« VorigeDoorgaan »
rect judgment. He was not a great general; singularly applicable, both in its literal and in he was not a great statesman; but he was, in its metaphorical sense, to Louis the Fourone sense of the words, a great king. Never teenth: was there so consummate a master of what our James the First would have called kingcraft-of all those arts which most advantageously display the merits of a prince, and most completely hide his defects. Though his internal administration was bad, though the military triumphs which gave splendour to the early part of his reign were not achieved by himself, though his later years were crowded with defeats and humiliations, though he was so ignorant that he scarcely understood the Latin of his massbook, though he fell under the control of a cunning Jesuit and of a more cunning old woman, he succeeded in passing himself off on his people as a being above humanity. And this is the more extraordinary, because he did not seclude himself from the public gaze like those Oriental despots whose faces are never seen, and whose very names it is a crime to pronounce lightly. It has been said that no man is a hero to his valet; and He left to his infant successor a famished all the world saw as much of Louis the Four- and miserable people, a beaten and humbled teenth as his valet could see. Five hundred army, provinces turned into deserts by misgopeople assembled to see him shave and put on vernment and persecution, factions dividing his breeches in the morning. He then kneeled the court, a schism raging in the church, an down at the side of his bed, and said his prayer, immense debt, an empty treasury, immeasurawhile the whole assembly awaited the end in ble palaces, an innumerable household, inessolemn silence, the ecclesiastics on their knees, timable jewels and furniture. All the sap and and the laymen with their hats before their nutriment of the state seemed to have been faces. He walked about his gardens with a drawn to feed one bloated and unwholesome train of two hundred courtiers at his heels. excrescence. The nation was withered. The All Versailles came to see him dine and sup. court was morbidly flourishing. Yet it does He was put to bed at night in the midst of a not appear that the associations which attach crowd as great as that which had met to see ed the people to the monarchy had lost strength him rise in the morning. He took his very during his reign. He had neglected or sacri emetics in state, and vomited majestically in ficed their dearest interests; but he had struck the presence of all the grandes and petites en- their imaginations. The very things which trées. Yet though he constantly exposed him- ought to have made him most unpopular-the self to the public gaze in situations in which prodigies of luxury and magnificence with it is scarcely possible for any man to preserve which his person was surrounded, while, be much personal dignity, he to the last impress- yond the enclosure of his parks, nothing was ed those who surrounded him with the deepest to be seen but starvation and despair-seemed awe and reverence. The illusion which he to increase the respectful attachment which produced on his worshippers can be compared his subjects felt for him. That governments only to those illusions to which lovers are exist only for the good of the people, appears proverbially subject during the season of to be the most obvious and simple of all courtship. It was an illusion which affected truths. Yet history proves that it is one of even the senses. The contemporaries of the most recondite. We can scarcely wonder Louis thought him tall. Voltaire, who might that it should be so seldom present to the have seen him, and who had lived with some minds of rulers, when we see how slowly, and of the most distinguished members of his through how much suffering, nations arrive at court, speaks repeatedly of his majestic sta- the knowledge of it. ture. Yet it is as certain as any fact can be, that he was rather below than above the middle size. He had, it seems, a way of holding himself, a way of walking, a way of swelling his chest and rearing his head, which deceived the eyes of the multitude. Eighty years after his death, the royal cemetery was violated by the revolutionists; his coffin was opened; his body was dragged out; and it appeared that the prince, whose majestic figure had been so long and loudly extolled, was in truth a little That fine expression of Juvenal is
Even M. de Chateaubriand, to whom, we should bave thought, all the Bourbons would have seemed at east six feet high, admits this fact. "C'est une ereur," says he in his strange memoirs of the Duke of
"Mors sola fatetur Quantula sint hominum corpuscula." His person and his government have had the same fate. He had the art of making both appear grand and august, in spite of the clearest evidence that both were below the ordinary standard. Death and time have exposed both the deceptions. The body of the great king has been measured more justly than it was measured by the courtiers who were afraid to look above his shoe-tie. His public character has been scrutinized by men free from the hopes and fears of Boileau and Molière. In the grave, the most majestic of princes is only five feet eight. In history, the hero and the politician dwindles into a vain and feeble tyrant, the slave of priests and women, little in war, little in government, little in every thing but the art of simulating greatness.
