Page images

the country was placed by the convocation ul the States-General ; but it was materially Rusravated by the presumption and improvidence of those enthusiastic legislators, and leaded powerfully to produce those disasters by which they were ultimately overwhelmed.

No representative legislature, it appears to os. can eyer be respectable or secure, unless it contain within itself a great proportion of those who form the natural aristocracy of the country, and are able, as individuals, to influence the conduct and opinions of the greater part of its inhabitante. Unless the power and «ei-Al and authority of the assembly, in short, be really made up of the power and weight and authority of the individuals who compose it, the factitious dignity they may derive from their situation can never be of lone endurance; and the dangerous power with which they may be invested, will become the subject of scrambling and contention among the factions of the metropolis, and be employed for any purpose but the general good of the community. •

In England, the House of Commons is made up oi the individuals who, by birth, by fortune, or by talents, possess singly the greatest influence over the rest of the people. The most certain and the most permanent influence, is that of rank and of riches; and these are the qualifications, accordingly, which return the greatest number of members. Men submit to be governed by the united will of thuie, to whose will, as individuals, the greater partof them have been previously accustomed to submit themselves; and an act of parliaraitit is reverenced and obeyed, not because tie people are impressed with a constitutional teneration for an institution called a parliament, but because it has been passed by the »nthority of those who are recognised as their ttatoral superiors, and by whose influence, as •uhvKluals, the same measures might have been enforced over the greater part of the kingdom. Scarcely any new power is acquired, therefore, by the combination of those pereons into a legislature: They carry each ih-:r share of influence and authority into the f-rate along with them; and it is by adding ib« items of it together, that the influence »M authority of the senate itself is made up. From such a senate, therefore, it is obvious tbat their power can. never be wrested, and that it would not even attach to those who

acht succeed in supplanting them in the

leiislature, by violence or intrigue; or by any

I ''it means than those by which they them^''Veahad originally secured theirnomination.

I1 such a state of representation, in short, the influence of the representatives is not borrowed from their office, but the influence of the »See i» supported by that which is persona) to in members; and parliampnt is chiefly raided as the great depository of all the Mlhoriiy which formerly existed, in a scat!l'.i-il state, among its members. This authority, therefore, belonging to the men. and not '? their places, can neither be lost by them, it t,W are forced from their places, nor fount »y those who may supplant them. The Long

'arliament, after it was purged by the Inde¡endents, and the assemblies that met undei hat name, during the Protectorate of Cromwell, held the place, and enjoyed all the form of power that had belonged to their predecessors: But as they no longer contained those ndividuals who were able to sway and influence the opinion of the body of the people, Jiey were without respect or authority, and speedily came to be the objects of public derision and contempt.

As the power and authority of a legislature thus constituted, is perfectly secure and inalienable, on the one hand, so, on the other, the moderation of its proceedings is guaranteed зу a consciousness of the basis upon which :his authority is founded. Every individual being aware of the extent to which his own influence is likely to reach among his constituents and dependants, is anxious that the mandates of the body shall never pass beyond that limit, within which obedience may be easily secured. He will not hazard the loss of his own power, therefore, by any attempt to enlarge that of the legislature; and feeling, at every step, the weight and resistance of the people, the whole assembly proceeds with a due regard to their opinions and prejudices, and can never do any thing very injurious or very distasteful to the majority.— From the very nature of the authority with which they are invested, they are in fact consubstantiated with the people for whom they are to legislate. They do not sit loose upon them, like riders on inferior animals; nor speculate nor project experiments upon their welfare, like operators upon a foreign substance. They are the natural organs, in fact, of a great living body; and are not only warned, by their own feelings, of any injury which they may be tempted to inflict on it, but would become incapable of performing their functions, if they were to proceed far in debilitating the general system.

Such, it appears to us, though delivered perhaps in too abstract and elementary a form, is the just conception of a free representative legislature. Neither the English House of Commons, indeed, nor any assembly of any other nation, ever realized it in all its perfection: But it is in their approximation to such a standard, we conceive, that their excellence and utility will be found to consist ; and where the conditions upon which we have insisted are absolutely wanting, the sudden institution of a representative legislature will only be a step to the most frightful disorders. Where it has grown up in a country in which personal liberty and property are tolerably secure, it naturally assumes that form which is most favourable to its beneficial influence, and has a tendency to perpetual improvement, and to the constant amelioration of the condition of the whole society. The difference between a free government and a tyrannical one. consists entirely in the different proportions of the people that are influenced by their opinions, or subjugated by intimidation or force. In a large society, opinions can only be reunited by means of representations; and the natural representative is the individual whose example and authority can influence the opinions of the greater part of those in whose behalf he is delegated. This is the natural aristocracy of a civilized nation ; and its legislature is men upon the best possible footing, when it is in the hands of those who answer to that description. The whole people are then governed by the laws, exactly as each clan or district of them would have been by the patriarchal authority of an elective and unarmed chieftain ; and the lawgivers are not only secure of their places while they can maintain their individual influence over the people, but are withheld from any rash or injurious measure by the consciousness and feeling of their dependence on this voluntary deference and submission.

