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X: Mirabeau - John Emerich Edward Dalberg, Lord Acton, Lectures on the French Revolution (LF ed.) 
Lectures on the French Revolution, ed. John Neville Figgis and Reginald Vere Laurence, with a foreword by Steven J. Tonsor (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).
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The transfer of the Government to Paris, which degraded and obscured the king, at once made the queen the foremost person in the State. Those days of October are an epoch in her character as well as in her life, and we must turn our thoughts to her, who had so much influence and so much sorrow, and who beyond all women in European history, excepting one, has charmed and saddened mankind. She had proved inferior to her position during the years of her prosperity, and had disgraced herself, even in her mother’s eyes, by her share in the dismissal of Turgot. The Court was filled with stories injurious to her good name, and the calumny of the diamond necklace showed so clearly what a Prince of the Church thought her capable of, staking his existence on his belief, that her own sister suspected her, and they remained long estranged. Her frivolity was unchecked by religion; but a year or two before her misfortunes began, she became more serious; and when they were about to end, a priest found his way into the prison, and she was prepared to die. At first, she was dreaded as the most illiberal influence near the throne, and the Parliament of Paris denounced her as the occult promoter of oppression. In the decisive days of June 1789 she induced Lewis to sacrifice to the cause of aristocracy the opportune reforms that might have retrieved his fortunes. The emigration left her to confront alone the vengeance of the people. The terrific experience of October, when she saw death so near, and was made to feel so keenly the hatred she inspired, sobered in a moment the levity of her life, and brought out higher qualities. It was on that day that she began to remind those around her whose daughter she was. Ignorant as she was and passionate, she could never become a safe adviser. But she acquired decision, vigour, and self-command, and was able sometimes to strengthen the wavering mind of her husband. Too brave to be easily frightened, she refused at first the proffered aid of Mirabeau; and when, too late, she bent her pride to ask for it, she acted with her eyes open, without confidence or hope. For the surging forces of the day, for the idea that might have saved her, the idea of a government uniting the best properties of a monarchy with the best properties of a republic, she had neither sympathy nor understanding. Yet she was not wedded to the maxims that had made the greatness of her race, and the enmity of the princes and the émigrés saved her from the passions of the old régime. Condé spoke of her as a democrat; and she would have been glad to exchange the institutions of 1791 for something like the British constitution as it existed in those Tory days. She perished through her insincerity more than through the traditional desire for power. When the king was beheaded, the Prince Bishop of Bamberg and Würzburg, reputed the most sagacious and enlightened among the prelates of the empire, was heard to say, “It ought to have been the queen.” We who see farther may allow the retribution that befell her follies and her errors to arrest our judgment.
Marie Antoinette’s negotiation with Mirabeau, and the memorable endeavour of Mirabeau to restore the constitutional throne, is the central feature in the period now before us.
By the compulsory removal to Paris the democracy became preponderant. They were strengthened by the support of organized anarchy outside, and by the disappearance of their chief opponents within. Mounier was the first to go. The outrage at Versailles had occurred while he presided, and he resigned his seat with indignation. He attempted to rouse his own province against the Assembly, which had betrayed its mandate, and renounced its constituents; but Dauphiné, the home and basis of his influence, rejected him, and he went into exile. His example was followed by Lally Tollendal and a large number of moderate men, who despaired of their country and who, by declining further responsibility, helped to precipitate the mischief they foresaw.
The constitutional cause, already opposed by Conservatives, was now deserted by the Liberals. Malouet remained at his post. He had been less prominent and less eager than Mounier, and he was not so easily discouraged. The Left were now able to carry out in every department of the State their interpretation of the Rights of Man. They were governed mainly by two ideas. They distrusted the king as a malefactor, convicted of the unpardonable sin of absolutism, whom it was impossible to subject to too much limitation and control; and they were persuaded that the securities for individual freedom which are requisite under a personal government are superfluous in a popular community conducting its affairs by discussion and compromise and adjustment, in which the only force is public opinion. The two views tended to the same practical result—to strengthen the legislative power, which is the nation, and weaken the executive power, which is the king. To arrest this tendency was the last effort that consumed the life of Mirabeau. The danger that he dreaded was no longer the power of the king, but the weakness of the king.
