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GUIZOT’S ESSAYS AND LECTURES ON HISTORY 1845 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XX - Essays on French History and Historians 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XX - Essays on French History and Historians, ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by John C. Cairns (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985).
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GUIZOT’S ESSAYS AND LECTURES ON HISTORY
Dissertations and Discussions, 2nd ed. (1867), II, 218-82. Headed by title; title footnoted, “Edinburgh Review, October 1845.” Running titles as title. Reprinted from Edinburgh Review, LXXXII (Oct., 1845), 381-421, where it is headed: “Art. IV.—Essais sur l’Histoire de France. Par M. [François Pierre Guillaume] Guizot. Professeur d’Histoire Moderne à l’Académie de Paris. Pour servir de complément aux Observations sur Histoire de France de Abbé de Mably. 8vo. Paris [: Brière, 1823]. [Used for reference in this essay is the 2nd ed. (Paris: Brière; Leipzig. Bossange, 1824), which is in Mill’s library, Somerville College.] Cours d’Histoire Moderne. Containing, 1. Histoire Générale de la Civilisation en Europe, depuis la chute de l’Empire Romain jusqu’à la Révolution Française. [Paris: Pichon and Dider, 1828.] 2. Histoire de la Civilisation en France, depuis la chute de l’Empire Romain jusqu’en 1789. [5 vols. Paris: Pichon and Didier, 1829-32.] Par M. Guizot. 6 vols. 8vo.” Running titles. “M. Guizot’s Essays and Lectures in History.” Unsigned Offprinted without title page but repaginated. Identified in Mill’s bibliography as “An article on Guizot’s Essays and Lectures on History, in the Edinburgh Review for October 1845” (MacMinn, 58). The copy of the offprint in Mill’s library, Somerville College, is headed by Mill, “(Edinburgh Review, October 1845)”, and contains the following emendations: “Justificatifs” is changed to “Justificatives” (275.4), “damist” to “amidst” (291.4), and “principal of all government” to “principle of all government” (292.38); also, at 290.25 “events” is underlined in pencil, and “qu?” written in the margin (perhaps in Harriet Taylor’s hand), the three changes were made in D&D, and “events” was changed to “its wants” (see 290n-n).
The following text, taken from D&D, 2nd ed. (the last in Mill’s lifetime), is collated with that in D&D, 1st ed., that of the offprint, and that in ER. In the footnoted variants, “451” indicates ER, “452” indicates the offprint, “59” indicates D&D, 1st ed. (1859), and “67” indicates D&D, 2nd ed. (1867).
For comment on the essay, see lxxii-lxxix and civ-cvi above.
Guizot’s Essays and Lectures on History
these two works are the contributions which the present Minister for Foreign Affairs in France has hitherto made to the philosophy of general history. They are but fragments: the earlier of the two is a collection of detached Essays, anda therefore of necessity fragmentary; while the later is all that the public possesses, or perhaps is destined to possess, of a systematic work cut short in an early stage of its progress. It would be unreasonable to lament that the exigencies or the temptations of politics have called from authorship and the Professor’s chair to the Chamber of Deputies and the Cabinet, the man to whom perhaps more than to any other it is owing that Europe is now at peace. Yet we cannot forbear wishing that this great service to the civilized world had been the achievement of some other, and that M. Guizot had been allowed to complete his Cours d’Histoire Moderne. For this a very moderate amount of leisure would probably suffice. For though M. Guizot has written only on a portion of his subject, he has done it in the manner of one to whom the whole is familiar. There is a consistency, a coherence, a comprehensiveness, and what the Germans would term many-sidedness,[*] in his view of European history; together with a full possession of the facts which have any important bearing upon his conclusions, and a deliberateness, a matureness, an entire absence of haste or crudity, in his explanations of historical phenomena; which we never see in writers who form their theories as they go on—which give evidence of a general scheme, so well wrought out and digested beforehand, that the labours both of research and of thought necessary for the whole work, seem to have been performed before any part was committed to paper. Little beyond the mere operation of composition seems to be requisite, to place before us, as a connected body of thought, speculations which, even in their unfinished state, may be ranked with the most valuable contributions yet made to universal history.
Of these speculations no account, having any pretensions to completeness, has ever, so far as we are aware, appeared in the English language. We shall attempt to do something towards supplying the deficiency. To suppose that this is no longer needful would be to presume too much on the supposed universality of the French language among our reading public; and on the acquaintance even of those to whom the language opposes no difficulty, with the names and reputation of the standard works of contemporaneous French thought. We believe that a knowledge of M. Guizot’s writings is even now not a common possession in this country, and that it is by no means a superfluous service to inform English readers of what they may expect to find there.
For it is not with speculations of this kind as it is with those for which there exists in this country a confirmed and long-established taste. What is done in France or elsewhere for the advancement of Chemistry or of Mathematics, is immediately known and justly appreciated by the mathematicians and chemists of Great Britain. For these are recognised sciences, the chosen occupation of many instructed minds, ever on the watch for any accession of facts or ideas in the department which they cultivate. But the interest which historical studies in this country inspire, is not as yet of a scientific character. History with us has not passed that stage in which its cultivation is an affair of mere literature or of erudition, not of science. It is studied for the facts, not for the explanation of facts. It excites an imaginative, or a biographical, or an antiquarian, but not a philosophical interest. Historical facts are hardly yet felt to be, like other natural phenomena, amenable to scientific laws. The characteristic distrust of our countrymen for all ambitious efforts of intellect, of which the success does not admit of being instantly tested by a decisive application to practice, causes all widely extended views on the explanation of history to be looked upon with a suspicion surpassing the bounds of reasonable caution, and of which the natural result is indifferenceb. Andb hence we remain in contented ignorance of the best writings which the nations of the Continent have in our time produced; because we have no faith in, and no curiosity about, the kind of speculations to which the most philosophic minds of those nations have lately devoted themselves; even when distinguished, as in the case before us, by a sobriety and a judicious reserve, borrowed from the safest and most cautious school of inductive inquirers.
In this particular, the difference between the English and the Continental mind forces itself upon us in every province of their respective literatures. Certain conceptions of history considered as a whole, some notions of a progressive unfolding of the capabilities of humanity—of a tendency of man and society towards some distant result—of a destination, as it were, of humanity—pervade, in its whole extent, the popular literature of France. Every newspaper, every literary review or magazine, bears witness of such notions. They are always turning up accidentally, when the writer is ostensibly engaged with something else; or showing themselves as a background behind the opinions which he is immediately maintaining. When the writer’s mind is not of a high order, these notions are crude and vague; but they are evidentiary of a tone of thought which has prevailed so long among the superior intellects, as to have spread from them to others, and become the general property of the nation. Nor is this true only of France, and of the nations of Southern Europe which take their tone from France, but almost equally, though under somewhat different forms, of the Germanic nations. It was Lessing by whom cthe course ofc history was styled “the education of the human race.”[*] Among the earliest of those by whom the succession of historical events was conceived as a subject of science, were Herder and Kant.[†] The latest school of German metaphysicians, the Hegelians, are well known to treat of it as a science which might even be constructed à priori. And as on other subjects, so on this, the general literature of Germany borrows both its ideas and its tone from the schools of the highest philosophy. We need hardly say that in our own country nothing of all this is true. The speculations of our thinkers, and the commonplaces of our mere writers and talkers, are of quite another description.
Even insular England belongs, however, to the commonwealth of Europe, and yields, though slowly and in a way of her own, to the general impulse of the European mind. There are signs of a nascent tendency in English thought to turn itself towards speculations on history. The tendency first showed itself in some of the minds which had received their earliest impulse from Mr. Coleridge; and an example has been given in a quarter where many, perhaps, would have least expected it—by the Oxford school of theologians. However little ambitious these writers may be of the title of philosophers; however anxious to sink the character of science in that of religion—they yet have, after their own fashion, a philosophy of history. They haved a theory of the world[‡] —in our opinion an erroneous one, but of which they recognise as an essential condition that it shall explain history; and they do attempt to explain history by it, and have constituted, on the basis of it, a kind of historical system. By this we cannot but think that they have done much good, if only in contributing to impose a similar necessity upon alle theorizers of like pretensions. We believe the time must come when all systems which aspire to direct either the consciences of mankind, or their political and social arrangements, will be required to show not only that they are consistent with universal history, but that they afford a more reasonable fexplanationf of it than any other system. In the philosophy of society, more especially, we look upon history as an indispensable test and verifier of all doctrines and creeds; and we regard with proportionate interest all explanations, however partial, of any important part of the series of historical phenomena—all attempts, which are in any measure successful, to disentangle the complications of those phenomena, to detect the order of their causation, and exhibit any portion of them in an unbroken series, each link cemented by natural laws with those which precede and follow it.
M. Guizot’s is one of the most successful of these partial efforts. His subject is not history at large, but modern European history; the formation and progress of the existing nations of Europe. Embracing, therefore, only a part of the succession of historical events, he is precluded from attempting to determine the law or laws which preside over the entire evolution. If there be such laws; if the series of states through which human nature and society are gdestinedg to pass, have been determined more or less precisely by the original constitution of mankind, and by the circumstances of the planet on which we live; the order of their succession cannot be hdiscoveredh by modern or by European experience alone: it must be ascertained by a conjunct analysis, so far as possible, of the whole of history, and the whole of human nature. M. Guizot stops short of this ambitious enterprise; but, considered as preparatory studies for promoting and facilitating it, his writings are most valuable. He seeks, not the ultimate, but the proximate causes of the facts of modern history: he inquires in what manner each successive condition of modern Europe grew out of that which next preceded it; and how modern society altogether, and the modern mind, shaped themselves from the elements which had been transmitted to them from the ancient world. To have done this with any degree of success, is no trifling achievement.
The Lectures, which are the principal foundation of M. Guizot’s literary fame, were delivered by him in the years 1828, 1829, and 1830, at the old Sorbonne, now the seat of the Faculté des Lettres of Paris, on alternate days with MM. Cousin and Villemain; a triad of lecturers, whose brilliant exhibitions, the crowds which thronged their lecture-rooms, and the stir they excited in the active and aspiring minds so numerous among the French youth, the future historian will commemorate as among the remarkable appearances of that important era. The Essays on the History of France are the substance of Lectures delivered by M. Guizot many years earlier; before the Bourbons, in their jealousy of all free speculation, had shut up his class-room and abolished his professorship; which was re-established after seven years’ interval by the Martignac Ministry. In this earlier production some topics are discussed at length, which, in the subsequent Lectures, are either not touched upon, or much more summarily disposed of. Among these is the highly interesting subject of the first Essay. The wide difference between M. Guizot and preceding historians is marked in the first words of his first book. A real thinker is shown in nothing more certainly, than in the questions which he asks. The fact which stands at the commencement of M. Guizot’s subject—which is the origin and foundation of all subsequent history—the fall of the Roman Empire—he found an unexplained phenomenon; unless a few generalities about despotism and immorality and luxury can be called explanation. His Essay opens as follows:
The fall of the Roman Empire of the West offers a singular phenomenon. Not only the people fail to support the government in its struggle against the Barbarians; but the nation, abandoned to itself, does not attempt, even on its own account, any resistance. More than this—nothing discloses that a nation exists; scarcely even is our attention called to what it suffers, it undergoes all the horrors of war, pillage, famine, a total change of its condition and destiny, without giving, either by word or deed, any sign of life.
This phenomenon is not only singular, but unexampled. Despotism has existed elsewhere than in the Roman Empire, more than once, after countries had been long oppressed by it, foreign invasion and conquest have spread destruction over them. Even when the nation has not resisted, its existence is manifested in history, it suffers, complains, and, in spite of its degradation, maintains some struggle against its misery, narratives and monuments attest what it underwent, what became of it, and if not its own acts, the acts of others in regard to it.