There was indeed one Frenchman who had discovered those principles which it now seems impossible to miss-that the many are not made for the use of one; that the truly good government is not that which concentrates magnificence in a court, but that which diffuses happiness among a people; that a king who gains victory after victory, and adds province to province, may deserve, not the admiration, but the abhorrence and contempl of mankind. These were the doctrines which Fénélon taught. Considered as an Epic Poem,
Berri, "de croire que Louis XIV. étoit d'une haute sta ture. Une cuirasse qui nous reste de lui, et les exhuma tions de St. Denys, n'ont laissé sur ce point aucun doute."
Telemachus can scarcely be placed above Glover's Leonidas or Wilkie's Epigoniad. Considered as a treatise on politics and morals, it abounds with errors of detail, and the truths which it inculcates seem trite to a modern reader. But if we compare the spirit in which it is written with the spirit which pervades the rest of the French literature of that age, we shall perceive that, though in appearance trite, it was in truth one of the most original works that have ever appeared. The fundamental principles of Fénélon's political morality, the tests by which he judged of institutions and of men, were absolutely new to his countrymen. He had taught them, indeed, with the happiest effect, to his royal pupil. But how incomprehensible they were to most people, we learn from Saint Simon. That amusing writer tells us, as a thing almost incredible, that the Duke of Burgundy declared it to be his opinion, that kings existed for the good of the people, and not the people for the good of kings. Saint Simon is delighted with the benevolence of this saying; but startled by its novelty and terrified by its boldness. Indeed he distinctly says, that it was not safe to repeat the sentiment in the court of Louis. Saint Simon was, of all the members of that court, the least courtly. He was as nearly an oppositionist as any man of his time. His disposition was proud, bitter, and cynical. In religion he was a Jansenist; in politics, a less hearty royalist than most of his neighbours. His opinions and his temper had preserved him from the illusions which the demeanour of Louis produced on others. He neither loved nor respected the king. Yet even this Disease and sorrow removed from the world man, one of the most liberal men in France, that wisdom and virtue of which it was not was struck dumb with astonishment at hear-worthy. During two generations France was ing the fundamental axiom of all government ruled by men who, with all the vices of Louis propounded-an axiom which, in our time, the Fourteenth, had none of the art by whic nobody in England or France would dispute that magnificent prince passed off his vices for which the stoutest Tory takes for granted as virtues. The people had now to see tyranny much as the fiercest Radical, and concerning naked. That foul Duessa was stripped of her which the Carlist would agree with the most gorgeous ornaments. She had always been republican deputy of the "extreme left." No hideous; but a strange enchantment had made person will do justice to Fénélon, who does her seem fair and glorious in the eyes of her not stantly keep in mind that Telemachus willing slaves. The spell was now broken; was written in an age and nation in which the deformity was made manifest; and the hold and independent thinkers stared to hear lovers, lately so happy and so proud, turned that twenty millions of human beings did not away loathing and horror-struck. exist for the gratification of one. That work is commonly considered as a school-book, very fit for children, because its style is easy and its morality blameless; but unworthy of the attention of statesmen and philosophers. We can distinguish in it, if we are not greatly mistaken, the first faint dawn of a long and splendid day of intellectual light, the dim promise of a great deliverance, the undeveloped germ of the charter and of the code.