The old order of things had fallen, and the customary ways and forces were abolished. The country was about to be governed by new principles, new forms, and new men. All the assistance that order derives from habit and tradition, from local connection and personal credit, was lost. Society had to pass through a dangerous and chaotic interval, during which the supreme need was a vigorous administration. That is the statesmanlike idea which held possession of Mirabeau, and guided him consistently through the very tortuous and adventurous course of his last days. He had no jealousy of the Executive. Ministers ought to be chosen in the Assembly, ought to lead the Assembly, and to be controlled by it; and then there would be no motive to fear them and to restrict their action. That was an idea not to be learnt from Montesquieu, and generally repudiated by theorists of the separation of powers. It was familiar to Mirabeau from his experience of England, where, in 1784, he had seen the country come to the support of the king against the parliament. Thence he gathered the conception of a patriot king, of a king the true delegate and mandatory of the nation, in fact of an incipient Emperor. If his schemes had come to anything, it is likely that his democratic monarch might have become as dangerous as any arbitrary potentate could be, and that his administration would have proved as great an obstacle to parliamentary government as French administration has always been since Napoleon. But his purpose at the time was sincerely politic and legitimate, and he undertook alone the defence of constitutional principles. During the month of September Mirabeau raised the question of a parliamentary Ministry, both in the press and in the Assembly. He prepared a list of eminent men for the several offices, assigning to himself a seat in the Cabinet without a portfolio. It was a plan to make him and Talleyrand masters of the Government. The Ministers of the day did not trust him, and had no wish to make way for him, and when, on November 6, he proposed that Ministers be heard in the National Assembly, the Archbishop of Bordeaux instigated Montlosier and Lanjuinais to oppose him. Both were men of high character, and both had some attainments; and in their aversion for him, and for his evident self-seeking, they carried a motion forbidding deputies to take office. By this vote, of November 7, which permanently excluded Mirabeau from the councils of the king, the executive was deprived of authority. It is one of the decisive acts of the Constituent Assembly, for it ruined the constitutional monarchy.
Mirabeau was compelled to rely on a dissolution as the only prospect of better things. He knew that the vote was due as much to his own bad name as to a deliberate dislike of the English practice. The question for him now was whether he could accomplish through the Court what was impossible through the Assembly. He at once drew up a paper, exhorting the king to place himself at the head of the Revolution, as its moderator and guide. The Count of Provence refused to submit his plans to the king, but recommended him for the part of a secret adviser. Just then an event occurred, which is mysterious to this day, but which had the effect of bringing Mirabeau into closer relations with the king’s brother. At Christmas, the Marquis de Favras was arrested, and it was discovered that he was a confidential agent of the Prince, who had employed him to raise a loan for a purpose that was never divulged—some said, to carry off the king to a frontier fortress, others suspected a scheme of counter-revolution. For the electoral law excluded the ignorant and the indigent from the franchise, limiting the rights of active citizenship to those who paid a very moderate sum in taxes. It was obvious that this exclusion, by confining power to property, created the raw material for Socialism in the future. Some day a dexterous hand might be laid on the excluded multitude congregated at Paris, to overthrow the government of the middle class. The Constituent Assembly was in danger of being overtrumped, and was necessarily suspicious.
By Mirabeau’s advice, the Count of Provence at once made a public declaration of sound revolutionary sentiments, and disavowed Favras. His speech, delivered at the Hôtel de Ville, was well received and he rose in popular favour. Meantime, his unhappy confederate was tried for treason against the nation, and found guilty. Favras asked whether, on a full and explicit confession, his life would be spared. He was told that nothing could save him. The judge exhorted him to die in silence, like a brave man. The priest who assisted him afterwards professed that he had saved the life of the Count of Provence. Favras underwent his fate with fortitude, keeping his secret to the end. The evidence which would have compromised the prince was taken away, and no historian has seen it. The fatal documents were restored to him when he became king by the daughter of the man who had concealed them.
