster to whom he had not occasion to speak; so great are the political relations between the citizens and men of the highest rank. Nominations by a court are almost always influenced by the most narrow motives; the broad day of popular election cannot be borne but by individuals remarkable for some quality or other. Merit will always triumph at last in countries where the public is called on to point it out.
That which is particularly characteristic of England is a mixture of chivalrous spirit with an enthusiasm for liberty, the two most noble sentiments of which the human heart is susceptible. Circumstances have brought about this fortunate result, and we ought to admit that new institutions would not suffice to produce it: the recollection of the past is necessary to consecrate aristocratic ranks; for if they were all of the creation of power, they would be subject, in part, to the inconveniences experienced in France under Bonaparte. But what can be done in a country where the nobility should be inimical to liberty of every kind? The Third Estate could not form a union with them; and as it would be the stronger of the two, it would incessantly threaten the nobility until the latter had submitted to the progress of reason.
The English aristocracy is of a more mixed kind in the eyes of a genealogist than that of France; but the English nation seems, if we may say so, one entire body of gentlemen. You see in every English citizen what he may one day become, since no rank lies beyond the reach of talent, and since high ranks have always kept up their ancient splendor. It is true that that which, above all, constitutes nobility, in the view of an enlightened mind, is being free. An English nobleman or gentleman (taking the word “gentleman” in the sense of a man of independent property) exercises, in his part of the country, some useful employment to which no salary is attached: as a justice of the peace, sheriff, or lord lieutenant in the county where his property is situated; he influences elections in a manner that is suitable, and that increases his credit with the people; as a peer or member of the House of Commons, he discharges a political function and possesses a real importance. This is not the idle aristocracy of a French nobleman, who was of no consideration in the state whenever the king refused him his favor; it is a distinction founded on all the interests of the nation. And we cannot avoid being surprised that French nobles should have preferred the life of a courtier, moving on the road from Versailles to Paris, to the majestic stability of an English peer on his estate, surrounded by men to whom he can do a thousand acts of kindness, but over whom he can exercise no arbitrary power. The authority of law is in England predominant over all the powers of the state, as Fate in ancient mythology was superior to the authority of the gods themselves.
To the political miracle of a respect for the rights of everyone founded on a sentiment of justice, we must add the equally skillful and fortunate union of equality under the law to the advantages arising from the separation of ranks. Everyone in that country stands in need of others for his comfort, yet everyone is there independent of all by his rights. This Third Estate, which has become so prodigiously aggrandized in France and in the rest of Europe, this Third Estate, the increase of which necessitates successive changes in all old institutions, is united in England to the nobility, because the nobility itself is identified with the nation. A great number of peers owe the origin of their dignity to the law, some to commerce, others to a military career, others to political eloquence; there is not one virtue nor one kind of talent which has not its place, or which may not flatter itself with attaining it; and everything in the social edifice conduces to the glory of that constitution which is as dear to the Duke of Norfolk as to the meanest porter in England, because it protects both with the same equity.
These verses are by a poet of admirable talents, but whose happiness was destroyed by his extreme sensibility.10 He was laboring under a mortal disease of melancholy; and when love, friendship, philosophy, everything added to his sufferings, a free country yet awakened in his soul an enthusiasm which nothing could extinguish.
All men are more or less attached to their country; the recollections of infancy, the habits of youth form that inexpressible love of the native soil which we must acknowledge as a virtue, for all true feeling constitutes its source. But in a great state, liberty and the happiness arising from that liberty can alone inspire true patriotism: nothing accordingly is comparable to public spirit in England. The English are accused of selfishness, and it is true that their mode of life is so well regulated that they generally confine themselves within the circle of their habits and domestic affections; but what sacrifice is too great for them when the interest of their country is at stake? And among what people in the world are services rendered, felt, and rewarded with more enthusiasm? When we enter Westminster Abbey, all those tombs, sacred to the men who have been illustrious for centuries past, seem to reproduce the spectacle of the greatness of England among the dead. Kings and philosophers repose under the same roof: it is there that quarrels are appeased, as has been well observed by the celebrated Walter Scott.* You behold the tombs of Pitt and Fox beside each other, and the same tears bedew both; for they both deserve the profound regret which generous minds ought to bestow on that noble elite of our species who serve to support our confidence in the immortality of the soul.
Let us recollect the funeral of Nelson,11 when nearly a million persons scattered throughout London and the neighborhood contemplated in silence the passage of his coffin. The multitude were silent, the multitude evinced as much respect in the expression of its grief as might have been expected from the most polished society. Nelson had given as a signal, on the day of Trafalgar, “England expects every man to do his duty”; he had accomplished that duty, and when expiring on board his vessel, the honorable obsequies which his country would grant him presented themselves to his thoughts as the beginning of a new life.
Nor yet let us be silent on Lord Wellington, although in France we cannot but suffer by the recollection of his glory. With what transport was he not received by the representatives of the nation, by the Peers and by the Commons! No ceremony was required to convey this homage rendered to a living man; but the transports of the English people burst forth on all sides. The acclamations of the crowd resounded in the lobby before he entered the House; when he appeared, all the members rose with a spontaneous motion, unrequired by any formality. The homage which is dictated elsewhere was here inspired by emotion. Yet nothing could be more simple than the reception of Lord Wellington: there were no guards, no military pomp to do honor to the greatest general of the age in which Bonaparte lived; but the day was celebrated by the voice of the people, and nothing like it could be seen in any other country upon earth.
Ah! what a fascinating enjoyment is that of popularity! I know all that can be said on the inconstancy, and even the caprice of popular favor; but those reproaches are more applicable to ancient republics, where the democratic forms of government led to the most rapid vicissitudes. In a country governed like England, and, moreover, enlightened by that torch without which all is darkness, the liberty of the press, men and things are judged with great equity. Truth is submitted to the observation of everyone, while the various constraints that are employed elsewhere produce necessarily great uncertainty in judgments. A libel that glides across the compulsory silence to which the press is condemned may change public opinion in regard to any man, for the praise or the censure ordered by government is always suspicious. Nothing can be clearly and solidly settled in the minds of men but by free discussion.
“Do you pretend,” it may be said, “that there is no mutability in the judgment of the English people, and that they will not offer incense today to him whom they would perhaps tear in pieces tomorrow?” Doubtless, those who are at the head of government should be subject to lose the favor of the people if they are not successful in the management of public affairs. The depositaries of authority ought to be fortunate; that is one of the conditions of the advantages that are granted to them. Besides, power having always a tendency to deprave those who possess it, it is always to be wished, in a free country, that the same men should not remain too long in office; and it is right to change ministers, were it only for the sake of changing. But reputation, once acquired, is very durable in England, and public opinion may be considered as the conscience of the state.
If anything can seduce the English nation from equity, it is misfortune. An individual, persecuted by any power whatever, might inspire an undeserved, and consequently a fleeting interest. But this noble error belongs, on the one hand, to the generosity of the English character, and on the other, to that sentiment of liberty which makes all feel the desire of defending themselves mutually against oppression; for it is in that respect especially that, in politics, we should treat our neighbor as ourselves.
The state of information and the energy of public spirit are more than a sufficient answer to the arguments of those men who pretend that the army would overpower the liberty of England if England were a Continental state. It is, without doubt, an advantage to England that her strength consists rather in her marine than in her land forces. It requires more knowledge to be a captain of a ship than a colonel; and none of the habits acquired at sea lead one to desire to interfere in the interior affairs of the country. But were nature, in a lavish mood, to create ten Lord Wellingtons, and were the world again to witness ten battles of Waterloo, it would never enter the heads of those who so readily give their lives for their country to turn their force against it; or, if so, they would encounter an invincible obstacle among men as brave as themselves, and more enlightened, who detest the military spirit although they know how to admire and practice warlike virtues.
That sort of prejudice which persuaded the French nobility that they could serve their country only in the career of arms does not exist at all in England. Many sons of lords are counselors; the bar participates in the respect that is felt for the law; and in every career civil occupations are held in esteem. In such a country there is nothing as yet to be feared from military power: only ignorant nations have a blind admiration for the sword. Bravery is a superb quality when we expose a life dear to our family, and when, with a mind filled with virtue and knowledge, a citizen becomes a soldier to maintain his rights as a citizen. But when men fight only because they will not take the trouble to employ their minds and their time in some steady pursuit, they cannot be long admired by a nation where industry and reflection hold the first rank. The satellites of Cromwell overthrew a civil power which had neither strength nor dignity; but since the existence of the constitution, and of public spirit which is its soul, princes or generals would only excite in the whole nation a feeling of contempt for their folly were they at any time to dream of enslaving their country.
Of Knowledge, Religion, and Morals Among the English.
What constitutes the knowledge of a nation are sound political ideas spread among all classes and a general instruction in sciences and literature. In the first respect, the English have no rivals in Europe; in the second, I know nothing that can be compared to them, except the Germans of the North. Still the English would have an advantage which can belong only to their institutions, which is that the first class of society devotes itself as much to study as the second. Mr. Fox wrote learned dissertations on Greek during his hours of leisure from parliamentary debates; Mr. Windham has left several interesting treatises on mathematics and literature. The English have at all times honored learning: Henry VIII, who trampled everything underfoot, yet respected men of letters when they did not come in opposition to his disorderly passions. The great Elizabeth was well versed in the ancient languages and even spoke Latin with facility. That foppery of ignorance with which we had reason to reproach the French nobility was never introduced among the princes or nobility of England. One would think that the former were persuaded that the divine right by which they hold their privileges entirely exempted them from the study of human science. Such a manner of thinking could not exist in England and would only appear ridiculous. Nothing factitious can succeed in a country where everything is subjected to publicity. The great English nobility would be as much ashamed of not having had a distinguished classical education as men of the second rank in France were, heretofore, of not going to court; and these differences are not connected, as some pretend, with French frivolity. The most persevering scholars, the deepest thinkers, have belonged to that nation, which is capable of everything when it chooses; but its political institutions were so defective that they perverted its natural good qualities.
In England, on the contrary, the institutions favor every kind of intellectual progress. The juries, the administrations of counties and towns, the elections, the newspapers give the whole nation a great share of interest in public affairs. The consequence is that it is better informed; and that, at a venture, it would be better to converse with an English farmer on political questions than with the greater number of men on the Continent, even the most enlightened. That admirable good sense which is founded on justice and security exists nowhere but in England or in the country that resembles it, America. Reflection must remain a stranger to men who have no rights; since as soon as they perceive the truth, they must be first unhappy, and soon after filled with the spirit of revolt. It must be admitted also that in a country where the armed force has almost always been naval, and commerce the principal occupation, there must necessarily be more knowledge than where the national defense is confided to the troops of the line; and where industry is almost entirely directed to the cultivation of the ground. Commerce, placing men in relation with the interests of the world, extends the ideas, exercises the judgment, and, from the multiplicity and diversity of transactions, makes the necessity of justice continually to be felt. In countries where the only pursuit is agriculture, the mass of the population may be composed of serfs attached to the soil and devoid of all information. But what could be done with tradesmen who are enslaved and ignorant? A maritime and commercial country is, therefore, necessarily more enlightened than any other; yet there remains much to be done to give the English people a sufficient education. A considerable portion of the lowest class can as yet neither read nor write; and it is doubtless to remedy this evil that the new methods of Bell and Lancaster1 are so warmly encouraged, because they are calculated to bring education within the reach of the indigent. The lower orders are perhaps better informed in Switzerland, in Sweden, and in some parts of the north of Germany; but in none of these countries is found that vigor of liberty which will preserve England, it is to be hoped, from the reaction occasioned by the French Revolution. In a country where there is an immense capital, great riches concentrated in a small number of hands, a court, all that can tend to the corruption of the people, time is needed for knowledge to extend itself and to oppose successfully the inconveniences attached to the disproportion of fortunes.
The peasantry of Scotland is better informed than that of England, because there is less wealth in the hands of a few and more prosperity among the people. The Presbyterian religion established in Scotland excludes the episcopal hierarchy maintained by the English church. Consequently, the choice of the simple ministers of public worship is better there; and as they live retired in the mountains, they devote their time to the instruction of the peasants. It is also a great advantage for Scotland not to be subject, like England, to a very oppressive and very ill-planned poor’s tax, which keeps up mendicity and creates a class of people who dare not quit the parish where relief is guaranteed to them.2 The city of Edinburgh is not so much absorbed as London by public affairs, and does not contain such a mixture of wealth and luxury; philosophical and literary interests play there a greater role. But, on the other hand, the remains of the feudal system are more felt in Scotland than in England. Juries in civil affairs have been but recently introduced, and there are not nearly so many popular elections in proportion as among the English. Commerce has there less influence, and the spirit of liberty is, with some exceptions, displayed with less energy.
In Ireland, the ignorance of the people is frightful; but that must be attributed, in part, to superstitious prejudices and, in part, to the almost total privation of the benefits of a constitution. Ireland has been united to England only for a few years;3 she has felt till now all the evils of arbitrary power, and has often avenged herself of it in a most violent manner. The nation being divided into two religions, forming also two political parties, the English government since Charles I has granted every advantage to the Protestants in order to enable them to keep in submission the Catholic majority. Swift, an Irishman and as fine a genius as any in the three kingdoms,* wrote, in 1740, on the miserable state of Ireland. The attention of enlightened men was strongly excited by the writings of Swift, and the improvements which took place in that country may be dated from that time. When America declared herself independent, and England was obliged to acknowledge her as such, the necessity of paying attention to Ireland was felt every day more strongly by reflecting minds. The illustrious talents of Mr. Grattan,4 which thirty years later have again astonished England, were remarked so early as 1782 in the parliament of Ireland; and by degrees that country was at length brought to a union with Great Britain. Superstitious prejudices are still, however, the source of a thousand evils there; for to reach the same point of prosperity as England, the knowledge connected with a reform in religion is as necessary as the free spirit of a representative government. The political exclusion to which the Irish Catholics are condemned is contrary to the true principles of justice; but it seems difficult to put in possession of the benefits of the constitution men who are irritated by ancient resentment.
Hitherto then we can admire in the Irish nation only a great character of independence and a great deal of natural quickness; but in that country people do not yet enjoy either the security or the instruction which are the result of religious and political liberty. Scotland is, in many respects, the opposite of Ireland, and England retains something of both.
Since it is impossible in England to be minister without sitting in one of the houses of Parliament, and without discussing the affairs of state with the representatives of the nation, it unavoidably follows that such ministers bear, in general, no resemblance to the class of governors in an absolute monarchy. The esteem of the public is, in England, the first aim of men in power; they scarcely ever make a fortune in the ministry. Mr. Pitt died leaving nothing but debts, which the Parliament paid. The under-secretaries of state, the clerks, all persons connected with the administration, enlightened by public opinion and their own pride, possess the most perfect integrity. Ministers cannot favor their partisans unless the latter are sufficiently distinguished not to provoke the discontent of Parliament. It is not enough to have the favor of the master to remain in place; it is necessary also to have the esteem of the representatives of the nation; and this can only be obtained by real ability. Ministers appointed by court intrigue, as we have seen continually in France, would not support themselves twenty-four hours in the House of Commons. Their mediocrity would be ascertained in an instant; they would not appear there be-powdered and in the full costume of the ministers of the old government and of the court of Bonaparte. They would not be surrounded with courtiers acting the same part with them which they themselves act with the King, and bursting into raptures at the justness of their commonplace ideas and the depth of their false conceptions. An English minister enters either house alone, without any particular dress, without a distinctive mark; no sort of quackery comes to his aid; everybody questions and judges him; but, on the other hand, he is respected by all, if he deserves it, because being able to pass only for what he is, the esteem he enjoys is due to his personal worth.
“They do not pay their court to princes in England as in France,” it will be said, “but they seek popularity, which does not less impair the truth of character.” In a well-organized country like England, to desire popularity is to wish for the just recompense of all that is noble and good in itself. There have existed, in all times, men who were virtuous, notwithstanding the inconveniences and the perils to which they were exposed in consequence; but when social institutions are combined in such a manner that private interests and public virtues accord, it does not hence follow that these virtues have no other basis than personal interest. They are only more general, because they are advantageous as well as honorable.
The science of liberty (if we may use that expression) at the point at which it is cultivated in England supposes in itself a very high degree of education and knowledge. Nothing can be more simple than that doctrine, once the principles on which it reposes have been adopted; but it is nevertheless certain that, on the Continent, we seldom meet with any person who, in heart and mind, understands England. It would seem as if there were moral truths amidst which we must be born, and which the beating of the heart inculcates better than all the discussions of theory. Nevertheless, to enjoy and practice that liberty which unites all the advantages of republican virtues, of philosophical knowledge, of religious sentiments, and monarchical dignity, a great share of understanding is requisite in the people, and a high degree of study and virtue in men of the first class. English ministers must unite with the qualities of a statesman the art of expressing themselves with eloquence. It thence follows that literature and philosophy are much more appreciated, because they contribute efficaciously to the success of the highest ambition. We hear incessantly of the empire of rank and of wealth among the English; but we must also acknowledge the admiration which is granted to real talents. It is possible that, among the lowest class of society, a peerage and a fortune produce more effect than the name of a great writer; this must be so; but if the question regards the enjoyments of good company and consequently of public opinion, I know no country in the world where it is more advantageous to be a man of superiority. Not only every employment, every rank may be the recompense of talent; but public esteem is expressed in so flattering a manner as to confer enjoyments more keenly felt than any other.
The emulation which such a prospect must excite is one of the principal causes of the incredible extent of information and knowledge diffused in England. Were it possible to make a statistical report of knowledge, in no country should we find so great a proportion of persons conversant in the study of ancient languages, a study, unfortunately, too much neglected in France. Private libraries without number, collections of every kind, subscriptions in abundance for all literary undertakings, establishments for public education exist in all directions, in every county, at the extremity as in the center of the kingdom; in short, we find at each step altars erected to thought, and these altars serve as a support to those of religion and virtue.
Thanks to toleration, to political institutions, and the liberty of the press, there is a greater respect for religion and for morals in England than in any other country in Europe. In France people take a pleasure in saying that it is precisely for the sake of religion and morals that censors have been at all times employed; but let them compare the spirit of literature in England since the liberty of the press is established there with the different writings which appeared under the arbitrary reign of Charles II, and under the regent or Louis XV in France. The licentiousness of published works was carried among the French in the last century to a degree that excites horror. The case is the same in Italy, where, however, the press has at all times been subjected to the most cumbersome restrictions. Ignorance in the mass of the people and the most lawless independence in men of superior parts is always the result of constraint.