In the fifth century, the remnant of the Roman legions disputes with hordes of barbarians the immense territory of the Empire, but it seems as if that territory was a desert. The Imperial troops once driven out or defeated, all seems over: one barbarous tribe wrests the province from another; these excepted, the only existence which shows itself is that of the bishops and clergy. If we had not the laws to testify to us that a Roman population still occupied the soil, history would leave us doubtful of it.
This total disappearance of the people is more especially observable in the provinces most advanced in civilization, and longest subject to Rome. The Letter called “The Groans of the Britons,” addressed to Aetius,[*] and imploring, with bitter lamentations, the aid of a legion, has been looked upon as a monument of the helplessness and meanness of spirit into which the subjects of the Empire had fallen. This is unjust. The Britons, less civilized, less Romanized than the other subjects of Rome, did resist the Saxons, and their resistance has a history. At the same epoch, in the same situation, the Italians, the Gauls, the Spaniards, have none. The Empire withdrew from those countries, the Barbarians occupied them, and the mass of the inhabitants took not the slightest part, nor marked their place in any manner in the events which gave them up to so great calamities.
And yet, Gaul, Italy, and Spain, were covered with towns, which but lately had been rich and populous. Roads, aqueducts, amphitheatres, schools, they possessed in abundance, they were wanting in nothing which gives evidence of wealth, and procures for a people a brilliant and animated existence. The Barbarians came to plunder these riches, disperse these aggregations, destroy these pleasures. Never was the existence of a nation more utterly subverted; never had individuals to endure more evils in the present, more terrors for the future. Whence came it that these nations were mute and lifeless? Why have so many towns sacked, so many fortunes reversed, so many plans of life overthrown, so many proprietors dispossessed, left so few traces, not merely of the active resistance of the people, but even of their sufferings?
The causes assigned are, the despotism of the Imperial government, the degradation of the people, the profound apathy which had seized upon all the governed. And this is true; such was really the main cause of so extraordinary an effect. But it is not enough to enunciate, in these general terms, a cause which has existed elsewhere without producing the same results. We must penetrate deeper into the condition of Roman society, such as despotism had made it. We must examine by what means despotism had so completely stripped society of all coherence and all life. Despotism has various forms and modes of proceeding, which give very various degrees of energy to its action, and of extensiveness to its consequences.[*]
Such a problem M. Guizot proposes to himself; and is it not remarkable that this question not only was not iansweredi , but was not so much as raised, by the celebrated writers who had treated this period of history before him—one of those writers being Gibbon?[†] The difference between what we learn from Gibbon on this subject, and what we learn from Guizot, is a measure of the progress of historical inquiry in the intervening period. Even the true sources of history, of all that is most important in it, have never until the present generation been really understood and freely resorted to. It is not in the chronicles, but in the laws, that M. Guizot finds the clue to the immediate agency in the “decline and fall” of the Roman empire. In the legislation of the period M. Guizot discovers, under the name of curiales, the middle class of the Empire, and the recorded evidences of its progressive annihilation.[‡]
It is known that the free inhabitants of Roman Europe were almost exclusively a town population: it isj, then,j in the institutions and condition of the municipalities that the real state of the inhabitants of the Roman empire must be studied.
k In semblance, the constitution of the town communities was of a highly popular character. The curiales, or the class liable to serve municipal offices, consisted of all the inhabitants (not specially exempted) who possessed landed property amounting to twenty-five jugera.l This class formed a corporation for the management of local affairs. They discharged their functions, partly as a collective body, partly by electing, and filling in rotation, the various municipal magistracies. Notwithstanding the apparent dignity and authority with which this body was invested, the list of exemptions consisted of all the classes who possessed any influence in the State, any real participation in the governing power. It comprised, first, all senatorial families, and all persons whom the Emperor had honoured with the title of clarissimi, then, all the clergy, all the military, from the praefectus praetorii down to the common legionary, and all the civil functionaries of the State. When we look further, indications still more significant make their appearance. We find that there was an unceasing struggle between the government and the curiales—on their part to escape from their condition, on the part of the government to retain them in it. It was found necessary to circumscribe them by every species of artificial restriction. They were interdicted from living mout of the townm , from serving in the army, or holding any civil employment which conferred exemption from municipal offices, until they had first served all those offices, from the lowest to what was called the highest. Even then, their emancipation was only personal, not extending to their children. If they entered the Church, they must abandon their possessions, either to the curia (the municipality), or to some individual who would become a curialis in their room. Laws after laws were enacted for detecting, and bringing back to the curia, those who had secretly quitted it and entered surreptitiously into the army, the clergy, or some public office. They could not absent themselves, even for a time, without the permission of superior authority; and if they succeeded in escaping, their property was forfeit to the curia. No curialis, without leave from the governor of the province, could sell the property which constituted him such. If his heirs were not members of the curia, or if his widow or daughter married any one not a curialis, one-fourth of their property must be relinquished. If he had no children, only one-fourth could be bequeathed by will, the remainder passing to the curia. The law looked forward to the case of properties abandoned by the possessor, and made provision that they should devolve upon the curia; and that the taxes to which they were liable should be rateably charged upon the property of the other curiales.
What was it, in the situation of a curialis, which made his condition so irksome, that nothing could keep men in it unless caged up as in a dungeon—unless every hole or cranny by which they could creep out of it, was tightly closed by the provident ingenuity of the legislator?
The explanation is this. Not only were the curiales burdened with all the expenses of the local administration, beyond what could be defrayed from the property of the curia itself—property continually encroached upon, and often confiscated, by the general government; but they had also to collect the revenue of the State; and their own property was responsible for making up its amount. This it was which rendered the condition of a curialis an object of dread, which progressively impoverished and finally extinguished the class. In their fate, we see what disease the Roman empire really died of; and how its destruction had been consummated even before the occupation by the Barbarians. The invasions were no new fact, unheard-of until the fifth century; such attempts had been repeatedly made, and never succeeded until the powers of resistance were destroyed by inward decay. The Empire perished of misgovernment, in the form of overtaxation. The burden, ever increasing through the necessities occasioned by the impoverishment it had already produced, at last reached this point, that none but those whom a legal exemption had removed out of the class on which the weight principally fell, had anything remaining to lose. The senatorial houses possessed that privilege, and accordingly we still find, at the period of the successful invasions, a certain number of families which had escaped the general wreck of private fortunes;—opulent families, with large landed possessions and numerous slaves. Between these and the mass of the population there existed no tie of affection, no community of interest. With this exception, and that of the Church, all was poverty. The middle class had sunk under its burdens. “Hence,” says M. Guizot, “in the fifth century, so much land lying waste, so many towns almost depopulated, or filled only with a hungry and unoccupied rabble. The system of government which I have described, contributed much more to this result than the ravages of the Barbarians.”[*]
In this situation the northern invaders found the Roman empire. What they made of it, is the next subject of M. Guizot’s investigations. The Essays which follow are, “On the origin and establishment of the Franks in Gaul”—“Causes of the fall of the Merovingians and Carlovingians”—“Social state and political institutions of France, under the Merovingians and Carlovingians”—“Political character of the feudal régime.”[†] But on these subjects our author’s later and more mature thoughts are found in his Lectures; and we shall therefore pass at once to the more recent work, returning afterwards to the concluding Essay in the earlier volume, which bears this interesting title: “Causes of the establishment of a representative system in England.”[‡]
The subject of the Lectures being the history of European Civilization, M. Guizot begins with a dissertation on the different meanings of that indefinite term, and announces that he intends to use it as nann equivalent to a state of improvement and progression, in the physical condition and social relations of mankind, on the one hand, and in their inward spiritual development on the other. We have not space to follow him into this discussion, with which, were we disposed to criticize, we might find some fault; but which ought, assuredly, to have exempted him from the imputation of looking upon the improvement of mankind as consisting in the progress of social institutions alone. We shall quote a passage near the conclusion of the same Lecture, as a specimen of the moral and philosophical spirit which pervades the work, and because it contains a truth for which we are glad to cite M. Guizot as an authority:
I think that in the course of our survey we shall speedily become convinced that civilization is still very young; that the world is very far from having measured the extent of the career which is before it. Assuredly, human conception is far from being, as yet, all that it is capable of becoming; we are far from being able to embrace in imagination the whole future of humanity. Nevertheless, let each of us descend into his own thoughts, let him question himself as to the possible good which he comprehends and hopes for, and then confront his idea with what is realized in the world; he will be satisfied that society and civilization are in a very early stage of their progress; that in spite of all they have accomplished, they have incomparably more still to achieve.[*]
The second Lecture is devoted to a general speculation, which is very characteristic of M. Guizot’s mode of thought, and, in our opinion, worthy to be attentively weighed both by the philosophers and the practical politicians of the age.
He observes, that one of the points of difference by which modern civilization is most distinguished from ancient, is the complication, the multiplicity, which characterizes it. In all previous forms of society, Oriental, Greek, or Roman, there is a remarkable character of unity and simplicity. Some one idea seems to have presided over the construction of the social framework, and to have been carried out into all its consequences, without encountering on the way any counterbalancing or limiting principle. Some one element, some one power in society, seems to have early attained predominance, and extinguished all other agencies which could exercise an influence over society capable of conflicting with its own. In Egypt, for example, the theocratic principle absorbed everything. The temporal government was grounded on the uncontrolled rule of a caste of priests, and the moral life of the people was built upon the idea, that it belonged to the interpreters of religion to direct the whole detail of human actions. The dominion of an exclusive class, at once the ministers of religion and the sole possessors of letters and secular learning, has impressed its character on all which survives of Egyptian monuments—on all we know of Egyptian life. Elsewhere, the dominant fact was the supremacy of a military caste, or race of conquerors, the institutions and habits of society were principally modelled by the necessity of maintaining this supremacy. In other places, again, society was mainly the expression of the democratic principle. The sovereignty of the majority, and the equal participation of all male citizens in the administration of the State, were the leading facts by which the aspect of those societies was determined. This singleness in the governing principle had not, indeed, always prevailed in those states. Their early history often presented a conflict of forces.
Among the Egyptians, the Etruscans, even among the Greeks, the caste of warriors, for example, maintained a struggle with that of priests, elsewhere [in ancient Gaul, for example] the spirit of clanship against that of voluntary association: or the aristocratic against the popular principle. But these contests were nearly confined to ante-historical periods; a vague remembrance was all that survived of them. If at a later period the struggle was renewed, it was almost always promptly terminated; one of the rival powers achieved an early victory, and took exclusive possession of society.[*]
This remarkable simplicity of most of the ancient civilizations, had, in different places, different results. Sometimes, as in Greece, it produced a most rapid development: never did any people unfold itself so brilliantly in so short a time. But after this wonderful outburst, Greece appeared to have become suddenly exhausted. Her decline, if not so rapid as her elevation, was yet strangely prompt. It seemed as though the creative force of the principle of Greek civilization had spent itself, and no other principle came to its assistance.
Elsewhere, in Egypt and India for example, the unity of the dominant principle had a different effect; society fell into a stationary state. Simplicity produced monotony: the State did not fall into dissolution; society continued to subsist, but immovable, and as it were congealed.[†]
It was otherwise, says M. Guizot, with modern Europe.
