The French Revolution: A History. In three volumes. By Thomas Carlyle. London: James Fraser, 1837.
SINCE the appearance of this work, within the last two months, it has raised among the crities and the reading public a strange storm of applause and discontent. To hear one party you would fancy the author was but a dull madman, indulging in wild vagaries of language and dispensing with common sense and reason, while, according to another, his opinions are little short of inspiration, and his eloquence unbounded as his genins. We confess, that in reading the first few pages, we were not a little inclined to adopt the former opinion, and yet, after perusing the whole of this extraordinary work, we can allow, almost to their fullest extent, the high qualities with which Mr. Carlyle's idolaters endow him.
But never did a book sin so grievously from outward appearance, or a man's style so mar his subject and dim his genius. It is stiff, short, and rugged, it abounds with Germanisms and Latinisms, strange epithets, and choking double words, astonishing to the admirers of simple Addisouian English, to those who love history as it gracefully runs in Hume, or struts pompously in Gibbon — no such style is Mr. Carlyle's. A man, at the first onset, must take breath at the end of a sentence, or, worse still, go to sleep in the midst of it. But these hardships become lighter as the traveller grows accustomed to the road, and he speedily learns to admire and sympathise; just as he would admire a Gothic cathedral in spite of the quaint carvings and hideous images on door and buttress.
There are, however, a happy few of Mr. Carlyle's crities and readers to whom these very obscurities and mysticisms of style are welcome and almost intelligible; the initiated in metaphysies, the sages who have passed the veil of Kantian philosophy, and discovered that the "critique of pure reason" is really that which it purports to be, and not the critique of pure nonsense, as it seems to worldly men: to these the present book has charms unknown to us, who can merely receive it as a history of a stirring time, and a skilful record of men's worldly thoughts and doings. Even through these dim spectacles a man may read and profit much from Mr. Carlyle's volumes.
He is not a party historian like Scott, who could not, in his benevolent respect for rank and royalty, see duly the faults of either: he is as impartial as Thiers, but with a far loftier and nobler impartiality.
No man can have read the admirable history of the French ex-Minister who has not been struck with this equal justice which he bestows on all the parties or heroes of his book. He has completely mastered the active part of the history: he has no more partiality for court than for regicide — scarcely a movement of intriguing king or republican which is unknown to him or un-described. He sees with equal eyes Madame Roland or Marie Antoinette — bullying Brunswick on the frontier, or Marat at his butcher's work or in his cellar — he metes to each of them justice, and no more, finding good even in butcher Marat or bullying Brunswick, and recording what he finds. What a pity that one gains such a complete contempt for the author of all this cleverness! Only a rogue could be so impartial, for Thiers but views this awful series of circumstances in their very meanest and basest light, like a petty, clever statesman as he is, watching with wonderful accuracy all the moves of the great game, but looking for no more, never drawing a single moral from it, or seeking to tell aught beyond it.
Mr. Carlyle, as we have said, is as impartial as the illustrious Academician and Minister; but with what different eyes he looks upon the men and the doings of this strange time! To the one the whole story is but a hustling for places — a list of battles and intrigues — of kings and governments rising and falling; to the other, the little actors of this great drama are striving but towards a great end and moral. It is better to view it loftily from afar, like our mystic poetic, Mr. Carlyle, than too nearly with sharp- sighted and prosaic Thiers. Thiers is the valet de chambre of this history, he is too familiar with its dishabille and off-scourings: it can never be a hero to him.
It is difficult to convey to the reader a fair notion of Mr. Carlyle's powers or his philosophy, for the reader has not grown familiar with the strange style of this book, and may laugh perhaps at the grotesqueness of his teacher: in this some honest crities of the present day have preceded him, who have formed their awful judgments after scanning half-a-dozen lines, and damned poor Mr. Carlyle's because they chanced to be lazy. Here, at hazard, however, we fall upon the story of the Bastille capture; the people are thundering at the gates, but Delaunay will receive no terms, raises his drawbridge and gives fire. Now, cries Mr. Carlyle with an uncouth Orson-like shout: —
Bursts forth Insurrection, at sight of its own blood, into endless explosion of musketry, distraction, execration; — and over head, from the Fortress, let one great gun go booming, to show what we could do. The Bastille is besieged!
