Front Page Titles (by Subject) III: From 1789 to the Trial of Louis XVI - David Hume: Prophet of the Counter-revolution
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III: From 1789 to the Trial of Louis XVI - Laurence L. Bongie, David Hume: Prophet of the Counter-revolution 
David Hume: Prophet of the Counter-revolution (2nd ed.), Foreword by Donald W. Livingston (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).
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From 1789 to the Trial of Louis XVI
Prophetic Parallels and the Counter-revolutionary Lessons of Hume
Abbé Maury figures most appropriately at the beginning of this chapter dealing in part with examples of Hume’s influence on some of the early counter-revolutionary leaders. Maury, generally recognized as the leading orator of the Right in the Assemblée Constituante, had been since 1785 a member of the French Academy and was eventually to be named a cardinal of the Church. He seems to have been a witty, rather forceful person and an extemporary speaker of some brilliance. It is not too inappropriate to contrast him, as contemporaries often did, with Mirabeau, his opposite number on the Left.
Like his personal friends Gerdil and Bergier, Maury was fond of quoting Bossuet in defence of the ancien régime but, like them too, he occasionally found it useful to invoke also the authority of that new Bossuet, the historian David Hume. Long before the Revolution he had commended Hume as a loyal and impartial historian worth using to attack the “English bias” of the philosophe Voltaire. In 1777, for example, he quite happily pointed out that the Scottish historian disagreed with the great Voltaire on the quality of English eloquence.1 Voltaire had devoted one of his famous philosophical letters to praising Bacon, and Maury points out at this time—as Joseph de Maistre was to later—that Hume had attacked the inflated reputation of this culture hero of the encyclopédistes and had rightly put him well below Galileo in importance. On at least one occasion we even find the Abbé adducing proofs from Hume in his sermons, as in his panegyric of Saint Louis delivered to the assembled members of the French Academy in the chapel of the Louvre on 25 August 1772.2
Hume is not infrequently mentioned in Abbé Maury’s speeches delivered during the early revolutionary debates. Defending the rights of the throne in 1790, he accused the National Assembly of an illegitimate attempt to deprive the Crown of its traditional prerogative to declare war and make treaties. The rôle of the Assembly, as Maury saw it, was not to establish a new constitution but to correct with the help of the king any current abuses in government and to revive, to that end, the ancient constitution of France. History, he asserted, provides a warning to those who dare to attempt more radical reforms and who, wishing to extend illegitimately the powers of popular representatives, reduce the monarch’s importance to that of being merely a “republican” figurehead:
We know that Cardinal Mazarin, after the tragic death of Charles I, went to great lengths to encourage the English to adopt a purely republican style of government in their island, Mazarin . . . realizing as he did how that form of government, by its slowness of action and its internal divisions, would weaken the political power of the English nation; but the English, after trying, as Mr. Hume has said, to do without a king, realized that their parliament needed counterbalancing by royal authority; with patriotic hands they raised up the throne once more, and for a century now, they have not tried to shake the sacred foundations of their constitution. Is it possible, Gentlemen, that this assembly could forget the great lesson that England has taught Europe?3
A reader of the Political Discourses as well as the History, Maury cited Hume in July 1790 against the fiscal policies of Necker:
He alone, it must be acknowledged, by lending an outward appearance of prosperity to our finances, by maintaining the lie that he was able to sustain the costs of war without recourse to additional taxation, brought about the ruin of the kingdom through borrowing at exorbitant rates. The enticements he held out to investors strengthened considerably his own personal credit, which afterwards proved so disastrous for us. Either the nation must destroy public credit, writes Mr. Hume, or public credit will destroy the nation. . . .4
Abbé Maury had already quoted Hume’s testimony in his maiden speech of September 1789 on the question of the royal veto, again to the effect that the king’s authority must not be weakened, that revolutions are basically futile, that Charles II, for example, had found the source of his restored power in the after-effects of his unfortunate father’s execution.5 Maury’s greatest Hume-inspired parliamentary triumph was to come, however, in 1790 during a verbal exchange with his noted enemy Mirabeau concerning the sovereignty of the people.6
Maury began his attack on the concept of the people’s sovereignty with an appeal to the traditional arguments of Fénelon and Bossuet on the subject. The theory of contract is a fiction. Society took its origins in man’s natural, that is, God-given, sociability. Authority and subordination are thus also divine in origin. Express or tacit consent of a primitively “free” people may seem at times to have been the source of government, but this is a fallacious appearance. Free consent is sometimes the channel of authority, it is not the source. “The consequence of this theory,” Maury continues, “is that religion gives us a notion of authority that is both true and inspiring when it shows how it emanates originally from God. By presenting the Supreme Being as the direct author of sovereignty, the protector and avenger of the laws, it illustrates clearly in this perspective that every human society is a theocracy. . . .”7
Preparing to go on with the practical applications of this pious theory, Maury, as he tells the story, was interrupted by that foolish fellow Mirabeau who shouted:
—“You are making a mockery of the Assembly when you come here and peddle your lessons in theology. Only fanatical and ignorant theologians have ever professed such a doctrine regarding the supposed origins of sovereignty. I defy you to cite the name of even one person of sense who has ever argued such nonsense!”
Quite unruffled and wisely prepared in advance to answer such an impertinence, Abbé Maury took up the challenge:
—“I accept your generous challenge, Monsieur de Mirabeau, first, by pointing out that we should in no way be surprised that the human mind is obliged to have recourse to God in order to find an unshakeable support for sovereignty, since without divine intervention even a solid foundation for morality would be lacking. I shall therefore cite among the defenders of my doctrine, not a theologian but one of the most celebrated political writers of this century, an English philosopher whom no one has yet suspected of believing in pious superstitions. Here is what I read in the twenty-fifth moral and political essay of David Hume:. . .”
If we are to believe Maury’s account, he then recited to the assembled representatives of the French nation the “theocratic” passage already used for a similar purpose in 1769 by his friend Cardinal Gerdil,8 omitting, however, and hardly because of its length, the last half. His conclusion is triumphant:
—“Have you had enough, Monsieur de Mirabeau? I’ll spare you ten other quotations just like that one. As you can see, even the greatest authorities support my opinion and have joined in these incontrovertible arguments, while you are left with making assertions that I disprove and issuing challenges that only advance my cause.
“Along with Mr. Hume, then, I say to all short-sighted philosophers that sovereign power emanates not from the people, but only from God. The magnificent and fertile nature of God which has created in the immensity of his thought all of his decrees has also created this tutelary authority by summoning mankind to the social state. . . .”9
Abbé Maury leaves it to be understood that after such a complete answer his opponent Mirabeau was, momentarily at least, struck dumb with defeat. Of course, at least in this last example, Maury is merely continuing the practice of retortion in the tradition of Gerdil, Bergier, Nonnotte, and others, and it would be a mistake to imagine on his part anything more than a polemical attachment to Hume’s statement. His perhaps more sincere opinion of Hume he confided privately years later to another counter-revolutionary ideologist, Count Joseph de Maistre, when they met in Venice during the winter of 1799. There they had an extensive conversation on various literary subjects and one of these was the question of Hume’s merit as an historian. De Maistre notes without comment that Maury judged Hume to be “a mediocre historian who gained a reputation for impartiality by what he said of the Stuarts.” The English were really superior only in their novels, of which Clarissa Harlowe and Tom Jones seem to have been the good Cardinal’s favourites.10
It is not difficult to find other counter-revolutionary figures who make at this time less spectacular but undeniably influential use of Hume’s writings. In this regard, his statements on the empirical nature of the British constitution, denying that before the seventeenth century it formed a “regular plan of liberty,” were found of special interest.
Traditionalists were disturbed from the very beginning of the revolutionary debates by the radicals’ claim that France had no constitution. It was of no use to speak, as Fénelon, for example, had spoken years before, of an ancient “unwritten” constitution. A constitution, as Thomas Paine wrote in 1791, “is not a thing in name only, but in fact. It has not an ideal, but a real existence; and wherever it cannot be produced in a visible form, there is none.”11 A constitution, in short, had to be something that one could roll up and put in one’s pocket. The English had no constitution until Magna Carta; France in 1789 was in rather the same position as England before the granting of the Great Charter.
Along with others on the Right, the extreme royalist de Montjoie took exception to this view. The revolutionists, he jeered, talked endlessly about constitutions without having even the most elementary understanding of what that word meant. Constitutions are not theoretical a priori constructions, they are as natural as gravity itself. It is impossible for a nation not to be “constituted” and France was no exception:
Our parlements, our assemblées du clergé, our provinces à états and sousétats, were not a constitution; but the existence of these institutions, the way they were organized and connected to the whole of government, that was the constitution of France.