For some weeks the Count of Provence was ambitious of power, and allowed Mirabeau to put him forward as a kind of Prime Minister, or for a position analogous to that of the Cardinal-nephew in seventeenth-century Rome. He had ability, caution, and, for the moment, popularity; but he was irresolute, indolent, and vain. If anything could be made of him, it was clear that the active partner would be Mirabeau. He was neither loved nor trusted by the king and queen, and with such a confederate at his elbow he might become formidable. Necker devised a plan by which his scheming was easily frustrated. The king appeared before the Assembly, without preliminaries, and delivered an unexpected statement of policy, adopting the entire work of the Revolution, as far as it had gone, and praising in particular the recent division of Provinces into departments.
Every step, until that day, had been taken reluctantly, feebly, under compulsion. Every concession had been a defeat and a surrender. On February 4, under no immediate pressure, Lewis deliberately took the lead of the movement. It was an act, not of weakness, but of policy, not a wound received and acquiesced in, but a stroke delivered. The Assembly responded by at once taking the civic oath to maintain the Constitution. As that instrument did not yet exist, none could say what the demonstration would involve. It was adopted for the sake of committing the remnant of the privileged orders who yielded under protest.
Mirabeau’s aristocratic brother threw away his sword, saying that there was nothing else for a gentleman to do, when the king abandoned his sceptre. Mirabeau himself was indignant with what he called a pantomime; for he said that Ministers had no right to screen their own responsibility behind the inviolate throne. He saw that his patron was ingeniously set aside and stranded, and he conceived that his own profound calculations were baffled. Yet the perspicacity that he seldom wanted failed him at that moment. For the reconciliation of the people with the king, the executive triumphing in its popularity, guiding the Revolution to its goal, was the exact reproduction of his proposals, and was borrowed from his manifestoes.
The significance of this was at once felt by the foreign advisers of the queen. Mercy Argenteau, who had been Austrian ambassador throughout the reign, and who was a faithful and intelligent friend, suggested that if they sincerely accepted the policy, they would do well to take the politician with it, that the Count of Provence could be best disabled by depriving him of his prompter, that the magic is not in the wand but in the hand that waves it. The queen hesitated, for Mirabeau had threatened her in the last days at Versailles, and it was not yet proved that he was not concerned in the attempt to murder her. She declared that nothing would induce her to see him, and she wished for somebody who could undertake to manage him, and who would be responsible for his conduct. Mercy, regardless of her scruples, sent for La Marck, who was at his Belgian home, opposing the Emperor, and fostering a Federal republic, and who in consequence was not in favour with Marie Antoinette. La Marck was intimate with Mirabeau, and kept him in pocket money. He undertook the negotiation, with little hope of a profitable result; and at his house Mercy and Mirabeau had a secret meeting. They parted, well pleased with each other. Mirabeau advised that the king should leave Paris, and the advice bore fruit. Mercy did not declare the intentions of the Court, and Mirabeau continued to act in his own way, treating with Lafayette for money or an embassy, and attacking the clergy, with whose cause Lewis was more and more identified. To this interval belongs the famous scene where he exclaimed that from the place where he stood he could see the window from which a king of France fired on his Protestant subjects. Maury, not perceiving the snare, bounded from his seat, and cried out, “Nonsense! it is not visible from here.”
When he made that speech it is clear that Mirabeau was not exerting himself to secure confidence at Court; and for some weeks in spring the negotiation hung fire. At length, La Marck convinced the queen that his friend had been falsely accused of the crime of October, and the king proposed that he should be asked to write down his views. He peremptorily rejected La Marck’s advice that the Ministers should be admitted to the secret. He avowed to Mercy that he intended soon to change them for men who could co-operate with Mirabeau; but he was resolved not to place himself at once irrevocably in the power of a man in whom he had no confidence, and who was only the subject of an experiment. Consequently, Mirabeau’s first object of attack was the Ministry, and the king’s forces were divided. The position was a false one from end to end; but this hostility to Necker served to disguise the reality. On the 10th of May, 1790, he drew up a paper which La Marck carried to the queen, and which at once had the effect of making the Court zealous to complete the bargain. La Marck asked Mirabeau what were his conditions. He replied that he would be happy on £1000 a year, if his debts could be paid; but he feared that they were too heavy for him to expect it. On inquiry, it turned out that they were a little over £8000. Lewis XVI. offered to clear them off, to give him £3000 a year while the Assembly lasted, and a million francs down whenever it came to an end.