On, then, all Frenchmen that have hearts in their bodies! Roar with all your throats, of cartilage and metal, ye Sons of Liberty; stir spasmodically whatsoever of utmost faculty is in you, soul, body, or spirit; for it is the hour! Smite, thou Louis Tournay, cartwright of the Marais, old-soldier of the Regiment Dauphine; smite at that Outer Drawbridge-chain, though the fiery hail whistles round thee! Never, over nave or felloe, did thy axe strike such a stroke. Down with it, man; down with it to Orcus: let the whole accursed Edifice sink thither, and Tyranny be swallowed up for ever! Mounted, some say, on the roof of the guard-room, Louis Tournay smites, brave Aubin Bonnemere (also an old soldier) seconding him: the chain yields, breaks; the huge Drawbridge slams down, thundering. Glorious: and yet, alas, it is still but the outworks. The eight grim Towers, with their Invalides, musketry, their paving stones and cannon-months, still soar aloft intact;— Ditch yawning impassable, stone-faced; the inner Drawbridge with its back towards us: the Bastille is still to take!
Did "Savage Rosa" ever "dash" a more spirited battle sketch? The two principal figures of the pieces, placed in skilful relief, the raging multitude and sombre fortress admirably laid down! In the midst of this writhing and wrestling, “the line too labours (Mr. Carlyle's line labours perhaps too often), and the words move slow.” The whole story of the fall of the fortress and its defenders is told in a style similarly picturesque and real.
The poor Invalides have sunk under their battlements, or rise only with reversed muskets: they have made a white flag of napkins; go beating the flamade, or seeming to beat, for one can bear nothing. The very Swiss at the Portcullis look weary of firing; disheartened in the fire-deluge; a porthole at the draw bridge is opened, as by one that would speak. See Huissier Maillard, the shifty man! On his plank, swinging over the abyss of that stone-Ditch; plank resting on parapet, balanced by weight of Patriots, — he hovers perilous: such a Dove towards such an Ark! Deftly, thou shifty Usher: one man already fell; and lies smashed, far down there against the masonry! Usher Maillard falls not: deftly, unerring he walks, with outspread palm. The Swiss holds a paper through his porthole; the shifty Usher snatches it, and returns. Terms of surrender: Pardon, immunity to all! Are they accepted? Foi d'officier, on the word of an officef, answers half-pay Hulin, — or half-pay Elie, for men do not agree on it, ‘they are.’ Sinks the drawbridge, — Usher Maillard bolting it when down; rushes in the living deluge: the Bastille is fallen! Victoire! La Bastille est prise!”
This is prose run mad — no doubt of it — according to our notions of the sober gait and avocations of homely prose; but is there not method in it, and could sober prose have described the incident in briefer words, more emphatically, or more sensibly? And this passage, which succeeds the picture of storm and slaughter, opens (grotesque though it be), not in prose, but in noble poetry; the author describes the rest of France during the acting of this Paris tragedy — and by this peaceful image admirably heightens the gloom and storm of his first description: —
"O evening sun of July, how, at this hour, thy beams fall slant on reapers amid peaceful woody fields; on old women spinning in cottages; on ships far out in the silent main; on Balls at the Orangerie of Versailles, where high-rouged Dames are even now dancing with double-jacketted Hussar-Officers, and also on this roaring Hell-porch of a Hotel-de-Ville! One forest of distracted steel- bristles, in front of an Electoral Committee; points itself, in horrid radii, against this and the other accused breast. It was the Titans warring with Olympus; and they, scarcely crediting it, have conquered.
The reader will smile at the double-jackets and rouge, which never would be allowed entrance into a polite modern epic, but, familiar though they be, they complete the picture, and give it reality, that gloomy rough Rembrandt-kind of reality which is Mr. Carlyle's style of historic painting.