remain to us of that extraordinary man. The fierce and impetuous temper which he showed in early youth, the complete change which a judicious education produced in his character, his fervid piety, his large benevolence, the strictness with which he judged himself, the liberality with which he judged others, the fortitude with which alone, in the whole court, he stood up against the commands of Louis, when a religious scruple was concerned, the charity with which alone, in the whole court, he defended the profligate Orleans against calumniators, his great projects for the good of the people, his activity in business, his taste for letters, his strong domestic attachments, even the ungraceful person and the shy and awkward manner, which concealed from the eyes of the sneering courtiers of his grandfather so many rare endowments-make his character the most interesting that is to be found in the annals of his house. He had resolved, if he came to the throne, to disperse that ostentatious court, which was supported at an ex pense ruinous to the nation; to preserve peace; to correct the abuses which were found in every part of the system of revenue; to abolish or modify oppressive privileges; to reform the administration of justice; to revive the institution of the States-General. If he had ruled over France during forty or fifty years. that great movement of the human mine which no government could have arrested, which bad government only rendered more violent, would, we are inclined to think, have been conducted, by peaceable means, to a happy termination.
First came the regency. The strictness with which Louis had, towards the close of his life, exacted from those around him an outward attention to religious duties, produced an effect similar to that which the rigour of the Puritans had produced in England. It was the boast of Madame de Maintenon, in the time of her greatness, that devotion had become the fashion. A fashion indeed it was, and, like a fashion, it passed away. The austerity of the tyrant's old age had injured the morality of the higher orders more than even the licentiousness of his youth. Not only had he not reformed their vices, but, by forcing them to be hypocrites, he had shaken their belief in virtue. They had found it so easy to perform the grimace of
What mighty interests were staked on the life of the Duke of Burgundy! and how different an aspect might the history of France have borne, if he had attained the age of his grandfather or of his son; if he had been permitted to show how much could be done for humanity by the highest virtue in the highest piety, that it was natural for them to consider fortune! There is scarcely any thing in history all piety as grimace. The times were changed. more remarkable, than the descriptions which | Pensions, regiments, and abbeys were no
eror. She de When Orleans and the wretched Dubois had disappeared, the power passed to the Duke of Bourbon; a prince degraded in the public eye by the infamously lucrative part which he had taken in the juggles of the System, and by the humility with which he bore the caprices of a loose and imperious woman. It seemed to be decreed that every branch of the royal family should successively incur the abhorrence and contempt of the nation.
The Regent was in many respects the facsimile of our Charles the Second. Like Charles, Between the fall of the Duke of Bourbon and he was a good-natured man, utterly destitute the death of Fleury, a few years of frugal and of sensibility. Like Charles, he had good na- moderate government intervened. Then retural talents, which a deplorable indolence commenced the downward progress of the rendered useless to the state. Like Charles, monarchy. Profligacy in the court, extravahe thought all men corrupt and interested, and gance in the finances, schism in the church, yet did not dislike them for being so. His opi- faction in the Parliaments, unjust war terminion of human nature was Gulliver's; but he nated by ignominious peace—all that indicates did not regard human nature with Gulliver's and all that produces the ruin of great empires, horror. He thought that he and his fellow-make up the history of that miserable period. creatures were Yahoos; and he thought a Abroad, the French were beaten and humbled Yahoo a very agreeable kind of animal. No everywhere, by land and by sea, on the Elbe princes were ever more social than Charles and on the Rhine, in Asia and in America. At and Philip of Orleans; yet no princes ever had home, they were turned over from vizier to less capacity for friendship. The tempers of vizier, and from sultan to sultan, till they had these clever cynics were so easy and their reached that point beneath which there was no minds so languid, that habit supplied in them lower abyss of infamy, till the yoke of Maupeou the place of affection, and made them the had made them pine for Choiseul, till Madame tools of people for whom they cared not one du Barri had taught them to regret Madame de straw. In love, both were mere sensualists, Pompadour. without delicacy or tenderness. In politics, ooth were utterly careless of faith and of national honour. Charles shut up the Exchequer. Philip patronised the System. The councils of Charles were swayed by the gold of Barillon; the councils of Philip by the gold of Walpole. Charles for private objects made war on Holland, the natural ally of England. Philip for private objects made war on the Spanish branch of the house of Bourbon, the natural ally, indeed the creature of France. Even in trifling circumstances the parallel might be carried on. Both these princes were fond of experimental philosophy; and passed in the laboratory much time which would have been more advantageously passed at the counciltable. Both were more strongly attached to their female relatives than to any other human being; and in both cases it was suspected that this attachment was not perfectly innocent. In personal courage, and in all the virtues which are connected with personal courage, the Regent was indisputably superior to Charles. Indeed Charles but narrowly escaped the stain of cowardice. Philip was eminently brave, and, like most brave men, was generally open and sincere. Charles added dissimulation to his other vices.
