« VorigeDoorgaan »
ers of his works in their original form, and indeed to all readers of those works who did not bring great industry and great acuteness to the study, he seemed to be a man of a quick and ingenious but ill-regulated 'mind, who saw truth only by glimpses, who threw out many striking hints, but who had never thought of combining his doctrines in one harmonious whole.
surprised and mortified to learn, that he speak with very little respect of the French Revolu tion, and of its authors. Some zealous Tories have naturally expressed great satisfaction al finding their doctrines, in some respects, confirmed by the testimony of an unwilling wit ness. The date of the work, we think, explains every thing. If it had been written ten years earlier, or twenty years later, it would have
M. Dumont was admirably qualified to sup-been very different from what it is. It was ply what was wanting in Mr. Bentham. In the written, neither during the first excitement of qualities in which the French writers surpass the Revolution, nor at that later period, when those of all other nations—neatness, clearness, the practical good produced by the Revolution precision, condensation-he surpassed all had become manifest to the most prejudiced French writers. If M. Dumont had never been observers; but in those wretched times, when born, Mr. Bentham would still have been a the enthusiasm had abated, and the solid advery great man. But he would have been vantages were not yet fully seen. It was writgreat to himself alone. The fertility of his ten in the year 1799, a year in which the most mind would have resembled the fertility of sanguine friend of liberty might well feel some those vast American wildernesses, in which misgivings as to the effects of what the National blossoms and decays a rich but unprofitable Assembly had done. The evils which attend vegetation, "wherewith the reaper filleth not every great change had been severely felt. his hand, neither he that bindeth up the sheaves The benefit was still to come. The price, a his bosom." It would have been with his dis- heavy price, had been paid. The thing purcoveries as it has been with the "Century of chased had not yet been delivered. Europe Inventions." His speculations on laws would was swarming with French exiles. The fleets have been of no more practical use than Lord and armies of the second coalition were victoWorcester's speculations on steam-engines. rious. Within France, the reign of terror was Some generations hence, perhaps, when legis- over; but the reign of law had not commenced lation has found its Watt, an antiquary might There had been, indeed, during three or four have published to the world the curious fact, years, a written constitution, by which rights that in the reign of George the Third there had were defined, and checks provided. But these been a man called Bentham, who had given rights had been repeatedly violated, and those hints of many discoveries made since his time, checks had proved utterly inefficient. The and who had really, for his age, taken a most laws which had been framed to secure the dis philosophical view of the principles of juris- tinct authority of the executive magistrates prudence. and of the legislative assemblies-the freedom of election, the freedom of debate, the freedom of the press, the personal freedom of citizens -were a dead letter. The ordinary mode in which the republic was governed, was by coups d'état. On one occasion, the legislative councils were placed under military restraint by the directors. Then again, directors were deposed by the legislative councils. Elections were set aside by the executive authority. Ship loads of writers and speakers were sent, without a legal trial, to die of fever in Guiana. France, in short, was in that state in which revolutions, effected by violence, almost always leave a nation. The habit of obedience had been lost. The spell of proscription had been broken. Those associations on which, far more than on any arguments about property and order, the authority of magistrates rests, had completely passed away. The power of the government consisted merely in the physi cal force which it could bring to its support. Moral force it had none. It was itself a government sprung from a recent convulsion. Its own fundamental maxim was, that rebellion might be justifiable. Its own existence proved that rebellion might be successful. The people had been accustomed, during several years, to offer resistance to the constituted authorities on the slightest provocation, and to see the con stituted authorities yield to that resistance The whole political world was "without form and void". an incessant whirl of hostile atoms, which every moment formed some new combination. The only man who could fix the
Many persons have attempted to interpret between this powerful mind and the public. But, in our opinion, M. Dumont alone has succeeded. It is remarkable that, in foreign countries, where Mr. Bentham's works are known solely through the medium of the French version, his merit is almost universally acknowledged. Even those who are most decidedly opposed to his political opinions, the very chiefs of the Holy Alliance, have publicly testified their respect for him. In England, on the contrary, many persons who certainly entertained no prejudice against him on political grounds, were long in the habit of mentioning him contemptuously. Indeed, what was said of Bacon's philosophy may be said of Bentham's. It was of little repute among us till judgments in its favour came from beyond sea, and convinced us, to our shame, that we had been abusing and laughing at one of the greatest men of the age.