English literature is certainly of all others that in which there are the greatest number of philosophic works. Scotland contains, at this day, very powerful writers in that department, with Dugald Stewart5 at their head, who in retirement pursues with ardor the search of truth. Literary criticism is carried to the highest pitch in the reviews, particularly in that of Edinburgh;6 in which writers, formed to render themselves illustrious, Jeffrey, Playfair, Mackintosh,7 do not disdain to enlighten authors by the opinions they pass on their works. The most learned writers on questions of jurisprudence and political economy, such as Bentham, Malthus, Brougham,8 are more numerous in England than anywhere else because they have a well-founded hope that their ideas will be translated into practice. Voyages to every part of the world bring to England the tributes of science, which are not less welcome than those of commerce; but in the midst of so many intellectual treasures of every kind, we cannot cite any of those irreligious or licentious works with which France has been inundated: public opinion has reprobrated them from the moment that it had cause to dread them; and it acquits itself of this with greater willingness because it is the only sentinel for this purpose. Publicity is always favorable to truth; and as morality and religion are truth in its highest character, the more you permit men to discuss these subjects, the more they become enlightened and dignified. The courts of justice would very properly punish in England any publication offensive to character and morals; but no work bears that mark of official inspection (censure) which casts a previous doubt on the assertions it may contain.
English poetry, which is fostered neither by irreligion, nor the spirit of faction, nor licentiousness of manners, is still rich and animated, experiencing nothing of that decline which threatens successively the literature of most other countries in Europe. Sensibility and imagination preserve the immortal youth of soul. A second age of poetry has arisen in England because enthusiasm is not there extinct, and because nature, love, and country always exercise great power there. Cowper lately, and now Rogers, Moore, Thomas Campbell, Walter Scott, Lord Byron, in different departments and degrees, are preparing a new age of glory for English poetry; and while everything on the Continent is in a state of degradation, the eternal fountain of beauty still flows from the land of freedom.
In what empire is Christianity more respected than in England? Where are greater pains taken to propagate it? Whence do missionaries proceed in so great number to every part of the world? The Society9 which has taken on itself to transmit copies of the Bible into countries where the light of Christianity is obscured, or not yet displayed, transmitted quantities of them into France during the war, and this care was not superfluous. But I should at present deviate from my subject were I to enter here on what would constitute an apology for France in that respect.
The Reformation placed the cultivation of knowledge among the English in harmony with the feelings of religion. This has been of great advantage to that country; and the high degree of piety of which individuals there are capable leads always to austerity in morals, and scarcely ever to superstition. The particular sects of England, the most numerous of which is that of the Methodists, have no other view than the maintenance of the severe purity of Christianity in the conduct of life. Their renunciation of pleasures of every kind, their persevering zeal in well-doing announce to mankind that there are in the Gospel the germs of sentiments and of virtues still more fruitful than all those that we have seen displayed even to the present day, and the sacred flowers of which are perhaps destined for future generations.
In a religious country good morals also necessarily exist, and yet the passions of the English are very strong; for it is a great error to believe them of a calm disposition because they have habitually cold manners. No men are more impetuous in great things; but they resemble the dogs sent by Porus10 to Alexander, who disdained to fight against any other adversary than the lion. The English abandon their apparent tranquillity and give themselves up to extremes of all kinds. They go in quest of danger; they wish to attempt extraordinary things; they desire strong emotions. Activity of imagination and the restraint of their habits render such emotions necessary to them; but these habits themselves are founded on a great respect for morality.
The freedom of the newspapers, which some persons would represent to us as contrary to delicacy of mores, is one of the most efficacious causes of that delicacy: everything in England is so well known, and so discussed, that truth in all matters is unavoidable; and one might submit to the judgment of the English public as to that of a friend, who should enter into the details of your life, into the shades of your character, to weigh every action, in the spirit of equity, agreeably to the situation of each individual. The greater the weight of public opinion in England, the greater boldness is necessary to act in violation of it; accordingly the women who brave it go to a daring length. But how rare are these violations of it, even in the highest class, the only one in which such examples can at times be cited! In the second rank, among the inhabitants of the country, we find nothing but good marriages and private virtues, a domestic life entirely consecrated to the education of a numerous family, who, brought up in a complete conviction of the sacred nature of marriage, would not permit a light thought on this subject to enter the mind. As there are no convents in England, the daughters are commonly educated at the house of their parents; and one can see by their information and their virtues which of the two is better for a female, education on this plan or on that which is practiced in Italy.
“At least,” it will be said, “those trials for divorce in which the most indecent discussions are admitted are a source of scandal.” They shouldn’t, however, be so, since the result is such as I have just mentioned. These trials are an old usage, and from this point of view, certain people ought to defend them; but be this as it may, the dread of the scandal is a great restraint. And besides, people in England are not disposed as in France to make such subjects a topic of pleasantry. A degree of austerity corresponding to the spirit of the early Puritans is displayed in these trials. The judges, as well as the spectators, come to them with a serious disposition, and the consequences are highly important since the maintenance of the domestic virtues depends on them, and there is no liberty without these virtues. Now, as the spirit of the age was not favorable to them, the useful ascendancy of these trials for divorce is a fortunate chance; for chance there almost always is in the good or evil that can be produced by adhering to old usages, as occasionally they are suitable to the present time, and at other periods no longer applicable to it. Happy the country in which the misconduct of women can be punished with so much wisdom, without frivolity, and without vengeance! They are permitted to have recourse to the protection of the man for whom they have sacrificed everything; but they are, in general, deprived of all the brilliant advantages of society. I do not know whether legislation could invent anything at once stronger and milder.
An indignant feeling will perhaps be excited by the practice of requiring a sum of money from the seducer of a woman. As everything in England is stamped with a noble feeling, I will not lightly pass sentence on a custom of this nature, since it is preserved. It is necessary to punish in some way the trespasses of men against morals, since public opinion is in general too lax in regard to them, and no one will pretend that a heavy pecuniary loss is not a punishment. Moreover, the public sensation produced by these distressing trials renders it almost always a duty on the man to espouse the woman whom he has seduced; and this obligation is a pledge that neither levity nor falsehood is mingled with the sentiments which men allow themselves to express. When in love there is nothing but love, its irregularities are both more rare and more excusable. It is, however, difficult to me to understand why the fine payable by the seducer should go to the husband: often, indeed, the husband does not accept it, but appropriates it to the poor. However, there is reason to think that two motives have given rise to this custom: one to furnish to a husband, when of a class without property, the means of educating his children when the mother, whose duty it was, is lost to him; the other, and this is a more essential point, to bring forward the husband in a case involving the misconduct of his wife, in order to examine if he be not culpable in a similar way in regard to her. In Scotland, infidelity on the part of the husband dissolves a marriage like infidelity on the part of the wife, and a sentiment of duty in a free country always puts the strong and the weak on a level.
In England all is constituted in such a way that the interest of each class, of each sex, of each individual lies in conforming themselves to morality. Political liberty is the supreme instrument of this admirable combination. “Yes,” it will still be said, “if you look at words and not at things; the truth is, that the English are always governed by interest.” As if there were any resemblance between the interest that leads to virtue and that which causes a deviation to vice! Doubtless, England is not a planet distinct from ours, in which personal advantage is not, as elsewhere, the spring of human action. Men cannot be governed by reckoning always on devotedness and sacrifices; but when the whole of the institutions of a country are such that there is an advantage in being upright, there results from it a certain habit of integrity which becomes engraven on every heart: it is transmitted by remembrance, the air we breathe is impregnated with it, and we are no longer under the necessity of reflecting on the inconveniences of every kind that would ensue from certain improprieties; the force of example is enough to preserve them.
Of Society in England, and of Its Connection with Social Order.
It is not probable that we shall ever see in any country, not even in France, such a society as we there enjoyed during the first two years of the Revolution and the period that preceded it. Foreigners who flatter themselves with finding anything of the kind in England are much disappointed, for they often get bored there. Although that country contains the most enlightened men and the most interesting women, the enjoyments which society can procure are but rarely met with. When a foreigner understands English well and is admitted to small circles composed of the superior men of the country, he tastes, if he be worthy of them, the most noble enjoyments which the communication of reflecting beings can afford; but it is not in these intellectual feasts that the society of England consists. People in London are invited every day to vast assemblies where they elbow each other as in the pit of a theater. The women form there the majority and the crowd is, in general, so great that even their beauty does not have enough room for display; still less can any pleasure of the mind be thought of. Considerable physical force is required to cross the salons without being stifled and to get back to one’s carriage without accident; but I do not well see that any other superiority is necessary in such a crowd. Accordingly, serious men soon renounce the tax which in England is called fashionable company; and it is, it must be confessed, the most tiresome combination which can be formed out of such distinguished elements.
These reunions arise from the necessity of admitting a very great number of persons into the circle of one’s acquaintance. The list of visitors which an English lady receives is sometimes of twelve hundred persons. French society is infinitely more exclusive: the aristocratic spirit which regulated the formation of its circles was favorable to elegance and amusement, but nowise in correspondence with the nature of a free state. Thus, in frankly admitting that the pleasures of society are found very rarely, and with great difficulty, in London, I shall examine if these pleasures are compatible with the social order of England. If they are not, the choice cannot be a matter of doubt.
Men of large property in England generally discharge some public duty in their respective counties; and, from a wish to be returned to Parliament or to influence the election of their relations and friends, they pass eight or nine months in the country. The consequence is that social habits are entirely suspended during two-thirds of the year, and it is only by meeting every day that people form familiar and easy connections. In the part of London where the higher circles reside, there are whole months in summer and autumn during which the town has the appearance of being visited by a contagion, such is the solitude that prevails. The meeting of Parliament seldom takes place until January, and people do not come to London till that time. The men living much on their estates pass half the day in riding or sporting; they come home fatigued and think only of taking rest, or sometimes even of drinking, although the reports made of English manners in this respect are grossly exaggerated, particularly if referred to the present time. However, such a mode of life does not fit people for the pleasures of society. The French being called neither by their business nor by their taste to live in the country, one might find at Paris during the whole year houses in which to enjoy very agreeable conversation; but the consequence also is that Paris alone enjoyed existence in France, while in England political life is felt in every county. When the interests of the country come under the jurisdiction of everyone, the most attractive conversation is that of which public business is the object. Now, in considering this subject, we do not so much regard the lightheartedness of spirit as the real importance of the things discussed. Often does a man, in other respects far from agreeable, captivate his hearers by the power of his reasoning and information. In France, the art of being agreeable lay in never exhausting a subject and in never dwelling too long on those which were not interesting to women. In England, women never come conspicuously forward in discourse; the men have not accustomed them to take a share in general conversation: when they leave the room after dinner, conversation of this kind becomes more keen and animated. The mistress of a house does not, as among the French, think herself obliged to lead the conversation, and particularly to take care that it does not languish. People are quite resigned to this evil in English society; and it seems much easier to bear than the necessity of taking a conspicuous part for the sake of re-animating the discourse. English women are extremely timid in this respect; for in a free country, men preserving their natural dignity, females feel themselves subordinate.1
The case is not the same in an unlimited monarchy such as existed in France. As nothing there was impracticable or determinate, the conquests made by elegance and grace were unbounded, and women necessarily triumphed in contests of this kind. But in England what ascendancy could a woman, even the most amiable, exercise in the midst of popular elections, of the eloquence of Parliament, and the inflexibility of the law? Ministers have no idea that a woman could send them a request on any subject whatever unless she had neither brother, son, nor husband to undertake it. In the country of the greatest publicity, state secrets are better kept than anywhere else. There are here no intermediates, if we may use the expression, between the newspapers and the ministerial cabinet; and this cabinet is the most discreet in Europe. There is no example of a woman having known, or at least having told, what ought to have been kept secret. In a country where domestic manners are so regular, married men have no mistresses; and it is only mistresses who dive into secrets and particularly who reveal them.
Amongst the means of rendering society more animated we must reckon coquetry: now, this hardly exists in England, except among young men and women who may perhaps subsequently intermarry; conversation gains nothing by it, but the reverse. Indeed, so low in general is their tone of voice that these persons can scarcely hear each other; but the consequence is that people are not married without being acquainted; while in France, to save the tediousness of these timid amours, young girls were never introduced into company until their marriage had been concluded on by their parents. If there are in England women who deviate from their duty, it is with so much mystery or with so much publicity that the desire of pleasing in company, of exhibiting their fascinations, of shining by grace and sprightliness of mind has no connection whatever with their conduct. In France the power of conversation led to everything; in England talents of this kind are appreciated, but they are nowise useful to the ambition of those who possess them; public men and the people make a choice, among the candidates for power, of very different marks of superior faculties. The consequence is that people neglect what is not useful, in this as in everything else. The national character, moreover, being strongly turned toward reserve and timidity, a powerful motive is necessary to triumph over these habits, and this motive is found only in the importance of public discussions.
It is difficult to give a thorough explanation of what in England is called shyness, that is, the embarrassment which confines to the bottom of the heart the expressions of natural benevolence; for one often meets the coldest manners in persons who would show themselves most generous toward you if you stood in need of their aid. The English are as far from being at ease among each other as with foreigners; they do not speak till after having been introduced to each other; familiarity becomes established only after long acquaintance. In England one scarcely ever sees the younger branches live after their marriage in the same house with their parents; home is the prevailing taste of the English, and this inclination has perhaps contributed to make them detest the political system which, in other countries, permits exile or arbitrary arrest. Each family has its separate dwelling; and London consists of a vast number of houses of small size, shut as close as boxes, and into which it is not much easier to penetrate. There are not even many brothers or sisters who go to dine at each other’s houses without invitation. This formality does not render life very amusing; and in the taste of the English for traveling, the motive is partly a desire to withdraw from the constraint of their customs, as well as the necessity of escaping from the fogs of their country.
In every country the pleasures of society concern only the first class, that is, the unoccupied class; who, having a great deal of leisure for amusement, attach much importance to it. But in England, where everyone has his career and his employment, it is natural for men of rank, as for men of business in other countries, to prefer physical relaxation, walks, the country, in short, pleasure of any kind in which the mind is at rest rather than conversation, in which one must think and speak with almost as much care as in the most serious business. Besides, the happiness of the English being founded on domestic life, it would not suit them that their wives should, as in France, make a kind of family selection of a certain number of persons constantly brought together.
We must not, however, deny that with all these honorable motives are mixed certain defects, the natural results of all large associations of men. In the first place, although in England there is much more pride than vanity, a good deal of stress is laid on marking by manners the ranks which most of the institutions tend to bring closer together. There prevails a certain degree of egoism in the habits, and sometimes in the character. Wealth and the tastes created by wealth are the cause of it: people are not disposed to submit to inconvenience in anything, so great is their power of being comfortable in everything. Family ties, so intimate as regards marriage, are far from intimate in other relations, because the substitutions2 render the eldest sons too independent of their parents, and separate also the interest of the younger brothers from those of the inheritor of the fortune. The entails3 necessary to the support of the peerage ought not, perhaps, to be extended to other classes of proprietors; it is a remnant of the feudal system, of which one ought, if possible, to lessen the vexatious consequences. From this it happens likewise that most of the women are without marriage portions, and that in a country where the institution of convents cannot exist, there are a number of young ladies whom their mothers have a great desire to get married, and who may, with reason, be uneasy as to their prospects. This inconvenience produced by the unequal partition of fortunes is sensibly felt in society; for the unmarried men take up too much of the attention of the women, and wealth in general, far from conducing to the pleasure of social intercourse, is necessarily hurtful to it. A very considerable fortune is required to receive one’s friends in the country, which is, however, the most agreeable mode of living in England: fortune is necessary for all the relations of society; not that people would take pride in a sumptuous mode of life; but the importance attached by everybody to the kind of enjoyment called comfortable would prevent any person from venturing, as was formerly the case in the most agreeable societies in Paris, to make up for a bad dinner by amusing anecdotes.
In all countries the pretensions of young persons of fashion are engrafted on national defects; they exhibit a caricature of these defects, but a caricature has always some traits of an original. In France the pretenders to elegance endeavored to strike and tried to dazzle by all possible means, good or bad. In England this same class of persons wish to be distinguished as disdainful, indifferent, and completely satiated of everything. This is disagreeable enough; but in what country of the world is not self-conceit a resource of vanity to conceal natural mediocrity? Among a people where everything bears a salient aspect, as in England, contrasts are the more striking. Fashion has remarkable influence on the habits of life, and yet there is no nation in which one finds so many examples of what is called eccentricity, that is, a mode of life altogether original, and which makes no account of the opinion of others. The difference between the men who live under the control of others and those who live to themselves is recognized everywhere; but this opposition of character is rendered more conspicuous by the singular mixture of timidity and independence remarkable among the English. They do nothing by halves, and they pass all at once from a slavish adherence to the most minute usages to the most complete indifference as to what the world may say of them. Yet the dread of ridicule is one of the principal causes of the coldness that prevails in English society: people are never accused of insipidity for keeping silence; and as nobody requires of you to animate the conversation, one is more impressed by the risks to which one exposes oneself by speaking than by the inconvenience of silence. In the country where people have the greatest attachment to the liberty of the press, and where they care the least for the attacks of the newspapers, the sarcasms of society are very much dreaded. Newspapers are considered the volunteers of political parties, and in this as in other respects, the English are very fond of keeping up a conflict; but slander and irony, when they take place in society, irritate highly the delicacy of the women and the pride of the men. This is the reason that people come as little forward as possible in the presence of others. Animation and grace necessarily lose greatly by this. In no country of the world have reserve and taciturnity ever, I believe, been carried so far as in certain societies in England; and if one falls into such companies, it is easy to conceive how a disrelish of life may take possession of those who find themselves confined to them. But out of these frozen circles, what satisfaction of mind and heart may not be found in English society when one is happily placed there? The favor or dislike of ministers and the court are absolutely of no account in the relations of life; and you would make an Englishman blush were you to appear to think of the office which he holds or of the influence he may possess. A sentiment of pride always makes him think that these circumstances neither add to nor deduct in the slightest degree from his personal merit. Political disappointments cannot have any influence on the pleasures enjoyed in high society; the party of opposition is as brilliant as the party in power: fortune, rank, intellect, talents, virtues are shared among them; and never do either of the two think of drawing near to or keeping at a distance from a person by those calculations of ambition which have always prevailed in France. To quit one’s friends because they are out of power and to draw near to them because they possess it is a kind of tactics almost unknown in England; and if the applause of society does not lead to public employment, at least the liberty of society is not impaired by combinations foreign to the pleasures which may be tasted there. One finds there almost invariably the security and the truth which form the bases of all enjoyment, because they form their security. You have not to dread those perpetual broils which in other countries fill life with disquietude. What you possess in point of connection and friendship you can lose only by your own fault, and you never have reason to doubt the expressions of benevolence addressed to you, for they will be surpassed by the actual performance and consecrated by time. Truth, above all, is one of the most distinguished qualities of the English character. The publicity that prevails in business, the discussions by which people arrive at the bottom of everything have doubtless contributed to this habit of absolute truth which cannot exist but in a country where dissimulation leads to nothing but the mortification of being exposed.
