Front Page Titles (by Subject) 54.: FRANCE AND THE QUARTERLY REVIEW EXAMINER, 31 OCT., 1830, PP. 689-91 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I
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54.: FRANCE AND THE QUARTERLY REVIEW EXAMINER, 31 OCT., 1830, PP. 689-91 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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FRANCE AND THE QUARTERLY REVIEW
This item is a first leader in the “Political Examiner,” headed as title. For the context and bibliographical entry, see No. 53. For the attribution of this and No. 53 to Mill, see the Textual Introduction, cvi. In Mill’s Somerville College set, the word “insult” has been blotted out from the phrase “to insult the illustrious patriot” at 178.20.
in our last paper we made an extract from the comments of the Morning Chronicle, upon the article on the late French Revolution in the Quarterly Review. The reviewer makes a sufficiently pitiful figure in the Chronicle’s hands; and there, perhaps, we might have left him, had he not called down upon his own head a still more signal exposure and castigation, by presuming to insult and calumniate the people of England. The reviewer says, that the people of England have not sympathized in the triumph of the French nation over the attempt to abrogate its constitution, and to govern it by open force. He says, that they have regarded the recent changes in France with “stern suspicion,” and by so doing, have entitled themselves to as much laudation as he can bestow upon them.1 Now this assertion, going forth among many other marks of the worst feelings towards the French people, and amidst an immense heap of blunders and misrepresentations respecting French affairs, in a publication known to have a considerable circulation in England, may be productive of very lamentable effects. It is not impossible that the reviewer’s confident affirmation that the mass of the English nation are of his opinion, may become known to the leading statesmen and to the journalists of France, and may induce them to believe that such is really the fact. If this should take place, the prodigious increase of strength which the expressions of honorable sympathy from the English in the late achievement have given to the disposition to think well of this country, and to keep well with it, might not be permanent, and might be succeeded by a reaction which would be violent in proportion as the previous burst of affection and gratitude (we speak from observation) was cordial, generous, and sincere.
It therefore becomes highly necessary to apprise the French, that the Quarterly Review represents the feelings of nobody except the church and the aristocracy: that with the exception of these peculiar and narrow classes, and their hangers-on and retainers, the readers even of the Quarterly Review do not read it for the sake of its political opinions: that when the reviewer affirms, that the Revolution has met with no sympathy from the English people, all he really means is this, that it has met with no sympathy from the church and the aristocracy: that the great bulk even of the readers of the review, utterly repudiate and disavow the sentiments of this article, and that it is generally felt that the editor,2 by inserting it, has committed, with respect to the pecuniary interests of the concern under his management, one of the greatest blunders which he ever made.
It is not our intention, however, to dismiss this creditable effusion with barely the degree of notice rigorously necessary for the purpose for which we adverted to it. We think it may be instructive to exhibit rather minutely what manner of man this is who thus takes upon himself the character of spokesman for the English people. It is true that we have not been gratified by the discovery of one single endowment in the writer qualifying him to have an opinion. But the more scanty his stock of ideas, the apter an illustration is he of the tendency of such as he happens to be master of. These amount to two; Church, and Aristocracy. He can think nothing but church and aristocracy, he can feel nothing but church and aristocracy. These two ideas compose the entire furniture of his skull.
With an intellectual matériel of this extent, he turns his attention to France; where he speedily discovers that neither of the idols of his homage exists. This nakedness of the land fills him with dismay. Seeing neither “a powerful church establishment,” nor a “wealthy hereditary aristocracy,” he sees nothing but a “monarch” and a “mob.”3 Yes, he scruples not to aver, that whatever is not either church or aristocracy, is “mob.” He accordingly proclaims his wish that Charles X had succeeded in overpowering the French nation. He regrets that the result of the struggle was not “the re-establishment of something like despotic power in the throne of France:”4 feeling certain that it would have been used “conscientiously” for one only purpose, that of endeavouring to create a rich landed aristocracy. This, and a powerful church establishment, are the two “great absent elements,” without which no country is capable of freedom.5 This maxim in politics is assumed throughout, as one which neither needs, nor is susceptible of, proof; and it is easy to perceive, such is the texture of the writer’s mind, that the doctrine really appears to him to be one of those to which the human understanding necessarily and spontaneously assents.
