Front Page Titles (by Subject) 136.: FRENCH NEWS  EXAMINER, 15 JAN., 1832, PP. 40-1 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIII - Newspaper Writings August 1831 - October 1834 Part II
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136.: FRENCH NEWS  EXAMINER, 15 JAN., 1832, PP. 40-1 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIII - Newspaper Writings August 1831 - October 1834 Part II 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIII - Newspaper Writings August 1831 - October 1834 Part II, 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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FRENCH NEWS 
For the entry in Mill’s bibliography, see No. 116. The item, headed “London, January 15, 1832,” is listed as “Article on France” and enclosed in square brackets in the Somerville College set of the Examiner.
the french chamber of deputies continues discussing the Civil List.1 The amount is not yet decided upon.
In the course of the debate, M. de Montalivet, the Minister of Public Instruction, employed the expression, “subjects of the King;”2 and a great number of the Opposition Members took offence at the term, declaring, that since the Revolution of July, Frenchmen were not the subjects, but the fellow-citizens, of their chief magistrate. The sensitiveness evinced on the subject of a word has excited much surprise and a little contempt on this side of the channel; and it must be allowed to have been excessive, when contrasted with the much less violent feelings which would have been displayed on subjects of much greater importance. But we consider the incapacity which has been evinced in this country, to understand and sympathise in such feelings, a far worse symptom of national character than a little excess in the feelings themselves. Let us not lay the pleasing unction to our souls,3 that it is a proof of our superior wisdom and manliness. It arises simply from this, that in France, words really mean things; while our political vocabulary is a mere conventional jargon. We have reached that last stage of political hypocrisy, in which we are even unconscious of using the language of deception; because nobody ever dreams that we intend the obvious meaning of our words. The courtesies of politics, with us, have gradually attained the pure no-meaning of the courtesies of private life among the Orientals; who, if they were really ready to sacrifice their lives for you, would have no words in which to tell you so, every phrase they could have used for that purpose having dwindled down into a mere form of politeness. With them, as with us, it cannot be said that the person who uses the lying language shows himself personally indifferent to truth, for custom causes the words to be taken in a purely complimentary sense. But the very fact that the words have thus altered their meaning, is a far greater proof of long habits of hypocrisy than any other which could be produced, since it is evidence against the whole nation.
All our institutions are based upon falsehoods. English law is one mass of fiction. The law of real property is entirely founded upon pretended feudal rights in the King and his vassals,—rights which once existed, but have long ceased to exist. The whole practice of our courts of justice is made up of fiction. Every summons to appear before a court of law pretends that the King is personally present to try the cause. A common subpoena to attend as a witness, is an order to appear before the King, in company with a fictitious personage, named John Doe. You cannot bring an action in one of the courts without pretending to be a debtor of the King, nor in another without saying that you are in the Marshalsea prison, nor in either without telling the most ridiculous falsehoods about the nature of your claim. It is not wonderful, where falsehoods without an object are in the common course of things, that falsehoods of servility should be universal: that the King’s exemption from legal responsibility should be dressed up into that notable piece of sycophancy, “the King can do no wrong;”4 that Ministers of the Crown should call the King their master, and themselves his servants, that he should be stiled in all legal documents, “our Lord the King;” and, to crown all, that expressions like these,—expressions identical with those used towards God Almighty,—should be uttered of the chief magistrate of the State, by highminded men, without any intention of hypocrisy or sense of degradation.
