« AnteriorContinuar »
“And surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in-glittering like the morning star, full of life and splendour and joy. Oh! what a revolution ! and what a heart must I have to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream, when she added titles of veneration to that enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom; little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, a nation of men of honour and of cavaliers. I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult.”
I venture to believe that, throughout all the writings and speeches of Burke on the French Revolution, thickly sown as they are with the maxims of political wisdom, you can trace the influence of a morbid imagination. He had thrown himself into the new crusade with so much ardour that all prudence and sobriety deserted him. He was blinded by the glow and glare of his passions to the impressions made on his very senses. As Lord Brougham put it," he saw not what other men beheld, but what he wished to see, or what his prejudices and fancies suggested; and having once laid down a dogma, his mind refused to acknowledge the most astounding contradiction that events could offer.”
Early in 1790, when France had already sent large armies into the field, Burke pronounced her external power at an end. Even in 1793, when the second European invasion had ignominiously failed, except in provoking her people to threaten the security of Europe, he could see nothing in her situation but “complete
ruin, without the chance of resurrection;" and was still sanguine enough to believe, when she recovered, as he supposed, a nominal existence by the restoration of her monarchy, that it would be necessary for her neighbours to keep her on her basis by their combined guarantee. That a man of his political sagacity should be involved in so wild a delusion is curious and instructive. Not less extraordinary was the way in which he confounded under one general torrent of reproach, calumny, and indignation, men and things of the most diverse and opposite character.
“ We are much astonished,” says Lord Brougham, “at finding him repeatedly class the humane and chivalrous Lafayette with the monster Robespierre; but when we find him pressing his theory, that all atheists are Jacobins, so far as to charge Hume with being a heathen, and pressing the converse of the proposition so far as to insinuate that Priestley was an atheist, we pause incredulous over the sad devastation which a disordered fancy can make in the finest understanding."
Mr. Buckle has brought together a number of examples of the violent language which Burke was wont to employ towards France and the French.*
France was “ Cannibal Castle," "a hell," “ the republic of assassins." Its Government consisted of “the dirtiest, lowest, most fraudulent, most knavish of chicaners.” Its people were “a gang of robbers," "a desperate gang of plunderers, murderers, tyrants, and atheists,” “the prostitute outcasts of mankind," "a nation of murderers." not ashamed to speak of the amiable Lafayette as "a horrid ruffian," and of the philosophical Condorcet as
* Buckle, “History of Civilisation," i. 428, 429.
fanatic, atheist, and furious democratic republican, capable of the lowest as well as the highest and most determined villainies.” To enter into negotiations with France was
exposing our lazar sores at the door of every proud servitor of the French Republic, where the court-dogs will not deign to lick them." So foul was the atmosphere of Paris, that our ambassadors could not but be corrupted
“ They may easily return as good courtiers as they went; but can they ever return from that degrading residence loyal and faithful subjects, or with any true affection to their master, or true attachment to the constitution, religion, or laws of their country? There is great danger that they who enter smiling into this Typhonian cave will come out of it sad and serious conspirators, and such will continue as long as they live.” To learn the French language or to travel in France was a crime, so complete was the insularism of Burke's mind under the domination of its anti-revolutionary frenzy. “No young man,” he cries aloud, can go to any part of Europe without taking this place of pestilential contagion in his way; and, whilst the less active part of the community will be debauched by their travel, whilst children are poisoned at their schools, our trade will put the finishing touch to our ruin. No factory will be settled in France that will not become a club of complete French Jacobins. The minds of young men of that description will receive a taint in their religion, their morals, and their politics which they will in a short time communicate to the whole kingdom." Burke was incessantly crying out for war—a general war against Jacobins and Jacobinism; a war of conquest;
a war not confined to the vain attempt of raising a barrier to the lawless and savage power of France, but
directed to the only rational end it could pursue, namely, the utter destruction of the desperate horde which gave
“ A long war," he wrote emphatically ; † “a religious war," I as in the colossal madness of his passionate egotism he dared to term it.
The wider intellect of Pitt rose superior at first to Burke's terrible apprehensions, and he assured the French Government that England would scrupulously persevere in the neutrality she had hitherto observed with respect to the internal dissensions of France, and would not depart from it unless compelled to do so in self-defence. With a wisdom shared by few of his own followers, he boldly gave his support at this critical time to Fox's Libel Act, which accomplished the liberty of the press by transferring the decision in libel cases from the judge to the jury; whilst he initiated the wise policy of colonial self-government by granting a representative constitution to the two Canadas. It is needless to say that the anti-revolutionist theories found no favour with the Whigs. It was the 4th of May, 1793, which witnessed the final disruption of the party, and its division into Foxites and Burkeites, into Old Whigs and New. In the course of a debate on the Government bill for the better government of the Canadas, Burke rose to speak, and, according to his customary practice, plunged into a torrent of invective against the French Revolution and its leaders. He made a violent attack upon the doctrine set forth in Thomas Paine's “Rights of Man," and then glided away into a highly-coloured description of the
* Parliamentary History, xxxi. 427. † “ Letters on a Regicide Peace.” Burke's Works, ii. 291. I“ Remarks on the Policy of the Allies.” Works, i. 600,
insults offered by the Parisian rabble to Louis XVI. and the royal family of France. He was called to order, and a scene of intense excitement took place. Fox, starting to his feet, reprimanded him for the irrelevancy of his remarks. “ This, however," he said, “was a day of license, on which any gentleman might get up and abuse any Government he pleased. True it was that the French Revolution had no more to do with the question before the House than the Government of Turkey or the laws of Confucius; but what of that?"
Burke retorted with vehemence, comparing his position to that of Caylus, the great French orator, and Conservative leader of the French National Assembly, whose speeches were always interrupted by the clamour of the so-called friends of liberty. The cries of “Order !" grew louder, and Fox, Charles Grey, Pitt, and others became involved in an angry conversation. At length Lord Sheffield moved, and Fox seconded, a motion, “that dissertations on the French Constitution, and to read a narrative of the transactions in France, are not regular or orderly on the question ; and that the clauses of the Quebec Bill be read a second time." But in seconding this amendment, Fox fell into the very breach of order for which he had censured Burke. He entered upon an animated defence of the principles of the French Revolution; and, contending that the rights of man were and must be the foundation of every social or political system, he observed that he had learned this doctrine from the lips of Burke himself, whom, in passionate words, he accused of betraying his cause and party, and—quoting the language employed by Burke at the time of the American war-of drawing an indictment against a whole people.