We are thus given to understand that in the opinion of the church and the aristocracy, a church and an aristocracy, each of them the richest and most powerful of its kind, are necessary conditions of what they are pleased to term freedom: and that despotism, naked unmasked despotism, is not only preferable to the want of both or either of these requisites, but is positively the best form of government which can exist in a country not provided with these costly, but indispensable appendages.
It is not, perhaps, very surprising, that the church and the aristocracy should imagine all this. But it does, we confess, somewhat surprise us that in the times we live in, they should expect to find any persons who will receive it on their authority. They may have heard of an opinion which has gone forth rather extensively, that instead of being the causes of freedom, a powerful church and aristocracy are the main obstacles to it, in the present state of society. They may have heard it whispered that from the days of Themistocles to those of Thomas Jefferson,6 every nation which has been conspicuous for good government, or eminence in intellect, arts, or arms, (not excepting England itself) has been one in which either a powerful church and aristocracy did not exist, or in which their power was irresistibly controlled by opposing circumstances. They may have been told, that the nations to which at the present moment, the twofold blessing which they brag of, belongs in the most peculiar degree, are those which have passed into a proverb throughout all Europe as the favourite abodes of barbarism and superstition.7 They may have perceived that in England so far are the merits of the church and the aristocracy as guarantees of freedom from being appreciated, that what the people are seeking is freedom from these very bodies, from their engrossing and irresponsible domination. We can assure them, that they will find few persons besides themselves, who are not very willing just now to listen without either impatience or aversion, to what can be said in behalf of these and similar opinions. Now, if the case be as we state it, we may just submit, whether it might not have been as advisable for such writers as the Quarterly reviewer to make themselves a very little less sure, that their panegyrics upon despotism, in comparison with any other government except that of a church and an aristocracy, would produce exactly the kind of effect which they wish for, upon the public mind.
Thus much with respect to the principles of this performance: what else it consists of is history. We invite attention to its history. The history of the late events comprises, as our readers know, some rather remarkable circumstances. They will, no doubt, feel curious to learn in what manner the reviewer can contrive to turn these to his purposes.
It might have been expected, that a mind of any generosity, though it might be so unfortunate as to see nothing but gloom and desolation in a prospect so full of brightness and joy, would somewhere have exhibited a gleam of human sympathy for a noble people, whose bravery and self-control throw every example of previous heroism into the shade, and exalt, as has been many times exclaimed in our hearing, the dignity of our common nature. The whole population of a vast city, without leaders and without concert, rushing to arms simultaneously with a divinus furor,8 at the first announcement that brute force had usurped the place of law—storming building after building against regular troops—advancing, numbers of them, to certain death, without either ostentation or regret—putting bread into the mouths of their conquered enemies the moment they had thrown down their arms—watching over the safety of every monument of art or taste, with the solicitude of virtuosi—executing summary justice upon every one who sullied their cause by appropriating either private or public property—and returning empty-handed and in rags to their humble homes, without once suspecting that they have done any thing extraordinary—this was a spectacle which might have warmed the heart even of a high-churchman. Even the authors of Blackwood’s Magazine, who, however destitute of principle, are not without occasional touches of generous feeling, could not help paying, at least in their number immediately following the events, a just tribute of admiration to the heroic populace of Paris.9 Some traces of corresponding sensibility in the Quarterly reviewer, might have induced a candid opponent to have looked with less severity upon errors which could then have been attributed to no worse cause than a circumscribed and perverted understanding. But no; the same contraction of soul, which can see no freedom but under the protecting hug of a wealthy church and a powerful aristocracy, can feel for no virtue beyond the same narrow pale. It belongs not to a mind constituted like the reviewer’s, to believe in the possibility of such virtue. He would not credit his senses, if they testified in its favour. He is in the condition sometimes treated of by the Catholic divines, and termed invincible hardness of heart; a state, in which the sinner is not precluded from a chance of ultimate salvation, being scarcely responsible for disobedience to a summons which his nature does not qualify him to hear.10