Her civilization, [he continues,] is confused, diversified, stormy, all forms, all principles of social organization co-exist; spiritual and temporal authority, theocratic, monarchic, aristocratic, democratic elements, every variety of classes and social conditions, are mixed and crowded together; there are innumerable gradations of liberty, wealth, and influence. And these forces are in a state of perpetual conflict, nor has any of them ever been able to stifle the others, and establish its own exclusive authority. Modern Europe offers examples of all systems, of all attempts at social organization; monarchies pure and mixed, theocracies, republics more or less aristocratic, have existed simultaneously one beside another; and, in spite of their diversity, they have all a certain homogeneity, a family likeness, not to be mistaken.
In ideas and sentiments, the same variety, the same struggle. Theocratic, monarchic, aristocratic, popular creeds, check, limit, and modify one another. Even in the most audacious writings of the middle ages, an idea is never followed to its ultimate consequences. The partisans of absolute power unconsciously shrink from the results of their doctrine; democrats are under similar restraints. One sees that there are ideas and influences encompassing them, which do not suffer them to go all lengths. There is none of that imperturbable hardihood, that blindness of logic, which we find in the ancient world. In the feelings of mankind, the same contrasts, the same multiplicity: a most energetic love of independence, along with a great facility of submission; a rare fidelity of man to man, and at the same time an imperious impulse to follow each his own will, to resist restraint, to live for himself, without taking account of others. A similar character shows itself in modern literatures. In perfection of form and artistic beauty, they are far inferior to the ancient; but richer and more copious in respect of sentiments and ideas. One perceives that human nature has been stirred up to a greater depth, and at a greater number of points. The imperfections of form are an effect of this very cause. The more abundant the materials, the more difficult it is to marshal them into a symmetrical and harmonious shape.*
Hence, he continues, the modern world, while inferior to many of the ancient forms of human life in the characteristic excellence of each, yet in all things taken together, is richer and more developed than any of them. From the multitude of elements to be reconciled, each of which during long ages spent the greater part of its strength in combating the rest, the progress of modern civilization has necessarily been slower; but it has lasted, and remained steadily progressive, through fifteen centuries; which no other civilization has ever done.
There are some to whom this will appear a fanciful theory, a cobweb spun from the brain of a doctrinaire. We are of a different opinion. There is doubtless, in the historical statement, some of that pardonable exaggeration, which in the exposition of large and commanding views, the necessities of language render it so difficult entirely to avoid. The assertion that the civilizations of the ancient world were each under the complete ascendancy of some one exclusive principle, is not admissible in the unqualified sense in which M. Guizot enunciates it; the limitations which that assertion would require, on a nearer view, are neither few nor inconsiderable. Still less is it maintainable, that different societies, under different dominant principles, did not at each epoch co-exist in the closest contact; as Athens, Sparta, and Persia or Macedonia; Rome, Carthage, and the East. But after allowance for over-statement, the substantial truth of the doctrine appears unimpeachable. No one of the ancient forms of society contained in itself that systematic antagonism, which we believe to be the only condition under which stability and progressiveness can be permanently reconciled to one another.
There are in society a number of distinct forces—of separate and independent sources of power. There is the general power of knowledge and cultivated intelligence. There is the power of religion; by which, speaking politically, is to be understood that of religious teachers. There is the power of military skill and discipline. There is the power of wealth; the power of numbers and physical force; and several others might be added. Each of these, by the influence it exercises over society, is fruitful of certain kinds of beneficial results; none of them is favourable to all kinds. There is no one of these powers which, if it could make itself absolute, and deprive the others of all influence except in aid of, and in subordination to, its own, would not show itself the enemy of some of the essential constituents of human well-being. Certain good results would be doubtless obtained, at least for a time; some of the interests of society would be adequately cared for; because, with certain of them, the natural tendency of each of these powers spontaneously coincides. But there would be other interests, in greater number, which the complete ascendancy of any one of these social elements would leave unprovided for; and which must depend for their protection on the influence which can be exercised by other elements.
We believe with M. Guizot, that modern Europe presents the only example in history, of the maintenance, through many ages, of this co-ordinate action among rival powers naturally tending in different directions. And, with him, we ascribe chiefly to this cause the spirit of improvement, which has never ceased to exist, and still makes progress, in the European nations. At no time has Europe been free from a contest of rival powers for dominion over society. If the clergy had succeeded, as ois supposed to have been the caseo in Egypt, in making the kings subservient to them; if, as among the Mussulmans of old, or the Russians now, the supreme religious authority had merged in the attributes of the temporal ruler; if the military and feudal nobility had reduced the clergy to be their tools, and retained the burgesses as their serfs; if a commercial aristocracy, as at Tyre, Carthage, and Venice, had got rid of kings, and governed by a military force composed of foreign mercenaries; Europe would have arrived much more rapidly at such kinds and degrees of national greatness and well-being as those influences severally tended to promote; but from that time would either have stagnated, like the great stationary despotisms of the East, or have perished for lack of such other elements of civilization as could sufficiently unfold themselves only under some other patronage. Nor is this a danger existing only in the past; but one which may be yet impending over the future. If the perpetual antagonism which has kept the human mind alive, were to give place to the complete preponderance of any, even the most salutary, element, we might yet find that we have counted too confidently upon the progressiveness which we are so often told is an inherent property of our species. Education, for example—mental culture—would seem to have a better title than could be derived from anything else, to rule the world with exclusive authority; yet if the lettered and cultivated class, embodied and disciplined under a central organ, could become in Europe, what it is in China, the Government—unchecked by any power residing in the mass of citizens, and permitted to assume a parental tutelage over all the operations of life—the result would probably be a darker despotism, one more opposed to improvement, than even the military monarchies and aristocracies have in fact proved. And in like manner, if what pis thoughtp to be the tendency of things in the United States should proceed for some generations unrestrained; if the power of numbers—of the opinions and instincts of the mass—should acquire and retain the absolute government of society, and impose silence upon all voices which dissent from its decisions or dispute its authority; we should expect that, in such countries, the condition of human nature would become as stationary as in China, and perhaps at qas low aq point of elevation in the scale.
However these things may be, and imperfectly as many of the elements have yet unfolded themselves which are hereafter to compose the civilization of the modern world; there is no doubt that it rhas always possessedr , in comparison with the older forms of life and society, that complex and manifold character which M. Guizot ascribes to it.
He proceeds to inquire whether any explanation of this peculiarity of the European nations can be traced in their origin; and he finds, in fact, that origin to be extremely multifarious. The European world shaped itself from a chaos, in which Roman, Christian, and Barbarian ingredients were commingled. M. Guizot attempts to determine what portion of the elements of modern life derived their beginning from each of these sources.
From the Roman Empire, he finds that Europe derived both the fact and the idea of municipal institutions; a thing unknown to the Germanic conquerors. The Roman Empire was originally an aggregation of towns; the life of the people, especially in sthe Western Empires , was a town life; their institutions and social arrangements, except the system of functionaries destined to maintain the authority of the sovereign, were all grounded upon the towns. When the central power retired from the Western Empire, town life and town institutions, though in an enfeebled condition, were what remained. In Italy, where they were less enfeebled than elsewhere, civilization revived not only earlier than in the rest of Europe, but in forms more similar to those of the ancient world. The South of France had, next to Italy, partaken most in the fruits of Roman civilization; its towns had been the richest and most flourishing on this side the Alps; and having, therefore, held out longer than those farther north against the fiscal tyranny of the Empire, were not so completely ruined when the conquest took place. Accordingly, their municipal institutions were transmitted unbroken from the Roman period to recent times. This, then, was one legacy which the Empire left to the nations which were shaped out of its ruins. But it left also, though not a central authority, the habit of requiring and looking for such an authority. It left “the idea of the empire, the name of the emperor, the conception of the imperial majesty, of a sacred power inherent in the imperial name.”[*] This idea, at no time becoming extinct, resumed, as society became more settled, a portion of its pristine power: towards the close of the middle ages, we find it once more a really influential element. Finally, Rome left a body of written law, constructed by and for a wealthy and cultivated society; this served as a pattern of civilization to the rude invaders, and assumed an ever-increasing importance as they became more civilized.
In the field of intellect and purely mental development, Rome, and through Rome, her predecessor Greece, left a still richer inheritance, but one which did not come much into play until a later period.
Liberty of thought—reason taking herself for her own starting-point and her own guide—is an idea essentially sprung from antiquity, an idea which modern society owes to Greece and Rome. We evidently did not receive it either from Christianity or from Germany, for in neither of these elements of our civilization was it included. It was powerful on the contrary, it predominated, in the Graeco-Roman civilization. That was its true origin. It is the most precious legacy which antiquity left to the modern world: a legacy which was never quite suspended and valueless; for we see the fundamental principle of all philosophy, the right of human reason to explore for itself, animating the writings and the life of Scotus Erigena, and the doctrine of freedom of thought still erect in the ninth century, in the face of the principle of authority.*
Such, then, are the benefits which Europe has derived from the relics of the ancient Imperial civilization. But along with this perishing society, the barbarians found another and a rising society, in all the freshness and vigour of youth—the Christian Church. In the debt which modern society owes to this great institution, is tfirst to bet included, in M. Guizot’s opinion, all which it owes to Christianity.
At that time none of the means were in existence by which, in our own days, moral influences establish and maintain themselves independently of institutions; none of the instruments whereby a pure truth, a mere idea, acquires an empire over minds, governs actions, determines events. In the fourth century nothing existed which could give to ideas, to mere personal sentiments, such an authority. To make head against the disasters, to come victoriously out of the tempests, of such a period, there was needed a strongly organized and energetically governed society. It is not too much to affirm that at the period in question, the Christian Church saved Christianity. It was the Church, with its institutions, its magistrates, its authority, which maintained itself against the decay of the empire from within, and against barbarism from without; which won over the barbarians, and became the civilizing principle, the principle of fusion between the Roman and the barbaric world.[*]
That, without its compact organization, the Christian hierarchy could have so rapidly taken possession of the uncultivated minds of the barbarians; that, before the conquest was completed, the conquerors would have universally adopted the religion of the vanquished, if that religion had been recommended to them by nothing but its intrinsic superiority—we agree with M. Guizot in thinking incredible. We do not find that other savages, at other eras, have yielded with similar readiness to the same influences; nor did the minds or lives of the invaders, for some centuries uafteru their conversion, give evidence that the real merits of Christianity had made any deep impression upon them. The true explanation is to be found in the power of intellectual superiority. As the condition of secular society became more discouraging, the Church had more and more engrossed to itself whatever of real talents, as well as of sincere philanthropy existed in the Roman world.
Among the Christians of that epoch, [says M. Guizot,] there were men who had thought of everything—to whom all moral and political questions were familiar; men who had on all subjects well-defined opinions, energetic feelings, and an ardent desire to propagate them and make them predominant. Never did any body of men make such efforts to act upon the world and assimilate it to themselves, as did the Christian Church from the fifth to the tenth century. She attacked Barbarism at almost all points, striving to civilize it by her ascendancy.[*]
In this, the Church was aided by the important temporal position, which, in the general decay of other elements of society, it had assumed in the Roman empire. Alone strong in the midst of weakness, alone possessing natural sources of power within itself, it was the prop to which all things clung which felt themselves in need of support. The clergy, and especially the Prelacy, had become the most influential members of temporal society. All that remained of the former wealth of the Empire had for some time tended more and more in the direction of the Church. At the time of the invasions, we find the bishops very generally invested, under the title of defensor civitatis, with a high public character—as the patrons, and towards all strangers the representatives, of the town communities. It was they who treated with the invaders in the name of the natives; it was their adhesion which guaranteed the general obedience; and after the conversion of the conquerors, it was to their sacred character that the conquered were indebted for whatever mitigation they experienced of the fury of conquest.
