« ElőzőTovább »
render the book fascinating now, and must secure for it a permanent place in literature.
The more effective and enduring sources of Mignet's popularity as an historian of the French Revolution will be found in his comprehensive grasp of his subject, the steady, unbroken flow of his narrative, the magnificent sweep of his generalizations, his orderly arrangement, and the philosophical spirit in which the work is composed. When he began to write, he had a thoroughly matured plan and a consistent theory; and, as he proceeded, every event fell into its natural place, and every actor performed his assigned part. To this it should be added, that his style, which of late years has grown inflexible and colorless, is concise, rapid, and often picturesque, and that there are many felicitous touches in his brief notices of the successive leaders who pass in review before him. Beginning with a brief but masterly survey of the period which preceded the meeting of the States-General, and of the causes which brought about the Revolution, he traces the course of events throughout with the same firmi hand, always preserving the just mean between meagreness of outline and profuseness of details. Accustomed, as so many English readers have been, to look at the French Revolution with the horror which Burke's magnificent diatribes are suited to inspire, and to see in it only the frantic revolt of an imbruted mob, the views which are thus presented have been often criticized, both in England and in this country; and it has been as often remarked, that Mignet's philosophy is mere fatalism. To a certain extent the objection is well-founded, and it indicates the chief defect in the book. In his clear perception of the relation which one event bore to another, Mignet fails to recognize the importance of personal character, and almost eliminates the individual actor. That there was a logical, perhaps inevitable, sequence in many of the stages of the Revolution, cannot be denied; but it does not follow, that this is true of all: and it is not difficult to see, that the course of events was often determined by a word or an act which might have been different, but was the result of personal choice. Apart from this, it is not probable that the
general judgment which he passes on the causes, the character, or the results of the Revolution, will be overruled, or that much exception will be taken by future historians to his estimates of individuals. His occasional platitudes, his somewhat pompous enunciation of mere truisms, and a few generalizations of doubtful soundness, do not affect the general character of the History.
For several years after the publication of his History, Mignet appears to have devoted himself mainly to the collection of materials for his contemplated work on the Reformation, and to the discharge of his duties as a journalist. In the summer of 1829, he was associated with Thiers and Armand Carrel in starting the “ National ;” and we believe he was the second editor of that celebrated journal. As a writer for this new and uncompromising organ of the Opposition, he took a zealous and active part against the Government, and he was one of the signers of the protest of the journalists in July, 1830. But beyond his adhesion to this famous manifesto, which was drawn up by his friend and associate Thiers, he did not participate in the events of the Three Days; and, when the new order of things was established, he contented himself with accepting an honorary appointment as Councillor of State and Director of the Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The latter office opened to him many important sources of historical information; and he discharged its duties with marked ability and fidelity, until the subversion of the monarchy in February, 1848, when he was removed by Lamartine. One other official duty was intrusted to him by the Government of Louis Philippe, - a confidential mission to Spain, in 1833, on the death of Ferdinand VII., which prepared the way for his acquisition, at a later period, of some important historical documents, and brought him into personal relations with the most distinguished scholars in Spain. In 1832 he was designated one of the members of the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques; and, on the death of Charles Comte, in 1837, he was chosen Perpetual Secretary of that body. A few months before his selection for this honorable post, he achieved another coveted distinction, and was chosen a Mem
VOL. LXXXIII. - NEW SERIES, VOL. IV. NO. I.
ber of the French Academy. His predecessor was François Raynouard, the once-celebrated author of a tragedy on the fall of the Templars, and a man of no ordinary scholastic acquirements.
The first fruit of his appointment as Director of the Archives of Foreign Affairs was the publication of four quarto volumes of official documents under the title of “ Négociations relatives à la Succession d'Espagne sous Louis XIV." These volumes appeared at intervals from 1835 to 1842; and accompanying them was a very luminous and admirable Introduction, subsequently reprinted in the “ Mémoires Historiques.” In the space of a hundred and seven duodecimo pages, Mignet brings before us a rapid but clear and graphic account of the various causes which produced this memorable struggle, of the successive phases by which its progress was marked, and of the final triumph of the real interests of France. Written in accordance with the theory which underlies his earlier work, it is one of the best specimens of rapid and condensed narration that he has ever given to the world; and nowhere else are his powers as a philosophical historian exhibited to greater advantage.