“Of the transactions of last July,” says the reviewer, “we will say nothing, as they are too recent and too much enveloped in mystery, which time alone can unravel, to form the subject of steady contemplation.”11 We are not at all surprised, that he should be anxious to pass over unnoticed the events of July. He is, however, much mistaken, if he imagines that his readers will pass them over. He will find them capable not only of admiring the conduct of the Parisians, but also of reflecting upon it. He and his fraternity have used the former revolution as an argument against the people long enough, the present one will be used by the people as an argument against them: and the greater has been the success of the well-paid industry which they have employed in heightening and colouring for effect, the excesses of the first revolution, the more eagerly will men enquire and speculate upon the cause which has rendered the present revolution such as it is impossible to calumniate. They will have no help from the reviewer in this investigation. No cause, capable of accounting for such a phenomenon, is to be found in his philosophy.12 Yet it has a cause, though it be one which it was not very likely that such a person as he, should discover:—The people had in the interval shaken off their church and their aristocracy. Such was the blessed effect of this riddance, that all the horrors we are constantly told of, have not been a counterpoise. Those horrors, followed by 25 years of merciless war, which would have been sufficient to brutalize the people of any other country, have been to this people but as a fiery furnace,13 out of which it has issued in a brighter and purer state of being. And has the catastrophe which was to blot out France from the map of Europe, and extinguish the sun of morality from the universe, come to this? Even so: and to this must the worst revolution come, so it only deliver the nation from the curse of a wealthy church establishment and a powerful aristocracy. A revolution may be bungled, it may be misdirected, the wisest and best of the citizens may perish in its storms, all that is generous, all that is aspiring, all that is enlightened, may seem to be destroyed; yet shall not the hopes even of its most sanguine supporters be ultimately frustrated, if it have achieved this deliverance. The first revolution has rendered the French common people the finest in Europe, and the second revolution has found them so.
We pass to another particular of the reviewer’s display.
The events of July are too recent and too mysterious “to form the subject of steady contemplation,” or, peradventure, they are too recent and too indisputable to admit of misrepresentation. But he, to whom the events of July appear “enveloped in mystery,” is perfectly versed in the most secret acts and inmost designs of every conspicuous person in France for the last fifteen years. Nothing is mysterious to him, except what is plain and intelligible to every one else. The incredulity which cannot swallow, perhaps the best attested facts in history, stands open-mouthed to take in every old woman’s tale of treason and conspiracy, which has been got up since 1815 to serve the momentary purpose of a minister, or perhaps only to gratify the readers of the Quotidienne by the excitement of a little gentle apprehension. If the reviewer believes half what he says, he believes, we will take upon ourselves to assert, at least twice as much as his informants. If the ex-ministers had but known, when they penned their Rapport au Roi, half as much as the reviewer knows, of their own case!14 But there are certain things, which would scarcely occur to any one, who is at a less distance than two hundred miles from what he is talking about.
The liberals, as they used to be called, in the Chamber of Deputies, formed, according to the reviewer, an organized body, unintermittedly occupied in conspiring to dethrone the Bourbons. If the assertion should meet the eye of any one who knows them, we envy his amusement. We think we can figure to ourselves the consternation of the 221, if it had entered into their wildest dreams that any act of theirs could bring on a revolution in France. They have scarcely ceased trembling at it, three months after the event. Their object, it seems, “has been, and is,” at once to “delude the nation by the cant of equality,” (a word from which they shrink as a pious man avoids the utterance of a blasphemy,) and to “defy it by such an organization of National Guards as invests them virtually with the whole power of the sword.”15 At the same moment appears the projet de loi for the “organization” of the National Guard, of which the first article declares, that it consists of all males from 20 to 60 not forming part of the regular army. Need we say a word more?16
When men like this reviewer take upon themselves to give their opinion upon a subject, with the facts of which they are wholly unacquainted, and are thrown upon such presumptions and conjectures as are suggested à priori by the old saws which compose the sum total of their little philosophy, this is the pitiable predicament in which they place themselves.
