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long and gloomy period which formed the latter years of Louis XIV., the coarse orgy of the Regency, and the miserable reign of Louis XV., form together one prolonged epoch of horrible misgovernment, which ended by utterly destroying that faith of France in her monarchy which was once almost as vivid and as deep as her faith in Catholicism. It was in this long period of French degradation, during the shameful rule of Madame de Pompadour, and when French royalty was sunk in the turpitude of the Du Barry epoch, that Prussia rose to be a great power, and that England, under the lead of Chatham, established her world-wide dominion on the ruins of the French monarchy. The intellect of France, however, awoke at last in active protest against the vicious disorder and ruinous despotism of the old régime, and the English revolution of 1688, and its consequences, aroused in the minds of such thinkers as Montesquieu and Voltaire dreams of a France resuscitated by the aid of political liberty; and since the ancient symbols of faith no longer were regarded with reverence, a new religion grew up in the minds of the encyclopædists, and in that of Rousseau, whose writings, even more than those of Voltaire, prepared the way for the French Revolution. This new religion may be defined vaguely to be the religion of humanity, based on love of science, love of enlightenment, love of nature, and trust in the natural sentiments of mankind; and the energy with which it caught hold of the minds of all classes was immense. Even the great nobles of France, and the grandes dames of Paris and Versailles, became impassioned for the new doctrines in an incredible degree ; and when the weak government of the wellmeaning Louis XVI. found it impossible to revive the ancient faith in the monarchy of France, and to repair the disorder and ruin wrought in the material and moral condition of the country by a century of vice and bad government, the new principles broke loose with an eruptive vehemence in the French Revolution, which has made an epoch in the history of the world.
The sitting of the National Assembly of the 4th of August, 1789, in which all the privileged classes vied with each other in sacrificing the prerogatives of ten centuries on the altar of national liberty, was the scene of a sublime burst of enthusiasm to which no parallel can be found except in the history of the Crusades, in which France had taken the initiative about eight centuries ago. The soul of the most ideal and enthusiastic people of the world delivered itself in one moment of exalted energy of the cumbrous, worn-out cerements of the past by which it was encumbered and strangled, and sought to give itself a new body and a new life.
The work, however, undertaken by the promoters of the French Revolution was of an immensity to which we can find no parallel in
the history of the world, except that which was undertaken by the earliest propagators of Christianity; for it was an attempt to introduce the leading principles of Christianity itself into the political fabric of nations. There is small cause for wonder, then, that among the many men of splendid qualities evoked from the bosom of the French nation by the action of the French Revolution, no one has arisen to represent adequately its incalculable purport, or that the energies it aroused should by turns become the prey of the sophisms of a Robespierre or of the ambition of a Bonaparte. There is small cause for wonder that pure enthusiasm degenerated in narrow minds into sanguinary fanaticism, and that the nation submitted in mute despair even to the Reign of Terror, yet still with a latent conviction that when the hurricane of blood was passed by, the principles of the Revolution would again become ascendant in all their purity and majesty. However, even the atrocities of the French Revolution are as nothing to those which have been committed in almost every age by the false champions of Christianity, and the bloodshed and suffering of which it was the occasion are as nothing also when compared with that which the caprice of many a despot has brought upon humanity. In spite of all the crimes which were wrought by the perversion of its principles, and in spite of all the temporary reactions in periods when, through lassitude and despair, the nation had appeared to renounce all heirship to the glorious Revolution of 1789, the great work has still been proceeding, and unexpected catastrophes have again and again revealed how unalterably the words,
Liberté, égalité, fraternité,” symbolize the national aspirations of France. And if the present leaders of the Prussian armies of invasion in France had possessed even a little idealism and a little more knowledge of history, they would have calculated somewhat on the impossibility of subduing a nation of forty millions of inhabitants, whose hearts are still capable of vibrating to such watchwords. The example of France has ever been contagious in the world, and its present heroic resistance may have political results not yet dreamed of by the Junker Bismarck or by pious William, “Le caporal mystique.”