It is my ardent wish that from the current anarchy a reasonable constitution will emerge, but it is not I who have dug this deep abyss of anarchy; it is those, rather, who misled Frenchmen in 1789 into believing that they had no constitution. . . .
Every civilized people has a constitution, for a civilized people could not exist without some form of government.12
What de Montjoie and others who took this position are really doing, of course, is rejecting the contract theory of the origin of government in one of its various manifestations. Hume’s political empiricism helped to support this anti-a priori line of argument. His History, de Montjoie pointed out, underlines the fact that constitutions are nothing more than the products of time and circumstance. One cannot say that the British nation had a fixed constitution in all the years of its political existence following Magna Carta. The British constitution had been a fluctuating and ill-defined thing throughout the ages. Hume had in fact viewed the “usurpations” of the Stuart kings with more leniency than most historians precisely because of his belief in the extenuating circumstances provided by such constitutional variation. Speaking, for example, of the constitution under James I, de Montjoie asserts:
. . . it was fathered by violent innovations and bears so little resemblance to that of the English under James II that Mr. Hume describes them as two absolutely different constitutions. Here are his remarkable words on the subject:
“The praise bestowed on those [patriots] to whom the nation has been indebted for its privileges ought to be given with some reserve, and surely without the least rancour against those who adhered to the ancient constitution.”
It is thus not because the English had a Great Charter in the thirteenth century that England’s constitution is what it is today.13
From the tabula rasa political view of France without a constitution naturally followed for many revolutionary theoreticians the conclusion that the National Assembly was invested with the primary status of a convention nationale representing all the authority of the nation in its pre-constituted state. Radical attempts to grace the National Assembly with this title were of course vigorously opposed by members of the Right. Citing Hume on the question, both Calonne and Lally-Tollendal14 insisted that to call the National Assembly a Convention would be to imply with impudence and quite erroneously that all preceding government had been entirely dissolved, whereas France’s national parliament had in fact been convoked by the king in conformity with the “constitution” and with all the ordinary formalities “as have all of the National Assemblies since the time of Charlemagne. Consequently, we were not a Convention Nationale.”15
The details of the semantic controversy just noted may seem trivial in retrospect. What was certainly not trivial, however, was the nature and amount of political power being hotly disputed, and it is significant, I think, that Hume’s authority was brought into the question by two such important members of the Right. Also wishing to show that France before the Revolution was not entirely without legal foundation, another noted traditionalist, Jean-Joseph Mounier, quoted Hume’s opinion that the privileges of English peers and the liberty of the English Commons had in fact originated in France. Consequently, Mounier asserted in 1792, if the French had adopted the British constitution they would only have repatriated what was to begin with their own.16
It can be easily seen that, with the parties of the Right, Hume’s reputation and authority as an historian are in this period perhaps even greater than they were during the thirty years preceding the Revolution, when he was so widely read under very different circumstances. Barnave in 1792, for example, called Hume “the best of modern historians,”17 and Lally-Tollendal in the same year recited Hume-inspired political lessons to Burke.18
Hume’s interpretation of the Long Parliament’s activities as a series of cunning usurpations seems to have been particularly useful to those rightists who at this time wished to attack the National Assembly’s claim that it fully represented the true wishes of the nation. What was this nation, royalists liked to ask, this fantastic creature whose mandate was always being invoked, which was presumably all of France but which apparently made its wishes known only to a few and at the bidding of a few? Attacking a current practice of some parties in the National Assembly, the Comte d’Antraigues, who was later to play an active cloak-and-dagger rôle in the counter-revolution, quoted Hume against the demagogic use of adresses or petitions:
We know only too well how people go about generating bundles of petitions.
But I say to you that while these petitions may be flattering to the assembly that receives them, they can never be regarded as substitutes for the required and absolutely essential forms. Petitions received from even a thousand municipalities cannot be equated to the decree of a single bailiwick; it would be as if the partial and isolated consent of individuals who make up the national assembly was enough to form a decree.19
In a three-page note attached to this passage, d’Antraigues reproduces Hume’s description of the similar abuse of petitions by the Long Parliament. The petitions were, Hume tells us, a fraudulent device of popularity, accepted only from groups favourable to the Puritan faction and used to incite the people to civil discord. All petitions favouring the monarchy or the Church were, on the other hand, immediately rejected. D’Antraigues concludes with the darkly prophetic comment: “I shall add no observations to the quoted passage but prudence alone requires that I prove it exists, that I did not invent it; and if presenting such tableaux is a crime, it is Mr. Hume who is guilty: see his History of the Stuarts for the year 1642 . . . seven years before the murder of Charles I, eleven years before Cromwell was declared Protector.”20
Comparisons such as that by d’Antraigues, viewing at the same time the activities of the Long Parliament and those of the revolutionary assembly, form the basis of most parallels drawn between the English and French revolutions published by conservatives at this time.
Fairly typical of these are the tableaux which appeared in the ultra royalist journal Les Actes des Apôtres in 1790. Beginning in January of that year and with a studied light-heartedness (since at first the apôtres seemed to believe that it would take no more than a timely dose of Hudibras to push back the Revolution),21 the editors presented their readers with the “Tableau parlant, Fragment de l’histoire d’Angleterre.”22 Although it is an account largely from Hume of the seventeenth-century revolution in England, the tableau is presented as an exact depiction of events taking place in revolutionary France: “. . . the plan was formed to do away with the Church and the monarchy. The monarch’s council had acted in bad faith; the nation was irritated, and its representatives were ambitious and corrupt. The minister parleyed, the abyss grew deeper, and thickening clouds of blood darkened the horizon.”23
At the end of this historical sketch the editors state its purpose and promise more of the same:
We conclude at this point the first part of our introduction, which presents an authentic living-image tableau. Since those times, similar events elsewhere have fostered the same passions. We leave it to the reader to draw the lesson. By presenting to faithful subjects and enlightened citizens the picture of one great nation’s past disorders, we hope to spare others seeking renewal the errors and horrors that will forever remain in the eyes of posterity a reason for proud Albion’s shame.24
Volume III followed with the “Comparison Tableau” continuing the account of Stuart history from 1641. Written in April 1790, and still inspired by the wise prophet David Hume, the new sketch pictures the unfortunate king “struggling to defend his royal prerogative against a parliament made up of factious persons determined to build a republic on the ruins of the monarchy and the Church.”25 In Volume IV we are presented with the “Royal Tableau,” which quotes in full Hume’s portrait of Hampden, now seen as describing perfectly the typical French revolutionist: “We must only be cautious, notwithstanding his generous zeal for liberty, not hastily to ascribe to him the praises of a good citizen. Through all the horrors of civil war, he sought the abolition of monarchy and subversion of the constitution; an end which, had it been attainable by peaceful measures, ought carefully to have been avoided by every lover of his country.”26 Hampden’s portrait is then contrasted with that of the virtuous Falkland whom another Hume disciple, Lally-Tollendal, had already seen himself as imitating when he resigned from the Assembly in 1789. In addition, the apôtres note the existence in both countries of a “national assembly simulacrum” which, “contemptuous of the existing constitution, did not fail, in order to shore up its authority, to decree as a principle that all sovereignty emanates from the people.”27 Finally less concerned with pointing out parallels, the editors optimistically attempt a number of predictions. They meditate without sorrow on the fate of Charles I’s judges: “It is not without a certain secret pleasure that we anticipate events by announcing that twenty-seven of them were hanged when, ten years later, Charles II regained the throne of his ancestors.”28 Of course, bringing attention to this last fact was somewhat gratuitous. If the inexorable parallel between the two revolutions seemed to waver in one respect it was that the French in 1790 were too wise to rush headlong into the crimes of seventeenth-century England: “Louis XVI has already triumphed over the wicked; we hope that the monarchy will likewise triumph over the republic, and that one day we shall have a translation into French of the constitutional hieroglyphics that are being randomly engraved on the national obelisk.”29
To celebrate this anticipated happy change in the course of the French revolution, a fourth and final tableau was prepared, the “Tableau of Resurrection,” depicting, of course, the restoration of the monarchy in England. Events in France at the end of 1790 stubbornly refused, however, to follow true to form. The apôtres ruefully concede in Volume V that the promised last instalment would have to be postponed for a time; the task, it seems, was even beyond the strength of Hudibras and renewed meditation on the darker parallels was necessary:
Unhappy people . . . they are trying to flatter your passions with the word republic; their aim is to make you desire it; they want the word to inflame your imagination, to lead you astray, just as the word liberty has already led you astray. . . . Listen carefully for a moment, learn what happened one hundred and fifty years ago to your neighbours, compare the events, the methods employed, and the results; compare and judge, so that, if possible, the misfortunes of others will not be lost on you.