M. Dumont might easily have found employments more gratifying to personal vanity, than that of arranging works not his own. But he could have found no employment more useful or more truly honourable. The book before us, hastily written as it is, contains abundant proof, if proof were needed. that he did not become an editor because he wanted the talents which would have made him eminent as a writer.
Persons who hold democratical opinions, and who have been accustomed to consider M. Dumont as one of their party, have been
agitated elements of society in a stable form, | perceive where their error lay. We can per was following a wild vision of glory and em-ceive that the evil was temporary, and the pire through the Syrian deserts. The time was good durable. But we cannot be sure, that, if not yet come, when our lot had been cast in their times, we should not, like them, have been discouraged and disgusted; that we should not, like them, have seen, in that great victory of the French peoso-ple, only insanity and crime.
"Confusion heard his voice, and wild uproar stood ruled;"
when, out of the chaos into which the old ciety had been resolved, were to rise a new dynasty, a new peerage, a new church, and a new code.
The dying words of Madame Roland, "Oh Liberty! how many crimes are committed in thy name!" were at that time echoed by many of the most upright and benevolent of mankind. M. Guizot has, in one of his admirable pamphlets, happily and justly described M. Lainé as "an honest and liberal man, discouraged by the Revolution." This description, at the time when M. Dumont's Memoirs were written, would have applied to almost every honest and liberal man in Europe; and would, beyond all doubt, have applied to M. Dumont himself. To that fanatical worship of the all-wise and allgood people, which had been common a few years before, had succeeded an uneasy suspicion that the follies and vices of the people would frustrate all attempts to serve them. The wild and joyous exultation with which the meeting of the States-General and the fall of the Bastile had been hailed, had passed away. In its place was dejection, and a gloomy distrust of specious appearances. The philosophers and philanthropists had reigned. And what had their reign produced? Philosophy had brought with it mummeries as absurd as any which had been practised by the most su perstitious zealot of the darkest age. Philanthropy had brought with it crimes as horrible as the massacre of St. Bartholomew. This was the emancipation of the human mind. These were the fruits of the great victory of reason over prejudice. France had rejected the faith of Pascal and Descartes as a nursery fable, that a courtesan might be her idol, and a madman her priest. She had asserted her freedom against Louis, that she might bow down before Robespierre. For a time men thought, that all the boasted wisdom of the eighteenth century was folly; and that those hopes of great political and social ameliorations, which had been cherished by Voltaire and Cordorcet, were utterly delusive.
It is curious to observe how some men are applauded, and others reviled, for merely being what all their neighbours are, for merely going positively down the stream of events, for merely representing the opinions and passions of a whole generation. The friends of popular government ordinarily speak with extreme severity of Mr. Pitt, and with respect and tenderness of Mr. Canning. Yet the whole dif ference, we suspect, consisted merely in this: that Mr. Pitt died in 1806, and Mr. Canning in 1827. During the years which were common to the public life of both, Mr. Canning was assuredly not a more illiberal statesman than his patron. The truth is, that Mr. Pitt began his political life at the end of the American War, when the nation was suffering from the effects of corruption. He closed it in the midst of the calamities produced by the French Revolution, when the nation was strongly im pressed with the horrors of anarchy. He changed, undoubtedly. In his youth he had brought in reform bills. In his manhood he brought in gagging bills. But the change, though lamentable, was, in our opinion, perfectly natural, and might have been perfectly honest. He changed with the great body of his countrymen. Mr. Canning, on the other hand, entered into public life when Europe was in dread of the Jacobins. He closed his public life when Europe was suffer. ing under the tyranny of the Holy Alliance. He, too, changed with the nation. As the crimes of the Jacobins had turned the master into something very like a Tory, the events which followed the Congress of Vienna turned the pupil into something very like a Whig.