songer to be obtained by regular confession and severe penance; and the obsequious courtiers, who had kept Lent like monks of La Trappe, and who had turned up the whites of their eyes at the edifying parts of sermons preached before the king, aspired to the title of roué as ardently as they had aspired to that of devot; and went, during Passion Week, to the revels of the Palais Royal as readily as they had formerly repaired to the sermons of Massil
ties, had reverenced the co
But unpopular as the monarchy had become the aristocracy was more unpopular still; and not without reason. The tyranny of an individual is far more supportable than the tyranny of a caste. The old privileges were galiing and hateful to the new wealth and the new knowledge. Every thing indicated the approach of no common revolution; of a revolution destined to change, not merely the form of government, but the distribution of property and the whole social system; of a revolution the effects of which were to be felt at every fireside in France; of a new Jaquerie, in which the victory was to remain with Jaques bonhomme. In the van of the movement were the moneyed men and the men of letters-the wounded pride of wealth and the wounded pride of intellect. An immense multitude, made ignorant and cruel by oppression, was raging in the rear.
We greatly doubt whether any course which could have been pursued by Louis the Sixteenth could have averted a great convulsion. But we are sure that, if there was such a course, it was the course recommended by M. Turgot. The church and the aristocracy, with that blindness to danger, that incapacity of believing that any thing can be except what has been, which the long possession of power seldom fails to generate, mocked at the counsel which might have saved them. They would not have reform; and they had revolution. They would not pay a small contribution in place of the odious corvées; and they lived to see their castles demolished, and their lands
The administration of the Regent was scarcely less pernicious, and infinitely more scandalous, than that of the deceased monarch. It was by magnificent public works, and by wars conducted on a gigantic scale, that Louis had brought distress on his people. The Regent aggravated that distress by frauds, of which a lame duck on the stock-exchange sold to strangers. They would not endure would have been ashamed. France, even Turgot; and they were forced to endure Ro while suffering under the most severe calami- | bespierre.
Then the rulers of France, as if smitten with | country they found nothing to love or to ad judicial blindness, plunged headlong into the mire. As far back as they could look, they American war. They thus committed at once saw only the tyranny of one class and the de two great errors. They encouraged the spirit gradation of another-Frank and Gaul, knight of revolution. They augmented at the same and villein, gentleman and roturier. They hated time those public burdens, the pressure of the monarchy, the church, the nobility. They which is generally the immediate cause of cared nothing for the States or the Parliament. revolutions. The event of the war carried to It was long the fashion to ascribe all the follies the height the enthusiasm of speculative demo- which they committed to the writings of the crats. The financial difficulties produced by philosophers. We believe that it was misrule, the war carried to the height the discontent and nothing but misrule, that put the sting into of that larger body of people who cared little those writings. It is not true that the French about theories, and much about taxes. abandoned experience for theories. They took up with theories because they had no expe
The meeting of the States-General was the signal for the explosion of all the hoarded pas-rience of good government. It was because sions of a century. In that assembly there they had no charter that they ranted about the were undoubtedly very able men. But they original contract. As soon as tolerable instihad no practical knowledge of the art of go- tutions were given to them, they began to look vernment. All the great English revolutions to those institutions. In 1830 their rallyinghave been conducted by practical statesmen. cry was Vive la Charte. In 1789 they had noThe French Revolution was conducted by thing but theories round which to rally. They mere speculators. Our constitution has never had seen social distinctions only in a bad form; been so far behind the age as to have become and it was therefore natural that they should an object of aversion to the people. The Eng- be deluded by sophisms about the equality of lish revolutions have therefore been undertaken