Thus salutary, and even indispensable, was the influence of the Christian clergy during the confused period of the invasions. M. Guizot has not overlooked, but impartially analysed, the mixed character of good and evil which belonged even in that age, and still more in the succeeding ages, to the power of the Church. One beneficial consequence which he ascribes to it is worthy of especial notice, the separation (unknown to antiquity) between temporal and spiritual authority. He, in common with the best thinkers of our time, attributes to this fact the happiest influence on European civilization. It was the parent, he says, of liberty of conscience. “The separation of temporal and spiritual is founded on the idea, that material force has no right, no hold, over the mind, over conviction, over truth.”[†] Enormous as have been the sins of the Catholic Church in the way of religious intolerance, her assertion of this principle has done more for human freedom, than all the fires she ever kindled have done to destroy it. Toleration cannot exist, or exists only as a consequence of contempt, where, Church and State being virtually the same body, disaffection to the national worship is treason to the State; as is sufficiently evidenced by Grecian and Roman history, notwithstanding the fallacious appearance of liberality inherent in Polytheism, which did not prevent, as long as the national religion continued in vigour, almost every really free thinker of any ability in the freest city of Greece, from being either banished or put to death for blasphemy.* In more recent times, where the chief of the State has been also the supreme pontiff, not, as in England, only nominally, but substantially (as in the case of China, Russia, the Caliphs, and the Sultans of Constantinople,) the result has been a perfection of despotism, and a voluntary abasement under its yoke, which have no parallel elsewhere except among the most besotted barbarians.
It remains to assign, in the elemental chaos from which the modern nations arose, the Germanic or barbaric element. What has Europe derived from the barbarian invaders? M. Guizot answers—the spirit of liberty. That spirit, as it exists in the modern world, is something which had never before been found in company with civilization. The liberty of the ancient commonwealths did not mean individual freedom of action; it meant a certain form of political organization; and instead of asserting the private freedom of each citizen, it was compatible with a more vcompletev subjection of every individual to the State, and a more active interference of the ruling powers with private conduct, than is the practice of what are now deemed the most despotic governments. The modern spirit of liberty, on the contrary, is the love of individual independence; the claim for freedom of action, with as little interference as is compatible with the necessities of society, from any authority other than the conscience of the individual. It is in fact the self-will of the savage, moderated and limited by the demands of civilized life; and M. Guizot is not mistaken in believing that it came to us, not from ancient civilization, but from the savage element infused into that enervated civilization by its barbarous conquerors. He adds, that together with this spirit of liberty, the invaders brought also the spirit of voluntary association; the institution of military patronage, the bond between followers and a leader of their own choice, which afterwards ripened into feudality. This voluntary dependence of man upon man, this relation of protection and service, this spontaneous loyalty to a superior not deriving his authority from law or from the constitution of society, but from the voluntary election of the dependent himself, was unknown to the civilized nations of antiquity; though frequent among savages, and so customary in the Germanic race, as to have been deemed, though erroneously, characteristic of it.
To reconcile, in any moderate degree, these jarring elements; to produce even an endurable state of society, not to say a prosperous and improving one, by the amalgamation of savages and slaves, was a work of many centuries. M. Guizot’s Lectures are chiefly occupied in tracing the progress of this work, and showing by what agencies it was accomplished. The history of the European nations consists of three periods; the period of confusion, the feudal period, and the modern period. The Lectures of 1828 include, though on a very compressed scale, all the three; but only in relation to the history of society, omitting that of thought, and of the human mind. In the following year, the Professor took a wider range. The three volumes which contain the Lectures of 1829, are a complete historical analysis of the period of confusion; expounding, with sufficient fulness of detail, both the state of political society in each successive stage of that prolonged anarchy, and the state of intellect, as evidenced by literature and speculation. In these volumes, M. Guizot is the philosopher of the period of which M. Augustin Thierry is the painter. In the Lectures of 1830—which, having been prematurely broken off by the political events of that year, occupy (with the Pièces Justificatives) only two volumes—he commenced a similar analysis of the feudal period; but did not quite complete the political and social part of the subject: the examination of the intellectual products of the period was not even commenced. In this state this great unfinished monument still remains. Imperfect, however, as it is, it contains much more than we can attempt to bring under even the most cursory review within our narrow limits. We can only pause and dwell upon the important epochs, and upon speculations which involve some great and fertile idea, or throw a strong light upon some interesting portion of the history. Among these last we must include the passage in which M. Guizot describes the manner in which the civilization of the conquered impressed the imagination of the victors.
We have just passed in review the closing age of the Roman civilization, and we found it in full décadence, without force, without fecundity, incapable almost of keeping itself alive. We now behold it vanquished and ruined by the barbarians, when on a sudden it reappears fruitful and powerful: it assumes over the institutions and manners which are brought newly into contact with it, a prodigious empire, it impresses on them more and more its own character, it governs and metamorphoses its conquerors.
Among many causes, there were two which principally contributed to this result, the power of a systematic and comprehensive body of civil law; and the natural ascendancy of civilization over barbarism.
In fixing themselves to a single abode, and becoming landed proprietors, the barbarians contracted, both with the Roman population and with each other, relations more various and durable than any they had previously known; their civil existence assumed greater breadth and stability. The Roman law was alone fit to regulate this new existence; it alone could deal adequately with such a multitude of relations. The barbarians, however they might strive to preserve their own customs, were caught, as it were, in the wmeshesw of this scientific legislation, and were obliged to bring the new social order, in a great measure, into subjection to it, not politically indeed, but civilly.
Further, the spectacle itself of Roman civilization exercised a great empire over their minds. What strikes our modern fancy, what we greedily seek for in history, in poems, travels, romances, is the picture of a state of society unlike the regularity of our own, savage life, with its independence, its novelty, and its adventure. Quite different were the impressions of the barbarians. What to them was striking, what appeared to them great and wonderful, was civilization; the monuments of Roman industry, the cities, roads, aqueducts, amphitheatres; that society so orderly, so provident, so full of variety in its fixity—this was the object of their admiration and their astonishment. Though conquerors, they were sensible of inferiority to the conquered. The barbarian might despise the Roman as an individual being, but the Roman world in its ensemble appeared to him something above his level, and all the great men of the age of the conquests, Alaric, Ataulph, Theodoric, and so many others, while destroying and trampling upon Roman society, used all their efforts to copy it.*
But their attempt was fruitless. It was not by merely seating themselves in the throne of the Emperors, that the chiefs of the barbarians could reinfuse life into a social order to which, when already perishing by its own infirmities, they had dealt the final blow. Nor was it in that old form that peaceful and regular government could be restored to Europe. The confusion was too chaotic to admit of so easy a disentanglement. Before fixed institutions could become possible, it was necessary to have a fixed population; and this primary condition was long unattained. Bands of barbarians, of various races, with no bond of national union, overran the Empire, without mutual concert, and occupied the country as much as a people so migratory and vagabond could be said to occupy it; but even the loose ties which held together each tribe or band, became relaxed by the consequences of spreading themselves over an extensive territory; fresh hordes, too, were ever pressing on xfromx behind; and the very first requisite of order, permanent territorial limits, could not establish itself, either between properties or sovereignties, for nearly three centuries. The annals of the conquered countries during the intermediate period, but chronicle the desultory warfare of the invaders with one another; the effect of which, to the conquered, was a perpetual renewal of suffering, and increase of impoverishment.
M. Guizot dates the termination of this downward period from the reign of Charlemagne; others (for example, M. de Sismondi)[*] have placed it later. We are inclined to agree with M. Guizot; no part of whose work seems to us more admirable than that in which he fixes the place in history of that remarkable man.*
The name of Charlemagne, says M. Guizot, has come down to us as one of the greatest in history. Though not the founder of his dynasty, he has given his name both to his race and to the age.
The homage paid to him is often blind and undistinguishing; his genius and glory are extolled without discrimination or measure; yet at the same time, persons repeat, one after another, that he founded nothing, accomplished nothing; that his empire, his laws, all his works, perished with him. And this historical commonplace introduces a crowd of moral commonplaces, on the ineffectualness and uselessness of great men, the vanity of their projects, the little trace which they leave in the world after having troubled it in all directions. Is this true? Is it the destiny of great men to be merely a burden and a useless wonder to mankind? . . .
At the first glance, the commonplace might be supposed to be a truth. The victories, conquests, institutions, reforms, projects, all the greatness and glory of Charlemagne, vanished with him; he seemed a meteor suddenly emerging from the darkness of barbarism, to be as suddenly lost and extinguished in the shadow of feudality. There are other such examples in history. . . .
But we must beware of trusting these appearances. To understand the meaning of great events, and measure the agency and influence of great men, we need to look far deeper into the matter.
The activity of a great man is of two kinds; he performs two parts, two epochs may generally be distinguished in his career. First, he understands better than other people the wants of his time; its real, present exigencies, what, in the age he lives in, society needs, to enable it to subsist, and attain its natural development. He understands these wants better than any other person of the time, and knows better than any other how to wield the powers of society, and direct them skilfully towards the realization of this end. Hence proceed his power and glory; it is in virtue of this, that as soon as he appears, he is understood, accepted, followed—that all give their willing aid to the work, which he is performing for the benefit of all.
But he does not stop here. When the real wants of his time are in some degree satisfied, the ideas and the will of the great man proceed further. He quits the region of present facts and exigencies, he gives himself up to views in some measure personal to himself; he indulges in combinations more or less vast and specious, but which are not, like his previous labours, founded on the actual state, the common instincts, the determinate wishes of society, but are remote and arbitrary. He aspires to extend his activity and influence indefinitely, and to possess the future as he has possessed the present.
Here egoism and illusion commence. For some time, on the faith of what he has already done, the great man is followed in this new career; he is believed in, and obeyed; men lend themselves to his fancies; his flatterers and his dupes even admire and vaunt them as his sublimest conceptions. The public, however, in whom a mere delusion is never of any long continuance, soon discovers that it is impelled in a direction in which it has no desire to move. At first the great man had enlisted his high intelligence and powerful will in the service of the general feeling and wish, he now seeks to employ the public force in the service of his individual ideas and desires; he is attempting things which he alone wishes or understands. Hence disquietude first, and then uneasiness, for a time he is still followed, but sluggishly and reluctantly; next he is censured and complained of, finally, he is abandoned, and falls, and all which he alone had planned and desired, all the merely personal and arbitrary part of his works, perishes with him.[*]
After briefly illustrating his remarks by the example of Napoleon—so often, by his flatterers, represented as another Charlemagne, a comparison which is the height of injustice to the earlier conqueror—M. Guizot observes, that the wars of Charlemagne were of a totally different character from those of the previous dynasty. “They were not dissensions between tribe and tribe, or chief and chief, nor expeditions engaged in for the purpose of settlement or of pillage; they were systematic wars, inspired by a political purpose, and commanded by a public necessity.”[†] Their purpose was no other than that of putting an end to the invasions. He repelled the Saracens: the Saxons and Sclavonians, against whom merely defensive arrangements were not sufficient, he attacked and subjugated in their native forests.
At the death of Charlemagne, the conquests cease, the unity disappears, the empire is dismembered and falls to pieces; but is it true that nothing remained, that the warlike exploits of Charlemagne were absolutely sterile, that he achieved nothing, founded nothing?
