The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 83
Robespierre, Danton, Marat
Robespierre, Danton, Marat.
About two years ago we noticed M. Taine's "Jacobin Conquest," the second of his volumes on the French Revolution. The third volume has been published, finishing his studies on "Les Origines de la France Contemporaine," which began with his "Ancien Regime." The thorough research and lucid style of M. Taine have been happily described as combining the best features of German and French authorship.
In "L' Ancien Regime" he painted, with all the colour of a Makart, that condition of society which Talleyrand so vividly set out in one saying, "People who did not live before the Revolution do not know what it is to live at all." The tone was bric-a-brac, and we fancy that high society in Paris, London and New York has again reached the exquisite pitch of enjoyment of the court of Marie Antoinette, so that a Robespierre would consider it once more ripe for the razor.
The publication of Mr. Jennings' "Memoirs of Croker" reminds us that Croker wrote a series of powerful articles in the Quarterly Review on the French Revolution. Republicans like Macaulay, Brougham and Jeffrey, might well be expected to entertain an animus against Croker. "That which pleases long and pleases many, must possess some merit," and Croker, who was for half a century the personal friend of the Duke of Wellington, can hardly have been truly summed up, in Macaulay's words "a bad, very bad man."
Mr. Croker was infused with the spirit in which Burke viewed the French Revolution when he termed France "Cannibal Castle." This may rise to mind as we read Taine's accounts of the villainy perpetrated at Lyons, Rouen, Marseilles, Bordeaux, Toulon, and other cities. Alison, Carlyle, and the rest of the English historians, have exhaustively treated Paris, but, to understand the Revolution in France, Taine must be read.page 59
We laid our own groundwork in a study of "L'Ancien Moniteur," the twenty volume reprint of the leading newspaper of the period. This gave us a profound impression of the ability and wisdom embodied in the Constituent Assembly, which framed the Constitution begun in 1789. Nevertheless, it could not save France.
Gibbon's "Rome" was styled a romance as it came out, and the same was said of Carlyle's "French Revolution." But these works bear the utmost riddling of investigation as to their facts. There never was a more painstaking and accurate writer than Carlyle. The minute, pictorial touches with which almost every page of his "French Revolution" is studded, are all referable to chapter and verse in the chronicles.
Robespierre is the central figure of the Revolution, and Mirabeau only breaks up the ground for him. The drastic, thoroughgoing fashion of Robespierre is the pattern taken by modern extreme Radicals. "To this complexion must we come," said Croker, viewing the progress of Liberalism in England. Whether or no such be the case is the whole problem being worked out. The question is whether abstract principles can safely be applied to the conduct of a nation which has been built up by "precedent on precedent." Croker would take no leap in the dark. He sacrificed his political career to this obstinacy.
Danton was a cheap edition of Mirabeau. It is instructive to read in the reports of the Convention of the contempt with which Marat was treated, at the outset, as a member. Bradlaugh, if allowed in the House of Commons, would have a standing to which Marat's, in the Convention, was infinitely inferior. They laughed at him, snubbed him, but yet the fellow knew he had the keys of power in his hands.
Two million fresh voters have been admitted in Great Britain by the new Franchise Act. This is the next considerable gulp after the mass admitted under Disraeli's masterpiece, the Reform Act, 1867-8. Where is finality? Nowhere short of manhood suffrage. Upon that the British Crown must cast the die.
All throughout the sessions of the French Constituent Assembly, the Abbe Maury and M. de Cazales, as members, withstood the tide of innovation, foretelling its results with exactitude, but they were overborne by the generous eloquence of Mirabeau and the immense majority of Liberals. Taine fitly demonstrates the utter weakness, and the false, soap-bubble illusions of the Girondist party, which tried to succeed to the inheritance of Mirabeau.