In this same style Mr. Carlyle dashes off the portraits of his various characters as they rise in the course of the history. Take, for instance, this grotesque portrait of vapouring Tonneau Mirabeau, his life and death; it follows a solemn, almost awful picture of the demise of his great brother: —
Here, then, the wild Gabriel Honoré drops from the tissue of our History; not without a tragic farewell. He is gone: the flower of the wild Riquetti kindred; which seems as if in him it had done its best, and then expired, or sunk down to the undistinguished level. Crabbed old Marquis Mirabeau, the Friend of Men, sleeps sound. Biirrel Mimbeuu gone across the Rhine; hia Regiment of Emigrants will drive nigh desperate. “Barrel Mira beau,” says a biographer of his, “went indignantly across the Rhine, and drilled Emigrant Regiments. But as he sat one morning in his tent, sour of stomach doubtless and of heart, meditating in Tartarean humour on the turn things took, a certain Captain or subaltern demanded admittance on business. Such Captain is refused; he again demands, with refusal; and then again, till Colonel Viscount Barrel-Mirabeau, blazing up into a mere brandy barrel, clutches his sword and tumbles out on this canaille of an intruder, — alas, on the canaille of an intruder's sword's point, who had drawn with swift dexterity; and dies, and the Newspapers name it appoplexy and alarming accident. So die the Mirabeaus."
Mr. Carlyle gives this passage to “a biographer,” but he himself must be the author of this History of a Tub; the grim humour and style belong only to him. In a graver strain he speaks of Gabriel: —
New Mirabeaus one hears not of: the wild kindred, as we said, is gone out with this its greatest. As families and kindreds sometimes do; producing, after long ages of unnoted notability, some living quintessence of all they had, to flame forth as a man world-noted; after whom they rest, as if exhausted; the sceptre passing to others. The chosen Last of the Mirabeaus is gone; the chosen man of France is gone. It was he who shook old France from its basis; and, as if with his single hand, has held it toppling there, still unfallen. What things depended on that one man! He is as a ship suddenly shivered on sunk rocks: much swims on the waste waters, far from help.
Here is a picture of the heroine of the Revolution: —
"Radiant with enthusiasm are those dark eyes, is that strong Minerva-face, looking dignity and earnest joy; joyfullest she where all are joyful. Reader, mark that queen-like burgher-woman: beautiful, Amazonian-graceful to the eye; more so to the mind. Unconscious of her worth (as all worth is), of her greatness, of her crystal clearness; genuine, the creature of Sincerity and Nature in an age of Artificiality, Pollution, and Cant; there, in her still completeness, in her still invincibility, she, if thou knew it, is the noblest of all living Frenchwomen, — and will be seen, one day."
The reader, we think, will not fail to observe the real beauty which lurks among all these odd words and twisted sentences, living, as it were, in spite of the weeds; but we repeat, that no mere extracts can do justice to the book; it requires time and study. A first acquaintance with it is very unprepossessing; only familiarity knows its great merits, and values it accordingly.
We would gladly extract a complete chapter or episode from the work — the flight to Varennes, for instance, the huge coach bearing away the sleepy, dawdling, milk-sop royalty of France; fiery Bouillé spreading abroad his scouts and Hussars, “his electric thunder-chain of military outposts,” as Mr. Carlyle calls them with one of his great similes. Paris in tremendous commotion, the country up and armed, to prevent the King's egress, the chance of escape glimmering bright until the last moment, and only extinguished by bewildered Louis himself, too pious and too out-of-breath, too hungry and sleepy, to make one charge at the head of those gallant dragoons— one single blow to win crown and kingdom and liberty again! We never read this hundred-times told tale with such a breathless interest as Mr. Carlyle has managed to instil into it. The whole of the sad story is equally touching and vivid, from the mean ignominious return down to the fatal 10th of August, when the sections beleaguered the King's palace, and King Louis, with arms, artillery, and 2000 true and gallant men. flung open the Tuileries gates and said “Marchons! marchons!” whither? Not with vive le Roi, and roaring guns, and bright bayonets, sheer through the rabble who barred the gate, swift through the broad Champs Elysées, and the near barrier, — not to conquer or fall like a King and gentleman, but to the reporters' box in the National Assembly, to be cooped and fattened until killing time; to die trussed and tranquil like a fat capon. What a son for St. Louis! What a husband for brave Antoinette!