Cromwell and his parliament still inspire universal horror throughout the ages and they will continue to be held in execration by posterity; and yet they were called patriots, defenders of the laws, protectors of the people; they said that everything they did, they did for the good of the people, to preserve the rights of the nation, and in the name of liberty. Inspired by such noble motives, they ravaged their country, erected scaffolds, and executed all those whose virtue offended them: they attacked the throne, harried the king, imprisoned him, protesting all the while their respect and love for his person: finally, . . . these many crimes placed sovereign power in the hands of forty petty tyrants, and ended with the odious Cromwell being declared protector of the good people of the republic.
But listen still: scarcely was the monster in his grave when the spell was suddenly broken, and the eyes of the English people were opened. They pursued his accomplices, and wreaked vengeance on his memory; in every town, they hanged and burned the usurper’s effigy; they disinterred his corpse, dragged it through the filth and mire, and finally left it swinging on the gallows, a worthy reward for his wickedness and treachery. . . . People of France, spare yourselves these crimes; they bring in their wake misery and shame, remorse and slavery.30
We have in the last quotation a good average view of Stuart history as interpreted by the French of the Right. Important to note also, it is seen as David Hume’s view. Even when the parallels do not quote him explicitly—and this is exceptional—his tremendous hold over French conservative opinion is still felt and his explanation of events a century and a half old also becomes the explanation of what is seen as the eighteenth-century French version of a similar evil cycle in the course of human history. The apôtres have suffered only a temporary delay in their presentation. The “Tableau of Resurrection” is already prepared; its turn would come, just as day follows night: “history has already presented the same causes, the same effects.”31
Very similar to the tableaux of the Actes des Apôtres are the parallels drawn also in 1790 by Angélique-Marie Darlus du Taillis, Comtesse de Montrond, in her work Le Long Parlement et ses crimes, rapprochemens faciles à faire. The book is a 143-page history of the Long Parliament, again summarized from Hume and illustrating the harmony of his account with a royalist interpretation of “equivalent” events in France. With regard to the causes of the two revolutions, in both cases the antecedent actions of the reigning monarch are exonerated. The Countess underlines, for example, Hume’s statement that the allegedly unconstitutional levy of ship-money by Charles I proved subsequently to be very useful to the British navy in its encounters with the Dutch. As for the individual members of the Puritan parliament, Countess Montrond affirms that “the majority were ambitious schemers and hypocrites who called not for the renewal of the state but for humiliation of the king and abasement of the crown.”32 Later her work draws a further parallel between the English patriots and the French revolutionary leaders: “These diabolical impostors laid claim to saintliness, just as our demagogues pretend to humanity.”33
The suffering multitude is deceived by such unintelligible slogans: “Happy the English! writes Mr. Hume, had the commons proceeded with moderation and been contented in their plenitude of usurped power to make blessed use of it. Happy the French! one day the Tacitus of our misfortunes will say; but who today can judge these misfortunes heaped on a deceived people!”34
Holding to a cyclical view of history, the Countess invites her French readers to compare events in both revolutions and to reflect seriously on them. The results of France’s upheaval must inevitably be the same: “The misguided French will feel remorse, soon to be followed by a resurgence of love for the best and most courageous of kings; with mingled feelings of repentance and love they will rush to throw themselves at the feet of this Monarch, so sensitive, so self-denying, and their very error will fortify the ties that shall forever bind their devotion to their generous Sovereign.”35
Rarely, if ever, do the people gain anything from revolution; the new government is likely to be worse than the old one: “On no occasion,” writes Monsieur Hume, “was the truth of this maxim more sensibly felt, than in the present state of England.”36 The English had managed to pull down the throne but, far from finding themselves happy, they were soon crushed with an unprecedented burden of taxes and subjected to a tyrannical administration in which there was not even the shadow of justice and liberty.
History cannot be deceived. Inevitably the French revolution too would go the full circle and a Cromwell would appear on the scene. A deadly experiment had proved that to the English. Again she quotes from Hume: “By recent, as well as ancient example, it was become evident that illegal violence, with whatever pretences it may be covered, and whatever object it may pursue, must inevitably end at last in the arbitrary and despotic government of a single person.”37
Comtesse de Montrond’s rapprochements clearly illustrate how the parallels were not just idle works of analysis and prediction. Hers is a work heavily charged with emotion:
The spirit in which I find myself writing this History has caused me constantly to see Louis XVI at the side of Charles I, in terms of both similarities and contrasts; such a flood of sympathy for the misfortunes of Charles I and gratitude toward Louis XVI wells up in me that I am forced to suspend my arduous labours, and I know not whether I shall be able to continue my account up to the time of the English king’s death; if my tears are cruel, if they flow in such abundance, they at least raise up in me a consoling thought! I, a Frenchwoman, am not alone in my fervid devotion to my King. . . .38
There is even some hint in her book that if Louis were to choose, as Charles had chosen earlier, to raise the Royal Standard against these vile usurpers, he would not be lacking in support: “Remember, oh! remember always, that thousands of Frenchmen adore you, that they are silent only to be united with you in your resignation and in that of your companion whom they honour and cherish; that if your interests required it, or even allowed it, countless legions would fly to your rescue. . . .”39
Another of the “écrivains noirs,” François-Louis Suleau, published more rapprochements in 1791 and 1792, again with the intention of rousing the French and especially Louis XVI to more vigorous counter-revolutionary action.
Side by side, in two columns of his journal, he compared what he called the “English drama” and the French “Imitation that exceeds the bounds of parody.” Throughout the running account of the “Imitation” column we find added comments such as the following: “These parallels are striking,” “Exactly the same has happened here,” “The circumstances are precisely parallel,” “The very same verbiage.” Suleau seems, in fact, to believe in an almost complete identification of the two revolutions: “Our demagogues,” he wrote, “have slavishly copied all of these stratagems and I need not add that they have obtained the same results. Nil sub sole novum. [There is nothing new under the sun.]”40 We are not surprised to learn, even, that the Puritans had their own Faubourg St. Antoine: “The comparison holds up with amazing exactness, even in the most wretched details. . . .”41
As he draws his parallel, Suleau is no less explicit and no more innocent of purpose than the Comte d’Artois had been in performing the portrait antics to which we have already referred. His is a hawkish warning to princes “who, when they believe themselves to be following only the advice of prudence, are in fact giving in to the ever deadly vertigo of bewilderment and faint-heartedness.”42 Pointing to Charles I’s initial “co-operation” with the Puritans, Suleau warns:
Guided by terror, he resolved to appease them with various acts of indulgence. He judged the torrent too strong to resist, he acquiesced in all their measures and was even prepared, it seems, to make peace with the factionists.
We know how well that strategy succeeded for Charles I! Louis XVI would be ill advised to adopt such a humiliating policy. There are no doubt circumstances so critical that stiff resistance must inevitably end in deadly consequences; Louis XVI is in that situation; but at least he must preserve his honour and abandon himself to events with dignity.
All this is so horribly similar.43
Citing Bossuet rather than Hume but delivering essentially the same message, the Abbé Marie-Nicolas-Silvestre Guillon published in 1792 his Parallèle des Révolutions—a work which went through at least four editions during that year.