Words have never been deemed a matter of indifference in politics, where anything like a healthful tone of political morality has prevailed. They were not deemed a matter of indifference in Greece or Rome, nor are they deemed so in the United States of America, nor in France. But they were so deemed at the Court of Darius, and at the Court of Louis XIV.5 They are so deemed in China, and in Hindostan, and in England. How should it be otherwise? When words are thought of no consequence, it is because feelings are thought of no consequence. It is words which bind together and call forth feelings. All but philosophers are mainly governed by the associations connected with words. Why did Julius Caesar wish to be a King, when he already seemed to have all the power of one?6 Because no one can have all the power, who has not the name. Why was the name of King necessary to France, after the three days of July? Because no other name would have had command over those associations, by which, far more than either by interest or duty, mankind are kept in obedience to established governments. Words are the grand instruments of educating the imagination; and all the affections except those of our daily life. And from this and other causes running parallel with it, arises the fact so often observed, that there exists no more certain symptom of national corruption than the corruption of the language. With the fall of Grecian liberty commenced the decline of the Greek language; the corruption of Latinity might be measured by the succession of the Roman Emperors: and our own language has advanced as much in effeminacy since the days of Milton and Harrington, and Bishop Taylor and Hobbes,7 as the French language has grown in masculine vigour since the death of Louis XV.8 For it is the national literature and the national character which first shape the language, and are afterwards reacted upon by the character which they have impressed upon it.
Of the immense advantages which France owes to her revolutions, it is not one of the least, that the language of her constitution is the expression of the real principles of her constitution. The words were framed to express things as they really exist; and being still new, they have not lost their original freshness of meaning. It is accordingly as much expected that a man shall mean what he says, in public as in private life. The language used by respectable men at the tribune, or through the press, is expected to be the expression of their real feelings; and there would be as much disgrace in substituting words of mere ceremony, as there is in practising hypocrisy towards an individual. When this shall be the case in England, Englishmen will be able to understand why the Opposition in the Chamber of Deputies, could not bear to be called the subjects of their shopkeeper-king. Till then, we shall probably continue to laugh at their folly, and to compliment ourselves on our good sense, upon the strength of our moral callousness.
The Morning Chronicle has had an able article on this subject, which was cleverly followed up in the same paper by an anonymous correspondent.9
There has been a conspiracy at Paris. An insurrectionary proclamation has been discovered: the conspirators were to sound the great bell of Notre Dame, and to set fire to a tower, by way of signal. Unhappily, however, the Times had awkwardly early information of the discovery. M. Périer had arranged that the conspiracy should break out on Monday, and informed the correspondent of the Times accordingly, but afterwards put off the discovery for two days longer, forgetting to give due notice to the said correspondent: who consequently wrote word to the Times on Tuesday, of what did not take place till Wednesday.10 This was a sad blunder of M. Périer. A conspiracy so miserably bungled can be of little use to any Government. It was well enough to have a plot, but it should not have been seen to be got up by the Ministers themselves.
[1 ]For background, see No. 135, n18.
[2 ]In his Speech on the Civil List (4 Jan.), Moniteur, 1832, p. 42.
[3 ]Cf. Hamlet, III, iv, 145; in The Riverside Shakespeare, p. 1169.
[4 ]For notorious uses of the phrase, see Blackstone, Commentaries, Vol. I, p. 238; and William Howley (1766-1848; then Bishop of London, later Archbishop of Canterbury), Speech on the Bill of Pains and Penalties against Her Majesty (7 Nov., 1820), PD, n.s., Vol. 3, col. 1711.
[5 ]Darius was a common name amongst Persian kings from the time of Darius the Great (522-486 ); the Sun King, Louis XIV of France (1638-1715).
[6 ]Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 ), who centralized power in his own hands while retaining the republican constitution, and was said to desire the title of “rex.” See Plutarch, Life of Caesar, in Lives, Vol. VII, pp. 580-6 (sects. lx-lxi).
[7 ]All great stylists of the seventeenth century; James Harrington (1611-77), political theorist, was author of The Commonwealth of Oceana (1656).
[8 ]In 1774.
[9 ]Leading article on French language, Morning Chronicle, 9 Jan., 1832, pp. 2-3; and “O.P.Q.” (Caleb Charles Colton), letter on French language, ibid., 10 Jan., 1832, p. 2.
[10 ]The letter, dated Paris, Tuesday, 3 Jan., 1832, appeared in The Times, 6 Jan., p. 3.