If this be at all a just representation of the conditions upon which the respectability and security of a representative legislature must always depend, it will not be difficult to explain how the experiment miscarried so completely, in the case of the French Constituent Assembly. That assembly, which the enthusiasm of the public, and the misconduct of the privileged orders, soon enabled to engross the whole power of the country, consisted almost entirely of persons without name or individual influence; who owed the whole of their consequence to the situation to which they hail been elevated, and were not able, as individuals, to have influenced the opinions of one-fiftieth part of their countrymen.— There was in France, indeed, at this time, no legitimate, wholesome, or real aristocracy.— The noblesse, who were persecuted for bearing that name, were quite disconnected from the people. Their habits of perpetual residence in the capital, and their total independence of the good opinion of their vassals, had deprived them of any real influence over the minds of the lower orders; and the organization of society had not yet enabled the rich manufacturers or proprietors to assume such an influence. The persons sent as deputies to the States-General, therefore, were those chiefly who, by intrigue and boldness, nnd by professions of uncommon zeal for what were then th'- créât objects of popular pursuit, had been enabled to carry me votes of the electors. A notion of talent, and an opinion that they would be loud and vehement in supporting those requests upon which the people had already come to a decision, were their passports into that assembly. They were sent there to express the particular demands of the people, and not to give a general pledge of their acquiescence in what might there be enacted. They were not the hereditary patrons of the people, but their hired advocates for a particular pleading.— They had no general trust or authority over them, but were chosen as their special messengers, out of a multitude whose influence ai.-l pretensions were equally powerful.

VVhen these men found themselves, as it were by accident, in possession of the whole power of the state, and invested with the absolute government of the greatest nation

that has existed in modem times, it is not to be wondered at if they forgot the slender tie» by which they were bound to their coiiítifients. The powers to which they had яюceeded were so infinitely beyond any (hi:; that they had enjoyed in their individual capacity, that it is not surprising if they nerrt thought of exerting them with the same consideration and caution. Instead of the great bases of rank and property, which cannut ttransferred by the clamours of the iactiow. or the caprice of the inconstant, and which serve to ballast and steady the vessel oi lii-1 state in all its wanderings and peri!«. tb? assembly possessed only the basis of taler.t or reputation; qualities which depend upcœ opinion and opportunity, and which may be attributed in the same proportion to an inconvenient multitude at once. The whole ]n:~ lature may be considered, therefore, at coreposed of adventurers, who had already altan.f.: a situation incalculably above their original pretensions, and were now tempted to push their fortune by every means that held oui the promise of immediate success. They had nothing, comparatively speaking, to 1-. *. but their places in that assembly, or the ir.i:-ence which they possessed within ils «a. and as the authority of the assembly ¡I-«1 depended altogether upon the popularity of its measures, and not upon the intrinsic authority of its members, so it was only to be maintained by a succession of brilliant and imposing resolutions, and by satisfying orruidoing the extravagant wishes and expectant: • of the most extravagant and sanguine popub.f that ever existed. For a man to get a leac;:: such an assembly, it was by no mean? necessary that he should have previously pos.«'??"! any influence or authority in the community: that he should be connected with powerful j families, or supported by great and exten»;« ! associations. If he could dazzle and ovenrer in debate ; if he could obtain the acclamation! of the mob of Versailles, and make himself familiar to the eyes and the ears of the assembly and its galleries, he was in a fair train for having a great share in the direction 01 a:: ! assembly exercising absolute sovereignty от." 1 thirty millions of men. The prize vtf Wo ! tempting not to attract a multitude ot mr,petitors; and the assembly for many гсоп:Ьч \vas governed by those who outvied tb." associates in the impracticable extravagance of their patriotism, and sacrificed mo*i f^fusely the real interests of the people at the shrine of a precarious popularity.

In this way, the assembly, from the inherent vices of its constitution, ceased to he respectable or useful. The same causes fpeuiily put an end to its security, and converted i! into an instrument of destruction.