There is but one way to resolve this question: it is, to ask ourselves if, after Charlemagne, the countries which he had governed found themselves in the same situation as before; if the twofold invasions which, on the north and on the south, menaced their territory, their religion, and their race, recommenced after being thus suspended, if the Saxons, Sclavonians, Avars, Arabs, still kept the possessors of the Roman empire in perpetual disturbance and anxiety. Evidently it was not so. True, the empire of Charlemagne was broken up, but into separate states, which arose as so many barriers at all points where there was still danger. To the time of Charlemagne, the frontiers of Germany, Spain, and Italy were in continual fluctuation; no constituted public force had attained a permanent shape, he was compelled to be constantly transporting himself from one end to the other of his dominions, in order to oppose to the invaders the moveable and temporary force of his armies. After him, the scene is changed; real political barriers, states more or less organized, but real and durable, arose; the kingdoms of Lorraine, of Germany, Italy, the two Burgundies, Navarre, date from that time; and in spite of the vicissitudes of their destiny, they subsist, and suffice to oppose effectual resistance to the invading movement. Accordingly that movement ceases, or continues only in the form of maritime expeditions, most desolating at the points which they reach, but which cannot be made with great masses of men, nor produce great results.
Although, therefore, the vast dominion of Charlemagne perished with him, it is not true that he founded nothing; he founded all the states which sprung from the dismemberment of his empire. His conquests entered into new combinations, but his wars attained their end. The foundation of the work subsisted, though its form was changed.[*]
In the character of an administrator and a legislator, the career of Charlemagne is still more remarkable than as a conqueror. His long reign was one struggle against the universal insecurity and disorder. He was one of the sort of men described by M. Guizot, “whom the spectacle of anarchy or of social immobility strikes and revolts; whom it shocks intellectually, as a fact which ought not to exist; and who are possessed with the desire to correct it, to introduce some rule, some principle of regularity and permanence, into the world which is before ythemy .”[†] Gifted with an unresting activity unequalled perhaps by any other sovereign, Charlemagne passed his life in attempting to convert a chaos into an orderly and regular government: to create a general system of administration, under an efficient central authority. In this attempt he was very imperfectly successful. The government of an extensive country from a central point was too complicated, too difficult; it required the co-operation of too many agents, and of intelligences too much developed, to be capable of being carried on by barbarians. “The disorder around him was immense, invincible; he repressed it for a moment on a single point, but the evil reigned wherever his terrible will had not penetrated; and even where he had passed, it recommenced as soon as he had departed.”[‡]
Nevertheless, his efforts were not lost—not wholly unfruitful. His instrument of government was composed of two sets of functionaries, local and central. The local portion consisted of the resident governors, the dukes, counts, &c., together with the vassals or beneficiarii, afterwards called feudatories, to whom when lands had been granted, a more or less indefinite share had been delegated of the authority and jurisdiction of the sovereign. The central machinery consisted of missi dominici—temporary agents sent into the provinces, and from one province to another, as the sovereign’s own representatives; to inspect, control, report, and even reform what was amiss, either in act or negligence, on the part of the local functionaries. Over all these the prince held, with a firm hand, the reins of government; aided by a national assembly or convocation of chiefs, when he chose to summon it, either because he desired their counsel or needed their moral support.
Is it possible that of this government, so active and vigorous, nothing remained—that all disappeared with Charlemagne, that he founded nothing for the internal consolidation of society?
What fell with Charlemagne, what rested upon him alone, and could not survive him, was the central government. After continuing some time under Louis le Débonnaire and Charles le Chauve, but with less and less energy and influence, the general assemblies, the missi dominici, the whole machinery of the central and sovereign administration, disappeared. Not so the local government, the dukes, counts, vicaires, centeniers, beneficiarii, vassals who held authority in their several neighbourhoods under the rule of Charlemagne. Before his time, the disorder had been as great in each locality as in the commonwealth generally, landed properties, magistracies, were incessantly changing hands, no local positions or influences possessed any steadiness or permanence. During the forty-six years of his government, these influences had time to become rooted in the same soil, in the same families; they had acquired stability, the first condition of the progress which was destined to render them independent and hereditary, and make them the elements of the feudal régime. Nothing, certainly, less resembles feudalism than the sovereign unity which Charlemagne aspired to establish; yet he is the true founder of feudal society, it was he who, by arresting the external invasions, and repressing to a certain extent the intestine disorders, gave to situations, to fortunes, to local influences, sufficient time to take real possession of the country. After him, his general government perished like his conquests, his unity of authority like his extended empire; but as the empire was broken into separate states, which acquired a vigorous and durable life, so the central sovereignty of Charlemagne resolved itself into a multitude of local sovereignties, to which a portion of the strength of his government had been imparted, and which had acquired under its shelter the conditions requisite for reality and durability. So that in this second point of view, in his civil as well as military capacity, if we look beyond first appearances, he accomplished and founded much.[*]
Thus does a more accurate knowledge correct the two contrary errors, one or other of which is next to universal among superficial thinkers, respecting the influence of great men upon society. A great ruler cannot shape the world after his own pattern; he is condemned to work in the direction of existing and spontaneous tendencies, and has only the discretion of singling out the most beneficial of these. Yet the difference is great between a skilful pilot and none at all, though a pilot cannot steer zin oppositionz to wind and tide. Improvements of the very first order, and for which society is completely prepared, which lie in the natural course and tendency of human events, and are the next stage through which mankind will pass, may be retarded indefinitely for want of a great man, to throw the weight of his individual will and faculties into the trembling scale. Without Charlemagne, who can say for how many centuries longer the period of confusion might have been protracted? Yet in this same example it equally appears what a great ruler can not do. Like Ataulph, Theodoric, Clovis, all the ablest chiefs of the invaders, Charlemagne dreamed of restoring the Roman Empire.
This was, in him, the portion of egoism and illusion; and in this it was that he failed. The Roman imperium, and its unity, were invincibly repugnant to the new distribution of the population, the new relations, the new moral condition of mankind. Roman civilization could only enter as a transformed element into the new world which was preparing. This idea, this aspiration of Charlemagne, was not a public idea, nor a public want: all that he did for its accomplishment perished with him.
Yet even of this vain endeavour, something remained. The name of the Western Empire, revived by him, and the rights which were thought to be attached to the title of Emperor, resumed their place among the elements of history, and were for several centuries longer an object of ambition, an influencing principle of events. Even, therefore, in the purely egotistical and ephemeral portion of his operations, it cannot be said that the ideas of Charlemagne were absolutely sterile, nor totally devoid of duration.[*]
M. Guizot, we think, is scarcely just to Charlemagne in this implied censure upon his attempt to reconstruct civilized society on the only model familiar to him. The most intelligent acotemporariesa shared his error, and saw in the dismemberment of his Empire, and the fall of his despotic authority, a return to chaos. Though it is easy for us to see, it was difficult for them to foresee, that European society, such as the invasions had made it, admitted of no return to order but through something resembling the feudal system. By the writers who have come down to us from the age in which that system arose, it was looked upon as nothing less than universal anarchy and dissolution. “Consult the poets of the time, consult the chroniclers; they all thought that the world was coming to an end.”[†] M. Guizot quotes one of the monuments of the time, a poem by Florus, a deacon of the church at Lyons, which displays with equal naïveté the chagrin of the instructed few at the breaking up of the great unsolid structure which Charlemagne had raised, and the satisfaction which the same fact caused to the people at large;[‡] not the only instance in history in which the instinct of the people has been nearer the truth than the considerate judgment of bthose who clung to historical precedentb . That renewal of the onward movement, which even a Charlemagne could not effect by means repugnant to the natural tendencies of the times, took place through the operation of ordinary causes, as soon as society had assumed the form which alone could give rise to fixed expectations and positions, and produce a sort of security.
The moral and the social state of the people at this epoch equally resisted all association, all government of a single and extended character. Mankind had few ideas, and did not look far around. Social relations were rare and restricted. The horizon of thought and of life was exceedingly limited. Under such conditions, a great society is impossible. What are the natural and necessary bonds of political union? On the one hand, the number and extent of the social relations; on the other, of the ideas, whereby men communicate and are held together. Where neither of these are numerous or extensive, the bonds of a great society or state are non-existent. Such were the times of which we now speak. Small societies, local governments, cut, as it were, to the measure of existing ideas and relations, were alone possible; and these alone succeeded in establishing themselves. The elements of these little societies and little governments were ready-made. The possessors of benefices by grant from the king, or of domains occupied by conquest, the counts, dukes, governors of provinces, were disseminated throughout the country. These became the natural centres of associations co-extensive with them. Round these was agglomerated, voluntarily or by force, the neighbouring population, whether free or in bondage. Thus were formed the petty states called fiefs; and this was the real cause of the dissolution of the empire of Charlemagne.*
We have now, therefore, arrived at the opening of the feudal period; and have to attempt to appreciate what the feudal society was, and what was the influence of that society and of its institutions, on the fortunes of the human race; what new elements it introduced; what new tendencies it impressed upon human nature; or to which of the existing tendencies it imparted additional strength.
M. Guizot’s estimate of feudalism is among the most interesting, and con the whole, the mostc satisfactory, of his speculations. He observes, that sufficient importance is seldom attached to the effects produced upon the mental nature of mankind by mere changes in their outward mode of living.
Every one is aware of the notice which has been taken of the influence of climate, and the importance attached to it by Montesquieu.[*] If we confine ourselves to the direct influence of diversity of climate upon mankind, it is perhaps less than has been supposed, the appreciation of it is, at all events, difficult and vague. But the indirect effects, those for instance which result from the fact, that in a warm climated people live in the open air, while in cold countries they shut themselves up in their houses—that they subsist upon different kinds of food, and the like—are highly important, and, merely by their influence on the details of material existence, act powerfully on civilization. Every great revolution produces in the state of society some changes of this sort, and these ought to be carefully observed.
The introduction of the feudal régime occasioned one such change, of which the importance cannot be overlooked; it altered the distribution of the population over the face of the country. Till that time, the masters of the soil, the sovereign class, lived collected in masses more or less numerous—either sedentary in the towns, or wandering in bands over the country. In the feudal state these same persons lived insulated, each in his own habitation, at great distances from one another. It is obvious how great an influence this change must have exercised over the character and progress of civilization. Social preponderance and political power passed from the towns to the country, private property and private life assumed pre-eminence over public. This first effect of the triumph of the feudal principle, appears more fruitful in consequences, the longer we consider it.
Let us examine feudal society as it is in its own nature, looking at it first of all in its simple and fundamental element. Let us figure to ourselves a single possessor of a fief in his own domain; and consider what will be the character of the little association which groups itself around him.
He establishes himself in a retired and defensible place, which he takes care to render safe and strong; he there erects what he terms his castle. With whom does he establish himself there? With his wife and his children: probably also some few freemen who have not become landed proprietors, have attached themselves to his person, and remain domesticated with him. These are all the inmates of the castle itself. Around it, and under its protection, collects a small population of labourers—of serfs, who cultivate the domain of the seigneur. Amidst this inferior population religion comes, builds a church and establishes a priest. In the early times of feudality, this priest is at once the chaplain of the castle and the parish clergyman of the village; at a later period the two characters are separated. This, then, is the organic molecule, the unit, if we may so speak, of feudal society. This we have to summon before us, and demand an answer to the two questions which should be addressed to every fact in history—what was it calculated to do towards the development, first of man, and next of society?*
The first of its peculiarities, he continues, is the prodigious importance which the head of this little association must assume in his own eyes, and eine those of all around him. To the liberty of the man and the warrior, the sentiment of personality and individual independence, which predominated in savage life, is now added the importance of the master, the landed proprietor, the head of a family. No feeling of self-importance comparable to this, is habitually generated in any other known form of civilization. A Roman patrician, for example, “was the head of a family, was a master, a superior; he was, besides, a religious magistrate, a pontiff in the interior of his family.” But the importance of a religious magistrate is not personal; it is borrowed from the divinity whom he serves. In civil life the patrician
was a member of the senate—of a corporation which lived united in one place. This again was an importance derived from without; borrowed and reflected from that of his corporation. The grandeur of the ancient aristocracies was associated with religious and political functions; it belonged to the situation, to the corporation at large, more than to the individual. That of the possessor of a fief is, on the contrary, purely personal. He receives nothing from any one; his rights, his powers, come from himself alone. He is not a religious magistrate, nor a member of a senate; all his importance centres in his own person, whatever he is, he is by his own right, and in his own name. Above him, no superior of whom he is the representative and the interpreter; around him, no equals; no rigorous universal law to curb him; no external force habitually controlling his will; he knows no restraint but the limits of his strength, or the presence of an immediate danger. With what intensity must not such a situation act upon the mind of the man who occupies fit!f What boundless pride, what haughtiness—to speak plainly, what insolence—must arise in his gsoul!g[*]
We pass to the influence of this new state of society upon the development of domestic feelings and family life.