When we find such a man as this, a man possessing not one of the elements which go towards making up a rational conviction, a man in whose head there is nothing but a besotted terror of the people, and a childish admiration of the privileged classes,—when we find this man setting himself up as a judge not only of actions but of motives, and distributing infamy, as if the execrations of mankind belonged to him to dispose of; we feel ourselves absolved on our side, as he has thought proper to absolve himself, from the conventions which prescribe that whatever may be our secret opinion, our language at least shall express no feeling incompatible with respect for our opponent. This man, who would not venture to call his soul his own, if the church or the aristocracy needed it, dares to stile Lafayette a “wretched traitor.”17 If the man to whom we are replying is sufficiently insensible of the place which he himself holds in the creation, to be unaware of the immeasurable distance which exists in point of virtue between such men as him and such a man as Lafayette, let the contempt of Europe apprise him of it. The gulph is far too wide, for eyes like his to reach across; nor will the dirt flung by hands like his, fall near enough to be even perceptible to the illustrious patriot against whom it is aimed.
It may perhaps be supposed from all this, that the reviewer vows eternal enmity to popular governments, and to the government of France in particular. No such thing. He tells us on the contrary in plain terms, that if they succeed in establishing themselves, he will be in their favour. This we readily believe. We do not question in the least, that he will always be found on the side of power, let it be where it may. The following are his words:
If they go on well—if they do establish a government at once free and firm—if they can in practice enjoy a free press, without its running into licentiousness—and all this, without erecting among themselves a wealthy hereditary aristocracy and a powerful church establishment,—we shall freely admit ourselves to have been grievously mistaken; that we have been accustomed to do the French people gross injustice;—nay, that our whole system of political faith has been wrong, and that the age of miracles is come again.18
“A government at once free and firm,” is, it appears, the condition, on which the Quarterly reviewer will give, to the new order of things in France, his valuable adhesion. In the mean time, does he tell us of any thing, which is to prevent the government from being at once free and firm? Nothing whatever; except that it has no wealthy church, or powerful aristocracy; and that neither of the two is very likely to be created, under the government which has now been established. We concede to him both these points, and consent, as he desires, to await the result of the experiment, well assured of the ultimate suffrages of such men as he, who are always found on the successful side.
But what demon, in what evil hour, suggested to him to name a licentious press, as the peculiar evil from which the possession of a church and an aristocracy can alone render a nation exempt? Audacity of assertion does much, but did he imagine that it could do every thing, when he described the French newspapers as “the most basely libellous press that ever disgraced a civilized age and country”?19 When a man does not shrink from asserting, because it suits his purpose, that of which the direct contrary is known to be the fact by every one who can even pretend that he has the means of knowledge, there is scarcely any word but one, and that an extremely short one, which expresses without ambiguity the real character of the affirmation. The French periodical press is probably the most decorous in Europe; the most licentious is unquestionably our own. Foreigners are struck with amazement at the malignity and profligacy of the English periodical press. And of what part of it in particular? Of that part which is peculiarly addressed to, and depends entirely upon the support of, the church and the aristocracy. We have observed and we well remember, that every periodical publication in our time, which has systematically attempted to recommend itself to low-minded readers by scandal and detraction, has shewn by its high-church politics among what class it thought it likely that the greatest number of such readers would be found. Attacks on private character or individual peculiarities, are utterly unexampled in a French newspaper; and it never entered into a Frenchman’s imagination to conceive the possibility of such publications as the fashionable prints of our time. But the meaning of a “basely libellous press” we suppose to be, one which is not favourable to “a wealthy hereditary aristocracy” nor to “a powerful church establishment.”
It has been asserted that the press of the United States of America is licentious. We know not to what degree such is the fact; and the probability is, that the majority of those who parrot the assertion known as little. But the testimony of Jefferson, the head of the democratic party, than whom no one ever underwent in a greater degree the unscrupulous virulence of newspaper opponents, inclines us to believe that the accusation against the press of America is true to a certain extent.20 Allowing this, it surely is probable that the cause is co-extensive with the effect, and is one of the circumstances common to England with the United States, not one of those which are common to the United States and to France. Nor need we search long to discover a perfectly adequate cause. In America as in England, periodical authorship is in the hands of writers who make literature their trade, and pursue it as they would gin-making, in the same sordid spirit, and with the same object, the greatest possible sale of their commodity. In France, on the contrary, it is in the hands of men who labour principally for the respect of their fellow-citizens; who know that their chance of obtaining this, does not depend upon their success in scraping together a greater or a less quantity of money: who belong to the most high-minded and the most highly-cultivated portion of la jeune France,21 and who, if they have any interested motive in their labours, have that of shewing themselves to be fit for those high functions in the State, which are as accessible to them, if properly qualified, as to any other candidate, and which their youth has commonly been spent, as far as in a private station it could, in rendering themselves competent to fill.