It has been much repeated on the Continent that the English are not polite, and a certain habit of independence, a great aversion to restraint may have given rise to this opinion. But I know no politeness, no protection, so delicate as that of the English toward women in every circumstance of life. Is there question of danger, of trouble, of a service to be rendered, there is nothing that they neglect to aid the weaker sex. From the seamen who, amidst the storm, support your tottering steps to English gentlemen of the highest rank, never does a woman find herself exposed to any difficulty whatever without being supported; and everywhere do we find that happy mixture which is characteristic of England, a republican austerity in domestic life and a chivalrous spirit in the relations of society.
A quality not less amiable in the English is their disposition to enthusiasm.4 This people can see nothing remarkable without encouraging it by the most flattering praises. One acts then very rightly in going to England, in whatever state of misfortune one is placed, if conscious of possessing in oneself anything that is truly distinguished. But if one arrives there like most of the rich idlers of Europe, who travel to pass a carnival in Italy and a spring in London, there is no country that more disappoints expectation; and we shall certainly quit it without suspecting that we have seen the finest model of social order, and the only one which for a long time supported our hopes in human nature.
I shall never forget the society of Lord Grey, Lord Lansdowne, and Lord Harrowby. I cite their names because they all three belong to different parties,5 or to shades of different parties, which comprise almost all the political opinions of England. There are other names which I should, in like manner, have had much pleasure in mentioning.
Lord Grey is one of the most ardent friends of liberty in the House of Peers: the nobleness of his birth, of his figure, and of his manners preserves him most decidedly from that kind of vulgar popularity which some are eager to attribute to the partisans of the rights of nations; and I would defy anyone not to feel for him every kind of respect. His eloquence in Parliament is generally admired. To eloquence of language he joins a force of interior conviction which makes his audience participate in his feelings. Political questions produce emotion in him because a generous enthusiasm is the source of his opinions. As in company he always expresses himself with calmness and simplicity on topics that interest him the most, it is by the paleness of his look that we sometimes become aware of the keenness of his feelings; but it is without desiring either to conceal or display the affections of his soul that he speaks on subjects for which he would give up his life. It is well known that he has twice refused to be prime minister because he could not agree in certain points with the prince who was ready to appoint him. Whatever diversity of opinion there may be on the motives of that resolution, nothing appears more natural in England than to decline being minister. I would not then notice the refusal of Lord Grey had his acceptance implied the slightest renunciation of his political principles; but the scruples by which he was determined were carried too far to be approved by everybody. And yet the men of his party, while they censured him in this respect, did not think it possible to accept without him any of the offices that were offered to them.
The house of Lord Grey offers an example of those domestic virtues so rare elsewhere in the highest class. His wife, who lives only for him, is worthy, by her sentiments, of the honor that Heaven has allotted her in uniting her with such a man. Thirteen children, still young, are educated by their parents and live with them, during eight months of the year, at their country seat in the extremity of England, where they have hardly ever any other variety than their family circle and their habitual reading. I happened to be one evening in London in this sanctuary of the most noble and affecting virtues; Lady Grey had the politeness to ask her daughters to play music; and four of these young persons, of angelic candor and grace, played duets on the harp and piano with a harmony that was admirable and that showed a great habit of practicing together; their father listened to them with affecting sensibility. The virtues which he displays in his family afford a pledge of the purity of the vows that he makes for his country.
Lord Lansdowne is also a member of the opposition; but, less decided in his political opinions, it is by a profound study of administration and finance that he has already served and will still serve his country. Affluent and high in rank, young and singularly fortunate in the choice of his domestic partner, none of these advantages dispose him to indolence; and it is by his superior merit that he stands in the foremost rank in a country where nothing can exempt a man from owing distinction to personal exertion. At his seat at Bowood, I have met the most delightful assemblage of enlightened men that England, and consequently the world, can offer. Sir James Mackintosh, pointed out by public opinion to continue Hume and to surpass him by writing the history of the constitutional liberty of England, a man of such universal information and such brilliancy of conversation that the English quote him with pride to foreigners to prove that in this respect also they are capable of taking a lead; Sir Samuel Romilly,6 the luminary and honor of that English jurisprudence which in itself is the object of the respect of all mankind; poets, literary men not less distinguished in their career than statesmen in politics; all contributed to the pure splendor of such a society, and of the illustrious master of the house. For in England the culture of intellect and the practice of morality are almost always combined; in fact, at a certain level they do not admit of separation.
Lord Harrowby, president of the Privy Council, is naturally a member of the ministerial, or Tory, party; but in the same way that Lord Grey has all the dignity of aristocracy in his character, Lord Harrowby partakes, by his mind, of all the knowledge of the liberal party. He knows foreign literature, and that of France in particular, somewhat better than ourselves. I had the honor of seeing him sometimes amidst the most critical moments of the war before last;7 and while in other quarters one is obliged to behave and speak in a certain way before a minister when public affairs are discussed, Lord Harrowby would have felt himself offended had people considered him otherwise than personally when conversing on questions of general interest. We see neither at his table nor at that of the other English ministers any of those subordinate flatterers who surround powerful people in an absolute monarchy. There is in England no class in which such men could be found, nor any men in office who would listen to them. As a speaker, Lord Harrowby is distinguished for the purity of his language and the brilliant irony of which he knows how to make an appropriate use. Accordingly he justly attaches much more importance to his personal reputation than to his temporary office. Lord Harrowby, seconded by his intelligent partner, exhibits in his house the most complete example of what a conversation may be when literary and political by turns, and when both subjects are treated with equal ease.
In France we have a number of women who have acquired reputation merely by the power of conversation or by writing letters which resembled conversation.8 Madame de Sévigné is the first of all in this department; but subsequently Madame de Tencin, Madame du Deffant, Madlle. de l’Espinasse, and several others have acquired celebrity by the quality of their mind. I have already said that the state of society in England hardly admitted of distinction in this way, and that examples of it could not be cited. There are, however, several women remarkable as writers: Miss Edgeworth, Madame D’Arblay, formerly Miss Burney, Mrs. Hannah Moore, Mrs. Inchbald, Mrs. Opie, Miss Baillie are admired in England and read with avidity in French; but they live in general in complete retirement, and their influence is confined to their books. Were we to cite a woman uniting in the highest degree that which constitutes the strength and moral beauty of the English character, it would be necessary to seek her in history.
Lady Russell, the wife of the illustrious Lord Russell, who was beheaded under Charles II for opposing the encroachments of royal power, seems to me the true model of an Englishwoman in all her perfection. The court that tried Lord Russell asked him what person he desired to serve him as secretary during his trial; he made choice of Lady Russell because, he said, she unites the information of a man to the tender affection of a wife. Lady Russell, who adored her husband, sustained, nevertheless, the presence of his iniquitous judges and the barbarous sophistry of their questions with all the presence of mind with which the hope of being useful inspired her; but it was in vain. When the sentence of death was pronounced, Lady Russell threw herself at the feet of Charles II, imploring him in the name of Lord Southampton, whose daughter she was, and who had devoted himself for the cause of Charles I. But the remembrance of services rendered to the father had no effect on the son, whose frivolity did not prevent his being cruel. Lord Russell, in parting from his wife to go to the scaffold, pronounced these memorable words: “Now the bitterness of death is past.” There are indeed affections of which the whole of our existence may be composed.9
Letters written by Lady Russell after the death of her husband have been published and bear the stamp of the deepest affliction, moderated by religious resignation. She lived to bring up her children; she lived because she did not think it lawful to give herself a voluntary death. By weeping continually she became blind, and the remembrance of him she had so loved was ever alive in her heart. She had one moment of joy when liberty was established in 1688, when the sentence pronounced against Lord Russell was repealed, and his opinions triumphed. The partisans of William III, and Queen Anne herself, often consulted Lady Russell on public affairs as having preserved some sparks of the light of Lord Russell. It was by that title she answered their call, and, amidst the deep mourning of her soul, interested herself in the noble cause for which the blood of her husband had been shed. She appeared always the widow of Lord Russell, and it is by the constancy of that feeling that she claims admiration. Such again would a true Englishwoman be if a scene so tragical, a trial so terrible, could be renewed in our days, and if, thanks to liberty, such calamities were not removed forever. The duration of the sorrows caused by the loss of those we love often absorbs, in England, the life of persons by whom they are felt. If women there have not personally active habits, they live so much more strongly in the objects of their attachment. The dead are not forgotten in that country, where the human soul possesses all its beauty; and that honorable constancy which struggles with the instability of this world exalts the feelings of the heart to the rank of things eternal.
Of the Conduct of the English Government Outside of England.
In expressing, as much as I could, my admiration for the English nation, I have never ceased to attribute its superiority over the rest of Europe to its political institutions. It remains for us to offer a sad proof of this assertion: it is that, in things where the constitution does not command, the English government justly incurs the same reproaches which absolute power has ever deserved on earth. If, by some circumstances which are not met with in history, a nation had possessed, a hundred years before the rest of Europe, the art of printing, the compass, and, what is more valuable, a religion which is only a sanction of the purest morality, that nation would certainly be far superior to those who had not obtained similar advantages. The same may be said of the benefits of a free constitution; but these benefits are necessarily limited to the country which that constitution governs. When Englishmen exercise military or diplomatic employments on the Continent, it is still probable that men brought up in the atmosphere of all the virtues participate in them individually. But it is possible that power, which corrupts almost all men when they go beyond the circle of the dominion of law, may have misled many Englishmen when they had to render an account of their conduct abroad to ministers only, and not to the nation. In truth, that nation, so enlightened in other things, is ill-informed of what passes on the Continent: it lives in the interior of its own country, if we may use the expression, like every man in his own house; and it is only after a length of time that it learns the history of Europe, in which her ministers often act too great a part, by means of its blood and treasures. The conclusion is that every country, at every time, should defend itself from the influence of foreigners, be they who they may; for the nations who are the most free at home may have rulers very jealous of the prosperity of other states, and may become the oppressors of their neighbors if they find a favorable opportunity.
Let us, however, examine how far there is truth in what is alleged of the conduct of the English out of their country. When, unfortunately for themselves, they were obliged to send troops to the Continent, those troops observed the most perfect discipline. The disinterestedness of the English army and of its commanders cannot be disputed; we have seen them paying in an enemy’s country more regularly than the enemy paid their own countrymen, and never do they neglect to blend the cares of humanity with the calamities of war. Sir Sidney Smith,1 in Egypt, protected the envoys of the French army in his own tent; and often declared to his allies, the Turks, that he would perish sooner than suffer the rights of nations to be violated toward his enemies. During the retreat of General Moore2 in Spain, English officers threw themselves into a river where some Frenchmen were on the point of drowning in order to save them from a danger to which they were exposed by accident, and not by arms. Finally, there is no occasion in which the army of the Duke of Wellington, directed by the magnanimity and the conscientious severity of its illustrious chief, has not sought to relieve the inhabitants of the countries through which it passed. The splendor of English bravery, we must acknowledge, has never been sullied by cruelty or by pillage.
The military force transported to the colonies, and particularly to India, ought not to be made responsible for the acts of authority of which there may be reason to complain. The regular troops obey passively in countries considered as subjected, and which are not protected at all by the constitution. But in the colonies, as elsewhere, the English officers cannot be accused of depredation; it is the persons holding civil employments who are reproached with enriching themselves by unlawful means. In fact, the conduct of these persons during the first years of the conquest of India deserves the highest blame and furnishes another proof of what we cannot too often repeat, that every man charged with the command of others, if he is not himself subject to the law, obeys nothing but his passions. But since the trial of Mr. Hastings, the attention of the English nation being directed toward the frightful abuses which till then had been tolerated in India, the public spirit has obliged government to attend to them.3 Lord Cornwallis carried his virtues, and Lord Wellesley his knowledge, to a country necessarily unhappy because subjected to a foreign dominion.4 But the good performed by these two governors is felt every day more and more. There existed no courts of justice in India to which an appeal could be made from the injustice of men in office; the proportion of taxes was not at all fixed. Courts are now established according to the English form; some natives even occupy places of the second rank; the taxes are fixed by a regular scale and cannot be augmented. If persons in office enrich themselves now, it is because their appointments are very considerable. Three-fourths of the revenue of the country are consumed in the country itself; commerce is free in the interior; the corn trade in particular, which had given rise to so cruel a monopoly, is now on a footing more favorable to the Indians than to government.
England has adopted the principle of governing the inhabitants of the country according to their own laws. But the very toleration by which the English distinguish themselves so honorably from their predecessors in the government of India, whether Mahometans or Christians, obliges them to employ no other arms than those of persuasion in order to destroy prejudices which have taken root for thousands of years. The difference of castes is still humiliating to human nature, and the power of fanaticism is such that the English have not hitherto been able to prevent women from burning themselves alive after the death of their husbands. The only triumph which they have obtained over superstition has been that of preventing mothers from throwing their children into the Ganges in order to send them to paradise. Attempts are being made to establish respect for an oath among them, and hopes are still entertained of being able to diffuse Christianity among them at some future time. Public education is very carefully attended to by the English in authority, and it was at Madras that Dr. Bell established his first school. In short, it may be hoped that the example of the English will form those nations sufficiently to enable them to give themselves one day an independent political existence. Every enlightened man in England would applaud the loss of India if it took place in consequence of the benefits conferred on it by government. It is one of the prejudices of the Continent to believe the power of the English connected with the possession of India; that oriental empire is almost an affair of luxury and contributes more to splendor than to real strength. England lost her American provinces and her commerce has been increased by it. Were the colonies that remain to her to declare themselves independent, she would still possess her naval and commercial superiority because she has in herself a principle of action, of progress, and of duration which places her always above exterior circumstances.
It has been said on the Continent that the slave trade was suppressed in England from political calculation in order to ruin the colonies of other countries by that abolition. Nothing is more false in every point of view. The English Parliament, pressed by Mr. Wilberforce, debated this question during twenty years, in which humanity struggled with what apparently was interest.5 The merchants of Liverpool and of various parts of England demanded vehemently the continuance of the trade. The colonists talked of that abolition as certain persons in France express themselves at present on the liberty of the press and political rights. If you would believe the colonists, that person must be a Jacobin who could wish to put an end to the buying and selling of men. Maledictions against philosophy in the name of that superior wisdom which pretends to rise above it by maintaining things as they are, even when they are abominable; sarcasms without number on philanthropy toward the Africans or fraternity with negroes; finally, the whole arsenal of personal interest was poured forth in England, as elsewhere, by the colonists, by that species of privileged persons who, fearing a diminution of their income, defended it in the name of the public good. Nevertheless, when England pronounced the abolition of the slave trade, in 1806, almost all the colonies of Europe were in her hands, and if ever it could be injurious to be just, it was on this occasion. There has since happened what always will happen—a resolution commanded by religion and philosophy has not produced the least political inconvenience. In a short space of time, good treatment, by increasing the number of the slaves, has made up for the wretched cargoes imported every year, and justice has found her place, because the true nature of things always fits in with her.
The English ministry, then of the Whig party, had proposed a bill for the abolition of the slave trade: they gave in their resignation to the King because they had not obtained from him the emancipation of the Catholics. But Lord Holland, the nephew of Mr. Fox and heir of the principles, of the knowledge, and of the friends of his uncle, reserved to himself the noble satisfaction of still carrying to the House of Peers the King’s sanction to the act for the abolition of the slave trade. Mr. Clarkson,6 one of the virtuous men who labored during twenty years with Mr. Wilberforce at the accomplishment of this eminently Christian work, in giving an account of this meeting says that at the moment when the bill received the royal assent, a ray of sunshine, as if to celebrate this affecting triumph, darted from the clouds which that day covered the sky. Certainly, if it were tedious to hear so much spoken of the fine weather which was said to consecrate the military parades of Bonaparte, pious minds may surely be permitted to hope for a benevolent token from their Creator while they are burning on his altar that incense which is most pleasing to him, the doing of good to mankind. Such was on this occasion the sole policy of England, and when the Parliament, after public debates, adopts any decision whatever, its principal aim is almost always the good of humanity. But can it be denied, it will be said, that England is encroaching and domineering abroad? I now come to her faults, or rather to those of her ministry; for the party, and a very numerous one it is, that disapproves the conduct of government in this respect cannot be accused of it.
There is a people who will one day be very great: these are the Americans. One stain only obscures the perfect splendor of reason that vivifies that country; slavery still subsists in the Southern provinces; but when the Congress shall have found a remedy for that evil, how shall we be able to refuse the most profound respect to the institutions of the United States? Whence comes it then that many English allow themselves to speak with disdain of such a people? “They are shopkeepers,” they repeat. And how did the courtiers of Louis XIV talk of the English themselves? The people of Bonaparte’s court also, what did they say? Do not the nobility that are unemployed, or that are employed only in the service of a prince, disdain that hereditary magistracy of the English which is founded solely on its utility to the whole nation? The Americans, it is true, declared war against England at a very ill-chosen time7 with respect to Europe; for England then resisted alone the power of Bonaparte. But America on this occasion looked only to what concerned her own interest; and she can certainly not be suspected of having wished to favor the imperial system. Nations have not yet attained that noble feeling of humanity which should extend itself from one part of the world to the other. As neighbors they feel a mutual hatred; while those at a distance are unknown to each other. But could that ignorance of the affairs of Europe which impelled the Americans to declare war unseasonably against England justify the burning of Washington? It was not warlike establishments that were destroyed, but peaceful edifices sacred to national representation, to public instruction, to the transplantation of arts and sciences into a country once covered by forests and conquered only by the labor of men on savage nature. What is there more honorable for mankind than this new world, which has established itself without the prejudices of the old; this new world where religion is in all its fervor without needing the support of the state to maintain it; where the law commands by the respect which it inspires, without being enforced by any military power? It is possible, alas! that Europe may be destined, like Asia, to exhibit one day the spectacle of a stationary civilization,8 which, not having been able to advance, has become degraded. But does it thence follow that England, old and free, should refuse the tribute of admiration inspired by the progress of America because former resentments and some features of resemblance excite a family hatred between the two countries?