So much are men the creatures of circumstances. We see that, if M. Dumont had died in 1799, he would have died, to use the new cant word, a decided "conservative." If Mr. Pitt had lived to 1832, it is our firm belief that he would have been a decided reformer.
The judgment passed by M. Dumont in this work on the French Revolution must be taken with considerable allowances. It resembles a criticism on a play, of which only the first act has been performed, or on a building from which the scaffolding has not yet been taken down. We have no doubt, that if the excelent author had revised these memoirs thirty years after the time at which they were written, he would have seen reason to omit a few pas sages, and to add many qualifications and ex
Under the influence of these feelings, M. Dumont has gone so far as to say, that the writings of Mr. Burke on the French Revolution, though disfigured by exaggeration, and though containing doctrines subversive of all public liberty, had been, on the whole, justified by events, and had probably saved Europe from great disasters. That such a man as the friend and fellow-labourer of Mr. Bentham, should have expressed such an opinion, is a circum-planations. stance which well deserves the consideration He would not probably have been incline of uncharitable politicians. These Memoirs to retract the censures, just, though sever have not convinced us that the French Revo- which he has passed on the ignorance, the pie lution was not a great blessing to mankind. sumption, and the pedantry of the National As But they have convinced us that very great sembly. But he would have admitted that, in indulgence is due to those, who, while the Re-spite of those faults, perhaps even by reason volution was actually taking place, regarded it of those faults, that Assembly had conferred with unmixed aversion and horror. We can inestimable benefits on mankind. It is clear
kind than was produced by their fierce and senseless temerity. Demolition is undoubtedly a vulgar task; the highest glory of the statesman is to construct. But there is a time for every thing, a time to set up, and a time to pull down. The talents of revolutionary leaders, and those of the legislator, have equally their use and their season. It is the natural, the almost universal law, that the age of insurrections and proscriptions shall precede the age of good government, of temperate liberty, and liberal order.
hat among the French of that day, political knowledge was absolutely in its infancy. It would indeed have been strange if it had attained maturity in the time of censors, of lettres-de-cachet, and of beds of justice. The electors did not know how to elect. The representatives did not know how to deliberate. M. Dumont taught the constituent body of Montreuil how to perform their functions, and found them apt to learn. He afterwards tried in concert with Mirabeau, to instruct the National Assembly in that admirable system of parliamentary tactics which has been long And how should it be otherwise? It is not established in the English House of Commons, in swaddling-bands that we learn to walk. K and which has made the House of Commons, is not in the dark that we learn to distinguish in spite of all the defects in its composition, colours. It is not under oppression that we the best and fairest debating society in the learn how to use freedom. The ordinary world. But these accomplished legislators, sophism by which misrule is defended is, though quite as ignorant as the mob of Mon- when truly stated, this: The people must contreuil, proved much less docile, and cried out tinue in slavery, because slavery has genethat they did not want to go to school to the rated in them all the vices of slaves. Because English. Their debates consisted of endless they are ignorant, they must remain under a successions of trashy pamphlets, all beginning power which has made and which keeps them with something about the original compact of ignorant. Because they have been made ferosociety, man in the hunting state, and other cious by misgovernment, they must be missuch foolery. They sometimes diversified and governed forever. If the system under which enlivened these long readings by a little riot- they live were so mild and liberal, that under ing. They bawled; they hooted; they shook its operation they had become humane and their fists. They kept no order among them- enlightened, it would be safe to venture on a selves. They were insulted with impunity by change. But as this system has destroyed the crowd which filled their galleries. They morality, and prevented the development of gave long and solemn consideration to trifles. the intellect; as it has turned men who might, They hurried through the most important re- under different training, have formed a virtusolutions with fearful expedition. They wast-ous and happy community, into savage and ed months in quibbling about the words of that stupid wild beasts, therefore it ought to last forfalse and childish Declaration of Rights on ever. The English Revolution, it is said, was which they professed to found their new con- truly a glorious