Front Page Titles (by Subject) ESSAY XII.: ON M. DAUNOU'S HISTORICAL COURSE AT THE COLLEGE DE FRANCE. - The Historical Essays and Narratives of the Merovingian Era
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ESSAY XII.: ON M. DAUNOU’S HISTORICAL COURSE AT THE COLLEGE DE FRANCE. - Augustin Thierry, The Historical Essays and Narratives of the Merovingian Era 
The Historical Essays, published under the Title of “Dix Ans d’Études historiques,” and Narratives of the Merovingian Era; or, Scenes of the Sixth Century, with an Autobiographical Preface (Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1845).
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ON M. DAUNOU’S HISTORICAL COURSE AT THE COLLEGE DE FRANCE.
The ancients required of him who offered himself for the defence of the accused, the quality of a man of worth and that of an eloquent orator. We have likewise a right to demand of whoever presents himself to a professorship of public instruction, the double security of patriotism and knowledge. It was thus that M. Daunou appeared before the College de France. He had acquired the name of sage and patriot, not in virtue of a patent of authority, or by the caprice of fashion, but by long labours and hard trials. Cotemporaneous with liberty at his birth, he has served it at the peril of his head; he has seen his friends fall by strokes of policy. Escaped with a small number of men to repeat to us, a new generation, how dear the care of our destiny cost our fathers, he has reappeared at once on the bench of the representative and in the tribune of the professor. In the latter, as in the former place, his purpose is to fulfil with dignity and without ostentation the compact by which he has devoted his life to truth and reason; his opening discourse is but the proclamation of this noble devotion. M. Daunou has declared himself subjected to a sacred obligation towards science, to the obligation of professing it entirely, such as it is, without disguise as well as without reserve. “I demand,” said he, “in the name of the pupils who are to listen to me, the liberty never to deceive them: to tell them pure and entire truth is a respect due to their age, a duty and a right of mine. I know, moreover, that they would soon have deserted a school of slavery and falsehood.”
The course of history and morals began by learned dissertations on the different degrees of value of historical testimonies, according to their nature and epoch. In the exposition and criticisms of traditions and monuments of all kinds, the professor understood how to unite the exactitude of a scholar with the views of a philosopher and the talent of a writer. Ingenious fancies, piquant reflections, and fragments of generous eloquence, varied and sustained the attention of his young hearers. After marking with impartial justice the credit which men owe to the testimonies of men, M. Daunou directed the attention of the students to themselves, and began the inquiry of “What is man, who is the subject of history?” Here presented itself the vast picture of human affections, whether just or unjust, reasonable or foolish, benevolent or ill-natured, generous or mean. Such was the subject of several lessons breathing the mildness of a philanthropist and the austerity of a citizen. M. Daunou has pointed out some germs of good in the passions which so often disturb the peace and good sense of societies; the sole warrants, however, of their progress in ambition, the love of applause, and anger, which induces men to brave death. He has showed that these passions, so fatal when they are egotistical or fanatical, may, when governed by reason and tempered by goodness, likewise produce the desire of being useful, the devotion to others, and that calm indignation which renders the soul of the patriot inflexible before gold, honours, or executioners; with which Sidney disconcerted his judges, and ascended the scaffold as a deputy ascends the tribune.
From the application of history to the morals of individuals, M. Daunou advanced to its application to the morals of society; for he has thus defined politics. He has banished far from the field of science all policy which was not morality itself, and has rejected it for ever to the empirical catalogue of the proceedings of those quacks and cutpurses who know no other. He has exposed, in a manner worthy of such a subject, the imprescriptible rights of men, and the equally imprescriptible rights which things derive from their connection with persons; in other words, the sacredness of human liberties, and the sacredness of human property. The productions of industry (and every thing which the hand of man has touched is a production of industry) ought, like the men themselves, to find all roads free: their carriage, as well as their existence, is always the act of the liberty of a man; on this account it is sacred and inviolable. M. Daunou has proclaimed, that if it is true that no society can exist without laws, without authority, without public strength, and without taxes, it is also true that no society can fail to perish under these very institutions, when they are imposed on it in excess, that is to say, when the laws sanction any thing besides the mutual respect of the liberty of all; when the authorities have sufficient methods of constraint to compel obedience to such laws; when the taxes exceed the measure prescribed by the necessities of a repressive and not preventive administration towards citizens, defensive and not hostile towards foreign nations; when the public strength exceeds in intensity the mass of possible internal offences, or possible external perils. From the period at which these things occur, society is no longer governed, it is possessed; or, to speak more properly, it is no longer society, but a flock under masters, either one, several, or a great number; their quantity is of no importance.