Finally, what will posterity say of the recent conduct of the English ministry toward France?9 I shall confess I cannot approach this subject without being seized with an inward tremor, and yet, were it necessary, I would not hesitate to declare that if one of the two nations, France or England, must be annihilated, it would be better that that country which can reckon a hundred years of liberty, a hundred years of knowledge, a hundred years of virtue should preserve the trust which Providence has placed in its hands. But does this cruel alternative exist? And why has not a rivalship of so many ages led the English government to think that it is a duty of chivalry, as well as of justice, not to oppress that France which in her contests with England, during the whole course of their common history, animated her efforts by a generous jealousy? The opposition party has been at all times more liberal and better informed respecting the affairs of the Continent than the party in power; it ought, of course, to have been entrusted with the conclusion of peace. Moreover, it was the rule in England that peace ought not to be signed by the same ministers who had conducted the war. It is felt that the irritation against the enemy which serves to carry on war with vigor leads to the abuse of victory; and this manner of reasoning is no less just than favorable to real peace, which must not merely be signed, but must be established in the minds and hearts. Unfortunately, the party of opposition had committed the error of supporting Bonaparte. It would have been more natural to have seen his despotic system defended by the friends of power and opposed by the friends of liberty. But the question became very complex in England, as everywhere else; the partisans of the principles of the Revolution thought it their duty to support a tyranny for life to prevent, in various places, the return of more lasting forms of despotism. But they did not see that one kind of absolute power opens the way for all others; and that by again giving to the French the habits of servitude, Bonaparte had destroyed the energy of public spirit. One peculiarity of the English constitution, which we have already noticed, is the necessity in which the opposition believe themselves placed of opposing the government on all possible grounds. This habit, applicable only to ordinary circumstances, ought to have been relinquished at a crisis when the contest was so national that even the existence of the country depended on its issue. The opposition ought to have frankly joined government against Bonaparte; for the government, by opposing him with perseverance, nobly fulfilled its duty. The opposition made its stand on the desire of peace, which is in general very welcome to the people; but on this occasion, the good sense and energy of the English impelled them to war. They felt that it was impossible to treat with Bonaparte; and all that the government and Lord Wellington did to overthrow him contributed powerfully to the repose and greatness of England. But at this period when the nation had reached the summit of prosperity, at this period when the English government deserved a vote of thanks for the part it could claim in the triumph of its heroes, the fatality which seizes all men who have reached the height of power marked the treaty of Paris with the seal of reprobation.
The English ministry had already had the misfortune to be represented at the Congress of Vienna by a man whose private virtues are highly worthy of esteem, but who has done more harm to the cause of nations than any diplomatist of the Continent.10 An Englishman who reviles liberty is a false brother more dangerous than strangers, since he seems to speak of what he knows and to do the honors of what he possesses. The speeches of Lord Castlereagh in Parliament are stamped with a kind of cold irony singularly pernicious when applied to all that is dignified in this world. For most of those who defend generous sentiments are easily discouraged when a minister in power treats their wishes as chimerical, when he makes a mockery of liberty, as of perfect love, and puts on the appearance of an indulgent air toward those who cherish it by imputing to them nothing but an innocent folly.
The deputies of several countries of Europe, at present weak but formerly independent, came to solicit some rights, some securities from the representative of the power which they adored as free. They returned with an anguished heart, not knowing whether Bonaparte or the most respectable nation in the world had done them most lasting mischief. One day, their conferences will be published and history can hardly present a more remarkable document. “What!” they said to the English minister, “does not the prosperity, the glory of your country arise from this constitution, some principles of which we demand, when you are pleased to dispose of us for this pretended balance of which we form one of the make-weights in your scales?” “Yes,” they were answered, with a sarcastic smile, “liberty is a usage of England; but it is not suitable to other countries.” The only one11 among kings, or among men, that ever put to the torture not his enemies but his friends has distributed, according to his good pleasure, the scaffold, the galleys, and the prison among citizens who, having fought in defense of their country under the standard of England, claimed her support as having, by the generous avowal of Lord Wellington, powerfully aided his efforts. Did England protect them? The North Americans would willingly support the Americans of Mexico and Peru, whose love for independence must have increased when they have seen the torture and the inquisition restored at Madrid. Well, what fears the Congress of the North in succoring its brethren of the South?12 The alliance of England with Spain. In all directions the influence of the English government is dreaded, precisely in a contrary sense to the support which the oppressed have a right to hope from it.
But let us return, with all our soul and all our strength, to that France which alone we know. “During twenty-five years,” it is said, “she has incessantly tormented Europe by her democratic excesses and her military despotism. England has suffered cruelly by her continual attacks, and the English have made immense sacrifices to defend Europe. It is perfectly just that in her turn France should expiate the evil of which she has been the cause.” Everything in these accusations is true except the conclusion that is drawn from them. Of what use is the law of retaliation in general, and above all, the law of retaliation exercised against a nation? Is a people today what it was yesterday? Does not a new and innocent generation come to replace that which has been found guilty? Will you comprise in the same proscription women, children, old men, even the victims of the tyranny that has been overthrown? The unhappy conscripts, concealed in woods to escape the wars of Bonaparte, but who, when forced to carry arms, conducted themselves like intrepid warriors; the fathers of families ruined already by the sacrifices they have made to purchase the exemption of their sons; and what, finally! do so many classes of men, on whom public misfortune presses equally although they have certainly not borne an equal share in the fault—do they deserve to suffer on account of a few? If it be hardly practicable in a question of political opinion to try one man with equity, how then can a nation be tried? The conduct of Bonaparte toward Prussia was taken as a model in the second treaty of Paris; in pursuance of which fortresses and provinces are occupied by one hundred and fifty thousand foreign soldiers.13 Can the French be in this manner persuaded that Bonaparte was unjust and that they ought to hate him? They would have been better convinced of it if his doctrine had in no respect been followed. And what did the proclamation of the Allies promise? Peace to France so soon as Bonaparte should cease to be her chief. Ought not the promise of powers whose decisions were free to be as sacred as the oaths of the French army pronounced in the presence of foreigners? And because the ministers of Europe commit the error of placing in the island of Elba a General, the sight of whom cannot but excite the emotions of his soldiers, must enormous contributions exhaust the poor during five years? And what is still more grievous, must foreigners humiliate the French as the French humiliated other nations; that is, provoke, in the soul of Frenchmen, the same feelings which raised up Europe against them? Is it supposed that the abuse of a nation formerly so strong is likely to be as effectual as the punishment inflicted on students at school? Certainly, if France allows herself to be instructed in this manner; if she learns humility toward foreigners when they are the stronger party, after having made an abuse of victory when she had triumphed over them, she will have deserved her fate.
But some persons will still say, what then was to be done to restrain a nation always prone to conquest, and which had taken back its former chief only in the hope of again enslaving Europe? I have mentioned in the preceding chapters what I consider to be incontestable, that is, that the French nation will never be sincerely tranquil until she shall have secured the object of her efforts, a constitutional monarchy. But in putting aside for a moment this view of the case, was not the dissolution of the army, the carrying off the artillery, the levying contributions a sufficient assurance that France, thus weakened, would neither be desirous nor able to go beyond her limits? Is it not clear to every observer that the hundred and fifty thousand men who occupy France have but two objects, either to partition her territory or to prescribe laws for her interior government? Partition her territory! Alas! Since policy committed the human sacrifice of Poland, the mangled remains of that unhappy country still agitate Europe; its wrecks are incessantly rekindled to serve it as firebrands. Is it to strengthen the present government that a hundred and fifty thousand soldiers occupy our territory? Government has more effectual means of maintaining itself; for as it is destined to be one day supported by Frenchmen only, the foreign troops who remain in France, the exorbitant contributions which they exact excite daily a vague discontent which is not always justly directed to the proper objects.
I willingly admit, however, that England as well as Europe had a right to desire the return of the former dynasty of France; and that, in particular, the high degree of wisdom evinced by the King in the first year of his restoration rendered it a duty to make him a reparation for the cruel return of Bonaparte. But ought not the English ministers, who know better than any ministry whatever, by the history of their country, the effects of a long revolution on the public mind, ought they not to maintain constitutional securities with as much care as they maintain the ancient dynasty? Since they brought back the royal family, ought they not to be watchful that the rights of the nation should be as well respected as those of legitimacy? Is there but one family in France, although that family be royal? And ought the engagements taken by that family toward twenty-five million persons to be broken for the sake of pleasing a few ultraroyalists?* Shall the name of the charter be still pronounced at a time when there is not a shadow of the liberty of the press; when the English newspapers cannot penetrate into France; when thousands of individuals are imprisoned without examination; when most of the military men brought to trial are condemned to death by extraordinary tribunals, by prevotal courts, by courts-martial composed of the very men against whom the accused have fought during twenty-five years; when most of the forms are violated in these trials, counsel interrupted or reprimanded; finally, when arbitrary rule prevails everywhere and the charter14 nowhere, though it ought to be defended as zealously as the throne, since it was the safeguard of the nation? Could it be pretended that the election of the deputies who suspended that charter was regular? Do we not know that twenty persons named by the prefects were sent into each electoral college to make choice there of the enemies of every free institution as pretended representatives of a nation which, since 1789, has been invariable only on one single point, the hatred that it has shown for their power? A hundred and eighty Protestants were massacred in the department of the Gard15 without a single man having suffered death in punishment of these crimes, without the terror caused by these assassinations having permitted the courts to condemn them. It was very readily asserted that those who perished were Bonapartists, as if it were not also necessary to prevent Bonapartists from being massacred. But this imputation was likewise as false as all those which are commonly cast upon victims. The man who has not been tried is innocent; still more the man who is assassinated; still more the women who have perished in these bloody scenes. The murderers, in their atrocious songs, pointed out for the poignard those who profess the same religion as the English and the most enlightened half of Europe. This English government, which has re-established the papal throne, sees the Protestants threatened in France; and far from coming to their aid, adopts against them those political pretexts which the parties have employed against each other from the beginning of the Revolution. An end should be put to the argument of force which might be applied in turn to the opposite factions by merely changing proper names. Would the English government now have the same antipathy for Protestantism as for republics? Bonaparte also was in many respects of this way of thinking. The inheritance of his principles is fallen to certain diplomatists like the conquests of Alexander to his generals; but conquests, however much to be condemned, are better than a doctrine founded on the degradation of mankind. Will the English ministry still be permitted to say that it considers it a duty not to interfere in the interior affairs of France? Must it not be interdicted from such an excuse? I ask it in the name of the English people; in the name of that nation whose first virtue is sincerity, and which is unconsciously led astray into political perfidy. Can we repress the laugh of bitterness when we hear men who have twice disposed of the fate of France urge this hypocritical pretext only to avoid doing her a service, to avoid restoring to the Protestants the security that is due to them, to avoid demanding the sincere execution of the constitutional charter? For the friends of liberty are also the brethren of the English people in religion. What, Lord Wellington is officially charged by the powers of Europe with superintending France since he is charged to answer for her tranquillity; the note that invests him with that power is published; in that same note the Allied Powers have declared, and the declaration is honorable to them, that they considered the principles of the constitutional charter to be those that ought to govern France; a hundred and fifty thousand men are under the orders of him to whom such a dictatorship is granted; and the English government will still come forward and say that it cannot interfere in our affairs? Lord Castlereagh, who, in his capacity of Foreign Secretary, had declared in the House of Commons several weeks before the battle of Waterloo* that England did not in any manner pretend to impose a government upon France, the same man, in the same place, declares the following year† that if, at the expiration of the five years, France should be represented by another government, the English ministry would not be so absurd as to consider itself bound by the conditions of the treaty. But in the same speech in which this incredible declaration is made, the scruples of the noble Lord, in regard to the influence of the English government in France, revive as soon as he is asked to prevent the massacres of the Protestants and to guarantee to the French people some of the rights which it cannot lose without lacerating its bosom by civil war or without biting the dust like slaves. And let it not be pretended that the English people desires to make its enemies bear its yoke! It is proud, it has a right to be so, of twenty-five years and a day. The battle of Waterloo has filled it with a just pride. Ah! nations that have a country partake the laurels of victory with the army! Citizens are warriors, warriors are citizens; and of all the joys which God permits to man on earth, the most lively is perhaps that of the triumph of one’s country. But this noble emotion, far from stifling generosity, re-animates it; and if the voice of Mr. Fox, so long admired, could be once more heard; if he should ask why English soldiers acted as jailers to France; why the army of a free people treats another people like a prisoner of war who has to pay his ransom to his conquerors: the English nation would learn that an injustice is committed in its name; and from that instant there would arise from all quarters, in its bosom, advocates of the cause of France. Could it not be asked, in the midst of the English Parliament, what England would now be if the troops of Louis XIV had taken possession of her territory at the time of the restoration of Charles II; if they had seen encamped in Westminster the French army that had triumphed on the Rhine; or, what would have been still more disastrous, the army which subsequently fought against the Protestants of the Cevennes? These armies would have re-established the Catholic worship and suppressed Parliament; for we see from the dispatches of the French ambassadors that Louis XIV offered them to Charles II with that intention. What would England then have become? Europe would have heard of nothing but the murder of Charles I, of the excesses of the Puritans in favor of equality, of the despotism of Cromwell, who made himself be felt abroad as at home, since Louis XIV put on mourning for him. Writers would have been found to maintain that this turbulent and sanguinary people ought to be brought back to its duty, and ought to resume the institutions that were those of their fathers at the time when their fathers had lost the liberty of their ancestors. But should we have seen that fine country at the height of power and glory which the universe admires today? An unsuccessful attempt to obtain liberty would have received the name of rebellion, crime, in short, every epithet lavished on nations when they desire to have rights and do not know how to obtain possession of them. The countries which were jealous of the maritime power of England under Cromwell would have taken delight in her humiliation. The ministers of Louis XIV would have said that the English were not made to be free, and Europe would not have been able to contemplate the beacon which has guided her in the tempest and ought to direct her course in the calm.
There are in France, it is said, none but extreme royalists or Bonapartists; and the two parties are equally, it must be confessed, favorers of despotism. The friends of liberty are, it is asserted, in small number and without strength to compete against these two inveterate factions. The friends of liberty, being virtuous and disinterested, cannot, I admit, contend actively against the eager passions of those whose only objects are money and place. But the nation is with them; all who are not paid, or do not aim at being paid, are on their side. The progress of the human mind is favorable to them from the very nature of things. They will succeed gradually, but surely, in founding in France a constitution similar to that of England, if England herself, who is the guide of the Continent, forbid her ministers to show themselves everywhere the enemies of the principles which she so well knows how to maintain at home.
Will Not the English Hereafter Lose Their Liberty?
Many enlightened persons who know to what a height the prosperity of the French nation would rise, were the political institutions of England established among them, are persuaded that the English are actuated by a previous jealousy and throw every obstacle in the way of their rivals obtaining the enjoyment of that liberty of which they know the advantages. In truth, I do not believe in such a feeling, at least on the part of the nation. It has pride enough to be convinced, and with reason, that for a long time still it will take the lead of all others; and were France to overtake and even surpass her in some respects, England would still preserve exclusive sources of power peculiar to her situation. As to the government, he who directs it, the Foreign Secretary, seems to have, as I have said, and as he himself has proved, such a contempt for liberty that I truly believe he would dispose of it at a cheap rate even to France; and yet the prohibition of export from England has been almost entirely confined to the principles of liberty, while we, on the other hand, would have wished that in this respect also the English had been pleased to impart to us the products of their industry.
The English government desires, at whatever sacrifice, to avoid a return of war; but it forgets that the most absolute kings of France never ceased to form hostile projects against England, and that a free constitution is a far better pledge for the stability of peace than the personal gratitude of princes. But what ought above all, in my opinion, to be represented to the English, even to those who are exclusively occupied with the interests of their country, is that if, for the sake of preventing the French from being factious or free, term it as you will, an English army must be kept up in the territory of France, the liberty of England becomes exposed by this convention so unworthy of her. A people does not accustom itself to violate national independence among its neighbors without losing some degrees of energy, some shades in the purity of doctrine when the point is to profess at home what is disavowed abroad. England partitioning Poland, England occupying Prussia in the style of Bonaparte would have less strength to resist the encroachments of its own government in the interior. An army on the Continent may involve her in new wars, and the state of her finances should make these wars an object of dread. To these considerations, which have already had a strong impact in Parliament at the time of the discussion of the property tax, we must add the most important of all, the imminent danger of the military spirit. The English, in doing injury to France, in carrying thither the poisoned arrows of Hercules, may, like Philoctetes, inflict a wound on themselves. They humiliate their rival, they trample her underfoot, but let them beware. The contagion threatens them; and if in compressing their enemies they should stifle the sacred fire of their own public spirit, the vengeance or the policy to which they abandon themselves would burst, like bad firearms, in their hands.
The enemies of the English constitution on the Continent are incessantly repeating that it will perish by the corruption of Parliament, and that ministerial influence will increase to such a point as to annihilate liberty: nothing of the kind is to be dreaded. The English Parliament always obeys national opinion, and that opinion cannot be corrupted in the sense attached to that expression, that is, be bribed. But that which is seductive for a whole nation is military glory; the pleasure which the youth find in a camp life, the ardent enjoyments procured to them by success in war are much more conformable to the taste of their age than the lasting benefits of liberty. A man must possess a degree of talent to rise in a civil career; but every vigorous arm can handle a saber, and the difficulty of distinguishing oneself in the military profession is by no means in proportion to the trouble necessary to think and become educated. The employments which in that career become numerous give government the means of holding in its dependence a very great number of families. The newly invented decorations offer to vanity recompenses which do not flow from the source of all fame, public opinion; finally, to keep up a considerable standing army is to sap the edifice of liberty in its foundation.
In a country where law reigns and where bravery founded on patriotic feelings is superior to all praise, in a country where the militia are worth as much as the regular troops, where, in a moment, the threat of a descent created not only an infantry but a cavalry equally fine and intrepid, why forge the instrument of despotism? All those political reasonings on the balance of Europe, those old systems which serve as a pretext to new usurpations, were they not known by the proud friends of English liberty when they would not permit the existence of a standing army, at least in such numbers as to make it a support to government? The spirit of subordination and of command together, that spirit necessary in an army, renders men incapable of knowing and respecting what is national in political powers. Already do we hear some English officers murmuring despotic phrases, although their accent and their language seem to yield with difficulty to the wilted words of servitude.