Guillon praises Charles I as a just, moderate, and magnanimous prince, perhaps the most honest man of his century and one whose only fault was an excess of clemency. He minutely notes parallels between the French and English revolutions, using a highly emotional, breathless style, reminiscent, not of Bossuet, but of a bad eighteenth-century drame:
O the courage to flee! O my King, how virtuous you are in your misfortunes! But . . . dreadful forebodings: he too, the ill-fated Charles I, departed . . . and Strafford and Montrose! . . . Palace of Whitehall! theatre of gloom, soaked still with the fresh warm blood of a murdered king, sacrificial victim of his people; are there Cromwells among us? No, no! . . . scheming underlings, incapable of either his artful hypocrisies or his potent atrocities that defy understanding, that require genius to devise and heroism to execute; a Bradshaw, yes, or a Chabroud; an Ireton or a Grégoire, a Fairfax or a Lafayette, . . . hideous memories! Parallels until now only too similar! . . .44
Abbé Guillon makes parallels with other revolutions as well as with that of the Puritans, but all his evidence is chosen to prove the cyclical nature of such violent occurrences. Like the Comtesse de Montrond, he predicts the eventual replacement of popular anarchy by a dictatorship. History shows no exceptions to the rule that the usurpations of the multitude are followed by the tyranny of one man.45 There is nothing new in the French revolution. It is a base imitation from start to finish:
If we examine the succession of heresies that have threatened the tranquillity of empires by shaking the pillars of the church and of truth, we see, right down to the smallest details, a picture of the same events we are witnessing today. Change the names, change the setting; what remains of our revolution? Only its acts of cowardice and its heinous crimes. Nay, even here they are plagiarists! Whether in their persecutions or their political schemes, they have not even been original in their crimes!46
One critical detail of the French parallel with the English revolution was still seen as different in 1792, but Guillon, with a certain grisly tenacity (for most of the “Stuart prophets” avoided before January 1793 going this far), does not fail to note it: “the records of Whitehall,” he writes, “will indicate that to complete the resemblance, the revolution needs one additional crime, and that this crime is perhaps not far off.”47
We shall deal later with other specific rapprochements made for various purposes by counter-revolutionary writers during the trial of Louis XVI and after the Reign of Terror. Those that we have noted for the period from 1789 to 1792 by no means exhaust the bibliography on the subject but they are fairly indicative of the sort of thing commonly done at this time.48
Perhaps the entire spirit of the parallels can be best summed up iconographically. The frontispiece of an anonymous work entitled L’Angleterre instruisant la France ou Tableau historique et politique du règne de Charles Ier et de Charles II, published in Paris early in 1793, provides a good contemporary example. The legend of the engraving reads: “England teaching France, 8 February 1649,” followed by:
[I committed a heinous crime, Take care not to follow my example. If you wish to implore a beneficent God’s mercy, Open up your dungeons, and free the innocent of their chains.]
Pictured are two women standing; one is showing the other a book on which can be read the words “Read and tremble.”
It is an irony of history that this same idea of England teaching France could have changed so much in meaning in the sixty years since Voltaire’s Lettres philosophiques. At that time, England’s “lessons” were feared by traditionalists in France. These were the lessons of Voltaire. Now traditionalists almost religiously sought out other examples from across the Channel. These were the lessons of David Hume.
The Long Parliament: Brissot Versus Clermont-Tonnerre
To illustrate the intensity of the revolutionary debates provoked by differing views of Stuart history and, what is more important, to show how Stuart history influenced in an immediate sense the formulation by both sides of many political problems of the day, let us examine at some length a controversy on the subject which raged during the summer of 1790 between the two important figures, Clermont-Tonnerre and Brissot.
Brissot is a particularly good example to choose here as representing the Left, since he was probably influenced more than any other French revolutionary strategist by the examples of English civil-war history. We have already noted in our chapter on Hume’s pre-revolutionary fortunes that the Girondin leader was one of the first in France to reject Hume’s royalist interpretation of that period. His own admiration for English parliamentary heroes knew no bounds. His very name, Brissot de Warville—anglicized from the French place name Ouarville where his family held property—is a youthful tribute to his long-standing political anglomania. In its essentials, this anglomania remained as one of his most notable characteristics until his death by decapitation in Paris in 1793.
Also destined to be a victim of the Revolution, Stanislas Clermont-Tonnerre represents equally well, as a constitutional monarchist, that section of the rightist opposition most strongly influenced by the familiar Hume version of Stuart history.
A dispute over the famous Comités de recherches, the new tribunals that Burke would also attack as likely to extinguish the last traces of liberty in France and bring about “the most dreadful and arbitrary tyranny ever known in any nation,” was the original issue that sparked their important debate, especially valuable to us as an illustration of how the lines of battle on the current significance of the English revolution were drawn up. The controversy also shows the extent to which Hume’s account for many traditionalists had come to be more than merely one man’s history of that revolution but rather a body of essential, undeniable political facts, the profound appreciation of which was absolutely necessary for a correct understanding of the revolution in France.
The Comité de recherches of which Brissot was a member had been established by the Assembly in October 1789 and authorized to receive denunciations and evidence of conspiracies as well as to arrest, to question, and to hold suspects. Brissot had already defended his committee on several occasions against the accusations of various critics.49 In August 1790 he found it necessary to return once more to this defence against charges made by Clermont-Tonnerre that such committees represented an inquisitorial device of despotism and had a public effect rather similar to what might be expected from a re-establishment of the Bastille.
Quite to the contrary, Brissot maintained, the powers of the committee were legal and constitutional, the popular party approved of them, they did not in any way resemble those of the Inquisition or the horrors of the Bastille and, finally, such extraordinary measures of security were necessary in a time of crisis when the Revolution had so many enemies. “How could you have believed,” he asks Clermont-Tonnerre, “that men stripped of their ill-gotten privileges which they had been enjoying for many centuries would, with heroic patience, simply submit to the will of those they had formerly oppressed? How could you not have seen that they would rebel against an equality of rights that brought them down to the level of other men? . . .”50
Brissot continued his self-apology by giving Clermont-Tonnerre one of those classically familiar revolutionary lessons on how people sometimes have to be forced to be free and even killed to be made equal: “Remember the axiom, so trivial and so true: if you desire the end you must also accept the means.”51 Then, having on other occasions already told his readers that there was great merit in the English idea of defining the crime of lèse-nation, that the Long Parliament had many salutary lessons to teach the National Assembly on how to choose its ambassadors, deal with king’s ministers, et cetera,52 he proceeded to justify the Comités de recherches on the same authority: “And the Long Parliament of England, during a time when it was inspired by the purest form of patriotism, did it not also have its committee of safety or committee of investigations? More than once, the republic would owe its salvation to that committee. And so I ask you, was France in 1789, is France today, not caught up in a sufficiently violent crisis to justify the institution of these committees of safety?”53
Clermont-Tonnerre’s answer, the Nouvelles Observations sur les comités des recherches,54 was not long in making itself heard:
I shall attempt to repress the horror that the English Long Parliament inspires in me and examine for a moment this monster of politics and immorality in order to discover along with J.-P. Brissot the precise instant during which it was inspired by the purest form of patriotism.
The loathsome history of the Long Parliament displays for us two phases: we see it obsessed first with its Presbyterian fantasies and exploiting these as a vehicle for the private ambitions of several members; we see these men cleverly seizing upon and manipulating for their own purposes the natural tendency of every political body to seek power and to act; we see this insane body in turn usurp all royal prerogatives, form and sign a league and covenant, appoint to office, raise an army, declare war on the king, purchase him from the Scots whose protection he had sought, place him on trial, abolish the upper chamber which refused to participate in these crimes, and then proceed to carry out the heinous act on its own: there you have the crimes of the Long Parliament. I come now to its infamy: after the king’s assassination, stricken with shame at its crime, it becomes an object of contempt and ignominy; the army insults it, the people defy it; Cromwell, weary of it, speaks but one word and the Long Parliament is gone. Now I ask J.-P. Brissot, which of these moments exemplify his notion of the purest patriotism? When was the Long Parliament patriotic? Was it when it trampled underfoot the bloody head of its king? Was it when it too groveled at the feet of the usurper? Does J.-P. Brissot see approaching in the distance this Cromwell whose culpable power was the certain consequence of the Long Parliament’s crimes? If he does see him, it is his duty to expose him so that we may smother the monster in his cradle.
What times must these be? What notions of liberty and patriotism do we harbour, if there can exist among us a man who dares to promote as a model the Long Parliament of England, this cowardly assembly of regicides which with seven years of disorder and anarchy made the English pay dearly for the privilege of living afterwards under despotism?55
Brissot in a prompt reply showed that he had long since been emancipated from such a view of the English revolution, that he had read historians other than Hume:
My worship of liberty, my political credo, dates from a time when Stanislas Clermont was still part of the slavish herd of servile courtiers who bowed and scraped in the antechamber of the King’s bedroom at Versailles, who were then pleased to ridicule the philosophical and political ideas that today they bravely parade, because these ideas are now victorious.
When I despaired of ever seeing the destruction of despotism, too proud to bend under its insolent yoke, too much the enemy of inequality to allow my children to witness such an odious spectacle, I set off for America to settle in a republican land.56
We remember that Brissot in 1784 had expressed the wish that the history of this new republic in America would be written by that most patriotic of English historians, Catherine Macaulay. It is with her account of the English revolution that he now answers Clermont-Tonnerre:
The English Long Parliament inspires horror in you. I believe it: it is not surprising that the history of a republic jars the nerves of a courtier.
You call it a monster of politics and immorality. You are astonished that I find in its loathsome history a moment when it was ruled by the purest patriotism. You see in its history only two phases: that of its crimes, when Charles I mounted the scaffold; that of its infamy, when Cromwell dissolved it.