Let us, however, follow Mr. Carlyle to the last volume, and passing over the time, when, in Danton's awful image, “coalized Kings made war upon France, and France, as a gage of battle, flung the head of a King at their feet,” quote two of the last scenes of that awful tragedy, the deaths of told Danton and "sea-green" Robspierre, as Carlyle delights to call him.
On the night of the 30th of March, Juryman Paris came rushing in; haste looking through his eyes: a clerk of the Salut Committee had told him Danton's warrant was made out, he is to be arrested this very night! Entreaties there are and trepidation, of poor Wife, of Paris and Friends: Danton sat silent for a while; then answered, “Ils n'oseraient, They dare not;” and would take no measures. Murmuring “They dare not,” he goes to sleep as usual.
"And yet, on the morrow morning, strange rumour spreads over Paris city: Danton, Camille, Phélippeaux, Lacroix, have been arrested over night! It is verily so: the corridors of the Luxembourg were all crowded, Prisoners crowding forth to see this giant of the Revolution enter among them. “Messieurs,” said Danton politely, “I hoped soon to have got you all out of this: but here I am myself; and one sees not where it will end.” — Rumour may spread over Paris: the Convention clusters itself into groups; wide-eyed, whispering, “Danton arrested!” Who then is safe? Legendre, mounting the Tribune, utters, at his own peril, a feeble word for him; moving that he be heard at that bar before indictment; but Robespierre frowns him down: ' Did you hear Chabot, or Bazire? Would you have two weights and measures?" Legendre cowers low; Danton, like the others, must take his doom.
. Danton's Prison-thoughts were curious to have; but are not given in any quantity: indeed, few such remarkable men have been left so obscure to us as this Titan of the Revolution. He was heard to ejaculate: “This time twelvemonth, I was moving the creation of that same Revolutionary Tribunal. I crave pardon for it of God and man. They are all Brothers Cain: Briscot would have had me guillotined as Robespierre now will. I leave the whole business in a frightful welter (gâchis épouvantable): not one of them understands anything of government. Robespierre will follow me; I drag down Robespierre. Oh, it were better to be a poor fisherman than to meddle with governing of men.” — Camille's young beautiful Wife, who had made him rich not in money alone, hovers round the Luxembourg, like a disembodied spirit, day and night. Camille's stolen letters to her still exist; stained with the mark of his tears. “I carry my head like a Saint-Sacrament?” So Saint Just was heard to mutter: “Perhaps he will carry his like a Saint-Dennis.”
Unhappy Danton, thou still unhappier light Camille, once light Procreur de la Lanterne, ye also have arrived, then, at the Bourne of Creation, where, like Ulysses Polytlas at the limit and utmost Gades of his voyage, gazing into that dim Waste beyond Creation, a man does see the Shade if his Mother, pale, ineffectual; — and days when his Mother nursed and wrapped him are all too sternly contrasted with this day! Danton, Camille, Hérault, Westermann, and the others, very strangely massed up with Bazires, Swindler Chabots, Fabre d'Eglantines, Banker Freys, a most motley Batch, “Fournée” as such things will be called, stand ranked at the bar of Tinville. It is the 2nd of April, 1794. Danton has had but three days to lie in prison; for the time presses.