Lord Castlereagh said in the House of Commons that England could not rest contented with blue coats while all Europe was in arms. It is, however, the blue coats which have rendered the Continent tributary to England. It is because commerce and finances had liberty for their basis, that is, because the representatives of the nation lent their strength to government, that the lever which has poised the world could find its supporting point in an island less considerable than any of the countries to which she lent her aid. Make of this country a camp, and soon after a court, and you will see its misery and humiliation. But could the danger, which history points out in every page, not be foreseen, not be repelled by the first thinkers in Europe, whom the nature of the English government calls to take a part in public affairs? Military glory doubtless is the only seduction to be dreaded by energetic men; but as there is an energy far superior to that of the profession of arms, the love of liberty, and as this liberty inspires at once the highest degree of valor when our country is exposed and the greatest disdain for the military spirit when subordinate to a perfidious diplomacy; we ought to hope that the good sense of the English people and the intelligence of its representatives will save liberty from the only enemy against which it has to guard—continual war and that military spirit which war brings in its train.
What a contempt for knowledge, what impatience of the restraints of law, what a desire of power do we not see in all those that have long led the life of camps! Such men find as much difficulty in submitting to liberty as the nation in submitting to arbitrary rule; and in a free country, it is necessary that as far as possible every man should be a soldier, but that no one should be so exclusively. English liberty having nothing to dread but a military spirit, Parliament, it seems to me, should on that account take into its serious consideration the situation of France; it ought to do so likewise from that universal feeling of justice which is to be expected from the most enlightened assembly in Europe. Its own interest commands it, it is necessary to restore the spirit of liberty, naturally weakened by the reaction caused by the French Revolution; it is necessary to prevent the pretensions of vanity in the Continental style which have found their way into certain families. The English nation in all its extent is the aristocracy of the rest of the world by its knowledge and virtues. What would a few puerile disputes on genealogy be beside this intellectual pre-eminence? Finally, it is necessary to put an end to that contempt for nations on which the policy of the day is founded. That contempt, artfully spread abroad, might, like religious incredulity, attack the foundation of the finest of creeds in the very country where its temple has been consecrated.
Parliamentary reform, the emancipation of the Catholics, the situation of Ireland, all the different questions which can still be debated in the English Parliament will be resolved in conformity to the national interest and do not threaten the state with any danger. Parliamentary reform may be accomplished gradually by giving annually some additional members to towns that have lately become populous, and by suppressing, with indemnities, the rights of certain boroughs which have now scarcely any voters.1 But property has such a sway in England that the partisans of disorder would never be chosen representatives of the people, were a parliamentary reform in all its extent to be accomplished in a single day. Men of talent without fortune might perhaps thus lose the possibility of being returned, as the great proprietors of either party would no longer have seats to give to those who do not have the property necessary to get elected in counties and towns. The emancipation of the Irish Catholics is demanded by the spirit of universal toleration which ought to govern the world; yet those who oppose it do not reject this or that worship; but they dread the influence of a foreign sovereign, the Pope, in a country where the rights of citizens should take priority of everything. It is a question which the interest of the country will decide,2 because the liberty of the press and of public debate allows no ignorance to prevail in England in what concerns the interior of the country. Not a fault would be committed were foreign affairs equally well understood in that assembly. It is of serious importance to England that the condition of Ireland should be different from what it has hitherto been; a greater share of happiness and consequently of knowledge ought to be diffused there. The union with England ought to procure to the Irish people the blessings of the constitution; and so long as the English government insists on the necessity of arbitrary acts for suspending the law it has by no means accomplished its task, and Ireland cannot be sincerely identified with a country which does not impart to it all its rights. Finally, the administration of Ireland is a bad example for the English, a bad school for their statesmen; and were England to subsist long between Ireland and France in the present state of things, she would find it difficult to avoid suffering from the perverse influence which her government exercises habitually on the one and at the present moment on the other.
A people can confer happiness on the man who serves them only by the satisfaction of his conscience; they cannot inspire attachment to any but the friends of justice, to hearts disposed to sacrifice their interest to their duty. Many and many a heart is there of this nature in England; there are, in these reserved characters, hidden treasures to be discerned only by sympathy, but which show themselves with force as soon as the occasion calls them forth: it is on these that the maintenance of liberty reposes. All the aberrations of France have not thrown the English into opposite extremes; and although, at this moment, the diplomatic conduct of their government be highly reprehensible, Parliament lets no session pass without improving some old law, framing new ones, discussing questions of jurisprudence, agriculture, or political economy, with an intelligence always on the increase; in short, making daily improvements, while people in other countries would gladly turn into ridicule that progress without which society would have no object that could be rationally explained.
But will English liberty escape that operation of time which has devoured everything on earth? Human foresight is not capable of penetrating into the remote future; yet we see, in history, republics overturned by conquering empires or destroying themselves by their own conquests; we see the nations of the North taking possession of countries in the South because these countries fell into decay, and also because the necessity of civilization carried a part of the inhabitants of Europe with violence toward her Southern regions. Everywhere we have seen nations perish from want of public spirit, from want of knowledge, and, above all, in consequence of the prejudices which, by subjecting the most numerous part of a people to a state of slavery, servitude, or any other injustice, rendered it foreign to the country which it alone could defend. But in the actual state of social order in England, after the duration, for a century, of institutions which have formed the most religious, most moral, and most enlightened nation of which Europe can boast, I should be unable to conceive in what way the prosperity of a country, that is, its liberty, could ever be threatened. At the very moment when the English government leans toward the doctrine of despotism, although it was a despot with whom it contended; at the very moment when legitimacy, violated in a formal manner by the Revolution of 1688, is held up by the English government as the only principle necessary to social order; in this moment of temporary deviation, one already perceives that by degrees the vessel of the state will regain its balance: for of all storms, that which prejudice can excite is the most easily calmed in the country of so many great men, in the center of so much knowledge.
Can a Limited Monarchy Have Other Foundations Than That of the English Constitution?
We find in Swift’s Works a small tract entitled Polite Conversation,1 which comprises all the commonplace ideas that enter into the discourse of the fashionable world. A witty man had a plan of making a similar essay on the political conversations of the present day. “The English constitution is suitable only to Englishmen; the French are not worthy of receiving good laws: people should be on their guard against theory and adhere to practice.” What signifies it, some will say, that these phrases are tedious if they convey a true meaning? But it is their very falsehood that makes them tedious. Truth on certain topics never becomes common, however often repeated; for every man who pronounces it feels and expresses it in his own way; but the watchwords of party spirit are the undoubted signs of mediocrity. We may almost take for granted that a conversation beginning by these official sentences promises only a combination of tedium and sophistry. Laying aside, then, that frivolous language which aims at profundity, it seems to me that thinking men have not even yet discovered other principles of monarchical and constitutional liberty than those which are admitted in England.
Democrats will say that there ought to be a king without a patrician body, or that there ought to be neither; but experience has demonstrated the impracticability of such a system. Of the three powers, aristocrats dispute only that of the people: thus, when they pretend that the English constitution cannot be adapted to France, they merely say that there must be no representatives of the people; for it is certainly not a nobility or hereditary royalty which they dispute. It is thus evident that we cannot deviate from the English constitution without establishing a republic by eliminating hereditary succession; or a despotism by suppressing the commons: for of the three powers, it is impossible to take any one away without producing one or other of these two extremes.
After such a revolution as that of France, constitutional monarchy is the only peace, the only treaty of Westphalia, if we may use the expression, which can be concluded between actual knowledge of society and hereditary interests; between almost the whole nation and the privileged classes supported by the powers of Europe.
The King of England enjoys a power more than sufficient for a man who wishes to do good; and I can hardly conceive how it is that religion does not inspire princes with scruples on the use of unbounded authority: pride in this case gets the ascendancy over virtue. As to the commonplace argument of the impossibility of being free in a Continental country where a numerous standing army must be kept up, the same persons who are incessantly repeating it are ready to quote England for a contrary purpose, and to say that in that country a standing army is not at present dangerous to liberty. The diversity of arguments of those who renounce every principle goes to an unheard-of length: they avail themselves of circumstances when theory is against them; of theory, when circumstances demonstrate their errors: finally, they wheel round with a suppleness which cannot escape the broad light of discussion, but which may mislead the mind when it is not permitted either to silence or to answer sophists. If a standing army give greater power to the King of France than to the King of England, the ultra-royalists, according to their way of thinking, will enjoy that excess of strength, and the friends of liberty do not dread it if the representative government and its securities are established in France with sincerity and without exception. The existence of a Chamber of Peers necessarily reduces, it is true, the number of noble families: but will public interest suffer by this change? Would the families known in history complain of seeing associated in the peerage new men whom the sovereign and public opinion might think worthy of that honor? Should the nobility, which has most to do to reconcile itself with the nation, be the most obstinately attached to inadmissible pretensions? We, the French people, have the advantage of being more ingenious, but at the same time more stupid than any other people of Europe; I am not aware that we ought to boast of it.
Arguments deserving a more serious examination, because they are not inspired by mere frivolous pretensions, were renewed against the Chamber of Peers at the time of Bonaparte’s constitution. Human reason had, it was said, made too great progress in France to bear with any hereditary distinctions. M. Necker had treated that question fifteen years before, like a writer undaunted either by the vanity of prejudices or the self-conceit of theories; and it appears to me admitted by every reflecting mind that the respect with which a conservative element surrounds a government is to the advantage of liberty as well as order, by rendering a recurrence to force less necessary. What obstacle would there then be in France more than in England to the existence of a numerous, imposing, and enlightened House of Peers? The elements of it exist, and we already see how easy it would be to give them a happy combination.
What, it will still be said, for all political sayings are worth the trouble of being combated on account of the multitude of common minds who respect them; you then wish that France should be nothing but a copy, and a bad copy, of the English government? Truly, I do not see why the French or any other nation should reject the use of the compass because they were Italians2 who discovered it. There are in the administration of a country, in its finances, in its commerce, in its armies a number of things connected with localities, and necessarily varying according to them; but the fundamental parts of a constitution are the same throughout. The republican or monarchical form is prescribed by the size and situation of a country; but there are always three elements given by nature: deliberation, execution, and preservation; and these three elements are necessary to secure to the citizens their liberty, their fortune, the peaceful development of their faculties, and the rewards due to their labor. What people is there to whom such rights are not necessary, and by what other principles than those of England can we obtain their lasting enjoyment? Can even all the defects which people are so ready to attribute to the French serve as a pretext to refuse them such rights? In truth, were the French rebellious children, as their great parents in Europe pretend, I would the rather advise giving them a constitution, which should be in their eyes a pledge of equity in those who govern them; for rebellious children, when in such numbers, can be more easily corrected by reason than restrained by force.
A lapse of time will be necessary in France before it will be practicable to create a patriotic aristocracy; for the Revolution having been directed still more against the privileges of the nobles than against the royal authority, the nobility now second despotism as their safeguard.3 It might be said with some truth that this state of things is an argument against the creation of a Chamber of Peers, as too favorable to the power of the Crown. But first, it is in the nature of an upper house in general to lean toward the throne; and the opposition of the peers in England is almost always a minority. Besides, there can be introduced into a Chamber of Peers a number of noblemen friendly to liberty; and those who may not be so today will become so from the mere circumstance that the discharge of the duties of a high magistracy alienates a person from a court life and attaches him to the interest of the country. I shall not fear to profess a sentiment which a number of persons will term aristocratic, but with which all the circumstances of the French Revolution have impressed me: it is that the noblemen who have adopted the cause of a representative government, and consequently of equality before the law, are, in general, the most virtuous and most enlightened Frenchmen of whom we can yet boast. They combine, like the English, the spirit of chivalry with the spirit of liberty;4 they have, besides, the generous advantage of founding their opinions on their sacrifices, while the Third Estate must necessarily find its own in the general interest. Finally, they have to support, almost daily, the ill-will of their class, sometimes even of their family. They are told that they are traitors to their order because they are faithful to the country; while men of the opposite extreme, democrats without the restraint of reason or morality, have persecuted them as enemies of liberty, looking to nothing but their privileges and refusing, very unfairly, to believe in the sincerity of their renunciation. These illustrious citizens, who have voluntarily exposed themselves to so many trials, are the best guardians of liberty on which a country can rely; and a Chamber of Peers ought to be created for them, even if the necessity of such an institution in a constitutional monarchy were not acknowledged even to demonstration.
“No kind of deliberative assembly, whether democratic or hereditary, can succeed in France. The French are too desirous of making a display, and the necessity of producing effect carries them always from one extreme to another.” “It is sufficient then,” certain men say, who constitute themselves the guardians of the nation, that they may declare it in a perpetual minority; “it is sufficient then that France have provincial states instead of a representative assembly.” Certainly I ought to respect provincial assemblies more highly than anyone, since my father was the first and the only minister who established them, and who lost his place for having supported them against the parlements. It is doubtless very wise, in a country as large as France, to give the local authorities more power and more importance than in England; but when M. Necker proposed to assimilate, by provincial assemblies, the provinces called elective (pays d’élection) to the pays d’état;5 that is, to give to the old provinces the privileges possessed only by those whose union to France had been more recent, there was in Paris a parlement which could refuse to register money edicts or any other law emanating directly from the throne. This right of parlement was a very bad outline of a representative government, but at least it was one; and now that all the former limits of the throne are overturned, what would be thirty-three provincial assemblies, dependent on ministerial despotism and possessing no means of opposing it? It is good that local assemblies should discuss the repartition of taxes and verify the public expenses; but popular forms in the provinces, subordinate to an unlimited central power, is a great political monstrosity.
Let us frankly say that no constitutional government can be established if, in the outset, we introduce into all places, whether of deputies or of the agents of the executive power, the enemies of the constitution itself. The first condition to enable a representative government to proceed is that the elections should be free; for they will then produce in men of integrity a wish for the success of the institution of which they will form a part. A deputy is alleged to have said in company, “People accuse me of not being for the constitutional charter; they are very wrong, I am always mounted on this charter; but it is indeed to ride it to death.” Yet after this charming effusion, this deputy would probably take it very much amiss to be suspected of wanting good faith in politics; but it is too much to desire to unite the pleasure of revealing one’s secrets to the advantage of keeping them. Do people think that, with these concealed, or rather with these too well-known intentions, a fair experiment of representative government is made in France? A minister declared lately in the Chamber of Deputies that, of all powers, the one over which royal authority should exercise the greatest influence was the power of elections; which is saying in other terms that the representatives of the people ought to be named by the King. At that rate the officers of the Household ought to be named by the people.
Let the French nation elect the men she shall think worthy of her confidence, let not representatives be imposed on her, and, least of all, representatives chosen among the constant enemies of every representative government: then, and then only, will the political problem be solved in France.6 We may, I believe, consider it a certain maxim that when free institutions have subsisted twenty years in a country, it is on them the blame must be cast if we do not perceive a daily improvement in the morality, the intelligence, and the happiness of the nation that possesses them. It is for these institutions, when arrived at a certain age, to answer, if we may say so, for men; but at the commencement of a new political establishment, it is for men to answer for the institutions:7 for we can in no degree estimate the strength of a citadel if the commanding officers open the gates or attempt to undermine the foundations.
Of the Influence of Arbitrary Power on the Spirit and Character of a Nation.
Frederic II, Maria Theresa, and Catherine II inspired so just an admiration by their talents for governing that it is very natural, in the countries where their memory still lives and their system is strictly followed, that the public should feel, less than in France, the necessity of a representative government. On the other hand, the regent and Louis XV gave in the last century the saddest example of all the misfortunes, of all the degradations attached to arbitrary power. We repeat then that we have here only France in view; and she must not suffer herself, after twenty-seven years of revolution, to be deprived of the advantages she has reaped and be made to bear the double dishonor of being conquered at home and abroad.
The partisans of arbitrary power quote the reigns of Augustus in ancient history, of Elizabeth and of Louis XIV in modern times, as a proof that absolute monarchy can at least be favorable to the progress of literature. Literature in the time of Augustus was little more than a liberal art, foreign to political interests. Under Elizabeth, religious reform stimulated the mind to every kind of development; and the government was the more favorable to it as its strength lay in the very establishment of that reform. The literary progress of France under Louis XIV was caused, as we have already mentioned in the beginning of this work, by the display of intellect called forth by the civil wars. That progress led to the literature of the eighteenth century; and so far is it from being right to attribute to the government of Louis XIV the masterpieces of human intellect that appeared in that age, we must rather consider them almost all as attacks on that government. Despotism, then, if it well understands its interest, will not encourage literature, for literature leads men to think, and thought passes sentence on despotism. Bonaparte directed the public mind toward military success; he was perfectly right according to his object: there are but two kinds of auxiliaries for absolute power, the priests and the soldiers. But are there not, it is said, enlightened despotisms, moderate despotisms? None of these epithets, by which people flatter themselves they will produce an illusion in regard to the word to which they are appended, can mislead men of good sense. In a country like France, you must destroy knowledge if you wish the principles of liberty not to revive. During the reign of Bonaparte and subsequently, a third method has been adopted: it was to make the press instrumental to the oppression of liberty by permitting the use of it only to certain writers enjoined to comment on every error with the more assurance that it was forbidden to reply to them. This is consecrating the art of writing to the destruction of thought, and publicity itself to darkness; but deception of this kind cannot long continue. When government wishes to command without law, its support must be sought in force, not in arguments; for though it be forbidden to refute them, the palpable falsehood of these arguments suggests a wish to combat them; and to silence men effectually, the best plan is not to speak to them.
It would certainly be unjust not to acknowledge that various sovereigns in possession of arbitrary power have known how to use it with discretion; but is it on a chance that the lot of nations should be staked? I shall here quote an expression of the Emperor Alexander which seems to me worthy of being consecrated. I had the honor of seeing him at Petersburg at the most remarkable moment of his life, when the French were advancing on Moscow, and when, by refusing the peace which Bonaparte offered as soon as he thought himself the victor, Alexander triumphed over his enemy more dextrously than his generals did afterward. “You are not ignorant,” said the Emperor of Russia to me, “that the Russian peasants are slaves. I do what I can to improve their situation gradually in my dominions; but I meet elsewhere with obstacles which the tranquillity of the empire enjoins me to treat with caution.” “Sire,” I answered, “I know that Russia is at present happy, although she has no other constitution than the personal character of your Majesty.” “Even if the compliment you pay me were true,” replied the Emperor, “I should be nothing more than a fortunate accident.” Finer expressions could not, I think, have been pronounced by a monarch whose situation could blind him in regard to the condition of men. Not only does arbitrary power deliver nations to the chances of hereditary succession; but the most enlightened kings, if they are absolute, could not, if they would, encourage in their nation strength and dignity of character. God and the law alone can command man in the tone of a master without degrading him.
Do people figure to themselves how ministers such as Lord Chatham, Mr. Pitt, Mr. Fox would have been supported by the princes who appointed Cardinal Dubois or Cardinal Fleury?1 The great men in French history, the Guises, Coligny, Henri IV, were formed in times of trouble because those troubles, in other respects disastrous, prevented the stifling action of despotism and gave a great importance to certain individuals. But in England only is political life so regularly constituted that genius and greatness of soul can arise and show themselves without agitating the state.