Mere popularity was at first the ¡pstnim«' by which this mistcady legislature \va< termed: But when it became apparent, that whoever could obtain the direction or гчч; • ; mand of it. must possess the whole authi n:\ , of the state, parties became less scrupuloi;» ; about the means they employed for that purpose, and soon found out that violence auJ terror vrere infinitely more effectual and expeditious than persuasion and eloquence. The people at largre, who had no attachment to any families or individuals among their delegates, and who contented themselves with i'loUzing the assembly in general, so long as i', passed decrees to their liking, were passive and indifferent spectators of the transference ot power which was effected by the pikes of m-.- Parisian multitude : and looked with equal affection upon every successive junto which assumed the management of its deliberations. Having no natural representatives, they felt themselves equally connected with all who exercised the legislative function ; and, being destitute of a real aristocracy, were without the means of giving effectual support even to those who might appear to deserve it. Encouraged Ьз" lilis situation of affairs, the most daring, unprincipled, and profligate, proceeded to seize upon the defenceless legislature, and, driving all their antagonists before them by Tiolence or intimidation, entered without opposition opon the supreme functions of government. They soon found, however, that the arms by which they had been victorious, «ere capable of being turned against them«elves; and those who were envious of their .^iiccess, or ambitious of their distinction, easily found means to excite discontent among the multitude, now inured to insurrection, and to employ them in pulling down those very individuals whom they had so recently exalted. The disposal of the legislature thus became a prize to be fought for in the clubs and conï-piracies and insurrections of a corrupted metropolis; arid the institution of a national representative had no other effect, than that of laying the government open to lawless force and flagitious audacity.

It is in this manner, it appears to us, that from the want of a natural and efficient aristocracy to exercise the function? of representative legislators, the National Assembly of France was betrayed into extravagance, and fell a prey to faction; that the institution itself became a source of public misery and disorder, and converted a civilized monarchy, first into a sanguinary democracy, and then into a military despotism.

It would be the excess of injustice, we hare already said, to impute those disastrous consequences to the moderate and virtuous individuals who sat in the Constituent Assembly: But if it be admitted that they might 'are been easily foreseen, it will not be easy to exculpate them from the charge of very blameable imprudence. It would be difficult, indeed, to point out any course of conduct by v hich those dangers might have been entirely avoided: But they would undoubtedly have been 1еив formidable, if the enlightened members of the Third Estate had endeavoured to form a party with the more liberal and popular among the nobility; if they had associated to themselves a greater number of those to! whose persons a certain degree of influence I

was attached, from their fortune, their age, or their official staiion; if, in short, instead of grasping presumptuously at the exclusive direction of the national councils, and arrogating every thing on the credit of their zealous patriotism and inexperienced abilities, they had sought to strengthen themselves by an alliance with what was respectable in the existing establishments, and attached themselves at first as disciples to those whom they might fairly expect speedily to outgrow and eclipse.

Upon a review of the whole matter, it seems impossible to acquit those of the revolutionary patriots, whose intentions are admitted to be pure, of great precipitation, presumption, and imprudence. Apologies may be found for them; perhaps, in the inexperience which was incident to their situation: in their constant apprehension of being separated before their task was accomplished; in the exasperation which was excited by the insidious proceedings of the cabinet; and in the intoxication which naturally resulted from the magnitude of their early triumph, and the noise and resounding of their popularity. But the errors into which they fell were inexcusable, we think, in politicians of the eighteenth century; and while we pity their sufferings, and admire their genius, we cannot feel much respect for their wisdom, or any surprise at their miscarriage.

The preceding train of reflection was irresistibly suggested to us by the title and the contents of the volumes now before us. Among the virtuous members of the first Assembly, there was no one who stood higher than Bailly. As a scholar and a man of science, he had long stood in the very first rank of celebrity: His private morals were not only irreproachable, but exemplary; and his character and dispositions had always been remarkable for gentleness, moderation, and philanthropy. Drawn unconsciously, if we may believe hiis own account, into public life, rather than impelled into it by any movement of ambition, he participated in the enthusiasm, and in the imprudence, from which no one seemed at that time to be exempted; and in spite of an early retreat, speedily suffered that fate by which all the well meaning were then destined to expiate their errors. His popularity was at one time equal to that of any of the idols of the day; and if it was gained by some decree ol blameable indulgence and unjustifiable zeal, it was forfeited at last {and along with his life) by a resolute opposition to disorder, and a meritorious perseverance in the discharge of his duty.