We know of no more strange error than that which accounts the French in the main as a sceptic, frivolous people. They have had their sceptic moods, it is true; but the scepticism has been that of a transitory despair and recoil consequent on the exhaustion produced by some burst of heroism, chivalry, or ideality which has astonished the world—the natural despondency, in fact, of the enthusiastic artistic temperament which can for the time see no outlet for fresh effort. Mrs. Browning, whose poetic nature made her understand the French character better than most of her country people, has
said that in France “ an idea cuts like a knife,” and this is true But France is not only the land of great ideas and heroic action, the true mother of chivalry, she is also the Alma Mater of elegance, refinement, and polite manners, and of all the lighter graces of civilization, with which she has, more or less, inoculated every country in Europe-graces which spring from the excessive sociability of her nature; a nature endowed with quick sympathies and a fine benevolence, capable of applying the principles of “ Liberté, égalité, fraternité,” to the smallest details of social intercourse.
England and France have grown up side by side, and as rivals in peace and in war, their action on the progress of civilization have together surpassed that of any other two nations in the world. It would be a sad hour for humanity if England should lose her oceansupremacy and world-wide influence; and the prospect would be no less gloomy, if France should be doomed to lose her prestige in Europe.
is one of the evils incident to a popular constitution, under
which vast numbers of half-informed and half-educated citizens take a lively interest in public affairs and exercise no inconsiderable control over them, that certain ideas and prepossessions often acquire a fised hold upon the mind of the country long before they have been fairly discussed by qualified persons, and before, therefore, the full light of reflection and experience has been brought to bear upon them. The number of Englishmen who read and talk on political questions is out of all proportion to those who think or know: as new events occur or new circumstances arise at home or abroad, opinions must be formed upon them, and inferences drawn from them on the spur of the moment : journalists and amateur orators and lecturers in plenty are found to do this, and to honour the demands thus made upon their intelligence, as it were, at sight. At twenty-four hours' notice, they are prepared-and, indeed, it is almost a necessity incidental to their functions—to form a judgment and pronounce a dictum on each fresh topic as it arises, however sudden or momentous it may be; and the common mind, being naturally passive and receptive, rather than thoughtful, critical, or scrutinizing, usually accepts this dictum, and turns its action and the course of its impressions in the direction indicated. This tendency
of course is aggravated, and this proceeding hastened, when there is a general consentaneousness of sentiment among the newspapers belonging to particular parties ;—though such agreement will often be the mere consequence of first impressions, superficial information, and hasty glances on minds with the same general characteristics (as journalists for the most part have), and therefore, as we often see, just as likely to be wrong as right, and always requiring to be greatly modified by fuller knowledge and more mature consideration. Such as it is, however, the twenty-four hours' decision goes forth in leading articles and large type; it is adopted by what the general public “is pleased to call its mind;" is swallowed whole at the breakfast-table with the breakfast; passes from hand to hand, or rather from mouth to mouth, as the day ripens; and before a week is over has been consolidated into that vague; inexplicable, often unfounded, but always mighty influence called public opinion. Thus when Parliament meets, members often discover that their constituents have come to pretty positive decisions on subjects as to which they themselves are only seeking for information and enlightenment; ministers find their difficulties in dealing with the question in hand dangerously aggravated; and both statesmen and senators begin their deliberations under the pernicious shadow of foregone conclusions.
An apter illustration of the danger we are signalling could scarcely be found than is presented by the clamour which has lately arisen in so many quarters for the substitution of a popular for a standing army in this country, for training the whole population to arms,
embodying the militia, for compelling every man of every class to pass at least a year or two in the ranks, and a number of analogous arrangements. All this has arisen from the surprising success of the Prussian arms in this deplorable war of 1870. Our system of volunteering, it is urged, is notoriously inadequate; the plan of conscription has proved a broken reed; the Prussian principle is clearly the right one. Let us adopt it at once, without delay. There is no time to be lost. The very same impatient clamourers for so radical a change would have cried out just as fiercely, and just as thoughtlessly, for the French system, had France been successful; and would have been just as intolerant of any attempt to point out either the needlessness, the inapplicability, or the drawbacks of the scheme. Yet it is most important, before the country's fancy is inflamed or run away with by the new doctrines, to insist upon a calm consideration of, at least, the main features of the question, so as to avoid both the dangers and the disgrace of acting in a panic, in a wrong direction, and on imperfect or erroneous data. At this moment, all Europe has got the scarlet