History exhibits to us the family in several different shapes. First, the patriarchal family, as seen in the Bible and hinh the various monuments of the East. The family is here numerous, and amounts to a tribe. The chief, or patriarch, lives in a state of community with his children, his kindred (of whom all the various generations are grouped around him), and his domestics. Not only does he live with them, but his interests and occupations are the same with theirs; he leads the same life. This is the situation of Abraham, of the patriarchs, of the chiefs of Arab tribes, who are in our own days a faithful image of patriarchal society.
Another form of the family is the clan—that little association, the type of which must be sought in Scotland and Ireland, and through which, probably a great part of the European world has at some time passed. This is no longer iai patriarchal family. Between the chief and the rest of the people there is now a great difference of condition. He does not lead the same life with his followers, they mostly cultivate and serve; he takes his ease, and has no occupation save that of a warrior. But he and they have a common origin, they bear the same name; their relationship, their ancient traditions, and their community of affections and recollections establish among all the members of the clan a moral union, a kind of equality.
Does the feudal family resemble either of these types? Evidently not. At first sight it has some apparent resemblance to the clan; but the difference is immense. The population which surrounds the possessor of the fief are perfect strangers to him; they do not bear his name; they have no relationship to him, are connected with him by no tie, historical or moral. Neither does he, as in the patriarchal family, lead the same life and carry on the same labour as those about him: he has no occupation but war, they are tillers of the ground. The feudal family is not numerous; it does not constitute a tribe, it is confined to the family in the most restricted sense, the wife and children, it lives apart from the rest of the people, in the interior of the castle. Five or six persons, in a position at once alien from, and superior to, all others, constitute the feudal family. . . . Internal life, domestic society, are certain here to acquire a great preponderance. I grant that the rudeness and violent passions of the chief, and his habit of passing his time in war and in the chase, must obstruct and retard the formation of domestic habits; but that obstacle will be overcome. The chief must return habitually to his own home; there he always finds his wife, his children, and them alone, or almost alone; they, and no others, compose his permanent society—they alone always partake his interest, his destiny. It is impossible that domestic life should not acquire a great ascendancy. The proofs are abundant. Was it not in the feudal family that the importance of women took its rise? In all the societies of antiquity, not only where no family spirit existed, but where that spirit was powerful, for instance in the patriarchal societies, women did not occupy anything like the place which they acquired in Europe under the feudal polity. The cause of this has been looked for in the peculiar manners of the ancient Germans; in a characteristic respect which it is affirmed that, in the midst of their forests, they paid to women. German patriotism has built upon one sentence of Tacitus a fancied superiority, a primitive and ineffaceable purity of German manners in the relations of the sexes to each other.[*] Mere chimeras! Expressions similar to those of Tacitus, sentiments and usages analogous to those of the ancient Germans, are found in the recitals of many observers of barbarous tribes. There is nothing peculiar in the matter, nothing characteristic of any particular race. The importance of women in Europe arose from the progress and preponderance of domestic manners; and that preponderance became, at an early period, an essential character of feudal life.[†]
In corroboration of these remarks, he observes in another place, that in the feudal form of society (unlike all those which preceded it) the representative of the chief’s person and the delegate of his authority, during his frequent absences, was the châtelaine. In his warlike expeditions and hunting excursions, his crusadings and his captivities, she directed his affairs, and governed his people with a power equal to his own.[‡] No importance comparable to this, no position equally calculated to call forth the human faculties, had fallen to the lot of women, before, nor, it may be added, since. And the fruits are seen in the many examples of heroic women which the feudal annals present to us; women who fully equalled, in every masculine virtue, the bravest of the men with whom they were associated; often greatly surpassed them in prudence, and fell short of them only in ferocity.
M. Guizot now turns from the seigneurial abode to the dependent population surrounding it. Here all things present a far worse aspect.
In any social situation which lasts a certain length of time, there inevitably arises between those whom it brings into contact, under whatever conditions, a certain moral tie—certain feelings of protection, of benevolence, of affection. It was thus in the feudal society, one cannot doubt, that in process of time there were formed between the cultivators and their seigneur some moral relations, some habits of sympathy. But this happened in spite of their relative position, and nowise from its influence. Considered in itself, the situation was radically vicious. There was nothing morally in common between the feudal superior and the cultivators; they were part of his domain, they were his property. . . . Between the seigneur and those who tilled the ground which belonged to him, there were (as far as this can ever be said when human beings are brought together) no laws, no protection, no society. Hence, I conceive, that truly prodigious and invincible detestation which the rural population has entertained in all ages for the feudal régime. . . . Theocratic and monarchical despotism have more than once obtained the acquiescence, and almost the affection, of the population subject to them. The reason is, theocracy and monarchy exercise their dominion in virtue of some belief common to the master with his subjects, he is the representative and minister of another power, superior to all human powers; he speaks and acts in the name of the Deity, or of some general idea, not in the name of the man himself, of a mere man. Feudal despotism is a different thing, it is the mere power of one individual over another, the domination and capricious will of a human being. . . . Such was the real, the distinctive character of the feudal dominion, and such the origin of the antipathy it never ceased to inspire.[*]
Leaving the contemplation of the elementary molecule (as M. Guizot calls it) of feudal society—a single possessor of a fief with his family and dependents—and proceeding to consider the nature of the larger society, or state, which was formed by the aggregation of these small societies, we find the feudal régime to be absolutely incompatible with any real national existence. No doubt, the obligations of service on the one hand, and protection on the other, theoretically attached to the concession of a fief, kept alive some faint notions of a general government, some feelings of social duty. But, in the whole duration of the system, it was never found practicable to attach to these rights and obligations any efficient sanction. A central government, with power adequate to enforce even the recognised duties of the feudal relation, or to keep the peace between the different members of the confederacy, did not and could not exist consistently with feudalism. The very essence of feudality was (to borrow M. Guizot’s definition) the fusion of property and sovereignty. The lord of the soil was not only the master of all who dwelt upon it, but he was their only superior, their sovereign. Taxation, military protection, judicial administration, were his alone; for all offices of a ruler, the people looked to him, and could look to no other. The king was absolute, like all other feudal lords, within his own domain, and only there. He could neither compel obedience from his feudatories, nor impose his mediation as an arbitrator between them. Among such petty potentates, the only union compatible with the nature of the case was a federal union—the most difficult to maintain of all political organizations; one which, resting almost entirely on moral sanctions, and an enlightened sense of distant interests, requires, more than any other social system, an advanced state of civilization. The middle age was nowise ripe for it; the sword, therefore, remained the universal umpire; all questions were decided either by private war, or by that judicial combat which was the first attempt of society (as the modern duel is the last) to subject the prosecution of a quarrel by force of arms to the moderating influence of fixed customs and ordinances.
The following is M. Guizot’s summary of the influences of feudalism on the progress of the European nations.
Feudality must have exercised a considerable, and on the whole a salutary, influence on the internal development of the individual; it raised up in the human mind some moral notions and moral wants, some energetic sentiments; it produced some noble developments of character and passion. Considered in a social point of view, it was not capable of establishing legal order or political securities; but it was indispensable as a recommencement of European society, which had been so broken up by barbarism as to be unable to assume any more enlarged or more regular form. But the feudal form, radically bad in itself, admitted neither of being expanded nor regularized. The only political right which feudalism has planted deeply in European society, is the right of resistance. I do not mean legal resistance; that was out of the question in a society so little advanced. The right of resistance which feudal society asserted and exercised, was the right of personal resistance—a fearful, an anti-social right, since it is an appeal to force, to war, the direct antithesis of society; but a right which never ought to perish from the breast of man, since its abrogation is simply equivalent to submission to slavery. The sentiment of this right had been lost in the degeneracy of Roman society, from the ruins of which it could not again arise; as little, in my opinion, was it a natural emanation from the principles of Christian society. Feudality re-introduced it into European life. It is the glory of civilization to render this right for ever useless and inactive; it is the glory of the feudal society to have constantly asserted and held fast to it.[*]
There is yet another aspect, and far from an unimportant one, in which feudal life has bequeathed, to the times which followed, a lesson worthy to be studied. Imperfect as the world still remains in justice and humanity, the feudal world was far inferior to it in those attributes, but greatly superior in individual strength of will, and decision of character.
No reasonable person will deny the immensity of the social reform which has been accomplished in our times. Never have human relations been regulated with more justice, nor produced a more general well-being as the result. Not only this, but, I am convinced, a corresponding moral reform has also been accomplished; at no epoch perhaps has there been, all things considered, so much honesty in human life, so many human beings living in an orderly manner; never has so small an amount of public force been necessary to repress individual wrong-doing. But in another respect we have, I think, much to gain. We have lived for half a century under the empire of general ideas, more and more accredited and powerful; under the pressure of formidable, almost irresistible events. There has resulted a certain weakness, a certain effeminacy, in our minds and characters. Individual convictions and will are wanting in energy and confidence in themselves. Men assent to a prevailing opinion, obey a general impulse, yield to an external necessity. Whether for resistance or for action, each has but a mean idea of his own strength, a feeble reliance on his own judgment. Individuality, the inward and personal energy of man, is weak and timid. Amidst the progress of public liberty, many seem to have lost the proud and invigorating sentiment of their own personal liberty.
Such was not the Middle Age. The condition of society was deplorable, the morality of mankind much inferior to what is often asserted, much inferior to that of our own time. But in many persons, individuality was strong, will was energetic. There were then few ideas which ruled all minds, few outward forces which, in all situations and in all places, weighed upon men’s characters. The individual unfolded himself in his own way, with an irregular freedom: the moral nature of man shone forth here and there in all its ambitious aspirations, with all its energy. A contemplation not only dramatic and attaching, but instructive and useful; which offers us nothing to regret, nothing to imitate, but much to learn, were it only by awakening our attention to what is wanting in ourselves—by showing to us of what a human being is capable when he will.*
The third period of modern history, which is emphatically the modern period, is more complex and more difficult to interpret than the two preceding. Of this period, M. Guizot had only begun to treat; and we must not expect to find his explanations as satisfactory as in the earlier portions of his subject. The origin of feudalism, its character, its place in the history of civilization, he has discussed, as has been seen, in a manner which leaves little to be desired: but we cannot extend the same praise to his account of its decline, which (it is but fair to consider) is not completed, but which, so far as it has gone, appears to us to bear few marks of that piercing insight into the heart of a question, that determination not to be paid with a mere show of explanation, which are the characteristic jexcellenciesj of the speculations thus far brought to notice.