The sequel of this article, containing a full abstract ol" tne learned author's recollections of the first six months only of his mayoralty, is now omitted; both as too minute to retain any interest at this day, and as suiierseded by the more comprehensive details which will be found in the succeeding article.

(September, 1818.)

Considérations ¡ur les Principaux Evcncmens de la Révolution Françoise. Ouvrage Posthvmt de Madame la Baronne de Staël. Publié par M. Le Duc De Hkoglie et M. Le Baron A. De StaËl. Eu trois tomes. 8vo. pp. 1285. Londres: 1818.

No book can possibly possess a higher interest than this which is now before us. It is the last, dying bequest of the most brilliant writer that has appeared in our days;— and it treats of a period of history which we already know to be the most important that has occurred for centuries; and which those who look back on it, after other centuries have elapsed, will probably consider as still more important.

We cannot slop now to say all that we think of Madame de Staël :—and yet we must say, that we think her the most powerful writer that her country has produced since the time of Voltaire anu Rousseau—and the greatest writer, of a woman, that any time or any country has produced. Her taste, perhaps, is not quite pure; and her style is too irregular and ambitious. These faults may even go deeper. Her passion for effect, and the tone of exaggeration which it naturally produces, have probably interfered occasionally with the soundness of her judgment, and given a suspicious colouring to some of her representations of fact. At all events, they have rendered her impatient of the humbler task of completing her explanatory details, or stating in their order all the premises of her reasonings. She gives her history in abstracts, and her theories in aphorisms:— and the greater part of her works, instead of presenting that systematic unity from which the highest degrees of strength and beauty and clearness must ever be derived, may be fairly described as a collection of striking fragments—in which a great deal of repetition does by no means diminish the eflect of a good deal of inconsistency. In those same works, however, whether we consider them as fragments or as systems, we do not hesitate to say that there are more original and profound observations—more new images —greater sagacity combined with higher imagination—and more of the true philosophy of the passions, the politics, and the literature of her contemporaries—than in any other author we can now remember. She has great eloquence on all subjects; and a singular pathos in representing those bitterest agonies of the spirit, in which wretchedness is aggravated by remorse, or by regrets that partake of its character. Though it is difficult to resist her when she is in earnest, we cannot say that we agree in all her opinions, or approve of all her sentiments. She overrates the importance of literature, either in determining the character or affecting the happiness of mankind; and she theorises too confidently on ils past and its future history. On subjects

like this, we have not yet facts enough for » much philosophy; and must be contented, we fear, for a long time to come, to call many things accidental, which it would be more satisfactory to refer to determinate c-au?«-*. In her estimate of the happiness, and her notions of the wisdom of private life, we think her both unfortunate and erroneous. She makes passions and high sensibilities a great deal too indispensable ; and varnifhts over all her pictures too uniformly with ihr ¡ glare of an extravagant or affected enthusiasm. She represents men, in short, »í г great deal more unhappy, more depraved, and more energetic, than they are—aod seems to respect them the more for it. In her politics she is far more unexceptionable. She is everywhere the warm friend and aj.:mated advócale of liberty—and of liberal, practical, and philanthropie principles. On those subjects we cannot blame her enthusiasm, which has nothing in it vindictive or provoking; and are far more inclined to envy than to reprove that sanguine and buovaU temper of mind which, after all she has setn and suffered, still leads her to overrate, in Obj apprehension, both the merit of past atlemyts at political amelioration, and the chuiiccs o: their success hereafter. It is in that futuntt. we fear, and in the hopes that make it present, that the lovers of mankind must )eL for a while, console themselves for the disifpointments which still seem to beset then, If Madame de Staël, however, predicts wr.l: too much confidence, it must be ailmir.»' that her labours have a powerful tendency to realize her predictions. Her writings are til full of the most animating view s of the improvement of our social condition, and ;he means by which it may be effected—the гы*¡ striking refutations of prevailing errors '•:; these great subjects—and the most persuasive expostulations with those w ho may think their interest or their honour concerned in taming them. Even they who are the N :•.!•! inclined to agree with her. must admit tint there is much to be learned from her writing«: and we can give them no higher praise than to say, that their tendency is not only to promote the interests of philanthropy and indtpendence, but to soften, rather than exasperate, the prejudices to which they are opposed.