“What is your name? place of abode?” and the like, Fouquier asks; according to formality. “My name is Danton” answers he; “a name tolerably known in the Revolution: my abode will soon be Annihilation (dans le Néant); but I shall live in the Pantheon of History.” A man will endeavour to say something forcible, be it by nature or not! Hérault mentions epigrammatically that he “sat in this Hall, and was detested of Parlementeers.” Camille makes answer, “My age is that of the bon Sansculotte Jésus; an age fatal to Revolutionists.” O Camille, Camille! And yet in that Divine Transaction, let us say, there did lie, among other things, the fatallest Reproof ever uttered here below to Worldly- Right-honourableness; “the highest Fact,” so devout Novalis calls it, ' “in the Rights of Man” Camille's real age, it would seem, is thirty-four. Danton is one year older.
Some five months ago, the Trial of the Twenty-two Girondins was the greatest that Fouquier had then done. But here is a still greater to do; a thing which tasks the whole faculty of Fouquier: which makes the very heart of him waver. For it is the voice of Dauton that reverberates now from these domes; in passionate words, piercing with their wild sincerity, winged with wrath. Your best Witnesses he shivers into ruin at one stroke. He demands that the Committee-men themselves come as Witnesses, as Accusers; he “will cover them with ignominy.” He raises his huge stature, he shakes his huge black head, fire flashes from the eyes of him, — piercing to all Republican hearts: so that the very Galleries, though we filled them by ticket, murmur sympathy; and are like to burst down, and raise the People, and deliver him! He complains loudly that he is classed with Chabots, with swindling Stockjobbers; that his Indictment is a list of platitudes and horrors. “Danton hidden on the Tenth of August?” reverberates he, with the roar of a lion in the toils: “Where are the men that had to press Danton to show himself, that day? Where are these high- gifted souls of whom he borrowed energy? Let them appear, these Accusers of mine: I have all the clearness of my self-possession when I demand them. I will unmask the three shallow scoundrels,' les trois plats coquins, Saint-Just, Couthon, Lebas, “who fawn on Robespierre, and lead him towards his destruction. Let them produce themselves here; I will plunge them into Nothingness, out of which they ought never to have risen.” The agitated President agitates his bell; enjoins calmness, in a vehement manner: “What is it to thee how I defend myself?” cries the other; “the right of dooming me is thine always. The voice of a man speaking for his honour and his life may well drown the jingling of thy bell!” Thus Danton, higher and higher; till the lion voice of him “dies away in his throat:” speech will not utter what is in that man. The Galleries murmur ominously; the first day's Session is over. . . .
Danton carried a high look in the Death-cart. Not so Camille; it is but one week, and all is so topsy-turvied; angel Wife left weeping; love, riches, Revolutionary fame, left all at the Prison-gate; carnivorous Rabble now howling round. Palpable, and yet incredible; like a madman's dream! Camille struggles and writhes; his shoulders shuffle the loose coat off them, which hangs knotted, the hands tied: ' Calm, my friend,' said Danton, “heed not that vile canaille (laissez la cette vile canaille).” At the foot of the Scaffold, Dauton was heard to ejaculate, “O my Wife, my well-beloved, I shall never see thee more then!” — but, interrupting himself: “Danton, no weakness!” He said to Herault-Sechelles stepping forward to embrace him: “Our heads will meet there,” in the Headsman's sack. His last words were to Samson the Headsman himself, “Thou wilt show my head to the people; it is worth showing.”
So passes, like a gigantic mass of valour, ostentation, fury, affection, and wild revolutionary manhood, this Danton, to his unknown home. He was of Arcis-sur-Aube; born of “good farmer-people” there. He had many sins; but one worst sin he had not, that of Cant. No hollow Formalist, deceptive and self-deceptive, ghastly to the natural sense, was this; but a very Man: with all his dross he was a Man; fiery-real, from the great fire-hosom of Nature herself. He saved France from Brunswick; he walked straight his own wild road, whither it led him. He may live for some generations in the memory of men.
This noble passage requires no comment, nor does that in which the poor wretched Robespierre shrieks his last shriek, and dies his pitiful and cowardly death. Tallien has drawn his theatrical dagger, and made his speech, trembling Robespierre has fled to the Hotel de Ville, and Henriot, of the National Guard, clatters through the city, summoning the sections to the aid of the people's friend.