In this way both parties were secure. Mirabeau could not play false, without losing, not only his income, but an eventual sum of £40,000. The king could not cast him off without wasting the considerable sum paid to his creditors. The Archbishop of Toulouse undertook the delicate task of dealing with them; and meeting his debtor constantly, a strange intimacy arose between the two men.
Mirabeau, wild with the joy of his deliverance, forgot all prudence and precaution. He took a town house and a country house; he bought books and pictures, carriages and horses, and gave dinner-parties at which six servants waited on his guests. After a few months he wanted money, and more was given without question. The Government proposed at last to buy him an annuity, with one-fourth of the capital which was to fall due at the dissolution; but the intention was not carried out. The entire sum that Mirabeau received, up to his death, from the king amounted to about £12,000. In return, between June 1 and February 16 he wrote fifty-one notes for the Court discussing the events of the day, and exposing by degrees vast schemes of policy. When they came to be known, half a century ago, they added immeasurably to his fame, and there are people who compare his precepts and prescriptions with the last ten years of Mazarin and the beginning of the Consulate, with the first six years of Metternich or the first eight of Bismarck, or, on a different plane, with the early administration of Chatham.
Mirabeau himself was proud of his new position, and relied on this correspondence to redeem his good name. He was paid to be of his own opinion. The king had gone over to him; he had changed nothing in his views to meet the wishes of the king. His purpose throughout had been the consolidation of representative monarchy on the ruins of absolutism. To the king in league with privilege he was implacably opposed. To the king divested of that complicity he was a convinced and ardent friend.
The opportunity of proving his faith was supplied by Captain Cook. In his last voyage the navigator visited the island since named after his lieutenant Vancouver, and sailed into Nootka Sound, to which, in his report, he drew the attention of the Government. Three or four years before, the Spaniards had been there, and had taken formal possession; and the Russians, spreading southward along the coast, acknowledged their right, and withdrew. But the place was far north of the regions they actually occupied; and English adventurers, with the sanction of the Government, settled there, and opened a trade in peltry with China. After a year or two, the Spaniards came in force, and carried them off, with their ships and their cargoes; and claiming the entire Pacific seaboard, from Cape Horn to Alaska, they called on the English Ministers to punish their intruding countrymen. They also equipped a fleet of forty sail of the line, assuring the British chargé d’affaires that it was only to protect themselves against the Revolution. Pitt was not lulled by these assurances, or by the delivery of the confiscated ships. He had authorised the proceedings of the traders with the intention of resisting the Spanish claim beyond the limits of effective occupation. He now demanded reparation, and fitted out a fleet superior to that with which Nelson crushed the combined navies of France and Spain. Under the treaty of 1761 Spain demanded the support of France. If the French armed, as the Spaniards were arming, there was reason to hope that England, in so very dubious a question, would listen to terms; and if France refused to stand by a manifest engagement, Spain would be free to seek new friends. The Emperor sustained the appeal. It would be well for him if England was diverted from the concerns of Eastern Europe, and if France was occupied in the West. The French Ministers admitted their obligation and began to arm.
On May 14, just after the first negotiation between Mirabeau and the Court, the matter came before the Assembly. It was a common belief that war would strengthen the executive. The democratic leaders repudiated the Family Compact, and resented an alliance which was not national but dynastic and of the essence of those things which they were sweeping away. They sent pacific messages to the British embassy, and claimed for the representative assembly the right of pronouncing on peace and war.