revolution. Practical evils stitution, and which was at irreconcilable were redressed; no excesses were committed; variance with every clause of that constitu- no sweeping confiscations took place; the aution. They annihilated in a single night pri-thority of the laws was scarcely for a moment vileges, many of which partook of the nature suspended; the fullest and freest discussion of property, and ought therefore to have been was tolerated in Parliament; the nation showmost delicately handled. ed by the calm and temperate manner in which it asserted its liberty, that it was fit to enjoy liberty. The French Revolution was, on the other hand, the most horrible event recorded in history, all madness and wickedness, absurdity in theory, and atrocity in practice. What folly and injustice in the revolutionary laws! What grotesque affectation in the revolutionary ceremonies! What fanaticism! What licentiousness! What cruelty! Anacharsis Clootz and Marat, feasts of the Supreme Being, and marriages of the Loire, trees of liberty, and heads dancing on pikes-the whole forms a kind of infernal farce, made up of every thing ridiculous and every thing frightful. This it is to give freedom to those who have neither wisdom nor virtue. It is not only by bad men interested in the defence of abuses, that arguments like these have been urged against all schemes of political improve ment. Some of the highest and purest of hu man beings conceived such scorn and aver sion for the follies and crimes of the French Revolution, that they recanted, in the moment of triumph, those liberal opinions to which they had clung in defiance of persecution And if we inquire why it was that they began to doubt whether liberty were a blessing, we shall find that it was only because events had
They are called the Constituent Assembly. Never was a name less appropriate. They were not constituent, but the very reverse of constituent. They constituted nothing that stood, or that deserved to last. They had not, and they could not possibly have, the information or the habits of mind which are necessary for the framing of that most exquisite of all machines, a government. The metaphysical cant with which they prefaced their constitution has long been the scoff of all parties. Their constitution itself, that constitution which they described as absolutely perfect, and to which they predicted immortality, disappeared in a few months, and left no trace behind it. They were great only in the work of destruc tion.
The glory of the National Assembly is this, that they were in truth, what Mr. Burke called them in austere irony, the ablest architects of ruin that ever the world saw. They were utterly incompetent to perform any work which required a discriminating eye and a skilful hand. But the work which was then to be done was a work of devastation. They had to deal with abuses so horrible and so deeply rooted, that the highest political wisdom could scarcely have produced greater good to man
'proved, in the clearest manner, that liberty is tion, victims were sent to death by scores for the parent of virtue and of order. They ceased the most trifling acts proved by the lowest testo abhor tyranny merely because it had been timony, before the most partial tribunals. Afsignally shown, that the effect of tyranny on the ter the second revolution, those ministers who hearts and understandings of men is more de- had signed the ordinances-those ministers, moralizing and more stupefying than had ever whose guilt, as it was of the foulest kind, was been imagined by the most zealous friend of proved by the clearest evidence—were punishpopular rights. The truth is, that a stronger ed only with imprisonment. In the first revoargument against the old monarchy of France lution, property was attacked. In the second, may be drawn from the noyades and the fusi- it was held sacred. Both revolutions, it is lades, than from the Bastille and the Parc-aux- true, left the public mind of France in an uncerfs. We believe it to be a rule without an settled state. Both revolutions were followed exception, that the violence of a revolution by insurrectionary movements. But after the corresponds to the degree of misgovernment first revolution, the insurgents were almost which has produced that revolution. Why was always stronger than the law; and since the the French Revolution so bloody and destruc- second revolution, the law has invariably been tive! Why was our revolution of 1641 com- found stronger than the insurgents. There is, paratively mild? Why was our revolution of indeed, much in the present state of France 1688 milder still? Why was the American which may well excite the uneasiness of those Revolution, considered as an internal move- who desire to see her free, happy, powerful, ment, the mildest of all? There is an obvious and secure. Yet if we compare the present and complete solution of the problem. The state of France with the state in which she English under James the First and Charles the was forty years ago, how vast a change for First were less oppressed than the French the better has taken place! How little