One can see from such observations that you have read the history of this monster only in Hume, a writer who prostituted his talents to monarchism and betrayed so frequently the cause of liberty. Had you studied the history of the immortal Macaulay, a work so well suited to rouse our indignation against tyranny, you would doubtless not have been so ready to slander one of history’s most brilliant epochs, a time when England produced its greatest profusion of virtues and talents.57
After setting his opponent straight on that all-important point, Brissot gives the radical view of Stuart history and a litany of answers to Clermont-Tonnerre’s accusations:
You ask when was this parliament patriotic? It was patriotic when . . . it rebelled.
It was patriotic, when it determined to put an end to the tyranny of a Strafford; of a perverted priest, Laud; of an inquisitorial court called the Star Chamber; of Charles I, who summoned parliaments only to obtain money for his dissipations and debaucheries, who dissolved them when they refused to satisfy his criminal lusts, who imposed taxes without the consent of the people, who imprisoned those who refused to comply, &c.
It was patriotic, when it refused to disperse until all of the abuses that England had been subjected to for centuries were reformed.
It was patriotic when it ordered the criminal indictment of the ministers who had given pernicious advice to the king; when, after itself engaging zealously in that prosecution, it secured their condemnation and execution for crimes against the nation.58
It was patriotic, when it decreed the exclusion of the bishops from the upper chamber and required that the commanders of the army and the navy be chosen by the House of Commons; when it took precautions to ensure that ministers and ambassadors were selected who were sympathetic to the revolution and also that the education of the presumptive heir to the throne was entrusted only to hands that were pure, that is to say, the hands of the people.
It was patriotic, when it disbanded the foreign troops; when, because conspirators were plotting to gain Hull as a stronghold for the king whence to begin a war, it ordered the governor to shut the gates and refuse admittance to the king himself.
It was patriotic, when, wishing to avoid a civil war, it offered proposals of peace to the king, who was first in erecting the standard of war against the nation.
It was patriotic, when it armed the nation to resist the king’s aggression; when it armed the London national guard (trained band);59 when it did not give up on the public’s cause after its troops suffered three consecutive defeats; when, in spite of those defeats, it ordered the impeachment for high treason of the queen, who had urged the king on in this criminal war.
It was patriotic, when, in the midst of this civil war, it adopted the most vigorous measures to establish republicanism; when it abolished the upper chamber and established a single class of lawmakers.60
To praise the next accomplishment of the Long Parliament was still a matter of some delicacy in France in October 1790, but Brissot, who at this time was recommending hair-cuts à la roundhead61 as superior even to the coiffure à la Brutus, does not hesitate in the slightest:
It was patriotic, finally, when it abolished the monarchy. You will no doubt cry shame, pronounce an anathema, and ask me if it was also patriotic when it condemned the king to death? Will you hear and understand my reply, you who have so recently come to know liberty! But I will be heard and understood, I have no doubt, by all those who, convinced of the principle, do not cravenly capitulate when confronted with the consequences; by those who refuse to kneel before the idols they have shattered.
Answer me this: a man guilty of the greatest of crimes, should he be punished, or should he be exempt from punishment by the very fact that his crime is so great? If this last opinion is one of ignorance, of slavery, of denial of man’s dignity and good sense; if you are obliged to agree that no criminal on earth can be exempt from punishment, that his punishment must be in proportion to his crime; if you are obliged to concede that the greatest of crimes is to plunge a nation into slavery, to substitute whims for constitutional laws, to crush the people under a burden of taxes to which they have not consented, to dissipate in debauchery the monies received, to mock justice and morality; if, finally, the greatest of crimes is to provoke a civil war, to shed men’s blood in order to enslave them; if, I say, you avow all these truths, you have yourself passed judgement on Charles I, for there is not one of these crimes that he did not commit.62
Before going on to defend the Long Parliament’s actions under Cromwell, Brissot adds a note on the supposed inviolability of kings: A king, he maintains, can be judged—as Milton, Sidney, Locke, Mrs. Macaulay, and other patriots have shown.63 As for Cromwell, the French republican maintained that one had to make distinctions between the victor at Naseby and the usurper. To be added to Brissot’s current recommendations on hair-styles are his revolutionary toasts. One of these is: “To the rights of man and to the true friends of liberty who tried to establish republican government in England in the last century; to Ludlow, to Ireton, to Saint-John!”; it is followed, however, by an equally clear “Anathema to the Cromwells and to all the hypocritical scoundrels who would disguise their ambitious designs under a cloak of sham popularity. May they all, like him, devoured by remorse and terror, descend into the darkness of the tomb amid the execrations of the people.”64 In concluding his answer to Clermont-Tonnerre, Brissot feels he can do no better than once more cite Mrs. Macaulay, now to the effect that it was precisely because the Long Parliament had been doing so well in its reform programmes that Cromwell, fearing a possible loss in his military prestige, decided to dissolve that assembly. If Clermont-Tonnerre were to read Mrs. Macaulay instead of Hume, he would no longer be surprised that men exist “who cite as a model (not in everything) this long parliament. Oh! woe betide humanity, woe betide liberty if such men, consumed with a burning passion for freedom, do not multiply; if everywhere we do not renounce the ideas—so degrading to men, so offensive to God—of those vile courtiers who raise up the grandeur of one man on the backs of the oppressed millions. . . .”65
Clermont-Tonnerre’s reaction, which followed in print within only a few days, was one of complete horror. The extent to which Brissot’s unheard-of views on Stuart history must have seemed politically insane to him is made clear by the fact that he obviously felt it more necessary to reproduce without alteration Brissot’s defence of the Long Parliament than he did to attempt a detailed refutation of the republican’s “principles, as dangerous as they are culpable”:66
If J.-P. Brissot were alone in professing such views, I would not fear the consequences; but J.-P. Brissot is associated with a party, a party whose members would have already caused us to curse liberty were it possible to mistake it for the licence in favour of which they have prostituted their names. J.-P. Brissot is a member of the most accredited of these clubs whose existence and influence was regarded by J.-J. Rousseau as destructive of the true general will; it is possible that the doctrine attributed to it is no more than hearsay and without wishing formally to accuse all the so-called patriots gathered there of sharing in it, I think I am authorized by this consideration to appeal to the opinion of the public regarding this abominable doctrine.67
After citing Brissot’s text in full, a text which he obviously feels is enough to hang any man politically, Clermont-Tonnerre concludes:
France is a monarchy or it is nothing. Monarchical government in this country has two unshakeable foundations: national character and size of territory. If the first of these causes is momentarily altered, the second will sooner or later take effect in a decisive manner. England, after the assassination of Charles I, became the captive of a usurper’s despotism, and soon after his death, returned to the rule of Charles II. England achieved freedom only by adopting a constitutional monarchy. . . . In vain will you preach republicanism to us, for if that political fanaticism were to triumph, our lives would be subjected for the next twenty years to tortures and dissension, all in the interests of advancing the private ambitions of a few and turning us once more perhaps into slaves. . . .
P.S. I advise J.-P. Brissot that I shall no longer reply in future, no matter what insults he chooses to heap upon me. However, I also advise him that he is sadly misinformed as to the facts: he may wish, for example, to consult the patriotic courtiers, and there are such; they will tell him that they saw my face only at the first Paris assemblies, hardly the antechamber of the king’s bedroom at Versailles!68
For Clermont-Tonnerre the debate ended with the postscript just quoted, which Brissot immediately interpreted as a sign of defeat: “To those who are not deceived by fine words, it must be clear that he has demonstrated his inability to answer me.”69 After ironically thanking his royalist opponent for helping to advertise the merits of the Long Parliament, Brissot concluded with words that forewarned of things to come:
England, free during the Long Parliament, lost most of its liberty on the restoration of Charles II: it recovered a portion of it by driving out James II in 1688, then lost it gradually through corruption and the parliamentary majority’s coalition with the king under the current, very unconstitutional, monarchy. . . .
. . . Frenchmen can be no more than slaves under an ancien-régime king, only half emancipated under a king of the 1790 regime, and . . . they will be entirely free only when they no longer have any king at all.70
A Republican Antidote: Catherine Macaulay-Graham
If the debate between Clermont-Tonnerre and Brissot gives proof of the continuing importance of Hume’s Stuarts in France at this time, it also makes clear the fact that the History of his republican rival, Catherine Macaulay-Graham, had begun to play an equally important role in countering its conservative effect.