Mirabeau, unlike many others, regarded a European war as a danger to the throne. But he was preparing for civil war, and meant to secure the army and navy on the royal side. He demanded for the king the exclusive right of declaring war and making peace. That is the principle under a constitution where the deputies make the Ministers. In France, Ministers were excluded from parliament and the principle did not apply. Barnave answered Mirabeau, and defeated him. On May 22, in the most powerful constitutional argument he ever delivered, Mirabeau insisted that, if the ultimate decision rested with the Assembly, it could act only on the proposition of the Crown. In legislation, the king had no initiative. Mirabeau established the royal initiative in peace and war. It was the first-fruit of the secret compact. The new ally had proved not only that he was capable and strong, but that he was faithful. For by asking more than he could obtain he had incurred, for the moment, a great loss of credit. The excess of his unwonted royalism made him an object of suspicion from that day. To recover the ground, he issued an amended version of his first speech; but others printed the two texts in parallel columns, and exposed the fraud. He had rendered an important service, and it was done at serious cost to himself. The event cemented the alliance, and secured his position with the king.
The Assembly voted a solemn declaration, that France would never make war for conquest, or against freedom. After that, Spain had little to hope for, and Pitt became defiant. Negotiations lasted till October. The Assembly appointed a Committee on Foreign Affairs, in which Mirabeau predominated, casting all his influence on the side of peace, and earning the gratitude and the gold of England. At last, the mutinous temper of the Brest fleet settled the question.
The great Bourbon alliance was dissolved, and Pitt owed a signal triumph to the revolutionary spirit and the moderating influence of Mirabeau. His defence of the prerogative deserved a reward, and he was received in a secret audience by Marie Antoinette. The interview took place at St. Cloud, July 3. The statesman did not trust his new friends, and he instructed the nephew who drove him, in disguise, to the back door, to fetch the police if he did not reappear in three-quarters of an hour. The conversation was satisfactory, and Mirabeau, as he kissed the queen’s hand, declared with chivalrous fervour that the monarchy was saved. He spoke sincerely. The comedian and deceiver was not the wily and unscrupulous intriguer, but the inexperienced daughter of the Empress-queen. She never believed in his truth. When he continued to thunder against the Right, the king and queen shook their heads, and repeated that he was incorrigible. The last decision they came to in his lifetime was to reject his plans in favour of that which brought them to Varennes. But as the year wore on, they could not help seeing that the sophistical free-lance and giver of despised advice was the most prodigious individual force in the world, and that France had never seen his like. Everybody now perceived it, for his talent and resource increased rapidly, since he was steadied by a definite purpose, and a contract he could never afford to break. The hostile press knew of his visit to St. Cloud three days after it occurred, and pretended to know for how many millions he had sold himself. They were too reckless to obtain belief, but they were very near the truth; and the secret of his correspondence was known or guessed by at least twenty persons.
With this sword hanging over him, with this rope round his neck, in the autumn and winter of 1790, Mirabeau rose to an ascendancy in which he outweighed all parties. He began his notes by an attempt to undermine the two men who stood in his way. Lafayette was too strong for him. On the first anniversary of the Bastille he received an ovation. Forty thousand National Guards assembled from all parts of France for the feast of Federation. At an altar erected in the Champ de Mars, Talleyrand celebrated his last Mass, and France sanctioned the doings of Paris. The king was present, but all the demonstration was for the hero of two hemispheres, on his white charger. In November a new Ministry took office, composed of his partisans. Mirabeau attempted a coalition, but Lafayette did not feel the need of his friendship. He said, “I have resisted the king of England in his power, the king of France in his authority, the people in its rage; I am not going to yield to Mirabeau.”