effect, under Louis the Fifteenth and Louis the Six-for example, during the first revolution, would teenth. The English were less oppressed the sentence of a judicial body have produced after the Restoration than before the great Re- on an armed and victorious party! If, after bellion. And America, under George the Third, the tenth of August, or after the proscription was less oppressed than England under the of the Gironde, or after the ninth of Thermidor, Stuarts. The reaction was exactly proportion- or after the carnage of Vendemiaire, or after ed to the pressure-the vengeance to the pro- the arrests of Fructidor, any tribunal had deVocation. cided against the conquerors in favour of the conquered, with what contempt, with what derision, would its award have been received! The judges would have lost their heads, or would have been sent to die in some unwholesome colony. The fate of the victim whom they had endeavoured to save would only have been made darker and more hopeless by their interference. We have lately seen a sig nal proof that in France, the law is now stronger than the sword. We have seen a government, in the very moment of triumph and revenge, submitting itself to the authority of a
When Mr. Burke was reminded in his later years of the zeal which he had displayed in the cause of the Americans, he vindicated himself from the charge of inconsistency, by contrasting the wisdom and moderation of the colonial insurgents of 1776, with the fanaticism and wickedness of the Jacobins of 1792. He was in fact bringing an argument à fortiori against himself. The circumstances on which he rested his vindication fully proved that the old government of France stood in far more need of a complete change than the old government of America. The difference between Wash-court of law. A just and independent sentence ington and Robespierre, the difference between has been pronounced;—a sentence worthy of Franklin and Barrére, the difference between the ancient renown of that magistracy, to the destruction of a few barrels of tea and the which belong the noblest recollections of confiscation of thousands of square miles, the French history; which, in an age of persecu difference between the tarring and feathering tors, produced L'Hopital; which, in an age of of a tax-gatherer and the massacres of Sep- courtiers, produced D'Aguesseau; which, in tember, measure the difference between the an age of wickedness and madness, exhibited government of America under the rule of Eng- to mankind a pattern of every virtue in the land, and the government of France under the life and in the death of Malesherbes. The rerule of the Bourbons. spectful manner in which that sentence has been received, is alone sufficient to show how widely the French of this generation differ from their fathers. And how is the difference to be explained? The race, the soil, the cli. mate, are the same. If those dull, honest Englishmen, who explain the events of 1793 and 1794, by saying that the French are naturally frivolous and cruel, were in the right, why is the guillotine now standing idle? Not surely for want of Carlists, of aristocrats, of people guilty of incivism, of people suspected of being suspicious characters. Is not the true explanation this, that the Frenchman of 1832 has been far better governed than the French man of 1789, that his soul has never beer galled by the oppressive privileges of a sepa
Louis the Sixteenth made great voluntary concessions to his people; and they sent him to the scaffold. Charles the Tenth violated the fundamental laws of the state, established a despotism, and butchered his subjects for not submitting quietly to that despotism. He failed in his wicked attempt. He was at the mercy of those whom he had injured. The pavements of Paris were still heaped up in barricades; the hospitals were still full of the wounded; the dead were still unburied; a thousand families were in mourning; a hundred thousand citizens were in arms. The crime was recent; the life of the criminal was in the hands of the sufferers; and they touched not one hair of his head. In the first revoluVOL. II-24
rate caste, that he has been in some degree | fifty years of liberty. During many genera accustomed to discuss political questions, and tions we have had legislative assemblies which, to perform political functions, that he has however defective their constitution might be, lived for seventeen or eighteen years under in- have always contained many members chosen stitutions which, however defective, have yet by the people, and many others eager to obtain been far superior to any institutions that had the approbation of the people; assemblies in before existed in France? which perfect freedom of debate was allowed; assemblies in which the smallest minority had a fair hearing; assemblies in which abuses, even when they were not redressed, were at least exposed. For many generations we have had the trial by jury, the Habeas Corpus Act, the freedom of the press, the right of meeting to discuss public affairs, the right of petitioning the legislature. A vast portion of the population has long been