From Louis XIV to Louis XVI half a century elapsed: a true model of what is called arbitrary government when people wish to represent it in its mildest colors. There was not tyranny, because the means to establish it were wanting; but it was only through the disorder of injustice that any liberty could be secretly acquired. He who wished to become of any account or to succeed in any business was obliged to study the intrigue of courts, the most miserable science that ever degraded mankind. There is there no question either of talents or virtues; for never would a superior man have the kind of patience necessary to please a monarch educated in the habits of absolute power. Princes thus formed are so persuaded that it is always personal interest which suggests what is told to them, that it must be without their consciousness that one can have influence over them. Now, for this kind of success, to be always on the spot is better than the possession of every possible talent. Princes stand in the same relation to courtiers as we to our servants: we should be offended if they gave us advice, if they spoke to us in an urgent tone, even on our own interests; but we are displeased to see them put on a discontented look, and a few words addressed to us at an appropriate moment, a few flatteries which would appear to fall accidentally from them, would completely govern us if our equals, whom we meet on leaving our house, did not teach us what we are. Princes, having to do only with servants of good taste, who insinuate themselves more easily into their favor than our attendants into ours, live and die without ever having an idea of the real state of things. But courtiers, though they study the character of their master with a good deal of sagacity, do not acquire any real information even as to the knowledge of the human heart, at least that knowledge that is necessary to direct nations. A king should make it a rule to take as prime minister a man displeasing to him as a courtier; for never can a superior mind bend itself to the exact point necessary to captivate those to whom incense is offered. A certain tact, half common, half refined, serves to make one’s way at court: eloquence, reasoning, all the transcendent faculties of the mind and soul would offend like rebellion or would be overpowered with ridicule. “What unsuitable discourse; what ambitious projects!” would say the one; “What does he wish; what does he mean!” would say the other; and the prince would participate in the astonishment of his court. The atmosphere of etiquette operates eventually on everybody to such a degree that I know no one sufficiently bold to articulate a significant word in the circle of princes who have remained shut up in their courts. The conversations must be unavoidably confined to the fine weather, to the chase, to what they drank yesterday, to what they will eat tomorrow; finally, to all sorts of things that have neither meaning nor interest for anybody. What a school is this for the mind, and for the character! What a sad spectacle is an old courtier who has passed many years in the habits of stifling all his feelings, dissembling his opinions, waiting the breath of a prince that he may respire, and his signal that he may move! Such men, at last, destroy the finest of all sentiments, respect for old age, when they are seen, bent by the habit of bowing, wrinkled by false smiles, pale more from boredom than from years, and standing for hours together on their trembling legs in those antechambers where to sit down at the age of eighty would seem almost a revolt.
One prefers, in this career, the young men, giddy and foppish, who can boldly display flattery toward their masters, arrogance toward their inferiors, and who despise the part of mankind which is above as well as that which is below them. They proceed thus, trusting only to their own merit until some loss of favor awaken them from the fascination of folly and of wit together; for a mixture of the two is necessary to succeed in the intrigues of courts. Now, in France, from rank to rank, there have always been courts, that is, houses, in which was distributed a certain quantity of favor for the use of those who aimed at money and place. The flatterers of power, from the clerks to the chamberlains, have adopted that flexibility of language, that facility of saying everything, as of concealing everything, that cutting tone in the style of decision, that condescension for the fashion of the day as for a great authority which has given rise to the levity of which the French are accused; and yet this levity is found only in the swarm of men who buzz around power. This levity they must have to change their party readily; they must have it not to enter thoroughly into any study, for otherwise it would cost them too much to say the contrary of what they would have seriously learned; by ignoring many things, one affirms everything more easily. In short, they must have this levity to lavish, from democracy down to legitimacy, from the republic down to military despotism, all the phrases most opposite in point of meaning, but which still bear a resemblance to each other, like persons of the same family, equally superficial, disdainful, and calculated never to present but one side of a question in opposition to that which circumstances have rendered common. The artifices of intrigue at this time intermeddling with literature as with everything else, there is no possibility for a poor Frenchman who reads to learn anything else than that which it is expedient to say, not that which really is. In the eighteenth century, on the contrary, men in power had no apprehension of the influence of writings on public opinion, and they left literature almost as undisturbed as the physical sciences still are at this day. The great writers have all combated, with more or less reserve, the different institutions founded on prejudices. But what was the result of this conflict? That the institutions were vanquished. One might apply to the reign of Louis XV, and to the kind of happiness found under it, the saying of the man who was falling from the third story of a house: “This is very pleasant, if it would but last.”
Representative governments, it will still be objected to me, have not existed in Germany, and yet learning has made immense progress there. Nothing has less resemblance than Germany and France.2 There is a methodical spirit in the German governments which much diminishes the irregular ascendancy of courts. No coteries, no mistresses, no favorites, nor even ministers who can change the order of things are to be found there. Literature proceeds without flattering anyone; the rectitude of character and the abstract nature of studies are such that even in the time of civil troubles, it would be impossible to compel a German writer to play those strange tricks which have justly led to the remark that, in France, paper suffers everything, so much is required of it. You acknowledge then, I shall be told, that the French character has invincible defects which are hostile to the knowledge, as well as to the virtues, without which liberty cannot exist? By no means; I say that an arbitrary, fluctuating, capricious, and unstable government, full of prejudice and superstition in some respects, and of frivolity and immorality in others, that this government, such as it existed once in France, had left knowledge, intellect, and energy only to its adversaries. And, if it be impossible that such an order of things should be in accordance with the progress of knowledge, it is still more certain that it is irreconcilable with purity of morals and dignity of character. We already perceive that, notwithstanding the misfortunes of France, marriage is far more respected since the Revolution than it was under the old system. Now, marriage is the support of morals and of liberty. How should women have confined themselves to domestic life under an arbitrary government and not have employed all their seductive means to influence power? They were certainly not animated by an enthusiasm for general ideas, but by the desire of obtaining places for their friends; and nothing was more natural in a country where men in favor could do everything, where they disposed of the revenues of the state, where they were stopped by nothing but the will of the King, necessarily modified by the intrigues of those by whom he was surrounded. How should any scruple have been felt to employ the credit of women who were in favor to obtain from a minister any exception whatever to a rule that did not exist? Can it be believed that Madame de Montespan under Louis XIV, or Madame du Barry under Louis XV, ever received a refusal from ministers?3 And without approaching so near the throne, where was the circle upon which favor did not act as at court, and where everyone did not employ all possible means to achieve one’s purpose? In a nation, on the contrary, regulated by law, what woman would have the useless effrontery to solicit what was unfair or rely more on her entreaties than on the real claims of those whom she recommended? Corruption of morals is not the only result of those continual solicitations, of that activity of intrigue of which French women, particularly those of the first class, have but too frequently set the example; the passions of which they are susceptible, and which the delicacy of their organs renders more lively, disfigure in them all that is amiable in their sex.
It is in free countries only that the true character of a woman and the true character of a man can be known and admired. Domestic life inspires all the virtues in women; and the political career, far from habituating men to despise morality as an old tale of the nursery, stimulates those who hold public functions to the sacrifice of their personal interests, to the dignity of honor, and to all that greatness of soul which the habitual presence of public opinion never fails to call forth. Finally, in a country where women are at the bottom of every intrigue, because favor governs everything, the morals of the first class have nothing in common with those of the nation, and no sympathy can exist between the persons who fill the salons and the bulk of the people. A woman of the lowest order in England feels that she has some kind of analogy with the Queen, who has also taken care of her husband and brought up her children in the way that religion and morality enjoin to every wife and mother. But the morals to which arbitrary government leads transform women into a sort of third factitious sex, the sad production of a depraved social order. Women, however, may be excusable for taking political matters as they are and for finding pleasure in those lively interests from which they seem separated by their natural destiny. But what are men who are brought up under arbitrary government? We have seen some of them amidst the Jacobins, under Bonaparte, and in foreign camps—everywhere except in the incorruptible band of the friends of liberty. They take their stand on the excesses of the Revolution to proclaim despotism; and twenty-five years are opposed to the history of the world, which displays nothing but the horrors committed by superstition and tyranny. To believe in the good faith of these partisans of arbitrary power, we must suppose that they have never read what preceded the era of the French Revolution; and we know some who may well found their justification on their ignorance.
Our Revolution, as we have already stated, almost followed the different phases of that of England, with the same regularity which the crises of a similar malady present. But the question which now agitates the civilized world consists in the application of all the fundamental truths upon which social order rests. The greed of power has led men to commit all the crimes which sully history; fanaticism has seconded tyranny; hypocrisy, violence, fraud, and the sword have enchained, deceived, and devastated the human race. Two periods alone have illumined the globe: the history of some centuries of Greece and Rome. Slavery, by limiting the number of citizens, allowed the republican government to be established even in extensive countries, and thence resulted the greatest virtues. Christianity, by liberating slaves and by civilizing the rest of Europe, has since conferred on individual existence a good which is the source of all others. But despotism, that disorder within order, has all along maintained itself in several countries; and all the pages of our history have been stained, either by religious massacres or judiciary murders. Suddenly Providence permitted England to solve the problem of constitutional monarchies; and America, a century later, that of federal republics. Since this period, not one drop of blood has been shed unjustly by tribunals in either of these countries. For sixty years past religious quarrels have ceased in England, and they never existed in America. The venom of power, which has corrupted so many men during so many ages, has undergone at last, by representative governments, a salutary innoculation, which has destroyed all its malignity. Since the battle of Culloden, in 1746, which may be considered the close of the civil troubles that commenced a hundred years before, not one abuse of power can be cited in England. There exists not one worthy citizen who has not said, “Our happy constitution,” because there exists no one who has not felt its protection. This chimera, for such whatever is sublime has always been called, stands there realized before our eyes. What feeling, what prejudice, what hardness of mind or heart can prompt us, in recalling what we have read in our history, not to prefer the sixty years of which England has given us an example? Our kings, like those of England, have been alternately good and bad; but their reign presents at no time sixty years of internal peace and liberty together. Nothing equal to it has even been thought possible in any other epoch. Power is the protector of order; but it is also its enemy by the passions which it excites: regulate its exercise by public liberty, and you will have banished that contempt for mankind which exempts all vices from restraint and justifies the art of profiting by them.
Of the Mixture of Religion with Politics.
It is very often said that France has become irreligious since the Revolution. No doubt at the period of all crimes, the men who committed them must have thrown off the most sacred of restraints. But the general disposition of men at present is not connected with fatal causes, which happily are very remote from us. Religion in France, as it was preached by priests, has always mixed itself with politics; and from the time when the popes absolved subjects from their oath of fidelity to their kings, until the last catechism sanctioned by the great majority of the French clergy, a catechism in which, as we have seen, those who did not love and serve the Emperor Napoléon were threatened with eternal damnation; there is not a period in which the ministers of religion have not employed it to establish political dogmas, all differing according to circumstances. In the midst of these changes, the only invariable thing has been intolerance toward whatever was not conformable to the prevailing doctrine. Never has religion been presented merely as the most inward worship of the heart, without any connection with the interests of this world.
We are subject to the reproach of irreligion when we do not accord in opinion with the ecclesiastical authorities in the affairs of government; but a man may be irritated against those who seek to impose upon him their manner of thinking in politics and, nevertheless, be a very good Christian. It does not follow that because France desires liberty and equality in the eye of the law, that the country is not Christian; quite the contrary. Christianity accords eminently with this opinion. Thus, when man shall cease to join what God has separated, religion and politics, the clergy will have less power and less influence, but the nation will be sincerely religious. All the art of the privileged persons of both classes consists in establishing that he who wishes for a constitution is partisan and biased; and he who dreads the influence of the priests in the affairs of this world, an unbeliever. These tactics are well known, for, like all the rest, they have only been renewed.
Sermons in France, as in England, in times of party have often treated of political questions, and, I believe, they have but little edified persons of a contrary opinion by whom they were heard. We do not much attend to a sermon which we hear in the morning from a preacher with whom we have been disputing the day before; and religion suffers from the hatred which political questions inspire against the priests who interfere in those discussions.
It would be unjust to pretend that France is irreligious because the nation does not apply, according to the wish of some members of the clergy, the famous text that all power comes from God; a text, the honest interpretation of which is easy, but which has been wonderfully useful in treaties made by the clergy with all governments supporting themselves on the divine right of force. I will cite on this occasion some passages of the Pastoral Instruction of the Bishop of Troyes,1 who, when he was almoner to Bonaparte, delivered a discourse at the christening of the King of Rome at least as edifying as that with which we are going to be engaged. It is unnecessary to add that this Instruction is of 1816. The date of a publication in France can always be recognized by the opinion which it contains.
The Bishop of Troyes says, “France wishes for her King, but her legitimate King, because legitimacy is the first treasure of a nation, and a benefit so much the more invaluable as it compensates for all others and can by no other be supplied.” Let us pause one moment to pity the man who thinks thus for having served Napoléon so long and so well. What an effort! What constraint! But, after all, the Bishop of Troyes does no more in this respect than many others who still hold places; and we must render him at least the justice that he does not call for the proscription of his fellow-flatterers of Napoléon: this is no small matter.
I will pass over the flattering language of the pastoral letter; a language which a man ought to permit himself the less to use toward power, the more he respects power. Let us proceed to less benign things:
France wishes for her King; but, in wishing for him, she does not pretend that she can choose another; and, happily, she does not have this fatal right. Far from us be the thought that kings hold their authority from the people, and that the option which the people may have had of choosing them includes the right of recalling them. . . . No, it is not true that the people is sovereign, nor that kings are its trustees. . . . This is the cry of sedition, the dream of independence; it is the foul chimera of turbulent democracy; it is the most cruel falsehood that our vile tyrants ever invented to deceive the multitude. We do not mean to refute seriously this disastrous sovereignty. . . . But it is our duty, in the name of religion, to protest against this anarchical and antisocial doctrine, vomited amongst us with the revolutionary lava; and to guard the faithful committed to our care against this double heresy, political and religious, equally rejected by the greatest doctors and the greatest legislators, not less contrary to natural than to divine right, nor less destructive of the authority of kings than of the authority of God.
The Bishop of Troyes, in fact, does not seriously treat that question, which had, however, appeared worthy of the attention of some thinkers; but it is easier to convert a principle into heresy than to investigate it by discussion. There are, however, some Christians in England, in America, and in Holland; and since social order has been founded, honest persons have been known to believe that all power emanated from the nation, without whom no power could exist. It is in this manner that by employing religion to direct politics the French are liable to continual reproaches of impiety; which simply means that there are in France a great many friends of liberty who are of the opinion that a compact should exist between nations and sovereigns. It seems to me that we can believe in God and yet think in this manner.
By a singular contradiction this same Bishop, so orthodox in politics, cites the famous passage which served him, no doubt, as a justification in his own eyes when he was the almoner of the Usurper: “All power comes from God; and he who resists power, resists God himself.” “Behold, beloved brethren, the public right of religion, without which no one has the right to command, nor the obligation to obey. Behold that first sovereignty from which all others are derived, and without which all others would have neither basis nor sanction; it is the only constitution adapted to all places as well as to all times; the only one which can enable us to do without others, and without which no other can maintain itself. This is the only one which can never be subject to revision; the only one which cannot be shaken by any faction, and against which no rebellion can prevail; against which, in short, nations and kings, masters and subjects can do nothing: all power comes from God; and he who resists power resists God himself.” Is it possible in a few words to collect a greater number of fatal errors and servile calculations? Thus Nero and Robespierre, Louis XI and Charles IX, the most sanguinary of men, ought to be obeyed, if he who resists power resists God himself! Nations or their representatives are the only power which should have been excepted in this implicit respect for authority. When two parties in the state are contending together, how shall we seize the moment when one of them becomes sacred, that is to say, the stronger? Those French then were wrong who did not quit the King during twenty-five years of exile! For certainly during that time it was Bonaparte to whom we could not refuse the right which the Bishop of Troyes proclaims, that of power. Into what absurdities writers fall, who wish to reduce into theories, into dogmas, into maxims the interests of the moment! The sword, in truth, is less degrading than speech when it is thus used. It has been a hundred times repeated that the phrase in the Gospel “All power comes from God,” and the other, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” had solely for their object to remove all political discussion. Jesus Christ desired that the religion he preached should be considered by the Romans as entirely unconnected with public affairs; “My reign is not of this world,” said he. All that is required of the ministers of religion is to fulfill in this respect, as in all others, the intentions of Christ.
“Appoint, O Lord!” says the Prophet, “a legislator over them, that the nations may know that they are men.” It would not be amiss that kings should also learn that they are men, and certainly they must be ignorant of it unless they contract engagements toward the nation whom they govern. When the Prophet prays to God to establish a king, it is, as all religious men pray to God, to preside over every event of this life; but how is a dynasty specially established by Providence? Is it prescription that is the sign of a divine mission? The popes have excommunicated and deposed princes from the remotest times. They excluded Henri IV on account of his religion; and powerful motives recently impelled a pope to concur in the coronation of Bonaparte. It will then belong to the clergy to declare, when necessary, that such a dynasty, and not such another, is chosen by the will of God. But let us follow the pastoral instruction, “Appoint a legislator,” that is to say, “a king who is the legislator above all, and without whom there can be no law; a supreme legislator who will speak and make laws in your name; one legislator, and not several; for the more there are, the worse will the laws be made; a legislator with unrivaled authority, that he may do good without hindrance; a legislator who, obedient himself to his own laws, cannot bind anyone to submit to his passions and caprices; finally, a legislator who, making only just laws, would thus lead his people to real liberty.” A man who will make laws for himself alone will have neither passions nor caprices; a man surrounded by all the snares of royalty will be the only legislator of a people and will make none but just laws! There is, obviously, no example of the contrary; we have never seen kings abuse their power; no priests such as the Cardinals of Lorraine, Richelieu, Mazarin, Dubois who excited them to it! And how is that doctrine compatible with the constitutional charter which the King himself has sworn? This King whom France desires; for the Bishop of Troyes allows himself to say this, although, according to him, France has no right to form a wish on the subject; this King, who is established by the Lord, has promised on oath that there should be various legislators, and not one only, although the Bishop of Troyes pretends that the more there are, the more imperfect will be the laws. Thus the information acquired by administration; thus the wishes collected in the provinces by those who live there; thus the sympathy arising from the same wants and the same sufferings, all this is not equivalent to the information of a single king who represents himself, to make use of a somewhat singular expression of the Bishop of Troyes. One would think that one had already attained what, in this kind of composition, cannot be surpassed, if the following passage did not claim a preference.