Necker was less tenacious of office, and rather than consent to an increased issue of assignats, resigned, much to his honour, and retired obscurely. Mirabeau triumphed. He had opposed the assignats at first, although Clavière defended them in his newspaper. He now changed his attitude. He not only affirmed that the Church lands would be adequate security for paper, making it equivalent to gold, but he was willing that the purchase money should be paid in assignats, doing away with bullion altogether. But the cloven hoof appeared when he assured the king that the plan which he defended would fail, and would involve France in ruin. He meant that it would ruin the Assembly, and would enable the king to dissolve. The same Machiavellian purpose guided him in Church questions. He was at heart a Liberal in matters of conscience, and thought toleration too weak a term for the rights inseparable from religion. But he wished the constitutional oath to be imposed with rigour, and that the priests should be encouraged to refuse it. He declined to give a pledge that the Assembly would not interfere with doctrine, and he prepared to raise the questions of celibacy and of divorce in order to aggravate the irritation. He proposed to restore authority by civil war; and the road to civil war was bankruptcy and persecution. Meantime, the court of inquiry vindicated him from aspersions connected with the attack on Versailles; as chairman of the Diplomatic Committee, he was the arbiter of foreign policy; Necker and all his colleagues save one had gone down before him; he was elected President of the Jacobins in November, and when he asked for leave of absence, the Assembly, on the motion of Barnave, requested him not to absent himself. Montmorin, the only member of Necker’s Ministry who remained at his post, made overtures to him, and they came to an understanding. The most remarkable of all the notes to the king is the one that records their conversation. They agreed on a plan of united action. Mirabeau thereupon drew up the 47th note, which is a treatise of constitutional management and intrigue, and discloses his designs in their last phase but one, at Christmas 1790.
Mirabeau never swerved from the fundamental convictions of 1789, and he would have become a republican if Lewis had gone over to the reactionary émigrés. But he wished him to retire to some provincial town, that he might not be in the power of the Assembly, and might be able to disperse it, backed by the growing anger of the country. Meantime, opinion was to be worked and roused by every device. He set himself strenuously to form a central party out of the various groups of deputies. Montmorin was in friendly touch with some of them, and he had the command of money. Mirabeau laboured to gain over others. Late one night he had a long conference with Malouet, whom he dazzled, and who influenced a certain number of votes.
On the other hand, the action of Montmorin extended to Barnave. It seemed reasonable to suppose that a combination which reached from Barnave on the Left to Malouet on the Right would be strong enough either to retrieve its errors, or to break it up, in conjunction with the Court.
At the end of January, 1791, Mirabeau became President for the first time, and he occupied the chair with unforeseen dignity and distinction. He had attained the summit of his career. Just then, the king’s aunts announced their departure for Rome. There was much discontent, because, if they could be detained, it would be more easy to keep the king at Paris. Mirabeau made the Assembly feel that interference with the princesses would be contemptible. Twice they were stopped on their way, and twice released. Everybody saw what this implied, and Paris was agitated. A tumult broke out in the Tuileries garden, which Mirabeau, summoned from table, at once appeased. He was confident in his strength, and when the Assembly discussed measures against emigration, he swore that he would never obey a body guilty of inquisitorial dictation. He quelled the murmurs of the Left by exclaiming, “ Silence aux trente voix! ” This was the date of his breach with the Democrats. It was February 28, and he was to dine with the Duke d’Aiguillon. When he came, the door was shut in his face. By La Marck’s advice, he went that night to the Jacobins, hoping to detach the club from the leaders. But he had shown his hand, and his enemies knew how to employ their opportunity. Duport and Lameth attacked him with extreme violence, aiming at his expulsion. The discussion is not reported. But three of those who were present agree that Mirabeau seemed to be disconcerted and appalled by the strength of the case against him, and sat with the perspiration streaming down his face. His reply was, as usual, an oratorical success; but he did not carry his audience with him, and he went home disheartened. The Jacobin array stood unbroken.