About three in the morning, the dissident Armed-forces have met. Henriot's Armed Force stood ranked in the Place de Grève; and now Barras's, which he has recruited, arrives there; and they front each other, cannon bristling against cannon. Citoyens! cries the voice of Discretion loudly enough. Before coming to bloodshed, to endless civil war, hear the Convention Decree read: — ' Robespierre ami all rebels Out of Law! ' Out of Law? There is terror in the sound: unarmed Citoyens disperse rapidly home; Municipal Cannoneers range themselves on the Convention side, with shouting. At which shout, Henriot descends from his upper room, far gone in drink as some say; finds his Place de Grève empty; the cannons' mouth turned towards him; and, on the whole, — that it is now the catastrophe!
Stumbling in again, the wretched dnmk-sohered Henriot announces: “All is lost!” “Miserable! it is thou that hast lost it,” cry they; and fling him, or else he flings himself, out of window: far enough down; into masonwork and horror of cesspool; not into death but worse. Augustin Robespierre follows him; with the like fate. Saint-Just called on Lebas to kill him; who would not. Couthon crept under a table; attempting to kill himself; not doing it.- — On entering that Sanhedrim of Insurrection, we find all as good as extinct! undone, ready for seizure. Robespierre was sitting on a chair, with pistol-shot blown through, not his head, but his under jaw; the suicidal hand had failed. With prompt zeal, not without trouble, we gather these wrecked Conspirators; fish up even Heuriot and Anguatin, bleeding and foul; pack them all, rudely enough, into carts; and shall, before sunrise, have them safe under lock and key. Amid shoutings and embracings.
" Robespierre lay in an ante-room of the Convention Hall, while his Prison-escort was getting ready; the mangled jaw bound up rudely with bloody linen: a spectacle to men. He lies stretched on a table, a deal-box his pillow; the sheath of the pistol is still clenched convulsively in his hand. Men bully him, insult him: his eyes still indicate intelligence; he speaks no word. ' He had on the sky-blue coat he had got made for the Feast of the Être Supreme ' — 0 reader, can thy hard heart hold out against that? His trousers were nankeen; the stockings had fallen down over the ankles. He spake no word more in this world." . . .
The Death-tumbrils, with their motley Batch of Outlaws, some Twenty-three or so, from Maximilien to Mayor Fleuriot and Simon the Cordwainer, roll on. All eyes are on Robespierre's Tumbril, where he, his jaw bound in dirty linen, with his half-dead Brother, and half-dead Henriot, lie shattered, their “seventeen hours” of agony about to end. The Gendarmes point their swords at him, to show the people which is he. A woman springs on the Tumbril; clutching the side of it with one hand; waving the other Sibyl-like; and exclaims, “The death of thee gladdens my very heart, m'enivre de joie;' Robespierre opened his eyes; “Scélereat, go down to Hell, with the curses of all wives and mothers!' — At the foot of the Scaffold, they stretched him on the ground till his turn came. Lifted aloft, his eyes again opened; caught the bloody axe. Samson wrenched the coat off him; wrenched the dirty linen from his jaw; the jaw fell powerless, there burst from him a cry; — hideous to hear and see.
Samson, thou canst not be too quick! Samson's work done, there bursts forth shout on shout of applause. Shout, which prolongs itself not only over Paris, but over France, but over Europe, and down to this Generation. Deservedly, and also undeservedly. Oh, unhappiest Advocate of Arras, wert thou worse than other Advocates? Stricter man, according to his Formula, to his Credo, and his Cant, of probities, benevolences, pleasures-of-virtue, and such like, lived not in that age. A man fitted, in some luckier settled age, to have become one of those incorruptible barren Pattern-Figures, aud have hud marble-tablets and funeral-sermons! His poor landlord, the Cabinetmaker in the Rue Saint-Honoré, loved him; his Brother died for him. May God be merciful to him, and to us!
