Front Page Titles (by Subject) MONSIEUR GUIZOT (1874.) - The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 6 (Lombard Street, Essays on Guizot & Cairnes, The Depreciation of Silver)
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MONSIEUR GUIZOT (1874.) - Walter Bagehot, The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 6 (Lombard Street, Essays on Guizot & Cairnes, The Depreciation of Silver) 
The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, ed. Mrs. Russell Barrington. The Works in Nine Volumes. The Life in One Volume. (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1915). Vol. 6.
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The announcement of the death of M. Guizot will take the minds of many back to the cold February evenings in 1848, when London, long used to political calm, was convulsed by a new excitement, when we heard cried in rapid succession, “Resignation of Guizot,” “Flight of Louis Philippe,” “Proclamation of the Republic,” and when the present chapter of European politics began. M. Guizot lived to see many events and many changes, but none which restored him to pre-eminence, or which made him once more a European personage. His name was never cried in the London streets again. M. Guizot was in most respects exactly the opposite of the common English notion of a Frenchman. There floats in this country an idea that a Frenchman is a light, changeable, sceptical being, who is fond of amusement, who is taken with childish shows, who always wants some new thing, who is incapable of fixed belief on any subject, and on religion especially. But Guizot was, on the contrary, a man of fixed and intense belief in religion, who was wholly devoted to serious study, who probably cared as little for the frivolous side of life as any human being who ever lived, who was stiff in manner and sedate in politics to a fault. A Puritan born in France by mistake, is the description which will most nearly describe him to an ordinary Englishman; for he had all the solidity, the solemnity, and the energy of Puritanism, as well as some of its shortcomings. And it is very natural that such should be his character, for he came of a Huguenot family, who really were French Puritans. The French national character is much more various than it is supposed to be according to common English ideas, and the stern variety which M. Guizot represents is one of the most remarkable.
Indeed, in the special peculiarity which coloured his political life, he was a most characteristic Frenchman. He represented their excessive propensity to political fear. As we all know, a principal obstacle to good government in France is a deficiency in political courage. At the present moment a very considerable part of the nation are inclined to return to the Empire—not that they are attached to the Empire, not that they do not see its defects, not that they are not ashamed of its end, but because they are so impressed by the difficulties of making any other strong government that their heart fails them. They want something which will save them from the Commune, and they are disposed to run back to what saved them from the Commune before, without any sufficient inquiry whether a better safeguard cannot be found, or whether this one will be effectual. The excess of their apprehension dims their eyes and distorts their judgment. Guizot had no partiality for the Empire, or for anything like the Empire, but nevertheless his whole political life rested on a similar feeling and aimed at a similar end. He, too, was frightened at revolutionary excess; his father perished in the first revolution. He was born in 1787, and consequently began his intellectual life about 1800, just when the reaction against the revolution was the strongest, when its evil was most exaggerated, and when its good was most depreciated. A strong, serious, unoriginal mind—and such was M. Guizot’s—which receives such penetrating impressions early in life, generally holds them on, in one shape or another, till the end. And so it was in this case. Guizot was devoted through life to what he called the “Conservative” policy; he was always endeavouring to avert revolution; he was incessantly in dread of tumult; he saw attack and commotion everywhere. But he had no notion what was the real counterforce in France to the revolutionary force. We now know from experience that that force, though it calls itself the force of numbers, can be controlled by appealing to numbers; that the peasant proprietors, who are the majority in France, hate nothing so much and fear nothing so much; that they think revolution may take from them their property, their speck of land, their “all”; and, therefore, they will resist revolution at any time and on any pretence, and will support any power which they think can prevail against it. But Guizot did not perceive this great force. His great recipe for preventing revolution was not by extending the suffrage, but by restricting it. He did not see that the masses in France, having property of their own, were only too likely to be timid about property. His scheme was to resist revolution by keeping the suffrage so high that it included only a few in the towns, that it scarcely included any of the masses in the country. He proposed to found the throne of constitutional liberty on a select bourgeoisie—few in number, moderate in disposition, easily conciliated by their interests. The revolution of 1848 might have been avoided if he had been willing a little to extend the suffrage, but he would not extend it. The proposals then made for so doing seem now trivial and unimportant, but Guizot sincerely believed that they would ruin the country; sooner than grant them he incurred a revolution. He was so perturbed by the excessive dread of revolution that he could not see what was the true power with which to oppose it—that he threw away a mighty power—that he relied solely on a weak one—that he caused the calamity he was always fearing.