On March 4, Lord Gower wrote that the governing power was passing to Mirabeau. But on the same day he himself avowed to La Marck that he had miscalculated, and was losing courage. On the 25th there was a debate on the Regency, in which he spoke with caution, and dissembled. That day the ambassador again wrote that Mirabeau had shown that he alone was fit for power. Then the end came. Tissot, meeting him soon after the scene at the Jacobins, thought that he looked like a dying man. He was sinking under excess of work combined with excess of dissipation. When he remonstrated with his brother for getting drunk, the other replied, “Why grudge me the only vice you have not appropriated?” It was remembered afterwards, when suspicion arose, that he had several attacks of illness during that month of March. On the 26th he was brought in to Paris from his villa in an alarming condition. La Marck’s interests were concerned in a debate on mineral property which was fixed for the following day. Fortified with a good deal of Tokay, Mirabeau spoke repeatedly. It was the last time. He came back to his friend and said, “Your cause is won, but I am lost.” When his danger became known, it seemed that nothing had occurred to diminish public confidence, or tarnish the lustre of his fame. The crowd that gathered in the street made it almost impossible to approach his door. He was gratified to know that Barnave had called, and liked to hear how much feeling was shown by the people of Paris. After a consultation, which was held on April 1, he made up his mind to die, and signed his will. Talleyrand paid him a long visit, and took away a discourse on the law of Inheritance, which he read in the Assembly before the remains of his friend were cold, but which did not deserve the honour, being, like about thirty of his speeches, the work of a stranger. The presence of Talleyrand, with whom he had quarrelled, was welcome to Mirabeau, who, though not a believer, did not wish it to be thought that he had rejected the consolations of religion. The parish priest came, but, being told of the prelate’s presence, went away; and a report spread that the dying sinner had received the ministrations of a more spiritual ecclesiastic than the Bishop of Autun.
Mirabeau never knew how little the royal personages whom he served esteemed his counsels; and he died believing that he alone could have saved the monarchy, and that it would perish with him. If he had lived, he said that he would have given Pitt trouble, for there was a change in his foreign policy. On January 28 he still spoke of the eternal fraternity of England; but in March he was ready to call out the fleet, in the interest of Russia, and was only prevented by the attack of which he died. Whether he supported England against Spain, or Russia against England, his support was paid for in gold. To his confederates, his illness was a season of terror. If an enemy disguised as a creditor caused seals to be set upon his papers, a discovery must have ensued that would ruin many reputations and imperil many lives. He clung to the secret documents on which he intended that his fame should rest. On the day of his death, when they were deposited with La Marck, the secretary who had transcribed them stabbed himself. On the morning of Saturday, April 2, there was no hope, and Mirabeau asked for opium. He died before the prescription was made up. Several doctors who made the post-mortem examination believed that there were marks of poison; but when they were warned that they would be torn to pieces, and the king also, they held their peace.
Odious as he was, and foredoomed to fail, he was yet the supreme figure of the time. Tocqueville, who wrote the best book, or one of the two best books, on the subject, looking to the permanent result, describes the Revolution as having continued and completed the work of the monarchy by intensifying the unity of power. It is more true to say that the original and essential spirit of the movement was decentralisation—to take away from the executive government, and to give to local authorities. The executive could not govern, because it was obliged to transmit orders to agents not its own, whom it neither appointed nor dismissed nor controlled. The king was deprived of administrative power, as he had been deprived of legislative power. That distrust, reasonable in the old régime, ought to have ceased, when the Ministers appointed by the king were deputies presented by the Assembly. That was the idea by which Mirabeau would have preserved the Revolution from degenerating through excess of decentralisation into tyranny. As a Minister, he might have saved the Constitution. It is not to the discredit of the Assembly that the horror which his life inspired made his genius inefficient, and that their labours failed because they deemed him too bad for power.
If Mirabeau is tried by the test of public morals, the only standard of political conduct on which men may be expected to agree, the verdict cannot be doubtful. His ultimate policy was one vast intrigue, and he avowedly strove to do evil that good might come. The thing is hardly less infamous in the founder of the Left Centre than in Maury and his unscrupulous colleagues of the Right. There was at no time a prospect of success, for he never had the king or the queen for one moment with him.
The answer is different if we try him by a purely political test, and ask whether he desired power for the whole or freedom for the parts. Mirabeau was not only a friend of freedom, which is a term to be defined, but a friend of federalism, which both Montesquieu and Rousseau regarded as the condition of freedom. When he spoke confidentially, he said that there was no other way in which a great country like France could be free. If in this he was sincere, and I believe that he was sincere, he deserves the great place he holds in the memory of his countrymen.