Five years before the Revolution Brissot had already expressed the hope that Mrs. Macaulay’s work would one day be translated into French,71 and in his Mémoires he speaks of having discussed at that time the feasibility of such a project with Mirabeau.72 In fact, although there are some few doubts still remaining in the matter, it seems clear that Mirabeau undertook the initial responsibility for the translation, the first five volumes of which were published in the years 1791 and 1792 after his death.73
Even before the appearance of this long-delayed translation other notable revolutionary figures had commented favourably on Mrs. Macaulay’s views. Condorcet, in July 1790, for example, contrasts the reactionary activity of Pitt and Burke with the potentially great rôle this republican historian could have played were she herself a member of the British House of Commons: “Although as enthusiastically in favour of liberty as Mr. Burke is of tyranny, would she, in defending the French constitution, have come anywhere near the absurd and disgusting gibberish this celebrated rhetorician has just employed in attacking it? . . .”74
Hume rather than Burke, however, soon became the political writer whose villainy was most often opposed to the virtue of this female patriot. The Journal des Savants, announcing in 1791 the appearance in translation of her first two volumes, stated quite explicitly that they represented a “corrective” to Hume.75 The Moniteur, giving notice of the History in the same month, added the promise to publish a full review of the work which it called “one of the most important that has been undertaken since the start of the revolution.”76 Mirabeau himself is quoted by the editor of the Macaulay History as having stated in the following terms that he considered its translation to be a task of patriotism and good citizenship: “In our present circumstance, this translation is no ordinary work. There are so many points of contact, so many connections between those events, those personages and us, that merely by pointing these out in simple notes becomes in a sense the equivalent of writing the history of both revolutions.”77 We see that republicans were given to making parallels too, but to do this they needed a different historian, one who could avenge the “outrages” of Hume.78
Mirabeau’s “Discours préliminaire” underscores some of these. The French parliamentary leader begins by attacking Hume’s outrageously conservative premises:
Hume claims that when we consider the distribution of power among the various constituted bodies, there is rarely any other question to ask than this: What is the established order?
But if the established order is bad, must we respect as constitutional the usages that prevent it from being good? Even if this order is excellent, what human authority can prevent a nation from changing it? Hume’s question implies that everything is as it should be, which is diametrically opposed to the historical record he himself has produced; it supposes that one need only be the strongest to transform one’s might into right; it supposes that there are certain small groups of men, and even simple individuals, to whom entire nations must be indentured.79
A passage from Hume, already cited enthusiastically by the royalist de Montjoie80 and showing very little admiration for political innovators but recommending a warm attitude of understanding toward their opponents, provokes another burst of indignant eloquence from the great French orator:
What! we are not to show rancour toward oppressors? But even when the strictest and most demanding of religions saw fit to order the forgiveness of private injury, it required public chastisement of those monsters who persecute and dishonour entire nations.
Praise must be bestowed on the reformers of abuses only with some reserve! What a confusion of ideas! What a disgrace! Who then, should be crowned by glory if not those who have given their all for her? Let ancient institutions be respected when they are not pernicious; but when they are deadly, why not proscribe them? And if mere antiquity is meritorious, how then can error compete advantageously in this respect with eternal truth? How can one not acknowledge that while the lowest of men is able to carry out the functions of a grand vizier, it requires a combination of all the talents of both nature and art to prepare and bring to maturity a revolution, and to naturalize liberty in the souls of men accustomed to slavery!
O Hume! It was not enough to combine the profundity of the English with the good taste and elegance of the French; it was not enough to be the man of all times and all places, the lover of all the arts, the faithful painter of manners, the impartial recorder of all facts, of all opinions. It was incumbent upon you to push back the enclosures within which your compatriots confined civil and political liberty; it was incumbent upon you to be indignant about crime, to be passionate for virtue, to thunder against oppressors; had you done so, the illustrious Mme Macaulay, whose talents, though distinguished, are undeniably inferior to yours, would not have wrested from you, or even disputed, the palm of history.81
We see that in this frankly hostile but not entirely unflattering passage Hume’s famous impartiality is not questioned; what is impugned is impartiality itself. Revolutions, of course, have little use for impartiality and the French revolution was no exception. Fairness to all sides would have implied a criminal indifference not to truth, for that was a secondary consideration, but to justice. Neutrality as such was scorned. Robespierre was to sum up his chief accusation against the philosophes of the eighteenth century with the words lâche neutralité (cowardly neutrality). Brissot, attacking Clermont-Tonnerre’s professed love of moderation, made the comment that “moderation, impartiality, in these troubled times means, in gaming terms, seeing all the hands, or betting on certainties. The words also mean,” he added, “protecting ancient abuses from useful innovations.”82 Mercier too shows his contempt for this once-honoured attribute, the one most often attached in the prerevolutionary period to Hume’s History and which had now come to be associated with the monarchist party. His anecdote on the subject is worth quoting:
The name given at the beginning of the revolution to those men who, having no opinion of their own, lacked the courage to adopt the opinion of others, for fear of compromising themselves, becoming in the end the laughing-stock of every party.
Some individuals were, or pretended to be, at a loss (in 1789) to know how much was six plus six. They asked a representative on the Left: he replied: “Six and six make twelve.”
“Listening to only one party is of no value,” exclaimed one thinker; “let us hear what a deputy on the Right has to say.”
The question is asked of the Honorable Member. After lengthy reflection he replies: “Six and six make fourteen.”
More perplexity. A centre deputy of the Assembly is consulted.
“What,” he asked, “did they tell you on the Left?” —“Twelve.” —“And how much on the Right?” —“Fourteen.”
“In that case, six and six make thirteen: as you can see, I am impartial.”83
So much for the impartiaux, monarchistes, monarchiens, and moyennistes. So much too for Hume’s proud claim—recognized as just by so many until then—to being neither Whig nor Tory, neither patriot nor courtier. With Catherine Macaulay there was no room for doubt on these matters, and the Moniteur, reviewing her History at length in February 1792, gratefully elaborates in her defence an intricate dialectic of partiality. The historian must show more than just that imaginative sympathy which makes the past intelligible to the present. Imaginative sympathy must be one of his characteristics but he must also show himself able to preach the good cause:
It is already a commonplace truth for us, although we became aware of it very recently, that only free nations can have a genuine history. Another truth, equally undeniable, is that even in the case of a free people, the truth of its history can be altered, either by private interest and ambition, by a desire to please or to harm, by partisan sentiments, or, on the contrary, by the historian’s taking special pride in a kind of imperturbability, allowing him to view with total composure the crimes perpetrated by vice against virtue, by despotism against liberty, and to relate as ordinary events and simple facts what he ought to have depicted as abominations. Take away from Tacitus the verve of indignation that rouses his spirits against tyranny, and perhaps still more against servitude, and he could have provided an account of the same atrocities, the same contemptible actions, but the truth would have been altered by the very fact of his seeming to be impassive.
Let us not be deceived then by this notion of impartiality, so properly commended to the historian. He must not be passionate to the point of not seeing clearly, but he must be passionate enough to depict in a spirited manner what he does see, this being the only way he can properly convey it to his readers.
Today it is recognized, even in England, that in the section on British history dealing with the dispute between the people and their kings, a dispute in which the people were victorious as they always are when they wish to be, the celebrated Hume was partial, as it were, by dint of impartiality. This is a charge that cannot be levelled against Madame Macaulay. An ardent friend of liberty, she has viewed in a true perspective the crimes of the Stuarts against the English constitution, the connivance of the House of Lords, and the steadfastness of the Commons during this stormy period that extends from the accession of James I to the abdication of James II, an interval of eighty-four years.84
The Moniteur concludes by noting that not only was Catherine Macaulay’s work important in itself, it had also been transmitted to the French by one of the founding fathers of their liberty; together these two facts formed a sufficient reason for all amateurs of history and all lovers of liberty to read the work carefully.
That the lovers of liberty did read it and that Catherine Macaulay played an important rôle in supporting, against Hume, the ideology of the revolutionaries is beyond any doubt. Let us examine one last example of her revolutionary success which we find to be notably important especially among the Girondins: her influence on Madame Roland.
A letter of November 1790 from Madame Roland to Bancal illustrates again the fact that Catherine Macaulay was being read in English by patriots in France before the appearance of the Mirabeau translation: “If I can devote a few moments this winter to the study of English,” she writes, “it will be in order to read Madame Macaulay’s History. After the historians, I shall turn to Rousseau’s moral writings which are in such perfect conformity with civic duty. . . .”85 It is probably fairly safe to assume also that Catherine Macaulay’s History was being discussed at this time in the influential Roland salon.