M. Guizot ascribes the fall of feudality mainly to its imperfections. It did not, he says, contain in itself the elements of durability. It was a first step out of barbarism, but too near the verge of the former anarchy to admit of becoming a permanent social organization. The independence of the possessors of fiefs was evidently excessive, and too little removed from the savage state. “Accordingly, independently of all foreign causes, feudal society, by its own nature and tendencies, was always in question, always on the brink of dissolution; incapable at least of subsisting regularly or of developing itself, without altering its nature.”†
He then sets forth how, in the absence of any common superior, of any central authority capable of protecting the feudal chiefs against one another, they were content to seek protection where they could find it—namely, from the most powerful among themselves; how, from this natural tendency, those who were already strong, ever became stronger, the larger fiefs went on aggrandizing themselves at the expense of the weaker. “A prodigious inequality soon arose among the possessors of fiefs,”[*] and inequality of strength led, as it usually does, to inequality of claims, and at last, of recognised rights.
Thus, from the mere fact that social ties were wanting to feudality, the feudal liberties themselves rapidly perished; the excesses of individual independence were perpetually compromising society itself; it found in the relations of the possessors of fiefs, neither the means of regular maintenance, nor of ulterior development; it sought in other institutions the conditions which were needful to it for becoming permanent, regular, and progressive. The tendency towards centralization, towards the formation of a power superior to the local powers, was rapid. Long before the royal government had begun to intervene at every point of the country, there had grown up, under the name of duchies, counties, viscounties, &c. many smaller royalties, invested with the central government of this or that province, and to whom the rights of the possessors of fiefs, that is, of the local sovereignties, became more and more subordinate.*
This sketch of the progressive decomposition of the feudal organization, is, no doubt, historically correct; but we desiderate in it any approach to a scientific explanation of the phenomenon. That is an easy solution which accounts for the destruction of institutions from their own defects; but experience proves, that forms of government and social arrangements do not fall, merely because they deserve to fall. The more backward and the more degraded any form of society is, the stronger is the tendency to remain stagnating in that state, simply because it is an existing state. We are unable to recognise in this theory of the decay of feudality, the philosopher who so clearly demonstrated its origin; who pointed out that the feudal polity established itself not because it was a good form of society, but because society was incapable of a better; because the rarity of communications, the limited range of men’s ideas and of their social relations, and their want of skill to work political machinery of a delicate or complicated construction, disqualified them from being either chiefs or members of kank organized association extending beyond their immediate neighbourhood. If feudality was a product of this condition of the human mind, and the only form of polity which it admitted of, no evils inherent in feudality could have hindered it from continuing so long as that cause subsisted. The anarchy which existed as between one feudal chief and another—the inequality of their talents, and the accidents of their perpetual warfare—would have led to continual changes in the state of territorial possession, and large governments would have been often formed by the agglomeration of smaller ones, occasionally perhaps a great empire like that of Charlemagne: but both the one and the other would have crumbled again to fragments as that did, if the general situation of society had continued to be what it was when the feudal system originated. Is not this the very history of society in a great part of the East, from the earliest record of events? Between the time when masses could not help dissolving into particles, and the time when those particles spontaneously reassembled themselves into masses, a great change must have taken place in the molecular properties of the atoms. Inasmuch as the petty district sovereignties of the first age of feudality coalesced into larger provincial sovereignties, which, instead of obeying the original tendency to decomposition, tended in the very contrary direction, towards ultimate aggregation into one national government; it is clear that the state of society had become compatible with extensive governmentsl. Thel unfavourable circumstances which M. Guizot commemorated in the former period, had in some manner ceased to exist; a great progress in civilization had been accomplished, under the dominion and auspices of the feudal system; and the fall of the system was not really owing to its vices, but to its good qualities—to the improvement which had been found possible under it, and by which mankind had become desirous of obtaining, and capable of realizing, a better form of society than it afforded.
What this change was, and how it came to pass, M. Guizot has left us to seek. Considerable light is, no doubt, incidentally thrown upon it by the course of his investigations, and the sequel of his work would probably have illustrated it still more. At present, the philosophic interpreter of historical phenomena is indebted to him, on this portion of the subject, for little besides materials.
It was under the combined assaults of two powers—royalty from above, the emancipated commons from below—that the independence of the great vassals finally succumbed. M. Guizot has delineated with great force and perspicuity the rise of both these powers. His review of the origin and emancipation of the communes, and the growth of the tiers-état, is one of the best executed portions of the book; and should be read with M. Thierry’s Letters on the History of France,[*] as the moral of the tale. In his fifth volume, M. Guizot traces, with considerable minuteness, the progress of the royal authority, from its slumbering infancy in the time of the earlier Capetians, through its successive stages of growth—now by the energy and craft of Philippe Auguste, now by the justice and enlightened policy of Saint Louis—to its attainment, not indeed of recognised despotism, but of almost unlimited power of actual tyranny, in the reign of Philippe le Bel. But on all these imputed causes of the fall of feudalism, the question recurs, what caused the causes themselves? Why was that possible to the successors of Capet, which had been impossible to those of Charlemagne? How, under the detested feudal tyranny, had a set of fugitive serfs, who congregated for mutual protection at a few scattered points, and called them towns, become industrious, rich, and powerful? There can be but one answer; the feudal system, with all its deficiencies, was sufficiently a government, contained within itself a sufficient mixture of authority and liberty, afforded sufficient protection to industry, and encouragement and scope to the development of the human faculties, to enable the natural causes of social improvement to resume their course. What these causes were, and why they have been so much more active in Europe than in parts of the earth which were much earlier civilized, is far too difficult an inquiry to be entered upon in this place. We have already seen what M. Guizot has contributed to its elucidation in the way of general reflection. About the matter of fact, in respect to the feudal period, there can be no doubt. When the history of what are called the dark ages, because they had not yet a vernacular literature, and did not write a correct Latin style, shall be written as it deserves to be, that will be seen by all, which is already recognised by the great historical inquirers of the present time—that at no period of history was human intellect more active, or society more unmistakably in a state of rapid advancem, than during a great part of the so much vilified feudal period.m
M. Guizot’s detailed analysis of the history of European life, is, as we before remarked, only completed for the period preceding the feudal. For the five centuries which extended from Clovis to the last of the Carlovingians,[*] he has given a finished delineation, not only of outward life and political society, but of the progress and vicissitudes of what was then the chief refuge and hope of oppressed humanity, the religious society—the Church. He makes his readers acquainted with the legislation of the period, with the little it possessed of literature or philosophy, and with that which formed, as ought to be remembered, the real and serious occupation of its speculative faculties—its religious labours, whether in the elaboration or in the propagation of the Christian doctrine. His analysis and historical exposition of the Pelagian controversy—his examination of the religious literature of the period, its sermons and legends—are models of their kind; and he does not, like the old school of historians, treat these things as matters insulated and abstract, of no interest save what belongs to them intrinsically, but invariably looks at them as component parts of the general life of the age.
Of the feudal period, M. Guizot had not time to complete a similar delineation. His analysis even of the political society of the period is not concluded; and we are entirely without that review of its ecclesiastical history, and its intellectual and moral life, whereby the deficiency of explanation would probably have been in some degree supplied, which we have complained of in regard to the remarkable progress of human nature and nits wantsn during othoseo ages. For the strictly modern period of history he has done still less. The rapid sketch which occupies the concluding lectures of the first volume, does little towards resolving any of the problems in which there is real difficulty.
We shall therefore pass over the many topics on which he has touched cursorily, and without doing justice to his own powers of thought; and shall only further advert to one question, which is the subject of a detailed examination in the Essay in his earlier volume, “the origin of representative institutions in England”—a question not only of special interest to an English reader, but of much moment in the estimation of M. Guizot’s general theory of modern history. For if the natural course of European events was such as that theory represents it, the history of England is an anomalous deviation from that course; and the exception must either prove, or go far to subvert, the rule. In England as in other European countries, the basis of the social arrangements was, for several centuries, the feudal system; in England as elsewhere, that system perished by the growth of the Crown, and of the emancipated commonalty. Whence came it, that amidst general circumstances so similar, the immediate and apparent consequences were so strikingly contrasted? How happened it, that in the Continental nations absolute monarchy was at least the proximate result, while in England representative institutions, and an aristocratic government with an admixture of democratic elements, were the consequence?
M. Guizot’s explanation of the anomaly is just and conclusive. The feudal polity in England was from the first a less barbarous thing—had more in it of the elements from which a government might in time be constructed—than in the other countries of Europe. We have seen M. Guizot’s lively picture of the isolated position and solitary existence of the seigneur, ruling from his inaccessible height, with sovereign power, over a scanty population; having no superior above him, no equals around him, no communion or co-operation with any, save his family and dependents; absolute master within a small circle, and with hardly a social tie, or any action or influence, beyond; everything, in short, in one narrow spot, and nothing in any other place. Now, of this picture, we look in vain for the original in our own history. English feudalism knew nothing of this independence and isolation of the individual feudatory in his fief. It could show no single vassal exempt from the habitual control of government, no one so strong that the king’s arm could not reach him. Early English history is made up of the acts of the barons, not the acts of this and that and the other baron. The cause of this is to be found in the circumstances of the Conquest. The Normans did not, like the Goths and Franks, overrun and subdue an palmostp unresisting population. They encamped in the midst of a people of spirit and energy, many times more numerous, and almost as warlike as themselves. That they prevailed over them at all was but the result of superior union. That union once broken, they would have been lost. They could not parcel out the country among them, spread themselves over it, and be each king in his own little domain, with nothing to fear save from the other petty kings who surrounded him. They were an army, and in an enemy’s country; and an army supposes a commander, and military discipline. Organization of any kind implies power in the chief who presides over it and holds it together. Add to this, what various writers have remarked—that the dispossession of the Saxon proprietors being effected not at once, but gradually, and the spoils not being seized upon by unconnected bands, but systematically portioned out by the head of the conquering expedition among his followers—the territorial possessions of even the most powerful Norman chief were not concentrated in one place, but dispersed in various parts of the kingdom; and, whatever might be their total extent, he was never powerful enough in any given locality to make head against the king. From these causes, royalty was from the beginning much more powerful among the Anglo-Normans than it ever became in France while feudality remained in vigour. But the same circumstances which rendered it impossible for the barons to hold their ground against regal encroachments except by combination, had kept up the power and the habit of combination among them. In French history we never, until a late period, hear of confederacies among the nobles; English history is full of them. Instead of numerous unconnected petty potentates, one of whom was called the King, there are two great figures in English history—a powerful King, and a powerful body of Nobles. To give the needful authority to any act of general government, the concurrence of both was essential: and hence Parliaments, elsewhere only occasional, were in England habitual. But the natural state of these rival powers was one of conflict; and the weaker side, which was usually that of the barons, soon found that it stood in need of assistance. Although the feudatory class, to use M. Guizot’s expression, “had converted itself into a real aristocratic corporation,”* the barons were not strong enough “to impose at the same time on the king their liberty, and on the people their tyranny. As they had been obliged to combine for the sake of their own defence, so they found themselves under the necessity of calling in the people in aid of their coalition.”†
The people, in England, were the Saxons—a vanquished race, but whose spirit had never, like that of the other conquered populations, been completely broken. Being a German, not a Latin people, they retained the traditions, and some portion of the habits, of popular institutions and personal liberty. When called, therefore, to aid the barons in moderating the power of the Crown, they claimed those ancient liberties as their part of the compact. French history abounds with charters of incorporation, which the kings granted, generally for a pecuniary consideration, to town communities which had cast off their seigneurs. The charters which English history is full of, are concessions of general liberties to the whole body of the nation; liberties which the nobility and the commons either wrung from the king by their united strength, or obtained from his voluntary policy as the purchase-money of their obedience. The series of these treaties, for such they in reality were, between the Crown and the nation, beginning with the first Henry, and ending with the last renewal by Edward I of the Great Charter of King John, are the principal incidents of English history during the feudal period. And thus, as M. Guizot observes in his concluding summary—
In France, from the foundation of the monarchy to the fourteenth century, everything was individual—powers, liberties, oppression, and the resistance to oppression. Unity, the principle of all government—association of equals, the principle of all checks—were only found in the narrow sphere of each seigneurie, or each city. Royalty was nominal; the aristocracy did not form a body; there were burgesses in the towns, but no commons in the State. In England, on the contrary, from the Norman Conquest downwards, everything was collective; similar powers, analogous situations, were compelled to approach one another, to coalesce, to associate. From its origin, royalty was real, while feudality ultimately grouped itself into two masses, one of which became the high aristocracy, the other the body of the commons. Who can mistake, in this first travail of the formation of the two societies, in these so different characteristics of their early age, the true origin of the prolonged difference in their institutions and in their destinies?[*]
M. Guizot returns to this subject in a remarkable passage in the first volume of his Lectures, which presents the different character of the progress of civilization in England and in Continental Europe, in so new and peculiar a light, that we cannot better conclude this article than by quoting it.