accustomed to the exercise of political functions, and has been thoroughly seasoned to political excitement. In most other countries there is no middle course between absolute submission and open rebellion. In England there has always been for centuries a constitutional opposition. Thus our institutions had been so good, that they had educated us into a capacity for better institutions. There is not a large town in the kingdom which does not contain better materials for a legislature than all France could furnish in 1789. There is not a spouting-club at any pothouse in London in which the rules of debate are not better understood, and more strictly observed, than in the Constituent Assembly. There is scarcely a Political Union which could not frame in half an hour a de claration of rights superior to that which occupied the collective wisdom of France for seve
As the second French Revolution has been far milder than the first, so that great change which has just been effected in England, has been milder even than the second French Revolution; milder than any revolution recorded in history. Some orators have described the reform of the House of Commons as a revolution. Others have denied the propriety of the term. The question, though in seeming merely a question of definition, suggests much curious and interesting matter for reflection. If we look at the magnitude of the reform, it may well be called a revolution. If we look at the means by which it has been effected, it is merely an act of Parliament, regularly brought in, read, committed, and passed. In the whole history of England, there is no prouder circumstance than this; that a change which could not, in any other age, or in any other country, have been effected without physical violence, should here have been effected by the force of reason, and under the forms of law. The work of three civil wars has been accomplished by three sessions of Parliament. An ancient and deeply rooted system of abuses has been fiercely attacked and stubbornly defended. It has fallen; and not one sword has been drawn; not one estate has been confiscated; not one family has been forced to emi-ral months. grate. The bank has kept its credit. The funds have kept their price. Every man has gone forth to his work and to his labour till the evening. During the fiercest excitement of the contest, during the first fortnight of that immortal May, there was not one moment at which any sanguinary act committed on the person of any of the most unpopular men in England, would not have filled the country with horror and indignation.
It would be impossible even to glance at all the causes of the French Revolution within the limits to which we must confine ourselves. One thing is clear. The government, the aristocracy, and the church, were rewarded after their works. They reaped that which they had sown. They found the nation such as they had made it. That the people had become possessed of irresistible power before they had attained the slightest knowledge of the art of government; that practical questions of vast moment were left to be solved by men to whom politics had been only matter of theory; that a legislature was composed of persons who were scarcely fit to compose a debating society; that the whole nation was ready to lend an ear to any flatterer who appealed to its cupidity, to its fears, or to its thirst for vengeance-all this was the effect of misrule, obstinately continued, in defiance of solemn warnings and of the visible signs of an approaching retribution.
Even while the monarchy seemed to be in its highest and most palmy state, the causes of that great destruction had already begun to operate. They may be distinctly traced even under the reign of Louis the Fourteenth. That reign is the time to which the Ultra-Royalists refer as the Golden Age of France. It was in truth one of those To what are we to attribute the unparalleled periods which shine with an unnatural and moderation and humanity which the English delusive splendour, and which are rapidly people have displayed at this great conjunc-followed by gloom and decay. ture? The answer is plain. This moderation, Concerning Louis the Fourteenth himself, bis humanity, are the fruits of a hundred and the world seems at last to have formed a cor
And now that the victory is won, has it been abused? An immense mass of power has been transferred from an oligarchy to the nation. Are the members of the vanquished oligarchy insecure? Does the nation seem disposed to play the tyrant? Are not those who, in any other state of society, would have been visited with the severest vengeance of the triumphant party-would have been pining in dungeons, or flying to foreign countriesstill enjoying their possessions and their honours, still taking part as freely as ever in public affairs? Two years ago they were dominant. They are now vanquished. Yet the whole people would regard with horror any man who should dare to propose any vindictive measure. So common is this feeling, to much is it a matter of course among us, that many of our readers will scarcely understand what we see to admire in it.