“Thus, beloved brethren, have we seen this senate of kings under the name of Congress2 consecrate the legitimacy of all dynasties as a principle, as the aegis of their throne and the surest pledge of the happiness of nations and of the tranquillity of states. We are kings, they said, because we are kings: for so require the order and stability of the social world: so requires our own security; and they have said it without much concerning themselves whether they were not thus in opposition to the ideas called liberal, and still less whether the partition which they made of the countries which they found to suit them were not the most solemn denial given to sovereign peoples.” Would not one think that we had quoted the most ironical satire against the Congress of Vienna, did we not know that such could not have been the intention of the author? But when a writer goes to such a degree of absurdity, he is not aware of the ridicule incurred, for methodical folly is very serious. We are kings because we are kings, the sovereigns of Europe are made to say; “I am, that I am,” are the words of Jehovah in the Bible; and the ecclesiastical writer takes on himself to attribute to monarchs what can be suitable only to the Deity. The kings, he said, did not much concern themselves whether the partitioning of the countries which they found to suit them was in harmony with the ideas called liberal. So much the worse, in truth, if they have managed this partitioning like a banker’s account, paying balances in a certain number of souls, or of fractions of souls, to make up a round sum of subjects! So much the worse if they have consulted nothing but their convenience, without thinking of the interests and wishes of the people! But the kings, be assured, reject the unworthy eulogy that is thus addressed to them; they, doubtless, reject also the blame which the Bishop of Troyes ventures to cast on them, although that blame contains an odious flattery under the form of a reproach.
“It is true that several of them have been seen to favor, at the hazard of being in contradiction with themselves, those popular forms and other new theories which their ancestors did not know, and to which, until our days, their own countries had been strangers, without being the worse for their ignorance; but, we do not fear to say it, it is the malady of Europe, and the most alarming symptom of its decline; it is in that way that Providence seems to attack it to accelerate its dissolution. Let us add to this mania of re-casting governments and supporting them by books that tendency of innovating minds to make a blending of all modes of worship as they wish to make of all parties, and to believe that the authority of princes acquires for itself all the strength and authority of which they strip religion; and we shall have the two greatest political dissolvents which can undermine empires, and with which Europe, sooner or later, must fall into shreds and rottenness.” Such then is the object of all these homilies in favor of absolute power; it is religious toleration that must make Europe fall, sooner or later, into shreds and rottenness. Public opinion is favorable to this toleration; it is then necessary to prescribe whatever can serve as an organ to public opinion: then the clergy of the only admitted religion will be rich and powerful; for, on the one hand, they will call themselves the interpreters of that divine right by which kings reign, and, on the other, the peoples being allowed to profess nothing but the prevailing religion, the ecclesiastics solely must be charged, as they demand, with public education and with the direction of conscience, which supports itself on the Inquisition, as arbitrary power on the police.
The fraternity of all Christian communities, such as the Holy Alliance3 proposed by the Emperor Alexander has made humanity expect, is already condemned by the censure passed on the blending of the forms of worship. What social order is proposed to us by these partisans of despotism and of intolerance, these enemies of knowledge, these adversaries of humanity, when it bears the name of people and nation! Whither could one fly were they to have command? A few words more on this pastoral instruction of which the title is so mild and the words so bitter.
“Alas!” says the Archbishop of Troyes, addressing himself to the King, “seditious men, the better to enslave us, already begin to speak to us of our rights, that they may make us forget yours. Sire, we have doubtless rights, and they are as ancient as the monarchy: the right of belonging to you as the head of the great family, and of calling ourselves your subjects, because that word signifies your children.” One cannot avoid thinking that the writer, a man of intelligence, himself smiled when he proposed, as the only right of the French people, that of calling themselves the subjects of a monarch who should dispose, according to his good pleasure, of their property and their lives. The slaves of Algiers can boast of rights of the same kind.
Lastly, see on what rests all the scaffolding of sophistry prescribed as an article of faith because reasoning could not support it. What a use of the name of God! And how can one expect that a nation to whom one says this is religion should not become unbelievers, for the misfortune of itself and for that of the world!
“Beloved brethren, we shall not cease to repeat to you what Moses said to his people: Ask your forefathers and the God of your fathers, and go back to the source. Consider that the less we deviate from beaten paths the greater is our security. Consider, in short, that to despise the authority of ages is to despise the authority of God, since it is God himself who makes antiquity; and that to desire to renounce it is, in any event, the greatest of crimes, even were it not the greatest of misfortunes.” It is God that makes antiquity. Doubtless; but God is likewise the author of the present, on which the future is about to depend. How silly would this assertion be did it not contain a dextrous artifice! It is as follows: all upright people are affected when reminded of their ancestors; the idea of their fathers seems always to join itself to the idea of the past. But does this noble and pure feeling lead to the re-establishment of the torture, of the wheel, of the Inquisition, because in remote ages abominations of that kind were the work of barbarous manners? Can we support what is absurd and criminal because absurdity and criminality once existed? Were not our fathers culpable toward their fathers when they adopted Christianity and abolished slavery? Reflect that the less we deviate from the beaten paths the greater is our security, says the Bishop of Troyes; but to enable this path to have become beaten, it must have been necessary to pass from antiquity to later times; and we now wish to profit by the information of our days, that posterity may also have an antiquity proceeding from us, but which she may change, in her turn, if Providence continue to protect, as it has done, the progress of the human mind in all directions.
I should not have dwelt so long on the composition of the Bishop of Troyes did it not contain the quintessence of all that is daily published in France. Will good sense escape from it unimpaired? And what is still worse, will the sentiment of religion, without which men have no refuge in themselves, be able to resist this mixture of policy and religion, which bears the obvious character of hypocrisy and egoism?
Of the Love of Liberty.
The necessity of free governments, that is to say, of limited monarchies in great states and independent republics in those which are small, is so evident that we are tempted to believe no one can refuse sincerely to admit this truth; and yet, when we meet with men of good faith who combat it, we would wish, for our own satisfaction, to account for their motives. Liberty has three classes of opponents in France: the nobles who consider honor as consisting in passive obedience and the nobles who possess more reflection but less candor, and believe that the interests of their own aristocracy are identified with the interests of absolute power; the men whom the French Revolution has disgusted with the ideas which it profaned; finally, the Bonapartists, the Jacobins, all those devoid of political consciousness. The nobles who connect honor with passive obedience altogether confound the spirit of ancient chivalry with that of the courtiers of the last centuries. The ancient knights doubtless were ready to die for their king, and so would every warrior for his leader; but as we have already said, they were by no means the partisans of absolute power: they sought to encompass that power with barriers, and placed their glory in defending a liberty which, though aristocratical, was still liberty. As to the nobles who are convinced that the privileges of the aristocracy must now rest upon the despotism which they once were instrumental in limiting, we may say to them, as in the romance of Waverly: “What concerns you is not so much whether James Stuart shall be King, as whether Fergus Mac Ivor shall be Earl.”1 The institution of a peerage accessible to merit is to nobility what the English constitution is to monarchy. It is the only mode of preserving either the one or the other: for we live in an age in which the world does not readily imagine that the minority, and a very small minority, can have a right which is not for the advantage of the majority. A few years ago, the Sultan of Persia had an account given to him of the English constitution by the ambassador of England at his court. After having listened to it and, as we shall see, understood it tolerably well: “I can conceive,” he said, “that the order of things which you describe to me is better framed than the government of Persia for the duration and happiness of your empire; but it seems to me much less conducive to the enjoyment of the monarch.” This was an accurate statement of the question; only that it is better even for the monarch to be guided in the administration of affairs by public opinion than incessantly to run the risk of being in opposition to it. Justice is the aegis of all and of everyone: but in its quality of justice, it is the great number which has the preferable claim to protection.
We have next to speak of those whom the misfortunes and the crimes of the French Revolution have terrified, and who fly from one extreme to the other, as if the arbitrary power of an individual were the only sure protection against demagogy. It was thus that they exalted the tyranny of Bonaparte, and it is thus that they would render Louis XVIII a despot if his superior wisdom did not protect him from it. Tyranny is an upstart, and despotism a grandee; but both are equally offensive to human reason. After having witnessed the servility with which Bonaparte was obeyed, it is difficult to conceive that the republican spirit is that which is to be dreaded in France. The diffusion of knowledge and the nature of things will bring liberty to France; but the nation assuredly will not spontaneously show itself either factious or turbulent.
Since for so many ages every generous soul has loved liberty; since the noblest actions have been inspired by her; since antiquity and the history of modern times exhibit to us so many prodigies effected by public spirit; since we have seen so lately what nations can do; since every reflecting writer has proclaimed; since not one political work of lasting reputation can be cited which is not animated by this sentiment; since the fine arts, poetry, the masterpieces of the theater, which are intended to excite emotion in the human heart, all exalt public liberty; what are we to say of those little men, great only in folly, who, with an accent insipid and affected as their whole being, declare to you that it is very bad taste to trouble yourselves with politics; that after the horrors which we have witnessed nobody cares for liberty; that popular elections are an institution altogether vulgar; that the people always make a bad choice; and that genteel persons are not suited to go, as in England, and mingle with the populace? It is bad taste to trouble ourselves with politics. Good heavens! Of what then, good heaven, are those young people to think who were educated under the government of Bonaparte merely to go and fight, without any instruction, without any interest in literature or the fine arts? Since they can have neither a new idea nor a sound judgment on such subjects, they would, at least, be men if they were to occupy themselves with their country, if they were to deem themselves citizens, if their life were to be in any way useful. But what would they substitute for the politics which they affect to proscribe? Some hours passed in the antechamber of ministers to obtain places which they are not qualified to fill; some trivial parlor conversations, beneath the understanding of even the silliest of the women to whom they address them. When they were encountering death they might escape without blame, because there is always greatness in courage: but in a country which, thanks to Heaven! will be at peace, to have no attainments beyond the level of a chamberlain, and to be unable to impart other knowledge or dignity to their native land—this is bad taste indeed. The time is gone by when young Frenchmen could set the fashion in everything. They have still, it is true, the frivolity of former days; but they have no longer the graces on account of which that frivolity might be pardoned.
After the horrors which we have witnessed, it is said, nobody now wishes to hear the name of liberty. If sensible characters give themselves up to an involuntary and distempered hatred (for so must it be named, since it depends on certain recollections, certain associations of terror, which it is impossible to vanquish), we would say to them with a poet of the present day, that liberty must not be compelled to stab herself like Lucretia because she has been violated. We would bid them remember that the massacre of St. Bartholomew has not caused the proscription of the Catholic faith. We would tell them, in short, that the fate of truth is not dependent on the men who put this or that motto on their banners, and that good sense has been given to every individual to judge of things as they are in themselves, and not according to accidental circumstances. The guilty of all times have tried to avail themselves of a generous pretext in order to excuse bad actions: there are few crimes in the world which their authors have not ascribed to honor, to religion, or to liberty. It does not follow, I think, that it is on that account necessary to proscribe whatever is beautiful upon earth. In politics especially, as there is room for fanaticism as well as for bad faith, for devotedness as well as for personal interest, we are subject to fatal errors when we do not have a certain force of understanding and of soul. If on the day after the death of Charles I, an Englishman, cursing with reason that crime, had implored Heaven that there might never again be freedom in England, we might certainly have felt an interest in that emotion of a good heart which in its agitation confounded all the pretexts of a great crime with the crime itself; and would have proscribed, had it been able, even the sun, which had risen on that day as usual. But if so unthinking a prayer had been heard, England would not at this day serve as an example to the world; the universal monarchy of Bonaparte would be weighing Europe to the ground; for, without the aid of this free nation, Europe would not have been in a situation to work out her own deliverance. Such arguments and many others might be addressed to persons whose very prejudices merit respect because they spring from the affections of the heart. But what are we to say of those who treat the friends of liberty as Jacobins, while they themselves have been ready instruments in the hands of the imperial power? We were forced, they say, to be so. Ah! I know some who could likewise speak of constraint, and who yet escaped it. But since you have allowed yourselves to be compelled, at least allow us to endeavor to give you a free constitution, in which the empire of the law will prevent anything wrong from being required of you: for, as appears to me, you are in danger of giving way too readily to circumstances. They whom nature has endued with a disposition to resist, have no reason to fear despotism; but you, who have crouched under it so well, should wish that at no time, under no prince, in no shape may it ever again touch you.
The epicureans of our days would wish that knowledge might improve our physical existence without exciting intellectual development; they would have the Third Estate labor to render social life more agreeable and comfortable without desiring to benefit from the advantages which it has gained for all. In former days the general style of life had little delicacy or refinement, and the relations in society were likewise much more simple and stable. But now that commerce has multiplied everything, if you do not give motives of emulation to talent, the love of money will fill the vacancy. You will not raise up the castles of feudal chieftains from their ruins; you will not recall to life the princesses who with their own hands spun the vests of the warriors; you will not even restore the reign of Louis XIV. The present times do not admit of that sort of gravity and respect which then gave so much ascendancy to that court. But you will have corruption, and corruption without refinement of mind; the lowest degradation to which the human species can fall. It is not then between knowledge and the ancient system of feudal manners that we are to choose, but between the desire of distinction and the eagerness to become rich.
Examine the adversaries of freedom in every country, you will find among them a few deserters from the camp of men of talent, but in general, you will see that the enemies of freedom are the enemies of knowledge and intelligence. They are proud of their deficiency in this respect; and one must agree that such a negative triumph can be easily achieved.
The secret has been found of presenting the friends of liberty as the enemies of religion: there are two pretexts for the singular injustice which would forbid to the noblest of sentiment of this earth, the alliance with Heaven. The first is the Revolution; as it was effected in the name of philosophy, an inference has thence been drawn that to love liberty it is necessary to be an atheist. Certainly, it is because the French did not unite religion to liberty that their revolution deviated so soon from its primitive direction. There might be certain dogmas of the Catholic Church which were not in agreement with the principles of freedom; passive obedience to the Pope was as difficult to be defended as passive obedience to the King. But Christianity has in truth brought liberty upon earth; justice toward the oppressed, respect for the unfortunate; finally, equality before God, of which equality under the law is only an imperfect image. It is by confusion of thought, voluntary in some, blind in others, that endeavors have been made to represent the privileges of the nobility and the absolute power of the throne as doctrines of religion. The forms of social organization can have no concern with religion except by their influence on the maintenance of justice toward all, and of the morals of each individual. The rest belongs to the science of this world.
It is time that twenty-five years, of which fifteen belong to military despotism, should no longer place themselves as a phantom between history and us, and should no longer deprive us of all the lessons and of all the examples which it offers us. Is Aristides to be forgotten, and Phocion, and Epaminondas in Greece; Regulus, Cato, and Brutus at Rome; Tell in Switzerland; Egmont and Nassau in Holland; Sidney and Russell in England;2 because a country that had long been governed by arbitrary power was delivered, during a revolution, to men whom arbitrary power had corrupted? What is there so extraordinary in such an event as to change the course of the stars, that is, to give a retrograde motion to truth, which was before advancing with history to enlighten the human race? By what public sentiment shall we be moved henceforth if we are to reject the love of liberty? Old prejudices have now no influence upon men except from calculation; they are defended only by those who have a personal interest in defending them. What man in France desires absolute power from pure love or for its own sake? Inform yourself of the personal situation of its partisans, and you will soon know the motives of their doctrine. On what then would the fraternal tie of human associations be founded if no enthusiasm were to be developed in the heart? Who would be proud of being a Frenchman after having seen liberty destroyed by tyranny, tyranny broken to pieces by foreigners, unless the laurels of war were at least rendered honorable by the conquest of liberty? We should have to contemplate a mere struggle between the selfishness of those who were privileged by birth and the selfishness of those who are privileged by events. But where would then be France? Who could boast of having served her, since nothing would remain in the heart, either of past times or of the new reform?
Liberty! Let us repeat her name with so much the more energy that the men who should pronounce it, at least as an apology, keep it at a distance through flattery: let us repeat it without fear of wounding any power that deserves respect; for all that we love, all that we honor is included in it. Nothing but liberty can arouse the soul to the interests of social order. The assemblies of men would be nothing but associations for commerce or agriculture if the life of patriotism did not excite individuals to sacrifice themselves for their fellows. Chivalry was a warlike brotherhood which satisfied that thirst for self-devotion which is felt by every generous heart. The nobles were companions in arms, bound together by duty and honor; but since the progress of the human mind has created nations, in other words, since all men share in some degree in the same advantages, what would become of the human species were it not for the sentiment of liberty? Why should the patriotism of a Frenchman begin at this frontier and cease at that, if there were not within this compass hopes, enjoyments, an emulation, a security which make him love his native land as much through the genuine feelings of the soul as through habit? Why should the name of France awaken so invincible an emotion if there were no other ties among the inhabitants of this fine country than the privileges of some and the subjection of the rest?
Wherever you meet with respect for human nature, affection for fellow-creatures, and that energy of independence which can resist everything upon earth and prostrate itself only before God; there you behold man the image of his Creator, there you feel at the bottom of the soul an emotion which so penetrates its very substance that it cannot deceive you with respect to truth. And you, noble Frenchmen, for whom honor was freedom, you who by a long series of exploits and greatness ought to consider yourselves as the elite of the human race, permit the nation to raise itself to a level with you; she, too, has rights of conquest; every Frenchman may now call himself a gentleman if every gentleman is not willing to be called a citizen.
It is indeed a remarkable circumstance that throughout the world, wherever a certain depth of thought exists, there is not to be found an enemy of freedom. As the celebrated Humboldt3 has traced upon the mountains of the New World the different degrees of height which permit the development of this or that plant, so might we predict what extent, what elevation of spirit is requisite to enable a man to conceive the great interests of mankind in their full connection and in all their truth. The evidence of these opinions is such that they who have once admitted them can never renounce them, and that from one end of the world to the other, the friends of freedom maintain communication by knowledge, as religious men by sentiments; or rather knowledge and sentiment unite in the love of freedom as in that of the Supreme Being. Is the question the abolition of the slave trade, or the liberty of the press, or religious toleration? Jefferson thinks as La Fayette; La Fayette, as Wilberforce; and even they who are now no more are reckoned in the holy league. Is it then from the calculations of interest, is it from bad motives that men so superior, in situations and countries so different, should be in such harmony in their political opinions? Without doubt knowledge is requisite to enable us to soar above prejudices: but it is in the soul also that the principles of liberty are founded; they make the heart palpitate like love and friendship, they come from nature, they ennoble the character. One connected series of virtues and ideas seems to form that golden chain described by Homer, which in binding man to Heaven delivers him from all the fetters of tyranny.