But of this on another occasion, and in another manner. It goes too deep into the structure of society, and is connected with too many of the most elevated considerations, to allow of its being mixed up with the exposure which we have thought it useful to perform, of one of the most impotent attempts ever made to palliate a fallen tyranny. That exposure we now consider sufficient. And as the reviewer concludes by congratulating his countrymen that the testimonials of sympathy with France “have been countenanced by hardly one name which any human being will dare to call respectable,”22 we will give utterance, in return, to our feelings of joy and exultation, that even in a periodical press which so ill represents the better part of the national mind, the writers who have thought they could find their account in exciting odium against the new government of France, form a feeble and insignificant minority. And it is due even to that minority to declare, that so far as we have observed, not one of them has exhibited so grotesque a contrast between the presumption of the design and the miserable poverty of the execution, as the writer of whom we now finally take our leave.
[1 ]Ross, “Political History of France,” p. 596.
[2 ]John Gibson Lockhart (1794-1854), editor of the Quarterly Review from 1825 to 1853.
[3 ]These phrases appear on pp. 594-5 of Ross’s article.
[4 ]Ibid., p. 595. The same passage is quoted in No. 53.
[6 ]Themistocles (ca. 527-ca. 460 ), Athenian statesman and general; Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), 3rd President of the United States of America.
[7 ]A reference to the Holy Alliance, the name given to the agreement between Alexander I of Russia, Francis I of Austria, and Frederick William III of Prussia, embodied in a treaty signed on 26 Sept., 1815, which envisaged a quasi-mystical union based on Christian principles (attributed to the influence on Alexander I of the Baroness von Brüdener), but which was used to justify reactionary intervention in the internal troubles of other countries. France’s secret adherence in 1815 had been made public in 1818.
[8 ]Cicero, De divinatione, in De senectute, De amicitia, De divinatione (Latin and English), trans. W.A. Falconer (London: Heinemann, 1938), p. 494 (II, 110, 1-4).
[9 ]“French Revolution,” Blackwood’s, XXVIII (Sept. 1830), 547, by Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859), essayist and autobiographer. By the next issue, De Quincey was referring to “the mobs who now rule at Paris” in “France and England,” ibid. (Oct. 1830), 703.
[10 ]Mill has evidently confused “hardness of heart” with “ignorance.” The former is, for Catholic theologians, voluntary and hence sinful. “Invincible ignorance,” on the other hand, is not voluntary and not avoidable. On the former, see St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I-II, q. 79, aa. 3 and 4; on the latter, ibid., q. 76, a. 2.
[11 ]Ross, p. 565.
[12 ]Cf. Shakespeare, Hamlet, I, v, 165-6; in The Riverside Shakespeare, p. 1151.
[13 ]See Daniel, 3:11.
[14 ]The Rapport au roi (25 July), prepared for Charles X by the “ex-ministers” (led by Polignac, Peyronnet, Chantelauze, and Guernon-Ranville), was the justification prefixed to the fatal four ordinances (Moniteur, 1830, pp. 813-14).
[15 ]Ross, pp. 593-4.
[16 ]Enacted finally as Bull. 26, No. 92 (22 Mar., 1831). The reference is actually to Art. 9.
[17 ]Ross, p. 577.
[18 ]Ibid., pp. 595-6.
[19 ]Ibid., p. 593.
[20 ]In his Second Inaugural Address (4 Mar., 1805), for example, Thomas Jefferson said, “During this course of administration [his first term] and in order to disturb it, the artillery of the press has been levelled against us, charged with whatsoever its licentiousness could devise or dare” (in Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States, Vol. XIV [1804-05], col. 79).
[21 ]For the origin of the term, see No. 50, n14.
[22 ]Ross, p. 596.