It is this great misfortune which will always colour any retrospect of M. Guizot’s career, and render it a melancholy one. In many minor ways he accomplished much good. As a minister of public instruction he did much—much, perhaps, which no other man at that time could have done—for education in France. When ambassador in England he did much to prevent a war which was then imminent, and which M. Thiers would have hurried on; through his whole career, by a lofty scrupulosity, he did much to raise the low level of morality in French public life. As an orator he had great triumphs at the tribune, though his eloquence is too little business-like and too academical for our English taste. But notwithstanding these triumphs and these services, his political career must ever be held to be a complete failure, for he failed in the work of his life—in the aim he had specially chosen as his own. His mission—he would have accepted the word—was to avert revolution, and he caused revolution. Nor is the failure one which was slight in its effects, or which history can forget. On the contrary, every page of present French politics bears witness to its importance. No French Republic and no French Monarchy can now have nearly as much strength or nearly as much chance of living as the Monarchy of July which Guizot destroyed.
Of his literary productions, this is not the place to speak. Nothing can be more unlike ordinary Parisian literature than they are. That literature generally reminds its readers of the old saying, “that the French would be the best cooks in Europe if they had got any butcher’s meat”. Of French cookery nothing can be more libellous; but of much French literature it would be quite true to say that the writers would be the first in Europe if they only knew anything about their subject. The power of expression has been cultivated to an extreme perfection, but unfortunately the writers have neglected the further task of finding anything true and important to say. But M. Guizot’s works are the reverse of all this. A work of more solid erudition than the History of French Civilisation was never written by a German professor, and few Germans have ever written anything so accurately matured, and so perfectly mastered. In this respect he contrasts admirably with his great rival. There used to be a story—a just story in the main, we believe—of a critic who betted that he would find five errors in any five pages of Thiers’ great history of the Revolution. Even his warmest admirers indeed have never contended that M. Thiers had a scrupulous love of truth, was a careful collector of evidence, or a fine judge of it when collected. But M. Guizot was all three. The labour expended on his books must have been very great, and much more than it would be now, for he has himself helped his successors—certainly to arrive at his own conclusions with greater ease, and perhaps also to arrive at improved conclusions.
From our peculiar view, as an economic statesman M. Guizot has, we are sorry to say, no title to respect. He and his fellow-ministers under Louis Philippe left it to the Empire to improve the material condition of the French people. He did little to promote railways, and he objected to the English treaty of 1860 because it was an approach to Free Trade, because it would enable “the English manufacturers, after an English commercial crisis, to export their goods to France and to swamp the French manufacturers”. The real principles of Free Trade had never penetrated into his mind, any more than into the minds of Louis Philippe’s other ministers; and partly on that account France now looks back to the time of the Empire as to the “golden age” of wealth and industry, and not to the time of the free monarchy.
We are sorry to have to write so much of blame of one whose character all Europe respected, and some of whose virtues were so valuable to France. But it is one perhaps painful consequence of prolonged old age that a man’s character at death is estimated with perfect partiality. Those who most hated him and those who most loved him are mostly passed away or superseded in the scene of affairs. And if, as in M. Guizot’s case, the good which he did was mostly one of temporary moral impression, and the evil which he caused one of lasting political result, there will be always more blame than praise to say. The impalpable virtues can hardly be described and are mostly forgotten, but the indelible consequences of the political errors are fixed on the face of the world; they cannot be overlooked, and they must be spoken of.