Select Bibliography on Madame de Staël
MAJOR SECONDARY WORKS AND BIBLIOGRAPHIES
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[1. ] In 2000 Transaction Publishers republished a selection from Madame de Staël’s writings on politics, literature, and national character. Translated and edited by Morroe Berger (the original edition appeared in 1964), this anthology includes a seventeen-page fragment from Staël’s Considerations. Also worth mentioning are a selection from Staël’s rich correspondence compiled by George Solovieff (Springer Publishing, 2000); the new translation of Ten Years of Exile by Avriel H. Goldberger (Northern Illinois University Press, 2000); An Extraordinary Woman: Selected Writings of Germaine de Staël, edited and translated by Vivian Folkenflick (Columbia University Press, 1987); and the collection of essays in Germaine de Staël: Crossing the Borders, edited by Madelyn Gutwirth, et al. (Rutgers University Press, 1991).
[2. ] A splendid account of Madame de Staël’s contribution to feminist debates may be found in Mona Ozouf, Women’s Words: Essay on French Singularity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), a work which, unfortunately, has been ignored in the United States.
[3. ] Staël wrote that “reason is not a shade of meaning between extremes, but the primary color given off by the purest rays of the sun.” (Berger, ed., Politics, Literature, and National Character, 136)
[4. ] For more information about the differences between the original manuscript and the published one, see the account given by Chinatsu Takeda, “Présentation des documents,” in Revue française d’histoire des idées politiques, 18 (no. 2): 2003, 355–61.
[5. ] Both the 1818 French edition and the 1818 English translation were published in three volumes (vol. 1: pts. 1 and 2; vol. 2: pts. 3 and 4; vol. 3: pts. 5 and 6). The name of the English translator was not disclosed.
[1. ] The two editors were Victor de Broglie and Auguste de Staël. They were assisted by August Wilhelm von Schlegel, the former teacher of Auguste and close friend of Germaine de Staël.
[1. ] The full title of Bossuet’s book is Politics Drawn from Holy Scripture.
[1. ] This war ended in 1266 when Henry III Plantagenet reaffirmed the promises made in Magna Charta.
[2. ] The Hundred Years’ War (1337–1475).
[3. ] The War of the Two Roses (1455–85).
[4. ] Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (1428–71).
[5. ] Henry VII Tudor, King of England, reigned from 1485 to 1509.
[6. ] Henry VIII Tudor was King of England from 1509 to 1547. He managed to sever the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church and establish himself as the supreme head of the church in England after being excommunicated by the pope in 1533.
[7. ] Catherine Howard, who married Henry VIII in 1540, was accused of adultery, found guilty, and executed in 1542. She was the fifth of Henry VIII’s six wives.
[8. ] Thomas More (1480–1535), grand chancellor under Henry VIII, opposed the reform of the church. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London and executed.
[9. ] Drafted by Henry VIII in 1539.
[10. ] Mary I (Mary Tudor), daughter of Henry VIII, was Queen of England from 1553 to 1558, when she unsuccessfully tried to restore Catholicism in England by persecuting Protestants (hence her nickname, “Bloody Mary”). She married Philip II of Spain in 1554.
[11. ] Elizabeth I, Queen of England, reigned from 1558 to 1603.
[12. ] Mary Stuart was Queen of Scotland from 1542 to 1567. She was arrested in 1586 and condemned to death for conspiring against Elizabeth I.
[13. ] James I reigned from 1603 to 1625.
[14. ] Charles I was King of England from 1625 to 1649. His conflict with Parliament triggered the civil war that led to the Revolution of 1648–49. He was tried and executed for high treason in January 1649.
[15. ] On this issue, also see Guizot, Histoire de la Révolution d’Angleterre depuis Charles I à Charles II.
[16. ] A few decades later Tocqueville, in The Old Régime and the Revolution, developed further this famous comparison between France and England by drawing on the different patterns of alliance between the monarch, the middle class, and the nobles in the two countries. For more information about the image of England in French political thought, see Jennings, “Conceptions of England and Its Constitution in Nineteenth-Century French Political Thought.”
[* ] I quote here the text of an address of the Commons under James I, which is an evident demonstration of this truth.
Declaration of the House of Commons in regard to its privileges, drawn up by a committee chosen to present that address to James I.
The Commons of this realm contain not only the citizens, burgesses, and yeomanry, but also the whole inferior nobility of the kingdom, knights, squires, and gentlemen, many of which are come immediately out of the most noble families; and some others of their worth advanced to the high honor of your Majesty’s privy council, and otherwise have been employed in very honorable service; in sum, the sole persons of the higher nobility excepted, they contain the whole power and flower of your kingdom; first, with their bodies your wars; secondly, with their purses your treasures are upheld and supplied; thirdly, their hearts are the strength and stability of your royal seat. All these, amounting to many millions of people, are representatively present in us of the House of Commons.
[17. ] Charles II reigned from 1660 to 1685; James II, from 1685 to 1688. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 brought William III of Orange to the throne of England.
[18. ] Lord William Russell (1639–83), an opponent of Charles II, was executed for participating in a conspiracy against the King (in which Algernon Sidney was also involved).
[19. ] James Dalrymple (1619–1695), a Scottish statesman who opposed the Stuarts, was the author of The Institutions of the Law of Scotland (1681).
[20. ]Habeas corpus is a basic individual right against arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, dating back to the thirteenth century. It was properly formalized only in 1679, when the English Parliament voted the law of habeas corpus. The original Latin meaning, “you have the body,” refers to a civil proceeding used to review the legality of a prisoner’s confinement in criminal cases. In other words, it is a court petition that orders that a person being detained be produced before a judge for a hearing to decide whether the detention is lawful.
[21. ] John Wilot, second Count of Rochester (1647–80), was the author of poems and of a rich correspondence with his wife (published in 1686). William Wycherley (1640–1716), a playwright, wrote The Country Wife (1673). William Congreve (1670–1729), a playwright, wrote The Old Bachelor (1690).
[22. ] The Duke of Orléans.
[23. ] See Hume’s History of England, vol. 6, chap. LXX, 462–66.
[24. ] Hume refers to the victory of James II against the Duke of Monmouth in 1685.
[25. ] George Jeffreys (1648–89), chief justice of England, was imprisoned after the Revolution of 1688.
[26. ] For Hume’s account of this period, see The History of England, vol. 6, chap. lxx, 449–95.
[27. ] Mary II and Anne Stuart. Mary married William III of Orange, who succeeded James II on the throne of England.
[28. ] Queen Anne reigned from 1702 to 1714.
[29. ] On April 16, 1746, at Culloden (Scotland), the army led by the Duke of Cumberland defeated the army of Charles Edward Stuart.
[30. ] George I of Hanover (r. 1714–27), George II (r. 1727–60), and George III (r. 1760–1820).
[1. ] The war between the United States and England lasted from June 1812 to December 1814. The Americans were never allied with Napoléon against the English.
[2. ] See note 2, p. 539.
[3. ] Madame de Staël arrived in London on June 17, 1813. A few days later, she was presented to the Queen and the Prince Regent. For more information, see Fairweather, Madame de Staël, 417–46.
[4. ] Allusion to Irish opposition to England. In 1798, two years before the Union Act, which linked the two countries, the English defeated a revolt in Ireland.
[5. ] The Treaty of Pleiswitz (May 29, 1813).
[6. ] The population of London rose from 745,000 inhabitants in 1801 to 1,250,000 in 1815.
[7. ] In June 1814.
[8. ] On January 12, 1807.
[9. ] See Hume’s essay “Of Commerce” in Essays, 253–67.
[10. ] John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough (1650–1722).
[11. ] Hugh Smithson Percy, first Duke of Northumberland (1715–86).
[12. ] Percy Hotspur (1364–1403), second Count of Northumberland, played an important role in the War of the Roses.
[13. ] In October 1813.
[14. ] William Wilberforce (1759–1833), a member of Parliament, fought for the abolition of slavery. The Slavery Abolition Act was passed shortly after his death, in 1833. Madame de Staël and her son, Auguste, became strong supporters of Wilberforce after meeting him at a dinner in London. For more information, see Fairweather, Madame de Staël, 428–29.
[1. ] Calas was a prominent Protestant condemned to death in 1762 for allegedly having murdered his son in Toulouse. The Royal Council found him not guilty in 1765.
[2. ] Wrongly condemned to death (for having surrendered Pondichéry to the English) and executed in 1766.
[3. ] See note 3, p. 342, above.
[4. ] In January 1757.
[5. ] Thomas Erskine (1750–1823), a prominent lawyer and Whig politician, served as chancellor in 1806–7 and was an acquaintance of Madame de Staël.
[* ] I cannot too strongly recommend to French readers the collection of the speeches of Erskine, who was raised to the rank of chancellor after a long and distinguished career at the bar. Descended from one of the oldest families in Scotland, he set out in life as an officer; and afterward, being without fortune, entered on the profession of the law. The particular circumstances to which the pleadings of Lord Erskine relate are all opportunities for displaying, with unrivaled strength and sagacity, the principles of criminal jurisprudence which ought to serve as a model to every people.
[6. ] A random and arbitrary means of recruitment used by the Royal Navy until the middle of the nineteenth century.
[7. ] Pitt was in power during the periods 1783–1801 and 1804–6.
[8. ] The so-called rotten boroughs. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the English electoral system did not adequately reflect the country’s new social, political, and economic conditions. Three major industrial cities—Manchester, Birmingham, and Leeds—with a total population of approximately half a million did not send a single representative to the House of Commons. In addition to many “rotten” boroughs in which there were hardly any voters left, there were many pocket boroughs in which elections were tightly controlled by a single individual or family. For more information, see Brock, The Great Reform Act.
[9. ] This was the goal of the famous Reform Act of 1831–32.
[* ] Cowper.
[10. ] William Cowper (1731–1800) was an English poet and hymnodist. His works include Olney Hymns (1779) and translations of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.
[11. ] Horatio Nelson (1758–1805) was a famous English admiral who died in the battle of Trafalgar on October 21, 1805.
[1. ] Andrew Bell (1753–97) and Joseph Lancaster (1778–1838) founded the mutual education system involving the best students in the teaching process.
[2. ] The Poor Laws had existed since the reign of Elizabeth I; they confined the poor to workhouses in which work was mandatory. The 1601 law remained in effect until 1832.
[3. ] Since 1800.
[* ] It is related that Swift felt a foreboding that his faculties would abandon him, and that, walking one day with a friend, he saw an oak, the head of which was withered, though the trunk and roots were yet in full vigor. “It is thus I shall be,” said Swift; and his sad prediction was accomplished. When he had fallen into such a state of stupor that for a whole year he had not uttered a word, he suddenly heard the bells of St. Patrick’s, of which he was the Dean, ringing in full peal, and asked what it meant. His friends, in raptures that he had recovered his speech, hastened to inform him that it was in honor of his birthday that these signs of joy were taking place. “Ah!” he exclaimed, “all that is unavailing now”; and he returned to that silence which death soon after confirmed. But the good he had done survived him, and it is for this that men of genius appear on the earth.
[4. ] Henry Grattan (1746–1820), Irish Protestant and member of the parliament in Dublin, fought for Irish independence.
[5. ] Dugald Stewart (1753–1828), a prominent Scottish philosopher and disciple of Thomas Reid, was a member of the Scottish School of Common Sense, which flourished in Scotland in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
[6. ] The famous Edinburgh Review, one of the most influential magazines of the nineteenth century, was founded in 1802 by Francis Jeffrey, Sydney Smith, and Henry Brougham. For more information, see Fontana, Rethinking the Politics of Commercial Society.
[7. ] Francis Jeffrey (1773–1850) was a founder of the Edinburgh Review and member of the House of Commons (from 1834). John Playfair (1748–1819) was an eminent mathematician and geologist. James Mackintosh (1765–1832) was the author of Vindiciae Gallicae (1791).
[8. ] Henry Brougham (1778–1868) was a prominent Whig politician. As lord chancellor from 1830 to 1834, he was responsible for the passage of the Reform Act of 1831–32 and the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.
[9. ] The British and Foreign Bible Society, founded in London in 1804.
[10. ] Indian prince (ca. 327 bc) who fought against Alexander the Great.
[1. ] For a splendid account of the role of women in French society, see Ozouf, Women’s Words.
[2. ] The substitutions were legal procedures by which one could bequeath to someone all or a part of one’s assets with the mandate of transmitting them to a third person designated in advance. The substitutions were outlawed by the Convention in October 1792.
[3. ] In French, majorats, a form of substitution required to support a title of nobility. The majorats were abolished in France in June 1790, reestablished by Napoléon in 1806, and outlawed in 1835.
[4. ] On the issue of enthusiasm, also see the last three chapters of Madame de Staël’s On Germany (bk. II, pt. IV, chaps. x–xii).
[5. ] Lord Grey (1764–1845) and Lord Lansdowne (1780–1863) were Whigs; Lord Harrowby (1762–1847) was a Tory.
[6. ] Samuel Romilly (1757–1818) was a prominent Whig legal reformer, close friend of Mirabeau, and author of, among others, Thoughts on the Probable Influence of the Late Revolution in France upon Great Britain (1790).
[7. ] Allusion to the war against Napoléon (1813–14).
[8. ] For more information on this issue, see Ozouf, Women’s Words.
[9. ] Lady Russell (1636–1723) was the second daughter of Thomas Wriothesley, the fourth Earl of Southampton. Her second husband, Lord William Russell, was charged with complicity in the Rye House Plot in 1683 and was convicted of high treason and executed. In L’amour dans le mariage, Guizot eulogized Lady Russell; Guizot’s book appeared in English in New York in 1864 under the title Love in Marriage and in London in 1883 as The Devoted Life of Rachel Lady Russell. For more information, see Schwoerer, “William, Lord Russell: The Making of a Martyr, 1683–1983.”
[1. ] Sidney Smith (1764–1840) was an admiral in the English navy.
[2. ] Sir John Moore (1761–1809) was a prominent officer in the English army.
[3. ] Warren Hastings (1732–1818) was the first governor-general of British India, from 1773 to 1785. He was impeached in 1787 for corruption (Burke was one of his most vocal critics) and acquitted in 1795.
[4. ] Lord Cornwallis and Lord Wellesley were governors of India. During his tenure (1786–93), Lord Cornwallis introduced several judicial reforms and set up the criminal courts. Lord Wellesley, who served as governor-general between 1798 and 1805, extended the dominions of the British in India by introducing the Subsidiary Alliance system, which brought the Indian states within the purview of the British power of jurisdiction.
[5. ] On Wilberforce, see note 14, p. 656, above.
[6. ] Thomas Clarkson (1760–1846), a prominent English abolitionist educated at Cambridge, played a key role in the abolition of the slave trade in 1833.
[7. ] In June 1812, during the Napoléonic Wars.
[8. ] This was the conventional image of Asia (i.e., India and China) in nineteenth-century Europe.
[9. ] An allusion to the two treaties of Paris (1814 and 1815), which brought France back to the borders of 1792 and imposed heavy reparations on the French.
[10. ] Robert Stewart, second Marquess of Londonderry and Viscount Castlereagh (1769–1822), was a prominent English diplomat who represented England at the Congress of Vienna. In 1804 Pitt appointed Castlereagh secretary of state for war and the colonies. He also served as foreign secretary from 1812 to 1822.
[11. ] King Ferdinand VII of Spain.
[12. ] In 1815 Spain was counting on the support of England to suppress the independence movements in Central and Latin America.
[13. ] Napoléon imposed extremely harsh conditions on Prussia in 1806 at Tilsit.
[* ] All this was written during the session of 1815, and it is known that no one was more eager than Madame de Staël to do homage to the beneficial effects of the ordonnance of the 5th of September of that year.—(Note of the Editors.)
[14. ] The Charter of 1814. For more information about the political context and the parliamentary debates during the first years of the Restoration, see Craiutu, Liberalism Under Siege, 19–85, 192–97.
[15. ] The so-called White Terror of 1815.
[* ] Debate of 25th May 1815.
[† ] Debate of 19th February 1816.
[1. ] The famous Reform Bill of 1831–32 brought much-needed change to an electoral system that did not accurately reflect England’s new political, social, and economic conditions.
[2. ] The Catholic Relief Act was passed a decade later, in 1829. The act reduced or removed many of the restrictions on Roman Catholics that had been previously introduced and allowed Catholics to hold many high-ranking governmental, administrative, and judicial offices as well as to serve in Parliament.
[1. ] The full title of Swift’s book is A Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation According to the Most Polite Mode and Method Now Used at Court and in the Best Companies of England (1738).
[2. ] In fact, the compass was invented by the Chinese.
[3. ] See Furet, Revolutionary France, 284–98.
[4. ] Burke put forward a similar claim in Reflections on the Revolution in France.
[5. ] Before 1789 the term pays d’élection was applied to provinces that did not have estates to assist in local government and in the assessment and collection of taxes. Its opposite was pays d’état.
[6. ] It will be recalled that on September 5, 1816, Louis XVIII dissolved the (in)famous Chambre introuvable and called for new elections.
[7. ] Montesquieu made a similar argument in The Spirit of the Laws.
[1. ] Cardinal Dubois (1656–1723) and Cardinal Fleury (1653–1743) were prominent French statesmen during the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV.
[2. ] This point is developed in Madame de Staël’s On Germany.
[3. ] The Marquise de Montespan (1640–1707) and the Countess du Barry (1743–93) were the mistresses of Louis XIV and Louis XV, respectively.
[1. ] Anne-Antoine (1747–1825), Count of Boulogne and Bishop of Troyes (from 1809) and Peer of France (from 1822 to his death).
[2. ] The Congress of Vienna (September 1814–June 1815).
[3. ] The Holy Alliance was a powerful coalition among Russia, Austria, and Prussia created in 1815 at the initiative of Tsar Alexander I of Russia. It was signed by the three powers in Vienna on September 26, 1815.
[1. ]Waverly (1814) is a famous novel by Sir Walter Scott.
[2. ] What all these characters shared was military virtue and courage in the fight for liberty.
[3. ] Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) was a famous Prussian scientist and explorer whose scientific achievements were admired by all the leading names of his epoch, from Goethe and Napoléon to Jefferson and Darwin. Simón Bolívar once claimed that “Alexander von Humboldt has done more for America than all its conquerors; he is the true discoverer of America.” Von Humboldt also had a genuine interest in politics. During the July Monarchy, he was frequently employed in diplomatic missions to the court of the king of France, with whom he maintained cordial personal relations. His brother, Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835), was a well-known political thinker and founder of Humboldt University in Berlin. Wilhelm von Humboldt’s ideas had a strong influence on J. S. Mill’s On Liberty.