Several years later, in 1793, we find Madame Roland in prison, drawing up a list of books she would like to be made available to her:
. . . I made a note of the titles: first of all, Plutarch’s Lives which, at the age of eight, I took with me to church instead of a Holy Week prayer book, and which I had not thoroughly reread since that time; the History of England by David Hume, along with Sheridan’s Dictionary, to strengthen my command of that language: I would have preferred to read Mme Macaulay’s, but the person who had lent me the first volumes of this author was certainly not at his house, and I would not have known where to ask for the work, which I had already been unable to find at the booksellers.86
With all lovers of liberty presumably following the Moniteur’s urgent advice to read this work, it is perhaps understandable that it was in short supply. The shortage was soon remedied after the Terror, however, for we find the Ministry of the Interior recommending in July 1798 that Catherine Macaulay’s History of England be included on the list of books distributed as prizes “at end-of-school ceremonies and on national holidays.”87 Meanwhile, in prison, Madame Roland must do with second best. In her Mémoires particuliers we find yet another great tribute paid to the English republican historian who, we remember, had been seen as defamatory, seditious, and criminal in France thirty years earlier: “Had I been allowed to live,” Madame Roland concedes, “I would have had but one temptation: to write the annals of the century, to be the Macaulay of my country; I was about to say, the Tacitus of France, but that would not be very modest on my part. . . .”88
Madame Roland wrote these words in prison; soon she would be condemned to die by the hatred of the Montagnards, and we remember her famous remark as she mounted the revolutionary scaffold: “O Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name!” It is perhaps worth noting that, thirty years earlier, Hume had already expressed the identical sentiment in a letter to the Englishwoman Madame Roland had most wanted to emulate.89
[1. ]Discours choisis sur divers sujets de religion et de littérature, par M. l’Abbé Maury, Paris, 1777, p. 132. See also Oeuvres choisies du cardinal J.-Sifrein Maury, Paris, 1827, II. 142-51.
[2. ]Ibid., III. 361-62. Maury quotes Hume’s portrait of the French king.
[3. ]Opinion sur le droit de faire la guerre et de conclure les traités de paix, d’alliance et de commerce; prononcée dans l’assemblée nationale le 18 mai 1790, ibid., IV. 99-100.
[4. ]Opinion sur les finances et sur la dette publique, July 1790, ibid., IV. 172.
[5. ]Discours sur la sanction royale, ibid., V. iv.
[6. ]A note of caution is necessary here. That Maury was the only rightist orator at this time who could match the vigour of Mirabeau seems little in doubt. That such was the opinion of contemporaries is evidenced in the following not entirely biased “Anagram-Epigram concerning two very well-known party leaders,” which we find in the Actes des Apôtres, 1789, I, No. 28, p. 16:
There are many anecdotes attesting to Abbé Maury’s quick wit. The following example of it is related by Montlosier, who describes how one day the future Cardinal was walking near the Halles market area: “Several of the local streetwalkers caught sight of him and accosted him: —‘Good-day to you, my fine sturdy fellow!’ —‘Good-day ladies.’ —‘You’ve got wit enough, ’tis true, but no matter how you kick and struggle, you’ll be f. . . . . in the end!’ —‘Oh! ladies, as you very well know, one doesn’t die from that!’ At which they burst out laughing and rushed up to hug and kiss him.” (Mémoires de M. le Comte de Montlosier sur la Révolution française, Paris, 1830, II. 314.) There is evidence to show, nevertheless, that Maury’s powerful lungs and sharp wit were not always sufficient for the task of overcoming the increasingly impatient heckling of the opposition benches (see, for example, the Journal des débats, Nos. 153 and 382). Although he remained at his post until 1791, he more than ever took to publishing dictated versions of his speeches. It is thus very likely, as Aulard points out, that “the most celebrated speeches of Abbé Maury were never delivered by him.” (F.-A. Aulard, Les Orateurs de l’Assemblée Constituante, Paris, 1882, p. 234.)
[7. ]Opinion sur la souveraineté du peuple, prononcée dans l’Assemblée Nationale en 1790 par M. l’Abbé Maury et publiée sur les manuscrits autographes de l’auteur par Louis-Sifrein Maury, son neveu, Avignon, 1852, pp. 95-96.
[8. ]See supra, pp. 43-44.
[9. ]Ibid., pp. 96-98.
[10. ]See Oeuvres complètes de J. de Maistre, VII. 503. Worth mentioning here also is the use made at about this same time of Hume’s position on divorce by another representative of the clergy in the National Assembly, the Abbé Armand de Chapt de Rastignac, in his work Accord de la Révélation et de la Raison contre le divorce, Paris, 1790, pp. 332-33, 339, 347-48.
[11. ]The Rights of Man, Part I, p. 48.
[12. ]Félix-Louis-Christophe de Montjoie, Histoire de la Révolution de France et de l’Assemblée Nationale, Paris, 1792, cinquième partie, pp. 127-28.
[13. ]Ibid., p. 127.
[14. ]De l’Etat de la France, présent et à venir, par M. de Calonne, ministre d’Etat, Londres, 1791, pp. 360-61; Mémoire de M. le Comte de Lally-Tollendal, ou Seconde Lettre à ses Commettans, Paris, 1790, pp. 107-8.
[15. ]Lally-Tollendal, op. cit., p. 109.
[16. ]Recherches sur les causes qui ont empêché les Français de devenir libres et sur les moyens qui leur restent pour acquérir la liberté, Genève, 1792, I. 210. In this same work Mounier, quoting Hume’s sentiment that despotism is preferable to popular anarchy, urges the French to rally round Louis XVI and place absolute power in his hands for the period of one year. (Ibid., II. 213-15.)
[17. ]Introduction à la Révolution Française (1792), in Oeuvres de Barnave, Paris, 1843, I. 72.
[18. ]Seconde Lettre de M. de Lally-Tollendal à M. Burke, Londres, 1792, p. 35. The French jurist J.-V. Delacroix also calls Hume “the most impartial of historians,” in his Constitutions des principaux états de l’Europe et des Etats-Unis de l’Amérique, Paris, 1791, II. 206.
[19. ]Quelle est la situation de l’Assemblée Nationale? (1790), pp. 41-44.
[20. ]Ibid., pp. 43-44. The same passage from “the wise Hume” is quoted against the Convention in December 1792 by Dugour: Mémoire justificatif pour Louis XVI, Paris, 1793, pp. 119-21.
[21. ]As in the following pastiche of the popular revolutionary song Ça ira:
[Finally, the madness of the people will be cured, and the authors of it punished; I think after that, everything will be right again; I think after that, ’twill be fine, ’twill be fine.]Along with those of other conservative heroes, Hume’s name figures in some of the apôtres’ light verse against Robespierre. See, for example, ibid., No. 15, pp. 5-6.
[22. ]Ibid., II. 5-25.
[23. ]Ibid., II. 21.
[24. ]Ibid., II. 22.
[25. ]Ibid., III. 5.
[26. ]Ibid., IV. 15-16.
[27. ]Ibid., IV. 28.
[28. ]Ibid., IV. 29.
[29. ]Ibid., IV. 31.
[30. ]Ibid., V. 43-44.
[31. ]Ibid., V. 63.
[32. ]Le Long Parlement et ses crimes, rapprochemens faciles à faire, Paris, 1790, p. 9.
[33. ]Ibid., p. 108.
[34. ]Ibid., p. 16.
[35. ]Ibid., pp. 84-85.
[36. ]Ibid., pp. 100-101.
[37. ]Ibid., p. 143.
[38. ]Ibid., p. 103.
[39. ]Ibid., p. 45.
[40. ]Journal de M. Suleau, Paris, 1792, No. XII, p. 78.
[41. ]Ibid., p. 85.
[42. ]Ibid., p. 77.
[43. ]Ibid., pp. 82-83.
[44. ]Parallèle des Révolutions, Seconde édition, Paris, 1792, p. 297. In fact, the denigrating title Cromwel had been used rather generously and indiscriminately from the very beginning of the Revolution by both the Right and the Left as the supreme political insult. Within the space of only a few years it was applied variously to, among others, Necker, Mirabeau, Lafayette, Dumouriez, Danton, Robespierre, the entire Directoire, and, of course, Bonaparte. Curiously enough, it is the royalists who most often saw Cromwell as a great genius, albeit evil, and far superior to the revolutionary leaders, the “vile lowlifes,” of the Convention. (See, for example, the Comte d’Antraigues’s Adresse à l’ordre de la noblesse de France, Paris, 1792, p. 99; also the opinion of La Harpe expressed in December 1794: “. . . Robespierre and his henchmen! You compare Cromwell to them! There is not one (and history will bear me out) that he would have wanted, even as a sergeant in his army. . . .” —Lycée ou cours de littérature ancienne et moderne, VIII. 17.)