When I endeavoured to define the peculiar character of European civilization, compared with those of Asia and of antiquity, I showed that it was superior in variety, richness, and complication; that it never fell under the dominion of any exclusive principle; that the different elements of society co-existed and modified one another, and were always compelled to compromises and mutual toleration. This, which is the general character of European, has been above all that of English civilization. In England, civil and spiritual powers, aristocracy, democracy, and royalty, local and central institutions, moral and political development, have advanced together, if not always with equal rapidity, yet at no great distance after one another. Under the Tudors, for example, at the time of the most conspicuous advances of pure monarchy, the democratic principle, the power of the people, was also rising and gaining strength. The revolution of the seventeenth century breaks out, it is at once a religious and a political one. The feudal aristocracy appears in it, much weakened indeed, and with the signs of qdeclineq , but still in a condition to take a part, to occupy a position, and have its share in the results. It is thus with English history throughout, no old element ever perishes entirely, nor is any new one wholly triumphant—no partial principle ever obtains exclusive ascendancy. There is always simultaneous development of the different social powers, and a compromise among their pretensions and interests.
The march of Continental civilization has been less complex and less complete. The several elements of society, religious and civil, monarchical, aristocratic, and democratic, grew up and came to maturity not simultaneously, but successively. Each system, each principle, has in some degree had its turn. One age belongs, it would be too much to say exclusively, but with a very marked predominance, to feudal aristocracy, for example, another to the monarchical principle, another to the democratic. Compare the middle age in France and in England, the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries of our history, with the corresponding centuries north of the Channel. In France, you find, at that epoch, feudality nearly absolute—the Crown and the democratic principle almost null. In England, the feudal aristocracy no doubt predominates, but the Crown and the democracy are not without strength and importance. Royalty triumphs in England under Elizabeth, as in France under Louis XIV, but how many ménagements it is compelled to observe! How many restrictions, aristocratic and democratic, it has to submit to! In England also, each system, each principle, has had its turn of predominance, but never so completely, never so exclusively, as on the Continent. The victorious principle has always been constrained to tolerate the presence of its rivals, and to concede to each a certain share of influence.*
The advantageous side of the effect of this more equable development is evident enough.
There can be no doubt that this simultaneous unfolding of the different social elements, has greatly contributed to make England attain earlier than any of the Continental nations to the establishment of a government at once orderly and free. It is the very business of government to negotiate with all interests and all powers, to reconcile them with each other, and make them live and prosper togetherr. Nowr this, from a multitude of causes, was already in a peculiar degree the disposition, and even the actual state, of the different elements of English society: a general, and tolerably regular government had therefore less difficulty in constituting itself. So, again, the essence of liberty is the simultaneous manifestation and action of all interests, all rights, all social elements and forces. England, therefore, was already nearer to it than most other States. From the same causes, national good sense, and intelligence of public affairs, formed itself at an earlier period. Good sense in politics consists in taking account of all facts, appreciating them, and giving to each its place: this, in England, was a necessity of her social condition, a natural result of the course of her civilization.[*]
But to a nation, as to an individual, the consequences of doing everything by halves, of adopting compromise as the universal rule, of never following out a general idea or principle to its utmost results, are by no means exclusively favourable. Hear again M. Guizot.
In the Continental States, each system or principle having had its turn of a more complete and exclusive predominance, they unfolded themselves on a larger scale, with more grandeur and éclat. Royalty and feudal aristocracy, for example, made their appearance on the Continental scene of action with more boldness, more expansion, more freedom. All political experiments, so to speak, have been fuller and more complete. [This is still more strikingly true of the present age, and its great popular revolutions.] And hence it has happened that political ideas and doctrines (I mean those of an extended character, and not simple good sense applied to the conduct of affairs,) have assumed a loftier character, and unfolded themselves with greater intellectual vigour. Each system having presented itself to observation in some sort alone, and having remained long on the scene, it has been possible to survey it as a whole; to ascend to its first principles, descend to its remotest consequences; in short, fully to complete its theory. Whoever observes attentively the genius of the English nation, will be struck with two facts—the sureness of its common sense and practical ability; its deficiency of general ideas and commanding intellect, as applied to theoretical questions. If we open an English book of history, jurisprudence, or any similar subject, we seldom find in it the real foundation, the ultimate reason of things. In all matters, and especially in politics, pure doctrine and philosophy—science properly so called—have prospered far more on the Continent than in England, they have at least soared higher, with greater vigour and boldness. Nor does it admit of doubt, that the different character of the development of the two civilizations has greatly contributed to this result.[†]
[[*] ]Cf. p. 183 above.
[[*] ]Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Die Erziehung des Menschengeschlechts (Berlin: Voss, 1780).
[[†] ]Johann Gottfried von Herder, Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit, 4 vols. (Riga and Leipzig Hartknoch, 1784-91). Immanuel Kant, Idee zu einer allgemeinen Geschichte in weltbürgerlicher Absicht (1784), in Sammtliche Werke, ed. Karl Rosenkrantz and Friedrich Schubert, 14 vols. in 12 (Leipzig: Voss, 1838-40), Vol. VII, pp. 332-5.
[d]45 , as Mr. Carlyle would say,
[[‡] ]Mill is using one of Carlyle’s favourite terms: see, e.g., “Characteristics,” Edinburgh Review, LIV (Dec., 1831), 371, and The French Revolution, 3 vols. (London: Fraser, 1837), Vol. I, p. 205.
[[*] ]In Gildas, Opus novum Gildas britannus monachus cui sapientis cognometu est inditum, de calamitate excidio, & conquestu britanniae, quam angliam nunc vocant, author vetustus a multis diu desyderatus, &nuper in gratiam (London: Tonstall, 1525), f. B3v.
[[*] ]Translated from Essais, pp. 1-4.
[[†] ]In his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 6 vols. (London: Strahan and Cadell, 1776-88).
[[‡] ]Guizot, Essais, pp. 11ff.
[k]45 [no paragraph]
[m-m]45 in the country
[[*] ]Translated from ibid., p. 42.
[[†] ]Translated from the Table des matières of Essais.
[[‡] ]Translated from ibid. Mill returns to the essay at p. 290 below.
[[*] ]Translated from Civilisation en Europe, Lecture 1, pp. 30-1.
[[*] ]Translated from ibid., Lecture 2, pp. 4-5; Mill’s words in square brackets.
[[†] ]Translated from ibid., p. 5.
[* ][Translated from] ibid., pp. 6-9.
[q-q]45,59 a still lower
[r-r]45 already possesses
[s-s]45 western Europe
[[*] ]Translated from ibid., pp. 21-2.
[* ][Translated from] Civilisation en France, Vol. III, pp. 191-2.
[t-t]45 to be first
[[*] ]Translated from Civilisation en Europe, Lecture 2, pp. 23-4.
[[*] ]Translated from ibid., Lecture 3, pp. 22-3.
[[†] ]Translated from ibid., Lecture 2, p. 30.
[* ]Anaxagoras, Protagoras, Socrates, Aristotle, &c.
[* ][Translated from] Civilisation en France, Vol. I, pp. 386-8.
[[*] ]Jean Charles Léonard Simonde de Sismondi, Histoire des Français, 31 vols. (Paris, Treuttel and Wurtz, 1821-44), e.g., Vol. III, pp. 274-5.
[* ]Civilisation en France, Vol. II, Lecture 20 [pp. 262-308].
[[*] ]Translated from ibid., pp. 262-5.
[[†] ]Translated from ibid., p. 273.
[[*] ]Translated from ibid., pp. 276-8.
[y-y]45 their view
[[†] ]Translated from Civilisation en Europe, Lecture 3, p. 23.
[[‡] ]Translated from Civilisation en France, Vol. II, pp. 278-9.
[[*] ]Translated from ibid., pp. 293-5.
[z-z]45 save in obedience
[[*] ]Translated from ibid., pp. 306-7.
[[†] ]Translated from Civilisation en Europe, Lecture 4, p. 7.
[[‡] ]Drepanius Florus, “Querela de divisione imperii post mortem Ludovici Pii,” in Recueil des historiens des Gaules et de la France, ed. Martin Bouquet, et al., 24 vols. (Paris: aux dépens des libraires associés, et al., 1738-1904), Vol. VII (1749), pp. 301-4, quoted by Guizot, Civilisation en France, Vol. II, pp. 438-40.
[b-b]45 the instructed
[* ][Translated from] Civilisation en France, Vol. II, pp. 451-2.
[c-c]45 most completely
[[*] ]Charles Louis de Secondat, baron de la Brède et de Montesquieu, De l’esprit des loix, 2 vols. (Geneva: Barillot, 1748), Vol. I, pp. 360-443 (Bks XIV-XVII).
[* ][Translated from] Civilisation en Europe, Lecture 4 [pp. 9-12].
[f-f]45 it? [Source has!]
[g-g]45 soul? [Source has!]
[[*] ]Translated from ibid., pp. 13-14.
[[*] ]Tacitus, Germania, in Dialogus, Agricola, Germania (Latin and English), trans. Maurice Hutton (London: Heinemann; New York: Macmillan, 1914), pp. 268-70.
[[†] ]Translated from Civilisation en Europe, Lecture 4, pp. 14-18.
[[‡] ]Civilisation en France, Vol. IV, p. 171.
[[*] ]Translated from Civilisation en Europe, Lecture 4, pp. 18-20.
[[*] ]Translated from ibid., pp. 30-2.
[* ][Translated from] Civilisation en France, Vol. IV, pp. 29-31.
[† ]Ibid., pp. 364-6. [The translated quotation is on p. 366.]
[[*] ]Translated from ibid., p. 366.
[* ][Translated from] ibid., pp. 370-1.
[l-l]45 , the
[[*] ]Jacques Nicolas Augustin Thierry, Lettres sur l’histoire de France (1827), 5th ed. (Brussels: Hauman, 1836).
[m-m]45 . From the very commencement of the so much vilified period, every generation overflows with evidences of increasing security, growing industry, and expanding intelligence. But to dwell further on this topic, would be inappropriate to the nature and limits of the present article.
[[*] ]Louis V.
[* ][Translated from] Essais, p. 419.
[† ][Translated from] ibid., p. 424.
[[*] ]Translated from ibid., p. 516.
[* ][Translated from] Civilisation en Europe, Lecture 14 [pp. 4-7].
[[*] ]Translated from ibid., pp. 7-8.
[[†] ]Translated from ibid., pp. 8-10. The words in square brackets are Mill’s.