In 1816 he published another work on a Spanish subject, " Antonio Perez et Philippe II.," the chapters of which had previously been printed in the “ Journal des Savants.” This book, we suppose, has been more generally read than any other of Mignet's productions, except the “History of the French Revolution; " but it must be conceded, that the volume owes its attractiveness to the extraordinary interest of the story, and to the flood of light which it pours on one of the most obscure points of Spanish history, rather than to any special felicity in the treatment. There is, indeed, the same masterly arrangement and the same judicious management of the lights and shades which are found in every one of Mignet's books ; for in this respect he is always the consummate artist. But the characterization does not fulfil the promise of his earlier years, and there is a perceptible hardening of the style. With the exception of Antonio Perez and Philip himself, we do not carry away a very clear idea of the
persons with whom it is the duty of the author to make us acquainted; and yet no one who takes the book in hand will be ready to lay it aside, until he has turned the last page. This, after all, is high praise, since it is one of the ultimate tests of a writer's power; and no one will say that it is undeserved. Mignet has always been fortunate in his choice of subjects; but he was never more so than in this instance, where, to the intrinsic interest of the story, was added a mystery which had been gathering over it for centuries, and which he has for ever dispelled.
The life of Perez is, indeed, one of the most remarkable episodes in Spanish history; and, if we take into view the uncertainty as to the name of his mother, his personal character, the extraordinary vicissitudes of his career, and his miserable end, it will be difficult to find anywhere a parallel to the story. Antonio Perez was the natural son of Gonsalvo Perez, Secretary of State to Charles V., and was brought up at the court of that monarch. At an early age he became the minister and chief favorite of Philip II., and gradually acquired an overwhelming influence in the administration of affairs. As minister, and to gratify his own ends, he nourished the suspicions which his jealous and implacable master had formed against Don John of Austria, and even went so far as to cause the murder of Don John's confidential friend and secretary, Escovedo, at the command of Philip. While he thus made himself a willing instrument of the most gloomy and suspicious of sovereigns, he did not hesitate to become the rival of his master in love, and to carry on an intrigue with the king's mistress. Accused of the murder of Escovedo, Philip for a time protected him from the murdered secretary's kinsmen and friends; and it was not until the discovery of his intrigue with the Princess of Eboli that this protection was finally withdrawn. He was then thrown into prison, where he was kept for eleven years, alternately treated with mildness and severity, and finally subjected to torture, while his trial was constantly deferred, in accordance with what seems to have been the settled policy of Philip's reign, never to do any thing so long as it was possible to postpone action. At length he escaped into Aragon, and was for a time abstracted from the pursuit of his enemies by the Justicia of that kingdom; but, being seized by the officers of the Inquisition, he was rescued from them by the mob of Saragossa, who, as Mignet well says, “saved him from the punislıment of a heretic, by throwing away their own liberties." He then fled to France, and spent some months at Pau, under the protection of Catherine of Bourbon, sister of Henry IV. Afterward he went to Paris and London, became the friend of Bacon and Essex, and the pensioner of Henry IV., and took part in all the negociations among the enemies of Philip, down to the death of that prince. But he still cherished the unconquerable pride of a Spaniard; and, having lost his new friends by his arrogance and his double dealing, he passed his last years in Paris, in poverty and neglect, and died there, in November, 1611, at the age of seventy years, the last survivor of the great men with whom he had held such various relations.
Such is the story which Mignet selected for his second work, and which he was able to illustrate by a copious supply of unpublished documents. It combines in a rare degree the personal interest of biography with the wider relations of history; and was admirably adapted to exhibit, to the best advantage, his habits of diligent research, his powers of lumi- .. nous statement, and his fondness for philosophical generalization.
Five years after the publication of this work, he gave to the press his “ Histoire de Marie Stuart." Like its predecessor, it had been previously printed in part in the “Journal des Savants;” but the whole narrative had been recast, and, as it now stands, it is the best history of the unfortunate queen which has been written. Availing himself of the magnificent collection of Mary's letters, published by Prince Labanoff, and of some important documents which he had himself obtained from Spain, as well as of the earlier and more common sources of information, he has treated the whole subject with a thoroughness and a candor which leave nothing to be desired. Opinions as to the guilt or innocence of Mary are so little