men. They had experienced so much evil for the purpose of correcting, defending, and from the sovereignty of kings, that they might restoring; never for the mere purpose of de- be excused for lending a ready ear to those stroying. Our countrymen have always, even who preached, in an exaggerated form, the in times of the greatest excitement, spoken doctrine of the sovereignty of the people. reverently of the form of government under The English, content with their own nation which they lived, and attacked only what they al recollections and names, have never sought regarded as its corruptions. In the very act for models in the institutions of Greece or of innovating they have constantly appealed Rome. The French, having nothing in their to ancient prescription; they have seldom own history to which they could look back looked abroad for models; they have seldom with pleasure, had recourse to the history of troubled themselves with Utopian theories; the great ancient commonwealths: they drew they have not been anxious to prove that li- their notions of those commonwealths, not berty is a natural right of men; they have been from contemporary writers, but from romances content to regard it as the lawful birthright of written by pedantic moralists long after the Englishmen. Their social contract is no fic- extinction of public liberty. They neglected tion. It is still extant on the original parch- Thucydides for Plutarch. Blind themselves, ment, sealed with wax which was affixed at they took blind guides. They had no expeRunnymede, and attested by the lordly names rience of freedom, and they took their opinions of the Marischals and Fitzherberts. No gene- concerning it from men who had no more exral arguments about the original equality of perience of it than themselves, and whose imamén, no fine stories out of Plutarch and Cor-ginations, inflamed by mystery and privation, nelius Nepos, have ever affected them so much exaggerated the unknown enjoyment; from as their own familiar words, Magna Charta, men who raved about patriotism without hav. Habeas Corpus, Trial by Jury, Bill of Rights. ing ever had a country, and eulogized tyranni This part of our national character has un- cide while crouching before tyrants. The doubtedly its disadvantages. An Englishman maxims which the French legislators learned too often reasons on politics in the spirit rather in this school were, that political liberty is an of a lawyer than of a philosopher. There is end, and not a means; that it is not merely too often something narrow, something exclu- valuable as the great safeguard of order, of sive, something Jewish, if we may use the property, and of morality, but that it is in itself word, in his love of freedom. He is disposed a high and exquisite happiness, to which order, to consider popular rights as the special heri- property, and morality ought without one scru tage of the chosen race to which he belongs. ple to be sacrificed. T lessons which may He is inclined rather to repel than to encou- be learned from ancient history are indeed rage the alien proselyte who aspires to a share most useful and important; but they were not of his privileges. Very different was the spirit likely to be learned by men who, in all their of the Constituent Assembly. They had none | rhapsodies about the Athenian democracy, of our narrowness; but they had none of our | seemed utterly to forget that in that democracy practical skil in the management of affairs there were ten slaves to one citizen; and who They did rot understand how to regulate the constantly decorated their invectives against order of their own debates; and they thought the aristocrats with panegyrics on Brutus and themselves able to legislate for the whole world. Cato, two aristocrats, fercer, prouder, and All the past was loathsome to them. All their more exclusive than any that emigrated with agreeable associations were connected with the Count of Artois. ne future. Hopes were to them all that recolctions are to us. In the institutions of their
We have never met with so vivid and inte resting a picture of the National Assembly as