A philosopher in whom our epoch glories, was the first to establish this profound and luminous distinction; and it was in quoting him that M. Daunou reproduced it. There are, said M. de Tracy in his commentary on l’Esprit des Lois, but two sorts of government; that in which those who govern are for the nation, and that in which the nation is for those who govern: in briefer terms, there are a national government, and a special government. The various numerical forms expressed by Montesquieu, and rendered famous by his genius, are all absorbed into this great division, the only real one. Without perverting M. de Tracy’s formula, the word government might be suppressed in the expression of the second sort; and then there would remain on one side the government, properly so called, and on the other, possession, conquest, and despotism, whether collective or individual: government, marked with the invariable seal of justice and common utility; despotism, possessing a thousand characters, a thousand methods, figures and degrees, according to the different chances of the strength of the masters and the cowardice of the subjects: government, the produce of reason and the object of science; despotism, the produce of fortune, and abandoned to history as a fact, the existence of which can be narrated and not qualified.
Thus brought back to the consideration of the national government, the only one which ought to bear that name to enable science to speak an exact language, M. Daunou has exposed the moral rules of conduct which weigh at once upon the governors and the governed. He has rejected Machiavelianism from the science of government; he has numbered only as the bases of this science, the firm conviction of the inviolability of human liberty, under whatever form it may appear, and the knowledge of what is useful to the community of associated men. In treating of the conduct and spirit of nations, the professor in the same way left turbulence, restless hatred, bitter satire, that consolation of weakness, and insult, that mask for cowardice, to the subjects of despots; but he has reserved as the first, or rather as the only duties of the citizen, the inflexible conscience of his rights and an equal conscience of the rights of others; a continual mistrust of those who govern, a calm and austere mistrust, which should not exhale itself in aggressions, but should keep eyes awake and hearts prepared for defence. In the progress of a nation towards liberty, its march should be solemn and regular, like that of the close-pressed battalions which, by the mere force of their order, advance, bearing down all obstacles before them, and are victorious without striking a single blow: the tactics of the Parthians, sudden irruptions, pretended flight, false truces, and daggers, belong to escaped slaves.
M. Daunou thinks that the French nation is now worthy of embracing the morality of nations; he believes that we have at last attained the social state, that state in which, as he says himself, there is nothing certain but good faith, nothing powerful but truth, nothing skilful but virtue. We heard him address this consoling assurance to the young men of his audience; to those new generations that have not had time to complete their apprenticeship to servitude under despotism. “May they,” nobly exclaimed the professor, “may they, these generations, eager of instruction, of liberty, and of happiness, become a generous and wise people, incapable of enduring the yoke of despotism, and of shaking off that of the tutelary powers! May they understand that there is no pure knowledge but that which perfects manners; that we cease to be enlightened when we become depraved; that a nation is free in proportion only as it is just, virtuous and courageous; that arts and sciences only preserve from slavery those whom they preserve from vice; and that a corrupt people is a prey promised to tyranny, like those dead bodies which are abandoned to wild beasts!”
Noble and pure exhortations like these render far distant from us the time, really so recent, when elegant servitude alone professed in the schools; when Virgil was made to predict the birth of the son of a despot; when the great words “native country and honour” were profaned before youth; when the phrases of an empty rhetoric, and the frozen figures of algebra, were the sole pasture offered to the mind of a young French citizen; when in meetings of pomp, the benches of youth were covered with men in office invited by a courtier professor, to render a good account to Cæsar of the minds of the sons of the partisans of Marius.
M. Daunou is now following up his course of history by learned discussions on the two bases of historical science, geography and chronology: it is by accustoming his young audience to the gravity of these studies, that he will induce it to forget the imperial futilities and meannesses. Let the spirit of youth be serious and upright, and France will be saved from the future chances of despotism; for such minds are the terror of tyrants, far more than the unsteady ardour of popular clubs.
The author of this article has listened, as a pupil, to M. Daunou’s lessons: a young man himself, he had his share in the councils which the professor gave young men; if he ventured himself to explain the principles of conduct which these eloquent lessons appeared to him to prescribe to those who are now engaging in the career of patriotic interests, he would say, that at the present epoch, which is that of a great renovation, in this time of transition, when old forms no longer exist, and new ones have not yet arisen, when the human species seeks and doubts, the activity of each of us should be internal, to be wise and fruitful. Each of us should propose to himself the great question which entire humanity endeavours to solve for itself, “What ought I to be?” Our conscience, if calmly consulted, will reply; “that we shall have accomplished our destiny, if we know how to maintain ourselves always reasonable, courageous and free.” Here is all the political problem. It is within ourselves, in the solitude of our chambers, in the midst of the grave meditations of science that we shall find its secret, and not in the noise of the world and of parties, on that sea of disputes where passions come in collision, and from which peaceful and timid reason shrinks back. Let us not be seduced into the indiscreet ambition of making France do what is right; let us do it ourselves: are not we France? We have admired M. Daunou; let us inquire what power has created his character, elevated his soul, and enlarged his mind? he will himself tell us—forty years of retreat and study.