The reader will see in the above extracts most of the faults, and a few of the merits, of this book. He need not be told that it is written in an eccentric prose, here and there disfigured by grotesque conceits and images; but, for all this, it betrays most extraordinary powers — learning, observation, and humour. Above all, it has no CANT. It teems with sound, hearty philosophy (besides certain transcendentalisms which we do not pretend to understand), it possesses genius, if any book ever did. It wanted no more for keen crities to cry fie upon it! Clever crities who have such an eye for genius, that when Mr. Bulwer published his forgotten book concerning Athens, they discovered that no historian was like to him; that he, on his Athenian hobby, had quite outtrotted stately Mr. Gibbon; and with the same creditable unanimity they cried down Mr. Carlyle's history, opening upon it a hundred little piddling sluices of small wit, destined to wash the book sheer away; and lo! the book remains, it is only the poor wit which has run dry.
We need scarcely recommend this book and its timely appearance, now that some of the questions solved in it seem almost likely to be battled over again. The hottest Radical in England may learn by it that there is something more necessary for him even than his mad liberty — the authority, namely, by which he retains his head on his shoulders and his money in his pocket, which privileges that by-word “liberty” is often unable to secure for him. It teaches (by as strong examples as ever taught any thing) to rulers and to ruled alike moderation, and yet there are many who would react the same dire tragedy, and repeat the experiment tried in France so fatally. “No Peers — no Bishops — no property qualification — no restriction of suffrage.” Mr. Leader bellows it out at Westminster and Mr. Roebuck croaks it at Bath. Pert quacks at public meetings joke about hereditary legislators, journalists gibe at them, and moody starving labourers, who do not know how to jest, but can hate lustily, are told to curse crowns and coronets as the origin of their woes and their poverty, — and so did the clever French spoutcrs and journalists gibe at royalty, until royalty fell poisoned under their satire; and so did the screaming hungry French mob curse royalty until they overthrew it: and to what end? To bring tyranny and leave starvation, battering down Bastilles to erect guillotines, and murdering kings to set up emperors in their stead.
We do not say that in our own country similar excesses are to be expected or feared; the cause of complaint has never been so great, the wrong has never been so crying on the part of the rulers, as to bring down such fearful retaliation from the governed. Mr. Roebuck is not Robespierre, and Mr. Attwood, with his threatened legion of fiery Marseillois, is at best but a Brummagem Barbaroux. But men alter with circumstances; six months before the kingly dechéance, the bitter and bilious advocate of Arras spake with tears in his eyes about good King Louis, and the sweets and merits of constitutional monarchy and hereditary representation: and so he spoke, until his own turn came, and his own delectable guillotining system had its hour. God forbid that we should pursue the simile with Mr. Roebuck so far as this; God forbid, too, that he ever should have the trial.
True; but we have no right, it is said, to compare the Republicanism of England with that of France, no right to suppose that such crimes would be perpetrated in a country so enlightened as ours. Why is there peace and liberty and a republic in America? No guillotining, no ruthless Yankee tribunes retaliating for bygone tyranny by double oppression? Surely the reason is obvious — because there was no hunger in America; because there were easier ways of livelihood than those offered by ambition. Banish Queen, and Bishops, and Lords, seize the lands, open the ports, or shut them (according to the fancy of your trades' unions and democratic clubs, who have each their freaks and hobbies), and are you a whit richer in a month, are your poor Spitalfields men vending their silks, or your poor Irishmen reaping their harvests at home? Strong interest keeps Americans quiet, not Government; here there is always a party which is interested in rebellion. People America like England, and the poor weak rickety republic is jostled to death in the crowd. Give us this republic to-morrow and it would share no better fate; have not all of us the power, and many of us the interest, to destroy it?
Thackeray, William Makepeace. Ballads and critical reviews . New York: Harper, 1903. 239-50. HathiTrust Digital Library online version of a copy in the New York Public Library.
Last modified 4 April 2020