that which M. Dumont has set before us. His | oratorical power both of Chatham and of Mira Mirabeau, in particular, is incomparable. All beau. There have been far greater speakers the former Mirabeaus were daubs in compari- and far greater statesmen than either of them; son. Some were merely painted from the ima- but we doubt whether any men have, in mogination, others were gross caricatures; this dern times, exercised such vast personal in is the very individual, neither god nor demon, fluence over stormy and divided assemblies but a man, a Frenchman, a Frenchman of the The power of both was as inuch moral as in eighteenth century, with great talents, with tellectual. In true dignity of character, in strong passions, depraved by bad education, private and public virtue, it may seem absurd surrounded by temptations of every kind, made to institute any comparison between them; but desperate at one time by disgrace, and then they had the same haughtiness and vehemence again intoxicated by fame. All his opposite of temper. In their language and manner and seemingly inconsistent qualities are in this there was a disdainful self-confidence, an imrepresentation so blended together as to make periousness, a fierceness of passion, before up a harmonious and natural whole. Till now, which all common minds quailed. Even MurMirabeau was to us, and, we believe, to most ray and Charles Townshend, though intellecreaders of history, not a man, but a string of tually not inferior to Chatham, were always antitheses. Henceforth he will be a real hu- cowed by him. Barnave, in the same manner, man being, a remarkable and eccentric being though the best debater in the National Assemindeed, but perfectly conceivable. bly, flinched before the energy of Mirabeau. Men, except in bad novels, are not all good or all evil. It can scarcely be denied that the virtue of Lord Chatham was a little theatrical. On the other hand, there was in Mirabeau, not indeed any thing deserving the name of virtue, but that imperfect substitute for virtue which is found in almost all superior minds, a sensibility to the beautiful and the good, which sometimes amounted to sincere enthusiasm, and which, mingled with the desire of admiration, sometimes gave to his character a lustre resembling the lustre of true goodness; as the "faded splendour wan" which lingered round the fallen archangel, resembled the exceeding brightness of those spirits who had kept their first estate.
He was fond, M. Dumont tells us, of giving odd compound nicknames. Thus, M. de Lafayette was Grandison-Cromwell; the King of Prussia was Alaric-Cottin; D'Espremenil was Crispin-Catiline. We think that Mirabeau himself might be described, after his own fashion, as a Wilkes-Chatham. He had Wilkes's sensuality, Wilkes's levity, Wilkes's insensibility to shame. Like Wilkes, he had brought on himself the censure even of men of pleasure by the peculiar grossness of his immorality, and by the obscenity of his writings. Like Wilkes, he was heedless, not only of the laws of morality, but of the laws of honour. Yet he affected, like Wilkes, to unite the character of the demagogue to that of the fine gentleman. Like Wilkes, he conciliated, by his good-humour and his high spirits, the regard of many who despised his character. Like Wilkes, he was hideously ugly; like Wilkes, he made a jest of his own ugliness; and, like Wilkes, he was, in spite of his ugliness, very attentive to his dress, and very successful in affairs of gallantry.
Resembling Wilkes in the lower and grosser parts of his character, he had, in his higher qualities, some affinities to Chatham. His eloquence, as far as we can judge of it, bore no inconsiderable resemblance to that of the great English minister. He was not eminently successful in long set speeches. He was not, on the other hand, a close and ready debater. Sudden bursts, which seemed to be the effect of inspiration; short sentences, which came like lightning, dazzling, burning, striking down every thing before them; sentences which, spoken at critical moments, decided the fate of great questions; sentences which at once became proverbs; sentences which everybody i knows by heart; in these chiefly lay the
There are several other admirable portraits of eminent men in these Memoirs. That of Sieyes in particular, and that of Talleyrand, are masterpieces, full of life and expression. But nothing in the book has interested us more than the view which M. Dumont has presented to us, unostentatiously, and, we may say, unconsciously, of his own character. The sturdy rectitude, the large charity, the good-nature, the modesty, the independent spirit, the ardent philanthropy, the unaffected indifference to money and to fame, make up a character which, while it has nothing unnatural, seems to us to approach nearer to perfection than any of the Grandisons and Allworthys of fiction. The work is not indeed precisely such a work as we had anticipated; it is more lively, more picturesque, more amusing than we had promised ourselves, and it is, on the other hand, less profound and philosophic. But if it is not, in all respects, such as might have been expected from the intellect of M. Dumont, it is assuredly such a might have been ex pected from his heart