Of the work before us, we do not know very well what to say. It contains a multitude of admirable remarks—and a still greater number of curious details; for Madame d« Stael was not only a contemporary, but an eyewitness of much that she describes, and liad the very best access to learn what did not tall under her immediate observation. Few persons certainly could be better qualified to appreciate the relative importance of the subjects that fell under her review; and no one. we really think, so little likely to colour and distort them, from any personal or party feelings. With all those rare qualifications, however, ami inestimable advantages for performing the task of an historian, we cannot say that she has made a good history. It is too much broken into fragments. The narrative is too much interrupted by reflections: and ihe reflections too much subdivided, to suit the subdivisions of the narrative. There are too many events omitted, or but cursorily noticed, to give the work the interest of a full tnd flowing history; and a great deal too many detailed and analyzed, to let it pass for an essay on the philosophy, or greater results of these memorable transactions. We are the most struck with this last fault—which perhaps is inseparable from ihe condition of » contemporary writer ;—for, though the obcervation may sound at first like a paradox, we are rather inclined to think that the best historical composition*—not only the most pleasing to read, but the most just and instructive in themselves—must be written at t тегу considerable distance from the times to which they relate. When we read an eloquent and judicious account of great events transacted in other ages, our first sentiment is that of regret at not being able to learn more of them. We wish anxiously for a fuller ilelajl of particulars—we envy those who had the coo«) fortune to live in the time of such interesting occurrences, and blame them for baring left us so brief and imperfect a memoriaTot them. But the truth is, if we may jndge from our own experience, that the C'fater part of those who were present to thus« miirhtv operations, were but very imperfectly aware of their importance, and conjectured but little of the influence they were '» exert on future generations. Their altent.o;i was successively engaged by each separat" act of the great drama that was passing; before them: but did not extend to the connected effect of the whole, in which alone posterity was to find the grandeur and interrat of the scene. The connection indeed of those different acts is very often not then disremible". The series often stretches on. b'yorid the reach of the generation which witnessed its beginning, and makes it impossible for them to integrate what had not yet attained its completion; while, from similar caniee, many of the terms tliat at first appeared most important are unavoidably discarded, to bring the problem within a manageable compatis. Time, in short, performs the services to events, which distance dors objects. It obscures and gradually the small, but renders those that ire very ¡Treat much more distinct and conceivable. If we would know the true form -:i'i tienrinjísof an Alpine ridge, we muet not mvel among the irregularities of its surface, Ht observe, from the distance of leagues, the direction of its ranges and peaks, and the

giant outline which it traces on the sky. A traveller who wanders through a rugged and picturesque district, though struck with the beauty of every new valley, or the grandeur of every cliff that he passes, has no notion at all of the general configuration of the country, or even of the relative situation of the objects he has been admiring; and will understand all those things, and his own route among i them, a thousand times better, from a small map on a scale of half an inch to a mile, which represents neither thickets or hamlets, than from the most painful efforts to combine the indications of the strongest memory. The case is the same with those who live through periods of great historical interest. They are too near the scene—too much interested in each successive event—and too much agitated with their rapid succession, to form any just estimate of the character or result of the whole. They are like private soldiers in the middle of a great battle, or ralher of a busy and complicated campaign—hardly knowing whether they have lost or won, and having but the most obscure and imperfect conception of the general movements in which their own fate has been involved. The foreigner who reads of them in the Gazette, or the peasant who sees them from the top of a distant hill or a steeple, has in fact a far better idea of them.

Of the thousand or fifteen hundred names that have been connected in contemporary fame with the great events of the last twentyfive years, how many will go down to posterity? In all probability not more than twenty: And who shall yet venture to say which twenty it will be? But it is the same with the events as with the actors. How often, during that period, have we mourned or exulted, with exaggerated emotions, over occurrences that we already discover to have been of no permanent importance !—how certain is it, that the far greater proportion of those to which we still attach an interest, will be viewed with the same indifference by the very next generation !—and how probable, that the whole train and tissue of the history will appear, to a remoter posterity, under a totally different character and colour from any that the most penetrating observer of the present day has thought of ascribing to it! Was there any contemporary, do we think, of Mahomet, o'f Gregory VII., of Faust, or Columbus, who formed the same estimate of their achievements that we do at this day 1 Were the great and wise men who brought about the Reformation, as much aware of its importance as the whole world is at present? or does any one imagine, lhat, even in the later and more domestic events of the establishment of the English Commonwealth in 1648, or the F.nglish Revolution in 1688, the large and energetic spirits by whom those great events were conducted were full)" sensible of their true character and bearings, or at all foresaw the mighty consequences of which they have since been prolific?

But though it may thus require the 1 ipse of ages to develope the true character of а

« PreviousContinue »