[45. ]Ibid., p. 292.
[46. ]Ibid., p. 414.
[47. ]Ibid., p. 417.
[48. ]Mention should perhaps be made here of what seems to have been a veritable Strafford cult at this time among some French conservatives, directly inspired, I think, by Hume’s extensive and highly favourable account of Charles I’s minister. Already in 1788, Linguet, drawing the parallel between a French trial of that year and that of Strafford, had exclaimed prophetically: “God grant that subsequent events not be the same! . . .” (Annales politiques, civiles et littéraires du dixhuitième siècle, 1788, XV. 339; see also his La France plus qu’Angloise, Bruxelles, 1788). At about this same time, Lally-Tollendal with the parallel of his hapless father in mind, gave private readings of his tragedy Le Comte de Strafford at Versailles: “My tragedy became a literal prophecy; I was urged to have it performed. . . .” But his Strafford was not made, he tells us, to compete with such admonitory school-for-tyrants tragedies as Brutus, César, Guillaume Tell, or Charles IX. (See his dedicatory remarks in Le Comte de Strafford: Tragédie en cinq actes et en vers, Londres, 1795, in which Hume is praised as “especially dedicated to impartiality” and is contrasted with Rapin-Thoyras, “whose only talents lay in being a Presbyterian and a rebel”—pp. 327-28.)
[49. ]See, for example, Le Patriote Français, 25 November 1789, 30 January and 25 February 1790.
[50. ]J.-P. Brissot, membre du Comité de Recherches de la municipalité à Stanislas Clermont (ci-devant Clermont-Tonnerre) membre de l’Assemblée Nationale . . . , Paris, 28 août 1790, p. 8.
[51. ]Ibid., p. 11.
[52. ]Le Patriote Français, 10 August 1789, 8 and 22 January 1790.
[53. ]Brissot à Stanislas Clermont, p. 7.
[54. ]See in Oeuvres complètes de Stanislas de Clermont-Tonnerre, Paris, An III, volume III.
[55. ]Ibid., III. 341-42.
[56. ]Réplique de J.-P. Brissot à Stanislas Clermont, Paris, 8 octobre 1790, pp. 8-9.
[57. ]Ibid., pp. 44-45.
[58. ]Two weeks after writing this, Brissot, in Le Patriote Français of 25 October 1790, attacked the paragraph (see supra, pp. 121-22, n. 48) praising Strafford in Cazalès’s speech on the dismissal of the ministers: “M. Cazalès has frequently reminded us in this speech of the history of Charles I. We know to what end royalists quote these passages: they wish to frighten the head of our nation and to compare the National Assembly to the Long Parliament. . . .” Brissot contradicts Cazalès on the following points: “(1) Strafford possessed no virtues; (2) Strafford had few talents and those that he had were disastrous for the nation; (3) England, in fact, rejoiced at his death; (4) Europe does not know his name, and veneration of this name will be found only in the brain of M. Cazalès.” Camille Desmoulins the very same day also rebutted Cazalès’s Hume-inspired account with a republican appraisal of Charles’s minister by Milton. (Révolutions de France et de Brabant, IV. 404-7, 25 October 1791.)
[59. ]“Mme Macaulay observes that everyone during that time breathed the spirit of liberty. The artisan deserted his workplace, the merchant his shop, even the women abandoned their domestic chores to engage in politics: all talk was of reform, of the destruction of tyranny. Is that not the picture of our own revolution?”—Note by Brissot.
[60. ]Ibid., pp. 45-47.
[61. ]Le Patriote Français, 31 October 1790.
[62. ]Réplique de J.-P. Brissot, pp. 48-49.
[63. ]See also Brissot’s speech of 10 July 1791 on this subject, in F.-A. Aulard, La Société des Jacobins. Recueil de documents pour l’histoire du Club des Jacobins de Paris, Paris, 1891, II. 608-26; also Le Patriote Français, 15 July 1791. In a February 1792 issue of this last work, Brissot rather gratuitously reminded his readers of the anniversary of Charles I’s execution. Later, however, his vote in the Convention on Louis’s trial was in favour of the appel au peuple (ratification by referendum) and a suspended execution of sentence.
[64. ]Le Patriote Français, 12 July 1790.
[65. ]Réplique de J.-P. Brissot, p. 51.
[66. ]Sur la dernière réplique de J.-P. Brissot, 14 October 1790, in Oeuvres complètes de Clermont-Tonnerre, III. 382-92.
[67. ]Ibid., III. 382-83.
[68. ]Ibid., III. 391-92.
[69. ]Le Patriote Français, 21 October 1790, p. 3.
[70. ]Ibid., p. 4. Brissot on another occasion (see Le Patriote Français, 11 February 1790) also complained about Lally-Tollendal’s use of Hume’s authority in his arguments against Abbé Sieyès’s theory on the powers of a convention (see supra, p. 110). There seems little doubt that Brissot consciously based some of his own political action on the precedents established by the Long Parliament. See, for example, his speech urging sterner measures against the émigrés, 20 October 1791; also his various statements of 1792 on war policy for the Republic.
[71. ]Supra, p. 65.
[72. ]Mémoires de Brissot, Paris, 1877, pp. 327-28.
[73. ]Catherine Macaulay-Graham, Histoire d’Angleterre depuis l’avènement de Jacques I, jusqu’à la révolution. Traduite en français, et augmentée d’un discours préliminaire, contenant un précis de toute l’histoire d’Angleterre, jusqu’à l’avènement de Jacques I: et enrichie de notes. Par Mirabeau.
[74. ]Sur l’admission des femmes au droit de cité, 3 July 1790, in Oeuvres de Condorcet, X. 123-24. Catherine Macaulay was herself attacking Burke at this time in England. (See Observations on the Reflections of the Right Hon. Edmund Burke on the Revolution in France, in a Letter to the Right Hon. the Earl of Stanhope, 1790.)
[75. ]October 1791, p. 627.
[76. ]Gazette Nationale, ou le Moniteur universel, No. 282, 9 October 1791.
[77. ]Histoire d’Angleterre, Avis de l’éditeur, I. ix.
[78. ]Ibid., p. vi.
[79. ]Ibid., “Discours préliminaire,” I. cv.
[80. ]Supra, p. 110.
[81. ]Histoire d’Angleterre, “Discours préliminaire,” I. cvii-cviii.
[82. ]J.-P. Brissot à Stanislas Clermont, Paris, 28 August 1790, pp. 51-52.
[83. ]Paris pendant la révolution (1789-1798) ou le nouveau Paris, Paris, 1862, I. 268-69.
[84. ]Gazette Nationale, ou le Moniteur universel, No. 45, 14 February 1792, p. 184.
[85. ]Lettres de Madame Roland (1788-93), 1ère série, Paris, 1902, II. 191.
[86. ]Mémoires de Madame Roland, Paris, 1905, I. 37-38. It was, in fact, Brissot who had lent Madame Roland the first volumes of Mrs. Macaulay’s History.
[87. ]See La Décade, lettre du 24 messidor, An VI, XVIII. 309.
[88. ]Mémoires de Madame Roland, II. 264.
[89. ]Supra, p. 69, n. 179. Not to be neglected too is the important rôle of Milton’s political writings during this period. Also translated under Mirabeau’s name and similarly the honoured recipient of Brissot’s revolutionary toasts, Milton is cited enthusiastically along with Catherine Macaulay by Camille Desmoulins as an ardent defender of liberty. (Révolutions de France et de Brabant, 12 December 1789, I. 125, 130; 19 December 1789, I. 180-81; 25 October 1790, IV. 404-7.) The Annales patriotiques of Mercier and Carra commend him as well (see No. 640, 4 July 1791, p. 1534). Administrators of the Département de la Drôme even ordered the official reprinting (Valence, 1792) of his refutation of Saumaise in anticipation of Louis XVI’s execution. It is interesting to note too that Milton figures as a virtuous republican member of Parliament opposed to another M.P., a sinister character named Burke, in M.-L. Tardy’s Cromwel ou le général liberticide of 1793. It was, of course, especially during Louis’s trial that his political writings took on the greatest significance and he is quite frequently cited in the Convention. Royalists, on the other hand, showed a very distinct tendency to denounce him as a regicide, despite his Christianity, in favour of the conservative “atheism” of Hume. Abbé Guillon, for example, points out with horror the rôle of Milton in both the English and the French revolutions. (Parallèle des Révolutions, 1792, p. 303.)